Cometh the Facebook

I struggled to sleep again last night, getting a minor, but irritating, headache pretty much as soon as I got into bed. I got up for a while, texted E a bit (as Rosh Hashanah was now over where she was) and watched Monty Python while I waited for the paracetamol to kick in. Then I overslept this morning, having one of those dreams where an alarm is sounding and I can’t work out how to turn it off, which turned out to have been my alarm clock sounding in the real world.

I finished Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World at last on the way in to work. I did have one or two thoughts on it, but I don’t  have time to share them now.

At work I had little to do other than the ongoing sorting of old papers. I’m scared to throw them away, as so many seem to be legal and I don’t know what’s still relevant. I need to ask J. I worry a bit that I threw away too many papers when I began this task; now I worry I’m keeping too many. There’s also a lot of papers belonging to the shul (synagogue) we inhabit and I don’t know if J wants to offer them to the shul. Some might refer to joint projects; again, I need to ask J.

J was working from home today, so the office was empty and I felt more than a little lonely, even though we don’t usually speak that much. Today was a minor Jewish fast day (the Fast of Gedaliah, another fast that has a personal connection to me, but not one I want to write about here). I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts because fasting on lithium is dangerous. I feel bad about this, but also glad, as I fast badly and get headaches and nausea (I’m not looking forward to Yom Kippur next week). On fast days, I usually go out of the shul to eat my lunch, as I feel guilty about eating in a shul on a fast day, but my hands are quite badly chapped, painful and bleeding, so I didn’t really want to sit in the cold and wind. Particularly as J was not in the office, I decided to eat indoors and hope no one would come in. Then the non-Jewish security guard came in with the post.

***

I forgot to mention a couple of things from my trips to shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New  Year). One was hearing the Prayer for the King, instead of the Queen, and finding that strange. I wonder how long it will take for that to seem normal?

The other was reading the extra-long version of the Atah Kadosh prayer in the Amidah that we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a prayer which is normally about two lines, but gets expanded to nearly two pages on these days. Something I hadn’t really paid attention to before is the way it speaks about the utopian future and in amongst ideas about joy for the righteous and the pride of the Davidic dynasty is a a line about granting “confidence to speak into all who long for You” (translation from Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Machzor; the literal translation is more like “an opening of the mouth”) and then a few lines later, “injustice will have nothing more to say” (from Rabbi Sacks again, the literal translation is more like “injustice will shut its mouth”). The idea that this world is a world where people are silent who should speak, and people speak who should be silent, and that the Messianic era will be the reverse captured my imagination, although I’m not sure where I’m going with it at the moment.

***

I joined Facebook yesterday. So far, my fears that I would spend too much time on there have been misplaced, as I found it profoundly user-unfriendly, counter-intuitive and somewhat overwhelming. I’m not quite sure why I think that, but it feels like you can do a lot more on it than you could when I was first on it, a decade ago, but also that there’s so much you can do now that it feels totally overwhelming. Is that just me being autistic? I feel like a lot of the world is overwhelming to me these days, in terms of sensory things and the speed of life and the number of possibilities available as much as anxiety about specific things, and it feels related to my autism even if I’m not always sure how.

I’ve been struggling to find friends and family members on Facebook. FB can’t access the webmail portal I use for email, so it’s not suggesting people to me based on that, which is just as well, as I never delete old email addresses, so it would be suggesting a lot of people I have no desire to run into again. I did find E, and connected our pages to say we’re married (which we sort of are and sort of aren’t, but if I put “It’s complicated,” people would really get the wrong idea) and also my sister, my oldest friend and, surprisingly (as she turned up on the list of people I might know before I’d added any other family), one of my cousins (the neurodivergent one with mental health issues that I’ve become a bit closer to in recent years because I feel I know what she’s going through more than the rest of the family). I haven’t found my Mum yet and I’m not sure whether to hunt for other friends. I don’t know if I want to know their political thoughts, to be honest. My Dad isn’t on FB.

I joined/applied to join a couple of Jewish autism groups as well as the Orthodox Conundrum discussion group. I noticed that the person who convinced me (not deliberately) that I was a lesser Orthodox Jew because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) is an active participant in the latter. I’m not sure what I feel about that.

I put my time at Oxford on my profile, but not the university where I did my MA because it’s a rubbish university and (a) I’d rather forget my time there, which led to very little that was good and (b) it’s such a bad university I worry it would actually discourage people from using my professional services, if/when I try to set up as a proof-reader and/or copy editor. But I’m open to changing my mind about this. I did put my secondary school on there, which might also have been a mistake, if I get friended by people who bullied me, or who I’m just not interested in reconnecting with (which is probably most of them, to be honest).

***

On my way to work this morning, I saw four boxes of books outside the charity shop, and sighed. The charity shops all have signs asking people not to leave donations outside, because (a) they get stolen and (b) they’re not allowed to use stuff dumped outside because of some kind of contamination fears. I’m not entirely sure what contamination they’re afraid of (this goes back pre-COVID), but all the different charity shops have these signs, so I assume it’s some kind of real fear. And yet people continue to leave donations outside. When its bags of clothes I don’t worry so much (although I probably should, given that people need them), but the thought of four boxes of books ending up in landfill saddened me all day.

The reality is that a lot of charity shop book donations end up in landfill anyway, as lots of books don’t sell and the shops periodically remove old stock to make way for new, but this seems even worse. Although now I’ve sort of convinced myself to buy that copy of short stories by Shalom Aleichem for £1 just to save it!!!

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.

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

The title isn’t relevant, I’m just too stressed and overwhelmed to think up something more appropriate. It’s a joke from the Fawlty Towers episode I just watched (The Psychiatrist).

I’m feeling very stressed today.  My aunt and uncle have been here over the weekend.  We had enjoyable Shabbat (Sabbath) meals and I was, apparently, “on form” (meaning funny and witty), but after Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch I fell asleep immediately.  On Friday night I slept for an hour or so, woke up, changed into my pyjamas, read for five minutes and went back to sleep for ten hours or more.  On Saturday afternoon I slept for nearly three hours.   Last night I was exhausted and went to bed early (for me) at 11.30pm and slept for twelve hours or so again.  I find peopling very draining, especially when the people in question are very loud and exhausting.  I didn’t go with my Mum and aunt and uncle to my sister’s today as I got up too late, which was probably a blessing in disguise.

The other reason I went to bed early last night is that we found out that the son of good friends of my parents is receiving palliative care for leukaemia.  He’s a few years younger than me and he’s basically spent his entire adult life fighting it.  He would go into remission and try to get his life back on track (I think he kept dropping out of higher education because of it), but then after a year or two it would come back.  Then he would have another bone marrow transplant or aggressive chemo or whatever and would get better for a while, until it would come back again.  I know it sometimes (often) feels like I lost so much of my adult life to undiagnosed autism and mental illness, but he has lost basically all of his to leukaemia, and now it seems he’s going to lose the fight completely.  It’s really tragic.  It upset all of us a lot and we don’t really know what to do.  I just felt overwhelmed and exhausted and went to bed early.

I’ve been struggling with family stress today (beyond what I’ve written here), and guilt at bad interactions with my parents.  I also started to fill out my tax return for the tax year April 2021 to April 2022, which was stressful and confusing, and then I helped E fill out her visa application, which was also stressful and confusing.  This was a lot of bureaucracy and form-filling for one day, and there is more to do tomorrow (I’m working on Tuesday this week rather than Monday).  It has left me pretty exhausted, burnt out and unable to do very much except maybe watch TV.

***

I described myself as “married” on my tax return.  It felt slightly strange.

***

Mum was speaking to one of her friends and mentioned my airport issues.  Friend said that she has asked for “assisted travel” at airports when travelling with her mother (who is elderly and frail) and/or daughter (who has ME).  Someone then comes around the airport with them and guides them through check-in, security and so on.  Mum said I should do the same.

I had a visceral reaction against this and I’m not sure why.  After all, I’ve just bought a hidden disability lanyard, so it’s not that I’m in denial or afraid of identifying as disabled.  I guess I just feel that I should (“Should”) be able to cope by myself with a minimum of help or that I can cope by myself, as long as people give me extra processing time and allow for sensory overload (which they may or may not do if they see the card and lanyard, particularly outside the UK where it isn’t known).  Maybe I feel that I don’t need that level of help or even that I don’t deserve it.  I guess it has taken me a long time to accept that I am “disabled” (rather than “ill” – weirdly, the things seem very different to me) and need help and maybe there are limits to what I can accept about this right now.

***

I feel like I’m reading too many books, and too many heavy books, but I’m not sure how to stop.  Do I just focus on one book at a time, or try to creep forward slowly with all of them?  Or something between the two?  Most of them are so heavy-going that I often get to a point in the evening when I need to relax and unwind and can’t face reading any of them because they’re so heavy, so I watch TV instead.

