Darker vs. Sillier

I tried to unwind this evening watching No Time To Die, the latest (and much COVID-delayed) James Bond film. It turned out to be not such a great choice, massively overlong (why are all films so long these days?), confusing in places and not terribly engaging. I didn’t really understand what the villain wanted, and neither villain nor henchman were interesting. With Bond, you can have a good villain with a unmemorable henchman (e.g. The Man with the Golden Gun) or a nondescript villain with a scary henchman (The Living Daylights), but two uninteresting baddies in combination just doesn’t work.

Long-running franchises tend to reach a point where they self-consciously become “darker,” perhaps because the children who grew up watching it reach a point where they’re making it and want to make it scary and dark like they remembered — except it wasn’t that scary and dark, it just seemed that way because they were so young. You can see it with Bond, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Batman… A sign that this happening is when the hero and the villain have a conversation in which the villain says that the hero is just like him (the villain). This is usually nonsense, but the hero generally takes it very seriously.

I prefer the lighter and more tongue-in-cheek James Bond that we got in the seventies, ditto for Doctor Who. Fans at the time complained about scripts and actors who were allegedly sending the series up in stories like Moonraker (Bond) or The Horns of Nimon (Doctor Who)[1], but they were hugely popular with the general public who enjoyed the knowing winks at the stories’ cliches providing there was still some kind of coherent plot, allowing them to laugh with (not at) the stories. Daniel Craig jumping off bridges is all very well, but who wouldn’t rather see Roger Moore ski off the edge of a mountain only to be saved by his Union Jack parachute?

[1] Yes, I do genuinely believe that Moonraker is an exemplary James Bond film. The Horns of Nimon isn’t classic Doctor Who, but it’s still pretty sound and entertaining.

Playing the Autism Card

I somehow got up early, ate breakfast and did some things online, but felt depressed and went back to bed. I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I’m not sure; certainly I was in bed for over an hour. I hope these depressed feelings pass soon and don’t turn into another episode of clinical depression.

I did some work on my application for the Emerging Writers’ Programme I’m applying for. I’m not sure how well it’s going to be honest. I am playing the “autism” card as well as the “Orthodox insider” card, hinting that I might write an UnOrthodox-style anti-religious story when that is not my intention, while also talking about wanting to show the Orthodox in a realistic light, which can mean positive or negative, however the judges want to read it. I do mention God, though, and repentance, which might be a bad idea, but at least it’s a Unique Selling Point. It’s not like there are many contemporary literary authors writing about pornography addiction, or anything really, through the prism of repentance and encountering God.

It reminds me of an article in Tablet Magazine a while back about university bursaries and scholarships intended to go to disadvantaged teenagers going to middle-class teenagers who are taught by their (private) schools and their (middle-class) parents (probably working in academic, law or HR) how to write applications with the correct narrative, a narrative of, “I struggled against prejudice because I’m a member of minority X, but I triumphed over it because I’m strong, resilient and successful, therefore you should accept me both for reasons of diversity and because of my skills and capabilities in fighting oppression.” Less-privileged teenagers are not taught how to write this way and fail to get the money and places intended for them.

***

I went for a run, but ended up feeling light-headed, dizzy and slightly nauseous at times, even after my warm-up, let alone the run. I was slow and sluggish while running, with low stamina. I only managed to run for thirty minutes rather than my usual forty and got a headache when I got home. I wondered about this, and about other health issues on my mind lately.

I’ve mentioned that my cholesterol is slightly high. I looked on the NHS patient site and it looks like my cholesterol has been increasing for several years now (with one slight dip), which worries me as I certainly haven’t been steadily increasing the amount of cholesterol-heavy foods I eat. In fact, I rarely eat meat and especially not red meat and I’ve cut back my consumption of cheese (and eggs, although apparently that’s considered less of an issue now) so I’m not sure why my cholesterol continues to rise, unless it is a(nother) medication side-effect.

Then I have frequent issues with low energy and feeling “ill” in vague and undefined ways, particularly when tired after work or days out with E, plus I have problems sleeping too long and struggling to get up. I assumed these were medication side-effects and/or autistic exhaustion, but now I’m not sure. Also troubling is that several times recently I felt like I have nearly lost my balance and just stabilised myself in time, twice in the shower and a couple of times on the stairs.

Unfortunately, some of these issues cut across each other. When I got an exercise headache after running, I knew (or at least suspected) that eating crisps (for salt) would help, but crisps are hardly good for weight loss or cholesterol, so I put off eating them. It got to dinner time and I felt headachey, nauseous and my hand was shaking as I tried to drink my soup, so I ate a packet of crisps. Before I had even finished the packet, the headache was less intense, the nausea went and I stopped shaking. Sometimes I have these “salt-withdrawal” issues without having exercised first. I know salt issues can be related to taking lithium, which I do.

I think I should see my GP, even if it means waiting ages on the phone to get through to the receptionist and then playing the autism card again to get an in-person appointment and one with my preferred GP (currently appointments are supposed to be on the phone in the first instance and with the first GP available, not my preferred one). I will have to say that, being on the spectrum, I struggle with phone calls and new people, which is completely true, even if it feels a little disingenuous to say it.

***

Looking at my unpublished novel to find an excerpt to submit for the Emerging Writers’ Programme application, I’m struck by how many references there are to toilets in it. I didn’t mean to be vulgar, but since childhood I’ve been struck by how artificial it is that toilets, and toilet functions, aren’t mentioned in “realistic” fiction. My toilets appear for solid narrative reasons, not to gross people out (although one of them smells bad), but do seem somewhat unusual. I guess I’m aware of it because the toilet has long been an escape room for me when suffering from autistic overload in social spaces, which is how it appears in the novel.

