Reading Lists

Work was OK today. I was very tired and could hardly do any Torah study on the train in, but I was OK once I got to work and drank a second cup of coffee. The morning was mostly spent sorting out paperwork. I don’t mind doing this, although it’s fairly routine. I’d say it’s not challenging, except I seem to find almost everything challenging these days. Anyway, it left part of my brain free to be miserable (see below).

The afternoon was mostly spent trying to phone people to get them to pay their membership fees. It was not always easy. To my secret relief, a lot of phones weren’t answered, or went to number not available.

***

I feel that I haven’t done much reading this year. This is not true, although arguably I have not done much recreational reading. I’ve been doing quite a bit of Torah study/reading. I tend to do Torah study on the way to work or volunteering. I would normally do recreational reading on the way home, but J gives me a lift home from work, which becomes dead time in the car, as these days I can’t read in the car without getting motion sick, plus it would be rude to read and, anyway, J has the radio on so I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.

A while back I decided to alternate fiction reading with non-fiction, not least because I had accumulated a big pile of non-fiction books from charity shops and library withdrawals. Worse, these were books I was often not that fussed about, but owning them meant I wasn’t buying or reading non-fiction I might like more. So I started adding in more non-fiction to get through the backlog and maybe buy books I might like more, but now I worry that my writing will not be so good if I read less fiction, especially as, on a page-by-page basis, I read fiction faster than non-fiction, both because it’s easier and because I’m more likely to pick up a fiction book than a non-fiction one. So one non-fiction book probably displaces more than one novel. Then again, having a wide general knowledge is also good for a writer.

I also have some classics to read or re-read (on the grounds now I’m older and will understand them better) which I never get around to reading either. In the last few years (decades, if I’m honest, since I was depressed), they have often seemed too daunting. I’m not sure why. When I was very depressed it was understandable that I didn’t want to read “heavy” books, whether fiction or non-fiction (although periodically I did read them, and sometimes enjoyed them), but now I’m just tired so much of the time, it’s still hard to read heavy-going things.

Lately I’ve come to realise that although the book I’m working on is mainstream and somewhat literary fiction, I’m never going to be a “serious” author. I want to write science fiction, fantasy and maybe horror hybrids with Jewish themes and characters, partly for my own amusement and hopefully to amuse others, partly to get Jewish ideas out there, to Jews who don’t know their own heritage and non-Jews who see Judaism as weird, or more likely just don’t see it at all.

So I feel I need to be reading quality popular fiction. This isn’t such a problem, as I already read a lot of it. My problem is more that I tend to read particular authors in great depth rather than read around particular genres. There are quite a lot of authors on my bookshelves where I have all, or at least a significant amount, of their work, often piled up vertically to save space. I also re-read books I’ve already read. On the other hand, while I’ve always been a fan of what I once pompously referred to as “non-mimetic fiction” (science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, horror… anything that doesn’t aim at reflecting the world just as it is), I often feel like I’ve never explored any genre in great depth. I’ve always been quite a small-c conservative reader, afraid of trying new things in case I don’t like them, or simply because I’m autistic and love to turn to the same things again and again to explore them in depth. I feel this is not ideal for an aspiring author. I want to write a Jewish fantasy/horror/time-travel book, and I feel I need to do a lot of research reading fantasy and horror (and Jewish books, I guess) as well as the more obvious research on the relevant time period.

This was taken six years ago, in our old house, on my old bookshelves, but it gives you some idea both of space issues and variety of content

***

I’m nervous of writing the next bit, because I can see myself being attacked from two sides, but I have been thinking about it and feeling miserable about it all day. There’s a video going around on social media showing Israeli youth on a march shouting “Death to Arabs!” I’m not sure why this upset me so much. And I think it was shame, sadness and maybe even anxiety I felt, not righteous indignation and superiority (which seems to be the main thing people feel when they criticise Israel). I wasn’t naive enough to think that there’s no racism in Israel before this, so it wasn’t shock per se. I’m aware of the internal “Jew vs. Arab” violence inside Israel during the war a few weeks ago, which had not really happened in previous conflicts. I’m also aware of a Kahanist (Jewish Fascist) party getting a member elected to the Knesset in the most recent elections. I suppose I should say that I was worried about the chillul hashem (desecration of God’s name — making it look like God supports violence) or about pushing off the coming of the Messiah again (and with the Three Weeks around the corner), but I wasn’t thinking it through that much, I just felt emotionally sick and fixated on returning to it again and again all morning (and never has Mishlei’s/Proverbs‘ simile of the dog returning to its vomit seemed more apposite).

It fed into something I’ve been feeling for a while, but haven’t spoken aloud, the feeling that Israel was manipulated into the last war by Hamas. To clarify, Hamas started and was morally responsible for the war, but Israeli politics created the situation where Hamas thought it was worth firing at Israel and where it thought it could get away with it. Once the rockets started flying, Israel had a right and duty to defend its citizens; my — not anger, but astonishment and fear — is how a civil court case about occupancy that didn’t even involve the government and that had been drifting through the courts for years led suddenly to war. It is hard to avoid blaming Binyamin Netanyahu, if not directly, then at least indirectly for causing the constitutional crisis that led to politicians desperately scrabbling around trying to put together some kind of government to avoid the fifth election in two years, because of Netanyahu’s refusal to accept defeat and step down. Because I can’t see Hamas chancing their luck in this way without that context, thinking things were confused enough in Israel that they might get away without much in the way of reprisals.

As an editorial in The Times of Israel said towards the end of the war, in Hamas has been thinking strategically, while Israel has merely been thinking tactically, not just now, but for years. The war enabled Hamas to position itself (and not Fatah) as the leader of the Palestinians, and of “resistance” to Israel generally. It let Hamas show its value as a proxy army to its funders in Iran. It won a propaganda war in the Islamic world and in the West (actually two propaganda wars, with very different messages: to the West they presented themselves as passive victims, but to the Islamic world even the dead were martyrs and mujahideen — warriors on jihad). It may well have sabotaged a potential Israeli-Saudi peace deal, which could have improved Israel’s strategic position. All Israel managed to do was destroy some of Hamas’ arms, which will doubtless be restocked soon by the Iranian government.

Contrary to most people who berate Israel’s position, I don’t have a magic solution. Years ago, the political scientist Shlomo Avineri suggested that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble and the focus should be on de-escalation, not solution, as per other long-running conflicts. Some problems are insoluble, at least within the terms available. Hamas is not interested in compromise, but is not powerful enough to destroy Israel. Israel is neither willing nor interested in genocide (contrary to what its enemies say). This being the case, neither side can win, and all that can be done is kick the can down the road a bit further with sporadic outbursts of violence until something game-changing happens (like an Iranian nuclear weapon, God forbid).