They are good books and I don’t want to abandon them, but they mostly aren’t fun.  Even the novel I’m reading, Dara Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed suffers from two unlikeable protagonists.  One is a super-clever person who was bullied as a child because of her intelligence, which I relate to, but then again she remained super-clever as an adult and became a tech millionaire, which I do not relate to.  She’s also quite manipulative and arrogant.  Her sister is pretty much a failure in life, which I relate to, but she’s also ruthless and manipulative, even more so than her sister.  I don’t really relate to either of them or feel that invested in their story; I’m carrying on because of curiosity about the narrative and themes and especially for the historical sub-plots featuring real-life Jewish figures Solomon Schechter and Rambam (Maimonides).

Just to make things more complicated, I started reading The Hafetz Hayyim on the Holy Days in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I was already reading several Jewish books, but I felt I should read something related to the upcoming festivals in addition to my other Torah reading.  At least it’s a short book, so I should finish it in time reading about five pages a day.

***

Lately I feel as if I need to pick my first novel apart and abandon the autobiographical stuff about a Jewish man autism and depression and expand the other part, about a Jewish woman trapped in an abusive marriage, into a whole novel, or at least a novella.  I would need to think up some more plot to get to novel length.  I just did an experiment and deleted all the chapters solely dealing with the autistic character.  I was left with about 60,000 words.  80,000 is considered the minimum length for an adult novel, so I would have to write about 20,000 words, probably more, as I would have to cut some material in the chapters that feature both characters.  That’s probably a minimum of two or three months of consistent writing for me at the moment (part-time, low energy, sleeping through mornings), probably more as I’ll be using time for wedding planning and similar tasks instead of writing.

***

I have things I want to say that I don’t have the time or energy to write here, or which I feel would not interest readers here, or which I can’t write here for reasons of lashon hara (gossip).  The time/energy factor is actually the biggest one; the others I could deal with by writing a private or password-protected post, but not having time or energy prevents that.  I feel it might help me to process things.  I feel there are a lot of unprocessed thoughts whizzing round my head lately, some related to where I am in life, but others unrelated.  I feel that I need to set some of them down, but struggle to find the time even to get my thoughts in order.  Most of them aren’t relevant to bring up in a therapeutic context either.

Similarly, I would like to have the time and energy to write a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) too, as that feels like something else where I need time to process the sedra (Torah reading) each week.

And, yes, I know that I am currently/will shortly be: getting married/organising a wedding; moving house; and setting myself up as self-employed and looking for additional work (which will involve increasing my social media presence), all while still coming to terms with my autism and trying to work out if I have a sleep disorder and how to treat it.  Any of these things would be challenging individually, but I’m juggling them all at once, as well as other things like my current job and getting ready (practically and spiritually) for the autumn Jewish festival season, doing my tax return, helping E with her visa application and so on.  So I guess it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t make it easier to cope with.

I’m sufficiently overwhelmed that I will probably watch TV for a bit before bed, as reading seems too daunting…

“On and on and on/Keep onrocking, baby/Till the night is gone”

Another post pasted from Word because of WordPress problems.  I hope the formatting is OK!  EDIT: It isn’t, but it’s too late, and I’m too tired, to sort it.  Sorry!  Try guessing where the paragraph breaks go!  Think of it as an educational game! Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, albeit without shul (synagogue) for reasons I explained in my last post. I often wonder if/how I’m going to get back into being a regular shul-goer. I also slept too much.  I drank some really strong coffee (about twice as strong as I usually make it) after Shabbat lunch to stay awake, but I fell asleep anyway. I really do think Shabbat meals with my talkative parents really wipes me out at the moment. I just end up going into autistic shutdown (lying down with eyes shut, not doing anything) and after that, it’s really easy to fall asleep, even after having drunk coffee. I do wonder how I will cope with having children in my forties, with autism. Today I struggled to get up again and felt pretty anxious and overwhelmed when I did.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor and did a few things, mostly preparation for my New York trip, although I haven’t really started packing yet.  I’ll have to do that all tomorrow.  I feel like I wasted the day, but that’s probably being a little unfair on myself.  The temperature is lower than in the heatwave(s), but it’s been quite humid and uncomfortable, which just makes things even harder for me. *** Shabbat is going out (finishing — we anthropomorphise Shabbat as a person who “comes in” and “goes out”) about nine o’clock now, down from about ten-thirty in the midst of summer, a reminder that autumn is round the corner. I don’t mind autumn so much, at least in theory, but it tends to be dominated by the autumn Jewish festivals which I find increasingly difficult to navigate, for some reason. It’s also a reminder that winter, with its lack of sunlight, bad weather and low mood, is coming. Of course, this year I want winter, as E and I need to get through it, or most of it, to get to our religious wedding, although it’s going to be hard struggling through winter on separate continents (neither of us is good at wintering). I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, just that everything feels a bit overwhelming. *** It’s probably not that surprising that I feel overwhelmed, as I have to travel alone to the US in two days, masking (in the “wearing a mask” sense, not the “pretending not to be autistic” sense, although doubtless there will be some of that too), which I’ve got out of the habit of doing.  It’s no longer compulsory on planes, but E and I are worried about me catching COVID and missing our wedding, especially as the COVID rate in New York is about four times higher than the rate in London at the moment.  Then we’re getting married, or at least what I’m thinking of as Wedding Phase 1 (civil wedding). Then there will be perhaps eight months dealing with civil and religious wedding bureaucracy, planning a wedding in the space of a few weeks and house-hunting, probably also while trying to set up some kind of subsidiary career for myself as a proof-reader. All this while still dealing with autism (obviously) and probably some kind of sleep disorder.  I guess it does seem a lot, put that way. Somewhere along the line I’ll hopefully become an uncle too, which is exciting, but will entail more family time. E and I are both completely ready, emotionally, to get married now, so it’s frustrating that we’re going to be delayed for months. Given that we’ve both had some nerves at one time or another, it’s good that we’re both ready now! Even so, the wait is difficult. I spoke to my rabbi mentor today. Aside from being another person on the growing list of people who want to see photos of the civil wedding when it happens (I didn’t know that many people cared!), he agreed with me that living with E rather than my parents will be very good for my mental health and lifestyle generally.  I love my parents, but their personalities and lifestyles are different to my own, or how I want mine to be, whereas E’s are a lot closer. *** I checked my NHS COVID pass (vaccination certification) to check it would be easily visible at the airport.  My heart skipped a beat when it said that the COVID pass was no longer available!  However, this turns out to be for domestic use; the travel pass is still there. *** I finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. SPOILERS!  I was pleased that the romantic plot was left somewhat unresolved.  Other than that, a lot happened the way I thought it would, except that I thought Eleanor was going to make a mess of planning the office Christmas lunch. Weirdly, the predictability doesn’t really feel like a drawback.  I wanted things to go that way. The novel won the Costa Book Award for First Novel; I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m fairly confident that I can write something vaguely in the same ballpark in terms of quality, although attracting an agent, a publisher and readers depends on a lot more than just that.  I think I should include Eleanor… on my standard query letter for my first novel as one of the novels that the agent should compare mine too (as in, “This novel will appeal to readers who enjoyed the portrayal of loneliness in Eleanor Oliphant is  Completely Fine”).  All my other comparison novels are Jewish-themed ones, albeit mainstream ones, which is perhaps off-putting for agents looking for a mainstream novel rather than a “niche” one. I’m reading a couple of big, hardback books that I can’t take to New York and I’m trying to get to sensible pausing points in them, as well as finishing The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, which continues to make me feel uncomfortable in various different, and perhaps contradictory, ways.  That’s probably a conversation better suited for therapy (or E) than my blog, although it probably is a conversation(s) worth having sooner rather than later.  To be fair, I have started both conversations, but they’re really the type of conversations you have to keep coming back to periodically and I’m less good at that. I’ve got to a reasonable pausing point with the novel I’m writing too.  I find that I’m still doing research as I write as I was too excited to start writing to do all my research first.  In any case, I remembered that, for my MA dissertation, I was advised to start writing early in the research process, as research informs writing, but writing also informs research.  I think that holds for fiction as much as academic writing.  I’m also still revising my plan for later chapters.  Writers supposedly divide into planners (who plan) and pantsers (who, I presume, “write by the seat of their pants”).  I’m not really either.  I don’t think I could start a novel without a good idea of where I’m going with it, but I don’t think I could stick rigidly to a plan either.  As I write, I sometimes get a better idea of what the characters would do, and it isn’t always what I planned for them to do. Alternatively, I realise a plot device is too contrived, or something isn’t working, or I think of a better way of doing things, or a new plot thread, so I tweak the plan as I go along. I’ve written five chapters already, but I think I need to go back and add some passages or chapters with some of my more minor characters, so it’s not a shock when I develop them more later in the novel. That’s the sort of stuff that I can’t really plan in advance, I just intuit it as I go along.  I think I’m a much more intuitive person than a logical one, but I tend to discredit intuition, or just not notice and understand it perhaps due to alexithymia (trouble noticing and understanding emotions), so I try to be super-logical and it doesn’t really work because I’m not really that sort of person.  It’s only really in my writing that I give rein to that intuition. I should probably not write so much about writing fiction when I’ve only written one and a bit unpublished novels and a few unpublished short stories!  It’s not like I’m Stephen King.  I find my creative process fascinating, though, maybe because it’s the only area where I really let myself be intuitive and emotional so openly.