***

I should probably mention that they announced the new Doctor in Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa. I can’t judge whether he’ll be any good, as I haven’t seen him in anything. As I mostly watch old TV, I generally don’t know new Doctors in advance, unless, like Peter Capaldi, they already appeared in the show as another character. But he’s the first new Doctor to be younger than I will be when his first episode airs (you know you’re getting older when the Doctors get younger). I still feel the Doctor should be older. I know I liked Matt Smith a lot, and I don’t dislike Peter Davison, but I still feel the Doctor should be played by someone over forty. I definitely feel David Tennant was too young (and too good-looking…) although that’s the least of my problems with the Tennant Doctor. Not for the first time, I feel returning showrunner Russell T Davies has a very different understanding of the show to me.

Other Planets

E and I went to Hampton Court Palace yesterday. We saw the palace and the gardens. I had been to the palace before, but nearly thirty years ago, and I don’t think I saw all of it then. I was surprised that the palace was still a royal residence in the eighteenth century; I was also annoyed that a famous TV historian who was once rude to a friend of mine (also a historian) featured prominently on the audio guide. The gardens were pleasant too, and full of tulips for the tulip festival, although not many other flowers were blooming yet. It was cold, as E and I had dressed for warmer weather.

After seeing the palace, we had time to kill before meeting a couple of my friends for dinner. We could either go home for about an hour or spend two hours in Golders Green. We couldn’t agree, so I went home to read a bit and E visited ethnic grocery shops in Golders Green, which would have bored me stiff. E and I have a lot in common, but I’m glad we don’t feel the need to be joined at the hip and do everything together.

We had dinner with a couple of friends of mine from university days. E liked them and I think they liked her, which was something of a relief overall.

Today I was not as burnt out as I feared I might be, but I overslept by more than half an hour and had to rush to work, although I wasn’t late. I was very tired all morning and drank a lot of coffee. It was a rather boring day, despite a trip to the bank, which I always enjoy. E met me at Sainsbury’s on the way home, which was nice. During the walk home and afterwards I felt less than 100% and was unsure why. I was exhausted from work and possibly also too hot, slightly dehydrated, hungry, lacking salt, or generally out of shape, or all of the above, and maybe something else. I do feel less fit and healthy lately and don’t really know why, beyond the general point that I’m slightly overweight and don’t exercise enough, although I walk quite a bit. I ought to get an app that records footsteps per day the way so many other people do. It’s hard to unpick medication weight-gain from eating too much weight gain, especially when medication seems to lead to eating too much.

***

E and I spoke a bit about autistic exhaustion. I think she is trying really hard to understand it, at least as much as anyone understands this mysterious and under-researched subject. I was really touched that she wants to understand this negative, but significant aspect of my life better.

***

How many years does it take for me to stop hating a Doctor Who episode and enjoy it? E and I watched The End of Time recently, which I hated on first transmission over Christmas/New Year 2009 and 2010. On re-viewing, I sort of grudgingly found parts of it somewhat amusing, although I still got annoyed at how silly and unplotted it seemed. Then tonight we watched the Paul McGann TV Movie from 1996 (the story with no name). I hated that on transmission, for the Doctor kissing Grace and for him being half-human. Now I can enjoy it. This isn’t new. Since the new series came along, the TV Movie has seemed less a desecration of Doctor Who and more a step towards the new series, albeit sometimes by showing what not to do. The Doctor-companion romance has become a semi-regular part of the format, to my continued annoyance. The half-human thing was quietly ignored, although Steven Moffat hinted that it might be true in Hell Bent.

One thing I noticed is that Grace is really a woman. Most female Doctor Who companions, old or new, are essentially written/presented as teenage girls, even if the character is supposed to be older (e.g. Jo, Sarah). I guess the other exceptions are Barbara (1963-1965), Liz (1970) and sort-of Romana (1978-1981), who was a 125 year old Time Lord, but was played somewhat girlishly by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward (and, of course, for a Time Lord, 125 is just out of university). It’s probably not coincidence that Barbara’s time coincided with Verity Lambert’s time as producer, the only female producer on the original series. The absence of a really mature female companion in the new series is a pretty damning example of the way it’s not always more ‘modern’ and diverse, or necessarily more interested in telling stories about real characters than the original series.

I wonder if E thinks, “I finally meet the right guy and he’s from another planet” about me, as Grace said? “Another planet” being the UK, autism or the frum (religious Jewish) world, take your pick. (I am writing this mainly because I know she’ll read it!)

Exhaustion and Resilience

I had a long and boring day at work yesterday, then in the evening went to a customer-facing work thing for E’s job, as her plus one. It was OK, but I didn’t really say anything at all, even when I might reasonably have had something useful to say (explaining about Jewish religious customs to non-frum (non-religious) Jews). I did it because it seemed important to her that I went, even if I was not entirely sure what my role there was supposed to be.

I think it was the first time E has really seen how autism and social anxiety can shut me down in social settings. By the time we got home, I was struggling not to be in a bad mood (I think I probably snapped at my Mum a bit). E and I ate dinner and watched Doctor Who, and even though it was not a great episode (The End of Time part 2, David Tennant’s final episode in the title role), I felt a little better, but not much (dinner probably helped more than Doctor Who).

Then today I crashed, and although E tried to get me to wake up at 9am, I actually fell asleep afterwards, on and off until 1pm, feeling really burnt out and exhausted. After breakfast, I went back to bed for twenty minutes, cocooning myself in my duvet and weighted blanket until I realised I was just upsetting myself, thinking about antisemitism. Eventually I played the, “I can listen to music in the omer if I have autistic exhaustion” card to try to get dressed. I ate lunch before davening (praying), which I hate doing, but I had no choice, I just needed energy. I ate cheese on toast, which was probably a mistake given that I ate a lot of cheese over Pesach, have (marginally) high cholesterol and probably eat too much generally (although it was only an issue once I went on clomipramine), but I felt I needed a treat. I didn’t even like it that much, which made it all seem pointless.

I just feel tired and withdrawn, although I’m aware that to other people this probably looks like laziness and bad temper. I’m vaguely worried that this will just have added to E’s fears about my autistic dysfunctionality. Even if E is on the spectrum, she is a lot more functional in social settings and after draining days than I am. She was a bit surprised that I did nothing while she was out all day other than cook dinner.