I guess I sound depressed. Well, lately I am depressed, not clinically, but when I look at the world. There is an idea in Judaism that the Messiah (if you don’t believe in a Messiah, think of utopia) will come when everyone is absolutely good, or when everyone is absolutely terrible. In the first instance he comes not so much as a reward as the culmination of the individual narratives of redemption. In the latter, God gets so fed up with mankind’s misbehaviour that He intervenes to pull the plug on history before we wipe ourselves out. I feel that we are not absolutely good (obviously!), but the world isn’t absolutely terrible either. Despite excitable media coverage, I can’t see the world today, or the position of the Jews in it, as anything like as bad as the 30s and the 40s. Or even later (think of Cold War flashpoints like the Berlin Airlift or the Cuban Missile Crisis where a nuclear war seemed likely). I wonder how long the world can go on being awful, but not absolutely awful.

Ugh. I feel I’m just rambling, and I’m afraid what the comments will say, so I’ll wrap this up. Genetic testing shows that the ethnic group most closely related to the Jews is (you guessed it) the Palestinians. Some people think the Palestinians are the descendants of Jews who weren’t exiled from the land of Israel by the Romans, but hung around and, when the Arabs invaded a number of centuries later, converted to Islam and forgot their Jewish past. The similarities between Judaism and Islam are manifold, much more so than the more well-known similarities between Judaism and Christianity. The conflict seems just pointless. I can’t do very much about that, but since the war I’ve been reading Islam by Alfred Guillaume (tying this back to my reading) to try to understand more. To be honest, I probably already knew a lot more about Islam than most Jews, having studied some Islamic history at university. I want to read the Qu’ran (I do actually have a copy), although I think a person can misunderstand a lot by reading ancient religious texts without context and interpretation. But I want to understand more, even if I can’t actually do anything. I’ve said before htat, contrary to the “You can change the world!” message endlessly repeated in the media, I don’t think individuals can do very much at all to change the world, but I think we can aim to improve our understanding and empathy and gain some kind of personal redemption for ourselves and those around us.

Knots

The day started badly with a number of minor irritants, the worse of which was somehow tearing off one of the fringes on my tallit (prayer shawl) – each corner is supposed to have four strings looped and knotted five times leaving eight strings hanging at the end, and I think I must have stood on one that was trailing and moved and — snap!

Work was OK, but was cut short today as J needed to go to a funeral (a distant relative). I think the work for me to do comes in to the office periodically through the day, so he can’t just give me a list of stuff to do in the morning, he has to keep giving things to me during the day as they appear or as he works on them, so when he leaves, I leave.

I got home early because of this, but spent a lot of time trying to tie the strings from an old pair of tzitzit (small prayer shawl undershirt) onto the tallit. I just got in a mess. A rabbi showed me how to tie tzitzit once and it seemed easy enough under his supervision, but every time I try to do it, I just get in a mess. It’s possible the problem is that I try to tie strings that have been used before and are all twisted and kinked. I think it’s going to be easier just to find a Judaica shop that will repair it, whatever the cost. I think I like the idea of being someone who can tie tzitzit more than the reality. Like, “Look, I’m frum! I can’t understand Talmud, I’m too socially anxious to lead services any more, I never kept up my leining, but I can tie tzitzit!”

Between the tzitzit and spending a lot of time today brooding about antisemitism and what (little) I can do about it (see below) I feel I wasted the day; it’s another day when I haven’t really sat down to do any work on my novel(s). Possibly I should have done that instead of going for a walk this evening; I just wanted to get out while the weather was good and exercise.

***

I’m still thinking a lot about Israel and the recent explosion of antisemitism, which is continuing even though the latest Gaza conflict is over. So many Jewish newspaper articles and blogs say that Jews must all speak up to defend ourselves in the court of public opinion. I feel like a coward, but I know if I write, I will get into arguments, and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with that. I’ve done it before and I’ve been hurt without changing anyone’s mind significantly (although I can’t deny that I had some effect). I’m told I’m a good writer, but I’ve never felt myself to be a good polemicist, and polemic is what is apparently wanted. Polemic makes me sick, and if I see anything too strident, I take the opposite position, even if it’s not something I would normally agree with. Even pro-Israel polemic makes me uncomfortable. I think Israel has a right to defend itself, but it isn’t beyond reproach. But there is no room for nuance any more.

Part of me wants to be a fearless truth-teller like George Orwell (one of my literary heroes, despite our political differences), but I also want to be liked, or at least not to be called a Nazi, and these things do not go together. I get upset about things and want to shout out, but then I worry about the consequences and stay quiet. It’s not a good combination. Orwell said that writers should be politically engaged, but shouldn’t tread the party line (any party line), but then Orwell never got involved in a flame war on Twitter.

Most of the Jewish blogs I read have not said much about this situation, and I wonder if this is wise or not. I feel that the number of Jews in the world is so small, and the negative stereotypes so embedded after two thousand years or more, that it is impossible to be heard. Some antisemitic pop stars and “influencers” apparently have more followers on Twitter or Instagram than the total number of Jews in the whole world, several times over, so it is hard to see how a few Jews can reach so many people. This is defeatist of me. If Judaism is about anything, it is about the ability of a small number of people to change the world. But just posting the I-word makes me anxious that I’m going to get abusive comments. Writers like Moshe Koppel and Ze’ev Maghen say that the correct response to antisemitism is to be a more engaged Jew, which is true, but hard to do when people are calling you a Nazi.

It would be nice to claim that my Jewish life is all quirky rituals like tying knots in tzitzit string, happy days like Shabbat and Yom Tov, and the search for meaning in prayer and Torah study, but it is also worry about my family and friends (literal and metaphorical) in Israel, it’s stuff getting shouted at me in the street, people throwing pennies at me, it’s wondering whether I should take my kippah off in public (as my uncle suggested yesterday). It’s worrying whether one day I’ll be one of those “Religious [read: Visible*] Jew Stabbed in the Street” news stories that never seem to trouble the non-Jewish press too much. It’s wondering whether I’m more likely to be attacked by skinheads or Guardian readers (spoiler warning: I think there are more Guardian readers than skinheads in the UK). It’s wondering where the next Holocaust will be: Israel, Europe or the US, or all at once.

*An article in one Jewish paper (before the latest violence) wondered how much the rate of antisemitic hate crime would rise if all Jews dressed like Orthodox Jews — in other words, if more secular Jews were visibly identifiable as Jews to non-Jews.

Books and Thoughts

I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up only getting about five hours of sleep. I think I was excited from speaking to E! I somehow managed to get up more or less on time for work. Work was pretty dull. I spent a lot of time this morning searching through old records (computerised and ledgers) looking for information and then in the afternoon looking through old papers to see which could be thrown away. Not terribly interesting, but it pays, and lets me feel less guilty about spending time writing, not that I’ve worked on either novel much lately.