Leaps Into the Unknown

There’s not a lot to report today.  I woke up an hour early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I decided to rest in bed rather than get up early.  Work was OK.  I was supposed to photocopy pairs of sheets of paper onto single, double-sided pages, and I kept doing it wrong, starting to copy the same page on both sides instead one on each side.  I stopped the printer in time each time, but I felt stupid the first time I did and stupider the second time.

There were Tube problems (a stretch of the Northern Line closed because of someone on the line, unfortunately) which necessitated me going on the other branch of the Northern Line and then getting a bus.  I did eventually get to the barber.  I was somewhat scared by the fact that, of the two people already there, one was having his head shaved and one was having some weird treatment involving waxing his eyebrows and nasal hair or something.  I didn’t think it was that kind of a barber! I was worried the barber would want to do more than just trim my hair!  In the event, it was OK.  I shook slightly, but not much, and the barber either didn’t notice or was too polite to mention it. I sent E a selfie when I got out and she liked it, which was a bit of a relief.

***

I’ve nearly finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  I read a big chunk today, at lunch and on my extra-long journey home.  I’ve got about seventy pages left.  I have enjoyed it, but I felt Eleanor’s naivety was too inconsistent.  I thought that early on, she didn’t have a TV in her flat, but then suddenly she did.  Perhaps that was my mistake, but the types of things she knew and did not know seemed to vary according to the jokes the author, Gail Honeyman wanted to tell.  She knew about Power Rangers but not about Spongebob Squarepants and so on.

Honeyman has apparently said that Eleanor is not autistic, but she sometimes comes across as autistic.  This led to a strange situation where I empathised with some of her thoughts and actions as things I might have done, but was alienated by others.  I should say that I don’t intend this as a criticism.  Unfortunately, representation, being “seen” or “erased” by a work of literature or art, has become a key criterion of its worth or success, and I don’t think it is, really. But it did feel strange to strongly connect with Eleanor’s struggles one minute and then feel totally astounded by them a moment later.

What I did find interesting was my reaction to the scenes of Eleanor’s breakdown and therapy (actually, it was called “counselling,” but the counsellor had a PhD, which to me implies therapy).  It made me feel strangely nostalgic for my worse days.  I don’t mean nostalgic in the sense of wanting to be like that again (I was more or less completely non-functional for several years, doing nothing other than go to meetings with my psychiatrist(s) and therapist(s), when I was able to get one), but it seemed somehow easier.

In those days I had no real responsibilities.  Unlike many people with mental illness, I had no real risks, aside from suicide, because my parents were supporting me financially and I lived with them.  At some times, at least, I felt I was constantly making new discoveries about myself and my history in therapy, which was exciting and, over time, changed how I saw myself.  I would not want to go back to that world at all, but I guess it brought home to me that my current life is a leap into the unknown: marriage, writing and various other things I haven’t even started on yet. I hope they will turn out well, but I have no idea if they will. It scares me sometimes that we can’t see one minute into the future. Anything could happen. It does seem strange looking back from where I am now: I’ve come so far, yet I feel I still have so far to go.  At least now I will be going there with E.

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.

Perchance to Dream

This is mostly about a weird dream I had last night. I know some people don’t like to read about dreams, so I usually don’t post about them (I don’t usually remember them, to be honest), but this one seems pertinent to the theme of this blog, such as it is, of trying to fit in at work and in the Jewish community with autism and social anxiety. I’ll put the dream in the next paragraph and the relevance in the ones after, if you want to skip. I’m cutting a lot of weird detail that I can barely remember and isn’t relevant (this isn’t Freudian psychoanalysis). To be honest, I’m reconstructing the dream from fragments, as I can’t remember everything (my dreams are fairly stream-of-consciousness and I usually can’t remember much of them). I’m also cutting the random Donald Trump cameo (seriously, he just walked in and walked out again).

In the dream I was travelling with my boss, J. We were at someone’s house for Friday night dinner, and I said I wanted to leave early as I was tired. In reality, I had autistic burnout. J said we were going to lunch somewhere after shul (synagogue) in the morning, and he wanted me there on time as he didn’t like making excuses for me. I felt that I wasn’t really able to control my sleep pattern and autistic exhaustion, but I didn’t say anything. I went back to where we were staying (which was a sort of self-storage center where we had to sleep in drawers of filing cabinet-type things), but I got lost getting out of some sort of factory place, so when J came to check on me, I wasn’t in bed yet and he got annoyed as he said I would get up too late now. I didn’t tell him I’d got lost as I thought it would just start an argument. I also felt some guilt, as I felt I had wasted some time myself through procrastinating, although it wasn’t clear how this had happened. I somehow knew that I would not be able to get up in time in the morning and J would have to go without me and make excuses for me. I knew this was due to my autism, that I would crash and oversleep and that I would need to do so, but somehow it did not feel a good enough excuse. I spoke to my parents and sister and said that J didn’t understand my autism and I didn’t know how to explain it to him. There was then a load of stuff about not being able to sleep because of too much light and noise, again because of autism (and also failing to sleep in a filing cabinet drawer, which somehow didn’t seem weird) and talking to various people, but this was the relevant part of the dream.

It seems pretty clear this is about my autism and my disrupted sleep and my lack of shul attendance over the years. Obviously in the dream I felt I wouldn’t make an early start as I’d already had a couple of early starts on the trip and I would be suffering autistic exhaustion; further, I struggle with sleep and getting up as it is, for reasons that are still to be determined, but might be some kind of sleep disorder. J is easy-going in real life, but in the dream he was really annoyed with me, which probably reflects my fears that I am going to exhaust his patience in the workplace with my mistakes, mistakes that may be due to autistic issues like executive function deficits and trouble multitasking, or might just be due to boredom and incompetence. Somehow (I can’t quite remember how), my boss from my job at the further education library was in there too; she was less accepting of my mistakes in real-life and told me at my annual evaluation I was frankly not turning out as well as she had expected, which largely soured me on pursuing a library career. To be fair, I didn’t have an autism diagnosis at that point; even so, I feel I’ve made a lot of mistakes in both jobs, beyond my diagnosis. Of course, the worry in the dream was about getting up for shul. My disrupted sleep may be autism-related or may not, I don’t know at this stage. It’s led me to have very poor shul attendance over the years I’ve been struggling with mental illness and autism (really back to teenage years). I worry that I “Should” be going to shul more, and doing more generally to be a “good Jew.”

At the root of all this is the fear that I am asking for huge amounts of adjustments from J, from my parents, and from E, and, in a sense, from my community and God and that one day they will get fed up with making them. I have asked for adjustments for mental illness and I’m still asking for adjustments for autism and disrupted sleep, as well as feeling slightly incompetent generally and prone to procrastination instead of doing things well first time, which may or may not be a side-effect of autism. I am getting reduced shul fees because I’m on a low income. I’m not doing the things a frum Jewish man should do and which God apparently wants me to do, in terms of shul attendance, Torah study and mitzvah performance. There is a fear that I don’t deserve these adjustments, that I’m taking advantage of my parents, E, my community and God, and that one day they will realise.

In reality, I’m making adjustments in return for E, which she is aware of, and arguably also for my parents, who are not really aware of it. Still, there is a feeling of being a thirty-nine year old child, still not fully functional and independent. To be honest, I feel Western society puts too much emphasis on independence. It’s nice if you have it, but many people will not have it for at least some of their lives and that’s not a fault or a problem. Still, I think these are pretty deep-seated fears coming out in the dream.

***

I did a bit more today than yesterday, but I feel that I’m still being subpar. Part of that is sleeping late, of course. Now there’s a big garden party going on somewhere nearby. I hope it doesn’t keep me up late. It’s not looking good on that score, and I feel I’m going to have to shut the windows when I should really keep them open.

***

I had a weird thought last night. People say that no one is a supporting character in their own life, but I kind of feel that I am a supporting character in my life. That’s why huge chunks of my life have been ignored (career; friends; aspects of religious life; until recently, love life) — the author hasn’t thought them out! It’s like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I’m a main character in my play, but really a minor character in a much more important play.

Of course, this isn’t fully true. My inner monologue is loud enough and important enough to me to make me feel a lot more real than anyone else. Still, I do feel like I’m not really here in the same way that other people are. I don’t achieve anything, I’m like a ghost or a neutrino that passes through without changing anything, at least until E and I got together.

