Dreidel

I feel tired today, although I’ve felt worse. I stayed up late last night watching The Twilight Zone (one of the fifty minute-long episodes), because I felt I needed some passive relaxation time or I would be a mess over the weekend. There are good things happening in my life, but sometimes (often, to be honest) it feels like I’m struggling to cope with them and build on them, let alone move on from them to get to some point of stability and consolidation where I can be more self-sufficient and, frankly, more adult. (At some point I should write about whether self-sufficiency is even a realistic goal for someone with my issues, and how to fit in to a society that demands it.)

I’ve been thinking recently of a story I heard last week, which I wish I had heard years ago. A dreidel is a spinning top with Hebrew letters on the sides used in a children’s game at Chanukah where there is a kitty of sweets or nuts and you put in or take out depending on what letter the dreidel lands when you spin it.

The story is that some time I guess in the 1920s or 30s (I’m not sure when exactly), the Rebbe of Bobov, Rabbi Ben Zion, was playing dreidel with his grandson Naftul’che on Chanukah. Naftul’che was winning a lot of nuts (or whatever they were playing for) and was getting very excited, so when he spun again, his grandfather put his hand over the dreidel before he could see what side it landed on and said, “We don’t always need to know what side the dreidel lands on. The main thing is for a Jew just to keep going.”

The story has added resonance as Rav Ben Zion was murdered by the Nazis, but Naftul’che survived and became the new Rebbe.

I tend to respond to inspirational messages like this, about resilience and keeping going even though things seem awful and incomprehensible a lot better than the ones that everything is really good if we would only realise. “Keep going despite awful odds,” is one of the main messages of Chanukah, so I guess it’s doubly timely.

Put Your ******* iPhone Down and Listen to Me

I overslept today. I think my clock radio alarms (plural) didn’t go off. Luckily, I set another alarm, on my phone on the other side of the room (in case I turn off the clock radio alarms in my sleep as often happens). I rushed to get ready, but was slightly late leaving, although I got to work at a reasonable time. I’m slightly concerned that this may change if Transport for London goes into administration soon, as may happen. I think there’s currently a game of chicken going on between the Mayor of London and central government, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is refusing to give any more money after having already given a lot. The computerised destination boards at the station weren’t working today and haven’t been for some weeks now and I wonder if they have been deliberately left unfixed as ‘leverage.’ The staff don’t announce which trains are leaving from which platform; you really have to take a train, hope it’s the next one leaving and then check when you get to the next station to see if it’s going on the right branch (the station is the end of the line, so all the trains are going south, but the line splits into two branches further down).

***

At work I was phoned by the autism hospital who said I’m on the list to be screened to see if I can have autism-approved CBT. The person who phoned me reassured me that, for people diagnosed by the hospital (as I was), screening is usually just a formality. Less reassuring was the next bit: being approved would lead to my case being sent to the CCG to get funding. If I get that, then I get on the waiting list — which is currently running with a thirty to thirty-six month wait! I’m sure this has been worsened by COVID, but it’s pretty horrific. I’m not 100% sure that the three years (or whatever) only starts at that late point. It’s possible that I misunderstood and have already started the three year wait. However, with the NHS it’s usually best to assume the worst-possible outcome (and lower expectations from there).

Between the NHS and the Tube, it’s tempting to say something about underfunded public corporations, and whether they could be fixed by spending sprees or privatisation or re-nationalisation of the already-privatised bits… I no longer know or care what the solution is, I just wish someone could SORT THINGS OUT.

***

I used my SAD light box at work. I felt a bit self-conscious with it, but I don’t really get time to use it at home on work days, and on non-work days I wake up late and am wary of using it late in case it stops me sleeping later. I’m still not sure it does much when I do use it. I didn’t feel depressed after using it today, but by evening I was utterly exhausted, the type of exhaustion I get from being autistically overloaded, and I struggled to really focus on things. I wanted to get away from the computer because computer stimulation doesn’t help when I feel like this, but also wanted to Skype E and to write this, both of which involve being on the computer.

I did skype E in the end, and it was good, despite some depressing topics of conversation (the likelihood of another COVID lockdown and the difficulty of raising children in an era of social media and online bullying). Speaking to E revives me rather than depleting me, which is good.

***

I’ve had a bit of reversal of my thoughts about the United Synagogue and potentially rejoining a US shul (synagogue) at some point in the future. I have nearly finished Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, which reprints some chapters from an (I think) out-of-print book by Rabbi Lord Sacks, where, to my surprise, the former head of the United Synagogue says that he never liked it growing up and only became a regular participant at a US shul when he became the rabbi of one. There are plenty of Haredi rabbis with communities in the US that would clearly never daven there if it wasn’t their job to do so, but I saw Rabbi Sacks as a solid US man. His reasons for disliking the US are similar to mine: US shuls are too large, too anonymous and too focused on the rabbi and the chazan (cantor) doing things and everyone else spectating. I’d add a lack of commitment to meaningful prayer and Torah study on behalf of many of the congregants and also chazanim who rush through the silent prayers and then drag out the prayers that they get to sing, even though the silent prayers are more important.

Rabbi Sacks’ change of mind came about when he realised that the US is essentially the only place in the whole world where shomer mitzvot Jews (Jews who keep the commandments) and non-shomer mitzvot Jews meet as equals in a religious context. He sees it as a fundamentally inclusive organisation (in a passage written long before “inclusive” became an over-used buzzword) that allows for growth through example as well as overt preaching.

So that made me wonder if maybe I have things to offer in such a situation, whereas I feel I don’t in an shomer mitzvot-Jews-only type of shul. A couple of blogs I follow have been writing about whether it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. I tried to be a small fish in a big pond in many situations from university onwards, and I’m not sure where it got me. My biggest triumphs were mostly when I was a big fish in a small pond. I know Pirkei Avot says to be the tail of a lion rather than the head of a fox, but Pirkei Avot is unique in Talmudic literature in that it is seen as good advice rather than strict law; it’s not such a problem to decide it doesn’t apply to a particular situation (and it has various internal contradictions that we don’t try to iron out the way we do with other volumes of Talmud).

***

The Jewish website I applied to write for has clarified that they do want to publish the article I sent them (the one that has already been published elsewhere), but that they won’t pay me for it as they don’t pay for reprints. This does not encourage me to exert myself to investigate the copyright/reprint situation, bearing in mind I felt burnt out this evening, even though they want to post it next week. They did say I could pitch articles to them in the future and that they pay for articles, all of which is positive, although I’m not quite sure why they didn’t pay for my first article. Was it simply because I didn’t ask?

***

I should say something about COVID, but I don’t have anything to say except that I think we’re headed for another lockdown, I worry that we’re going to vaccinate enough people to get herd immunity without mandatory vaccinations (which make me uncomfortable even though I’m pro-vaccine) and that, unless we have a frank and taboo-busting discussion about exactly how many additional deaths we’re willing to accept per year in return for not living like prisoners and not letting our children grow up traumatised and uneducated, we’re going to be stuck here forever. Deaths per day in the UK are much lower than in the early days of the pandemic and in the peak earlier this year (after the bungled lockdowns around last Christmas). I feel there is a point where the costs of further lockdowns outweigh the benefits, but I’m not an epidemiologist or a medical statistician and feel inadequate to having an informed discussion without some help from government and media figures who don’t seem to want to have the conversation. At some point COVID is going to have to be treated like flu or pneumonia, a hazard of life that we take some precautions against, treat and take seriously, but don’t bend our society out of shape to avoid. I’m not sure what that point is, but we need to start discussing it rationally without people saying that one COVID death is too many or alternatively that the pandemic is a hoax.

***

Listening to A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, an album by Sparks from 2020 that I got for Chanukah the other day. It’s very good. I’m not sure what it means that the song that resonated most with me so far is iPhone with its refrain, “Put your ******* iPhone down and listen to me.” So true, sadly. Although maybe I’m just fixated on iPhones to avoid thinking about all the various awful things I’ve mentioned in this post that I can do nothing about.

“You remind me today of a small Mexican chihuahua”

Today was another day when I felt that things got on top of me and I didn’t really do what I wanted to do, or only some of it.

J asked me to go with him to one of our other sites today, so I ended up doing a morning of work even though I don’t usually work on Wednesdays. I will get paid for it, but, given that I’m already feeling overloaded, it felt like just another thing to do. I didn’t get much time to relax last night (partly Chanukah taking up time, partly my own fault for procrastinating) and woke up still tired and unrefreshed. When I got home from work at lunch today, I made some coffee to try to wake myself up, but I fell asleep just the same.

My parents were encouraging me to go to the local pharmacy that is offering a walk-in COVID vaccine booster service. I did want to go, but it was raining heavily and then I ran out of time before therapy. It was perhaps for the best, as I didn’t really want to be suffering vaccine side-effects during therapy or work tomorrow. I tried to book an appointment at the doctor’s surgery instead, but was on hold for five minutes and didn’t advance in the queue, so I decided I didn’t have the time to deal with this today. I’ll try to go to the walk-in centre next week.

I struggled to do much else. Between work (which was only a couple of hours, but involved an early start, a bit of peopling, being out in the cold, and being jumped on twice by a dog), being tired and napping, and then having therapy and Chanukah it was hard to do much. We ate dinner as a family again in front of the Chanukah lights; then I spent the rest of the evening ironing, and writing an email to the website I pitched to write for after they sent me an email that seemed to miss the point of my previous email.

I am struggling to get my head around working tomorrow; working on consecutive days seems wrong now somehow. I also wonder how I’m going to get through the next three months of winter if I feel like this on 1 December…

***

I got an email from the job agency that wanted to update my details. I’m a bit annoyed with them. They had asked me for two references, which seemed slightly odd (I would expect references once they had got me an interview). Now they don’t like one of my references, as it was for a job I got via them, so apparently they (the agency) supply the reference for that rather than my former line manager (?!) and so they need another reference. They also want recent proof of residence and proof of my librarianship MA, even though neither of these have changed since I first signed up with them. And they want all this “urgently,” although there’s no sign that they have a job lined up for me. I feel disinclined to panic myself about this when I have so much else going on, bearing in mind the last job they got for me was in getting on for two years ago, and that they are asking for details they already have on record that they’ve decided they have to update for their own reasons.

Thoughts on Work and Other Things

I had my phone meeting with the person from the neurodiverse work-support organisation (also called E). The organisation does offer interview practise, at £10 for half an hour, either a hypothetical interview with general questions or one where they ask specific questions based on the job description of a job I’m actually applying for. I might go down that route if I start finding lots more jobs to apply for, although I think I could get interview practise at a more local Jewish into work scheme, possibly for free (although I would probably make a donation if I got the job).

We spoke a bit about autism-suitable jobs. I mentioned my career path so far and that librarianship hasn’t turned out the way I hoped, either in terms of job availability, working part-time and the environment not always being autism-suitable. She felt that, if I’m looking for part-time work, then administration, particularly in the charity and non-profit sector, is a good place to look, so I said that that’s where I am at the moment. We spoke a bit about writing. I got a bit shy about talking about my writing experience and ambitions, I’m not sure why, but we did talk about trying to find voluntary work for one day a week at a local newspaper or similar publication just to get some experience to put on my CV, which sounds like a good idea. She said the organisation has contacts with a magazine about health and disability and she would look into finding work experience for me there, which would be a good thing, particularly if it’s remote, as she thinks it would be at the moment.

The call only lasted fifteen minutes, and I think the woman speaking to me felt a bit like she was short-changing me, as she apologised and asked if I had other questions, but I feel like I got some useful answer to get to the next step in my attempts to get more work life improved.

Afterwards I went for a walk while it was still light, or a bit light, as it was overcast and the sun was setting. I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner until I realised it was contributing to making me feel depressed (along with the weather) and switched to The Beatles. When I got home I drafted my devar Torah and cooked dinner, but found it hard to focus or get motivated. Winter evenings are always bad for motivation, and I find that, while I enjoy Chanukah a lot, lighting candles takes up a huge chunk of time in the early evening (setting up the lights, waiting for Mum and Dad to be ready, eating dinner together in front of the lights instead of eating while watching dinner…). Unfortunately, the early evening is a time when I am often trying to cram activities in before bed, or trying to relax; it’s also currently when I Skype E, because of the time-difference, so it was hard to cram things in.

***

I just came across the following factoid from an Office of National Statistics article about religion in the UK census data for 2011:

Volunteering was higher among those who identified as Jewish (44%), Buddhist (31%), “‘any other religion” (30%) or Christian (23%) than remaining religious groupings in England and Wales in 2016 to 2018.

I feel ridiculously proud of the Jewish community apparently volunteering significantly more than any other religious group in the country. (The groups counted in the census were ‘no religion’, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and ‘any other religion’.)

***

The Omicron Variant should be the title of a horror film from the fifties or sixties. Delta Variant is more of an action film, I feel.

***

E asked for a list of my favourite and least favourite Doctor Who stories.  As I don’t have a Doctor Who blog any more, I thought I would stick it here. Feel free to skip the rest of the post.

I’m putting the favourites on one list, because good new series Doctor Who episodes are broadly as good as original series ones to me, but I’m splitting the bad ones into two lists, as the original series ones are mostly boring and badly-made, whereas the new ones have a whole load of other fan embarrassment buttons to press, from overt stupidity to an overly-sexualised Doctor to (sadly) unconscious antisemitism (at least I hope it’s unconscious).

