We’re in the busiest time of year, the weeks before Pesach (Passover), when we’re focused on preparations. Think Christmas plus spring cleaning, multiplied by ten (or a hundred). I tend to be OK during the day because I’m busy, but at night I feel stressed and anxious when I’m not doing things, but also lack significant relaxation time to unwind. Yesterday I cleaned the larder for Pesach, but I was too tired to continue to clean the Pesach worktops and sinks in the garage as I had intended. Afterwards, I had difficulty sleeping, being very agitated and anxious (fidgeting/stimming in bed, which is unlike me). I had taken olanzapine that night, but I wonder if it had not got into my bloodstream yet, given that I am taking it every other day at the moment.

Work was dull today and difficult on four hours of sleep, but I got through it. I did a little bit of writing when I got home and went to an online Pesach shiur (religious class). Which is a lot, on four hours sleep.

In between times, I was online. I was on the autism forum quite a bit. There are lots of people in distress there and I can only respond to some for reasons of time, emotional capacity, and knowing what to say without saying the wrong thing. I have some guilt for arbitrarily connecting more with some people than others. I have long had this feeling, that I should like everyone equally, which is not really possible (or Jewish; Judaism is about loving individuals for their individuality as opposed to agape). We just connect with some people more than others; it’s normal. Still, I feel bad that things like typos can influence whether I respond.

I am also less likely to respond to people who are very blunt about being depressed and suicidal and don’t give much of an opening to respond or seem open to conversation/suggestions from other commenters. I feel bad about this, as I’ve done my own share of self-focused blog writing/commenting when severely depressed, but I know that when I was in that mood, I really wanted to vent (or possibly to argue that my life would inevitably be awful) rather than be open to suggestions. I was trying to speak to someone in crisis just now, but I think another user was doing much better.

Elsewhere online, on a Jewish site, I saw an article by a woman I had a crush on years ago (she was the person who rejected me because I didn’t go to yeshiva, which pretty much made me despair of ever finding a frum wife). I don’t have any crush feelings for her now, but I feel an envious kind of feeling that I can’t get paid for my writing or do something with my life the way she seems to have done.

The article was on finding religious messages in popular culture, part of a series of articles on this site. I have argued this myself in the past (e.g. that Doctor Who has Jewish messages), but now I’m sceptical. I think most of it is the residual Judaism in the residual Christianity in now mostly-secular art and much of it is not really significant or profound enough to be worth mentioning. I think it’s OK to like popular culture, but I don’t think much of it is profound, religiously or otherwise.

The debate always seems to be organised around popular culture. There are obviously big things to discuss about religion in writers like Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Graham Greene and so on, but they don’t get mentioned, possibly because they don’t lead to pat, “And this teaches us to do tikkun olam!” messages (this seems to be the main “Jewish” message of Doctor Who, that and questioning/learning). Years ago I found an article online by Rabbi Dr Alan Brill complaining that Orthodox culture is so bourgeois and unchallenging, and I agree (although I think most culture full stop is bourgeois and unchallenging, pretty much by definition). I know that this is one of E’s biggest reservations about joining the Orthodox world, the conformism and the lack of serious culture, and I share her reservations while not seeing any alternatives for myself.

13 thoughts on “The Stressed Time of Year, Forum Discussions, and Culture in the Frum World

  1. My daughter and her Orthodox community have full, vibrant lives from what I can see. But it’s true that any particular culture or lifestyle is a series of habits that can seem dull after a while. She doesn’t say that ~ I’m saying that. For example, I know I’d get quickly tired of the amount of cooking she does. But she’s always enjoyed cooking and I haven’t. She’d cook in whatever situation she ended up in. Not sure this is on topic, but I thought I had a point when I began, lol

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  2. It’s hard, if not impossible, to connect with everyone on the same level. There are people you’ll connect with more than others – this is true for offline and online friendships. I get the guilt feeling, but I don’t think you should feel guilty.

    Generally speaking, I can’t stand the trend of kiruv sites trying to find religious messages in pop culture / use pop culture to frame a religious concept. Granted, I probably haven’t read the article in question (you don’t need to send it to me) so it’s nothing against a specific article/author. It’s just a trend that I dislike generally.

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    1. I know, but I still feel guilty. Especially when the people I don’t connect with need the most help. 😦

      This wasn’t on a kiruv site though. It’s a MO site that assumes a fair bit of religious knowledge.

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      1. It is definitely hard. I’ve felt some tension even with blogging with bloggers who need more help than I, a total stranger, can realistically provide. I don’t have an answer for this.

        I’ve seen the pop culture thing more on kiruv sites. Not sure if kiruv sites write about it badly and non-kiruv sites do it well. But generally, I find looking for religious messages in creative work never intended for that purpose a bit odd.

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        1. Yes. That said, I’ve literally just had (what I think is) a great idea to introduce at the seder based on a Monty Python sketch, so I’m open to a charge of hypocrisy.

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            1. I’m in two minds about it now! Basically it’s the scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life where we see this conversation (in a posh office boardroom, transcript from Wikiquote):

              Chairman: Item six on the agenda, the Meaning of Life. Now Harry, you’ve had some thoughts on this.
              Harry: That’s right, yeah. I’ve had a team working on this over the past few weeks, and what we’ve come up with can be reduced to two fundamental concepts. One, people are not wearing enough hats. Two, matter is energy. In the Universe there are many energy fields which we cannot normally perceive. Some energies have a spiritual source which act upon a person’s soul. However, this soul does not exist ab initio as orthodox Christianity teaches; it has to be brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation. However, this is rarely achieved owing to man’s unique ability to be distracted from spiritual matters by everyday trivia.
              [Pause.]
              Max: What was that about hats again?

              My idea was that Judaism tries to solve what I call the “People Are Not Wearing Enough Hats” problem by trying to tie abstract concepts to specific actions (mitzvot). So, we don’t say “Freedom is good,” we spend a week eating food that reminds us of being freed slaves to make us focus on the meaning. However, even doing this we can slip and focus on the wrong things e.g. on the halakhic details rather than the meaning or applying it in other areas of our lives. So it’s a constant challenge to stay focused on what matters and not get distracted by the hats.*

              But I’m no longer sure if this is a good idea or not.

              * This is aside from the fact that Judaism, particularly in its Haredi variant, is clearly about people wearing lots of hats.

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              1. I like this idea! I think it works because the Monty Python sketch already has that question of “Meaning of Life” expressly presented; it’s not something that’s maybe-vaguely-implied-that-you-have-to-really-dig-for sort of thing. And it is a good question and, in my opinion, a fair critique of Jewish approach to meaning.

                I’m revising my previous opinion about finding Jewish meaning in pop culture: It can be done well. That the kiruv websites seem to do this badly says more about their particular execution than the concept of finding Jewish themes in pop culture.

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  3. I hope you get better sleep tonight!
    It is only natural you will connect to some people and not others, I think we all have a tendency to gravitate towards certain people and not others. X

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