On another level, it is true, of course. I’m a main character in my life, but a minor character in, say, the story of the Jewish people or England or humanity . I guess it’s hard to think of oneself as unimportant, as I’ve said before. It’s not that I want to be important in itself or for fame (yuk), but to feel I haven’t wasted my life and made some kind of difference. I’m trying to teach myself not to care.

***

OK, I really wish the party would stop now. It’s VERY loud and late.

“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.

Insomnia B’Av

I didn’t go to the dentist on Friday. About an hour before the appointment, the surgery rang to say the dentist had gone home ill. I’ve got another appointment booked for Tuesday. My wisdom tooth is not really painful, more uncomfortable at times, at least if I can avoid prodding it with my tongue (harder than you might think).

***

I didn’t intend to post tonight, but I had a difficult day and now I can’t sleep. The two may not be connected, but I thought it would be worth trying to get my thoughts in order.

Lunch was difficult. Angela wrote recently about the “identified patient” in a family and the way that can change and the different family members can affect one another. In my family, I’m pretty sure everyone thinks of me as the identified patient. I’ve been… let’s say not functioning as expected for about twenty years now, I have a neurological diagnosis that is never going to change (Asperger’s/autism) and mental health issues that have come and gone (or come and stayed in some cases). I’ve been in different types of talking therapy a lot. But I think other family members have their own issues, issues that they aren’t necessarily aware of or addressing. I guess owning up to a mental health issue is hard and counselling or therapy can be quite intense and painful, in terms of confronting the negative sides of your history and personality. But it’s hard when this impacts everyone else in the family.

I don’t really want to go into more detail about this. Part of me would like to in a password-protected post, but part of me is overwhelmed at the thought of writing so much of my life history and how it intertwines with those of my parents and sister, and I’m not sure it’s very ethical to tell people about the skeletons in my family’s closets. I’ve spoken to therapists about it in the past, but while I feel I understand the family dynamic, now and in the past, well, I don’t always feel able to move on from it. For now, suffice to say I left lunch feeling very overwhelmed and had what I think must be an autistic shutdown (it’s not always clear to me). I just lay on the bed for two hours. I don’t think I fell asleep, or not for long. I just lay still until I felt well enough to move again.

After that I tried to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but the description of loneliness was overwhelming too, and reminded me of how I used to be before E. I suppose I still am somewhat lonely; I don’t think E can/should be my only social contact, but I struggle to make friends I really connect with. My thoughts about starting online groups for autistic Jews or Jews on the fringes of the Orthodox community are as much for me as anyone else. I couldn’t face reading The Third Reich in Power, so I read The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy for a bit before shul (synagogue). I finished it, finally (it’s very short, but I was reading slowly). I still feel a bit that nearly forty is too old for me to learn to have sex, but I’m trying not to let that bother me. There was some stuff about dealing with guilt about previous sexual experiences (masturbation, not having kept the rules of shomer negiah (not touching before marriage)) that was somewhat helpful to me. But it does just remind me that we’re a long way from even knowing when our wedding will be.

***

After that I went to shul and ate seudah (the Shabbat third meal, which today was the last meal before the fast started — see below). I read Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, which is also heavy-going. Most of the other books in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series have been organised on chunks of text, but this goes through Eichah (Lamentations) line by line, which is interesting in some ways, but very detailed. It gets quite draining quite quickly, and it’s a big book too (even though Eichah is one of the shorter books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

***

Tisha B’Av (the Fast of Av) started at 8.39pm. This is the saddest day of Jewish year, when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem and many, many, many bad things in Jewish history. It actually fell on Shabbat, but the holiness of Shabbat displaces it to Sunday, so to speak. Which means that it falls on 10 Av this year, which is my Hebrew birthday. I don’t make much of birthdays, and I celebrate my Gregorian calendar birthday anyway, but this is vaguely depressing.

I went to shul in the evening and found the service quite moving, which was good as I thought I was going to be too fed up from the day to get anything out of it. I came home and there wasn’t a lot to do, as we’re supposed to avoid anything fun on the fast, including Torah study (except sad bits like Eichah). I read the Lamentations book for a bit, then The Third Reich in Power, but decided to go to bed soon after. I couldn’t sleep though. I tried to sleep on one pillow rather than two, which is another mourning custom for the fast, but I couldn’t fall sleep. Then I tried with two pillows and still couldn’t sleep, so I’m now sitting on the floor (we sit on low chairs or the floor until midday tomorrow, another mourning custom) typing this and not feeling very tired.

Insomnia for me is often from not relaxing enough before bed. I didn’t really relax at all tonight. Normally I would read or watch something to relax myself, but I can’t really do that. Or I would drink hot chocolate, but I can’t do that either. I’m not supposed to fast given that I’m taking lithium, but I try to fast until midday as the afternoon is somewhat less sad. Technically the fast is an all or nothing thing and if I’m going to break it at lunchtime tomorrow (which I am going to do), I can break it now, but I like to keep at least some of the spirit of the day.

***

This was an interesting article about finding meaning on Tisha B’Av. I think a lot of it applies to Judaism in general for me. It can be hard to find the meaning in each specific mitzvah (commandment) or event; the meaning emerges from being part of the collective experience of a whole nation over three thousand years (how many people other than Jews have even the vaguest idea what their ancestors were doing three thousand years ago? Some, but not many). I probably do find more meaning in being Jewish as a totality across my whole life rather than in any particular mitzvah.

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!”

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.)

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.

Favourite Authors and More

Sorry, WordPress has messed up the formatting of this post and I don’t have time to fix it before Shabbat. I have the usual Friday exhaustion feelings. I woke up feeling exhausted and only really felt functional after lunch. I feel bad that I do relatively little paid work during the week and still get so tired. I do things on my non-work days, of course, (volunteering, novel writing, stuff around the house), but it doesn’t feel ‘enough’ to justify this exhaustion. I  still wonder if this is an depression/antidepressant side-effect issue, an autistic exhaustion issue or some kind of sleep issue. Today the doctors at the sleep clinic were supposed to decide if and how they should help me, so hopefully I’ll hear something there soon, as I do increasingly feel this is a sleep issue that I could have dealt with ages ago if I’d realised. I know my GP felt that waking up as tired/more tired than I went to bed most days sounds more like a poor quality sleep issue than anything else. *** The “something will stop E and I getting married” anxieties are lower today, but when I got up I had some of the the “I’m going to be pushing forty when I get married, and that’s far too old to learn how to have sex, and how to enjoy it, and to help E enjoy it, so why I am I even trying?” thoughts. This is probably the voice of the kids who bullied me at school, the ones who thought it would be hilarious to send me a prank love note or Valentine’s Card on the grounds that no one could possibly fancy me in real life.  I have to tell myself that I don’t care what they think, and that I love E, and being intimate with her will be amazing regardless of how technically “proficient” I am, and that middle aged and older people do still have, and enjoy having, sex, regardless of what the media says. I don’t want to overstress the anxiety, because it’s mostly under control.  It can flare up for a short while, but generally not for long. I have some coping strategies now, and some hard-copy reminders of those strategies in case the anxiety is so intense that I forget to use them. I know many people have much more intense and long-lasting anxiety than that (I’ve had that in the past), but it is frustrating when I want to concentrate on moving on to marriage and being able to say to myself, “This IS going to happen, everything will be fine.”  I guess I just have to keep telling myself that until I fully believe it. *** A lot of my worries lately (lately? My whole life!) have been about trying to find or to make a place for myself in the world — the frum (religious Jewish) world and the wider world. I used to think I had to magically find an appropriate place for myself; now, it feels more like I have to make one, but that perhaps I can succeed. Franz Kafka is one of my three favourite fiction authors, along with Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick. I don’t re-read him as much as the others (actually, lately I re-read a lot less in general, to try to get through my ‘To Read’ pile), but he made a big impression on me. His unfinished novel, The Castle (apparently the German title can mean with The Castle or The Key) is about a Land Surveyor who is summoned to a castle, but when he gets to the village that surrounds it, no one knows who he is or believes he has been summoned, and he isn’t allowed into the castle. The novel breaks off partway through, but apparently we know that Kafka intended it to end with the Land Surveyor, on his deathbed, being given temporary leave to remain in the village. It’s a bittersweet ending, implying that we can make room for ourselves in the world, but not necessarily as much as we would want or when we want. I think of it a lot when I think about making a place for myself in the world, and the frum world. Interestingly, when I applied to be on the emerging writers’ programme, the application form asked for me to write about my favourite authors. I said that my three favourite authors didn’t really influence my writing directly. I wrote instead about being inspired by Chaim Potok (writing about Orthodox Jews) and George Orwell (his essays, rather than his novels, and his clear prose style rather than the content). However, I think there is some influence from Kafka and Dick, and to a lesser extent Borges, in that they wrote about ordinary people caught up in strange and disturbing situations, as I do, it’s just that their situations are more fantastic/science fictional whereas mine are more realistic. But the effect I’m aiming for is probably the same, to show people that the world can be strange and threatening. *** I find myself more shocked my the assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, than by the recent shooting in the US, even though I can’t claim to follow Japanese politics closely. It’s got to a stage where American shootings are no longer shocking, sadly; upsetting and anger-provoking, but not shocking. But violent crime is rare in Japan and it feels as if something serious has changed for the worse in the world if something like this can happen there. *** The rest of this post is about Doctor Who, so feel free to skip if that’s of no interest. Incidentally, E says I get really animated when I talk about Doctor Who in real life, so it’s a probably a good thing that she finds that endearing and not offputtingly geeky. E and I have been watching classic Doctor Who again, this time from the 1970 season, Jon Pertwee’s first in the title role. It’s a season I rate highly, so I’m glad that E is enjoying it so far. It’s a strange season in some ways, a lot less humorous and whimsical than most Doctor Who, past and present, and more adult, not in a sex and violence sense, but in the sense of more complex characters and themes that ask difficult questions. While I hesitate to call any Doctor Who ‘realistic,’ it does have more of a sense of verisimilitude than most. Watching Doctor Who and the Silurians in a post-COVID world undermines some of that verisimilitude — the whole plot thread about “Oh no, there’s a terrible plague! Oh good, we’ve cured it in a couple of hours!” seems unrealistic now (I mean, I didn’t find it realistic in the past, but now it just seems laughable). That said, the scenes of dozens of people dropping dead in Central London are pretty harrowing for what was still largely seen as a children’s programme at the time. I’m glad that COVID never came to that. E suggested that Dr Lawrence, the paranoid director of a nuclear research centre who is convinced that the plague is a hoax to remove him from his position, is the original anti-vaxxer, and it’s hard to disagree with that. He comes to an appropriately nasty end.