***

I’ve been catching up with the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast (formerly Normal Frum Women). They did an episode on resilience, where the guest was someone I do actually know in person, who is a frum research psychologist and has written a self-help book on resilience as a psychologist, but also from a Jewish perspective.

One thing she said was that venting is counter-productive; it can make us feel better in the short-term, but worse in the long-term. However, reframing the situation is a positive thing. I feel I mostly vent here, although the comments do help me to reframe things sometimes. It did make me wonder if I should blog less or try to complain less or something. She did also talk about the need to normalise experiences like mental illness, which does make me feel there may be a point to writing even a very negative post like this one. For what it’s worth, I am aware that my mood and energy will probably be better tomorrow, which is positive reframing, but I do worry that the burnout days will always be there, which will be bad for me and might scare off E. I’m also aware I’m likely to have some more burnout days before E goes back to the US.

I actually knew about the book and I had vaguely thought of buying it. I guess I held off because I feel I’ve read a lot of self-help books and I struggle to act on them and integrate their teachings without some kind of therapist to guide me. But I do actually have the email address of the author of this one! Not that I would bombard her with questions, but maybe it’s worth getting the book. Particularly as it seems there isn’t much “wrong” with me that can be diagnosed or “fixed” medically/therapeutically at the moment, just a propensity for autistic exhaustion, which perhaps greater resilience could help with, if only to keep me going on the down days. It does seem to be difficult to get hold, possibly already out of print even though it was only published last autumn. It was published in hardback, so maybe a paperback will come out one day.

“They think it’s Passover… It is now!”

I haven’t blogged what happened so far during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the Pesach festival when work is permitted if necessary or contributing to the enjoyment of the festival). I was too busy and tired, and used my blogging energy for a password-protected post about Yom Tov that was more important. But I want to quickly catch up here.

For those who didn’t see the password-protected post, E and I mostly had a good Yom Tov, with interesting seders and E was OK meeting some my parents’ friends and family.

On Monday we (my parents, E and I) went to Cliveden, a National Trust stately home. The house is now a hotel, but we wandered around the grounds all afternoon. Thankfully, my parents left E and I to walk alone. E wanted to see bluebells, so we walked through the woodland until we found some big patches. We also walked around some of the more formal gardens on the site. It was the first time E and I really had proper alone time/date time since E came over last Tuesday and we both really enjoyed it.

In a second-hand bookshop on site, I found a Doctor Who book, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Despite the name, this is a reissued and expanded edition of the official BBC Television Companion issued a few years earlier. I was uncertain whether to buy it, as I had read the online version of the first edition, which was on the official BBC Doctor Who website, but in the end nostalgia for the Doctor Who of the wilderness years when it was off TV (1990-2004) won out (the first edition was published in 1998 and the revised edition I bought in 2003). I’m not sure how much extra material there is, but for £2, it was probably worth it.

Yesterday E and I went on a Pesach LSJS tour of the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum. It was fascinating and even though I knew some of what was said (I’ve done my own research on biblical archaeology), I learnt a lot. The rabbi taking it, Rabbi Zarum, spoke to me briefly. I’m not sure if he recognised me or not; I’ve been to a number of his shiurim (classes) in the past, but I tend not to say much and try to blend into the background. He asked me which shul (synagogue) I go to, which is a standard Orthodox Jewish conversational opening gambit, and I explained about going to [Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul] but probably transferring soon to a Modern Orthodox one because of E. I probably cut a strange figure as a quasi-Haredi Jew, wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and holding hands with someone I’d just identified as not married to me. I feel my life would be easier if I just found my “tribe” or community and stuck there, but I seem to have this restless desire to fit into several very different communities at the same time. (Similarly today I think someone from my current shul saw me wearing a Beatles t-shirt and holding hands with E again.)

In the afternoon E and I went to the Stonehenge exhibition, also at the British Museum. This was interesting to me as I know very little about prehistoric society. However, I felt the exhibition lacked context and was confusingly laid out, with the order you were supposed to read the exhibits unclear and poor signage. There was also ambient noise (sound effects and music) that annoyed me after a while. This seems to be becoming a thing in modern museums and galleries. They are super-diversity aware, but apparently have a blind spot when it comes to sensory sensitivity.

Afterwards we walked around Bloomsbury for a little while, but we got a bit bored and a bit lost and came home. We watched Doctor Who in the evening, Planet of the Dead, which E enjoyed more than I did.

***

Today I was burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, given everything we had done (including walking well over 10,000 steps both days – more like 14,000 yesterday). E had to go out for work all day. I wanted to get up to see her off, but failed and slept through most of the morning. I got up when the Tesco food delivery arrived, but went back to bed afterwards. I had weird dreams, but not particularly memorable, except for wanting to move in the dream and not being able to, which I think is an unconscious desire to get up. I also dreamt about snakes, I’m not sure why. E and I are both concerned about this (the sleep/exhaustion, not the snakes). I still don’t know whether I should be looking for help from doctors, occupational therapists or someone else, or if it’s just autistic exhaustion and I have to just accept it, or find workarounds, or if serious energy accounting might help and how I could manage going on fun days out if I know I’ll run a massive energy deficit the next day. All I know is that the exhaustion is very real and not just me being lazy (although I don’t always remember that).

In the afternoon helped Dad with some chores and spent an hour working on my novel, writing about a thousand words, which was extremely good. It was hard, though. My mood definitely declined in the afternoon, despite the good work on my novel, and I felt depressed and frustrated, and missed E even though I knew I’d see her later. I had the usual feeling of wanting to just be able to get up early and do more during the day. It’s frustrating.

I can’t believe tomorrow is Yom Tov again! E and I will be out for dinner at friends of mine from shul. They are really nice people, but I’ve been masking somewhat around them (and everyone else from that shul) and I wonder what will happen when the meet E and possibly see there’s more to my personality and outlook on life than I’ve let on in the past. I also don’t know if anyone I don’t feel as comfortable with will be there.