I decided not to go to virtual depression group tonight, partly as I was tired and didn’t have the energy — Zoom calls are draining, as is trying to be a good listener to others in distress. Not going was supposed to let me catch up on some chores after I ran out of time for them yesterday, and take some of the pressure off the next few days, which are busy, although the reality was that the chores took longer than expected and I was very tired, so I didn’t achieve much.

I received a letter from my GP’s surgery saying I should phone to discuss the results of my autism assessment. I hope this will be a chance to talk about being referred for autism-adapted CBT. However, I have to navigate the awful phone switchboard, which involves phoning at 8.30am for an appointment and spending ages waiting to get through. I don’t usually get up for 8.30am on non-work days! I can’t face doing it tomorrow; maybe Friday or next Tuesday. I also hope I can speak to my usual GP. Technically, the surgery doesn’t let you have your ‘own’ GP, you have to take the first appointment available. But, if I can find the confidence, I will try to say that I have one GP I’ve seen a lot about my autism and mental health issues and I really would like to speak to him. The worst that can happen is they say no.

I wanted to go for a walk and do some more Torah study after dinner, but I felt exhausted and it was raining heavily so I was not inclined to force myself to walk. I guess I feel lately that I can achieve some of the things I want in my life (relationship, work, writing, exercise, religious study, prayer), but not all of them, and that’s without going down the route of marriage and children (yet — E and I are both clear that we want these if we can cope with them). I guess I worry that I’ll never be able to balance all these things or that I’ll have to completely write some things out of my life if I want to be successful at others. Maybe no one can balance everything, and other people are just better bluffers than I am.

I somehow managed to do some more Torah study despite being rather tired. That done, I needed to fill the hours until bed. I’m about to start the fifth and final season of Babylon 5 in my re-watch. I don’t think season five is quite as bad as “everyone” says, but it is the weakest season by far, and the first half is definitely worse than the second. So I wasn’t in a hurry to watch it. The book I started reading at lunch is a serious introductory book on Islam and I didn’t feel up to returning to it. Fortunately, the second-hand James Bond omnibus book I ordered arrived today. (Although I feel that a “James Bond omnibus” is technically the double-decker Roger Moore drove in a car chase in Live and Let Die.) The omnibus book is slightly frustrating, as it contains the first two books of the loose “Blofeld” trilogy, but not the third, which is a slightly weird decision, plus the books are not printed in order of internal chronology, even though there is some continuity across the books. Still, I got five books I haven’t read (plus a sixth I’ve read, but didn’t own) for £5, so I can’t really complain. Very good condition too. I read for a while, until I felt too tired to carry on.

***

Lately I’ve been feeling a desire to post something deeper here than my usual daily updates. When things were not good for me, I felt I was expressing deep emotions and self-analysis, but now things are (thankfully) a lot better, I feel I don’t have much to say. Part of me would like to write about the things I think about, about antisemitism or Israel or Jewish theology, not in the abstract (I don’t want this to be a politics blog or a theology blog), but how my understanding of them affects my inner thoughts, feelings and worldview (if that isn’t terribly millennial and self-obsessed). However, I never seem to get around to it. I’m scared of writing anything about antisemitism or Israel, however bland and inoffensive, because just sticking those words in a post brings out the haters. Jewish theology has other problems. Partly it’s that I’m not sure that anyone would be interested, partly that there would be so much to explain just to make it intelligible to the lay reader that I’d write hundreds of words before even getting to what I want to say, plus I’m conscious that I have no formal training in theology, in either its rational philosophical or mystical kabbalistic forms, and I’m hardly an expert on Jewish thought. I would fear that I would be talking rubbish. So I stay quiet and bottle a lot of thoughts and feelings up inside of me out of fear and, I suppose, laziness.

Fraught Day

I was expecting today to be a normal, dull work day, but it turned out to be fraught. Running in the background all day was my worries for the escalating violence in Israel. I’m not going to write a political post because I think everyone already knows what they think, I just feel anxious about family in Israel (literal family and metaphorical family) and want it to be over. I checked the news a couple of times while at work, something I wouldn’t normally do. I hope and pray the violence doesn’t escalate further, but I worry that it’s reached the point of self-perpetuation.

Then, on the way home I texted my parents to say that J and I were going home by a different route and I was going through the suburb where my maternal grandparents lived (I think I saw their house, which was some way away from the road, behind some trees, but if I did, the front has been massively remodelled). Mum then told me she had spent the afternoon at the hospital, having had a bad reaction to new medication. (She has to take bone-strengthening medication because chemotherapy weakens the bones.) Mum is home and OK now, just very tired.

I was in work today, as you may have gathered. J asked me to change work days this week, which is why I moved therapy to yesterday. While at work, I was called by a job agency about a job I applied for a few weeks ago. I didn’t think they would look twice at my CV, as I didn’t have the specialist subject knowledge they wanted, but they want to interview me next week. They wanted to do Monday, but that’s the festival of Shavuot, so they’ve agreed to do it on Wednesday. I have to do a cataloguing test first. I’ve had a few cataloguing tests in recent years and have generally done badly at them. I feel I’m very rusty, but we’ll see how I do. I am terrified at the prospect of getting the job though, silly though that sounds. I worry I can’t do the cataloguing (although, if I pass the test, I guess that will prove I can), I worry about what it will involve, that I’ll have to work four days a week (twice as much as I’m currently doing), that I’ll have to work on Fridays in the winter when Shabbat starts early, that I won’t have time to write fiction… A lot of worries. I’m trying to stick to what I said with my therapist about staying in the present, but it’s not easy.

Also at work, I had a difficult phone call related to the new task J was training me to do. This involves talking to people who are in a difficult emotional situation and talking them through various tasks and getting personal details from them while not overwhelming them. (I don’t want to go into more detail as it will make where I work too obvious.) I had to do this suddenly and thinking on my feet, as the situation wasn’t exactly the type J trained me for. J was listening and said I handled it well, which is good.

So all in all it was a fairly nerve-wracking day. I’m trying to stay in the present, as I discussed with my therapist. I don’t think I’ve been doing too badly about that, all in all, but I am pretty exhausted now.

***

I’m rather apprehensive of the week ahead too. I have tomorrow, Friday and Sunday to prepare for my cataloguing test, prepare for my interview, sit my test (unless I have to sit it on Wednesday morning, immediately before the interview) and get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festival), as well as trying to exercise and do Torah study (including Talmud preparation and maybe writing my devar Torah for next week as I will lose so much time to Yom Tov and interview stuff). Then there are Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are time off, but not always relaxing as they tend to involve a lot of shul (synagogue), Torah study and sleeping rather than recreational reading. I suppose I shall get through it somehow. Or I’ll flunk the test and the interview and that will be that. I could have done some preparation tonight, but I felt pretty punch drunk and not suited for anything more than TV.