Impostor!

I struggled to get up for volunteering, even though I had slept for nearly eight hours. In a weird way, I hope I do have an issue like sleep apnoea, because it feels like it might be easier to deal with than assuming this is a medication side-effect (I probably can’t come of my meds completely) or autistic exhaustion (which is more or less incurable). Although E might not want me to have sleep apnoea as sufferers tend to snore. If I ever shared a bed with someone, that might have made it easier to have an objective view of my sleep patterns and behaviour.

Volunteering was good, although I felt socially awkward again at times. Sometimes I feel I would like to know what other people really think of me, to see if it really is as bad as I sometimes fear when I feel I’m being very autistic and am not doing the right thing in a group situation. I also wasn’t always sure if people were teasing me or genuinely annoyed with me. I’m really not great at reading middle-aged women. For what it’s worth, I think they were teasing me. Someone said I looked young for my age, which is nice, although weirdly it’s common for people to think this about people on the spectrum. It’s been suggested we don’t show emotions on our faces so we wrinkle less than neurotypicals. Who knows? The same woman asked me what I do for a living, which is never a question I like to have to field; lately I’ve been telling people “I work in an office and am building a career as a writer and proof-reader,” although the proof-reading is really an aspiration for after E and my wedding and when we’re settled in together. It’s funny that Ashley posted something today on Impostor Syndrome and used the example of an author as something which has a social role beyond the literal meaning of the term. I struggle to see myself as a writer as I have written so little that has been professionally published, let alone that I have received money for.

I struggled to get down to some novel writing in the afternoon, being distracted by outside events and also procrastinating, but I did eventually manage at least an hour of writing, which was good. The procrastination did mean that I didn’t have time to submit my first novel to more agents (I stopped when I applied for the emerging writer’s programme as I was supposed to be unpublished), especially as I cooked dinner, went to online shiur (religious class) and skyped E. I might submit my manuscript on workday evenings rather than working on my new novel, so that I don’t burn out the next day.

***

I got an official rejection from the emerging writers’ programme. I’m trying not to take it too personally, or to see it as a sign that I will never be published or am wasting my time writing. I guess that would be Impostor Syndrome again.

***

More on Impostor Syndrome. A number of years ago, I was assistant librarian at a non-Orthodox Jewish educational institution. One day I overheard one of the library users, a Reform rabbi and academic, describe herself as suffering from “Impostor Syndrome.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time. A number of years later, I read a newspaper article she wrote about doing Daf Yomi (the daily Talmud study cycle) and how she felt uncomfortable that (male) Orthodox rabbis might not want her to study it. She said this not in a “they’re so sexist” way and more in a “wanting to be accepted” way. It is doubtful that the Impostor Syndrome comment referred to this, but it linked the two concepts in my head.

A while later, another female rabbi and academic passed away and donated her books to the library. I spent a long time searching through them and cataloguing them. I feel that I can get to learn a person more through looking at their books than anything else (not literally anything else, but than a lot of things). I was interested and surprised that she had a lot of books on Orthodox sub-groups, the Hasidism and the Mitnagedim (originally, the opponents of the Hasidim, although these days to an outsider they would doubtless seem very similar, and the rivalry no longer exists in the same way). Later, I came across a journal article by her where she said that she worried that the Hasidic rabbis she read about and admired would reject her because of her gender and that she wanted to be accepted by them.

These anecdotes surprised me because I thought the women involved, both very successful in multiple spheres (rabbinate, academia) and at least one very feminist and with a reputation for, as the cliche goes, “not suffering fools gladly”[1], would have no interest in what Orthodox rabbis, and especially Orthodox rabbis from centuries ago, would have to say about their lives. I would have thought that if they thought about being rejected by these men, they would simply tell them to “**** off.” And yet they clearly were conscious of the fear of rejection, and conscious enough to share that vulnerability in print. I have to say it endeared them to me enormously because of my own feelings of inadequacy. I was pleased to see two people who I saw as successful and psychologically balanced in a way that I was not suffering from similar doubts to me. I also feel I am not fully accepted in the Orthodox world, and unlike them, it is where I focus most of my spiritual life.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except to say that Impostor Syndrome is probably a lot more widespread than most people are willing to admit.

[1] I’ve never been entirely sure who is glad to suffer a fool.

***

I finished reading the James Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (SPOILERS). I’ve read about half the Bond books now and I think this might have been my favourite, which surprised me as I don’t rate the film that highly (the second half of the film is good, but I find the first half slow). Blofeld’s plan is bizarre though: set up a super-expensive Alpine resort for the treatment of allergies, then use it to hypnotise “nice” but somewhat naive young women, all of whom work in agriculture (but come somehow afford treatment at this exclusive resort), into spreading biological warfare agents back home to destroy British agriculture. This is apparently funded by the KGB, and Blofeld will profit by selling sterling at a profit before the economy tanks. A lot of Doctor Who stories have the problem of the villain’s plans being far too crazy, convoluted and impractical to work in the real world (particularly when the Master is around) and this is in the same category.

(If I’m talking about Blofeld and the Master in the same breath, I should probably note that The Mind of Evil is Thunderball in a prison and Frontier in Space retells You Only Live Twice on an interstellar scale.)

I think Ian Fleming missed a trick by killing off James Bond’s wife shortly after their wedding. Tracy would have been an interesting recurring character and the series could have done with a strong female character, although it would have killed off the bed-hopping aspect of the novels (which doesn’t interest me anyway). Even though I don’t like sad endings, I thought the ending of the novel did work, which I don’t feel about the film, perhaps because there is more foreshadowing in the novel.

“Everyone’s a superhero, everyone’s a Captain Kirk”: Diversity and Me

News first, please scroll down if you just want the stuff on diversity.

The last few days have been busy, although there isn’t a huge amount out of the ordinary to note here.

I forgot to mention in my last post that on Wednesday we had a Zoom call involving myself, E, my parents and E’s parents. It went pretty well, especially considering I thought there were at least three cultural divides that might be difficult to bridge. The two sets of parents even want to Zoom again soon.

On Friday, as well as my normal pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, I worked on my novel for an hour and a half. I would have liked to have worked on it even longer, but I was getting eye strain.

In shul (synagogue) on Friday night, Rabbi L came up to me and asked if we had made progress with the wedding, which was nice. Dad also told him about Mum’s recent health issue, which he was unaware of. He was shocked and concerned.

Shabbat was fairly good. I managed to avoid sleeping in the afternoon (although I did lie down for twenty minutes), going instead for a brisk walk and doing fifty minutes of Torah study. I went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Service) only. I tried to get to bed soon after the end of Shabbat, but still ended up going to bed at 1am. It’s difficult when Shabbat doesn’t finish until after 10.30pm.

Today was a somewhat difficult day. I woke up late, feeling drained after the last couple of days and struggled to get going. Unfortunately, I had a lot to do, looking at flights and hotels for my trip to New York to have a civil wedding, which will allow E to apply for a UK spouse visa for our religious wedding. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law were here. In the event, I only had time to look at the hotels. I didn’t have time for a run, unfortunately, or to work on my novel. I guess the wedding is going to take a lot of time from my novel for the foreseeable future (just don’t ask what happens if I get accepted on the emerging writers’ programme tomorrow).