Also, I’m hugely indecisive and find that repeated viewings can reveal new sides to disliked stories, so the lists could change.

Favourites

  • The Mind Robber
  • The War Games
  • City of Death
  • Warriors’ Gate
  • The Caves of Androzani
  • Ghost Light
  • Human Nature/The Family of Blood
  • Heaven Sent

Least Favourites (Original Series)

  • The Celestial Toymaker
  • The Invisible Enemy (? I think I enjoyed this a bit more last time I saw it)
  • Underworld
  • Meglos
  • Arc of Infinity
  • Planet of Fire
  • The Twin Dilemma
  • Timelash

Least Favourites (New Series)

  • The Runaway Bride
  • Voyage of the Damned
  • The Doctor’s Daughter
  • The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
  • The End of Time
  • Into the Dalek
  • Kill the Moon
  • The Husbands of River Song
  • Twice Upon a Time
  • The Witchfinders
  • Orphan  55

To honest, if I was rigorously consistent, I would add or remove various stories, but this is more intuitive than scientific.

Other observations: I really don’t like Christmas specials (four on the least favourite list).  I do apparently like stories with a reputation for being confusing (Warriors Gate, Ghost Light), and also stories set in some kind of void and/or bizarre realm outside the normal universe (The Mind Robber, Warriors’ Gate, Heaven Sent).  My choice of favourites is pretty catholic in terms of Doctors and styles, but surprisingly nothing from the years 1975-77, generally seen by fans as the programme’s Golden Age, although there were several stories from that era that narrowly missed a place on the favourites list, and it is an era I view positively on the whole. Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker are the only Doctors to get more than one story in the best list.

Long Division

I don’t have much to say, but I feel I need to offload a bit. Work was OK. I went to the bank, which I always like as it’s good to get out of the office (which I’m finding increasingly dark and claustrophobic as we head further into winter), even if it was cold outside. Coming home wasn’t fun though. I had my first proper Tube ‘packed like sardines’ crush since COVID started, and it wasn’t even rush hour. I don’t know how I managed to cope with this regularly for so much of my life despite my autism. No wonder I kept burning out! And now I have COVID fears about being stuck with a crowded carriage of people breathing on me. Mask compliance was perhaps a bit better than it has been for a while, but not like it was last winter. Everyone was wearing a mask in shul (synagogue) tonight, but it’s hard to feel confident about that when it feels such a retrograde step.

I have been pretty burnt out this evening. I had a good time with my family last night, but I had to ‘people’ all evening and then go to bed without much downtime. Then I had work today, the Tube crush and then eating dinner with my parents again, which is still ‘peopling.’ I desperately need some TV time. I did half an hour of Torah study on the train to work; I would have liked to have done some more, but I just don’t feel up to it.

Also, E and I are facing some big decisions, but we’re facing them together, which is good. We both feel anxious, though, and frustrated at being so far apart. I’m not saying more about this for now.

***

I laughed out loud a couple of times when I was listening to Hancock’s Half-Hour on my headphones while walking home from the station (despite it being a very dated episode in multiple ways). I’m glad it was dark and people couldn’t really see me as it would look pretty odd.

***

I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who. It was mostly quite good and I wasn’t going to comment here, but then there were some bits, small and, unfortunately, very big, that were very, very bad. So feel free to skip the rest of this post, unless you’re a fan, or you just want to see me angry.

I liked the Yaz/Dan/Professor Jericho stuff. It felt like proper Doctor Who, exciting, funny, mysterious and different. More please.

The Grand Serpent was nasty. Somehow he seemed to do more than Swarm and Azure, who look good, but, in my mind at least haven’t done much (they killed some abstract people in a somewhat abstract way), a big ‘show don’t tell’ violation. And I find myself guiltily thinking the programme is better without the Doctor being engaged in the main storyline — no slight on Jodie Whittaker, just on the general level of bombast that new series Doctors are supposed to exhibit in comparison with the original series (Yaz and Professor Jericho arguably both seemed more Doctorish in their plotline).

The mildly irritating stuff: the Ood mask was rubbish (eyes too big, tentacles too rubbery and the whole thing screaming ‘fake’). The story as a whole is sort of beginning to make sense, but some stuff just isn’t explained properly. And no upper class British general in the 1950s would use ‘task’ as a verb.

The small, but annoyingly awful bit: the in-joke vocal appearance by Lethbridge-Stewart. No one of his class and accent and paternal background (see Twice Upon a Time) rose through the ranks. He’d have gone to Sandhurst and trained as an officer from the start. And even if you take the latest dating for the UNIT stories of (our) 1970s, he must have risen through the ranks superfast to get from corporal to colonel in time for the dates to work. It’s even worse if you assume the scene takes place after The Web of Fear (as is also a possible reading) and he somehow got demoted from colonel and re-promoted. Sometimes one badly-thought through in-joke is not just unfunny, but actively annoying and undermines any good feeling the in-joke might have generated.

The very big and very awful bit (MASSIVE SPOILERS with spoiler space, although WordPress blocks might mess that up EDIT: it did mess it up, sorry):

We really didn’t need to meet the Doctor’s mother, even if she is her adopted mother. It was bad enough seeing this much of her past in The Timeless Children. Even Russell T Davies held back from overtly doing this (the woman in The End of Time is supposed to be his mother, but it isn’t actually stated on screen). It’s just a silly soap opera thing, particularly if it isn’t done for any reason other than the cliched ‘villain says the Doctor is “Just like me”; Doctor says, “No I’m not!”-parallelism.

There is an argument that the Doctor hasn’t had any real mystery since The War Games revealed his/her/their background back in 1969 (real world chronology), but this is taking it to a ridiculously self-obsessed extreme. Doctor Who isn’t fundamentally about the Doctor, it’s a show that takes the Doctor as a character and uses him/her/them to explore different environments and story styles. The problem is that the programme goes through cyclical periods of thinking that the show is absolutely about the Doctor and the Time Lords and now Division and obsessing over them until the programme can’t breathe under the weight of its own mythology. Then someone else comes along and hacks the whole thing back to basics, which is what needs to happen right now. I hope maybe the Flux will provide some way of resetting the whole universe, because I can’t see where we can go from here.

Now I feel like I need to watch some other TV to recover from the TV which upset me instead of calming me down.

The Ever-Expanding ‘To Read’ Shelf

I went to bed late last night because I suddenly got a headache late at night, probably because my room had been too cold and I overcompensated in heating it (although it wasn’t that hot). I didn’t go to bed, as I was worried I would be sick if I did, so I sat up watching an episode of The Twilight Zone (In His Image — a little corny, but well-executed). Regardless, when I woke up at 9am today, I forced myself to get up rather than letting myself fall asleep again as usual, which was good.

I didn’t do much today. Chanukah started this evening and my sister and brother-in-law came over to light candles with us (I say candles, but I use olive oil lights, as does my Dad). I didn’t go for a run as I didn’t want to risk getting an exercise migraine on the first night of Chanukah, especially with guests. I did some Torah study and went for a walk, did a bit of shopping (or tried to; the nearby shops turned out to be too small for the large bottles of vegetable oil that Mum wanted to cook with).

Chanukah candle lighting with family was good, but I got very peopled out by the end, and then went to Skype E, which was also good. I’m quite tired now, but I feel I will need some time to unwind before bed if I’m to get to sleep and to be in a reasonable state for work tomorrow. I’d like to watch tonight’s new Doctor Who episode (despite being underwhelmed by this season, and really by most episodes since late 2017), but it’s nearly an hour long and I should really go to bed soon, so I’ll probably just read for fifteen minutes or so. I just started the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Gaudy Night.

***

Tonight’s Chanukah presents: from Mum and Dad, The God Book by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, a modernised and (I admit it) simplified rendering of sections from various classic Medieval and Early Modern philosophical and pietistic theological works dealing with the nature of God

From my sister and BIL, Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a book on the evolution of intelligence in cephalopods and whether their intelligence is radically different to our own. The back cover blurb says, “How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart?” — that sounds awfully close to home to me! They also gave me a big slab of chocolate halva, which was a surprise, unlike most of my presents

From rom E, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, Dara Horn’s latest collection of essays on Jewish life, Jewish death and antisemitism. “Sounds cheery” was everyone else’s view when they saw the title, but it was the title that attracted me. I’ve thought for a while that the non-Jewish world is sadly often more comfortable with dead Jewish martyrs than with live Jews and their “difficult” religious or political views, but I didn’t think of such a pithy way of phrasing it.

Of course, as I had to admit to my sister, I haven’t quite finished the books I got for my birthday in July yet. My excuse is that Chanukah is very early this year…

Tonight’s donut: jam. I resisted the lure of a second donut, or the rogelach (chocolate pastries) that Mum was eating.

Achievement

I don’t have much to say about this Shabbat (Sabbath), but I thought that I ought to note here that, as well as going to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, I also went for Minchah, Talmud shiur and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Prayers, religious class and Evening Prayers) today. Which is good, as I hadn’t been for ages. (And people had noticed and were surprised that I came this week, which made me feel a bit bad.) Shiur was in the main room, as usual, but the ‘fathers and children’ learning groups were going on in the same room. I guess it doesn’t bother anyone because this is what a Beit Midrash (study hall, including in a yeshiva/rabbinical seminary) is like, with lots of people learning in pairs or small groups, but I find it very autistically-unfriendly and struggled to concentrate.

***

I just watched the two-part Doctor Who story The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky as part of my new Doctor Who watching with E. There are a few things I could say about it, but most of them aren’t nice (and I’ve said them before elsewhere on the web) and I’m trying not to say not nice things about books and TV now I’m hoping/praying that my own scribblings will be reviewed somewhere some day.

That said, I do wonder why the Sontarans (militaristic potatoes) have been brought back so many times whereas their arch-enemies the Rutans (shape-shifting green jellyfish) have only been seen once, at least on TV Doctor Who. I find the Rutans much more interesting, to be honest. I guess the Sontarans are easier to do on a budget (masks and space armour) than giant jellyfish. I would like to see another Rutan story, or one in which we actually see the much-discussed Sontaran-Rutan War, said to have been waging for millennia.

I will also say that Luke Rattigan is a really annoying character, and not in a good way. And that Mark Zuckerberg is blatantly in league with evil space aliens (sorry, went a bit Meta there).

Good News/Bad News (Again)

The good news: the autism hospital called me back. It sounds like I’m the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT, but don’t have funding yet. I’m not sure what that means practically. What do I need to do to get therapy? The woman I spoke to, who doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, is going to email the woman who does deal with it and ask her to phone me back, which I hope she does. I’m just really pleased to finally have a moderately good NHS story!

***

On the downside, I realised I’ve made some mistakes with my novel submissions. I knew agents like novels to be double spaced, and my manuscript is double spaced. However, agents also like novels/sample chapters pasted into the body of the text, not sent as attachments. I didn’t realise until yesterday that the cutting and pasting was undoing the double spacing, due to the not-very-good webmail system I use for email (which I use now mainly because of the hassle of telling everyone I’ve changed my email, not that I really know that many people to tell). When I realised this, I sent the second submission yesterday from my secondary, gmail, account, which seemed to keep the double spacing when I pasted, but I forgot to change the email address in my personal details, so it refers to my primary email, not the one the document is coming from. I have to hope that this will be OK, or that now I’ve sorted it, it will be better moving forward. I guess it’s a learning curve, and that I will be using the gmail for professional purposes from now on.

***

My blood test results from the other week are all fine, but I’m conscious again that I’m a bit overweight. I know it’s largely due to tablets, but I’m going to have to try harder to lose some of it…

Running to Stand Still

I am still looking for agent for my novel. I submitted to two today. They are only the third and fourth agent I’ve sent to in last four weeks. I’m not sure why I’ve been going slowly; some of it is feeling that there are still a lot of things in my life that I need to deal with NOW (the treading water feeling that I am not progressing, just running to setand still). I have to prioritise, and it is easy to say that submitting my manuscript is not a high priority, which might not be correct.

Finding an agent and then a publisher is definitely a marathon, or a series of marathons, and not a sprint, but it is easy to get disheartened particularly when (a) I don’t have great self-esteem in general or belief in my writing ability, (b) I’m also looking for writing and other paid work and not getting anywhere and (c) I’m in a job where I frequently end up feeling incompetent and inadequate, which just undermines my self-esteem further.

***

Reading Orlando, there is a lot about Orlando struggling to fit in with the spirit of the literature of her age. Reading between the lines, I assume this is about author Virginia Woolf and her lover Vita Sackville-West (the model for Orlando) struggling to fit into the still-pervading atmosphere of Victorian conservatism and patriarchy in literature and society in the 1920s. Ironically, Orlando‘s gender-fluid and feminist themes mean that Orlando is very much in tune with twenty-first century Western literary mores, probably more so than Woolf could ever have dreamed. I am still hoping that the ‘diversity’ agenda that dominates contemporary publishing will work to my advantage, but so far as I can tell from the books that get the praise and the prizes, ‘diversity’ is primarily about being black, gay or trans (or all of the above), not disabled (autistic or depressed) and definitely not Orthodox Jewish. Which is a shame, as I feel that many people know rather less about Jews than they think they do, and that this ignorance leads to a lot of avoidable antisemitism.

(Don’t get me started on viewpoint diversity in publishing or elsewhere.)

