I probably drank too much coffee and especially tea at work today, as on the way home I became somewhat anxious, which may have been fuelled by caffeine. I did use some coping strategies my therapist suggested, and they seemed to help. There is still some “something will go wrong and stop E and I marrying,” fear that I’m trying to keep under control.
I do think at some point I need to have a conversation with my rabbi mentor and/or therapist about boundaries in marriage. I mean this in a slightly atypical way. It’s not about setting boundaries for myself in terms of actions, but boundaries of responsibility where I can say, “This is E’s decision, I don’t need to act as if I’m morally responsible for it.” I think I usually take on too much moral responsibility for the decisions of those around me (e.g. with my parents or at work) and this has led to a lot of anxiety in the past, including today. I need to find a way to deal with this once I get married or I’ll drive E and myself mad.
I listened to another Orthodox Conundrum podcast while doing a mindless data-entry task at work, this time journalist and rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife — in the Orthodox world, that’s a job title) Avital Chizik-Goldschmidt speaking about being a rabbi’s wife and also an investigative journalist. It made me think again about whether my mission in life is to be some kind of frum writer. I hope it is, and I have expressed that hope here many times, but I can’t know it until I get more things published, and paid for them (so far I’ve been published in a fairly respectable number of professional and semi-professional places, but paid for almost none of them).
When I looked at my life a number of years ago, when my depression (or autistic burnout, whatever it was) was at it’s height, I could not see any positive kind of future or role for myself anywhere in the world. I was just marking time until I died, aware that might not be for many decades. Then I had my diversion into academic librarianship, which was promising, but eventually turned out to be a wrong turn. Now I’m contemplating a new career (as opposed to job, which I already have), as a writer, and I wonder if this will be a wrong turn too. I hope not, or at least that it leads somewhere good even if it’s not where I expect.
A while back, I would have answered the feeling of being called with, “Ah, Lord God! I don’t know how to speak, for I am still a boy!” (Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah 1.6) Now, I’m saying, “Here I am! Send me!” (Yishayah/Isaiah 6.8) But I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say, if I want to go from ego rather than mission, or if this is really my mission at all. Maybe I’m supposed to do something else. Maybe I’m just a spear-carrier in the drama of life, watching other people having speaking parts, my mission being trying not to be envious of the stars, and not bumping into the scenery on my way out.
In the podcast, Chizik-Goldschmidt spoke of the need for more frum investigative journalists. She didn’t say this, but I think the number of genuine investigative journalists in the frum world is basically one: her, and she mostly writes for non-frum periodicals because the frum ones would never publish an article on, for example, frum women who have had abortions or fraudulent frum charities.
I couldn’t be, and don’t want to be, a journalist. I struggle to imagine any autistic person being an investigative journalist like that; too much speaking to people and reading people, reading between the lines and so on. But I would like to write books that get under the skin of the type of people that a journalist like Chizik-Goldschmidt would write about, in a more dramatic and psychological way than a journalist can do. That’s what I did in my (unpublished) first novel, about a frum high-functioning autistic and a frum woman in an abusive relationship. That’s what I’m trying to do in my current novel, about a rabbi with a pornography addiction. And lately I find myself wanting to write about child abuse in the frum community and the way it’s covered up by the powers that be. I even find myself wondering if I could write from the point of view of an abuser (to be honest, probably not, I think it would upset me too much and be tricky to do, but it’s worth playing with ideas).
I want to go to the dark places, and to the marginal people, to people who (like me) don’t quite fit into the frum world, to people who are ignored or squashed down to fit into a box. People who can’t quite be what they’re “supposed” to be, however hard they try. I guess I could defend this by saying I want to “elevate the fallen sparks” that have fallen into the dark places, but I think it’s curiosity, imagination and empathy as much as anything else, the part of me that thinks, “What would I do in that situation?” or “How could such a person live with themselves?” when I read the news. I just hope writing turns into something meaningful, to me and to others, and isn’t another dead end. I would consider myself successful if a few people struggling in the frum community write to me to say I really “get” them, even if some important people criticise my books. But first I just want to get my novel published!
 It occurred to me after writing this that fiction-writing perhaps isn’t an obvious autistic career either. Writers need empathy. Contrary to popular belief, autistic people do have emotional empathy (feeling what others feel). We just don’t have cognitive empathy (the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would do). I suspect I get around this by thinking out my characters’ motivations and actions in a very conscious, step-by-step way, the same way I function in social situations, and by doing a fair amount of research into how real people have behaved in similar situations, both of which may be beneficial for the novel after all.
Speaking of which, now that I know I didn’t get on the emerging writer’s programme, I’m going back to submitting my first novel to agents. I want to submit to two a week.
In one of the Jewish newspapers, there was an interview today with a Jewish agent. It focused on a book he wrote himself, but I searched for him and found his contact details. I submitted my novel to him, although in the interview he said he receives about 5,000 submissions a year or which he takes on three or four, which is not a great ratio for me.
Re-reading the synopsis I wrote of the novel for submission, there is a lot of mental illness and suicide in there. I guess that’s where I was when I was writing it, or rather beforehand, as a lot of it was based on my life until then. It does feel kind of depressing, though, and I’m not surprised no one has really picked it up until now. The plot strand that isn’t based on my life, about an abusive marriage, seems a lot more interesting to me now. I vaguely feel I should ditch the autism/mental illness/suicide plot and rewrite the novel expanding the abusive marriage storyline, but (a) I’m writing another novel now and (b) I’m not sure I have enough to say to expand it to a full novel without it being worth starting from scratch. Still, if I hadn’t written the semi-autobiographical stuff, I would never have had the confidence to start a novel and to learn that I can actually create characters and plots from scratch, so it served a purpose.