Regenerations

I got up surprisingly early, mostly because E also got up early and we sat together, feeling tired and trying not to fall asleep. My satisfaction at this was soon broken when Dad told me that I had left my iPod in my trousers when I put them in the wash yesterday, and he hadn’t realised until after they had been through the wash. The iPod is currently sitting in a bowl of rice to try to dry it out. I turned it on before I put it in the bowl (not realising that that could short circuit it) and it seemed to play OK (!), but the touch screen was faulty and I didn’t play it long enough to see if it really plays OK, or just for a few seconds. I think it turned itself on before, in the rice bowl, too.

I may have to spend on a new iPod, but I had better luck when we went to the free book box when we went for a walk, picking up The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, which suddenly seems more topical than it probably did a few months ago. I feel I should finish reading Richard J. Evans’ Nazi history trilogy first though.

E had to do quite a bit of work today, so, as well as having therapy, I took the time to submit my novel to another two agents, work on my new novel for half an hour (I felt it wasn’t terribly successful, but some days aren’t), do some research for where E and I might go in the near future as well as to find somewhere E can do a pre-flight COVID test on a bank holiday, and clean the sink ready to be kashered for Pesach tomorrow. In the evening E and I watched the Doctor Who episode The Next Doctor; not one of my favourites, but diverting enough. E was rather more tolerant of the second half than I was, which I think goes into somewhat unintentionally silly territory. I preferred David Morrissey as the ‘fake’ future Doctor to David Tennant as the incumbent.

***

I had got a bit bored of the Doctor Who posters I’ve had up in my room for several years (four posters each showing three of the first twelve Doctors, alongside monsters, and one of Jodie Whittaker, the current Doctor). I asked E if she would help me choose some new ones from the pile of posters that I have accumulated, mostly those that have come free with Doctor Who Magazine over the last twenty-five years. She said yes, albeit with the caveat that she should probably be suggesting something other than Doctor Who posters for decor (no, we won’t have them up when we get our own home).

In the end, I kept Whittaker up on the main door, but moved her down to the bottom half and put up a poster of her predecessor, Peter Capaldi, with smaller pictures of the previous Doctors, so that all the Doctors are shown (more or less, given that who counts as a ‘real’ Doctor is now open to question post-The Timeless Child). I had had this poster up before, when I lived away from home, but the other posters had never been up before, or not this way around, as a couple of them were on the reverse of posters I’ve had up. DWM loves double-sided posters, presumably in the hope people will buy the magazine twice to put up both posters.

One wardrobe acquired has two original paintings of Tom Baker stories, Genesis of the Daleks and The Deadly Assassin. Baker is my favourite Doctor, and The Deadly Assassin is a strong story. I think Genesis of the Daleks is a little over-rated, but still good, but E liked it a lot and its iconography makes it very suitable for art. The other wardrobe has a bold poster of couple of Daleks by the Brooklyn Bridge to promote Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks and a poster of Jon Pertwee and a Sea Devil from the latest issue, to promote the Sea Devils’ imminent return in this coming Sunday’s episode. The Sea Devils was one of the first stories I saw and one I have a lot of nostalgia for, while the Sea Devil costumes are one of the better original series designs, so I was pleased to put it up.

***

Not really a relevant thing, but I wanted to share. Some of you may know that Lord Wolfson has just resigned as Justice Minister in protest over the parties now known to have taken place in Downing Street during lockdown. I googled him, and according to the government website and Wikipedia, he’s an Orthodox Jew who spent a year studying at yeshiva (Yeshivat HaKotel) before university. I wonder if he’s the first minister to list a yeshiva alongside the more conventional Selwyn College, Cambridge and Inner Temple as a place where he studied on the government website?

Autistic Day

Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.

In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.

In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.

J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.

Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.

It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.

There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.

***

In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.

I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.

The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.

On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.

***

E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.

The Stressed Time of Year, Forum Discussions, and Culture in the Frum World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhaustion, Coping, and Career Paths

I was really trying not to post today. This is as much a note to myself for the future as a communication for anyone else.

I had insomnia again last night. There is definitely a work connection. I sometimes have insomnia on Friday nights, but generally only get it the night before work. It’s annoying.

Work was full of minor irritations. I got through it OK, but I was exhausted afterwards. I should really have come home and crashed, but I felt I should attend to emails, even though I was trying to stay offline. I was home a bit earlier than expected, and I thought I was not too tired initially, so I did a little more Torah study, but that was a mistake, as I was soon completely exhausted.

I don’t think I’ve really spelled out here before that when I’m exhausted, I’m not just tired, but feel a heaviness all over, especially my head/brain (a horrible feeling as if someone is squashing my brain). Sometimes there can be light-headedness, particularly if I’m hungry too. I can’t always tell the difference between tiredness and hunger, which I guess is another gift of autistic alexithymia (difficulty understanding emotions).

I did feel better after dinner and did some ironing, but really only out of necessity, as I’m worried what state I’ll be in tomorrow.

I do feel that I don’t know where to start with my life at the moment. There seem so many things to do, and all of them urgent and important and worthwhile, and most of them should have been done ages ago and many of them really need to be done before I can marry E. Autistic executive function issues can come into play here too.

Tonight I was thinking about applying for my provisional driver’s licence (which I postponed because I wanted to talk to the optician about how well I can see with and without glasses, and never did). This was because of a hit-and-run accident on Twin Peaks which, frankly, terrified me. I am terrified of driving in general and of losing concentration for a moment and hitting someone. Alternatively, of driving too slowly and cautiously and someone running into me. This is probably not the most immediate priority, but I feel it should be soon.

It is true that if I can deal with the exhaustion and hypersomnia and have a healthy sleep pattern, that would get me several more hours per day in which to do things, so that seems to be the place to start. I will hopefully speak to the occupational therapist tomorrow and see if that might be one way of approaching it. I also hope to speak to the doctor next week to see if there might be a physical cause unrelated to autism, depression or antidepressant medication.

