A Tribe of Two

I feel I wasted a lot of the day. I helped Dad put up the sukkah (the temporary hut/dwelling in the garden where we will live (in reality, eat) for the Sukkot festival starting next Sunday evening) today. It’s not finished, but we have some time still. But doing that made me worry about how E and I will cope with living together and running a household when both of us have mental health issues, diagnosed or possible neurodivergence and low energy (from possible sleep disorders or something else). I worry a lot about how we will cope with having kids. We both want to have kids, but it’s hard to work out if we could cope, and for fertility reasons, we can’t really push the decision off in the hope our physical and emotional health improves.

Whether because of these worries or because of autistic exhaustion, I lacked energy and motivation today. I procrastinated a bit, then did some Torah study. I wanted to go for a run, but I started getting a headache. Then I thought about going for a walk, but the headache started turning to a migraine. The headache did go eventually, but by that stage the day was over, aside from skyping E in the evening.

***

I was thinking of my mental illness history in the past tense, then realised I still have social anxiety. Why do I always downgrade my social anxiety, as if it’s not as real or powerful (in a negative way) as my depression and OCD were? I’ve stood in the street crying on occasion because I couldn’t get past it to go somewhere. That’s a big, ongoing issue. Yet I don’t pay it attention. I’ve only once made a serious attempt to get help for it by itself, rather than alongside (and playing second-fiddle) to other issues (actually two attempts, but the second attempt is by this stage a vague hope that the NHS will provide autism-adapted CBT at some point in the future). I act as if it’s not much more than shyness, when it really is, especially since COVID (although the standing in the street crying was pre-COVID).

***

I’m still struggling with what I want to do with Facebook. I still haven’t friended most of my real-world friends. I’m not entirely sure what is motivating this. Perhaps I can’t face being reminded how different our lives are, or risking reading about their politics. FB has suggested a couple of school peers to me, but not many. I’ve only friended one friend so far, so the algorithm has little to work with there. The peers I have come across have mostly had their accounts set to Friends Only (or whatever it’s called), so I can’t play the “Compare and Despair” game (as someone on the autism forum put it).

I’ve tried to join some groups for hobbies i.e. Doctor Who and other telefantasy (not that anyone says ‘telefantasy’ nowadays). I struggled to find my ‘ideal’ Doctor Who group, one which posts regularly, but not too often (I think three or four times a week to once or twice a day is the range I’m looking for), with discussion of episodes/ideas from the programme, especially the classic series of Doctor Who, and no obligation to adore the current episodes/show-runner, although not tedious hating either. Most groups are private, so I can’t see them. From the few public groups I’ve seen, and from the blurb when I search, most groups post far too often (10+ times a day is common), are largely new series-focused for Doctor Who and feature a lot of random pictures, memes and merchandise/convention news and little discussion. I miss the days of the fan blogosphere, where people actually discussed stuff (albeit that discussion would get tagged with the annoying phrase ‘meta’).

In the end I joined three groups (one for classic Doctor Who, one for The Prisoner and one for general British cult TV). I can always leave if they’re unsuitable. I guess I feel that if I’m going to waste time online, it might as well be doing something fun. My WordPress blog feed has slowly, but surely been drying up since COVID started and I get the impression other people’s have too, so I’m looking elsewhere for online time-wasting.

***

Related to this is the issue of “finding my tribe,” which I have spoken about before. I suspect part of my current issues is wanting to find some kind of community I feel comfortable with, even if only online. Many people on the autism forum claim to have “found their tribe” there, but I struggle to do so, if only because there seems to be little ongoing group discussion or interaction. There basically seem to be three types of posts there: introductory posts; posts from relatively high functioning adults asking about specific problems; and parents of young children with autism or suspected autism (often not high-functioning) asking with specific problems or questions about assessment. There isn’t the kind of general posts or ‘chattiness’ I expected, maybe inherently, given the way autism manifests, or given the way forums are structured. I suspect I will find similar issues with FB groups, including the one I want to set up. Also, my experience of autism is so related to my (real or perceived?) struggles fitting into the Jewish community that I fear that it is hard for people to relate to me and vice versa.

There’s a saying in the autism community that, “If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism,” the idea being that autistics are a very diverse group and certainly autism manifests in surprisingly different ways. So maybe it’s not a surprise that I connect with some people on the forum and not others. We probably shame some genetic differences from the mainstream, but that’s arguably not enough to build friendships and community on.

Looking at other places where people like me find their tribe, I don’t know why I think I would have lots of things in common with other Doctor Who fans, as that’s arguably even less of a real connection, although strangely I have managed to find people on my wavelength in fan circles in the past (excluding my religious beliefs and practices, though), whether in the real world in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society or on the (now largely defunct) Livejournal Doctor Who community.

I would think that Orthodox Jews would be a more homogenous group and more likely to share my outlook. After all, Orthodoxy involves commitment to beliefs and practices that are far outside the secular norm in the contemporary Western world. Even so, there are vast differences of personality, interests, outlook and so on, which, again, is probably not unexpected.

Kafka said something along the lines of he didn’t know why people expect him to have things in common with other Jews when he had little in common with himself. I feel the same way. Sometimes my interests and worldview seem to come from several different people, so broad-ranging are they (I suspect some of my opinions are actually contradictory, if I looked at them dispassionately enough), so it’s not surprising I can’t find anyone who shares them. In many ways the surprising thing is that I do have so much in common with E (despite our religious differences). Maybe we are a tribe of two? I guess it’s better than a tribe of one.

I suspect it’s more realistic to look for individual friendships in different communities, living a compartmentalised life. This is frustrating in some ways (and not at all how we are encouraged to live these days), but is probably more realistic than expecting one group of people to meet all my social/emotional/religious needs.

***

While I’m venting, there is another issue I have with the autistic community. A lot of people in it seem to have a kind of ‘reverse ableism’ whereby neurotypicals (by which they seem to mean allistics (non-autistics) most of the time, even though the two words are not by any means synonymous) are treated as a single unit who all think and act the same way, behaviour usually contrasted negatively with supposed autistic logic and calm (I think some autistics are indeed very logical, but others are just single-minded and can’t see alternatives to their own opinions, which they mistake for irrefutable logic — I have definitely done this in the past. As for calm, someone rightly said that autistics are the noisiest quiet people). This really annoys me, especially as many of my friends and family are not autistic and I am able to get along with them and don’t particularly like seeing them portrayed as universally irrational, noisy, extrovert, uncaring, deceitful, malicious and so on when this is clearly not the case.

You do sometimes find a similar anti-gentile prejudice in Jews (although not so often or so bitterly, in my experience), so perhaps any marginalised and persecuted minority will develop such a sense of superiority as a defence, but it isn’t necessary or attractive, in my opinion.

A related issue, which, again, I have fallen foul of myself in the past, is complaining, often in a very political way, about the lack of support for adult autistics without making clear what support they would actually want. I have done this, and I still feel I would like support of some kind, but if you asked me what support I would like and gave me a government budget of X million pounds for it, I would struggle to suggest what would help me. Judging by the way other people on the forum complain about a lack of support in vague terms (“There is no support for adult autistics”) and not specific ones, (“I would like more widely-available autism-adapted CBT,” for example, or some kind of specific skill/coping strategy training) I suspect I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap.

I’m not actually sure what help I need. My feeling of, “I don’t understand people or the world” isn’t really something specific enough for someone to help me with. Things like sensory issues can manifest in such different ways in different people that it’s hard to see what type of support could realistically be available for everyone, while social skill training is sometimes dismissed as forcing autistics to fit into an allistic world. Arguably there should be more research on skills and coping strategies for autistics, but that would take a long time to come through as something that autistics could be taught.

(I realise the last few paragraphs lead me open to accusations of being a “self-hating autistic.)

Rosh Hashanah

I should really get to bed soon, but I wanted to quickly write a few things about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

I got to shul (synagogue) multiple times, including for the shofar both mornings, although I got to shul long after the start of the very long Rosh Hashanah morning service. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the large numbers in shul on the first evening, but was OK with the number of people, although I suspect to some extent I just focused on myself, my machzor (prayerbook) and the chazan (cantor) and tried not to think about the other people. I was mostly OK with the choir and the chazanut (cantorial singing), preferring to sit with Dad in the known quantity of the main shul despite these things (choir and chazan) rather than go by myself into unknown the parallel service, even though they finished a lot earlier without them. I mostly think I made the right decision, but I was annoyed by the amount of talking, which I’m not used to from my shul. Still, overall I felt comfortable at being back in the United Synagogue. I do wish people wouldn’t talk during the service, though.

I felt too tired to go back this evening for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services), which means my machzor and, more importantly, my tallit (prayershawl) is still in shul, so I’ll have to borrow Dad’s tomorrow morning (Dad has two talletot, one in shul and one at home).

I didn’t do much Torah study, although I went to the shiur (religious class) between Minchah and Ma’ariv yesterday. I did finish the ‘Chofetz Chaim on the festivals’ book.

I remembered there’s one type of therapy system (I can’t remember which) that talks about moving towards or away from values instead of abstract goals. For some reason that I’m not entirely sure about, I feel vaguely uncomfortable with moving towards values, but wondered if it would work to feel I’m moving towards God. I’ll have to see how that goes.

The main difficulty over Yom Tov, aside from missing E, was that my lips and especially hands have got quite chapped. I’m not quite sure how this happened, as it feels like it was summer five minutes ago, but apparently it’s not any more. Anyway, that was/is a bit uncomfortable. My left hand in particular has quite a lot of little cuts on it, which are surprisingly painful.

EDIT: I finally set up my new Facebook account. I haven’t set up a profile or found friends (or “friends”) or anything yet, as I don’t have time, but I wanted to do something towards setting up the group for people on the margins of the frum community. I did try to set my relationship status to married to E, but couldn’t work out how (isn’t FB supposed to be intuitive?) and ran out of time as I have to be up early for work tomorrow.

“…an almost Proustian display of modern Existentialist football…”

(Title quote from one of the Monty Python sketches I think about periodically, which happened to be in the episode I watched earlier, about a pretentious football commentator interviewing a monosyllabic footballer. It’s not really relevant, I just think it’s funny.)

There’s a lot I want to say, but I am totally exhausted, and overwhelmed with things to do. However, as I’m too exhausted to do much now, I’ll try to blog at least some of the things on my mind.

I flippantly remarked on Angela’s blog the other day that I’ve been tired for decades. I felt somewhat bad about it afterwards, as that was a post about tiredness through serious physical illness, but I’m not sure that tiredness from depression, autistic exhaustion and a sleep disorder is really less “real” or worthy of note. At any rate, I struggled to sleep again last night, although not so badly as some nights, and then struggled to get going in the morning, only to discover that while I was asleep, E had asked me to send her a particular document needed for the visa again, as I had forgotten to sign it. To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten, so much as not realised I need to do it (yes, classic autistic, “If you don’t explicitly ask for it, he won’t realise he needs to do it”). This delayed me a little, but I cut my usual truncated Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even shorter and got to work on time.

Work was exceedingly dull and I found some mistakes I had made weeks ago that at least went unnoticed by my boss. I listened to podcasts while sorting through papers then felt guilty that I had decreased my efficiency, although I’m not at all sure that that was the case, as the task is dull, but also difficult, as most of the papers I’m dealing with at the moment are legal or financial, but also twenty years or more old. They should be ripe for throwing away, but I worry that my legal and financial ignorance will lead me to throw away something we need. At the moment, I’m just trying to produce a general list of what everything is.

***

I have a tendency to take the world’s troubles on my shoulders, at least sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling concern for lonely people on the autism forum, abuse survivors and current victims in the Jewish community, as well as continuing sadness and perhaps anger at God for my parents’ friends’ late son. I do worry sometimes that abusers and gett refusers (men who refuse to give their wives the religious divorce they want) in the frum (religious Jewish) community will find a loophole to the Next World via their Torah study and communal involvement and somehow evade punishment. This is irrational, as I don’t believe God is as easily deceived, or has His values as warped, as the frum community sometimes is and, in any case, I believe spiritual punishment is inherent in the action in ways that are too complicated for me to explain now; you can’t avoid Divine punishment any more than you can avoid being in your own body. But I do think about it a lot.

***

I came across the idea a number of years ago that lots of frum people want to fast-forward through this time of year, the Jewish autumn festival season. For them it’s a time of painful self-examination and guilt. It is that for me too, with added autistic exhaustion and peopling, social anxiety, low self-esteem and disordered sleep issues, not to mention autistic issues with work routine changes and overload from working more intensively. I could also say that their guilt over sins is excessive and misplaced, whereas mine is logical and deserved, but I’m not going to go there (which is probably a good sign in and of itself). I feel like that now, with all the extra overwhelm of my life at the moment too, but today for the first time I felt frustrated that I haven’t worked on my novel for weeks because I’ve been focused on my wedding and E’s visa application. I’m glad, as I wondered if I had given up on writing. However, I still doubt I will have time to put pen to paper (or word processor) for another month.

One extra thing that is hard at this time of year is having alexithymia, difficulty noticing and understanding my own emotions. It’s hard to be sure I love and am in awe of God and that I love Torah, or that I have joy in the festivals and in being Jewish when I struggle to notice love for my family, let alone a being I can’t see and Who is the source of everything bad that ever happened to me as well as everything good. Mostly I try to “deduce” my emotions by my actions, which I guess must mean I feel something positive about God if I do all this religious stuff.

Related to this is my feelings about the frum community. On an Orthodox Conundrum podcast I listened to today, they spoke about the importance of being part of a community for spiritual growth. I’ve never really had this, at least not in the way they meant. Someone on the autism forum the other day suggested that while I say I want to be part of a community, I also seem to have negative feelings about it (I said making friends in the community seemed “terrifying and impossible”). I don’t really have an answer this.

***

I suspect the answer to all of the above is to “Let go and let God,” as the 12 Step movement says, but I’ve never been very good at that. It’s hard to “Let go and let God” when you can’t work out how much you trust God.

***

Good things that happened today:

E sent the visa application off, despite consistent issues with the third-party website.

I was told I can keep paying reduced shul (synagogue) membership fees because I’m on a low salary. I feel vaguely guilty about this and don’t know why, although as I have been paying money to a shul I haven’t been attending, and as I will continue doing this for some months more, I feel the shul is still getting a good deal.

My birthday present from E, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg finally arrived. The delay, I should say, was on the part of Foyles Bookshop, not E. Zornberg has written several deep books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), mixing traditional commentary with ideas from Western philosophy and literature and psychology. She’s very good, but no one expected her to write about the almost entirely legal and purity-focused Vayikra (Leviticus). So I am curious to read it, but will wait until it comes around on the annual Torah cycle next spring.

Also arriving today was the latest Jewish Review of Books (finally) and Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide. Actually, the latter came yesterday, but it seemed inappropriate to write about it on such a sad day. Then today I went into the charity shop and found a load of interesting-looking books. I already owned a couple of them, perhaps fortunately, but I did buy a copy of Yehudah HaLevi’s Medieval Jewish anti-philosophical philosophical work, The Kuzari for £2, which goes nicely with the Guide for the Perplexed I got for free a few months ago.

Yes, my plan to avoid getting new books until I work my way down the To Read pile is going well. Wait a minute…

Overwhelmed

I wrote the following long post on the autism forum. I’m too exhausted to write a long forum post and a long blog post, so I’m just going to copy and paste. Much of this is probably familiar to regular readers, but it’s a handy summary of how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks and why things are probably not going to get any better any time soon.

I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed lately. The background is that at the end of August, I went to New York for my civil wedding (my wife is from the USA). After one day of married life, I had to come back to the UK alone, so that she can apply for a spouse visa to come to the UK. She can’t come to the UK until she gets that. For religious reasons, we won’t live together until we have a second, religious, wedding (in the UK, hopefully early next year). At the moment, I’m still living with my parents, with my wife on another continent for the foreseeable future, which I guess would be difficult even for an NT. I’m certainly finding it very hard.