***

I did a few other things today. I wrote my devar Torah in an hour. I felt like I was winging it. Sometimes reading the sedra (Torah portion) early in the week prompts an idea to talk about or sends me doing research in other books. Sometimes I already have an idea that I want to impart and look for a link in a sedra (Torah portion) where I can relate it. But today I was stumped for ideas and just thought about things I’d already heard about the sedra until I found one I felt I could write about for about 600 words. I think it’s OK, and I did try to write in a slightly different style to my usual one, with more of an arresting opening and a bit more inspirational than usual. This was partly to make my writing more attention-grabbing and purposeful, largely to nudge my style a bit closer towards that of the Jewish website I applied to write, to see if I can actually write in their style.

***

I phoned the autism hospital to try to get a number I can phone to find out if I’m on the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT. I phoned the person I spoke to last week who says she doesn’t deal with it any more. At the time I didn’t think to ask her for the details of whoever does deal with it and now I’m struggling to find out. I feel stupid about not doing this at the time, but I know autism + on-the-spot interpersonal interactions + telephones is not a good combination and I do end up thinking of things I should have said when I look back on these types of calls.

***

Overall, I did quite a bit today (I skyped E too, and went for a walk and did some shopping), but my ‘to do’ list is still so long, and I might have to submit to so many agents, that it can all seem very dispiriting at times.

Useful Phrases and Toxic Positivity (and Doctor Who)

Work today was mostly OK, except for a bit when I was on the phone to someone I often struggle to understand and then J started talking to me. I could not listen to both people and once and I heard nothing. At the time, I thought this was an autistic sensory or processing thing, but it’s probably something lots of people would struggle with it.

***

I’ve been thinking today about a couple of useful phrases for mental wellbeing. One was something I heard on an NHS group therapy thing I went to a few years ago. “I’m not responsible for the first thought, I am responsible for the second.” I can’t remember the exact context where I first heard this. I think it was mostly directed at self-esteem, as in I’m not responsible if a self-critical thought comes into my head, but I don’t have to follow it up with more. It’s good for dealing with those kinds of thoughts, but I use it with a lot of other difficult thoughts, particularly the type which, if dwelt upon, can push me towards pure O OCD (idolatrous thoughts, violent thoughts, sexual thoughts). I can just say that I’m not responsible for random thoughts that come into my head, so no guilt and catastrophising about being a terrible person for having such a thought, but also that I have the power not to dwell on them so I can move on, which is empowering.

The other phrase was something I learnt on a confidence and self-esteem course I did many years ago. I think some of the course veered towards toxic positivity, but one thing that was useful was the mantra, “It’s none of my business what other people think of me.” That’s actually quite powerful and I focused on it today after the telephone awkwardness. I do tend to think that a lot of people have negative thoughts about me (people who don’t know my issues/struggles, but who witness my social awkwardness), but I can at least try not to care about it.

***

Speaking of toxic positivity, I listened to a Normal Frum Women podcast on the subject yesterday. It was good, but I felt that they didn’t really get into the issue of toxic positivity in a Jewish religious setting. They spoke a bit about the sociological side of things, like mourning rituals creating time and space for sadness, but they didn’t really get into the theology. A lot of people would argue that Jews are supposed to be grateful and joyous all the time. This is an idea that is identified most strongly with Hasidism (particularly Breslov Hasidism), but can be found in other places too. This can be hard to accept or follow.

Part of the problem is that most of the sources dealing with joy and sadness date from before the development of modern psychology, so they don’t really distinguish sadness from clinical depression. Even accepting that, I think it is OK to say that sometimes the emphasis on joy and happiness isn’t always healthy or achievable, and that there is a place for sadness (they said this on the podcast, just not with religious sources). I used to know a Yeshivish rabbi who used to say that he was very glad that he isn’t a Breslov Hasid as he couldn’t be happy all the time. (It is also worth noting that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was also far from being joyous all the time and quite possibly had bipolar disorder, so we shouldn’t feel bad about not living up to a standard even he didn’t reach.)

Beyond that, I think there is a sense that joy is not the same as happiness or positivity. Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl wrote an essay on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in his Sukkot machzor (Tabernacles prayerbook). It’s a while since I read it, but I think he says that Kohelet is a book permeated with death and the sense of the shortness and futility of life, but it also has the word ‘joy’ more than any other book in Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible). The paradox is resolved because joy is not about always being happy and more about living in the moment and being grateful for what you do have, something that is compatible with feeling sadness from time to time.

***

Doctor Who thoughts, feel free to skip: I watched The Fires of Pompeii with E (long-distance). It’s a strange story, full of postmodern comedy, then it ends with the city being destroyed and loads of people dying. Doctor Who has done this before (the original series story The Myth Makers, about the fall of Troy, is very similar, tonally, although it’s hard to compare them directly as the older story no longer survives), but it seems weirdly awkward.

It seems like when Doctor Who, original or modern, does a historical story set within living memory, the writers and designers bust a gut to get every detail right and it’s all taken very seriously. No one is going to suggest the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Rosa) or the partition of India (Demons of the Punjab) were anything other than serious, tragic episodes, and while there is humour (e.g. the Doctor claiming to be Banksy in Rosa), it’s low-key and it doesn’t send up the period. Nothing like the Cockney Roman stallholder in The Fires of Pompeii.

If it’s set beyond living memory, however, suddenly the most outrageous errors (beyond artistic licence), anachronisms and silliness are permissible, even if it ends badly. The Witchfinders in particular sticks in my craw, for many reasons. Hence The Fires of Pompeii, an episode that mostly feels like Asterix… right up until the city gets destroyed. Weird.

There is a sense that, if no one in the audience can remember it, it’s ripe for comedy, which is a bit shocking for a programme that was originally supposed to teach children about history and to present the past on its own terms, as being as valid as the perspective of the present. Admittedly it wandered from this attitude very quickly, also in a story set in the ancient Roman Empire ending in catastrophe (the Fire of Rome in The Romans, a story very much in the same vein as The Fires of Pompeii). The Fires of Pompeii is far from being unique here, but the tragic nature of the climax, combined with the broadness of the comedy beforehand, make it particularly noticeable. I would like it if we could go back to really well-researched historical stories, but I suspect I’m in a minority here.

(Actually, I’ve just remembered Let’s Kill Hitler, a story that isn’t actually about killing Hitler, but does not exactly get to grips with the brutal reality of the Third Reich. It’s more about River Song trying to kill the Doctor, but I guess if I were inclined I could see it as more evidence of Jews not being considered a real oppressed minority in the eyes of the woke/BBC, although 2011 is a bit early for true wokeness. Anyway, as a general rule, my point still stands: recent tragedy: serious; further back: mockery.)

(Trivia point I noticed a while back: The War Games (1969) is closer in time to World War One (1914-1918) than Rosa (2018) is to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), yet it doesn’t feel that way.)

Meet the Parents

***

I felt so drained today. It was hard to get up or do anything. I did eventually cook dinner (vegetarian red bean chilli). By the time I finished that, I had only a little over an hour until my Zoom call with E’s parents. The call was nerve wracking, and longer than I expected (nearly an hour and a half), but it went well, I think. I didn’t get much else done today, between being drained and then anxious about meeting E’s parents. I guess that’s understandable. I wish I didn’t have work tomorrow, but I do, unfortunately (J has a meeting so rearranged his in-office days and I had to follow suit).

***

A job I was vaguely thinking of applying for, even though it was full-time, has closed. I’m not sure if they found someone early or if I’ve been so busy with other things that I ran out of time. I’m not greatly upset, as I think my parents’ idea of applying for full-time jobs and then asking to do it as a job share is not the most realistic. Nevertheless, I would be happier if I heard from the places I’ve written or pitched to recently about articles and my novel. I wish I could feel I was moving forward a little with my career(s).

***

I feel like I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in my post yesterday. I was trying to say that I should not argue back with culture warriors, but to write the truth of my own personal life instead, what I know experientially to be true, rather than what I think is true on a political, economic, cultural or religious level. I don’t think arguing on a political (etc.) level really works. I think that didn’t come across (despite the title), maybe because I was too tired. So I just want to clarify that.

***

I dreamt about turkeys last night. I’m obviously hanging around with too many Americans, or reading American-Jewish websites.

A Conscientious Objector in the Culture Wars

I had a not-very-good-but-not-very-bad day leading to an exhausted evening. But in the back of my head all day was stuff triggered by the news, and I want to talk about that instead.

I do increasingly feel that we live in a world of lies (olam shel sheker is the Hebrew term, with mystical overtones, but I can use it quite literally). It used to be that politicians of different stripes shared the same values even if they disagreed on the means to attain them, and journalists felt an obligation to report the truth even if it reflected badly on “their” side. There was a time when the impartiality of the BBC was a real thing. Now we’re fragmented into little statelets of like-minded people, in a state of perpetual war with people whose worldviews are incompatible with our own. Even if we wanted to get along, we don’t see the world in the same way (sometimes in a profoundly metaphysical sense e.g. debates around abortion and euthanasia that revolve around the definition of ‘life’). We forget that ‘my opinion’ and ‘my narrative’ is not the same as objective truth (which only God has direct access to).

Note that I am using the first person plural. I want to be a conscientious objector in the culture wars, but people keep pressing guns into my hands, and I do not always get rid of them in time.

Philip K. Dick asked, “How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?” This is what we must learn to do, those of us who have to write. We must learn to tell the truth. Inevitably, we can only tell the truth as we see it, but we must tell it as we really see it, not as we think we see it or as we want to see it, not as the politicians, journalists, NGOs, etc. want us to see it, even if we lose friends, even if we get ‘cancelled,’ even if we lose our own beliefs in the process. As George Orwell said, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

On and On and On

Today I’ve been up and down. I’m fine, I’m low, I’m fine, I want to cry, I’m fine… It’s hard to tell what triggered this, or maybe there are too many possible causes. Possible causes:

1) I haven’t had any response for my pitches to the Jewish newspaper, Jewish website or from the last couple of novel agents I submitted to. I haven’t had any time to submit to more agents. I don’t know what other websites or publications I might pitch to at the moment. This probably isn’t unusual and might not even mean that those publications/agents aren’t interested at this stage, but I’m finding the total radio silence unnerving. I’d like to hear something, even if it’s to say that I’m pitching the wrong way or to the wrong people.

2) I’m a bit upset that social anxiety seems to be winning in my life, at least at shul (see yesterday’s post) and a bit at work, inasmuch as I hope to avoid the Very Scary Task, although to be fair I’m not actively avoiding it. I would like to do autism-adapted CBT to work on this, but who knows when I will be able to do so?

3) I’m frustrated at not having much time for writing either, although I did spend some time on novel research last night. To be fair, part of my frustration is about being stuck in research and not writing mode.

Not everything is in limbo: I have E, and I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week. Being long-distance with E is hard now we’ve been in person, but it’s better than nothing. I also feel like I only get things when I’m at my wits’ end about them, and I’m not there yet with work and writing (or writing for work). I’m somewhat nervous about meeting E’s parents on Zoom later this week, but I have to do it sooner or later, and it’s better to do it sooner.

Otherwise it was a dull day: I got up a little earlier than usual, did some Torah study, went for a run, and Mum cut my hair. C’est tout.

***

Doctor Who was good (Village of the Angels), surprisingly so, although perhaps not so surprising given that it basically rehashed tried and tested set-pieces from other Weeping Angels stories. I feel there is only so much you can do with the Weeping Angels. I suspect it will turn out to be the best episode of the six part season story, as I’m expecting the concluding episodes to drift into technobabble and incoherence; already I feel I’m vague on anything to do with the ongoing storyline about the Flux and the villainous Swarm and Azure (good costumes, though) and more focused on the plotlines of individual episodes like the Sontarans in the Crimean War in episode two or the Village of the Angels tonight.

Post-Shabbat Blues

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was tranquil on the surface, but I think it pointed out hidden tensions in my mind and I feel quite drained and low now.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. When I got home, I had quite a long talk with my parents about the cremation they had been to for my Mum’s cousin. I hadn’t really been able to speak to them about it before, as they only got back from it an hour or so before Shabbat and I was busy showering and getting ready for Shabbat. There was something Mum said that I won’t talk about here that I think I need to spend some time internalising, maybe in therapy.

***

Mum told me that my oldest friend was in one of the Jewish newspapers. I had emailed him last week as I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He hasn’t got back to me yet. I struggled with some thoughts again. I’m pleased that he’s doing well with his life, but sometimes it seems like our lives were so similar in primary school and the early years of secondary school and then we grew apart as we got older, although we never fell out or lost touch, just went in different directions. The fact that I’m not on social media probably doesn’t help us stay in touch, as I think he uses Facebook quite a bit for life announcements.

I try really hard these days not to feel jealous of other people’s lives, when they seem to be doing much better than me, and a lot of the time I succeed, but my oldest friend is ultra-hard given how parallel our lives once were. We even looked alike, except that he was a lot taller – people assumed he was my older brother. I kept thinking of the two identical goats for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) in ancient times, the one for God and the other thrown off the cliff (the origin of the word ‘scapegoat’). I think I was the one who got thrown off the cliff.

After a bit of time on Friday night I got to a point of relative equanimity about this, but then I dreamt about my friend last night, so it’s obviously still bothering me unconsciously.

