I struggled to sleep last night, despite being exhausted. There’s definitely something about work nights at the moment that stops me sleeping. Am I unconsciously anxious?

I did get some sleep, more than on Sunday night, which was good, as I was in the office by myself most of the morning and had to do the Very Scary Task. This is becoming marginally less scary with time, but I still spent much of the day in a state of anxiety, and worried that one person I have to deal with is always annoyed with me. He doesn’t get angry, but patiently explains that he’s busy, or I’m not prepared properly, or whatever it is, which in some ways is more upsetting.

***

Yesterday I mentioned in a comment that in the years when my mental health was bad, I felt that all my problems would somehow resolve themselves at once, like falling dominoes, or not at all. The reality, of course, is that they do not resolve themselves all at once. The psychiatrist and psychotherapist Robin Skynner said that changing your life is like steering an oil tanker: you pull the steering wheel down as far as it will go and twenty minutes later it moves slightly to the right (I’m not sure if the metaphor was original to him).

My last year and a bit has been good. I got a job, got an autism diagnosis, broke up with someone who wasn’t right for me (and recognised that she wasn’t right for me first), got back together with E, got engaged to E and had my job made permanent. That’s quite a lot for about sixteen months. Yet somehow I want things to happen even faster. I doubt I could cope if they did go any faster.

***

I read a scary article about sensitivity readers today. If I hadn’t been at work, I would have ranted about it, but I was at work, and now I’m too tired, so no rant, and no lengthy quotations from Orwell about the totalitarian dangers of trying to recreate society on the basis of Rationality or Love. Certainly sensitivity readers come from the good place of wanting not to offend or stereotype people, but inevitably the people who volunteer for this type of work are likely to be people who value holding the right political opinions ahead of literary quality, and who have the mindset of approaching a text looking for all the ways they could find it offensive (and the hermeneutic of suspicion means that everything can be deemed offensive if you only look hard enough).

I get annoyed at the way Jews are presented in fiction, yet I’ve seen other Jews be trigger-happy, in my opinion, about finding offence in the presentation of Jews too. It’s a tightrope to walk and I can see that some writers want some help. And writers have always done research, asked people who have “lived experience” (I have mixed feelings about that phrase) for advice before applying their imagination to their research, with the caveat that no one person’s lived experience can speak for an entire community. The problem is when the tail wags the dog and the sensitivity reader starts making literary decisions.

I worry that my writing (the novel I’ve written and the ones I want to write) would fail the sensitivity reader test that might be applied to it if I find a publisher. I do not represent all Jews, or all autistic people, or all autistic Jews. That is, I would say, one of the main strengths of my novel: it is atypical. There is a saying in the autistic community that, “If you’ve met one autistic person, then you’ve met one autistic person.” Doubtless we could extend that to one black person, one lesbian, one transwoman and so on. No individual can speak for an entire community, and thinking they can is just another form of stereotyping.

I wrote about abuse without having been abused, from having listened to abuse survivors and read their accounts. Nevertheless, there was one element in that part of the story that I was concerned about, but kept in because I felt the plot development needed it. I’m pretty sure a sensitivity reader like the ones in the article would pick up on it as a negative trope and tell me to remove it, but I would only do that if I could think of a better way to achieve that plot development instead (I can’t), otherwise the book would suffer a literary deficit. Novels must function as novels and not just as a window into the life of another person, important though that is.

Given the type of stories I want to write, I find the notion of sensitivity readers troubling. David posted recently about being accused of antisemitism in his writing, even though he’s Jewish, and proudly so. Once we go down the route of inspecting everything forensically before publication, that’s where we’ll all end up. I could definitely see people seeing the books I want to write as somehow antisemitic, not to mention anti-many other things. It’s a product of wanting to tell bold stories about unusual people, to write things that have a unique identity and are not bland, inoffensive waffle. That’s before we even get into my identity as someone who is an Orthodox Jew, a Zionist and a small-c conservative (Sammy Davies Jr. used to talk about his multiple identity as a black person, a Puerto Rican and a Jew: “When I move into an area, I bury it!” I suspect my multiple identity would cause sensitivity readers to want to bury me, even before they read a word I have written). If nothing else, it seems like another major obstacle to get over to get my writing published and read.

12 thoughts on “In Lieu of Ranting

  1. It’s been an incredible transformation for you from when I first started reading the blog. Unless a novel is presented as fact/memoir/autobiography, it is a work of fiction. Made-up. I don’t understand why many get SO offended by a story. A creative work by a writer shouldn’t be held to the standard of a textbook.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Part of the appeal of writing scientific fiction, so I gather, is that you can create a world that follows a completely different set of rules. Even so, I’ll bet many sensitivity readers would judge a novel set on another planet through the “Earth-centric” lens.

    Liked by 1 person

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