Then, when I got home from the US I had a lot of disruption: extended family staying with us, then my parents going away, which left me in the house by myself, which was good in some ways, but stressful in others. And now I’m a few days away from the autumn Jewish festival season (I’m an Orthodox Jew) which, again, is stressful even for Jewish NTs without social anxiety (which I have too) who don’t care about work/schedule disruption, having to go to crowded religious events, peopling and so on. Also, despite being a festival season, parts are quite sombre and focused on personal growth, which, with my low self-esteem, I tend to apply to myself as guilt and shame rather than anything healthier

 So, there is a lot going on, and three weeks on, I feel I haven’t processed my wedding yet; but then eighteen months on from my Asperger’s diagnosis, I feel increasingly I haven’t fully processed that either. In terms of the Kubler-Ross model for dealing with grief (my grief over the NT life I won’t have), I worry I’m stuck on “bargaining” for the NT life I thought I was going to get, or the next best thing (“If only I wasn’t autistic… If only I was diagnosed younger… If only I was good with numbers or could get a job related to my special interests…”). I’m not proud of this, I’d like to see the positives in my diagnosis, but I feel I missed all the useful autistic skills and just got some relatively mild sensory issues, some worse executive functioning issues, and a lot of social/inter-personal difficulties that I disguise with masking so no one can see how desperate I feel so much of the time, how much I’m just pretending that I’m doing OK in social situations.

I’m rejoicing to be getting married to the most supportive woman in the world, but I worry about how we will make ends meet or cope with practical things (she has her own “issues” too, including possible ASD that we aren’t sure whether to investigate further). I don’t want to let her down, even though she’s not pressuring me. I have a job, two days a week. It frustrates me, as I’m over-qualified for it, but still constantly make stupid mistakes. I’m not sure if that’s because of ASD or (ahem) boredom and incompetence on my part. It’s humbling to feel like I’m failing all the time, but also to feel that I can’t do anything better at the moment. Once we’ve made progress with the immigration issues, I’d like to try to get some supplementary work as a proof-reader and maybe a copy-editor, working from home. I have most of the skills, but getting clients is scary. Proof-reading is potentially an autistic skill, but networking and marketing myself is definitely an NT skill.

Plus, I want so much to be more integrated into the Orthodox Jewish community that I’m on the fringes of. I’ve been better-integrated at times in the past, but a lot of other things in my life had to be in the right place for that to happen, and right now they aren’t. Not only did COVID push me away from communal involvement, but it has strengthened my social anxiety, and the type of religious involvement (going to synagogue, going to religious classes (not on Zoom)) I could cope with at least some of the time a few years ago is currently a real effort, and often too much for me. The thought of actually making more friends in the community seems terrifying and impossible.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Jewish community tends to lag somewhat behind the rest of the Western world on social issues. I feel we’re currently having the conversations about mental health that the wider Western world was having ten years ago; neurodiversity is going to take another ten years to seriously get on people’s radar. Possibly I’m being overly-pessimistic here. I hope so.

It just all seems too much stuff happening at once and I don’t really know what to do except try to hold on. I’m also on a break from therapy for a couple of months various reasons, which has not come at a good time, as everything feels so huge and overwhelming and I really need to talk to someone dispassionate. Ridiculously, given how long this is, there is more I could say, but I will stop here for now. Thanks for reading!

(End of autism forum post.)

Option B

I woke up late. I didn’t feel bad, but I was in one of those moods where I felt disinclined to do anything. I suppose this is a normal part of the human condition, but I always feel I should be super-motivated to do things, especially as I have so much on my To Do list, particularly with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) a week away.

I watched little snippets of the Queen’s funeral. I didn’t watch the ceremony. I thought there might be halakhic problems with watching a church service (although the Chief Rabbi was there), but also the little bits I saw produced a feeling of disconnection. It reminded me of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s understanding of different religions as different covenantal communities with different ways of understanding the Divine, and that beyond a certain point those experiences are untranslatable. I did watch bits of the journey of the coffin to Windsor Castle. It didn’t move me as much as the last few days did. The pageantry was interesting to watch, but I didn’t find it particularly moving. I suppose I react more to the raw emotion of the public mourning than to pomp and pageantry.

I listened to another one of the LSJS shiurim (religious classes) from yesterday, by Dr Tanya White. This one caught my attention by talking about our lives being bedieved, or, as Dr White paraphrased it, “Option B.” This caught my attention because lately I’ve thought about my life as bedieved (even used that term) inasmuch as I feel I should “ideally” be high-achieving in my career (or at least have something I could describe as a career, or even a job I feel I do well rather than making so many mistakes); that I should be davening (praying) more, and with a minyan (community), and doing longer and more “serious” Torah study (whatever that might mean); and that I should be integrated to the frum (religious Jewish) community and that I should even be giving back to it somehow (probably involving leading prayer services or giving shiurim). I also feel I need to rely on many leniencies in my religious life, particularly for autism and mental illness. I used to think that I would eventually “graduate” to a more stringent religious lifestyle, but that seems unlikely to happen now, and I’m not sure I would want it any more, or be able to cope with it. I suppose I thought I would eventually graduate to a better career and a greater level of religious community involvement at some stage. Maybe those things will still happen. I did have a greater level of religious community involvement a number of years ago, but in a community where I grew up and felt more comfortable and at home than I do currently.

Anyway, the idea in the shiur was that the Option B existence is the norm for humanity. Dr White said that God never explains the suffering of the righteous in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) because it is unnecessary for us to understand it in this world. Our job is to make the world better, not to understand it (Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl wrote about this too). Searching for this understanding was in fact the sin of Adam and Chava (Eve), that they wanted to be like God, understanding good and evil (i.e. why they happen). This sin pushed mankind to a reality where hard work and patience become necessary as opposed to the immediacy of Eden, as well as the need to cultivate an inner self distinct from external appearances.

She also spoke of Kayin (Cain) as wanting to know why his sacrifice was rejected when God instead presented him with a choice of making his situation better or being drawn to negativity. This unfortunately reminded me of my thinking about all my peers who are doing better than me in life.

Tying into this somewhat, I felt intermittently overwhelmed today.  I have a lot going on at the moment and I’m not sure what the immediate triggers were. I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about the forthcoming festivals and my attempt/failure to integrate into the frum community. Judaism is a social-based “religion,” in fact it does not really see itself as a religion at all, but the attempt of a nation to build a model society. The question for me is how then can I integrate into it with a social communication disorder that impairs my interactions with other people and social anxiety that pushes me away from social settings?

Beyond this is the big question on my mind at the moment, and really since I got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, is what am I supposed to do with it? How does it relate to the religious meaning of my life? Is it just an extra obstacle to overcome (or fail to overcome) or is there something more to it? I guess related to this is the question of self-esteem and how much I should value my achievements in life, particularly religious ones, whether I should see them as extra valuable because of the extra effort involved or less valuable because of the lower outcomes compared with other people such as my peers at school and Oxford. Put like that, it seems I should value them more, but it’s hard to quantify them and say, “Oh, I go to shul once or twice a week, but that’s the equivalent of going (say) four or five times a week as I’m battling with social anxiety, autistic exhaustion and autistic sensory overload from the chazan’s shouting.”

It doesn’t help that I’m going a long time without therapy. First I was in New York, now my therapist is away, and then October will be full of Yom Tovim and working on other days than my usual ones to catch up for them, so it’s doubtful that we will be able to have any sessions (unless perhaps she can do some on a Friday morning, but I don’t think she works on Fridays).

I feel this post hasn’t really expressed what I was trying to say, but it’s nearly 11.00pm and I have work tomorrow, so I need to post it now.

Immigration Woes, Religious Growth on the Autism Spectrum and Performative Judaism

Most of today was spent scanning documents for E’s visa application and sending them to her. I didn’t have much time for anything else, although I cleaned the kitchen a bit as we haven’t got a cleaner coming this week.

I phoned the building society to try to get a printout of my savings account statement for the last year. I couldn’t get it to show as a pdf through online banking and a screen shot wasn’t good enough for the Home Office (for E’s visa). The woman I spoke to said that my account was for a book, not individual statements. This sent me into autistic/socially anxious panic, as I was pretty sure I didn’t have an account book, and I hung up.  I decided it would be easier to sort out in person, so I walked to the building society, wearing my invisible disability lanyard (just in case), which may have helped.  They said they would print my statement, but first one cashier and then the other had printer problems.  I thought I would have to come back another day or go to another branch (which would also have to be another day), but at the last moment they managed to print what I wanted.

I later discovered the printout only has the last four digits of my account number, which I suppose is for security reasons. I hope the Home Office still accept it. E and I are both terrified concerning every little detail that is not 100% the way they want or which we just had to work out on our own initiative. We are sure they will use this to refuse the visa application. E says what if the Home Office website is like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and we need the Immigration Talmud to understand it properly because its literal meaning is deceptive? It’s a frightening thought. Likewise concerning the problems I had with the benefits I was mistakenly paid, which the Home Office will see from the bank statements they are making me submit. I wrote a whole piece for them explaining what happened and that it was not my fault, but we’re still terrified that the Home Office will think I’m some kind of benefits fraudster and assume that E is the same and refuse her visa. I hate bureaucracy.

Then I came home and tried to phone to confirm the psychiatrist appointment I’ve been sent. Once again, the call went to the answerphone even though the office was supposed to be open. I got annoyed about this, particularly as I wasn’t sure that it’s the right number to call, although the only other phone numbers on the letter were the crisis team and the “smoking cessation” line (?!), and it certainly isn’t either of those. I worried they would cancel my appointment because I haven’t confirmed on a number they haven’t given me. The answerphone gave another number, so I called that, only to be told that I should have phoned the first number! I said I left a message on the answerphone and the receptionist said that would be fine, but who knows with the NHS? I would say I need the NHS Talmud too, but I suspect it exists as an oral tradition only.

There was a Mussar (Jewish ethical development movement) yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in the early twentieth century where students were sent to do stupid tasks, such as going into a hardware shop and asking for milk, so that people would get annoyed with them, in the process teaching them that self-esteem comes from within, not from other people.  I feel that, with autism and social anxiety, most of my social interactions that aren’t with a small, select group of people feel like that. It hasn’t done much for my self-esteem, though.

I feel I haven’t really adapted to post-depression/burnout life or to ‘normal’ life with autism, a suspected sleep disorder and social anxiety. In particular, I ignored my social anxiety in the past as it seemed insignificant compared to my depression and OCD, but now they’re under control, it feels like a real impediment. I did CBT for it on the NHS, but I only had ten sessions and didn’t push myself hard enough or sustain the effort afterwards. Then COVID came along and knocked back what progress I had made.

I wonder what I should be doing right now in terms of growth i.e. dealing with autism and social anxiety and also growing as a person and growing religiously (this being the time of year when we think about these things in the Jewish world). I just got married and usually someone who just got married would be told to focus on that relationship for the first year, but it looks like half or more of our first year will be spent on different continents. More generally, I don’t know enough autistic or socially anxious adults in the Orthodox community (with or without significant sleep and energy issues) to try to gauge what is typical or even possible behaviour from someone in my situation.

In particular, trying to assess my relationship with God, as one Jewish site suggested, is hard. Being on the spectrum, I find it hard to assess my relationships with people who are actually communicating with me, let alone those who aren’t. I know I have a good relationship with E, but that’s partly because I can judge interactions, like how we resolve disagreements, and partly because she explicitly tells me that she thinks we have a good relationship. I’m sorry, I’m autistic, I find it hard to read these things without being told. With God, I have to intuit how He feels about me with really no evidence at all, and it’s all too easy for that to be distorted by low self-esteem. I’m not really a person who has a “sense” of God’s presence in their life and I find it hard to really know what that would feel like, although I perhaps have felt it at very specific points in my life.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read/listened to some things about Judaism and feminism in the last few days. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I find it interesting that they present Judaism as primarily performative, not contemplative. In other words, Judaism is something you do (study, lead religious services, lein), rather than something you think about or contemplate. Women’s exclusion from Orthodox Judaism is seen as stemming from exclusion from doing certain things and can be rectified by letting them do those things.

Judaism is primarily a performative/action-based religion rather than a contemplative/faith-based religion like Christianity or Buddhism. That has certain advantages (setting aside the issue of gender segregation for the moment), but it arguably does lead to the marginalisation of those in the community who, for whatever reason, can’t do Jewish things (whereas fundamentalist Christianity leads to the marginalisation of those who, for whatever reason, can’t believe Christian things, which is a whole other set of issues). When it comes to feminism, we frame the argument around what women are allowed to do and who is allowing, or not allowing, them to do it, but I’m interested in people who aren’t able to do for pragmatic rather than societal/halakhic reasons and what happens to them. Do they just leave? Or get excluded, or at least demoted to second-class status? I want to start my Facebook group to find out!

There is an idea of meditation in Judaism (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tzl wrote three books on it, one of which I have), but it’s not very prominent except in the Breslov Hasidic community. (I’ve tried meditating, but struggle with it currently.)

The thing that I keep thinking about in this context is a story I haven’t seen in the original (I saw it paraphrased in Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerksi’s book Let Us Make Man). I think it comes originally from the Jerusalem Talmud. The story is that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who was one of the leading sages of the Talmudic era, was severely ill and all his students came to visit him. They tried to cheer him up by saying what a great Torah teacher he was and he just got more depressed because he knew he was not going to recover enough to teach again. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Suffering can be precious” (as a way of developing character and earning spiritual reward), which caught his attention because accepting suffering was something he could do in his passive state. I feel that kind of intellectual/contemplative, even passive, approach of “Suffering can be precious,” is generally not discussed in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Rather, people in crisis are pushed to do more, even if that’s not really feasible for them.

Frustrations Not Balanced By Chocolate

I wrote a shortish post yesterday, but WordPress ate half of it and it was too late, and I was too tired, to rewrite. This post is some of what survived and more.

I felt down and lonely as soon as my parents left yesterday for their short holiday in sunny (or not sunny) Arundel. I’m not sure why I should feel down when I saw them a couple of hours earlier. As I’ve mentioned before, I like my own company, but for some reason I don’t understand, I don’t like being in the house by myself. It’s probably partly a product of the size of the house. I didn’t get so lonely when living in a tiny studio flat, but I did get somewhat lonely, particularly on non-work days when I had no distractions. And, unlike in the past, I have my frustrations at being so far from E and not knowing when we will be together again, which feels worse than being single, somewhat to my surprise (I know that’s probably naive to anyone who has been in a long-term relationship before, but my relationship experience up to this point has not been great). It may also be true that I have worse abandonment fears than I thought, which would make sense, given some formative childhood experiences.

I went for a run yesterday, but came back with a relatively mild, but intermittent headache, nausea and a feeling of dizziness and light-headedness that didn’t fully pass until I went to bed. I find the latter most troubling as it’s new and has no obvious cause (not that the exercise migraines have much of an obvious cause, but at least they’re an acknowledged thing).  I did some Torah study and spent a bit of time on my tax return, but feel it would probably be better if I did no work/chores at all and relaxed OR worked hard and got some of these tasks out of the way, but I seem to be unable to do either. I think of myself as a person of extremes, but it’s probably more accurate that I aim for the middle ground, I just don’t always reach it.

I went to bed late, partly because of the failed blog post, and then I struggled to sleep again. The advantage of a five hour time difference with my wife is that she’s still awake when I can’t sleep at 1.30am! I was ruminating again on autism/Asperger’s and feeling I have plenty of negative symptoms, but none of the “superpowers” some people on the spectrum talk about. E thinks my care for grammar and spelling might become a superpower if I can set myself up as a proof-reader and copy editor. She’s probably right, but working out the practical steps to set up my own business and find clients is frightening.