***

The other dream I had last night was about Rabbi Sacks. I feel like I’m still grieving him, and grieving the guidance I feel he could have given me about my life if I’d been able to engineer a situation where I met him. If I could have had the confidence to go to some events where he was, or if I had been in a Jewish youth movement especially as a youth leaders, or a leader at the university Jewish Society, as so many prominent people in the Modern Orthodox community were. But I was terrified of most people my own age as a teenager because of being bullied at school and perhaps also because autism meant I simply couldn’t communicate easily with them and understand unspoken communication. The result was that I avoided most group social stuff until it was too late. By the time I was in my late twenties or thirties and wanted to meet people, they were all married and settling down.

I should probably stop going on about this. I’m not sure how I can grieve someone I never met and only knew through his writing, which I still have.

***

After lunch I could have had seudah (the Third Sabbath meal) and gone to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), Talmud shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), but I went to bed for a bit and then davened (prayed) at home, and did Talmud study at home after Shabbat. I’m not sure why I did this, but it’s definitely an anxiety thing, probably fear of being asked to lead Minchah in shul as the second Minchah has few people and fewer who are willing/able to lead the service. I struggle to keep up in shiur and I feel uncomfortable helping to tidy up after Ma’ariv; I always feel I just get in everyone’s way and I don’t know how to help (I’ve mentioned before Amanda Harrington’s idea about people on the spectrum wanting to help, but just getting in the way). There’s probably some common or garden social anxiety too. It’s also hard to go out on Shabbat when it’s cold and overcast; it’s harder when the event I’m going to inspires so many negative feelings.

I feel like I’ve gone backwards over COVID time and the social anxiety that used to be around Shabbat morning prayers has spread to the afternoon too. Lately I’ve given up even trying to go in the mornings.

***

I finished reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, about the rabbis of Przysucha (pronounced Peshischa) and Kotzk. It’s a book that clearly resonates with me as this was the third or fourth time I’ve read it in thirteen years.

In the closing pages of the appendices (p. 355-356), Rabbi Rosen writes:

Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…

By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.

I think I’ve been very reluctant to make real or apparent compromises over the years, hence my resistance to so many groups where perhaps I might have made friends and been accepted if I’d just let my guard down and gone. I also feel that nowadays most of the Jewish community is closer to the “feeling heimish” end of the Jewish spectrum than the “quest for authenticity” end. Maybe, post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust, heimish is the most we can hope for from the community as a whole. Or maybe it was ever thus. Or maybe organised yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) study for young people provides a mechanism for some people to grow and develop, although I’m not convinced that this is always the case from what I’ve heard. Ironically, it is the sense of authenticity and fear of dropping my guard that contributed to my not going to yeshiva (as well as my not being a youth/Jewish Society leader), although there were other reasons too.

***

There’s a lot of negativity in this post. I don’t really feel negative, just a bit down. I mostly feel cautiously positive these days, but I guess there’s a lot of anxiety and fear below the surface about the fact that I’m still trying to get my life together. I can see the next step or two, but not beyond that, and that’s scary when you’re nearly forty, only working part-time and, in some sense, disabled, and want to settle down and try to start a family.

Autistic Regression, A Tail to Foxes, and More

You can’t become autistic. You’re either born on the autism spectrum or not. However, autistic people can mask their autistic traits, suppressing their desire to stim or forcing themselves to endure sensory overload, using their cognitive skills to engage in social interactions that allistics (non-autistics) do intuitively and so on. Sometimes they can mask so well and for so long that they don’t even know that they are autistic until it suddenly becomes to much and — BANG! — they start showing autistic symptoms because they’re too drained to mask any more. Hence adults appear to suddenly “become” autistic, to the surprise (and often horror) of family, friends and work colleagues. (This is kind of what happened to me, although not entirely.) This process of losing the ability to mask and “power through” disability has the rather brutal title of “autistic regression,” where people can lose skills (possibly permanently, although research into this is ongoing).

As well as coming at a time of autistic burnout, autistic regression can happen at any time as a result of autistic overload. One autistic person whose blog I read can lose the power of speech when she is very overloaded. I don’t lose speech totally, but when I’m overloaded I can become monosyllabic and irritably refuse to engage with anyone who tries to talk to me.

The last few days I seem to have been struggling with sensory sensitivity and I’m not sure why. Yesterday I was really overwhelmed by the smell of the mint in the chicken Mum cooked and served (I’m vegetarian on weekdays, so I didn’t taste it, which was a bit of a relief). Today the highlighter pen I was using at work had a smell that made me feel a little ill, even from a distance of a foot or more. I went into the shopping centre on the way home and there is a stall there that has some kind of flashing light thing that I usually tolerate or even like, but today it was just too overloading. I definitely am less able to tolerate sensory stuff at the end of a long work day, but I’m not sure why the mint was so overwhelming yesterday. It is a bit scary when this happens, when I suddenly seem to slip towards the less functional end of the autism spectrum.

***

Work was difficult today. There was an element of helping with the Very Scary Task. I also realised I had thrown away something that J wanted me to keep. To be fair, I think he said to throw it away, although there was probably a communication error. This has not stopped me being self-critical, although not as much as in the past. I also had a very difficult task, trying to reconcile four pairs of accounts. I sorted the first two pairs and am still on the third; I haven’t touched the fourth yet. It took me a while to work out how even to approach the third pair, but I got there in the end (hopefully).

***

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul (synagogue) building where I work. The speed of davening (prayer) was incredibly fast as usual. I am used to the slower speed of my shul. I am trying to remember if the fast speed is typical for the United Synagogue. I think it was fast even for the US, but the average US speed is faster than my current shul.

I was thinking about this because I’ve been reflecting on the future and one day moving back to a US shul. I would not like to have a shul that davened as fast as the work shul as my main place to daven. However, I had reflected recently that I may feel more comfortable in a US environment where I am one of the more religiously learned and capable members, partly because there is less fear of being rejected, but mostly because I am more likely to engage with the community and do things (lead prayers, share my divrei Torah, give shiurim) if I feel there are few people in the community who can do these things. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that it is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox, but I think I’m more comfortable as a fox head. But should I be trying to be comfortable?

***

Tomorrow is going to be hectic, as my parents are going to the cremation of my Mum’s cousin, who died a week or two ago. She wasn’t religious; cremation is not allowed in Orthodox Judaism, nor is leaving a body unburied for so long without a good reason. For some reason this has disturbed me and I’m not sure why. To clarify, cremation is believed to cause great pain to the soul and that is why it disturbed me. What I don’t know is why this particular cremation upset me. I wasn’t close to the cousin (I think I only met her once) and I’ve had other relatives cremated without feeling the same way about them. But something about this has got to me, and I’ve been thinking about her periodically. Feeling that I want to do something, but there isn’t anything I can do. Maybe it feels worse because she has fallen out with her sister, who isn’t sitting shiva (mourning) for her.

The reality of Judaism in the twenty-first century is that frum (religious) Jews are a minority of a minority. This means that many frum Jews have non-frum relatives. The options are either to accept that you can’t control other people, even family, even your children; or to cut people who think or act differently to you out of your life. Some frum Jews do the latter quite ruthlessly and, to be fair, there are non-frum Jews who cut newly-frum relatives out of their lives. I made the choice many years ago to go down the “accept I can’t control other people” route. It’s hard sometimes, but I’m sure in my mind that it’s the best option, morally, religiously and pragmatically. It does sometimes lead to thoughts and feelings that have nowhere to go, though.

***

I am currently reading Orlando, which E gave me for my birthday. I wanted to read it as it’s her favourite book and I thought that as she is watching Doctor Who, I should do something in return. I’m finding it more readable than I expected. I didn’t have very clear expectations, but I guess I had an idea of Virginia Woolf as an austere litterateur and humourless political radical who wouldn’t believe in joking around until Patriarchy is destroyed. Actually, Orlando is pretty funny. However, I can see why Philip K. Dick described Woolf as someone who wrote about nothing at all, meaning that there isn’t much plot.

***

I listened to episodes of Hancock’s Half-Hour while walking to and from the station on work days this week. Hancock’s Half-Hour was a sitcom on the radio and later the TV in the fifties and early sixties. I grew up listening to it and recently bought what survives of the first radio series on CD (as with early Doctor Who and many, many other TV and radio programmes, not all of it survives). It is dated in places, but remarkably modern-sounding in others. It’s hard to listen to dialogue when walking along busy roads, but it has cheered up my walk home when exhausted at the end of the day this week and makes a change from music.

Kafkaesque

I woke up again at 7am after only having had about six hours of sleep. I thought about getting up, but six hours sleep didn’t seem enough, so I went back to sleep and, inevitably, slept through most of the morning. I think it’s weird that this keeps happening. Maybe my body is trying to tell me I really don’t need so much sleep, but I do find it hard to get by on six hours, so I wonder why I keep waking up after that amount, and why I sleep for so long afterwards if I don’t need it. I think I need to bite the bullet and get up at 7am or whenever I wake up and see what happens, but it’s hard to think like that when I’ve only just woken up and I only get a few seconds to decide what to do before I fall asleep again.

After I fell asleep again, I was having some weird bad dream when my Dad knocked on the door. I think I gasped audibly or even screamed, but I’m not sure.

***

When I filled in the job agency registration form yesterday, they asked for references. I gave two, but I thought I ticked (or tried to tick — it’s hard on a Word document) the box for not asking them for references yet. However, J texted me today to say he’s been asked for a reference. There isn’t much I can do about it now, and it’s probably not a bad thing that J knows that I’m looking for supplementary work especially as I’m still hoping he’ll make my current role permanent (technically I’m a freelance contractor even though I’ve been there for a year now). Still, it was a conversation I was hoping to push off for a bit.

***

More fun with bureaucracy: the autism hospital phoned me back, which surprised me a bit. The person I spoke to said that they need a referral form from the GP rather than a letter, which may be what the problem was. She said that she doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, but that she thought the people who do would have sent the form to the GP. I’m not sure that this has been done, although it’s hard to tell, because there is apparently a huge backlog of referrals that they are working through (I assume because of COVID). I didn’t think to ask for contact details for those people when I was on the phone (because I’m autistic and have issues with dealing with conversations, especially on the phone!). I phoned back afterwards to do so, but it went straight to voicemail. So I may be on the waiting list already, or I may not be, but I’m not sure how I find out for sure. Honestly, it’s like something out of Kafka.

***

I emailed my oldest friend. We haven’t Skyped for a while and I wondered how he was getting on. More selfishly (not exactly selfish, but focused on the self), as my relationship with E gets more serious, I feel I need to mention her to my friends, so it won’t be a shock (or too much of a shock) when we get engaged.

***

I had a positive therapy session, but in many ways my biggest breakthrough was outside therapy. It was in realising that, while I do not have good Talmud studying skills, I do have some good Midrash study skills. The Midrash is the rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative, like fan fiction that explores the characters and themes of the original text. Midrash can be hard to understand, as it can be intensely symbolic, even surreal, but the meaning of the symbolism may be unique to the individual passage, so there isn’t a set of universally-applicable ‘keys’ to learn. There is a tendency in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world to take Midrash very literally and to see the text as revealed by God in a straightforward way (similar to the Haredi understanding of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)), but in the Modern Orthodox world, it is seen as more literary and authored by individual rabbis rather than an objective description of factual events.

I find this a lot easier to understand that legal arguments. Yesterday I went from being curious about a passage in the Torah to looking up some Midrashim (in translation), finding a relevant Midrash, being baffled about the meaning, figuring out what seemed a likely symbolic reading and linking that symbolic reading to an understanding of the wider narrative in the Torah that it related to and writing a devar Torah about this with a homiletic conclusion all in the space of an hour or so. I think not many people would have been able to do that, even if they could understand halakhic (legal) passages of Talmud easily. It’s really a creative process not a rational/logical one. You stare at it for a bit and either the meaning of the passage suddenly hits you or it doesn’t and you go to the next one. Certainly having experience in reading serious literature helps here. (In fairness, there were other Midrashim I looked at that I couldn’t understand.)

I would like to build wider Midrash study skills further, but that would require investing time on improving my rabbinic Hebrew and also investing money on buying some volumes of Midrash rather than relying on Sefaria.org (there isn’t much Midrash easily available in parallel Hebrew-English translation). It is something to keep in mind for the future.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner. I had warned my parents that I would probably be drained after therapy (I feel like I’m just expected to fall in with everyone else’s plans). I definitely got ‘peopled out’ partway through the evening, around the time I had to listen to the story of my parents’ recent holiday for the second time (the first was the Shabbat after they got home, but sister and BIL weren’t here then). Perhaps because I was drained, my inner filter switched off and I was — not rude exactly, but cheeky. I have to admit they are still here, and I just slipped away from the meal because I needed a break. Even though my sister, BIL and I have early starts tomorrow, the meal is still ongoing. It is getting rather late and I really want it to be over, not because it’s bad, but because I just need some downtime before bed. I should probably go back downstairs and rejoin everyone as I’ve been up here for quarter of an hour…

Blood Test Manoeuvres in the Dark

I had a blood test today at 11.20am. I booked it for earlier than usual (I would normally go for the afternoon) to force myself to get up earlier and get more out of the day. I did struggle to get up on time, and went back to bed for a while after I got home.

The blood test was in a room where the lights were off and the blinds half-drawn. I’m guessing the phlebotamist had a headache rather than there being some problem with the lights, but this is the NHS, so who knows? I was a little nervous of someone sticking needles in me in poor light. At least I didn’t seem to shake much, or maybe the phlebotamist didn’t notice in the dark.