***

My former landlady texted me to compliment me on my Asperger’s article and J initiated a long discussion about Asperger’s and related issues on the way home. I’m surprised about the positive feedback I’ve had. It’s strange, I’ve written things that have been published professionally or semi-professionally before, but I never really felt of my writing ability as a gift. But hearing how people have responded to my article makes me think that it is one, pretentious though that sounds. I used to think that literature couldn’t reach people the way the visual arts of music can. Art and music can cross the boundaries of language, unlike writing, but writing can explain things and share specific thoughts and thought processes in a way that more abstract arts can not.

***

This has been a fairly heavy post (albeit that some of it is positive even if it is scary), so time for something lighter: how I got back together with E!

E and I met via my blog back in 2018. We had two goes at long-distance dating which didn’t work out. When we broke up the second time, I decided that I wouldn’t date her again, as I was worried about ending up in an on/off relationship that never got resolved.

A few weeks ago, I started reading the anonymous blog of a Jewish woman who was becoming more religious. We had some comment conversations and seemed to connect and have similar outlooks and values as well as similar struggles. I did wonder vaguely (or not so vaguely) if one day we might date. She reminded me of E, but more spiritual and trying to be a better person. I actually wondered if it was E, but decided that coincidences like that only happen in romantic literature.

Then out of the blue I got an email from E saying that she was that anonymous blogger!

She was very apologetic about how things had been between us before and wanted to try again. I decided, based on her long email and her blog posts, that she seemed to have grown a lot and that dating her now would be different to dating the E that I dated in the past, to the extent that I felt my “No dating again” decision didn’t apply here. She is pursuing Orthodox Judaism for its own sake now, not just to fit in with me, and she’s done a lot of work on herself. I have also undergone changes, particularly my Asperger’s diagnosis and its positive knock-on effect on my self-esteem and understanding.

I think we are both nervous that this might not work, but the potential benefits seem to drastically outweigh the potential costs. We both have our difficulties and issues, but there seems to be tremendous potential for us to build something positive together.

I discussed this with my rabbi mentor and my therapist. The former felt that E and I have both matured a lot over the last nine months, while my therapist found it interesting that I liked E’s blog even without knowing it was her, which she felt showed a strong personality connection between us. So, we (E and I) are cautiously optimistic.

However, I have not told my family yet as I’m nervous of how they might respond. I guess I feel I want to have a bit more to tell them before I open up to them. I keep nearly letting it slip though — wanting to say, “I’m Skyping E in a minute” or “That reminds me of something E said…” I really am terrible at keeping secrets, let alone lying.

Happy for Myself, Worried for the World

I wanted to get up early again, but I felt really drained this morning and got up at 10.30am (I’ve been up later, but still…) and still struggled to get going. I was glad I had the house to myself for a bit as Mum and Dad were at the hospital much of the day. I did do a few things (see below), but I struggled to find the energy to do as much as I had planned and wanted. It’s not surprising that I’m drained from yesterday, but I do find it frustrating that I can’t live my life at 100% optimum (or anywhere near it) the way some people seem to do, even though I know that autistic burnout and perhaps the remnants of depressive exhaustion are real parts of my life.

Achievements: I read a book on writing (developing realistic characters) for an hour; I studied Torah for nearly an hour; and I watched an interview with Ed Husain (whose book The Islamist I just read) about Israel and the Islamic world. I went for a 5K run too, which unfortunately gave me a bit of a headache and stopped me doing much in the evening.

Not a lot else happened. I was, as I said, exhausted from yesterday, so I didn’t do as much as I would have liked. I feel that my communication (too early to say ‘relationship’) with PIMOJ seems to be going well (basing this largely on what she said explicitly in emails, as I’m bad at reading between the lines), so my mood was reasonably good. Then in the late afternoon I had some very good news, but I can’t share it here yet (hopefully soon). But it was very cheering.

We’ve got to strictly shield from now until Mum’s operation on Thursday, so I won’t be running or walking or even going outside for a few days. I probably wouldn’t have gone for a run today if I had known this, but my parents were still at the hospital when I went out. On the plus side, I don’t think we need to shield so strictly afterwards, so in theory I could go to shul (synagogue) again from next week, but I feel very nervous about doing so for multiple reasons.

Despite my reasonably good mood, I was a bit upset by some news from the wider world. On the one hand, Ed Husain seemed very positive in his interview about the possibilities of wider Israel-Sunni Arab peace deals, which is good, although I worried he was over-optimistic; on the other hand, Unherd had disturbing articles about the normalisation of violence against women in otherwise consensual sex and the worrying news that 28% of “Biden supporters” (which I assume means Democrats) and 19% of Trump supporters (which might well not be a straightforward synonym for Republicans) say that they won’t accept the legitimacy of a victory by the other side in the forthcoming presidential election. Neither of these things bode well for Western society if true (I’m assuming that bad social/political trends that start in America spread to the rest of the Western world sooner or later), and I suspect they are true. So that brought my mood down a bit.

Pogo Stick

Today was another up and down day.  I coped with shul (synagogue) last night.  I enjoyed dinner with Mum and Dad.  I spent quite a bit of time on Torah study afterwards, including trying to prep for today’s Talmud shiur (class) after dinner at 10pm when my brain was just not working.  When I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up until 3am reading Doctor Who Magazine (some pretty good articles this month.  I just wish I had enjoyed the last series as much as the people writing in to the letters page appeared to do).

I woke up several times across the morning, but felt too depressed to get up and go to shul, or even just to get up.

I dozed after lunch again and when I woke up I again felt too depressed to want to go to shul Mincha (Afternoon Service), but forced myself to go anyway.  I probably got there late semi-deliberately to avoid being asked to lead the service.  I actually quite enjoyed Talmud shiur, although I was inwardly relieved when the rabbi admitted that even he had struggled with the sugya (discussion) in question.  It was so opaque and discursive that I’m not even going to try to summarise it here.  Talmud study is definitely better when I prep a day or so beforehand and review it a day or so afterwards, although that obviously makes a bigger time investment per page.

My sister and brother-in-law came over after Shabbat (Sabbath), mostly to see Mum post-chemo.  As my sister uses the Tube every weekday, she was wary of infecting Mum with something – not necessarily coronovirus, but some kind of virus that she might be incubating.  We had a good time, although I slipped away for a bit after a while.

Speaking of which, the coronavirus news coverage reminds me of the Tomato Flu episode of Broken News, particularly the bit where Pip Torrens warns of symptoms including “hot or cold sweats; hot or cold aches; sweaty acheyness; runny or sweaty or achey nose; tiredness; a sense of slight confusion; blinking; passing water; and, of course in extreme cases, death.”