I did eventually fall asleep, but had a disturbed night’s sleep. I can’t remember clearly what happened; I remember feeling ill during the night and suspect it was trouble breathing (sleep apnoea), but can’t remember in detail. I’m left more with an impression of spending the night feeling ill in an unspecified way and worrying that I would have to call in sick today. It’s strange how something so potentially disturbing can happen and not get into my brain properly to be dealt with on waking because I’m more than half asleep.

Work today began with J giving me Galaxy chocolate. It had come free with the printer cartridges, for some reason, and he doesn’t eat chalav stam (milk not supervised by a Jew from milking).  He tried to give me three bars, but I only took one as three seemed a lot, particularly as Mum and I are trying to lose weight.  This seemed like a good start to the work day, but I was bored at work and slightly ill from lack of sleep, resulting in being easily distracted and therefore feeling guilty.  The Economist said last week that attempting to achieve perfection at work is counter-productive.  There we should aim for excellence, which doesn’t seem much more possible to me.  I think vague competence is all I’m likely to achieve at work at the moment, and maybe not even that.

On the way home, I went to the pharmacy only to discover that my clomipramine won’t be in until tomorrow evening.  I only had two 50mg tablets left, but I take two at night and two in the morning.  I am splitting the dose so I took 50mg tonight and will take another 50mg before volunteering in the morning, which I hope will keep me on an even keel until the afternoon.

***

One paragraph I couldn’t salvage from yesterday’s post was about writing.  I have so much going on with my life at the moment that I have neither the time nor the inclination to write or to try to find an agent.  It’s not even on my radar at the moment.  Inasmuch as I have creative thoughts at all, they’re focused on my plans for a Facebook group for people on the margins of the Orthodox Jewish community.  I am now pretty certain that I will go back on Facebook at some point (ugh) to do this.

I started writing a list of potential group posts and got up to twenty.  Granted some probably won’t work out, but it’s a good start for my first day of serious thought about it.  I’m worried about finding members, though, as I don’t really know people to invite to start it off.  Most of my friends aren’t Orthodox (or aren’t Jewish) so wouldn’t want to join, and I probably wouldn’t want to invite the Orthodox friends I do have, as I wouldn’t want them to see some of the things I want to say in this forum, to realise that I see myself on the margins of the Orthodox world and why I feel like that.

***

A thought while shopping after work: when I was a child, I was, at least to some extent, a “little professor,” Dr Hans Asperger’s term for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning a child who is very serious and ‘lectures’ on his special interests.  My Mum even called me an “absent-minded professor.”  Yet I was not a little adult; when I became an adult, I was not suddenly better at communicating with people.  I still could not connect with people.  I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it seemed worth noting.

***

I finished A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn, but am not sure what I think about it.  E said she felt the same when she finished it.

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

It seems like it was only a few days ago that we were in the middle of a summer heatwave and now suddenly it’s autumn and wet and cold, or at least colder. I think I experience a rise in my anxiety levels at this time of year, despite no longer being in the academic world; apparently, this is common, although the cause is unknown. In my case, the imminence of the Jewish autumn festivals is probably a part of it, but the longer nights are a part too.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was peaceful, although I still feel somewhat stressed and anxious about the week(s) ahead. I didn’t feel well enough to go to shul (synagogue). I was too exhausted. I slept a lot, as I usually do, and felt bad for not staying up when I got up to go to the toilet at 8am. This is far from the first time this has happened. I’m not sure if I go back to bed because of continuing tiredness, an autistic comfort desire to wrap myself in my duvet and weighted blanket, or, on Shabbat, social anxiety about going to shul if I get up. Possibly all three. It is hard to work on it if I don’t know what causes it — or maybe it’s not. Maybe I have to just tell myself to be strong and stay up. I don’t know how to do that, though, and, as I’ve said before, my shul-based social anxiety has definitely got worse over the last few years because of COVID. I still think lockdown was the right decision, but the hidden costs continue to mount up.

I am also developing a theory that napping is more restful for me than sleeping for a long time. If I do have sleep apnoea, it tends to be worse when lying on one’s back or front. I go to bed sleeping on my side, but I move when I sleep. My hypothesis is that when I nap, I don’t move; only if I’m sleeping for several hours do I move. Hence, short afternoon naps are refreshing, even after having slept for twelve hours (and woken up exhausted), and sleeping for five or six hours before work is not too bad, but sleeping a full night leads to a negative loop of sleeping, turning over, being unable to breathe and waking more tired than I went to bed. As a hypothesis, it probably requires more research, although I’m not sure how at the moment.

Other than that I read quite a bit, Jewish things and The Third Reich in Power, and also Asterix the Gaul when I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet, but was too tired for more Nazis, abusive rabbis, annoying characters being tortured by Islamists or anything else I’ve been reading about lately.

I didn’t really do a lot else other than sleep, read and eat. Just try to stay in the calm of Shabbat, away from wedding bureaucracy, work stress and the death of the Queen. I find myself getting more emotionally involved in the latter than I expected. I used to be a republican, then when I became more conservative (or, more accurately, realised that I was already conservative, and that it’s OK to be a unique kind of conservative that has very little in common with any actual conservative political parties), I developed a sort of abstract constitutional monarchism for coldly intellectual reasons, but none of the emotional attachment to flesh-and-blood royals I see in people on TV and, indeed, in my family (many of whom self-describe as socialists, but also strong monarchists. This is more common in the UK than you might think).

I’ve never really bothered watching royal stuff on TV, whether the Queen’s jubilees or various royal funerals, but I find myself watching now, at least the clips on the news if not the live coverage. Apart from wanting to show respect for the Queen’s immense hard work and dedication to duty, some of it is curiosity watching clips of the late Queen and now the King talking about religion and the Church of England, of which they both were/are head. I know this will seem strange to my American readers (which is most of them), but it’s almost unheard of these days for someone in public life in the UK to talk about God. The data from last year’s census about religion has not been released yet, but it’s expected to show “No religious belief” as the largest single religious descriptor. Most politicians are not religious and have no interest in presenting themselves as such. The few who are religious downplay it e.g. Tony Blair, who is a religious Christian, but whose Press Secretary and Spokesman Alastair Campbell would remind (or reprimand) him, “We don’t do God!” Similarly, Gordon Brown and Theresa May are both the children of clergymen, but rarely speak about religion. It’s really a relief to see traditional Judeo-Christian religion being spoken of on British TV as something other than backward, oppressive and irrational.

The King also seems more human somehow, a pain in his eyes that might be the sudden loss of his mother a year after the death of his father, but seemed to me more than that, a maturity that comes only from having made mistakes and experienced the painful consequences of them, which I suppose I don’t really associate with royals (having to live with the consequences of their actions).

I didn’t mean to write all this! I guess it made an impact on me. What I meant to write about was reaching the conclusion lately that I really have to go back on Facebook and try to see if there are groups for people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community who want to be a part of it, but can’t manage to do so, for whatever reason. Then either to join them if they exist or set one up if they don’t. This seems pretty daunting, as I’m only vaguely aware of how Facebook groups work (they didn’t have them when I was on Facebook a decade ago) and doing social-related stuff isn’t my forte. But I do feel there are people out there looking for support.

There probably is more to say, but it’s long gone midnight, and while I’m not tired (too much daytime sleep), I should probably wind down for the night and watch Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation — atypical and underrated character-based story).

Not Functioning

I feel completely burnt out today. I had some not very restful sleep with a strange and slightly disturbing dream. I’m struggling to do anything, although I’m trying to do my pre-Shabbat chores and some visa document scanning/printing. I feel almost physically ill with exhaustion. I lay down in a dim room for half an hour just now which helped, although I’m still not sure if I’ll go to shul (synagogue) tonight.

I discovered that the guy I spoke to yesterday from the building society, who supposedly told me how to print an official PDF statement from my online account, was wrong, or the site isn’t working properly. Either way, I can’t get what I need for the visa, so I’ll have to phone the local branch next week and collect it in person, if I can explain myself adequately, which I worry about after the difficult phone calls yesterday. I hate doing stuff over the phone and in person. I feel like I really can’t cope with those when I’m burnt out and at the end of my tether. (Awareness of my autism has definitely sapped my self-confidence.)

I’m also worried about E’s visa application being rejected for some trivial reason or other. This fear has been worsened by the realisation that I have to declare the benefit money I was mistakenly paid by the Department of Work and Pensions (they continued paying me benefits after I repeatedly told them I was now earning too much to qualify) as it will be visible on the bank statements requested, so I can’t deny it or even just omit it. Incompetent bureaucrats.

I worry how E and I would cope with having children, given our low energy levels (for different reasons). Hopefully E’s energy will return soon, but I worry that she has long COVID. As for myself, I am wondering if I should pay for a private sleep study to get some idea of whether I really do have a sleep disorder, but private medical care is so rare here that I’m not entirely sure how I would do it. I did google and found somewhere that looks possible, but I have not had time yet to investigate how reliable it is. To be honest, I feel that, if nothing else, I need to know I have a real issue to stop feeling guilty for having missed so much shul (synagogue) over the years, although, as I can get up for work, realistically social anxiety is probably a factor there too, combined with my feelings of not fitting in to the frum (religious Jewish) community. That feeling of guilt is always bad at this time of year, both because of the emphasis on growth and repentance and the many long shul services over the festivals with much greater than usual attendance, including the special mitzvah (commandment) of hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

After the Event

I miss E.   I feel this a lot.  To my surprise, living on different continents turned out to be a lot harder now we’re legally married, even though I think of the religious wedding, which we haven’t had yet, as the main wedding, not the civil one last week.  Even if the civil wedding was just a piece of paper, it’s changed the dynamic of the relationship forever.  I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the various rabbis and religious teachers I’ve heard over the years say that marriage is different to living together even if it is just a piece of paper.  It does feel different, but they presumably meant that a religious wedding performed by a rabbi was not just a piece of paper, not a civil one performed the City Clerk of New York.

I struggled at work for other reasons too.  I texted E that “I feel pretty awful, physically as well as emotionally.”  Then I was worried she would panic and texted that I felt, “Not awful awful, but not great, overloaded, exhausted, sleep-deprived, peopled out, nearly burnt out awful.”  Then I stayed late after work to phone my bank and building society to get statements on headed paper to submit to the Home Office for E’s visa.  This was a whole complicated thing that took forty-five minutes, but fortunately for you, I’m too tired to go into it now.

***

I had a slightly awkward goodbye to my aunt and uncle last night.  I was incredibly tired and just wanted to go to bed (I had in fact been getting into bed when I remembered they were leaving very early in the morning and I wouldn’t see them), but they wanted to talk.  That was awkward in itself, but my aunt asked if I was OK hugging.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t manage to express the mixture of religious and autistic reasons why not. She was OK with it, but I still felt guilty as, if I’m OK hugging E, surely I should not observe the rules of shomrei negiah (not touching women I’m not closely related to by blood or marriage – an aunt by marriage isn’t close enough) at all?  But I don’t feel like that, although explaining why is hard.  It’s also hard to separate religious reasons for not touching from autistic reasons, which are just as significant. It doesn’t help that my relationships with so many of my relatives are complex and hard to describe and fitting physical contact into them is even harder.

I actually was late getting up this morning because I thought I heard my uncle and aunt still up and couldn’t face peopling at 6.30am.  Eventually I had to get up for work and discovered they had long gone.

***

JYP said that, “holding yourself to an expectation about work based on school performance from a decade or two ago is not going to help you in any way.”  This is true, but I think my perseverating over my childhood success and current failure is a way of trying to grieve the life I thought I would have and which I do not have due to my autism.  I think this is part of the “bargaining” phase of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross grief model.  I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic, or that I was bullied at school, that I was lonely and depressed at Oxford, that I haven’t built a career, and that I messed up various friendships, all because of autism, so I toy with the idea of somehow living in a different past to make it better for myself.

***

As long-term readers have probably noticed, I worry a lot that I’m not a good Jew, in part because of my various health and brain-wiring issues. I worry about this more at this time of year, in the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  Maybe I have reasonable excuses for my behaviour, but it’s still not the ideal state, and that’s hard to deal with.  It’s easy to compare myself to other frum (religious) people who seem to be doing much better. I spend all year struggling so hard to live my Jewish life, and then it gets to the month Elul (the current month, immediately before these festivals) and suddenly I’m supposed to give 110% (even before the immense practical effort needed to get through the festivals).

It’s hard. I usually end up looking for reassurance around this time of year. I try to focus on what I am doing despite the effort involved. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said to look for “good points,” in your personality and history, even if only one or two things that are good about you so that you don’t give up on yourself.

I feel like I have spent my life telling myself I will live the frum life I want when I leave home, when I’m over depression, when I have a ‘proper’ job, when I sort my sleep issues, when I’m married… Along the way I ended up a different Jewish life, maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different.  I feel like it’s the Torah of bedieved, meaning “after the event.”  Often there is a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling that in the first instance do X, but if that’s not possible, or if you did Y instead of X for some reason, bedieved, after the event, that’s OK.  I feel that everything I do is bedieved, OK after the event, but far from ideal.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t led this after the event life, maybe my family and E would not have been moved to become more religious, and certainly it would have been harder to stay on good terms with them.  Maybe the after the event of kashrut or Shabbat is the in the first instance of honouring parents and ensuring domestic harmony.  Life is complicated.

***

I find to my surprise that I have things to say about the queen, alehah hashalom, but not the energy or wherewithal to write them.  This blog is less a record of my interesting (or possibly interesting) thoughts and more an attempt to structure and process my life to try to make sense of it.

Crash Course

I had a blood test today. The seating area no longer has stickers on the chairs to stop people sitting next to each other, to enforce social distancing because of COVID. So it seems that even the NHS is beginning to see the pandemic as over (I was unclear on whether mask-wearing was still required; I think it was, but not everyone wore one). This is a sudden change for me from New York, where mask-wearing is still in force on public transport, although only about half the people using public transport were actually masked, and almost no one in shops.

I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on the way. I found it a little upsetting, as they kept quoting someone from a previous podcast, unfortunately the person who convinced me that I would never be fully accepted in the Orthodox community because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary). I should add that she didn’t say that explicitly or intend me to think that way, but that was what I was left with from her attitude to me.

The podcast was on sex education in the frum (religious Jewish) community. They spoke on the podcast about pre-marriage classes about Jewish ethics and laws around sexuality too, which just reminded me that I need to organise that for E and myself, and that’s probably the area where I have most anxiety that E and my different religious levels could lead to tension. I guess there are differences and tensions in most/all marriages, we just know where (some) of ours will be in advance. I might try to give E a crash course in various aspects of Jewish law, such as how to heat and serve hot food on Shabbat without breaking Shabbat. I am not sure how to teach this appropriately. Possibly the book I bought for her in New York, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg will help. She was pleased with it, as was her mother, which I was glad about, as I was worried she might see it as interfering or trying to change her.

The podcast also made me sad that there are, to my knowledge, no yo’etzot halakhah (female advisors on Jewish law, particularly around family purity) in the UK as there are in the USA and Israel, because I think E would really benefit from being able to talk to one if she needs to rather than a male rabbi.

Other than that, I didn’t do much else other than my usual Shabbat chores and some Torah study today. I am still processing and recuperating from everything that happened in the last two weeks, and already feel a bit awkward about my aunt and uncle being here, a sense of having to share personal space, time and energy when I feel I need to be left on my own for a bit, to get my energy back and to process everything about getting married and then being separated from E by immigration law. No novel-writing, revising or submitting today, and probably not for a while.