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital in the afternoon to try to find out what my GP needs to do to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but there was no answer. I left a message, but am not hopeful of getting a response.

Other than that, my main task for today was to fill in registration forms for a job agency. I’ve been with them for a number of years, but apparently it’s been so long that I need to register again. This probably reflects badly on my ability to find permanent work, although I suppose it reflects equally badly on their ability to find permanent work for me.

That was very boring and I got sidetracked into reading politics stuff online, which initially reinforced the curmudgeonly feelings I had woken up with, but eventually turned into guilt and self-disgust for bothering to read this stuff. Honestly, I’d rather avoid politics. Sometimes I feel like I’m overwhelmed by political opinions and unable to process them rationally in the time available, so I swing into sudden anger or impulsive policy decisions that I disagree with later. Structural changes in journalism due to technological and social change, including the advent of social media, seem to have had a negative affect on the mainstream media, making it less researched and more clickbaity, less focused on telling us what happened and more focused on telling us what to think (or rather, feel) about what happened. I’m aware that this is not an original perspective by any means, and that it might even be a product of the situation it describes, which is a scary thought.

Even so, the banality of politics continues to annoy me. The local Labour Party sent a flier through the door the other day promising a “Stronger Future Together”. I’m not sure how the future can be stronger (or weaker, for that matter). Not that the Conservatives are any better, somehow winning a landslide with the vapid “Build Back Better” slogan in the last general election. You can take alliteration too far. Still, someone must have liked it, as Joe Biden stole it for his presidential campaign the next year. (Not the first time Biden has borrowed from British politicians. He withdrew from the Democratic primary race in 1987 partly for having plagiarised a famous speech by then Labour leader Neil Kinnock.)

(Don’t take the above paragraph too seriously, I’m just feeling cynical today.)

My mood did pick up after a while, although I wish I had not wasted so much time today as there was more I wanted to do.

I did work on my devar Torah for the week, but I struggled to find the source I wanted. I have a book called The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities. The name is somewhat misleading, as it mostly lists Midrashic (rabbinic) material on biblical characters rather than summarising the biblical narrative. It is a useful way of finding rabbinic perspectives on particular figures or locating specific Midrashim (rabbinic expansions of the biblical story), but I like to try and check the sources in full, as sometimes the passages are highly edited. However, I could not find the source even in Hebrew on online Jewish library Sefaria. This may be because the referencing in the book wasn’t accurate. I can use the source as quoted in the Encyclopedia, but I do feel vaguely guilty about doing so.

I think the devar Torah was OK though. This is a part of it:

There are a number of Hasidic tales that have a similar structure whereby a Hasid wants God to grant him wealth or health, not for its own sake, but so that he can study and pray more. However, the Rebbe tells him that God does not want his prayer, study or service, but rather He wants the struggle the Hasid has to endure, and the sighs that he makes, in his effort to serve God while still living as a human being with a need for sustenance and health.

I’ve written things along these lines, about God wanting effort rather than achievement, a number of times in my divrei Torah. I really hope I can start believing it!

Then and Now

I feel that sometimes bad things happen and I write about them, but when they get resolved, I forget to mention it. I think I forgot to mention that the ringing I had in my ears a while back stopped after a few days of steam inhalation. Similarly, I had a couple of recent days of emotional lowness and worried I was drifting into depression, but I mostly seem to have been OK since then, albeit with the caveat that my ‘normal’ mood is generally somewhat lower in the winter than the summer, and that I can dip into low mood for a while during a day in response to external events, or just being hungry or tired.

***

Yesterday I applied for the writing job I wrote about recently. That took much of my Sunday afternoon. I didn’t do much else. I went for a walk, skyped E, did some Torah study. That was about it.

Today at work I had to go to one of our other sites, which at least got me out of the office. I was absolutely exhausted when I got home (then had to make supper as Mum wasn’t feeling well). I couldn’t do the things I was hoping to do tonight, although planning to do anything after work is always risky. I worry how I will cope if I work more hours.

J pointed out that I’d made a fairly big mistake last week. It’s possible I just misheard what someone said to me over the phone. The more worrying interpretation is that my brain simply wasn’t working properly as I was trying to listen, write and think (and ‘people’ a bit, which is harder over the phone) all at the same time, while also trying not to give in to social anxiety. I guess Explanation 2 is just an elaborated version of Explanation 1. All of which makes me worry about my future in the workplace (any workplace). It’s hard to tell how annoyed/concerned J is about this, as he’s pretty laid back about everything and I can’t work out if that means this is OK or he’s angry, but chooses not to show it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, a nicely put together (and surprisingly long) tribute book to Rabbi Lord Sacks published by the United Synagogue for his first yortzeit (death anniversary). The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of Rabbi Sacks taken at various events during his Chief Rabbinate. The Anglo-Jewish community is very small and I’ve already spotted a number of people I know in the photos with him.

Today I spotted my first girlfriend in one of the group photos. According to the caption, it was almost certainly taken while we were together. It was a bit of a shock, being reminded of my previous life. I was a different person back then. It did make me reflect, not for the first time, that E is really the best person for me. None of my other girlfriends/dates/crushes (not that there were many of the first two) came close to connecting with me, understanding me or caring for me as well as she does.

The downside of reminiscing is that part of me still struggles in the way I did back then with a lot of day-to-day tasks, and with sleep and energy levels, and I am not sure how to deal with that, because finding True Love apparently doesn’t magically stop you being autistic and socially anxious.

***

This week’s new Doctor Who episode was pretty much typical new Doctor Who. I was going to say something about the fact that I could barely understand it and none of it really resonated with me, but I keep coming back to the idea that the programme isn’t made for people like me (resolutely non-fashionable middle aged fans), it’s being made for a family audience and especially children of the twenty-first century. If it didn’t have the name Doctor Who I probably wouldn’t watch it and I probably wouldn’t care, but because it has the name on it, and because I’m emotionally invested in ‘Doctor Who‘ (whatever that means), I care.

It’s funny how much of my fan life has been spent trying to define the difference between the Doctor Who I like most and the Doctor Who I don’t like as much (or at all). There’s a fan joke that goes, “What’s the definition of a Doctor Who fan? Someone who hates Doctor Who” and, while I don’t think that’s entirely true, it does define a certain type of person, and certain part of most fans. We (i.e. fans) try to maintain that there’s just one big thing called Doctor Who, but really it’s made up of lots and lots of little bits and it’s OK to like some of it and not other parts without needing to explain yourself (he said, explaining himself).

***

I posted this on Margaret’s blog and thought it was probably better here than in a comment thread. It was responding to a meme about books being more lavish, detailed and beautiful than the films that are based on them. I wrote:

I don’t think that meme about the book vs. the movie/film is always true. I can think of a number of stories where the film is as good or better than the book, although to be fair, in some cases the book was written primarily as the first stage in writing the screenplay (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Third Man). I think the meme discounts the artistry present in good direction, acting, cinematography and even design e.g. Blade Runner, which purely in plot terms is worse than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, cutting out the subplots as well as over-simplifying plot and character, but the direction and design work add a whole level resulting in a film that feels like an immersive environment.

As a librarian, bibliophile and aspiring novelist, I feel vaguely treacherous for saying that the film can be better than the book, but I am a Dispassionate Truth-Speaker and will not lie!

The Fire Sermon

I felt exhausted all day on Friday. Shul (synagogue) in the evening was OK. It seemed quieter than usual. I’m not sure why, possibly there were fewer people. There was a devar Torah that I didn’t like that much. It was based on a very mystical worldview that I didn’t really buy into, and an approach towards Midrash that I don’t really accept, taken to some very strange conclusions. The person who gave it (it’s a slot open to the community) asked if I understood it. I said yes, which is true, I understood it, I just didn’t agree with it. I still struggle to disagree with people, and I feel a more Maimonidean religious rationalist understanding wouldn’t go down well in my community.

I had dinner with some friends, which was nice. It was just four of us, so I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I feared I might be. When I got home I had a long chat with my parents about their holiday. I also had a treat: I read Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I hadn’t read for years. I suspect Eliot’s worldview and understanding of literature is about as far from fashionable as is possible at the moment, and I have never really been able to analyse and understand the poem, but I’ve always found it beautifully written. There are lines embedded in my memory.

I woke up about 7am and thought about getting up. I knew I wasn’t going to go to shul in the morning, as I thought I needed to recuperate after socialising yesterday, but I thought I should get up to try to sort out my sleep pattern, but I just couldn’t face it, and ended up sleeping again. I napped twice in the afternoon too, once briefly, but once for an hour (my parents were also asleep, and we all slept through the end of Shabbat). I had wanted to go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), but didn’t make it. It’s hard to unpick why; I think the napping is avoidance, driven by social anxiety and feelings of disconnection with the community. I had these before COVID, but the prolonged periods without shul, or with uncomfortable regulations, has just made them worse. I’m not sure what to do now. It presumably is something I could work on in autism-adjusted CBT, but I’m not even on the waiting list for that yet, with the GP currently refusing to apply to the CCG for funding. I need to phone the hospital to ask what I should tell the GP, but I feel (a) like I’m playing Piggy in the Middle, (b) that the GP should know and (c) that the hospital won’t be any more cooperative than the GP. I will try to phone the hospital during the week, if I have the time.

I might not have the time because I’m juggling several possibly job opportunities. I need to prepare for my meeting with the autism job agency; fill in various forms for the job agency that got me work in the past; apply for a job that I’m not helpful about (it’s full-time. I don’t think I can work full-time, but my parents tell me to apply and see if they’ll let me have a job-share. I am sceptical about this); and, most excitingly, the Jewish website that published my article a few months ago is advertising for staff writers. This seems about the most promising job opportunity I’ve had for a long time, so I’m applying there as my first priority. In the past I would have been either thinking I can’t write inspirational posts or link Jewish concepts to pop culture and the news (as is their style), or I would be thinking that, as my Jewish worldview doesn’t match the sites 100%, I shouldn’t write for them, but I’m mostly feeling positive,so I guess that’s good.

I’ve got Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned on as I write. I wouldn’t usually watch TV and write (I can’t multitask), but it’s long and dull, but it’s the next episode on E and my new Who watch. It’s one of those episodes where I wonder how I can have such different views of Doctor Who, and storytelling, than Russell T Davies (although “You couldn’t even sink the Titanic!” was quite a good line). I hope there are people out there who like my type of stories (or writing).

Treading Water, and James Bond

Today was mostly a treading water type of day. I did some housekeeping related stuff as my parents are away, went for a short walk and did some shopping, did some Torah study and worked on my novel a little (still research). But I didn’t spend long on anything. My mood wasn’t great, but also not awful considering how dark and wet it is. But I didn’t really do anything more than that. I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow, as the house seems a bit empty by myself.

***

I’m reading James Bond again, this time the (very short) short story collection, Octopussy and the Living Daylights. I’m trying to work out why I’ve got into James Bond again recently, particularly the books. Bond’s values aren’t my values, and it is hardly news to point out that the stories are sexist, racist, homophobic and snobbish — pretty much everything-ist, the outlook of the imperialist straight white male. A lot of articles have come out recently (because of the release of the latest film, No Time to Die (which I haven’t seen yet because of COVID fears about cinemas)), saying that Bond is A Bad Thing, without bothering to ask why so many people still like the films and books.

The films are basically just action films with a bit of English aristocratic style and slightly knowing humour that Hollywood just can’t do, but the appeal of the books by Ian Fleming is different.

I think there are two, connected, things. One is the prose style, which is spare and to the point. There is no purple prose, but it doesn’t seem illiterate either, more the product of someone used to choosing his words carefully. My GCSE English teacher hated Bond and used to roll his eyes when he caught boys reading it, but I think you could learn a lot about how to write effective, unflashy prose from reading Ian Fleming.

The other is that the books present a view of a particular person and a particular world, the world of the English upper class just as the British Empire was falling to pieces. Bond is usually thought of as part of the ‘spy-mania’ of the sixties that produced so many spy novels, films and TV series, and that is when the film series started, but many of the books were published in the fifties, the era of post-war austerity in the UK, and it’s hard to see Bond as anything other than an answer to that, a fantasy of hedonism: sex and legally-allowed violence (actually, the books have rather less sex and violence than the films), but also of fast cars, smart clothes and exquisite food and drink. The wallowing in detail over these things is the exception to my comment above about the precise prose. The Bond stories always pay a huge amount of attention to what Bond eats; the story 007 in New York even features a recipe for Bond’s preferred scrambled eggs!

If you see reading as being about entering a stranger’s mind for a while on his or her own terms, rather than judging the contents of what you find there (as per the cancel culture approach), then Fleming created a rigorously thought-out map to the tastes of an English gentleman spy whose world vanished pretty much as Fleming was writing (he died in 1964) and did so in such exact prose that living in Bond’s mind for an hour or two feels easy, even if (as in my case), I would never want to do so in real life. George Orwell wrote about this in a few places. He said a great author needs to be able to show a coherent worldview, but it doesn’t have to be one you would agree with or even feel is particularly sane (giving Jonathan Swift and Edgar Allan Poe as examples of successful writers with coherent and thought-out, but disturbed, worldviews).