Shul Minchah

Torah 50m

Today was a somewhat difficult day. I woke up late, feeling drained after the last couple of days and struggled to get going. Unfortunately, I had a lot to do, looking at flights and hotels for my trip to New York to have a civil wedding, which will allow E to apply for a UK spouse visa for our religious wedding. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law were here. In the event, I only had time to look at the hotels. I didn’t have time for a run, unfortunately, or to work on my novel. I guess the wedding is going to take a lot of time from my novel for the foreseeable future (just don’t ask what happens if I get accepted on the emerging writers’ programme tomorrow).

I somehow avoided eating rugelach when my sister and BIL were here. I am serious about losing some weight, despite the lack of time for running.

My sister and brother-in-law brought their wedding photo album. This has finally arrived, four and a half years after the wedding (Just. Don’t. Ask). It reminds me why I don’t like big parties, which I guess is good as E and I plan our small wedding.

My mood sank in the evening, under the weight of peopling and wedding planning. My Dad said he would do some searching for me tomorrow for plane fares, which will help me. I feel bad that when I’m struggling (like today), I find it hard to communicate with him for various reasons that aren’t really either of our faults, and we end up getting annoyed with each other.

***

(I should say that I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I wanted to spend on the second half of the post, but I just want to vent about this anyway, even if it could be better written/argued.)

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things recently. One is about the trend towards greater diversity of representation in the media. This was partly prompted by the latest Doctor Who Magazine. The current Doctor is the first woman Doctor; her successor will be the first black Doctor, and there was recently an official Doctor Who podcast story written by a trans woman and starring a trans actress as a trans character. There was a lot in the article about the podcast about how good it is for LGBT people to see themselves represented positively. It made me think about the way I have seen myself in fiction, or not, over the years.

There is a bit more representation of autism than there used to be. I can think of The Imitation Game, which was a good film, although it left me very upset (it was one of the things that made me think I really am on the spectrum despite being initially assessed as neurotypical; it also made me feel I would be lonely and miserable forever as a result). On the other hand, I thought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a intent on making autistics look stupid and unfeeling, although the narrator was a lot less functional than I am.

There is some representation of secular Jews, mainly on American TV, where there are more Jews generally e.g. The West Wing. They aren’t allowed to show more than a little interest in Jewish ideas though. When The West Wing did an (unrealistic) plot-line about the President solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Josh and Toby didn’t seem more emotionally involved than any of the other characters, despite being Jewish. The only real time Jewishness was involved in a substantial way was an episode about capital punishment, which had Toby’s rabbi argue against it. I didn’t really watch Friends, but several characters were Jewish, but not really Jewish. They were Jewish in a safe and non-threatening way, they didn’t do weird rituals (OK, the Chanukah Armadillo was weird, but that was deliberate).

Ivanova in Babylon 5 was not very religious either, but we saw her light Chanukah candles in one episode, and there was an episode that had a sub-plot about her sitting shivah for her late father, which was quite surprising in a secular science-fiction show.

Orthodox Jews are less prominent. They are usually shown as narrow-minded and backwards. (Incidentally, pretty much all Orthodox Jews on TV and film are Hasidic, even if this makes no sense.) The Attractive Young Rabbi was a Radio 4 sitcom about a female Reform rabbi living next-door to an Orthodox rabbi. I didn’t listen to more than a little bit of it, but I think the rabbis disagreed about everything, with the Orthodox rabbi presented to the audience as reactionary and wrong. I think his wife was more understanding because feminism or something. In reality, my oldest friend is the son of two Reform rabbis, male and female, who lived next-door to the local Orthodox rabbi, noted for being quite strict. My friend said they all got on well. I guess that makes for bad drama/comedy.

An exception was the 1970s Quatermass. Quatermass was a 1950s science fiction/horror series of serials. They revived it for a mini-series in the late 70s. There were a couple of Jewish characters in the 70s version. They mishandled pretty much every ritual and mispronounced every Yiddish word shown, but in a story built on binary divisions (young/old; superstition/science; irrationality/reason), they put Judaism on the science and reason team, for which I am grateful.

There are more representations of Judaism in novels now than previously e.g. Sisters of the Winter Wood. E has read more of these than I have, and finds the presentation of Orthodox culture variable.

I definitely think there is a problem that a significant minority of fictional Jews are in Holocaust stories, which does warp how both Jews and non-Jews see Jews past and present. There’s also an increasing tendency to universalise the Holocaust. Rather than seeing it as a specific crime directed at a specific culture because of a specific historical context, there’s a sense of “It could happen to anyone” and that (as Dara Horn argued in People Love Dead Jews), killing Jews is bad because it could lead on to normal people being killed too. As Horn argues, Holocaust fiction tends to focus on survivors, whereas the majority of Jews who were in the Holocaust were murdered. I think (although I haven’t done any real research) that Holocaust fiction also tends to focus on secular, westernised Jews from Western and Central Europe, rather than religious and Orthodox Eastern European Jews, even though the latter were again the majority of Holocaust victims..

I haven’t looked at other religions, but I think there’s a trend to see ‘open’ cultural expressions of religion as OK, but more traditional and more insular religious content as negative. Yaz in the last few seasons of Doctor Who is a Muslim, but she doesn’t do or believe much that’s religious, no mention of halal food and the only mention of prayer is in the context of her receiving Islamophobic insults on her way to the mosque. There is an episode about her grandmother marrying a Hindu with tragic consequences when her husband is killed by his fundamentalist brother. That there’s a type of religious identity that holds on to religious beliefs and practices strongly in a particularistic (non-syncretic) way, but which is open and tolerant towards the rest of the world isn’t really an idea that gets shown much.

The Doctor Who episode The God Complex did have a more religious and interesting Muslim character in Rita. It’s slightly weird that the Doctor Who character I connect with most religiously is a Muslim woman, which I guess gives the lie to the idea that we can only identify with people who are exact representations of ourselves.

Then there’s Zionists, who are increasingly only presented as racist land-grabbers who don’t belong in the Middle East. In America, I guess there are still some old-fashioned Mossad super-spies, like Ziva in NCIS. I’m going to leave this paragraph at that because I don’t want to get into an argument.

It also goes without saying that anyone even vaguely conservative on film or TV is absolutely Evil and usually in cahoots with Evil Big Business or Evil Religion (usually Christian or Jewish, sometimes Muslim). Big Business is always seen as conservative, even though in real-life many businesses are falling over themselves to be woke, particularly Big Tech, which is a big contributor to Democratic Party funds.

As for long-term celibates, don’t even bother looking. I was going to say that anyone celibate or sexually unsatisfied is likely to be either autistic, misogynistic, or an oppressed minority group in a conservative religious setting in need of liberation (woman, gay, etc.), but to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s even true. I think celibate people are pretty much not shown at all (I haven’t seen Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, but it sounds like it broadly fits the “sexist liberation” narrative).

Granted, this reflects my own weird interests and viewing patterns, which is mostly skewed to stuff from decades ago, but the impression I get from what I read and hear about modern shows is that these patterns still hold.

The thing I really want to stress is that I didn’t really care about this in the past. I assumed that Jews in particular were too small a population to really be noticed and didn’t object to their absence. Now the inattention of people very focused on representation (e.g. the makers of Doctor Who) makes me feel deliberately snubbed. I feel like there’s a list of “acceptable” identities in the Western media, and that most of the aspects of my identity aren’t on it, and in some cases are seen as primarily privileged and oppressive, which is not at all how I experience them. Now not being included seems like a calculated insult, which wasn’t the case twenty years ago. It feels like being a black trans lesbian is seen as normal or even praiseworthy, but being a celibate Orthodox Jew is something abnormal and shameful, and I’m not sure where that comes from or what we do about it, or how we can even label it ‘diversity.’

(Not) Make or Break

I didn’t blog much this week. There was stuff I wanted to write about, but didn’t have the time, or decided I didn’t want to make a big thing about it (to myself as much as to anyone else) by writing on the blog, particularly if I could vent by speaking to E. I got angry and confused with someone who used to be a friend, but decided life is too short to focus on things like that.

I didn’t really stop all week between Yom Tov (Jewish festival), work, an ECG at the hospital (it was fine), novel-writing and work again. I’m back to making a lot of mistakes at work, which makes me feel bad. E thinks I’m bored there, which may be right. I stayed up late last night writing my first devar Torah (Torah thought) in two months or more. Then, when I was about to go to bed, E texted me with an update about how we can prove her Jewish status so we can get married. It’s left us feeling a bit worried and uncertain; I’m glad we’re speaking to Rabbi L on Sunday so we can discuss what we have to do about it, but the next forty-eight hours or so will be anxious. I texted my rabbi mentor about it today and he feels confident it will work out, which is positive.

(I should probably explain that in the Orthodox Jewish world, Jewish identity is passed on matrilineally, or through conversion through a recognised Orthodox Beth Din (rabbinical court), so to get married in an Orthodox shul, you need to prove that you are Jewish by showing an Orthodox conversion certificate for yourself or an Orthodox marriage certificate for your parents. E, like many American Jews, has gone several generations without an Orthodox marriage among her direct ancestors, so it’s going to be a bit harder to prove, but hopefully not impossible. I’m sure this is something that Rabbi L, and certainly the London Beth Din, has come across before.)