Why D W Stdy Tlmd Wtht Vwls r Pncttn

I’ve been listening to a number of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts about Talmud study lately. On one of them Rabbi Kahn said something along the lines of, “If you don’t know what Talmud study involves, it’s tort law, in a dead language, with no punctuation.” In fact, there are no vowels either, although it’s not all tort law; it actually covers all aspects of life, or at least all aspects of Jewish life in Israel and Babylon a thousand years ago. Tort law is what yeshivahs generally focus on, though, as it’s very hard and is supposed to be good for intellectual development.

I was thinking about the “no punctuation and no vowels” thing. Nowadays you can get editions of the Talmud like the Steinsaltz and the Artscroll that do have the vowels and punctuation added, but these are definitely viewed by most people as lesser and a crutch for poor students, particularly those who did not have a traditional yeshivah education. All these editions with vowels and punctuation include the “classic” page layout too, with the implication being that you should “graduate” to the traditional page at some point. When I study Talmud (which I haven’t been doing so much lately), I do try to study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, even though I have to use the translation, but these days I study on the page with vowels and punctuation, not the “Vilna Shas” page without them.

I wonder why this is. Torah scrolls are traditionally written without vowels and punctuation too. However, the Masoretes, a group of scribes in the land of Israel from the fifth to tenth centuries, established the authoritative text of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) including vowels and punctuation. Nowadays, Hebrew Bibles are generally printed with vowels and punctuation. If you want to learn how to read from the unpunctuated, unvocalised Torah scroll, you have to use a special book called a Tikkun which recreates the look of a scroll. I have never encountered anyone who says that this is a crutch and that ideally we should read the Torah unvocalised and unpunctuated.

There may be a few reasons for this. The one that seems most important to me is that the idea of mass Talmud study only goes back seventy years or so. Before then, only the intellectual elite were taught it. However, all boys were taught the Torah (at least in theory), but it would be too much to expect five year olds not just to read an ancient text in a dead language (which is quite a big thing to ask in itself), but to read it without vowels or punctuation too. So everyone was taught with those and it just became accepted as normal.

Another possibility is that some difficult passages in the Talmud can be read multiple ways without vowels and punctuation and that can have halakhic (Jewish legal) impact. Bear in mind that the Talmud is structured as a series of debates, not a law code. Without punctuation, it’s not always easy to tell if it is making a statement, asking a question, asking a rhetorical question or just being sarcastic (yes, the Talmud uses sarcasm). So that might be why we aspire to study in a way that makes those ambiguities more visible, so we are aware of the multiple readings possible and not tied to one specific reading. I’m not 100% convinced by this, though, as the same ambiguities can be found in the Torah. The Torah tells us three times not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk, which is seen as the source for the prohibition on eating meat and dairy together, a major part of the kosher (dietary) laws. Yet in the unvocalised text it can be read just as legitimately as “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s fat,” which would obviously be a very different reading. We rely on oral tradition that it should read ‘milk’ and I think the people who see only unvocalised Talmud study as legitimate would be resistant to making “the masses” aware of an ambiguity like this in such a key halakhic area.

I just think it’s very, very strange and I wonder if on some level it’s about creating artificial boundaries and setting a high entrance bar, initially to ensure only the best students could study, but now to force a high standard on all men (perhaps to separate them from women?).

***

Last night I had a very slight headache before I skyped E. I took some tablets anyway, in case it got worse. Over the course of our conversation, it got a lot worse and I had to leave a bit abruptly when it got too much, although it was probably time to end the call anyway, as it was getting late. I don’t know why it got so much worse after taking meds. It did eventually go after I started using a “kool ‘n’ soothe” strip, but, as is often the case after bad headaches, when it went, I was not feeling at all sleepy — even though by this stage it was 1am! I went to bed very late, although I did fall asleep quickly once I got to bed despite the heat.

I ate some ice cream late at night which seems to be becoming a regular Thursday treat, at least while the heatwaves last. I feel like I can go through the week without junk a bit easier knowing I can have this at the end (I also eat less healthily on Shabbat, although better than in the past). The overall trend for me at the moment is to lose weight, though, which is good. It is a struggle to cut back, even though I actually wasn’t eating that much junk objectively, but clomipramine made all the calories go straight to my belly. It is hard sometimes to get to the end of a hard day and not even allow myself one biscuit.

I woke up again struggling to breathe this morning, lying on my stomach. I go to sleep on my side, but apparently turned over in my sleep. Lying flat is worse for sleep apnoea. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for signs of sleep apnoea, as I would have thought I just woke with a start from a dream and that was why I was gasping. This explains to me why I never noticed signs of breathing issues before the doctor suggested it as a reason for disturbed and unrefreshing sleep.

Otherwise it’s the usual end of the week exhaustion/autistic exhaustion/poor sleep exhaustion/whatever exhaustion, worsened by heatwave exhaustion. I did do some novel writing, although I’m a bit ashamed that I had to disconnect the internet to focus. Putting some music on very quietly helped too. Loud music stops me concentrating, but quiet music was neutral or even beneficial for concentrating, which is interesting. I will have to experiment some more with it. I’ve written over 26,000 words now, which is basically a quarter of a novel. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think most authors do.

I’m a bit daunted by the thought of sorting out the wedding paperwork (partly worried I’m going to forget something or leave something out and delay the wedding further), but it’s exciting that E and I will hopefully be married before Pesach (Passover), albeit that that timeline really depends on the Home Office.

Honest Jewish Experience and Novel Submission

I’ve mentioned before that I read therapist Elisheva Liss’ weekly “schmoozeletter,” which combines thoughts on the weekly sedra (Torah reading) with insights from modern psychology and psychotherapy. This week she spoke about people in struggling (but not abusive or clearly not working) marriages. She tries to get them to label their interactions and other aspects of the marriage with marks out of ten, with one for the worst possible experience and ten for the best. Then she tries to get people to accept that a set of perfect tens is unrealistic and that a wider range of values can result in a marriage that, while imperfect, is still rewarding and enjoyable. “Maybe getting to a range of 5-7 would be transformative and beautiful in its own imperfect way, if we stopped fixating on the elusive, unrealistic 10?”

I wondered if I should apply this to my religious life. Maybe I’m looking for perfect tens for my davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, middot (character traits), emunah (faith) and so on. Perhaps I can accept a religious life that is good enough rather than perfect. I haven’t, as yet, assessed the different parts of my religious life and I’m not sure that giving them an exact score is a good idea, but instead I should try to feel that I don’t have to have perfect concentration and connection when davening, I don’t have to have amazing insights every time I study Torah and so on in order to have a meaningful religious life. I just have to be having a better than average experience regularly.

Part of the problem is knowing what I actually FEEL when davening/studying Torah/etc.? I don’t have an official diagnosis of alexithymia (difficulty recognising and distinguishing my own emotions), but one therapist was very sure that I have that difficulty and that is my own experience too. When I feel that my davening or my Torah study lacks a feeling of connection or joy, perhaps the issue is recognising and distinguishing the emotions rather than actually feeling them. This is supported by the fact that I continued with davening and Torah study during the years when I was severely depressed, often at a reduced level, but it was important for me to do something and that probably indicates more than fear and certainly more than just habit.

Likewise, I believe that God exists, and I can tell that I hold this belief much more strongly than I have in the past, so the fact that I don’t feel a strong connection to Him may be a product of unrecognised emotions rather than absent emotions. That said, thinking about connection with God is an inherently subjective and emotional subject, so maybe I shouldn’t see that as the be all and end all of my religious life.

***

Another thought was prompted by an Orthodox Conundrum podcast featuring Rabbi Pesach Sommer talking about whether it is possible to educate for faith (not indoctrinate). He spoke about Orthodox thinkers that teenagers should be introduced to (I had read most of them, pleasingly) and one was Hillel Zeitlin. Zeitlin is a fairly obscure figure who was raised in a strict Hasidic family in late nineteenth century Poland, stopped being frum as a teenager, getting into secular philosophy and Russian literature, then later became frum again, but combined his passion for philosophy and literature with Judaism, writing about religion in Dostoyevski and Tolstoy from a Jewish perspective alongside articles on Jewish figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Rav Kook and, if I remember correctly, trying to compare Judaism with Eastern religions. He was eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

I was familiar with Zeitlin from a volume of his writings that Jewish Renewal rabbi Arthur Green published a number of years ago and he did inspire me, albeit more by his example than by the writings themselves (as with Franz Rosenzweig). The relevance of this here is that Rabbi Sommer saw Zeitlin as a useful writer because he was not a rabbi and was therefore freer to write about his religious doubts and growth than ordained rabbis. He can therefore be a model of the religious quest, rather than a static view of Judaism and Jewish belief and practice.

The point of all this is that it made me wonder if there is benefit to my recording my thoughts about Judaism and my religious growth, including false starts and wrong turns, after all, precisely because I’m not a rabbi and I don’t need to pretend to be living a perfect religious life. I can be honest and authentic without needing to pretend I have all the answers. I can, in fact, try out different answers without having to be sure that they are “correct.”

***

I struggled to sleep again last night. I got four or five hours sleep and I got up alright this morning, but I made a lot of mistakes at work, perhaps due to tiredness, or to sensory overload from the noise of the air conditioner — or autistic executive function issues, or incompetence, or, or, or…

A small victory: doing mundane tasks while listening to podcasts at work, I listened to a therapist critique the shidduch system of arranged dates in the Orthodox world. She said single young people should enjoy the best years of their lives and not worry about being on the shelf in their early twenties. The “best years of their lives” bit would have depressed me in the past as my teens and twenties were mostly spent unemployed, clinically depressed and very lonely, not doing very much at all, and desperately needing the autism/Asperger’s diagnosis I wouldn’t get for years. I did wince a bit, but I just went on with what I was doing. Yes, I had a miserable time. Yes, lots of people had more fun. Probably the net amount of fun they have over their lifetimes will be greater than mine. But there isn’t much point in going over that all over again. I guess things can only get better? (And, yes, we’ve discussed here before whether teens and twenties really are the best years of your life.)

I got the marriage paperwork I was trying to get hold of yesterday, so we’ve got that to look forward to…

***

I submitted my novel to another agent. I wanted to submit to two, but this one wanted so much stuff that I had didn’t have to hand (elevator pitch, one page synopsis) that I ran out of time. It took well over an hour to submit. It’s frustrating that agents all want different things. One wants a one page synopsis, another wants a two page synopsis and it’s harder than you might think to turn one into the other. When what they want is straightforward, I can submit in twenty minutes or so, but this took nearly four times as long.

The agent that I submitted to was the one who found Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I can’t pretend that this didn’t leap out to me because I’m currently reading it, but I guess there are some similarities, although I didn’t list it as a published novel similar to my own (I thought that would be gauche; if there are similarities, she can spot them for herself). I broke my informal rule of not submitting to the CEO of an agency (unless it’s a very small one) because she genuinely seemed like the best fit at this agency. I just hope she has the time to deal with the books she represents.

To be honest, I feel my first novel is a mess, an attempt at writing autobiographical fiction that mutated into more imaginative fiction, but not enough. Some of the autobiographical bits are OK, but the strongest part is the non-autobiographical plot thread about a frum woman being abused by abused by her husband. If I wasn’t involved in other writing (and wasn’t afraid of charges of appropriation?), I’d be tempted to try to expand that to a whole novel on its own. Of the three people (other than me) who have read it, two liked it (and the third arguably was not the target audience), which I guess counts for something. I feel that my current novel is better, but also significantly flawed (I just realised a major flaw in it so far). I guess it’s a learning process.

As is often the case when I submit my manuscript, I was left feeling that I am a bad writer and reader for not reading modern fiction. In a weird way, this is probably due to autism/Asperger’s. Like many people on the spectrum, I like to stick with things I know I will like and can understand deeply rather than trying to understand something new. I read the same authors and sometimes I re-read the same books multiple times, although I’m trying to do that less. I’ve read all the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (most of them multiple times), all the surviving fiction of Franz Kafka (ditto), all of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, much of the prodigious outputs of Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (all the Professor Challenger stories as well as the more famous Sherlock Holmes ones), Agatha Christie, John le Carre and various other writers. I haven’t read anything from contemporary writers who have only written one or two books. Reading broadly is more of a problem than reading deeply, and reading modern is more of a problem than reading classics.

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

I really struggled to get up today, feeling utterly drained and self-critical (it goes without saying I got up really late, as it was a non-work/volunteering day — no volunteering this week for the summer holiday). The fact that another heatwave seems to have started probably didn’t help. Even if I can sleep when it’s hot, I tend not to sleep well (or, even less well than usual). Dad was watching the news when I went down for breakfast, so I got to see the latest on the Conservative Party leadership contest (“Tax cuts will fix everything in our broken society”) and Donald Trump being raided by the FBI, which is the least surprising “unexpected” story ever (I would not be surprised if he eventually goes out in a hail of bullets). None of this helped my mood much. I did manage to get dressed in about ten minutes to just about say some of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) while it was still time, which was good, and unexpected.

I waited over an hour at the dentist, as there was a child (I think) who needed emergency treatment. I was OK with that, although I had nothing to read, and the waiting room would probably have been too noisy for me to read anyway (radio, child playing videos on a phone without headphones). I think the dentist said I shouldn’t have gone to the dentist until I had two separate instances of pain, but possibly she was just saying that she wouldn’t extract the tooth for just one instance of pain. She said the gum was inflamed and cleaned it out, and suggested I rinse after meals with salt water to keep it clean, but that was about it.

Because of the long wait, I lost a lot of time. I tried to do some Torah study while cooking to save some time, but I struggled to find an appropriate shiur (class) to listen to. I ended up listening to a short ten minute thing and then some more Orthodox Judaism, which was interesting, but more pedagogy than actual Torah study. There was more discussion about teaching Talmud to schoolchildren, which made me think maybe I know some more things than I thought, not so much in terms of facts, but concepts, like knowing some of the history of the Talmud and the way it uses particular topics to discuss general concepts.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz spoke about speaking to a meeting of three hundred (I think) Haredi single mothers who wanted to understand their sons’ schoolwork (Haredi women are generally not taught Talmud). One woman asked why her son is always talking about oxen. I was already aware that the Talmud uses four different types of dangerous items (foot, ox, pit and fire) as shorthand for various ways of causing damage, so I felt somewhat ahead of the game here. It was also good to hear a Haredi rabbi admit that one hundred years ago, only the top one per cent of Jewish schoolboys would have even gone to yeshivah and studied Talmud. Again, I knew that already, but it’s not really admitted to in the Haredi world. I recently saw someone arguing that while most Jewish men in pre-war Eastern Europe did have to work, they dreamt of spending all their time studying Tosfos (Tosfos, or Tosafot in the Modern Hebrew pronunciation I use, is a collective Medieval commentary on the Talmud, even more complicated and difficult than the Talmud itself). I can’t prove that this is untrue (I don’t have access to the dreams and fantasies of every Jewish man in pre-war Eastern Europe), but it seems unlikely given the social and economic situation of the time. Study was important to people even quite low down the social scale, but of much less challenging texts, and it seems unlikely that all Jewish men wanted to spend as long as possible in religious study.

I tried to phone the United Synagogue Marriage Authorisation Department to get the paperwork to move on the religious marriage. I got the answerphone, as I did when I phoned last week, which worried me a bit. I will try again…

The other thing I did was spend an hour or so working on my novel. I feel a bit bad about writing instead of studying Torah, but I tell myself writing is my livelihood, even though it actually isn’t, I’m just hoping it will contribute to it one day. I did make myself do a few minutes of Torah study on this week’s sedra (Torah reading), which happens to be my bar mitzvah portion (although I no longer remember how to lein it — I got so much praise for my bar mitzvah leining that I freaked out with social anxiety and refused to lein again, except when my parents forced me to lein haftorah for my sister’s bat mitzvah).

There are other things I would like to write about, but I am tired and between struggling to get up and get going this morning and the wait at the dentist, I am out of time.