I saw this comment in the Jewish Chronicle comparing the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion: While the Netanyahus have racked up huge bills at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer, Ben-Gurion’s greatest financial vice was his propensity to buy too many…books.”  I felt that I have something in common with him.  A few years ago I actually went to his apartment in Tel Aviv, which is a museum now, preserved as he had it, and there are books everywhere, on all kinds of topics: lots on Judaism and Jewish history, but also a lot on the sciences too, I think even on relatively obscure subjects like geology, and to my surprise a copy of The Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism (Ben-Gurion was an atheist and secularist, albeit like many early Zionists he was a keen amateur Bible scholar).

Sudden Sadnesses

It seems that I forgot to take my medication yesterday, morning and evening.  While I can believe I forgot the evening dose, as I was rushing to go to depression group, I’m a bit surprised I forgot the morning dose.  But it would explain why I was so anxious and despairing yesterday.  I do feel a lot better today.

It’s also worth noting that my parents are really proud of how well I’ve coped with things this week, the things I’ve written about here and the things I don’t think I should share yet, if at all.  They said that I’ve coped a lot better than they expected/feared.

There isn’t a lot left to say.  I was feeling OK today, but suddenly my mood will drop with no obvious trigger.  I feel quite sad at the moment, without really being sure why (possibly empathy for a friend whose family are going through a very tough time right now).  I hope I feel well enough later to get to shul (synagogue) tonight, because that is very important to me, even though I have been struggling with it lately.

Big events are happening in the geopolitical world and part of me would like to write about how that affects me emotionally, but I haven’t really got the time or, if I’m honest, the inclination.  Writing about my emotional response is likely to lead me sooner or later into writing about my political response, which I have no real wish to do.  Politics in general just seems so poisonous these days, although one can probably overstate it; I’m not convinced by arguments that global politics is as broken and dangerous as it was in the 1930s.

Symbolic Dream

I had a fairly vivid and memorable dream last night.

In the dream I was in a Jewish library that doubled as a shul (synagogue), like the one I was working in recently, but it was being used as a shul for a Shacharit (Morning Service) service while I was there.  There were copies of the Qu’ran and somehow building bridges to the Muslim community and fighting Islamophobia came into it, I’m not sure how exactly.  The rabbi of the shul was a very well-known rabbi who I greatly respect and whose books have influenced my thinking a lot (in real life I mean as well as the dream).  I didn’t think he knew me, but after he gave a vort (literally a word, i.e. a very short Torah thought), I commented to him on it and he announced my insight to the community and mentioned me by name.  Somehow an old acquaintance of mine who I have drifted away from in the real world was involved (in real life he is very involved in left-wing causes and anti-Islamophobia so it isn’t so surprising that my mind should make the association).  Then I was walking in to a different, secular, library where I was working or volunteering.  I was helping to sort the Tintin books and regretted that I couldn’t put them in the correct order without looking it up, whereas in real life I could probably more or less manage that.  There was also something about having a child and asking that rabbi to bless him, although I’m not sure if I had a child in the dream or if it was just an aspiration.  I woke up early, as if it was a work day, but refreshed and with a feeling of peace, although I did fall asleep again.

I feel that this is a very telling dream.  Some of it is about Trump’s Israel-Palestine “Peace Plan” which I feel is no such thing and is just about to legitimate a land-grab by the Israeli right.  It pains me to say this as a staunch Zionist and someone who thinks that the situation in the West Bank is more complex than the mainstream media represents, but I can’t think of any other outcome.  The dream was saying that it will be necessary for the Jewish community to build grassroots links with the Islamic community in the days ahead, although I’m not sure how that relates to me, and I’m not sure how many people in the Islamic community are willing to build bridges back.

The rabbi I respect is in favour of a land-for-peace deal and does interfaith work in reality, so could have appeared for that reason, but also has a connection to the library I was working at, although I did not meet him there.  Perhaps him knowing me in my dream is my unconscious saying that I did good work there even if it’s over now, hence also the feeling of satisfaction on waking.  Working in another, secular library afterwards could be my unconscious saying that I should be optimistic about finding new work.  The library being used as a shul for a service where I felt comfortable may be optimism about finding a shul where I can be fully accepted.  The child I thought about in the dream may be a feeling of optimism about building a relationship with E. and one day having children.

I don’t really see dreams as prophecies of the future, but even as a sign about my unconscious understanding of the present, this one seemed positive and I was not surprised to wake feeling refreshed even after only four and a half hours of sleep, although, as I say, I did fall asleep again.  There were some other details, but I’m not sure where they fit in.  But it did seem a positive dream, even if it seems to stem from negative events in my life and the world.

Kill Your Darlings (not your Daleks)

I’m feeling awful again today.  I got up late and kept going back to bed.  I knew it would be hard coming back from holiday, but I didn’t realise just how far backwards I would go.  I know I need structure, but I’m worried about the stuff I have coming up in the next week or two.  I worry about even managing to get to these things on time (I’m basically nocturnal at the moment) let alone get through them.

I’ve got a meeting with a careers charity on Friday, a different one to the one I saw on Monday, not a specifically autism/mental health one, to talk about alternative careers and interview practice, but I’m worried I’m not going to say much and it’s mostly going to be me being told I’m doing everything wrong (that’s how the previous meeting there felt, a bit).  Then it’s going to be hectic to get home in good time before Shabbat.  Then next week I have a day long seminar thing on building a second career (I never really built the first one…).  I just got an email about it; it’s a series of talks over the day, but apparently “Morning and afternoon refreshments, together with lunch, are complimentary, and an important networking part of the day.”  Scary.  I might try to stay for refreshments, but, even aside from kashrut questions (the charity running the seminar is Jewish, but not religious, so it might not be kosher enough for me), I think I will need to get away from everyone for an hour if I am to have any hope of staying in the talks for the whole day.  Oh, and weirdly one of the speakers is the rabbi who was my shul rabbi growing up; he eventually quit the rabbinate and went into finance in which capacity he’s speaking.

***

I’m struggling with concentration and motivation again.  It’s hard to feel that I could be working in this state, yet I feel I should.  I discussed this with someone else online today, that I feel I should be working, even if part-time.  It’s partly that I don’t like being dependent on my parents, partly social expectation, part genuine feeling that I want to do something meaningful with my life.  Plus, although I’m going to have another go at applying for benefits, I doubt very much that I would qualify for sickness benefits.  I’m too functional.  It’s very difficult to claim benefits for mental illness as the system is essentially based around physical incapacity.  If you can see and walk and don’t need constant care it’s difficult to meet the burden of proof for being disabled.  I’m sceptical of whether I will get unemployment benefits, but I need to try and apply while I’m still in a period where I worked significantly in the last two tax years.

***

I did manage to do a few things.  I went for a walk and picked up my blood test form for my next blood test (I have them every three months on lithium tablets).  At the doctor’s surgery I saw someone I dated a number of years ago who dumped me as soon as I said I had mental health issues.  She lives locally, so I run into her from time to time although we haven’t spoken; I’m not sure if I’m good at hiding or she’s good at pretending not to see me.  (I suppose I’m pretending not to see her, really.)