***

I do feel that one of the things I should do urgently is to learn coping skills. For what? That is the question, I suppose. At any rate, my previous strategies have not been healthy or useful. I don’t know where I would learn them. My therapist has shared a few things, so I could ask her, although I’m wary as my previous therapist was very against giving practical help like that; she just wanted me to talk and think things through.

How do other people learn coping skills? Is there a Big Book of Coping Skills somewhere? I feel that even the phrase “coping skills” is too vague and I should be looking for more precise skills, like dealing with disappointment, dealing with messing things up at work (again), dealing with the fear that my relationship will end, dealing with the feeling that I will never achieve anything worthwhile…

***

I don’t do much with LinkedIn, but I noticed today that it was trying to show me “career paths” that other people had followed, to reassure me that a career does not have to be linear and can move at my own pace. I was curious to see if people had had unusual or delayed career paths, to see if there was hope for me.

Of the two career paths they showed me, apparently taken from real people’s LinkedIn profiles, one went from university and student journalism, to mainstream journalism and on to becoming “Director of Audience” at some kind of media outlet, whatever that means. So, a fairly swift and linear career path. The other was a little more twisty (and relevant to my interests), from teaching to a Jewish social justice leadership scheme, then a detour to paralegal work, then on to being a rabbinic intern and Jewish educator. That was vaguely less linear because of the teaching and paralegal detours, but mostly focused on Jewish leadership. If this is supposed to reassure me that my career can meander slowly and over a wide area, it is not doing it. It makes me feel most people’s careers go like this: do something worthwhile as a student; pursue a career related to worthwhile student activity; achieve success quickly and easily; become acclaimed as some kind of leader, with status, wealth and social acceptance.

I’m not sure what happens to those of us who missed the boat. I was not really involved in any student activities at university, except the Doctor Who Society. I was too busy burning out and breaking down. I did write for the Doctor Who Society fanzine and vaguely hoped that might lead on to writing for Doctor Who Magazine, but, as I’ve lamented here before, they weren’t interested.

The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

Another Quiet Day at the Office

I couldn’t sleep again last night. I’m not quite sure why I seem to get insomnia on work nights, and only on work nights. I know I find my work a bit dull and sometimes social anxiety-provoking, but I thought I was mostly OK with that. Maybe not. I need to stick with it either way.

Unfortunately, not only did insomnia make me oversleep this morning (after a weird dream[1]), but there were Tube delays. I actually only got to work about ten minutes late in the end, but the trip was more stressful, and more crowded, than usual, really crowded like pre-COVID days.

[1] Humans grew from eggs. Most people kept theirs in an incubator, but some people insisted on sitting on them to keep them warm the natural way. I suspect most science fiction writers using this premise would treat this as an attack on religion or tradition (“This is what we have always done! It is God’s way!”), but my brain had it as a satire on middle-class organic food obsessives (“Of course, when Tabitha was an egg, I sat on her myself, I wouldn’t trust her to one of those ghastly incubators! I wanted her birth to be completely natural!”).

I’m still making mistakes at work, usually when I’m supposed to enter data on multiple databases and spreadsheets at once and I forget to enter all of it. Suspecting that it’s an autistic executive function/multitasking thing doesn’t make me feel much better about it. I’m honestly surprised J hasn’t got annoyed with me about it. It reminds me of my librarian job in further education, where my boss was open about thinking that I was making too many mistakes and not learning fast enough. At the time, I didn’t have my autism diagnosis to rely on.

I did lead Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) at work. I got fed up of all the “You lead,” “No, you lead” arguments. Ma’ariv is easier than Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) as there’s less that has to be read aloud. Standing on the bimah (platform where the prayer leader stands), the whole shul seemed suddenly quiet, no one saying amen or other responses. I don’t know if I’ll lead it again soon. The service is starting at 4.15pm next week and I might have gone home before then to try to challenge my social anxiety by leading the service again. I did shake. Not as much as I feared I would, but enough that most of my concentration was going on not shaking and not on the meaning of the Hebrew words I was saying. Coming off the olanzapine might help reduce the tremor.

Despite all this, my mood was mostly OK today, despite being on a reduced dose of olanzapine. I’ll let you know how that goes.

***

Trudging around the Tube this morning, feeling crowded and uncomfortable, I had an idea for a flash fiction story, so here goes:

Another Quiet Day at the Office

With a whoosh of hydraulics, the door opened, light flooding into the dingy room.  A tall woman entered.  She would be described as elegant, were it not for the workaday dull yellow uniform she wore with the red pips that marked the rank of Supervisor.  She glanced around the room, computer screens ranged against the walls, all unwatched, except for one.  There was a man slumped in front of it.  She walked over to him and looked at the screen.  Men in green uniforms and metal helmets ran through surf and onto a beach, many dropping to lie motionless on the floor, with more men rushing to replace them.

“You’re watching World War II again!” the Supervisor exclaimed.

The man looked up, did a double-take and bolted out of his seat into an ‘attention’ pose.

“At ease,” the woman said, resignedly.  “This isn’t the temporal period you are supposed to be monitoring.”

“It’s getting to the really good bit, when the Allies land in Normandy” the man said enthusiastically, ignoring the rebuke.

“I always lose attention after ‘We shall fight them on the beaches,’” said the Supervisor.  “What are you supposed to be monitoring?”

“Fifteenth century, ma’am.  The Wars of the Roses.  Very dull and confusing.  Too many Henrys and Edwards.”

The Supervisor thought about this for a moment and appeared to agree, returning the conversation to the previous subject.

“I never bought the ending of World War II.  Hitler killing himself was too convenient.  There should have been a climactic shoot-out in the Führerbunker.”

“Suggest a temporal manipulation to Control.  You’re high ranking enough,” he said.