“You’re so sheer you’re so chic/Teenage rebel of the week”

The most important news: E booked a civil wedding ceremony for us, on 29 August! It’s a big moment. Even though we won’t live together until we have the chuppah (Jewish wedding), it’s a moment of commitment in that we would be a couple in the eyes of US and UK law, as well as allowing us to start the process of getting E a spouse visa to live in the UK.

I do feel impatient for the chuppah (religious wedding). I just feel I’m ready to be married now and it’s frustrating that we’ll have to wait many more months (depending on Home Office bureaucracy).

***

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by life this morning. I had some post-Tisha B’Av thoughts about wanting to do something useful in the world and not being sure what. I do still think helping people who find themselves on the fringes of the frum (religious Jewish) community would be a good place to start, if I can work out what to do. As Rabbi Tarfon said in the Mishnah, “The work is not yours to finish, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2.16)

It’s funny that this blog started as a mental health blog, then became a “moving towards autism/Asperger’s diagnosis” blog, then an “adjusting to autism/Asperger’s diagnosis” blog. Now it seems to be becoming an “I’m on the fringes of the frum community and don’t know what to do” blog. I guess that’s where my thoughts are nowadays.

***

Somewhat related, I read this article on religious abuse (possibly of interest to some of my readers, but it’s possibly triggering and contains a lot of untranslated Hebrew). It’s weird that I essentially have the mindset of a survivor of religious abuse without actually having suffered religious abuse. I tend to see God as distant and punitive, waiting to punish me. Actually, I only think He is like this towards me. I think He’s loving and forgiving towards everyone else.

I know this comes from various difficult childhood experiences with authority which I then project onto God. I don’t know if any of them are clinically describable as “trauma.” I’ve had therapists refer to them as “traumatic,” but that might have been in a colloquial sense rather than a clinical one. (If this was in therapy, my therapist would probably be asking me why it matters whether it was a clinical term or not and why I rely on authority figures (e.g. parents, rabbi mentor, therapists, God) for validation more than on my understanding of my own feelings, the feelings that I actually feel and that no one else has direct access to. I guess I feel that nowadays “trauma” is a politically-loaded term and only certain people get to use it.) Unfortunately, knowing what the experiences were that left me with this mindset does not equate to being able to change the mindset.

At the root of this is religious perfectionism. I feel I have to get my religious life 100% right or it’s not worth anything. Moreover, there are no exemptions or mitigating circumstances based on my neurodiversity, mental illness, possible physical illness, distance from the community and so on. As I’ve said before, frum Jews who do not have access to the community and its social support structure tend not to stay frum very long. I’ve had limited access (although not none at all) to this social support structure for years, alongside all those extra difficulties, and I’m still, on some level, here. But I struggle to give myself credit for that.

I believe God judges everyone on their own level, based on their background, education, experiences, strengths, weaknesses and so on. Yet it is hard to see what level I’m on. I can find the major decision points of my life, but I find it impossible to judge whether I could have chosen differently or what the consequences would have been if I had chosen differently. It also seems a lot easier to judge how things might have been for a neurotypical, mentally healthy person who took that decision (there are plenty of examples to draw from), but it’s harder to work out how I would have fared in those circumstances.

I guess I want to believe in a loving God, but it seems somehow too good to be true. Or a way of aggrandising myself and excusing my deficiencies and failures. I feel uncomfortable with people who cut God to fit their own conceptions of divinity, religion or ethics.

***

I was listening to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz talk on the Orthodox Conundrum, and he said the skills that helped him as an adult, as an educator, Rosh Yeshivah, and child safeguarding advocate, i.e. boundless energy and a lot of chutzpah, did not stand him in good stead at school when he was required to sit and obey instructions. He likes to reassure parents and students that “eighth grade” (which I think is more year nine (thirteen to fourteen) in the UK — I get confused when Americans assume everyone in the world has the same grade system) does not last forever. I feel like I’m the reverse, that I was really good at school when my life consisted of memorising and regurgitating large amounts of information, but it turns out that real life is not like that and I don’t have a useful skillset for it. My parents want me to go on the quiz show The Chase, and I probably do have more skills for doing well in general knowledge quizzes than for holding down an actual useful job.

***

I submitted my first novel to two more agents. It’s slow work, first weeding out the agencies that are totally wrong, then finding the best agent to submit to out of a list of agents in an agency. They have some blurb about what books they like, but there’s an element of pot luck. One agent said she wanted characters that she would want to hang out with. Great, so it’s not enough that I don’t know how to get people to want to hang out with me, but now I need to get them to want to hang out with my characters too! Not that this is adolescent or anything…

More seriously, I’m working from a list of American agents, and I wonder if I should try to find a list of UK agents, on the grounds that some agents may not want someone from abroad. I did search online and found a couple of lists quite quickly, but I’d have to do some research to check they’re reliable and up-to-date. I think they are mostly big agencies too, and I have a gut feeling (that may be completely wrong) that I should be looking for a smaller agency. I’m in the middle of the ‘J’s in the American alphabetical list and my tendency to want to finish things makes me want to stick with it to ‘Z,’ but, realistically, it’s probably worth trying some British agencies first.

To be honest, I think the novel I’m working will be better than the first novel, if I can finish it, which makes it hard to try to ‘sell’ the first one when I’m more excited about the second. Although I feel I have a weird, stodgy, overly formal, almost nineteenth century, style of writing. I feel that this should be an autism thing, but I’m not sure that it actually is. I’ve also read a lot of nineteenth century novels and not nearly enough contemporary ones. I feel it applies to my blog posts too, you may or may not agree.

***

I think I should cut down my reading/listening to stuff about abuse. It was becoming somewhat obsessive lately, and I think it was triggering some OCD-type thoughts. I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve noticed an increase in obsessive-type thoughts lately, not really frequent or intense enough to count as OCD, but still worrying. I suspect wedding anxiety is part of the problem, perhaps also Mum’s illness earlier in the year. I know the abuse research was partly for my novel, but I think I can put it aside for now.

I Come from Barcelona

Work is very slow at the moment, which possibly gives me too much time to think, or to overthink things. I thought more about trying to find my religious place and about trying to find some kind of purpose in life beyond doing boring work, badly, for inadequate pay (my pay is very generous compared to what I do, but inadequate to live on unsupplemented).

I woke up feeling a failure, I’m not sure why. The exception, the non-failure, is my relationship with E, which is a big exception, but still, I feel that I’m not achieving enough (what is “enough”? Enough to help support a family or enough to stroke my ego?). I sometimes feel like I interpret any error on my part or anyone with difference of opinion to me as a sign of failure on my part, that I should have spotted the error or predicted the difference of opinion and accounted for it in advance.

On the way to work, I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum discussing whether Modern Orthodox schools [1] teach too much Talmud. This was interesting, but also (for want of a better word) triggering. The argument in favour of as much, or more, Talmud included the need for immersion in the language (Aramaic and rabbinical Hebrew) and thought-system of the Talmud and Medieval commentators to really make progress in understanding, which I probably agree with, in a way, but I was left with the feeling that, having not gone to yeshivah and not studied/studying Talmud in depth or at length, my Torah study is at best “dilettante” (as the “pro-more-Talmud opinion said) or even that I am a “second class Jew.” I’m not sure what the context for this remark was, and I’m pretty sure it was being said along the lines of, “We mustn’t let people who don’t study/understand Talmud feel like second-class Jews…” but I still felt uncomfortable. On the other hand, Rabbi Kahn did argue that some students are simply not going to understand or enjoy Talmud study, particularly at age fourteen, and that they should study other Jewish topics (like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or philosophy) and more creative ways of studying and engaging with Jewish tradition. I agree with this, and it is part of why I didn’t go to yeshivah, but it did prime me to spend the day introspecting about where I fit in the Jewish world (again).

If Torah study is the most important mitzvah (at least for men), and Talmud study is the most important form of Torah study (again, for men), then where does that leave me? Again, reading When Rabbis Abuse, it sometimes seems like being learned is more important than being good in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Certainly being able to study Talmud and lead prayer services seems to lead to status in the frum world in a way that just being a good person does not, or not necessarily. I am still haunted by the image of serial child abuser Todros Grynhaus leading Yamim Noraim (High Holy Day) services even after serious allegations of abuse had been made against him. This was in a Federation shul (synagogue), so moderate Haredi rather than extreme Haredi.

Less melodramatically, I worry that the people I admire would find little to admire in me (except E). I do have a need for approval.

I began to wonder if I need a clearer purpose in life than other people. I need to do more than work to earn money to buy food and pay rent/mortgage so I can live to work to earn money to buy food… I feel this should be important to everyone, but apparently it is not. For many people, work, family and conventional religious behaviour seems to be enough for them[2] and I wonder why it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Is it just because my family is still hypothetical and my religious behaviour is fraught with difficulty because of autism, social anxiety and disrupted sleep? Or is it because I feel myself to have a weak sense of self and my own opinions, bouncing off other people’s ideas, so I look for a clear mission or guiding principle in life to manifest my life around? I feel that, even without all my “issues,” I would want more from my religious life than going to shul three times a day and studying Talmud (or even something else) for an hour or so a day. I need something more, but I don’t know what.

To some extent, I probably want something conventional Orthodox Judaism just isn’t offering. I went to the little shul (really a Beit Midrash) upstairs to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) after work this afternoon. There wasn’t a service, I just wanted to pray in a shul and I knew I wouldn’t go this evening. Before I davened, I just sat in the quiet and calm of the empty room and it was very peaceful and comfortable, but that’s not really a Jewish way to respond to sacred spaces. There are kabbalists and Hasidim who meditate (I’ve done it in the past), hitbodedut, mantra meditation, other types of meditation, but it’s not considered mainstream. It’s not something most frum people would associate with Judaism.

Then again, maybe once I get married, I really won’t need anything else, particularly if we have children. Maybe being with someone I love and who loves me, in a genuinely reciprocal relationship (unlike previous relationships, which were always one-sided, despite my efforts) will be enough for me, and I won’t care any more about where I fit in the religious world beyond where we happen to be, or about getting published or being taken seriously or anything else (OK, I would probably still worry about money and boredom if I was in the same job). I hope so, because sometimes hoping for more than that seems foolish.

[1] I’m not sure how the American school system works and what grades correspond to what ages, but I think this was mostly about secondary schools.

[2] Admittedly not the scores of people who are all over the internet describing themselves as “activists,” but, then again, I’m not sure what these people do other than repost stuff on social media.

***

I tried to submit my first novel to another agent. The first agency I looked at didn’t want religious fiction. I’m not sure that my novel is “religious fiction,” exactly, but it’s probably near enough to make it not worth my time submitting. The second agency said something along the lines of, “Fiction doesn’t need to be Christian, but it should not conflict with a Christian worldview.” Talk about betwixt and between. The next agent is apparently autistic, and wants the usual standard marginalised voices, but doesn’t want “inspirational works including religious overtones.” What does that mean? (Please don’t tell me that religious people can’t be marginalised, or aren’t marginalised if they’re Jewish or Christian rather than Muslim or Hindu.) They only wanted the first five pages, which I don’t think is really enough to sell the story (what next, the first five words?), but I was just desperate to submit to someone so I hadn’t wasted the evening. In the end I sent to a different agent at the same agency. The agency wanted me to follow them on Twitter, which did lead me wonder just how desperate they think I am. I am desperate to get published, but not that desperate. I wanted to submit to another agency, but it was hard finding one that was suitable and I ran out of time.

Anyway, I have applied to twenty-five agencies in a year, which is NOT good going. Admittedly, there have been times when I stopped submitting for months on end, for various reasons (applying for jobs, waiting for the emerging writers’ programme to get back to me, E here or me going to the US, Pesach preparation…), but it’s still disappointing. I’m up to ‘J’ in the alphabetical agency list I’m using. Also, some of these agents sound really annoying, super-privileged middle class people super-proud of themselves for being on the side of a carefully-curated and approved set of Little People.

***

E read, and told me about, the recently-published novel Shmutz, about a Haredi woman who is addicted to pornography. I was worried about it stealing the thunder from the novel I’m working on about a pornography-addicted Haredi rabbi. She doesn’t know where my novel is going, but she has seen the first draft of the first couple of chapters. She says it didn’t seem like there was a huge overlap. Shmutz has apparently some very graphic descriptions of violent pornography, which there definitely won’t be in my novel.

After we spoke, I took the plunge and skimmed the first few pages on Amazon look inside, although I don’t want to read the whole thing until I’ve finished my first draft. It left me somewhat despondent. Shmutz gets off to a much quicker start than my novel, opening with the main character telling her doctor she doesn’t want to marry as that would involve giving up pornography on the first page. My first chapter tries to build up slowly to the reveal of the apparently too-good-to-be-true protagonist’s secret, but I worry it will bore people, and agents only seem to want to look at the first ten or even five pages, not the first twenty-five. Shmutz seems much more open about its subject matter than I’m able to be, much more fitting with the contemporary idiom. I struggle with things like slang and think my prose is probably ponderous (in general, including here, not just in the novel). In terms of explicitness, I want to balance between writing something vaguely suitable for religious Jews, pornography addicts and partners of pornography addicts to read without being triggered, while still trying not to be as coy as most Orthodox writing about sex.

I suspect Shmutz doesn’t have my pretentions to Serious Literature either; I want my novel to be deeply about things like the Jewish idea of repentance and redemption as much as about sex. I probably want to be taken seriously too much (again, in life as well as in writing). E thinks I’m wasting my talents writing serious fiction when she thinks I’m better at writing science fiction satire (based on a squib I showed her a while back), but I have to really be in the right mindset to write that, and I worry I can’t put myself in that zone, I just occasionally get pushed into it by things around me. Plus writing satire would involve being more aware of current events and the idiocies of the age (Big Tech, Trump, woke, etc.) than I want to be right now.

***

I’ve been re-watching some Fawlty Towers lately. Sometimes, at work or volunteering or occasionally in other places, someone says something to me and I just have no idea what they’re saying, whether through executive dysfunction, sensory overload, difficulty processing spoken instructions or something else. Whoever I’m talking to has to say the same thing multiple times and I stare blankly until it eventually sinks in on the fifth attempt. The reasons are different, but I think from the outside it looks exactly like Basil Fawlty trying to communicate with Manuel, only without the casual sadism. “Please try to understand before one of us dies!”

On the Fringes

My mood has been somewhat low again.  I’m not entirely sure why.  My religious wedding to E seems as far off as ever, and the fact that we can’t even set a date yet (because of immigration bureaucracy uncertainty) makes it worse.  The civil wedding is getting nearer (less than four weeks away), which is good, but that stokes travel anxiety.  There’s a lot to do to get married (civil and religious) and that’s daunting, but we can’t really start on much of it, which is frustrating in a different way.  Things might be easier next week, once we’re past Tisha B’Av and I can shave and listen to music again – it will just be easier to maintain a positive mood.  As I’ve said before, Tisha B’Av always seems a daunting day in advance because pretty much anything even vaguely fun is forbidden (including Torah study and, ideally, work).  It’s always a relief to get past it. My Dad says he’s struggling with no music too (and he’s shaving).

It doesn’t help that my wisdom tooth is still hurting, but I did eventually manage to get an appointment with the dentist for Friday afternoon, which was earlier than I hoped.  I’m just using clove oil to dull the pain at the moment; thankfully it’s not bad enough to need actual painkillers.

E and I had a call with someone from the United Synagogue about pre-marriage classes.  These will mainly be about the halakhot (laws) of what Orthodox people coyly refer to as “marital relations.”[1]  We can’t really move on with that until we’re further on with booking the chuppah (religious ceremony), which in turn we can’t do until we’ve had the civil ceremony and also got the American bet din (rabbinical court) to certify E as Jewish.  It’s very frustrating.