I slept badly because of the marriage issue, having nightmares about trying to write some kind of Twitter (?) messages to my blog friends and rabbi mentor about the situation and having all kinds of technical problems (it was weirder than that, but I can’t remember all the details). It’s pretty clear that my unconscious was worried about getting stuck in limbo with this too. Inevitably, after all of this (this week as much as last night), I slept very late and woke up feeling very drained. My parents got a bit annoyed with me too.

I did write a little of my novel this week, including today. Because of my late start, lack of energy and extra pre-Shabbat chores (because we didn’t have a cleaner this week), I had to choose between going for a walk or working on my novel. Really I needed to do both, for both my physical and mental health, but I chose to write for an hour or (with a little procrastination time), writing 600 words, which was pretty good considering I was struggling a bit.

***

The next six weeks or so have a bit of a “make or break” feeling that I mustn’t let get to me: E and I will get a clearer idea if there are any significant legal or religious obstacles to our marriage, I’m up for a Jewish journalism award for an article I wrote, and I’ll find out if I’m accepted on a new writers’ programme I applied to. My parents are away for a few days next week too. I need to make sure I don’t let the pressure get to me and to assume that any setbacks in these few weeks will determine the rest of my (with E or as a writer, or anything else) and that there can be second (and third, and fourth, etc.) chances to sort things out.

The other thing I’m trying to do at the moment is to feel that it’s OK to be me. That it’s OK that I’m not a super-successful writer, lawyer, doctor, rabbi or anything else like so many of my peers seem to be. It would be easier if I felt I knew more about what I should be doing with my life and could feel that I was doing that correctly even if I wasn’t managing other things, but I am trying. I guess this ties to the previous paragraph, as winning awards or getting on writing programmes is how I hope I can further (read: start) my writing career, but I have to try to tell myself I’m good enough as a person even if I don’t get those things.

***

I finished The Odyssey. About to start Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, because I need a light read instead!

Good, but Anxious

The three day Yom Tov (Shabbat/Sabbath plus two day festival Shavuot) was good, but also difficult. I had a lot of anxiety and missed being in contact with E a lot. I did manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit, including for Shacharit (morning prayers) on Sunday morning. I woke up at 7.00am to go to the loo, and, even though I’d only had six hours sleep, I decided to try to stay up and awake until shul rather than going back to sleep as I normally would do. Over the three days, I did some Torah study, some recreational reading, went for one walk and slept too much.

I missed the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee street party in our road because I slept through it. Now I’ve missed the Gold, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees and the 2012 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. For someone who is religiously conservative, which you would think would lead into a respect for tradition and ritual, I’m not good at paying attention to civic celebrations. I think unless tradition or ritual speaks to me in a personal way, I like it to happen, but not to directly get involved, particularly if it involves other people.

On the plus side, my parents’ rabbi, who I will refer to as Rabbi L, came up to me after shul on Friday and said his email was not working, but he thought I sent him an email saying I was engaged, but he couldn’t read the rest of it. So I explained a bit about E and I and the immigration situation and that we would like him to marry us. I was a bit more definitive than I meant to be about that, as really I think we should just meet with him first before we finalise things. He was delighted that I got engaged and also that I asked him to marry us and we spoke about setting up a meeting to move things on.

There was some positive news after the festival too, when I looked at my phone and found a text from my GP who confirmed that he has referred me back to my psychiatrist to talk about reducing medication and also that he referred me for a sleep study.

That was all positive, but I think the conversation with Rabbi L triggered some strong anxiety about getting married which lasted over the three days. I ended up talking about my engagement to several people at shul over the three days, and with every person I tell, I feel like God is just setting me up to be hugely embarrassed if this doesn’t work out for some reason (which at this stage would be some unforeseen problem of Jewish or civil law). I worry that God is pushing me to an extreme test of faith, to see if I could still love Him without E. Yesterday I had to stop reading On Repentance (by Rabbi Pinchas Peli, based on lectures by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik) because something written in it was just reinforcing this feeling that God was going to test me by taking away what I want the most. Alternatively, I worry that God is going to punish me for not being shomer negiah (not touching before marriage), even though realistically I could say that the salient fact is not that E and I touch, but that we’re not having sex, which is a much bigger thing (not having sex outside marriage is a biblical law, which “outranks” the rabbinic law against physical contact, which is primarily intended to protect against having sex). I suppose I have a lot of guilt about sex in general.

I also had some religious OCD, which I’ve been struggling with recently, since I started reading The Odyssey, but which seemed worse over Yom Tov. It seems whenever I read anything about other religions, particularly pagan ones, I set myself up for a lot of intrusive thoughts while davening (praying). It’s the classic “If you try not to think about a pink elephant (or pagan god), you immediately think of it.” The more I try not to think about paganism while davening, the more I think about it. I know stressing about this just makes it worse, so I try not to worry, but it’s hard. I think I should just steer clear of this sort of thing, either fiction or non-fiction, which is a shame, as I do have quite a bit of curiosity to learn more about ancient society and the wider context of the biblical/Talmudic eras. Strangely, it’s only reading things that’s an issue. I can spend hours looking at idols from different cultures in the British Museum without triggering anything. I’m hoping the OCD feelings will go away when I finish reading, but I don’t plan to try reading The Iliad soon, or reading this book which I really want to read, but I just think it’s not worth it[1].

I actually have enjoyed The Odyssey (I’ve got about twenty pages left) and I’ve learnt some things about ancient Greek society, some things that supported the stereotypes about paganism that are common in the frum (Jewish religious) world and some that undermine them. I could write more, but I don’t really have time.

As I said, I missed E a lot, and that feeling grew over the three days, either because of the length of time or because as my anxiety grew worse I just wanted to be with her. I suppose that probably reinforced the anxiety that something will stop us being together. I guess I don’t believe that I can be happy, and I certainly don’t believe I can do “adult” things like getting married, having sex or raising children. Especially having sex. I can imagine myself raising children more easily than I can imagine myself having sex even though the former generally involves the latter. It feels like one of those things that only happen to other people, like intense religious experiences. I suppose there were three or four points in my life before E when I could have had sex if I had not been frum, although to be honest to be sure if I was really being offered sex in any of the situations would require a greater ability to read other people and the nuances of social contact than my autistic brain really allows, so even if I hadn’t been frum I would probably have erred on the cautious side and not got involved.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given all of this, I did not sleep last night. I went to bed late as Yom Tov (festival) didn’t finish until 10.30pm; then I davened Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), emailed E about Rabbi L, got ready for work today and showered. I didn’t get much time for passive downtime, which sounds silly after three days of not working, but those days involved a lot of peopling (even meals with Mum and Dad rather than alone in front of a book or DVD) or mentally-draining activities like prayer, religious study or reading The Odyssey, which is interesting, but not light. I eventually got up to drink hot chocolate and watch The Simpsons, which helped me to unwind a bit.

Work today was OK, not really notable one way or the other. I decided not to go to Zoom shiur (religious class) tonight as I’m tired and wanted to Skype E. I will listen to the recording tomorrow. Otherwise, I’m tired. Speaking to E was good, but I should really be thinking about bed.

[1] I actually heard Amy-Jill Levene speak a while back at the LSJS (on Zoom, as it was during the pandemic), on the Jewish roots of the nativity story.

Less Anxious

I went to bed earlyish (for me), but woke at 4.20am. It took me a while to work out that it was actually still night and I didn’t have to get up for work. Then I realised that I had a headache. I got up and took some tablets, tried to go back to bed, realised lying down was making the headache worse and got up to read. I had some Pesach OCD thoughts and inadvertently woke Mum up, which turned out to be good (she said), because she realised that the soup she had left cooking overnight in the slow cooker was evaporating. When the headache had gone an hour later, I tried to go to sleep, but it was almost time to get up.

Work was dull. There isn’t a lot more to say about it than that. The task I’m doing is tedious and I’m not sure how necessary. It would be OK if I was doing an hour or so on that as well as other tasks, but there wasn’t a lot else to do today.

Despite the slight OCD thoughts, my Pesach OCD/anxiety was mostly under control until I got home. To be fair, it wasn’t hugely out of control. I really needed some time to relax, and I did stop to snack for a bit, but I couldn’t really unwind as I was too conscious of everything I need to do this evening. Tonight heralds the start of what I think of as the busiest twenty-four hours of the Jewish year, starting with my least-favourite Pesach task, kashering the kitchen sink.