“I wouldn’t suggest anything so frivolous.  Besides, I’m not really interested in recorded history.  I prefer monitoring pre-history.”

“Cadet 7629 said you once suggested a temporal manipulation to prevent the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs from hitting the Earth.  She said that you thought the resulting timeline would see the evolution of intelligent lizard-people, more perceptive and humane than mankind.”

“Cadet Ophie should watch her mouth if she doesn’t want to be assigned to watching micro-organisms in the Precambrian for the rest of her tour of duty,” said the woman, but the man saw her blush and knew Ophie was right.  Well, even officers were allowed their pet obsessions.  But within limits.  All these years later (if ‘years’ had meaning in this monitoring station outside of time and space) Control were still searching for whoever it was who suggested letting violent bipedal apes rise to the top of this planet’s pecking order.  Perhaps the dinosaur-people would have been better masters of Earth after all…

***

This story wasn’t an intended as a riff on Doctor Who’s Time Lords and Silurians, but somehow it ended up that way. Maybe the ‘humans from eggs’ dream had something to do with it.

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

I am back in the UK! I had a really good time with E in New York. I hope to blog it soon, but probably over a number of days, alongside my usual posts. I hope this doesn’t make the narrative like one of those ‘difficult’ novels that start consecutive chapters at A (the beginning of the story) and B (the midpoint of the story) and then alternate between the the two plotlines so the odd-numbered chapters tell you how the characters got from A to B, while the even-numbered chapters tell you how they got from B to C (the end of the story). (There was a Doctor Who novel like this, Eye of Heaven. It was pretty good, but no one could work out why the author wrote it that way.)

My flight home was somewhat stressful, with problems getting my COVID passenger locator form displayed to staff on my phone and delays when another flight was cancelled and their passengers passed on to us. I had a night flight and didn’t sleep, as I can’t sleep on planes; I didn’t have a particularly good or healthy breakfast either.

When I got home, I had lunch and unpacked a bit. Then I had a nap, intending to sleep for an hour and a half, but actually sleeping for three hours. Since then I’ve been unpacking and dealing with the email backlog. I should probably go to bed soon.

I did a COVID test when I woke up and it was negative (I always feel a ‘negative’ result should mean a bad result, but negative as in no COVID), so that was good.

Good Year for the Roses

As Elvis Costello so nearly sang, “It’s a good year for the Roses/Also the Cohens and the Goldbergs…” I don’t really do Gregorian New Years, I focus on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn, but I have been feeling a bit more introspective than usual the last few days. 2021 was, in many ways, and for many people, an awful year, but for me there were many positives (autism diagnosis, getting back with E, getting engaged, having my job made permanent, getting to a stage where I felt able to start submitting my novel manuscript to agents, having an idea for my second novel) in amidst the continuing COVID awfulness. I am ready for COVID to be over now, though.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was unexciting. I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not on Saturday. COVID has made shul attendance so much harder than it was before, and social anxiety had already made it patchy before COVID. One person asked if I had set a date yet for the wedding. I said that COVID is making wedding planning hard, which is true, but E and I have agreed not to start planning at least until I’ve been out there. We just want to spend some more time doing couple stuff before we plan the wedding, given how little time we’ve been able to spend together in person, thanks to COVID.

I did some Torah study, and finished reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, largely due to a bout of insomnia on Friday night. It held my attention, and I can see why children like it so much, but I’m not quite sure why it was so popular with adults. I’m feel like I’m too old to believe ten year olds know better than adults what to do in a crisis, and the book is permeated by the ethos of all the main characters being the best in the school at something, as if we won’t empathise with normal people, a motif that was annoying in Star Trek too. I probably will read the other books in the series, but I’m not rushing out to get them all right now.

I am hoping to get to bed by midnight and up by 10am (on non-work days, obviously I get up earlier on those). This is not a New Year’s Resolution as such, just something I wanted to do and 1 January was a good time to start. I seem to have blown the midnight idea tonight though. If I can manage to get up and go to bed earlier, I will reward myself with doughnuts, despite my somewhat half-hearted diet.

***

Doctor Who today was not great. I think it was supposed to be a comedy thriller, but I didn’t find it funny. Repeatedly saying “Daleks are not [fill in the blank]” does not count as comedy. The premise was intriguing, but the story did not develop enough, nor the characters. I said I wouldn’t write any more negative reviews, but I don’t know what else to say. It wasn’t bad, just underwhelming, and the waste of a good idea.

And Yaz has fallen in love with the Doctor! Why do they keep doing this? In the original series, the companion never fell in love with the Doctor (even when the actress did and that bled through to the performances). And only once did he fall in love with someone or anyone else fell in love with him, and that was in the first season, before they really decided what the parameters of the programme were. Since the 1996 TV Movie, we’ve had Grace, Rose, Martha, Amy, River Song, Queen Elizabeth I, Clara (according to Madam Vastra), perhaps Bill (according to Twice Upon a Time) and now Yaz, plus Idris/the TARDIS. Why? It is really not why I’m watching. If I wanted to watch a romance, I would watch a romance. As far as I’m aware (Paula?) romance stories don’t generally feature random time-travellers or aliens just in case someone wants that (I’m not counting The Time-Traveller’s Wife), so why should Doctor Who feature numerous repetitive love stories? Love stories that we know won’t go anywhere, because the nature of the format is that the Doctor isn’t going to settle down somewhere. Or is it just me? Possibly. As I’ve said before, I don’t think modern Doctor Who is bad so much as totally out of sync with my taste, and the things I like from the original series.

Reality Bombs

I woke up at midday feeling exhausted. I didn’t think I’d done much yesterday to get so tired, but apparently I did. I do need to see a doctor about this, although I’m sceptical of what they might say. Autistic fatigue is not well known in medical circles, and there isn’t much idea of what helps deal with it. I lay in bed for half an hour feeling too exhausted to move, even though I knew how late it was. I’m not entirely sure how I finally managed to get up. I went back to bed after breakfast too. I just felt wiped out. Even bentsching, saying the grace after meals after lunch, which I normally would rattle through, was an effort. Likewise, reading a short devar Torah that would normally take five minutes was a painful effort to finish.