Other than that, I did some Torah study, went for a walk and worked on my novel a bit, but it was hard to get motivated or to concentrate.

[1] Haredi comedian Ashley Blaker did a joke about Jewish punk rock band The Marital Relations Pistols.

***

I’m not sure if the next bit is 100% accurate, but E said I should post it anyway.

I am still thinking about people on the fringes of the frum (religious Jewish) world.  I feel there ought to be some way to bring people together to support each other, if only virtually.  E thinks a Facebook group would be a good idea. I’m not sure.  You know my mixed feelings about Facebook, plus it’s hard to be anonymous on Facebook.  I feel inadequate to do this, but I don’t know if anyone else will.  I think there are online groups for people who are leaving or have left frumkeit, but few/none for those who want to stay, but need moral or practical support.

Yesterday I was listening to an Orthodox Conundrum episode with an anti-missionary rabbi.  He said that Jews who convert to Christianity are likely to be survivors of some kind of trauma, abuse, addiction etc.  I suspect this is probably true, although I disagreed about the wider conclusions he seemed to draw from this.  The frum community tends to refer to these people as “at risk” (i.e. at risk of “going off the derekh” (path) and stopping being frum), which I find ridiculously offensive and stigmatising in itself (as is the phrase “off the derekh,” actually). Another Orthodox Conundrum podcast reflected that the Haredi community has a lot of support for the poor or sick, but often victim-blames abuse survivors who go to the police instead of supporting them.

It makes sense to me that the community needs to provide some kind of support to these people, rather than trying to deal with the consequences them after they’ve left the frum community/converted to Christianity/had an overdose/attempted suicide/become homeless etc.

There are Jewish organisations offering specific help to groups like the mentally ill or abuse survivors or whatever, but often this is not specifically for people in the frum community, but for all Jews, even though the sociological experience of being (for example) frum and depressed is different to the experience of being depressed outside the frum community; a Jewish agnostic with depression won’t necessarily understand the needs of frum person with depression.  Even where people are offering support, it’s often practical support – which is good, but doesn’t necessarily deal with the loneliness of feeling on the fringes.  I feel there should be some kind of non-judgmental social support for people who just don’t fit in as well as people with specific issues. My hypothesis, based on my own experiences, is that someone on the fringes of the community for one reason will understand someone on the fringes for another reason, at least to some extent.

There probably is more to say about this, but it’s late and I have to go to work tomorrow…

Difficult Thoughts, and Staying Frum

I slept until 11am, which I probably needed.  Then I spent a while in bed, which was a mistake, as I fell asleep until 12.30pm, which I did not need and was not good.  I felt self-recriminatory after that, and about the over-excited post I wrote yesterday.  Sometimes I get stuck in fantasy that things are suddenly going to improve and then it’s painful coming back down to earth.

I also noticed that I’ve had a lot of difficult thoughts lately, not self-criticism so much as pure O OCD-type thoughts (e.g. thoughts about saying hurtful things to strangers).  Apparently everyone has these thoughts, or thoughts like them, all the time, but people with OCD can’t dismiss them as ‘just thoughts.’  I do wonder why people don’t discuss them more if this is true.  They do lead on to self-criticism, because I think, “How can I have thoughts like that in my head, even subconsciously?  I don’t want to say these things, so why is my brain suggesting that I should?”  I’m not obsessing over them and I don’t really think I’m a bad person, so it’s not reached OCD-level, but I just wish it would shut up.

To be honest, I would probably be a lot happier generally if my brain would just shut up sometimes.  I know someone who seems to wander around broadcasting their entire inner monologue constantly to avoid the silence.  If that really is what they’re doing, their inner monologue is a lot quieter and more banal than my inner monologue.  I do wish I could turn things down sometimes.

***

I felt down today, I’m not sure why.  The day has been a bit of a struggle.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about this.

I did phone the GP surgery this afternoon and managed to get an appointment with the doctor I spoke to last time.  This was regarding wanting to reduce my medication and being told by the psychiatrist not to do so.  The GP seemed a bit annoyed that I hadn’t been able to speak to the psychiatrist directly to explain my situation, but had to speak through a “link worker.”  This was the person I spoke to on the phone, who I thought was a psychiatrist, but apparently was not.  The GP is going to write again to request a direct phone call between me and the psychiatrist.

I spent a while psyching myself up to phone the United Synagogue about moving forward with E and my marriage application paperwork, but got the answer phone.

So many things at the moment can’t be done in one go.  A lot of this relates to going to the US and getting married, but also to other things like filling in my tax return (which I’ve never had to do before).  I just keep pushing things off or only managing to do the next step and I find it frustrating that nothing is ever finished.  Maybe that’s contributed to feeling down.

***

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed frum (religious Jewish).  It’s hard to stay frum if you don’t feel connected to the community, or aren’t getting positive feelings from Jewish practice, or are just struggling to do all the stuff that being Jewish entails, and I’ve struggled with all three things at different times.  I guess I’m struggling with most or all of them now, if not necessarily to the same extent as in the past.  And autism/Asperger’s and mental health issues just makes everything even harder.  My main mental health issue at the moment is social anxiety, which isn’t as bad for me as depression and OCD were, but it’s particularly good at sabotaging anything I try to do related to being in a community, and a lot about Orthodox Judaism is ideally done in a community.  Alexithymia (difficulty sensing and understanding my feelings) probably also means that I miss some positive feelings from Judaism and community, strange though that may seem.

Does that make me a good Jew for persisting despite all this or a bad one for not being so enthusiastic, committed or involved?  I don’t know.  I feel like a good Jew wouldn’t be struggling with these things in the first place, but I also feel that I didn’t choose to be in this situation.   I once saw one rabbi write that “A good Jew is trying to be a better Jew,” but I worry that in the last few years, rather than improving, I’ve even cut back on things to try to consolidate what I’m still doing.

I am aware that people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community, for whatever reason, tend to drop out.  I’ve known a number of people who became frum as a young adult, but dropped out of observance later due to mental health issues (sometimes becoming observant is a symptom of mental illness, although I don’t think that was the case with me).  So I know I should feel that I’m doing OK.  It would just be nice to have some certainty that I’m a good Jew and a good human being.  Although, as I realised a while back, but still haven’t internalised, there isn’t going to be a day when someone gives me a medal to officially recognise that I’m a good person or a good Jew, and I should really stop wanting it to happen.  At least E thinks I’m a good person and a good Jew; it probably is too much to hope for other people to say the same.

Tangentially-related to this, on one of the Orthodox Conundrum podcasts I listened to, Elisheva Rishon (fashion designer and Jew of colour) spoke about connecting with other Orthodox Jews online, but struggling to overcome stigma in real-world Orthodox settings.  I don’t think I experience stigma per se (although it’s easier for me to mask), but it nudges me towards going back on social media to try to find people I can connect with.  But then I remember how awful being on Facebook was, and I scare myself off it.

***

I am currently reading The Third Reich in Power by Richard J Evans; When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture by Elana Sztokman; and Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World by Yael Ziegler[1].  These are all good books, but very heavy-going [2].  I tried to read the Third Reich book this evening and struggled with it.  I think I have to throw a novel in there or something lighter.  It’s frustrating, as the Third Reich book is very long and I don’t want to be reading it for months on end.  I don’t want to take any of those books to New York in a few weeks (not least because they’re too heavy in a literal sense), so I’ll have to start something soon anyway.  I do want to finish the spring Jewish Review of Books first (the summer issue is out, but it takes ages to get to the UK).

[1] I am also occasionally reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who by David J. Howe and Steven James Walker, which is annoying in another way entirely, but that’s not a topic for now.

[2] When Rabbis Abuse is also in desperate need of a proof-reader, as I’m not sure I’ve seen a professionally-published book with so many typos and errors, but, again, that’s not a problem for now.

The Sense of an Ending

I had insomnia again last night, then overslept today and was a bit drained all day. I’m not sure if that’s the result of heat or exhaustion, as it has been quite hot again (although not as hot as during the heatwave), but I also spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) mostly focusing on religious things (prayer, shul (synagogue), Torah study) and not relaxing. I did manage to do a few things today despite this.

E and I filled out the online application form for a wedding licence. We hope to book an appointment to get that licence tomorrow, when the licenses for the week we want are released. It’s a slow, bureaucratic process, filling in a form to get an appointment to get a licence, but at least if feels like we’re moving forward.

I’m also making slow, but steady progress with my novel. I don’t have much to say about that. I went for my first run in a couple of weeks too. Again, not great pace, and I did get a headache, but it was good to be exercising. I did experience some dizziness intermittently in the evening afterwards and I’m not sure what caused that. The headache did stop me doing much in the evening. I really just watched episodes of The Simpsons and listened to a religious podcast as I didn’t feel up to reading to study Torah (some episodes of the Orthodox Conundrum, like the one I listened to today, are strongly religious or even halakhic (based on Jewish law), whereas others are more cultural or political (in broad terms) with little directly religious content).

***

I have a couple of wisdom teeth that have been partially erupted for some years now. Dentists have never bothered to remove them, as they weren’t causing any pain. The gum over one of them has suddenly started become raw and sensitive over the last few days, and I can see the gum where the tooth is coming through is white, indicating the tooth is pressing on it from beneath. I really hope I don’t have to have the teeth removed right before I go to the US. For the moment it’s irritating, but not too painful, but I’ll have to see if it gets better or worse.

***

JYP commented on my previous post to say that there is a tendency in frum (religious Jewish) personal stories to “wrap [the story] up neatly and relatively quickly”. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure it’s unique to frum journalism.

Today I was reading an article on a Jewish website about a frum influencer’s struggle with alcoholism. It again had the narrative of descending to a low point, then steadily improving. This is unlikely to be the whole story, as addicts usually relapse at least once before achieving sobriety.

I think narratives are partly determined by the technical requirements of genre and medium, which is a fancy way of saying that in a personal story of one to two thousand words (which seems to be the average for personal stories like this on Jewish websites), you don’t get a lot of time to detail long and perhaps somewhat cyclical processes of change and relapse. There is also an expectation of closure at the end of a story in the Western tradition. In People Love Dead Jews, Dara Horn identifies this as primarily a Christian or post-Christian trope, saying that Yiddish and Hebrew prose fiction from the last couple of centuries often just ends abruptly with nothing resolved[1], but these religious sites are largely aimed at Westernised, secular readers.

In a wider sense, it’s common (cliched, even) nowadays for people to refer to life as a “story” or a “journey” [2], suggesting (at least in the Western tradition, according to Horn) a process with a clear beginning and ending with a linear path between them. Reality is more meandering and unfocused. Perhaps we need more stories, fiction and non-fiction, that meander and end inconclusively. For what it’s worth, my current novel is structured around the protagonist’s repeated falls from attempted sobriety and I am toying with the idea of an open, inconclusive ending. How to maintain interest despite the repetition is going to be hard, as will making the novel seem finished and not abandoned at the end.

[1] I’m not an expert on Hebrew and Yiddish literature, but from what I have read, Mendele Mocher-Seforim’s The Travels of Benjamin the Third ends very abruptly (it feels like the author lost interest) and a couple of Shalom Aleichem’s stories about Jewish rail passengers telling tales to each other stop suddenly when the storyteller’s station appears and he gets off. As for the kind of non-Jewish literature that Yiddish readers might have encountered, I’m not an expert on Russian literature either, but Crime and Punishment has quite a rushed ending (the ‘crime’ takes up most of the novel, the ‘punishment’ only a few pages) and The Brothers Karamazov ends very abruptly and with a lot left hanging, to the extent that, after 1,300 pages, I wasn’t sure it was actually the end. War and Peace meanders a lot through very different situations with no clear plot thread, but I can’t remember how it finishes, beyond the huge non-fiction appendix with Tolstoy’s weird ideas about history.

[2] When I was working in further education, whenever the institution would refer to the students’ “learning journeys,” my boss would comment derisively, “They’re not on a ‘learning journey!’ They’ve gone to college!”

Sleep Apnoea, Reframing, The Three Weeks, and Podcasts

The last few days have been fairly quiet, just the usual mix of work, Torah study, novel writing and novel submitting, as well as Shabbat (the Sabbath). I woke up in the middle of the night last night panting and short of breath. I was somehow sufficiently alert to realise I was lying on my chest (I go to sleep on my side), so that’s all more evidence in favour of my having sleep apnoea, which tends to be worst when lying either face down or face up. I must have moved in my sleep. No idea when I’ll get to see a specialist to investigate it. I’d like some kind of answer about what my sleep/getting up problems are all about so I could try to work on them. I do need longer days if I want to earn more money, and I would like to be able to go to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat mornings again, both for religious and social reasons. I slept for several hours this afternoon, but tried to tell myself it was understandable if my sleep last night was poor.

I went to my parents’ shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) today. Someone from my shul (which I haven’t been to since it moved out of its regular premises into cramped temporary premises) sat in front of me, which disrupted my concentration for the whole service, as I was worried he would speak to me about why I stopped going to my shul. In the end he left early without speaking to me at all, so that was wasted worrying.

I had a weird Viktor Frankl/Man’s Search for Meaning reframing moment. I’ve felt frustrated for years about losing more than twenty years of my life to mental illness and/or autistic burnout, and during the supposedly “best years of my life” of adolescence and early adulthood too. Perhaps because the Torah reading lately has been about the end of the Israelites’ forty year sojourn in the wilderness, I found myself thinking, “It was only twenty years I lost. It could have been worse. It could have been forty.” I find it weirdly comforting. I’m not sure if this is rational or not.

We’re two-thirds of the way through the Three Weeks, the Jewish national mourning period in the summer when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. I find it a difficult time. My beard (a sign of mourning) itches, it’s frustrating that I can’t listen to music unless exercising and the Fast of Av at the end is an intimidating day to get through. I have only felt autistically exhausted enough that I needed to listen to music once, though, which is good (there is a heter (permission) for people with depression to listen to music which my rabbi mentor said could apply to my autistic exhaustion).

Because I’m not listening to music, I have been binge listening (if that’s a thing) to the back catalogue of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts. Many of the podcasts have provoked thought, although I don’t always get the chance to record my thoughts, especially as I tend to listen when I’m walking to or from the station. Here are some thoughts on a couple of them.

Rabbi Lopes Cardozo was talking about his latest book (at the time of the podcast, a couple of years ago). He argued that mitzvot (commandments) are supposed to instil “radical amazement” (I recognised this a term from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). Since I listened to this podcast, I have been trying to feel that amazement when saying blessings on food and the like, which is one of the main religious actions I do during the day, certainly in terms of frequency and it has been quite positive so far.

He also said that he believes in God, but doesn’t know what “God” means. This reminded me of the negative theology of Medieval Rationalist thinkers like Rambam (Maimonides) and Rav Saadia Gaon. The idea is that God is beyond understanding and description, so we can’t say what God is, only what God is not (e.g. “God is not weak” rather than “God is powerful”). This approached has been debunked by various people (Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits and Rabbi Samuel Lebens just from my bookshelf), but Rabbi Lebens argues that even if it’s not literally true, it’s a useful reminder of the limits of human knowledge.

Shira Lankin Sheps of The Layers Project Magazine was talking about how The Layers Project Magazine tells the stories of religious Jewish women who are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media (because it’s not interested in religious people) and the Orthodox Jewish media (which is not interested in women). She said that the Orthodox community is often governed by shame, where people think their negative experiences are unique and therefore shameful, but in fact they are often normal. The Layers Project Magazine aims to normalise those stories.