The One with all the Writing Pitching and Job Hunting

I had a bad start to the day. I decided to let myself sleep in, which was probably a bad idea. I got woken up at 11.30am by the phone. It was someone phoning from a job agency. I thought it was a cold call and asked them to phone back this afternoon. It was only later that I remembered that I had made the appointment to speak to them and forgotten to put it in my diary. Then I fell asleep again for a couple more hours and the afternoon was a rush to fit things in. The call, when I had it, was OK, just confirming that I am looking for more work, either one day a week, to fit with my current job, or up to three days a week, which would involve leaving my current job, something I have mixed feelings about based on my current sense of my ability to function with the workplace, but probably a nettle that needs to be grasped at some point. This job agency has managed to get me one or two jobs in the past, one that was very good and I think another that was awful, albeit for reasons none of us could really have guessed (just how badly working in an open-plan office 9am-5pm would affect me given my autism, which had not been diagnosed back then). On the downside, I’m already registered with one agent at this agency, so I’m not expecting many more possible jobs, and I don’t think this agency has got me an interview for a year or more.

After that, I hurriedly sent my article pitch to a Jewish newspaper while I was feeling vaguely confident (or just efficient) about my ability to cope with work. Now I’m terrified of either a positive or a negative response. I think I just want to be forgotten. I also pitched my novel to another agent in the evening.

Dinner was a bit of a mess. I got back from my walk to realise that I didn’t have the courgettes I needed for vegetable couscous. I feel like my brain just isn’t working today. I didn’t feel up to going out again in the dark, and I thought the recipe would be OK without them.It tasted OK in the end, but it would have benefitted from the added colour and taste of the courgettes.

I did some other things. As my parents are away, I did some laundry (Dad usually does that). I spent half an hour writing a devar Torah. I wasn’t hugely happy with it, but I guess if I want to be a writer it’s good that I can spin out 500 words of something vaguely meaningful on the sedra easily. Not that I necessarily want to write Jewish stuff (or only Jewish stuff), but as a measure of my ability to write at length with time pressure.

I booked an initial meeting with Enna, an organisation that offers employment mentoring to neurodivergent people (help with CVs and interviews, help finding relevant jobs, help asking for adjustments in the workplace etc.). I have a half-hour meeting with them in a couple of weeks to see how they can help me. That meeting is free, but meetings after that have to be paid for (it’s not a charity), so I’ll need to get an idea of how much they might be able to help me and whether it’s likely to be value for money. I’ve had help with CVs before, but some interview practise might help. To be honest, I’ve had interview help too. It’s not that I don’t know what to do and more that I can’t do it in the moment. In particular, I struggle to know what to do when my mind goes totally blank in response to a question and I freeze up. In theory notes would help, but I’ve never really had sufficient brainpower to look at them in that situation.

***

I’m watching the Doctor Who story The Green Death with E. I’d forgotten how slow the first two episodes are. Fan Wisdom states that the ideal length for a Doctor Who story is four episodes, each twenty-five minutes long (or rather it stated that, until single episode, forty-five minute stories became the norm with the new series) and that all six part stories have two episodes of padding. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it is in the case of The Green Death. Then, at the end of episode two, as the real story starts, the giant maggots turn up. I’d forgotten how gross they look too. Anyone who thought that BBC special effects in the 1970s weren’t up to much should watch them. They even have functional mouths (and teeth, weirdly). For a generation of children, this is known as The One with the Maggots. Then just in case they hadn’t traumatised a nation of children enough, the next year they did it all over again, but with giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders). The giant spiders weren’t anywhere near as effective as the maggots, though. Apparently they had to make the spiders less scary because the BBC had an internal policy on spiders not being too scary on TV. I’m amused (and vaguely jealous) that the BBC in the 1970s had enough horror/science fiction/fantasy output to need a policy on spider-scariness.

Neither Here Nor There

I went to bed late last night, which was my fault, and then I struggled to fall asleep and to stay asleep, which was not my fault. I overslept a bit, but got to the office more or less on time despite train delays.

I got to leave work earlier than usual today, which was good, as it gave me more recovery time before depression group (see below). This was a double relief after having done some of the Very Scary Task again, although J will be handling most of it tomorrow.

I went to depression group on Zoom. I hadn’t been for ages as I find it too draining after work. I didn’t have much to say, as I didn’t want to talk too much about my situation with E (I’m still pretty private about it and don’t want to say anything until there’s something to say), but I also didn’t want to sound too negative from having had a few bad days in the last week or so. I was just glad that I went, as going has felt too much for some time now, and that I spoke, as I was somewhat anxious about speaking. The group will be restarting in-person meetings soon and I might try to go to them as well as, or instead of, Zooming in the future. The time demands are greater in person, as I have to get there by bus or get a lift from my parents and come home by bus, but I think it’s easier to speak in person (although this could be selective memory after eighteen months) and it feels less confusing blurring the boundaries between home and group by being in my room and in the group at the same time. As for the journey time, I find those transitions are actually important to me, being on the spectrum, to help me handle changing tasks and situations, particularly switching from peopling to be alone. Also, the day of the meeting is shifting to Tuesday, which suits my work schedule much better.

***

Although I said I don’t want to say anything until there’s something to say, E and I are having Serious Conversations about moving our relationship on. It’s hard to move things on while we have limited income, although we both are 100% committed to finding a way to do so, somehow. That’s where the conversations come in, to plan what to do. I think I unconsciously assumed that sorting my career out would happen at the same time as finding my relationship, but I guess there is no reason why they should have done so. I just spent so many years praying and fantasising that I would get over my depression and get a “real” job and get married… it’s hard to avoid seeing it all as one big thing, especially as the first time E and I dated was the highpoint of my working life (I can’t really say ‘career’).

This also ducks the question of whether I really am ‘over’ my depression; certainly depression group tonight reminded me that many people experience depression as cyclical, with periods of remission and relapse. This has certainly been my experience, and it is worrying when I think about the future. Winter has traditionally been a period of relapse for me, relapses that do not always depart with the arrival of spring. I certainly feel bored and somewhat anxious and down at work at the moment, but I think it’s just that the job is a bit boring and the premises dreary. In other ways it’s fine, and my mood at home is much better, at least if I make allowances for the time of the year. I hope this is the end of the cycles, but who knows?

First World Problems

(If I had a band, First World Problems could be my first album.)

My parents have gone for a few days in sunny (probably not that sunny) Bournemouth, so I’m home alone. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Aside from when they went to Ipswich for a few days earlier in the year, I haven’t been home alone since before COVID, so it still feels strange.

I wanted to go for a run today, but because I got up late, and because I prefer to do various tasks before I go for a run, knowing that I have a strong likelihood of getting an exercise headache afterwards, it was dark before I was able to go. I had a weird intuition that I shouldn’t run in the dark today. My parents never like me running in the dark, and, while I’ve done it before, running in the dark while the streets are full of piles of potentially slippery fallen leaves didn’t seem a good idea, especially when there was no one around to come looking for me. I do wonder how much I’ll be able to run in the winter if I stick to this plan. As it happens, I went for a walk instead, and it was drier and better-lit than I thought/expected (why did I think it had rained over the weekend when it hadn’t?), but I think I probably made the right decision regardless.

I didn’t do much else today aside from that walk. I cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, with enough pasta to go with a bought sauce tomorrow) and did some Torah study. I have no real ideas for my devar Torah at this stage; the story of Yaakov (Jacob), his wives and children in the household of Lavan is always one that seems bizarre and hard to understand, even understanding some of the history behind it (using maidservants to bear children for their barren mistresses who would then adopt the children by having them born while the maidservant sat on the mistress’ lap was a real practice in the ancient Middle East, strange though it seems to us now).

I’m thinking of stopping volunteering for a while. I feel very overwhelmed with my life at the moment. I’m not sure how much time it would free up, as I’m unlikely to get up that early without a reason, but it does leave me drained all day, from physical exertion and probably also from ‘peopling,’ so it might leave me with more of an afternoon, particularly on weeks where I don’t have therapy.

I feel that lately I’ve disagreed with people here and in real life about what my next move should be in life. Not big arguments, but I always doubt myself when people see things differently to me. Part of me says, “I’m the subject matter expert on my life, and I’ve researched what I want to do more than they have,” but part of me says, “I catastrophise from anxiety and I get stuck on particular ideas from autistic rigidity, so I should listen to other people.” Probably there is a medium to be struck somewhere.

***

Doctor Who was better than last week. Still a lot that didn’t seem to make much sense, and a lot I would have done differently, but it was broadly entertaining, although it was too long and I got fidgety.

I finished reading People of the Book:A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy too. It was pretty good overall, but the author biographies at the back are basically just lists of all the awards the writers have won, which I found intimidating when thinking of my own writing.

“O my prophetic soul”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) in the winter feels very different to Shabbat in the summer. It’s more of a struggle to get to shul in the winter, for one thing, although I somehow made it yesterday afternoon despite feeling exhausted. It was very crowded as we had a guest speaker. The singing and clapping felt like a wall of sound falling on me, but I coped. The drasha (religious talk) with a guest speaker was OK, but not amazing. I was worried there would be dancing, but there wasn’t, perhaps because the hall was full.

My parents were out for dinner so I ate alone and read my recently-purchased Doctor Who Magazine back-issue. I did some Torah study and recreational reading, probably too much of the former considering what E said. I have to shamefully admit I internalised her suggestion that I try to read more for fun instead of Torah study as another “Should” and promptly ignored it anyway. That said, I went to bed late because I was reading for fun, a story that turned out to be a ghost story with a dark ending (The Muldoon), probably not the best thing to read late at night. It was very well-written though and probably the best story so far in People of the Book (I only have one story left). There was one character, a young boy, who seemed to be high functioning autistic, although he wasn’t explicitly identified as such. The passage that resonated the most said, “‘Your brother’s only going to love a few people,’ my mother had told me once, after he’d slammed the door to his room in my face for the thousandth time so he could work on his chemistry set or read Ovid aloud to himself without me bothering him. ‘You’ll be one of them.‘” I feel like I owe my family an apology…

I slept late again today, got through lunch, then felt tired and went back to bed for a bit. Talmud shiur (religious class) restarted today and I could have finished lunch, rushed through Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and seudah (the third Shabbat meal) and gone to it, but I just felt too drained. Instead I lay in bed (awake), davened Minchah, ate seudah and went back to bed again (again not sleeping). I did some Torah study after Shabbat finished and skyped my rabbi mentor.

***

The twenty-five year old back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine I’m reading is from July 1996, the month of my bar mitzvah. It is much better-preserved than most of my DWMs from that period or later. I suppose on some level I’ve always seen books and magazines as things to live with and wear to pieces from love, or maybe I’m just careless for a librarian.

1996 seems a lifetime ago, and also yesterday. The issue is the tribute issue for Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor (1970-74), who had died earlier in the year. It also had the first lot of letters about the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie, which was broadcast in May. I haven’t read them properly yet, but I think they’re mostly positive. I’m not sure if there was censorship. I hated the TV Movie, which set a precedent for hating a lot of new Doctor Who in subsequent years, but in recent years I’ve gown more fond of it as a weird experiment and costly folly, and I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t find the time to watch it with E when she was here as I had wanted.

***

Suzanne wrote about her modest dreams of a quiet autistic life seeming unachievable. I commented, “I feel similarly. I don’t have very ambitious fantasies (not quite the same as yours, but similar), but the cost of housing in the UK makes it hard. I’m thinking a lot about this as E and I try to work out a possible future together, but it’s hard, particularly not being able to hold down a full-time job. And then we would want to live in a reasonably large Jewish community which, in the UK at any rate, means living in very specific (not cheap) parts of London or possibly Manchester. It is difficult.”

It is hard. I’m not really anti-capitalist, although I am opposed to both monopoly capitalism and consumerism, but I think there is some kind of major socio-political upheaval starting, partly from technological change (social media), but also from a cost of living crisis for many people, particularly in terms of affordable housing. Not that I think the woke or populist figures have a better solution than the existing neo-liberal ones; I feel that if there is a solution, it’s not one anyone’s found until now.

***

I’m slightly in two minds about posting this, but here goes. I’ve been thinking, on and off, for some time now about writing about my afterlife beliefs here. I think they’re pretty Orthodox Jewish, but it’s hard to be sure as, even in the frum world, we don’t really talk about the afterlife much, particularly compared with Christianity and Islam, especially the fundamentalist varieties of both. It’s not a superstitious thing, Judaism is just a very present-centred religion. Contrary to Karl Marx (“the opium of the masses”), Judaism sees a divine mandate to focus on ending suffering in this world rather than seeing the next world as a consolation (although it is one).

I’ve been reading the essays at the back of Divrei Hayamim II: II Chronicles: A New Translation with a Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic Sources, translation and commentary by Rabbi Moshe Eisemann. It’s an Artscroll book. Artscroll are a US Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) publishers noted these days for toeing the Haredi party line and avoiding anything remotely controversial, but I’ve found this book to be a bit more sophisticated than the stereotype, a bit more willing to push the boundaries a bit further than I expected Artscroll to do.

On page 361, I came across the following:

In the thought-world of the Sages, the World to Come is not a location, nor is it a time-frame. It is within every man. It is the deepest essence of his being, the spark of the Divine which defines him as an image of God, and which in normal circumstances remains inviolate and therefore indestructible in the face of sin. It is the locus of the ultimate mystery of life, where transience touches immortality. It is axiomatic in Rabbinic thought that sin my sully but never destroy that essential inner core of immortality; excepting only in the dreadful state which the Sages give the name of losing one’s portion in the World to Come.