I wrote a devar Torah (Torah thought) for Shabbat (the Sabbath), which took an hour, but I was pretty exhausted afterwards.  I did the slightly naughty rabbinic trick of writing about what I wanted to write about and tying it in to the parasha (weekly Torah reading).  Actually, that’s not entirely true; it’s more that I thought there was a link, and there was, but then when I sat down to write it, the link wasn’t as strong as I thought, but I carried on anyway.  I tried to work on my novel for an hour too and wrote a bit, but then decided that my narrator was acting out of character and the incident should happen later in the chapter, in a different context and perhaps a different way.  So I’m left with a shorter chapter than I started with, and a fragment to be reworked later.  But it’s too late to work on that tonight.  I need to find a way of getting more time to work on my novel, but it’s hard when I’m expected to make job hunting my “job” and still fit in chores, exercise and the like as well as coping with poor concentration and motivation.

***

I mentioned the other day about unfollowing a blog because the blogger said something that I felt was dismissive about mental illness and didn’t respond to my polite response.  Well, she just responded today and said she thought she had responded at the time, but her comment didn’t post properly and she only just realised.  I believe her, because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she’s never struck me as the type of person to casually lie or act rudely, and if she didn’t want to respond at all, why respond now?  (She can’t see that I unfollowed her because she posts on Blogger and it doesn’t show that I was following her on WordPress.)  But I’m undecided about following the blog again as I feel I do seem to end up with differences of opinion with her a lot.  But then again, maybe it’s good for me to see that I can open up to someone with very different opinions to my own, and disagree, and we still stay friends.  In the past we have often disagreed on matters “safely.”  That’s something I do struggle to accept; I usually keep quiet about differences for fear of rejection.

***

It’s also been a day when I’ve wandered into political stuff online again, which just depresses me beyond measure.  The flare-up of fighting in Israel depresses and worries me too; I was within range of some of the 360 rockets fired from Gaza just a few days ago.  Cousin 3 lives in the south of Israel, which is the most dangerous place for rockets.  It’s scary.

Speaking of which, some photos from my trip.

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Yam Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

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View from Bental towards Mt. Hermon and Syria

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Talmudic-era village, Katzrin

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Talmudic-era synagogue, Katzrin

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Goats! Katzrin

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Arbel National Park. I wish I could go to wilderness more often

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Sunset on Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

Still Abroad

Sitting in the departure lounge, feeling bored and overwhelmed – overwhelmed by noise and by depression. I bought my Dad a multi-ink pen that says “I love Israel” but I still wonder why I can’t remember to buy him a present, but on seeing our flight is EZY 2084, I remember immediately that 2084 is the year the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep is set in. If I’m not autistic, someone has a lot of explaining to do.

Homeward Thoughts from Abroad

I’m writing from the airport. I feel bad, partly because the holiday is ending and I’m back to job hunting, but mostly because I feel useless.

Last night Mum reminded me to thank Dad for the holiday. I don’t know if I would have remembered otherwise. I forgot to buy him a souvenir to say thanks because usually my sister would remind me. Similarly, today I finished packing and waited for my parents. It didn’t occur to me that Mum and Dad might need help.

I know that inability to “mind-read” is a classic high functioning autism symptom. Likewise for trouble acting on initiative. But somehow I feel I should be “better.” And I worry that I’m not on the spectrum, I’m just selfish and useless.

At the start of the holiday, when things were going well, I was more optimistic about my life and especially about me and E.  but now things seem hopeless again. A real downer to end on.

Arbel and Kinneret

We spent the early afternoon at Arbel National Park, looking at spectacular views over Tiberias and towards Tzfat. The rocky paths were awkward, but not too difficult or dangerous.  I saw several lizards to add to the list of wildlife spotted on this trip.

After lunch we intended to go to Capernaum, which we thought was a ruined Roman city, but when we got there we were greeted by a sign that said “CAPERNAUM – CITY OF JESUS”, signs warning that this was a religious site and prohibiting various things and hundreds of pilgrims being constantly bussed in. So far as I could tell, the main attraction here was the church.

We decided this was not for us and drove to the far side of the Kinneret/Sea of Galilee. We ate ice cream and watched the sun set over the lake/sea and and watched the birds flying past, including some brilliant blue ones.

I have a headache that has come and gone all afternoon, but otherwise it was a good end to the holiday. Tomorrow is the flight home, and a return to the cold and wet.

One thing I have noticed is the huge amount of religious tat: kitsch art and souvenirs with religious themes aimed partly at Jews, but mostly at Christians. Occasionally you do see tasteful pieces, but a lot are kitsch: replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, candlesticks in the shape of Samson pushing the pillars of the Philistine temple, Noah’s Ark models, lots of crucifixes. You see this stuff all over Israel, but particularly at places with religious resonance for Christians. I’m afraid in my head I have an image of pilgrims from the Bible Belt being the main consumers of this stuff. That’s probably me stereotyping; I’m sure there are Evangelicals from Texas or Alabama with a highly developed aesthetic sense, but they aren’t buying this stuff.

To be fair, my parents have a small model of a Hasid that I think my sister and I bought for them on one trip. I think that’s more tasteful, either because it’s very small in comparison with some of these pieces or because it’s not directly religious. There’s something about taking imagery that goes to the core of Western religion and art and using it for cheap, mass-produced tourist-fodder that is inherently kitsch.

Goats!

Today we went to see the ruins of a Talmudic era (2nd to 8th century) village at Katsrin. It was fascinating, with restored or partially restored houses, wine and oil presses, bread ovens and the partially restored synagogue (Beit HaKenneset – no Yiddish shul in Talmudic times!).

Also on site were a large peacock and two rather cute small goats. One was definitely female (no horns, but udders and long ears framing her face like payot/sidecurls). The other, with horns, looked male to me, but one staff member addressed it in the feminine, “Mah at ochelet?” (“What are you eating?”) The answer, apparently, was a piece of string, which in goatish fashion it refused to relinquish. I now want a goat for a pet…

davened Mincha (said Afternoon Prayers) in the ruined synagogue, but it didn’t feel as “connected” as I had hoped. I’m not quite sure what I was hoping for. I got interrupted by a tour group, which didn’t help.

Afterwards we went into town in modern Katsrin to the archaeological museum there, mostly Roman era coins and pots, but some prehistoric artifacts and a carving of a biblical story that connects to me for reasons I won’t mention here.

Afterwards we sat and ate ice cream. I had a Magnum Duet, which isn’t kosher in the UK (most Magums aren’t, sadly). To be honest, it didn’t taste that different to classic or white Magnums, which are kosher (in boxes of four only, not loose).