I think this is positive, but I felt that when she presented her own story, of struggling with an unknown chronic illness, it seemed very swift. She said she wrote one post about her illness and suddenly she was getting so many positive responses and support from other people. Then she wrote another post when her grandmother died and from that a doctor who read it identified her illness. It’s the kind of thing that makes me doubt myself, because, as I said above, it’s taken me twenty years to get to this point and I’m still not sure I’ll get exactly where I want to be. I never had that kind of miraculous quick fix. It reminded me of Hevria, where it seemed OK to have had an illness or trauma in the past, but not to be struggling with one on an ongoing basis. I haven’t really read the website, so I don’t know how those stories are framed.

(The only thing I could find on the site on high-functioning autism/Asperger’s was the beginning of this post covering several different women’s stories. It’s a shame, as autism in women is even less understood and accepted than autism in men.)

Planning Ahead

Today was a pretty good day.  I weighed myself when I got up and I was 71kg, which is quite comfortably in the healthy weight range for my height, albeit at the higher end.  I do still feel that I would like less of a visible tummy when I get married, so I’m not about to go and splurge on cake and ice cream.

I did some more novel-writing, had therapy, and went for a walk.  I also got to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I hadn’t gone to weekday prayers for a while, so I was pleased to go.  I would like to get back in the habit of going more often, although I’m not sure what sort of target to set at the moment.

Going to shul felt like a positive thing.  I have a lot of anxiety about going to shul, but often when I’m there I feel good.  It’s getting in the front door that’s hard, or talking to people afterwards, but the service itself helps me feel connected, perhaps to God, but certainly to the community.  It helps that it’s very scripted and much of Jewish prayer services is private prayer anyway rather than things read together.

***

My article about being high-functioning autistic in the Jewish community on a Jewish website seems to be trending again.  At any rate, it’s gone back to the the front page and then crawled up near the top, something usually reserved for new articles.  My sister suggested the site is promoting it again because I won an award for it, although I would expect some kind of banner on it if that was the reason.  Anyway, it raises my profile, which is good.

***

I realised this morning that I’m currently planning the time ahead of me in months if not years, rather than days and weeks.  This feels weird.  For most of the time from 2003 onwards, long-term goals went out the window as I focused on just getting through one day at a time because of my depression.  When I was able to work, I was mostly focused on getting through each day, not on career progression, and it was difficult enough to do that.  I think even when I dated, I wasn’t looking that far ahead, until recently.

It feels strange to be thinking in terms of months until my wedding, or years until we have children (hopefully).  Sometimes waiting until next spring to get married seems very far away and sometimes the fact that I’m actually planning it, rather than just hoping it will happen one day, makes it seem very close.

***

I was speaking about my place in the Orthodox Jewish community to my therapist in the context of not finding a suitable wife inside the community and marrying someone less religious than me.  She said I had an avant-garde, maverick status in the community.  I found that weirdly appealing.  It is true that I’m less willing to conform to certain non-halakhic (Jewish law) cultural standards and “unwritten rules” (which autistic people are famously bad at understanding).  I don’t always like not fitting in, but I wouldn’t want to be a conformist either.  I am trying to see my relationship with E as God calling me to learn to give and to live religiously in ways that I haven’t done before.

We also spoke a bit about mourning for the neurotypical life I will never have.  I feel I have a way to go with this still.  I thought I had processed and accepted my autistic/Asperger’s diagnosis, but I’m not sure that I have.  My therapist got me thinking about the Kubler-Ross model of grief.  I looked it up after therapy and I think I’m still in anger, at least some of the time, which is only the second stage out of five, although arguably I spent years in the past in depression (step four).  I think it is accepted nowadays that people don’t always go through the model sequentially, but can go back and forth between steps, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

Emotional Vampire

Sorry, WordPress has eaten this post again, and I don’t have time to fix the probable formatting problems of salvaging it. Yesterday I overslept, the beginning of a day marked with incipient signs of autistic exhaustion. I skipped even more of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) than I usually do and wondered when I would get to see someone about my sleep issues. Work was pretty dull. In the morning I was mostly locating and copying dividend statements for the auditors without really understanding the financial reports I was searching through. I hope I found everything I needed. The afternoon was spent sorting through old papers to see what could be thrown away. I found letters from the then Chief Rabbi and his successor, and two letters from fathers of schoolfriends of mine (both Reform rabbis). On way home I felt burnt out. I had the “brain being squashed” feeling again. Apparently volunteering + headache + work + peopling + work again + heatwave = autistic exhaustion very quickly. I was exhausted at home. I spent half an hour or so doing non-screen time reading, which helped a bit even if the subject matter was heavy (The Third Reich in Power). After dinner, I submitted my novel to two agents in the space of twenty or thirty minutes. I’m getting quicker as I’m getting more experienced, although that hasn’t led to more interest, just more rejections. I spoke to E afterwards, but eventually I crashed. I can’t remember when I went to bed exactly, but I must have slept for over twelve hours, despite setting alarms and Dad trying to get me up. I feel tired and numb now, but more functional, and my brain doesn’t feel like it’s being squeezed. It is hard to do anything, though. I went for a walk, even though that meant I couldn’t work on my novel today (and I probably won’t on Sunday either, as I’m busy). I wanted to be out in nature, which is impossible where I live, but there’s a little strip of wasteland and woodland at the edge of the local park, so I went walking there. I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and guilt, which did make me feel like I was, on some level, thinking about my novel, doing Torah study and getting out to look after my physical and emotional health, at least on some level. Aside from writing this post, the only other thing I’ve done today is my usual pre-Shabbat chores. I feel a need to move on with my life, particularly with marrying E and with my writing. Marrying E is moving on OK at the moment, even if it’s frustrating that bureaucracy is going to make it a prolonged process, but I want to move faster with my novel. It’s partly feeling I have something to say, and that my subject matter is going to be taken by other writers if I don’t write quickly. But some of it is feeling “I need to earn money as a writer to help support the family when E and I marry.” Days like today, when I just feel overwhelmed and unable to do much, are a reminder that I have a disability and that my life is not where I want it to be, will not be there for a while longer, and it may never be there, which is frustrating and scary. That said, I have kind of reached a point lately where, at least some of the time, I feel less resentful of having lost half my life to depression/autistic burnout/whatever it was. I don’t look positively at those times, but I feel I needed to go through something like that if I want to write about people on the margins of the frum (religious Jewish) world, and I feel I wasn’t ready to get married then, despite being painfully lonely and not having any real legitimate option in the frum world for dealing with loneliness and sexual frustration. I have a lot more maturity, understanding of myself, and ability to give in a relationship than I had even a couple of years ago. I feel less resentful of God for putting me through all this. Of course, if I believe in an omnipotent God, then I have to believe He could have achieved all this a less painful way, and I do struggle to consciously accept that this was the best way to achieve these goals, especially when so many other people reach this stage without similar levels of pain. Ultimately, I think everyone suffers, sooner or later (except perhaps some exceptionally wicked people who God lets enjoy this world so they won’t experience the next one), and it’s pointless to complain who suffers more or less. It’s hard sometimes, but the alternative is basically self-defeating. *** I had another couple of books arrive over the last two days. They were ostensibly bought for research for my novel, but I’m not sure how helpful they will actually be. Really, I was curious about them, but needed to justify reading them to myself. The books are The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know by Shira Tarrant and When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse by Elana Sztokman. For some time now I’ve been reading On Repentance, a collection of shiurim (religious lectures) given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (New Year and Day of Atonement), and reconstructed from notes by Rabbi Pinchas Peli. I’ve been struggling in places, not because of the text, but because it’s hard to know what to do with the optimistic view of a forgiving God when I’m aware that there are people, often very prominent people, in the frum community who are abusive and others who defend and protect them, and I don’t feel these people should be forgiven. I worry how the community as a whole will achieve forgiveness for allowing this situation to exist. I think about this sometimes when davening (praying), but it really crystallised around the idea of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, after listening to Haredi activist Yehudis Fletcher describe her abuse by Todros Grynhaus, a rabbi and schoolteacher, and how, at a time when she was trying to make the community aware of the danger he posed, she was marginalised while he was asked to lead the prayer services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a shul (synagogue) despite the allegations she had made against him. I do worry why I’ve got so interested in abuse, and writing about abuse. I was never abused (I was bullied a lot at school, but it was largely name-calling and not anything physical. I don’t know if it would be considered emotional abuse). I have known survivors, and abusers, but I think it’s more the experience of marginalisation that I empathise with, albeit for different reasons (autism and mental illness) and want to do something about. But I worry that I become a kind of emotional vampire, sucking up other people’s sorrow for benefit.

Headaches

I feel somewhat ill. I was going to write a post today about stuff that upsets, worries and disturbs me in the Orthodox Jewish world, whether I can change things and so on, but I felt too ill. I went to volunteering this morning and tried to drink a lot of water, but I still got a headache. I took some solpadeine and ate some biscuits and Bissli (savory, salty snacks) during the coffee break, despite my diet, or semi-diet, as I was worried about running out of energy (biscuits) or salt (Bissli). The headache seemed to go, but came back, worse, during the fifteen minute walk from the bus stop home. I ate lunch, used a cooling strip on my forehead and, when the four hours were up, took more solpadeine, but I just couldn’t shift this headache. It’s not a paralysing headache, but it’s stopped me from doing much, especially as I still feel a little sick with it. Because of this, I mostly watched DVDs this afternoon. I watched Thanks for Sharing, a comedy/drama film about sex addicts (not as salacious as it sounds). I was watching more for research for my novel, in particular to see how Sexaholics Anonymous sessions work (from the little bits we see, they work much like every other form of therapy group I’ve been in, only people talk about having sex, or trying to not have sex). It was a reasonable film, but the dialogue was recorded at quite a low level (perhaps to seem more realistic?). I didn’t want to turn the volume up on a film about sex addicts with my Dad in the house and the windows open, and I couldn’t find any subtitles, so I think I missed some dialogue; probably not anything important for my research, but I might have enjoyed it more. I kept pausing it anyway because of my headache and because I can get overwhelmed in the emotional bits. Like a lot of autistics, I can pick up emotions I see, even on TV, and take them on for myself if I’m not careful. Because of the headache, I haven’t done much else, although I guess volunteering in this heat was a positive, I did twenty minutes or so of Torah study on the way there and another twenty minutes in two shifts this evening. Watching Thanks for Sharing technically counts as working on my novel. However, I didn’t do any real writing or get travel insurance for my New York trip as I had planned/hoped. The headache began to go in the evening, although it is still lingering a bit. I had dinner with Mum and Dad in the garden, even though it was starting to rain, as it was cooler than the house. We came in shortly before it began to really rain, which I hope will bring the temperature down for the next few days. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m working in the office, which at least has air conditioning. J is working from home, so I hope I don’t get lonely or depressed being there alone. My sister and brother-in-law are coming over in the evening for takeaway pizza, but I have to admit that my birthday isn’t really uppermost on my mind, whether because I’m too old or because I’m more focused on my wedding. *** Shmutz, a forthcoming novel that looks like it ploughs a similar furrow to my current work-in-progress has a big interview feature on The Times of Israel right now. I hope this works to my favour somewhere down the line, and not against me. I also hope, if my book gets published, people will actually read it before assuming it’s an anti-religious screed written by someone with a chip on their shoulder about the frum world, my comments in the first paragraph of this post notwithstanding — I get upset about the frum world because I care. There is stuff that’s happening in Afghanistan or China (for example) that’s far worse than anything in the frum world, but it doesn’t affect me so viscerally because it’s not my world, the one I feel connected to and responsible for and the one I realistically have the biggest (if still small) chance of changing. (Hoping this posts properly because I had to copy to Word and back again because of autosave issues again…  EDIT: it didn’t, but I’ve spent too much time and energy on this to sort it out, sorry.)

Pitch Imperfect

I stayed up late last night blogging, which was probably a mistake, although I thought I wouldn’t fall asleep easily as I slept so much during the day, finally getting to bed about 2.00am, just before the fast of Tammuz (see below) started. This was probably a mistake, as at 5.30am I woke up with a headache and even after it went, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I did eventually fall asleep midmorning and sleep for another three hours or so.

This week is set to be a disrupted week. Today is 17 Tammuz, a Jewish fast day and the start of the Three Weeks of mourning (no haircuts, shaving, music, weddings, parties, etc.). Fast days always feel strange and disrupted to me, even though I haven’t been able to fast on the minor fasts for fifteen years or more because being on lithium makes the risk of serious dehydration too great. This year, my family aren’t fasting either; both the United Synagogue and the Federation of Synagogues put out warnings that people in various categories of vulnerability should not fast because of the heatwave and dehydration risk. So it feels a strange day.

J said I could work at home tomorrow because of the heatwave that we currently have in the UK, but there isn’t really any work I can meaningfully do at home right now and I didn’t want to do pointless make-work, so I suggested going in on Wednesday instead, when it should be cooler, as I don’t have therapy this week. I’m probably going to see a friend sit shiva (mourn) for his mother tomorrow. And it’s my birthday on Wednesday and my sister and brother-in-law are coming round. I’ve moved some other parts of my routine around to accommodate these changes. I hope I cope OK with everything, as disruption to my routine can be difficult. And the heat makes everything extra-hard.

***

I thought I had an idea for an article that I could sell to a Jewish website. I spent an hour procrastinating and not starting it, which was a bad sign (admittedly I did about fifteen minutes of novel research in the procrastination). I spent half an hour or so writing it, but only managed 400 words and don’t think it’s going anywhere. I could try to expand and improve it, but it’s a news-related story (Jewish websites like to be topical for some reason) so it has a limited shelf-life and I’d need to finish it soon.

Admittedly it is very hot today and hard to work, and there was also a lot of noise from children playing outdoors and people playing music with the windows open. Still, I don’t feel confident in the idea any more. Possibly I am too much of a perfectionist to be able to write for websites, magazines and newspapers, which seem to need a lot of copy to be produced very quickly to generate enough income to live off. I was discussing monetising blogs, and writing in general, on Ashley’s blog today and I gloomily concluded that I’m not good enough at selling myself to make writing a really good career for me, but as I don’t seem to be good enough at anything else, I feel I have to try it anyway.

I feel I should be able to pitch articles to various Jewish sites, but somehow I don’t know how to generate ideas, and, as I said, Jewish kiruv (outreach) sites tend to like a ‘hook’ linking the topic to the news (which means writing very quickly) or to popular culture (which means writing quickly and also having more pop cultural awareness than I’ve ever had). They generally aren’t interested in a straightforward devar Torah or textual/philosophical insight, as they’re aiming at people who aren’t frum, trying to show the relevance of Judaism to their own world of politics and pop culture. Some people I knew from Hevria write for the Haredi press, but I don’t think I have the right understanding of frum culture for that, and I don’t want to work for papers that won’t print photos of women (which is all of the Haredi papers now, sadly — despite this, the people I know who write for them are women. I don’t think they like the situation, but they seem to have accepted it, on some level). I tried pitching to less religious Jewish newspapers in the UK a number of years ago, but didn’t get anywhere.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do a lot today. I Skyped E for a while and went for a walk at dusk, when it was cooler and did a tiny bit of Torah study, but I didn’t get to write more of my novel, which was a shame.

The fast is over now, and I should think about heading for bed, but it’s too hot to sleep and despite/because my disrupted sleep last night/this morning, I don’t feel at all tired.

All In My Head?

I don’t usually comment on the Rationalist Judaism blog (which is basically a critique of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, despite the misleading title), as people on both sides can be aggressive and unwilling to listen. But I left a comment on this post. It left me thinking about my position in the Orthodox world (Modern Orthodox as well as Haredi).

I always felt I didn’t fit in in the frum (religious Jewish) world, in the Haredi community, the Modern Orthodox community, the unusual world of the Oxford University Jewish Society. But I always feel I don’t fit in anywhere, and that may be just my own perception due to autism, low self-esteem, social anxiety or any number of things. It could be that I could fit in, IF I could find the right community (probably Modern Orthodox) and if I can overcome my social anxiety. I wonder how I can do this, given that CBT didn’t work so well here and autism-adjusted CBT is not likely to be forthcoming for me for a long time. It also makes my personal history more depressing, in a way, if I could have had friends and fitted in if only I had known how to do it. All those wasted, lonely years.