This didn’t tell me much I didn’t already believe, but I think it sums up what I feel quite pithily and beautifully. That said, I’ve never really been sure of the boundaries of “losing one’s portion in the World to Come.” At school we were told it’s pretty much impossible to do that these days, although I’ve never been sure of how this was known and what the boundaries of “these days” is, nor whether it is only Jews who can’t lose their portion in the World to Come; I’m pretty sure none of my Jewish Studies teachers would have claimed that Saddam Hussein (to pick a prominent antisemite of my teenage years) has a portion in the World to Come. I am a little surprised to note that the Artscroll passage does at least speaks of the World to Come being within “every man” (read person; the book was published before sensitivity to gender in writing); I find frum Jews often seem to think on some level (possibly not entirely consciously) that the World to Come is primarily for Jews, even though the rabbinic sources say otherwise.

Opportunities, Missed and Otherwise

I am OK today. I am quite a bit down, but I’ve been used to that over the years. It’s a rush today because Shabbat starts at 4.10pm, but I wanted to note a few things briefly.

I’m hoping for a restful Shabbat (the Sabbath). My parents are out for dinner tonight, so I should have some time for recreational reading. E says I should read more for fun on Shabbat even if that means doing less Torah study and she may be right. Tomorrow Talmud shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) returns and I’d like to go, even though that means staying on for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and then staying afterwards to help, where I feel I usually just get in the way, however hard I try to be helpful. But I’ll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon. It’s eighteen months since we’ve had this format for the shiur, because of COVID and because the timetable is different in the summer when Shabbat afternoons are very long compared with the winter when they’re very short.

There is an oneg being hosted by someone from my shul tonight. An oneg is a kind of Shabbat party where you sit around a table and there are snacks and soft drinks and alcohol, and people talk and sing religious songs and share divrei Torah. I used to try to force myself to these things to make friends. Usually I just sat there terrified, not speaking. Sometimes I stood outside crying at my social anxiety and social impairments and my inability to face my fears. I can’t really be bothered with that now, but I do wonder how else to make friends.

***

I found, lurking in my email inbox, an email from over a year ago from a job agency that helps people on the autism spectrum into work. I think I didn’t go down that path a year ago because I wasn’t diagnosed then, and because my current job appeared soon afterward. I might contact them again soon.

***

There’s a woman who keeps writing for Chabad.org about her fertility issues and the fact that she might never have children, and I want to read her articles, but I can’t, perhaps because they’re too close to home. Not that I have fertility issues per se, but that E and I worry that with all the mental health, neurological and financial issues that we have between us that we’ll never be able to support children, practically and financially. I guess that’s my main worry at the moment. I think E and I will be together, but I worry how we’ll cope, even without children.

***

I keep being drawn back to this interview with the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl where the interviewer lists Rabbi Sacks’ achievements and asks if he ever failed anything and Rabbi Sacks bursts into laughter and says, “I nearly failed my first year in university. I nearly failed my second year in university. I was turned down for virtually every job that I applied for. Since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book. I started when I was 20 and I gave it every minute of spare time that I had. Even when Elaine and I went to a concert I would be writing notes during intervals or between movements during a symphony. Yet, I failed for 20 years! From 20 to 40 I had a whole huge file cabinet of books I started and never finished.” I heard another interview where he said that being a rabbi was his fourth career choice, after he failed at becoming an economist, an academic philosopher and a barrister (lawyer). So that gives me a little hope, because I’m nearly forty and I haven’t done anything with my life.

He also says, “I think all that goes with the affective dimension of Judaism, the emotional life, is being neglected…  I think we haven’t done enough with the affective dimension, and music is probably the most important… Cinema, too, isn’t used enough in this regard. I think we haven’t done enough with that to tell people what the life of faith does for you. I have so many stories that I think ought to be made into film. Stories of ordinary people I know who have done extraordinary things.”

He doesn’t talk about prose fiction, but I think it applies there too, particularly in terms of telling stories. Although the stories I want to tell are not necessarily ones he would want to tell. But I think/hope there is an audience out there, although not necessarily or purely a frum one or even Jewish one. I just hope I can convince the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, reviewers) of that.

I know I say things like this a lot, but, honestly, I have to keep saying it or otherwise I stop believing in it myself.

***

The reason the interview was posted is that it’s just over a year since Rabbi Sacks died. I still feel his loss acutely, even though I never really met him (although I was in the same room as him a few times). I wish I had had the opportunity, or made the opportunity, to speak to him — really to speak to him about my Jewish life, my creative life and my aspirations to unite them both. I struggle to understand my place in the world in general and Jewish world in particular. I don’t understand why God made me autistic, or what He wants from me. I feel he would have understood, and would have had good advice. It’s too late now.

Falls the Shadow

I went to bed late last night because I was trying to Do Stuff. This was basically a mistake, as I struggled to get up in time for work today. Although if I hadn’t done it, I would probably be feeling even more useless and even further behind with all the things I have to do. I felt intensely depressed today and was wondering again if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or an element of it. My depressive episodes tend to start at this time of year, although they can persist through spring and summer, so it’s probably SAD co-existing with an underlying vulnerability to depression. Although I should see how I feel over the coming weeks, as I’ve only had a couple of bad days; I might feel better next week (maybe).

I don’t think I made any mistakes at work, but J discovered a bad one I must have made recently, not updating the address on an invoice that I was revising from a template. I’m not quite sure how it got to the right person. But even without many obvious errors, I was stuck in self-criticism and negativity today. I felt that it’s so hard to change my life, particularly to change it enough to be able to get married (having enough money to support ourselves, but also so that E can be allowed to immigrate). I wish I could work more and earn more, just for those practical reasons rather than because I want money or consumer goods in and of themselves.

Since I’ve got home from work and have snacked on some fruit, I feel quite a bit better. I think work is a not-ideal environment for me. The people are really nice, but the building itself is dark and gloomy and that does affect my mood, doubly so when I’m also tired or hungry. I don’t really begin to feel myself until after lunch most days because of that.

***

On the way home I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about whether Judaism is ‘sex positive’. There was some talk on the podcast about how the Jewish community should think about people who can’t have sex in the way that Judaism wants because they’re gay, transexual and so on. The sex therapist on the podcast was probably more liberal here than the rabbi. I’m not gay or trans, but that feeling of moral dissonance is something I’ve been experienced I hit adolescence over twenty years ago. E says I’m “strong” for staying a virgin for so long, but I rarely had the option not to be one. The actual times I’ve consciously made a choice not to have sex can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand, the times I’ve deliberately or unintentionally broken Jewish law around sex and sexual fantasy (without ever actually having sex) are far too many to be counted. However, I really feel strongly against any kind of “making excuses” for myself. But at the same time, I want people to understand what I’ve been through, hence the books I want to write. I want people to understand without lowering their standards, but having more compassion.

***

Some months ago, E sent me a link to an Instagram post from Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt where she said:

How about we invest in real Orthodox art? What if instead of investing in askanim & bloggers to whine about misrepresentation – we empower frum independent-minded artists to do creative work, tell stories of our communities, bravely, *candidly*? The beautiful & challenging, the inspiring but also the systemic issues that emerge in communities in which there is the inevitable tug-of-war between individualism & conformity, tradition & modernity...

No, not “my Orthodox life is fun & perfect” tales, but stories of faith, conflicts, struggles? Not sanitized hagiography, but flesh & blood. Not “content,” but art. Stories that show we are human & nothing more.

I want to do this, to the limit of my ability, and it’s one of the main things that motivates me to want to keep writing and keep searching for an agent/publisher even when (as at the moment) things are hard both in my head (mood) and in the world (rejection or just lack of time and energy).

I don’t think I’ve suffered more than most people, although I don’t think I’ve suffered less than them either. I’m not sure that many people are free of suffering for long. When I think of other people suffering, it motivates me to want to write to let people know that this suffering exists. However, when I think of my own suffering, I just want to give up. It’s hard to get to the right mindset.

It did occur to me last night that Rebbetzin Chizhik-Goldschmidt, as a prominent Jewish journalist and also as a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) might have contacts in the world of publishing and I was vaguely thinking about trying to email her to say what I’ve just said here and outlining some of my projects and ask if she had any suggestions of where to look for an agent or publisher. But when I started to look for contact details online I discovered that her husband has literally just been fired from his job and the family has been made homeless, as well as facing a huge amount of criticism from their former community. So it’s probably not the best time to try that.

***

There was a time when I tried to read one poem a day. I stopped doing that in an earlier episode of depression; it was just one more ‘should.’ Now I only read poetry when blog friends post it, and not always then (sorry). I have been wanting to re-read T. S. Eliot lately, though, primarily The Waste Land, but The Hollow Men has been on my mind a bit, thinking about wanting to write and writing not being the same thing:

Between the idea
    And the reality
    Between the motion
    And the act
    Falls the Shadow
                                    For Thine is the Kingdom
   
    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
                                    Life is very long

“Don’t think you knew you were in this song”

I woke up late again, and drained/fatigued. I feel that I need to make more money so E and I can get married, but I don’t know how. I feel I have so little confidence on my abilities in the workplace in general, and librarianship (the career I’m actually trained for) in particular. My attempts to sell magazine articles have not succeeded up until now, although I find it hard to think of ideas and worry that I don’t pitch them properly. I have a vague idea of writing something about being high-functioning on the autism spectrum and frum for one of the Jewish newspapers (my Mum has been saying for ages that I should write this), but I feel that professional magazines and newspapers publish from a small group of regular journalists they know they can trust. As with anything, I feel I don’t know how to get accepted in the first place. It’s hard even to find submissions guides and find out what word count or format they want.

I guess it’s come to a head partly from having a serious conversation about finances with E yesterday, and also because I keep coming across things written by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is a very successful frum (religious Jewish) journalist (and community rebbetzin!) and I wonder how other people can juggle creative (or non-typically-frum) careers and frumkeit and I can’t — is it just because I’m neurodivergent? How do I get around that? I really hope I’m not just congenitally useless. I know other people who juggle creativity and frumkeit. I guess they are not autistic, but then they have families and other responsibilities too.

I know, it’s hard to get established as a creative. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. Stephen King was rejected by thirty publishers and gave up on writing completely until his wife secretly saved his manuscript and sent it to another publisher. The Beatles were told that “Guitar bands are on the way out.” And so on. It’s hard to stay positive sometimes. At least I’m trying to think of ideas. Autism and low self-esteem tend to shut me straight into “I can’t do this, it won’t work” catastrophising mode.

Other things bringing me down: it’s less than a week since E went back to the States, but it feels like longer, especially as we don’t know when we’ll be together again. And now the clocks have gone back, it feels like winter is suddenly here. The nights have been getting longer, but suddenly they feel a lot longer, an effect that is probably at least in part psychological, as the clocks only go back one hour, but it still feels grim, especially with gloomy weather. I’m aware that this is exactly the time of year when I usually relapse into depression, even if I’ve been in recovery since spring. I hope this is just a bad day and not the start of a relapse.

I feel like both my chosen careers are very woke and focused with inclusion, diversity and minority voices — but not for Jews. Today I was looking at a supplement produced by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) on children’s books, very focused on racial and gender minorities; no Jews. Although judging by what I’ve read, including the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthology I’m currently reading, most Jewish writers have little interest in or knowledge of most of Jewish history and culture, particularly the traditional and religious parts (which is most of it, historically).

E suggested I have a rest day, but I wanted to try to do something productive. Possibly this attitude just stores up trouble for me. Maybe I should listen when my body/mind tells me it’s tired. I seem to be caught in a no-win situation sometimes of feeling exhausted and needing rest, but also feeling like time is running out on me and I need to sort out my career ASAP, and that taking a day off (other than Shabbat) will just leave me feeling lazy and useless. So I push myself to do things and feel exhausted again the next day.

I sent my updated CV to a recruitment agent. She is supposed to specialise in library jobs and did actually get me one or two short-term jobs (I can’t remember exactly which ones, I think the really awful one outside the library sector and the surprisingly good one at a university library). I just wish looking at my CV didn’t make me feel like I totally failed at building a CV.

I also wrote a pitch email to a major Anglo-Jewish newspaper, pitching that article on high-functioning autism in the frum community. I do feel it’s problematic that most of the stuff I’ve had published in professional or semi-professional websites isn’t stuff I really want to show to prospective editors, given the subject matter, often depression, suicide or sexuality (but not in a good way, rather about loneliness and celibacy). I probably spent two hours or more in pitching mode today, whether talking about it with E and my parents; sketching a plan; and writing a pitch email (that took nearly an hour and a half by itself). I should probably apologise to E and my parents for being negative; I feel I have to vent a load of negativity before I can actually start a scary task. It’s generally just best to let me vent and then quietly wait for me to start regardless.

All this meant I didn’t get a chance to pitch my novel to another agent or to research the second novel. I wish I could do more in a day, but there it is. I probably won’t send the pitch email until Tuesday, as one site I read advised not to pitch on Thursday night or Fridays (no one wants to deal with a new project at the end of the week), over the weekend or on Mondays (editors are dealing with the weekend email backlog on Mondays and will delete pitch emails unread).

Other than that I went for a walk and spent some time on my devar Torah, but most of the stuff on my To Do list is still there.