We’re planning on looking for falafel for dinner, which we haven’t had on this trip yet.

I realise my mood seems better in these posts. The sunlight and warmth help, but I suspect it’s mostly the freedom from responsibility. My parents are dealing with a lot of stuff and I don’t have to worry about job hunting. Even my status as the only family member here who speaks any Hebrew is rarely needed, as most Israelis speak better English than my Hebrew, although I did speak a bit to order dinner last night. Sadly, tomorrow is the last proper day of the holiday.

Bental

I’m trying to type this on my phone. I’m not sure how it will work…

My parents and I spent the day (well, afternoon – none of us are early risers) at Bental, a mountain (hill, really) in Northern Israel from which there are stunning views towards Lebanon and Syria as well as of Mount Hermon, Israel’s tallest mountain. There are remains of military fortifications from the Yom Kippur War, where a small number of Israeli tanks held off a much larger invading Syrian force. There was supposed to be a film about it screened in a kibbutz at the foot of the mountain, but it wasn’t signposted and we couldn’t find it.

Because of looking for that film we ended up at a loose end afterwards. It was too late to start anything new, as all the tourist sites were shutting, but we didn’t want to come home. My parents went grocery shopping in Katsin, a small town. I sat in the town centre and listened to a Doctor Who audiobook. We came home for a bit and are going for dinner soon, either pizza or falafel (hopefully).

I still feel exhausted.  I feel bad that I sleep so late and get so tired as I feel I’m slowing everyone down. Realistically my parents would not be going much faster, but I wouldn’t cope with going on holiday with a partner or children. I also feel bad that my Hebrew isn’t fluent or even conversational, but there isn’t much I can do about that at the moment either.

I’m also worried that I’ve upset another blog friend, although perhaps I’m projecting the fact that she offended me. I seem to have fallen out with a lot of online friends in recent years.

I can’t escape the general election even in the Middle  East as my parents insist on having Sky News on…

Tiberias

Not much to report today. I had lunch with my parents, uncle, aunt and cousins 3 and 5, the others having already left Tiberias to go back to school or university.

In the afternoon, I wandered round Tiberias with my parents. It was nice, but a bit… not lacking exactly, but it seemed… not as old as Jaffa or as bustling as Tel Aviv or as important as Jerusalem. It was frummer (more religious ) than I expected though and fairly easy to find kosher food. I tried to use my Hebrew, but I’m very hesitant and stumbling, and so many Israelis speak fluent English, it seems pointless to try.

I got some nice photos of the Kinneret/Sea of Galilee/Lake Tiberias. I might post some when I get home.  It seems really a lake rather than a sea. It’s very tranquil by the water. I saw some feral kittens on the rocks by the water, and numerous feral cats. Israel is the stray cat capital of the world. There werearly some nice public sculptures and a couple of historic buildings.

Between my parents’ age and my depression, we get tired easily and came home around 5pm to recharge before going for dinner with my sister and brother-in-law at an outdoor restaurant serving steak and the like. I’m vegetarian on weekdays, but they brought in egg noodles from their sister, Thai, restaurant. It was a good evening. The restaurant is on a kind of pier into the sea and a stray dog wandered in which was (a) not so hygienic  (I saw a stray cat too, eating some meat near the kitchen ) and (b) none of us are really dog people and some of us are dog-phobic, so this was not ideal. It was a fairly good-looking dog, though. It reminded me of the dog that used to try and follow me home whenever it smelt (?) me go past in our old house.

That was it really, aside from learning a Mishnah that mentions Tiberias while I’m in Tiberias, which was cool, and listening to another Doctor Who audio book. I will probably go to bed soon and try to get up earlier tomorrow.

The Bar Mitzvah

I’m posting on my Mum’s tablet, which I find awkward so this may be more error-prone than usual.

The flight to Israel was not great. There were a lot of screaming kids and despite napping for a while  (even though I can’t sleep on planes) I had a headache which turned into a migraine and did not completely go all evening. We arrived at the hotel around 11pm, bought bread, cheese, cereal and milk in a supermarket, ate dinner at midnight. By the time I had eaten, showered and tried to relax it was 2am. I struggled to fall asleep and slept badly as I was cold and had a headache.

Most of Friday afternoon was taken up with driving from Tel Aviv to Poriya. I fell asleep again in the car, uncharacteristically.  We arrived shortly before Sabbath and rushed to get ready on time. Shul (in the youth centre where we stayed – everything was on site) was okay.  Dinner was really noisy, with 75 guests of our family and several tables of other people staying there. I got through it and led bentsching (grace after meals) badly, making mistakes. I was quite glad to leave and get back to my room. I stood on the balcony looking over the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), then did some Torah study and read a bit, but by 10pm I was exhausted and went to bed.

I slept for 12 hours or more. I missed Shacharit and my cousin’s leining,  which upset me, but I don’t know what else I could have done, struggling in a very autism- depression- and social anxiety-unfriendly environment. I got through lunch but then fell asleep for another 3 hours. I missed some activities and only just got to seudah shlishit.

I’m skipping a lot of details here for brevity, but I consider it a success that I did what I did. I would have liked to have done more, but I felt uncomfortable so much of the time that I don’t think I could have done more. I would have liked to have seen my family more, but they were mostly mingling or doing stuff. The food was great, though.

After Shabbat we drove down the road to Tiberias where we’re staying until Thursday in a rented apartment. Hopefully more details later this week.

Muppets

I’m having some trouble with OCD thoughts again, albeit on a very small scale at the moment.  I’m not sure where this has come from.  I can identify the immediate trigger, but I’m not sure why I’m back in OCD thought-territory when I thought I was doing so well in recovery.  I hope it’s just the stress of being ill and preparing to go on a trip that I’m anxious about after a month continually interrupted by Jewish festivals.  I’m trying to stay on top of the thoughts, but it’s hard.

***

I’m struggling a lot with procrastination over packing today.  I did pack, but slowly and it’s fairly clear to me it’s because I really don’t want to go on this trip, but it’s too late to back out now.  Shabbat (the Sabbath) and all the bar mitzvah stuff is likely to be tough on me and I just have to do the best I can and hope no one gets angry or upset if “the best I can do” doesn’t correspond to “what others want/expect me to do.”  I can’t get hold of my rabbi mentor to meet him while I’m there either, which is upsetting.  I go to Israel every few years and always meet with him, but this time it looks like it’s not going to happen.  I’m actually worried more than anything else, as he’s not usually this hard to get hold of.  I hope he’s OK.