The alternative is that I really didn’t fit in, and then I really don’t know how I will fit in in future, particularly given low self-esteem, autism, social anxiety, etc. I guess being married will automatically help me fit into the Orthodox community a bit better, and E has superior social skills to me, although I’m not sure we would be trying to connect with the same people.

As an aside, I think the reason I still think of Hevria so much, and with such mixed feelings, is that that was the place where I should really have fitted in, and somehow I always felt I didn’t quite manage it. Again, that may have been all in my head (when I was suicidal, a bunch of Hevria writers emailed me to send moral support, which I did not expect, particularly as I’d barely connected with some of them), but then, I did feel upset that I was never asked to become a regular writer, even though the people running the site knew I wanted to be one, and they ran my pieces occasionally as guest posts, and that made me feel I wasn’t quite fully there.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, and I have to get ready for Shabbat anyway.

Novel Stuff and More

Yesterday was a wedding preparation day. I discussed some apprehensions with my rabbi mentor and felt better afterwards. I booked plane tickets to get to New York in late August for my civil wedding. I still need to book a hotel and get insurance. I had some difficulties booking, so that took a lot of time and meant I couldn’t do much else. I think that Torah study and exercise are going to go down the priority list for a while.

Today at work, J sent me out to get some keys cut (special keys that can’t be cut quickly). He said I should drop them off and he would collect them later, but when I got there, I was told they would be ready in forty-five minutes and so texted J to ask if he wanted me to wait. He said yes, so I went to a nearby park that was somewhat sheltered. Unfortunately, after forty-five minutes, the keys were not ready. I was told to come back in another fifteen minutes. I thought if I went back to the park, I would get there in time to come back, so I just hung around near the shop, which was a big mistake, as I had no hat and got a headache. I took solpadeine when I got back to the office, but the headache came and went all afternoon and then got worse on the way home (the Tube is hot, loud and jolts). I did eventually feel better (no headache) around dinner time, but I feel pretty exhausted.

Incidentally, when I went to get the keys cut, I saw Howard Jacobson. I was too shy to speak to him though. What do you say, anyway? “Aren’t you Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson? I read two of your books. I quite liked them.” Eh.

In the evening, I submitted my novel to two more agents. I’m trying to do this faster, so I can reach more agents, as I only reached agent number twenty today, which is not very good (admittedly I’ve paused the agent quest a number of times for various reasons, most recently to see if I was going to be accepted onto the emerging writers’ programme). The problem is that every agent has different requirements (first chapter, first ten pages, first three chapters, first fifty pages, synopsis, no synopsis…) so it’s hard to do a standardised query letter and just fire it out rapidly. Plus with larger agencies you could have to read half a dozen or more agent profiles trying to work out which would be the best fit. The profiles are full of unhelpful statements like, “I would like to see a horror novel that breaks new ground” or “I would like to see the next Harry Potter” — it’s easier to say that than to do it, or even to work out what doing it would actually mean. They all want POC and LGBT, but say nothing about frum (religious Jewish) Jews (are we not “other” enough?). Anyway, I’m aiming to submit to two a week from now on until I finish going through the big directory of agencies that I’m using. I also sorted out a big folder of receipts and invoices going back to 2018, so I guess it was a fairly productive evening, considering I didn’t feel great.

***

I’m worried I’m going to end up going back on Facebook, despite drama, politics and comparing myself to others. There are a few reasons. E is encouraging me to start some kind of social and/or support group for adult Jews with autism when we get married, and that would probably start with some kind of FB page. Lately I’ve been listening to the Orthodox Conundrum podcast and am curious about the discussions on their FB page that they plug on the podcasts, which might be interesting and a way of making contact with more Modern Orthodox Jews, which might help me feel more integrated into the community and less self-conscious about all the reasons I think frum people might reject me. Then yesterday I realised that the vague plans I have for doing freelance proofreading to supplement my income might be enhanced if I also offered proofreading services specifically for Jewish-themed documents with relevant non-English words. But this would mean networking, which nowadays means FB. I am not hugely happy about this, although I do wonder if it will have a positive side. (Also, bad though networking on FB is, it beats networking in a room full of scary, real-life people.)

***

I spent £55 on books for research for my novel. It was probably somewhat extravagant, given that I’ve already started writing and so perhaps should be thought to have done my research. I was beginning to wonder if there were things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, if that makes sense, and when I was doing my MA dissertation, we were told to start writing while researching, because research informs writing, but writing informs research too. I guess the purchase is probably also motivated a bit by the desire to indulge my curiosity on certain matters that may be relevant, but will probably be interesting either way.

***

I’ve been reading On Repentance on the way to work. It’s a sort of transcription of various shiurim (religious lectures) on repentance given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, as reconstructed from notes by Rabbi Pinchas Peli. I struggled with it today, though. A while back, I listened to Haredi activist Yehudis Fletcher’s account of how she was abused by Todros Grynhaus, a respected Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) rabbi and school teacher. Part of her account is that, after a police investigation into Grynhaus was started, he was still allowed to lead Rosh Hashanah services in an Orthodox shul (synagogue).

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the person leading the prayers is supposed to be representing the community before God in praying for forgiveness and life, so this was the ultimate hypocrisy. This image is somehow stuck in my head and I kept thinking about it while reading Rav Soloveitchik’s writing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and repentance. I’m not sure I can really put it into words, but I guess it (Grynhaus being allowed to lead the services) seems to encapsulate the discomfort I sometimes feel about the contemporary Orthodox world, that there are people who are accepted and there are people on the margins, often through no fault of their own, and somehow Rav Soloveitchik’s words about repentance and forgiveness won’t apply until we root out abuse and victimisation and integrate those on the margins.

Unfortunately, I don’t really know what I can do about it. Is it even my fight? I think it’s everyone’s fight… but also it’s not a fight I know from the inside. Part of me feels I should stick to autism and mental illness. The same part thinks that writing about abuse in both my unpublished novel and my work in progress is an act of appropriation[1], and my interest in abuse in the frum community generally is mere ghoulishness and sensation-seeking. I don’t know.

I can’t remember how I started becoming interested in abuse, but I suspect it was partly from my OCD, that I was worried I could become an abuser, so I engaged in OCD ‘checking’ behaviours, reading about the lives and characteristics of abusers to check that I was different. This was probably not the best way to approach the subject. Somewhere along the line, I felt that I was on the margins of Orthodox life because of my mental health and neurodiversity, and that that somehow made me responsible for others who might not be able to speak out. This may be arrogance.

(There is also the issue that as a self-proclaimed “Tory anarchist” (if that even means anything) who thinks identity politics has gone too far and whose response to political news these days is mostly quietism, I would make an unlikely Social Justice Warrior.)

Among the books I ordered for my work in progress yesterday (in fact, making up about half of the £55 price tag) was When Rabbis Abuse by Elana Maryles Sztokman. To be honest, I’m not sure how relevant it is to my novel. My work in progress was supposed to be about addiction, rather than abuse, but somehow the idea of abuse got into it, and has grown and grown, and now I’m not sure where to take it, if anywhere. I hope the book might help me decide what to do. But I do vaguely wonder if I know what I’m doing, and why.

[1] I have issues about the whole concept of appropriation, which would potentially limit authors to autobiography if taken to its logical solution, but this isn’t the time to go into them. Suffice to say here that I’m worried of using someone else’s pain to sell my books.

The Tribe of Dan and Not Being Left Behind

It’s the bit of summer when we get a heatwave in the UK and I feel too hot to go to bed, so I’m blogging, even though it’s nearly midnight (when I started. It’s nearly 1am now I’ve finished). It was a normal Shabbat (Sabbath) in terms of shul (synagogue) attendance, Torah study, walk and so on. I came back from Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) to find my parents in the garden with their friends. Their friends are very talkative and very loud, and the windows were all open because of the heat, so wherever I went in the house I had to listen to their conversation on health and the supposed inadequacies of the criminal justice system. (I wonder how expensive the penal system would be if we incarcerated every serious criminal literally for life as they seemed to want?) I tried to tune them out and read The Third Reich in Power, which isn’t the most cheerful read, but is interesting and engaging.

***

As well as reading about Nazis, I read a bit more of The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy. I can’t read more than a few pages at a time, as it inspires a whole mixture of emotions: excitement at marrying E; frustration that immigration delays mean we probably won’t be under the chuppah until March; perhaps some sadness that I’m coming to my sexuality so much later than most people; and especially anxiety that this is going to be another thing I’m not good at (these days, I basically feel that I’m good at writing and nothing else, although E says I do have other skills). It sounds so complicated and scary! I am reliably informed that birds do it, bees do and even educated fleas do it. No information about uneducated fleas, but uneducated humans seem to manage OK, but I wonder how sometimes. I think the authors are trying to be realistic and even somewhat reassuring that “It’s not like movies and TV,” but it seems to make it worse for me.

***

I probably shouldn’t have written recently about “anxiety” as it’s mostly apprehension rather than real anxiety. I guess I still haven’t really come to terms with the fact that I lost most of my life between the ages of about nineteen and thirty-seven to depression and/or autistic burnout, and that social anxiety has been an issue since a very young age. I still feel that if anything can go wrong in my life, it will, and that God wants to make me suffer as some kind of test of faith or behaviour. I have to remind myself of many things I have successfully achieved, even if some of them went wrong in the long run (nothing lasts forever), so that I feel that I will be able to achieve more things in the future. I have to try to tell myself that God wants more for me than simply enduring suffering. There’s no way to be sure that that’s true, of course, but if I tell myself I’m going to suffer forever, I probably will.

***

A thought I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks (which I’m not going to source properly as I normally would do, because it’s nearly half past midnight. Anyway, I’ve seen most of this in the secondary literature, not the primary sources): the Torah in Beha’alotechah (the third Torah reading from Bamidbar (Numbers)) states that the Israelites were divided into four camps in the wilderness, and moved through the desert in strict order. The fourth camp was led by the Tribe of Dan, who are described as the “me’asef” of all the camps. Modern translations render me’asef as something like ‘rear guard,’ but the literal meaning is more like ‘gatherer’. This led to the interpretation of Rashi that the Tribe of Dan gathered any property left behind after the other camps moved on and restored it to its owners (I assume Rashi is basing himself on a Midrash; he usually does. EDIT: I just checked Sefaria and it’s from a comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) Eruvin). The Bekhor Shor goes further and says that Dan gathered in the people who were late and missed travelling with their own tribal camps.

Elsewhere there’s an idea that Dan was the lowest of the twelve tribes of Israel and the most prone to idolatry, probably based on the fact that they were the only tribe that never conquered their allotted land in Israel (on the coastal plain) and a chunk of the tribe went off north towards what’s now Lebanon to find other land. On the way they ended up finding and essentially stealing an idolatrous sanctuary (Shoftim/Judges). There is also Shimshon (Samson), virtually the only significant Danite in Tanakh, who feels more like a Greek hero than a Jewish one.

Putting these two ideas together, maybe there’s a sense that, to reach the people on the margins, the people who are in danger of getting left behind (literally and metaphorically), you have to be halfway towards getting left behind yourself. I won’t deny that this is a further attempt to think myself into a more positive view of my life story, my religiosity and my place in the Jewish community, to try make something good out of years of depression/burnout and religious and community engagement that is perhaps a lot less than might have been expected from someone like me (maybe. Sometimes I think I do a lot more than someone dealt this hand could really be expected to do. It’s hard to tell what is right). I would like to reach Jews who are in danger of being ‘left behind’ with my writing, although I only have the vaguest ideas of how, or what would happen afterwards.

How I Broke the Shidduch System

I’m still thinking about dealing with Impostor Syndrome and with other people’s success (two slightly different topics, but related)(also, I tried to link to Ashley’s Impostor Syndrome post when I wrote about it yesterday, but WordPress ate the link somehow — sorry Ashley!).

I want to think, “I’m trying to live according to my values: to support E and my family emotionally; to be kind and empathetic to others; to try to connect with God and Torah; to try to connect with the Jewish community across time and space; to be thoughtful and curious and honest; to be creative sometimes; and to focus on personal growth; and if I don’t always succeed, at least I succeed sometimes.”[1] Still, it is hard to think about that a lot of the time. I don’t really want to be super-rich, but I do worry about how E and I will make ends meet basically relying on one and a bit wages between the two of us, without relying on our parents. And, as I said the other day, part of me would like my opinion to be taken seriously in the Jewish community (or even more widely). I’m not proud of that thought and I don’t really think it’s a good character trait to have, but it’s there.

I hope this feeling might go away. I used to be very caught up in self-pity and that’s reduced (although not entirely vanished) since being diagnosed autistic, getting a permanent job and getting engaged. Maybe the desire to be taken seriously by others will subside at some point too if I can deal with whatever’s prompting it, probably a feeling of not being taken seriously, and even being ignored and bullied, as a child, as well as low self-esteem generally.

[1] Sadly, my biggest failure is probably being kind and empathetic to my parents. I know it’s hard to live with your parents when you’re pushing forty. And I know my parents have their own character traits and issues that make it hard to live with them sometimes, and that sometimes those things are a particularly bad fit with my autistic needs/disabilities. But I still I feel I should do better. I want to say more about this, but I’ve never worked out how to write about the situation without going into lashon hara (improper speech) and dishonouring parents territory. Maybe it will be easier once I move out.

***

I watched a YouTube video of family therapist Elisheva Liss being interviewed by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and his wife Yocheved. From what Liss said on her weekly newsletter, I thought it would be about narrative therapy. However, I must have misunderstood, as they spoke mainly about shidduchim (the whole system of arranged dating in the Orthodox Jewish world) and marriage. I probably would not have listened to the whole thing if I realised that they would not be talking about narrative therapy.

I used to think I was too defective for the shidduch system to work for me, but maybe it’s more the case that the shidduch system is too defective to work for me. I’m not sure. It’s true that in the end I met E away from the system, and that E would never have been in the system in the first place. And I am aware that most shadchanim (matchmakers) and rabbis would throw their hands up in despair about E and me, with both of us having some ongoing psychological issues, neither of us earning very much money, and both of us on somewhat different religious levels. I do worry about those things a bit, although less so since we got engaged, but ultimately it’s just the two of us in this relationship/marriage and we arguably have skills that many twenty-somethings in the shidduch system don’t have in terms of self-knowledge and values-awareness; knowledge of each other from dating together so long; honest communication; willingness to compromise; and just general maturity. Not that I would say that I am particularly mature, but I have to believe that I can’t have got to (nearly) thirty-nine without picking up some maturity and life-skills I didn’t have at twenty-four. To be honest, E and I both need someone who understands and accepts us, with all our issues, more than we need someone on the same religious level. I know that thinking that probably would not be accepted in much of the frum world, but then it’s probably why I couldn’t find a partner in the frum shidduch-dating world.

***

I did a bit of novel writing today, but I struggled with procrastination. I’ve been writing quite a lot lately and maybe need a break for a day or two (more than just Shabbat). I’d like to finish reading over this chapter first. I thought I would do that today, but E asked me to help her with an important wedding thing that rightly took priority. That left me feeling a bit anxious. We are making progress with this wedding, but sometimes it feels that for every worry we knock on the head, another one emerges. I can’t go into details, but it did remind me of something Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl once said, that everyone thinks a moral dilemma is a choice between something right and something wrong, but it’s not; a moral dilemma is a choice between two things that are both right and you can only pick one, or two things that are wrong, but you have to pick one i.e. a situation in which there can be no perfect response. As a perfectionist, this sort of situation makes me anxious and stressed.