Money and Books

I woke up feeling absolutely burnt out again. I’m trying to think of this as fatigue, and burnout as something more long-term, but ‘fatigue’ doesn’t really cover how I felt. I woke up late, struggled to get going and went back to bed for an hour after breakfast (which was at lunch time). I am not sure what the primary cause was. It’s tempting to say that it was working on my writing after paid work yesterday that was too much, but that might just be the proverbial (or cliched) straw that broke the camel’s back. It could be E going back to America last week or going from E here to my uncle being here with no real break. But it’s made me reluctant to work on my writing after work in the future, which is a shame, as I’m leaving work at 3.45pm most days, but by the time I do any errands or shopping that I need to do, get home and check emails and recover a bit from the day and the Tube, it’s too late and I’m too tired. I am also not going to volunteering tomorrow (again) as I thought it would be too much. I didn’t really think I would get much done today either, although in the end I had therapy (on a Tuesday rather than a Wednesday because the therapist couldn’t do tomorrow), drafted a devar Torah (Torah thought) I’m quite pleased with and went for a walk, as well as doing some extra Torah study and cooking rice to go with yesterday’s leftovers for dinner (my parents are out at the theatre). I Skyped E too and we had a Serious Conversation (see below).

***

My watch stopped working a while back. My Dad changed the battery, but it was still running slow. Dad took it to be repaired and basically it would cost so much to fix it that it would be cheaper to replace it. It has sentimental value, but not that great — it was a bar mitzvah present from a great aunt. I was not very close to her, but closer than to other great aunts and uncles as she was close to my father and grandfather, so she used to see us a lot. The strap has been changed a number of times, but the watch itself was the same.

Dad offered to give me a new watch, as he has two watches he doesn’t use. One belonged to my grandfather (strangely my maternal grandfather, not my father’s father). I sort of want to use it, but I sort of don’t, because I’m scared of losing it. I’ve taken to taking my watch off at work and putting it in my pocket as I find my tolerance for tight things (watches, shoes) has been much less lately, and gets less as the day goes on — another autistic trait, I think. I’m worried it will fall out of my pocket and get lost or broken.

Beyond that, there’s a conflict between Dad’s generosity versus my independence (or lack thereof) – he offers money and help (such as taking my watch in to be fixed), which I actually need because I am still nowhere near fully functional and may never be as functional as a neurotypical person, but I feel my infantilised and dependent, which is not a good feeling.

Probably the number one thing E and I both worry about in terms of moving our relationship on is our financial situation, as both of us have enough issues to make achieving a reasonable income difficult, if not impossible, while not fitting the right categories for state benefits, even before considering that immigration rules would make benefits regulations even stricter for us. On the plus side, we do seem to be able to talk about our poor finances without arguing (financial issues are the most common reason for relationship breakdown).

***

The literary agency I mentioned yesterday that got an award-winning Jewish-themed Young Adult novel published that I was thinking of submitting to turns out to be not really for me. It’s a small agency; one agent is not taking on new clients, one doesn’t deal with adult fiction, and the third doesn’t deal with novels about suicide or sexual assault which is basically what my novel is about (that and autism and mental illness).

***

I’m trying to get back into reading. It’s so easy to get sucked into low mood or plain exhaustion at the end of the day and watch TV instead of reading.

I’m currently reading People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy. Like many anthologies, it’s hit and miss. Not many atrocious stories, but not many outstanding ones either. Annoyingly, there are stories where traditional Jewish practice or biblical characters are presented as negative, but not really many, or any, so far where they are more positive (Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt presented Joseph somewhat positively, but other characters more negatively). There are errors too; it seems that some Jewish writers think, “Oh, yeah, I know Jewish stuff from cheder (Sunday school), I don’t need to research,” when really they do. Other stories have no real Jewish connection beyond the fact that the author is Jewish. I am persevering, though, as some stories are good.

I’m also still trying to read The Koran, but I’m not sure I’m getting much out of it. I wouldn’t expect anyone to get anything out of Tanakh or any other ancient text (Homer, Gilgamesh, etc.) without notes or commentary, so I don’t blame The Koran itself, but it is a struggle to read without notes. I thought it would be a mixture of narrative and exhortation like Tanakh, but actually there is little narrative (so far) and what there is is mostly a retelling of stories from Tanakh, sometimes with significant differences (and sometimes with Midrashic details added in). Mostly it’s stuff about the importance of believing in Allah and giving charity, because the reward for obedience is Paradise and the punishment for disbelief is Hell, Paradise and Hell being in earthly terms of food, drink and, yes, beautiful virgins versus eternal hellfire. I assume Muslims mostly see this as allegory, but maybe I’m making assumptions based on Jewish afterlife beliefs. Certainly the afterlife plays nowhere near a big a part in Jewish beliefs. The afterlife is not explicitly mentioned in Tanakh at all (there’s one ambiguous passage that might count) and many academic Bible scholars think that biblical Jews had no afterlife beliefs. I don’t think that’s true, but there’s no real explicit description of the afterlife and even the Talmud, which does have some discussion of the afterlife, really focuses on this world. Judaism is a very this worldly belief system, in a way that Christianity and Islam do not seem to be.

Twice Exceptional

Yesterday was fairly ordinary. I submitted my manuscript to another agent, went for a run and Skyped E. I got an exercise headache again. I didn’t blog because there didn’t seem much need for it.

Today was more difficult. I had some OCD-type anxiety in the morning and again this evening. I had vague anxiety and intermittent vaguely low mood across the day. It’s hard for me to understand my feelings sometimes (often), but I felt some gloom and lethargy, albeit that that’s probably usual for me when I’m at work. Work was OK, though, not too many mistakes.

I came home determined to work on my novel(s). I did manage about half an hour of work on them, doing some research for my second novel and also trying to track down the publisher and agent of someone who has written an award-winning Young Adult novel that is Jewish-themed (frum), but aimed at a general audience. I am tempted to submit my first novel to the agency, and maybe the publisher, although I’ve been warned to be wary of approaching publishers directly even when they permit it.

I would have liked to have done more, but it wasn’t really possible for reasons I can’t go into here. I did some Torah study too and ate dinner with my parents (we try to eat together on Mondays) so it was pretty productive. I’m too tired to read now, so will probably vegetate in front of the TV. I guess there is always a price (although I did read quite a bit on my commute and during my lunch break).

***

There was Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) where my workplace is housed this afternoon and I went, my first weekday prayer service in quite a while. The rabbi asked if I wanted to lead Minchah and I turned him down pretty much instinctively from social anxiety. I wish I had had the confidence to lead the service, as I’d like to find that talent again. Also, the people who did lead the service were too fast. I like Goldilocks davening (praying): not too fast and not too slow. Unfortunately, davening at this shul is, as J says, “Nusach Einstein: davening at the speed of light.”

***

I’m in the middle of a Norman Frum Women podcast episode where they are talking to a psychiatrist about parenting neurodivergent children. I’m finding it interesting, not least from hearing the parents’ perspective, although my neurodivergence was undiagnosed when I was a child, so my parents didn’t deal with it in the same way. (I was walking while listening to this and so could not take detailed notes, so any mistakes are mine not theirs.)

There was an interesting functional definition of neurodivergence as being about having a brain that accumulates excess stress in everyday situations. There was a stress on the idea of neurodivergent disability being environmental (I think ‘situational’ might be a slightly better word), in that it manifests in a particular set of circumstances, but not others. I can cope with noise and people being in my space sometimes, but then throw in a day of work stress or my HALT triggers (being Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired) and suddenly I’m not coping (that’s my example, not theirs, again in case of errors).

I was particularly interested to hear about “twice exceptional” children: children who are exceptional in being neurodivergent, but also exceptional in terms of being clever and often also well-behaved (which sounded like it could be a bad thing if they’re avoiding testing boundaries for the wrong reasons). These twice exceptional children can find it hard to get support in school, because everyone assumes they’re doing well. This definitely resonated with my school experiences, although realistically I’m not sure what help was actually available for me twenty-plus years ago when high-functioning autism was even less well-understood than it is now.

There was a positive note about adult neurodivergents often finding a “better fit” for their lives once they no longer have the artificial and stressful environment of school. I think there is some survivorship bias here, as the psychiatrist seemed to be judging based on some of her academic mentors/supervisors who she thinks are on the spectrum. I would suggest there are a lot more people on the spectrum who aren’t in high-powered academic jobs. Certainly I feel that the kind of life that would work for me is not one that is really on the table at the moment, if ever. I’m really only functioning with any kind of independence because a lot of people (my parents, E, J) are not making the demands of me at home or in the workplace that would perhaps normally be expected of a thirty-something with two degrees. I would like to build some kind of career of a writer, either full-time or with a small amount of part-time office work, but I have no idea if I’m going to be able to do so; my steps so far have been extremely faltering and rarely successful. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just my viewpoint.

I would be interested in a follow-up episode on adult neurodivergence in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Although maybe Normal Frum Women isn’t the best place for that, as there is a lot to say about men. The frum community makes considerable demands on both men and women. Men are more forced to do particular things at particular times (especially communal prayer) and are forced into noisy, crowded communal spaces like shuls and batei midrash (study halls). Women are encouraged/expected to support large and often noisy and messy families, so I can see there would be problems for neurodivergent women too. It would be interesting to hear how other autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people, male or female, manage it. I’ve struggled to find a place for myself communally, in shul and “learning” (adult education) and lately I feel as if I’m detaching myself from my current community. If anything, COVID has only accelerated this trend, by adding health anxiety to already existent social anxiety and showing me that I can survive well enough without communal prayer or Torah study. I’m not sure if our shul has got louder in recent since we got a more Hasidish rabbi about a year before COVID, but I am definitely struggling with the noise more since lockdown. By noise I mean clapping and thumping tables during Kabbalat Shabbat, rather than talking (there is very little of that at least). There is also occasional dancing, which I can’t cope with at all.

***

Yesterday saw the start of the new series of Doctor Who, structured as one big, six episode story. It was vaguely diverting, but I think twenty-first century Doctor Who isn’t really for me. I used to think it was due to things like pop cultural references, sexualising the Doctor/companion relationship, and hyper-sexual characters like Captain Jack and River Song, but even without all these things, I struggled to get involved. I just find it fast, loud, melodramatic, self-important and portentous in a way the twentieth century version was not (OK, the twentieth century version was melodramatic, I’ll give you that). I think it’s a charge you can level at a lot of popular culture e.g. superhero films, the Daniel Craig Bond films and so on.

I wouldn’t say it’s bad, just that it’s not for me. But I watch, perhaps out of loyalty or nostalgia, and I’ll probably give it a second viewing at some point, because re-watching when I know where the bad bits are helps me to find more good bits. Possibly I’m the epitome of the obsessive self-hating (or insane) fan. Even so, I’m glad the second-hand back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine from 1996 that I ordered arrived today. The issue is a tribute to third Doctor actor Jon Pertwee, tying in with the fact that I’m about to introduce E to him via one of his most memorable stories, The Green Death.

Help, I’m Trapped in a Blog Post Factory

(Again, I don’t have much to say, but feel the need to reach out.)

I decided not to go to shul (synagogue) last night as I was too exhausted, so instead of putting on my suit after my pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) shower, I wore casual trousers. There was still quite a bit of time before Shabbat, so I watched an episode of The Simpsons, after which I felt less exhausted, so I hurriedly changed into my suit and went to shul. I got pretty tired there, but I was glad I went.

Shabbat was pretty good with my uncle staying with us, although there’s a certain family dynamic that I feel increasingly uncomfortable with and don’t know what to do about it. I’ve spoken to my therapist a bit about it, but I feel I should discuss it again with her and/or with my rabbi mentor. It has to be said, though, that our Shabbat meals, which are prolonged at the best of times, become even longer when my uncle is around due to certain family members going into talking overdrive. The result was that by the time we finished dinner and I did some Torah study and my hitbodedut and a little bit of recreational reading, I went to bed very late, then overslept in the morning (as usual). Then after lunch I wanted to stay awake and do some Torah study in the short gap before Minchah, but, perhaps from too much peopling, I was exhausted and lay in bed for a while, albeit awake, just tired.

It occurred to me over Shabbat that I have, or at least am developing, my own personal religious worldview. By which I mean, not that I’m abandoning Orthodox Judaism, but that I feel there is space within Orthodox Judaism to develop a personal view of God, Torah, Jewish identity and the world as a whole, based on teachings that appeal to me as an individual, and that I am doing that. I wonder if this is an achievement that many people in Jewish world (Orthodox or otherwise) do not manage, inasmuch as it seems to require a high degree of textual literacy combined with serious thought about oneself, the Jewish tradition, the wider world, and the interactions between all of the above as well as a willingness to think independently and not just parrot other people’s ideas.

After Shabbat my Mum logged checked her phone and discovered that her cousin had died this morning. This has shaken me a little. The cousin was about twenty years older than her, but it’s still an intimation of my parents’ mortality.

My Dad took some photos of E and I on the last night she was here and I just downloaded them. They’re pretty good, but I feel I look awkward and wooden in most of them, except for one where E blinked as the photo was taken.

My father, and to a lesser extent my mother, were in a bad mood as their football team lost. This caused me to wonder why they would put themselves through the stress of following a football team who lose a lot, especially as the ‘down’ of losing seems to be bigger than the ‘up’ of winning. Then I remembered that Doctor Who is back tomorrow, and I’m not hopeful of it being good, given the standards of the last two seasons, and given that I have rarely fully connected with the new series. I hope my twenty-five year old Doctor Who Magazine back-issue arrives soon…