It got so bad that mid-afternoon I went to bed for forty minutes. I don’t think I dozed, but lying with my eyes shut in a darkening (as it was after sunset), quiet room did help me. As that’s my usual cure for autistic overload, it does make it seem that that was the problem, even though I didn’t really do much at all yesterday to make me overloaded.

I felt a lot better afterwards, but I’d lost most of the day. I did about forty minutes of Torah study and read over an article of mine that the Jewish website is publishing next week (see below), but that was all that I managed before dinner. I ate with my parents, as we usually do on Mondays, then joined the National Autistic Society forum because I thought it might be a way of connecting with other autistic people and asking advice, looking for moral support etc. In particular, I want to know more about autistic fatigue and coping strategies.

I ran out of time for novel research, novel writing, devar Torah writing, more Torah study or tzitzit tying. Sigh. It sometimes feels like things go on the ‘to do’ list faster than I can take things off it.

One other thing I did do was my ironing, while watching an awful not favourite episode of Doctor Who (Journey’s End). I am vaguely amused by the way Russell T Davies arbitrarily introduces magic ‘science’ to handwave his way out of trouble, then has to introduce more magic science to explain why the first handwave won’t work again to add the danger back (in this case why the Doctor can’t extend the TARDIS forcefield to protect himself against Daleks as in The Parting of the Ways). There’s a lot of plot handwaving here too, and posing of fake moral dilemmas for the Doctor. Logopolis is also overrated and not very good, but at least it had a more thoughtful take on the end of the universe. (Although Logopolis and Journey’s End end are so different, it’s hard to believe they come from the same programme. In a sense, they don’t.) Also, I am so sick of “Rose is special”; the Doctor shouldn’t have a favourite companion (and if he did, it should be one the ones the fans hate, like Dodo or Adric).

It has left me wanting to watch proper original series Doctor Who, but I don’t want to do that without E. I guess I could watch something that would be low down my list of stories to show her because most people think it’s rubbish, but I secretly love it (The Space Museum, The Invasion of Time and Delta and the Bannermen are all good examples).

***

I did find a useful page on the National Autistic Society website. The idea of energy accounting sounds good, if I can find an effective way to do it (including dealing with work and not guilt-tripping myself into doing more than I have energy for). It’s similar to spoon theory. I do feel that autistic fatigue is my primary problem at the moment. I’m just tired so much of the time. I probably don’t relax ‘properly’ either. I try to push myself too hard to do ‘useful’ things (work, exercise, Torah study, prayer), then crash and do endless internet browsing/procrastination, which is not actually restoring, just time-wasting. Sometimes it makes things worse, if it’s stuff in the news upsetting me. I know just listening to a comedy radio show on my headphones the way home from work seems to have helped a lot with my after-work recovery.

***

The Jewish website I wrote for previously are running a revised version of an article about religious OCD that I wrote some years ago for a geek website. It’s revised to bring it up-to-date and stress that I’m not still suffering with OCD. Despite saying that I’m better, I’ve had some OCD anxiety about getting takeaway later this week, in case the food is not packaged correctly for kosher takeaway. It’s not by any means the level anxiety I had a few years ago, but it is a reminder that the OCD thoughts never fully go away and I always have to be on my guard against them. Truly, the price of freedom from OCD is eternal vigilance.

Pause and Release

I don’t celebrate Christmas, so this time of year can feel a bit weird, particularly when Chanukah is early and long-over, as it was this year. Everything is shut and there’s a sense of almost hibernation, of pause and release combined with hope and nervousness about next year. I’m trying to savour the pause from paid work, although, as ever I am trying to keep busy with my own stuff such as Torah study and devar Torah, novel research and novel writing (yes, even though I have a ton of research still to do, yesterday I decided I could contain myself no more and put pen to paper, or fingers to word processor, and started writing my second novel), so there isn’t so much of a break. Then again, I don’t do total inactivity well.

I wanted to go for a run today, but I had several headrushes just moving around at home, so I decided a run would not be sensible, particularly as it was so damp out and my parents weren’t around to come looking for me if I collapsed somewhere. I went for a walk instead and Skyped E.

I did some novel research. I wanted to do some novel writing too, but got caught up in research and ran out of time, but it’s all relevant. Although I do wonder if the posters on the Jewish pornography addicts forum I was looking at would feel uncomfortable if they knew I was reading for research, and for a novel they probably would not feel able to read (because not Haredi as well as about sex), but I guess there’s no way of telling.

The big thing this week for me is waiting to see what new COVID regulations get added in tomorrow, so I can see if I can visit E in New York in January. We both really want to spend some time together, so I’m hoping travel is still reasonably possible.

***

I’m still tired (obviously — I’ve been tired much of the time for twenty years) and getting headrushes and light-headedness (fairly new, and possibly two distinct sensations). I probably should try to see a doctor, but I don’t want that to clash with New York, if I can go. I’m also dreading hanging on the telephone for hours.

On a similarly medical note, I started to apply for my provisional driving licence. I’m pretty sure I can meet the sight requirements wearing my glasses, and probably without them, but I’m not sure, and I don’t know how to check without having another eye test (I last had one a year ago, so I’m not due for a while). The problem is, it looks like at the moment, because of COVID, I would have to wear a mask while having driving lessons, which means my glasses would steam up, so I wouldn’t wear them — and I’m not sure my eyesight would be good enough then. I could, of course, concentrate on the written exam first, which might be a better idea anyway, in terms of having free time for it.

In the end I decided I will phone the optician on Wednesday and see if they can tell me, from my records, which category I’m in (able to drive with or without glasses) before I apply for the provisional licence. In the meantime, I should think about the written test. Although frankly the whole idea of learning to drive terrifies me. Like many people on the autism spectrum, I am bad at judging distance and speed and I’m also terrified of being overwhelmed or distracted (both very possible with autism) and having an accident. But I promised E that I would at least try to learn and certainly it makes sense for one of us to learn how to drive, and at this stage I’m the more obvious choice.