After Shabbat, hopefully things will be a bit easier.  We’re in a hotel tomorrow night and some kind of youth hostel (??? it has not entirely been made clear to me, but I think my aunt and uncle are renting a youth hostel to put 75 or so people in it) for Shabbat, but then from Sunday onwards we’ll be renting an apartment and if the worse comes to the worse, I can spend the morning or even the day there while my parents go off and do tourist stuff.  I’ve got books, and the latest Doctor Who Magazine had a special promotion of eleven hour-plus long Doctor Who audiobooks that I downloaded, so I can be occupied.  It will be a bit of a waste, but at least I would have done the important family bit.  Unfortunately, I can’t always read much when I feel depressed, and reading a non-fiction popular science book may have been a strategic error, although I’m taking a short story collection and a novel as backup.  The flight may be hard.  Fortunately I’ve charged my iPod.  I wish the latest copy of The Jewish Review of Books had arrived as it should have done (I need to chase that when I get home).

***

I finally started reading the latest issue of Information Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).  They send me this each month because I’m a member of CILIP (mostly to access their job vacancy listings) and I hate it.  The magazine just makes me feel so inadequate.  It’s full of librarians who are doing amazing, creative things with their libraries or who are doing lots of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) and becoming Chartered Librarians or whatever.  I don’t do CPD.  It’s hard enough for me to do a job, or look for a job, with all my issues without having to do unpaid extra work in my free time, just in order to keep up with a changing workplace.  I know this is the reality of the modern labour market, but I simply can’t keep up with the kind of CPD that my peers from university seem to be doing to stay in their well-paid, middle class, professional jobs.  Likewise, I can’t come up with amazing projects in my library (even if I had one), like the article I was reading today about a prison librarian who started a film club that became a massive successful project a famous actor and director getting involved.  That’s just not how my mind works.

***

(The next few paragraphs are a bit of a rant, so if you aren’t interested in politics, or rather with people who are fed up with politics, you might want to scroll down beyond the next row of asterisks.)

One advantage of going away is avoiding general election commentary for a week.  There will be enough of that when I get back.  Sometimes a political party does something that makes you think, “I could never vote for them ever again, or at least not without a fundamental change of personnel and ideology.”  The things is… all the parties have crossed that line for me in the last few years.  What do I do?  Do I abstain?  Do I say I’m an anarchist and don’t believe in government and The System?  (I actually have a bit of an anarchist streak, but not enough to usually consider seriously acting on it.)  Do I swallow my pride and vote to stop the antisemitic party getting in?  It is hard to tell.  I spoiled my ballot at the EU elections earlier this year, but I’m wary of doing that and handing Jeremy Corbyn a victory.

I was brought up to believe that I should always vote for someone, because people died to win me the vote (a somewhat specious argument; as Oscar Wilde pointed out in The Portrait of Mr. W.H., the fact that someone was willing to die for an idea does not, in itself, prove that it was a good idea).  But the last ten years or so have shown how little influence most people have on politics.  Your vote might bring to power people who share your ideas, but it’s just as likely to bring in a coalition (literally or figuratively) who do a little bit of what you want and a whole load of what you don’t want.  Even Brexit, formulated as an ‘in or out’ question looks like ending up as a compromise Brexit that annoys Remainers by formally leaving the EU without pleasing Brexiteers by staying in line with a lot of EU legislation like employment and environmental law.  That’s without the feeling many people have that MPs see themselves and not the voters as the ‘adults in the room,’ and place their own consciences ahead of what the public voted for.  This is possibly the right thing to do morally, but surely requiring more discussion before becoming part of our constitution.

Much of the problem is that we seem to be moving from a political system dominated by two parties with clear winners and one party in power at any time (like the USA) to a system with multiple parties of varying sizes, no clear winners and coalition governments (like much of Europe) so it could be that with time this will seem less frightening and we will find ways to make our voices heard (or just lapse into chaos like Italy).  It’s true that Brexit has been damaging and difficult precisely because the views of most MPs, of all parties, were so out of sync with a dangerously slender majority of the public, making clear decisions difficult and it could be that with Brexit dealt with (hopefully, one day, maybe) the political wounds will heal.  Who knows?  I just know I’m not the only person in the country, or the world, feeling politically powerless and unwilling to engage in the toxic debate that engulfs just about every opinion these days.  It’s much easier, and better for my mental health, to leave the big political questions to my supposed “betters,” the people who care about this stuff and want to argue it, and just focus on my own life, the bits I can actually affect and change.

In Britain we have a tradition of joke candidates.  In the 2017 general election, Lord Buckethead stood against then-Prime Minister Theresa May, just as he had stood against previous Conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major (albeit with different people inside the helmet each time).  Also standing against May was a man dressed as Elmo from Sesame Street, who I thought was a joke candidate, but was actually campaigning for child access rights for divorced fathers.  He got three votes, rather less than Lord Buckethead.

It did make me think that an official Muppet campaign could solve my political woes.  Who wouldn’t vote for the Muppet Party?  Their slogan could be, “Tired of useless muppets running the country?  Vote for the real Muppets.”  The Count from Sesame Street could be Chancellor of the Exchequer.  “I’m raising income tax 1%… 2%… 3%…”  Kermit the Frog could be Environment Secretary.  He could sing It’s Not Easy Being Green with Greta Thunberg.  The Cookie Monster could be Health Secretary.  He would make sure everyone has their five-a-day: chocolate chip cookie, digestive, garibaldi, bourbon, shortbread.  Fozzie Bear could be Foreign Secretary.  He could defuse volatile conflicts with bad jokes.  The Prime Minister would have to be someone with immense charisma and boundless self-confidence.  There’s only one possibility there: Miss Piggy.  If Donald Trump tries anything, she can karate chop him!  Kiii-yyaaaa!!!!!

***

Sigh.  My life still seems so unfocused and drifting, but sometimes – sometimes – it feels like things are moving forward or falling into place, just really, really, really slowly.  It’s like there are two big dramas, the one out there of Brexit and Trump and the economy and the Middle East and identity politics and a million other things and all the shouting and screaming and ranting that goes with all those things.  And then there’s the drama in here, in my head of me trying to sort out depression and OCD and social anxiety and autism and making friends and finding a religious community and sorting out my feelings for E. and a number of other things that I don’t talk about here.  And I can’t really do anything about the out there drama and I don’t really want to any more.  But the in here drama is maybe, possibly, slowly shifting, but it’s far too early to say where or how it’s shifting or what I can do to help it along.  It’s just frustrating that the out there drama tends to get in the way of the in here drama and trying to work that out.

Earlier today I thought I should be back in therapy, but now I don’t think that’s true.  I think I might have to go back to therapy one day, but for now there isn’t anything my therapist could tell me that I don’t already now.  I need to work things through somehow.  The only way I know to do that is writing, here and in the novel I’m working on.  Even that’s not a cure, but a catalyst for different thinking.  Maybe.  To be honest, I’m really not sure about this bit.  Writing has been disrupted a lot recently, by Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and my cold and now my trip. Hopefully I can set aside some significant amount of time for writing my novel when I get back and we’ll see where that takes me.