***

E and I are back to watching Doctor Who new series, season four. I watched The Stolen Earth today. I could write a negative review, but it’s easier just to point out that writer/showrunner Russell T Davies and I have radically different understandings of plot logic, verisimilitude, dialogue, humour, emotional drama, Doctor Who, David Tennant’s acting range and pretty much everything else and it’s a wonder that I liked any of his stuff at all. Sadly, from this stage until he leaves (at the end of a year of special episodes), everything is written or co-written by Davies, turning up all the parts of his writing that annoy me and forgetting about the stuff I liked. And now he’s coming back in two years. Oh, well. I’ve long-since realised that I don’t have much connection with contemporary TV Doctor Who.

***

As a couple of people have commented about them, I should probably explain about the password-protected posts that I’ve posted lately. I wrote them thinking I might post them for a small audience, but would see what E thought first, but once she had seen them, I didn’t feel a pressing urge to share them more widely. I don’t know if I’ll continue doing this. If I do want to share, I have the email addresses of the people I would want to share with, so I’ll let them know the password.

Blog Fragment: Doctor Who: Flux

This is really just for my own reference; I didn’t want to put this in the engagement blog for obvious reasons.

I watched the last episode of this season of Doctor Who: Flux on Sunday. It was surprisingly good. Not amazing, but I was reasonably entertained and the ongoing plot held together better than I thought it would, although there were definitely some plot contrivances. The big threat(s) for the season were too abstract, though; I don’t really know what the villains wanted. I think it requires a second viewing when it probably shouldn’t, but I’m not dreading watching it again; I’m vaguely looking forward to it, although I probably won’t watch it again until E and I reach it in our new Who viewing, which probably won’t be for quite a while.

Hinterland

I haven’t written for a few days as I have some good news, but I haven’t really been able to share it yet. I can do so now, but I’m too tired to write that post tonight, so it will have to wait. Sorry. It’s good news. I think you’ll find it worth the wait. I just wanted to write a few thoughts about something that just came to me.

I was reading a post by someone I used to count as a friend, but have long-since drifted away from. He left his Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) religious community for reasons that had more to do with politics than religion. He wrote a post about struggling with that change, as everything good in his life came from that community as well as everything bad, because it was a complete community. He had nothing outside it.

I’ve felt for a long time an element of negativity about things in my life that don’t fit into the Orthodox Jewish ‘image,’ particularly Doctor Who and other TV science fiction. I felt that if I could ditch these things, I would fit in better and be accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community. But I never did ditch them, because they meant too much for me, plus I can be stubborn and contrary when told what to do, at least sometimes.

Now I wonder if they are secretly keep me frum (religious Jewish). Maybe the fact that I have an escape valve for my energy and emotions outside of the frum world enables me to keep going inside it even when I disagree with things that happen there. That I’m not so completely invested in the frum community that I feel I have to completely conform. It’s not the whole of my life, it’s a part of my life. A big part, but there isn’t the 1:1 feeling that I have to mirror it in every way.

People sometimes complain about politicians these days not having a hinterland, meaning interests beyond politics. Many nineteenth and early twentieth century politicians had something beyond politics that they loved and devoted time to. Gladstone chopped trees. Disraeli wrote novels. Churchill wrote, painted and built walls. Attlee was a cricket fan. Macmillan read a lot. Modern politicians often have no interests other than politics, and arguably suffer as a result.

I wonder if my Doctor Who/science fiction TV hinterland has kept me sane, and kept me frum all these years. I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s worth thinking about.

Small Earthquake in Chile, Not Many Dead

There isn’t much to report today, hence the title, the most boring newspaper headline ever (according to legend; there’s no evidence it was actually printed). I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I was one of about four or so people wearing masks (out of about thirty or forty). They still aren’t mandatory in religious services, but I would have felt uncomfortable without one. I’m caught between conflicting feelings of being fed up with COVID and being scared of it; I don’t want to mask and isolate, but I feel the urge to do so. It’s a balancing act right now. There was circle dancing again in shul and I didn’t join in, primarily because of autistic discomfort, but also because of COVID. Some of the mask-wearers joined in the circle, which I thought was a bit of a contradiction, but I guess to each their own, in the absence of clearer government guidelines.

I had a headache after dinner last night, not a migraine, but quite uncomfortable, and it took a long time to respond to medication. I’m not sure what triggered it. I struggled through some Torah study for a while, then sat downstairs (where the chairs are more comfortable and supportive of my head when I have a headache) and alternately rested and read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, the Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery I’m reading. It’s quite involving, but I’m struggling to tell the characters apart, particularly as most of them are female college dons. I think I had a similar problem with Murder Must Advertise, another Sayers/Wimsey novel. Still, it is nice to see a novel with a mostly female cast not aimed exclusively at women — and published in 1936 too!

Today I slept too much again and felt too tired to go to shul for davening and shiur (prayers and religious class). I did some Torah study at home. I feel like COVID has disrupted my shul-going (and my going out in general, but I went to shul more often than anywhere other than work) and now I feel like I have one foot out of the shul (for reasons that will hopefully become more obvious soon), it’s hard to get back into the pattern of going. This is especially true as it sometimes feels like I understand the Talmud passages marginally better when I prepare beforehand and revise afterwards than in the shiur itself.

I wanted to sort out a big pile of emails after Shabbat, but somehow with Chanukah candles and Torah study I ran out of time and I ended up watching Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, a two-part Doctor Who story from 2008. It was good, one of the best of that year, although it has very little to do with libraries beyond being set in one. Not one of Doctor Who‘s most literate stories. The ending has left me feeling vaguely morbid for some reason, so I will probably try to go to bed soon, although I’m not sure how easily I’ll sleep after sleeping so much during the day.

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.

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).

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.)

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.