In the end, the kashering actually went OK. Kashering involves cleaning the sink, leaving it for twenty-four hours, then pouring boiling water over it, then cold water. The pouring has to be within a few seconds of the kettle boiling, and the sink has to get covered from an area within a radius of an inch or to of where the spout of water hits the metal. In the past, this was a huge trigger of OCD anxiety. I don’t have the time to look for past posts; trust me, it was awful. But I did it well this year, quite quickly, with relatively little spillage over countertops and floor, fairly confident that I was doing OK in terms of getting enough of the sink and within the time limits. I did worry a bit when I had finished if I had missed one side of the sink, but I decided not to give in to OCD anxiety by redoing, especially as Dad was pretty sure I’d done it and my rabbi mentor says that technically, you only need to hit 51% of the sink for it to be kashered. I’m not sure how much I was doing it better and how much was that, with less anxiety around, I was not seeing non-existent problems. Using only 1 litre of water in the kettle each time is definitely better than a full kettle (it can take 2 litres): it boils faster and is easier to manipulate.

In terms of relaxing, the novel I’m reading, Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon, while interesting, is uninvolving. A history of the human race over two billion years, it doesn’t really have a plot or characters, as I think I’ve mentioned before. It’s interesting, and I want to finish it, but once I’ve put it down, it’s hard to get in the mindset to pick it up again. I may read something more engaging alongside it.

On the plus side, my iPod has apparently survived its ordeal in the washing machine with nothing more than a slightly damaged screen, so things are definitely looking positive overall as we enter the final, and most hectic, stretch of Pesach preparations.

Autistic Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

My shul (synagogue) is meeting in an cramped classroom (apparently — I haven’t actually seen it) some way away from my parents’ house for the next six months. As a result, I decided I would rather go to my parents’ shul this week. It was a bit surprising. There were more people there than attended my shul even pre-COVID, but the room is large and it didn’t feel over-crowded. There was more background noise than in my shul, the noise of a large crowd of people, but also some talking, which we don’t get at my shul, but there was no real clapping or thumping tables and I felt less overwhelmed than I have done in my shul for a while. This is possibly an indication that the United Synagogue has more to offer me than I thought, although the issues around the chazzan (cantor) and choir would emerge if I went more often (I dislike chazzanut (cantorial singing) as well as choral singing, and the chazzan at my parents’ shul is controversial even among people who do like chazzanut as he tends to drag things out with his singing). My ideal shul is probably some non-existent unicorn shul (a shul that exists no more than unicorns do, not a shul for unicorns to go to).

I did some Torah study over Shabbat, but slept too much. After lunch, I felt so tired that I had to lie down. I knew I should drink coffee and try to stay awake, but bed was too inviting. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep tonight, and I will lose an hour as the clocks go forward.

***

We turned on the news after Shabbat to see President Biden giving a speech that would have been denounced by the Left as “Fascist” and “warmongering” if delivered by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. I say this not to take sides, but just to point out another example of how topsy-turvy politics in the West in general and the USA in particular have become over the last ten years or so.

I sought refuge from The World in Pigs Have Wings, the P. G. Wodehouse novel I’m currently reading. It is about as far from the real world as you can get. It’s so light, it threatens to float towards the ceiling if you let go of it.

I was imagining it taking place in the inter-war era, but, checking the copyright page, I found it was first published in 1952. I always imagine Wodehouse as inter-war, but he started writing over a decade before World War I and continued into the 1970s. I think most people would associate him and his books with the high society of the twenties and thirties, regardless of when they actually appeared. It’s similar with Agatha Christie, who did indeed start writing in the twenties, but was also writing well into the seventies, but somehow carries the atmosphere and outlook of the the twenties and thirties into her later works so that they seem earlier.

***

I was sufficiently awake tonight from sleeping in the afternoon that I did half an hour of late-night novel writing. It wasn’t terribly productive, but it was something. My parents were actually asking me questions about my novels on Friday night. They asked about my finished novel and I struggled to explain what it is about. I think one failing of that novel is that I can’t really summarise it in one sentence. What editors and publishers refer to as a “logline pitch” (for reasons I do not understand). I said something about it being about an autistic young man in the frum community, trying to downplay the autobiographical aspects, which I’m now a bit worried about. I’m bad about talking about (a) myself, (b) things I’ve done and (c) things that matter to me at the best of times (except to E, strangely), so it is hard to cope with these questions.

Then my parents asked about the novel I just started writing: what was that one about? “You don’t want to know,” was all I could say. I couldn’t face discussing pornography-addicted rabbis with my parents at the Shabbat dinner table, not without advanced warning. I do think that, if I want to become a writer, and if I carry on writing in this vein, I’m going to need to do some careful thinking about talking to people about my writing. I don’t mean agents, editors and reviewers, but family, friends and other shul-goers. What I’ve written and planned so far is… not what people might expect me to write about.

***

I feel that I’m torn between part of me that feels the urge to Do Things and to be busy and productive all the time (as some commenters here have noticed), and another part that likes time to do nothing and think and contemplate and be mindful of the world. It is good to have time for that on Shabbat at least, without work, TV or internet.

In his book Yeshiva Days, anthropologist Jonathan Boyarin tries to present yeshiva (rabbinic seminary) study as anti-capitalist, because it’s done for no material reward. I think, like a lot of critics of capitalism, Boyarin misses the point that capitalism isn’t about money, but about utility, defined in economic terms as “the ability to satisfy want.” Yeshiva study seeks to maximise utility in the Next World (afterlife) by building up the biggest possible Heavenly reward through the most valuable action (in Yeshivish theology), studying Torah. It simply replaces earning money in this world with earning spiritual reward in the next. That is sort-of anti-capitalist, but not exactly.

I feel like I could present a theory of why I increasingly like wasting time, not doing much, and thinking about things that would explain it in capitalist or religious terms. I could say that it gives me time to think about topics I would like to write about, and get paid to write about (please God, one day…). Also, that taking time to let my thoughts percolate is when I have interesting insights in Jewish topics, so that it can be seen as Torah study. I’m not sure how much either of these theories are true, however. I think I just find the pace of the modern world overwhelming and seek escape (although it often involves escape into thoughts about the world that I am trying to escape). In this I am like many autistic people, and probably many non-autistic people. I just like to retreat into myself rather than external distractions (although I do that too). I do often feel guilty though, that I should be earning money and/or doing religiously-valuable tasks, or at least writing, and trying to sell, novels.

Doing Things, Reading Books

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty normal (for me, by recent standards). I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday, but not Saturday, and tried not to beat myself up about this. I got pretty overwhelmed (sensory overload) at shul on Friday and stayed that way through dinner. Mum and Dad were mostly talking about friends of theirs who I don’t really know so I didn’t join in the conversation and just felt uncomfortable from the overload. I fell asleep for an hour after dinner, which was not good, but was probably an inevitable reaction to the overload.

After Shabbat I helped my parents prepare for an annual online supper quiz for charity that they are hosting. Different houses host people and they send their answers in online. I have participated in the past, but, to stop people googling the answers, most of the questions are ‘mind-bender’ type puzzles that I’m not very good at and don’t enjoy, rather than the general knowledge questions that I am good at (my parents want me to go on the quiz show The Chase). I did at least manage to answer one question no one else could answer.

Instead, I listened to The Beatles (the Magical Mystery Tour quasi-album) and sorted through a lot of bank papers, work papers and other papers I needed to sort through. I thought it would take hours and hours, but fortunately it took about an hour and half to get through a fair chunk of it. I’ve still got one bulging folder to sort through, and a big pile of old bank statements and the like to shred. I did a bit of Torah study too, and a tiny bit of novel research, so I guess it was a busy evening. I hope I haven’t overdone things. I should go to bed, as it’s nearly 1am. I feel asleep after lunch, as well as sleeping late in the morning, which is probably why I don’t feel too tired.

I have Your Mother Should Know and Baby You’re a Rich Man by The Beatles stuck in my head now from the Magical Mystery Tour listening.

***

Lately I’ve started reading a couple of interesting Jewish books. The Principles of Judaism by (Rabbi Dr) Sam Lebens is an attempt to formulate the core doctrines of Orthodox Judaism according to the principles of analytical philosophy. He’s not proving Orthodox Judaism, but trying to show if Orthodox Judaism is correct, then what should its doctrines look like (he does apparently have a work in progress book for a more popular audience about why one might choose to be an Orthodox Jew).

I’m much more familiar with ‘Continental’ philosophers rather than ‘Anglo-American’ analytical ones, particularly regarding theology (e.g. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emmanuel Levinas). The difference is bracing. I’m struggling at times, but I like the idea of testing each step in the chain of logic; I get fed up with philosophy that just seems to assert stuff (this was the problem I had with Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption, although most of the time I couldn’t even work out what he was asserting; strangely, I ended up stealing his surname for the main character of my first novel, I don’t remember why).

(Full disclosure: back in 2020, when this book came out, I did ‘go’ to a Zoom lecture where Lebens spoke about the book, and he gave a discount code to attendees, which reduced the significant price tag a bit, although it was still an expensive buy, hence my procrastinating about getting it for eighteen months.)

***

The other book I’ve been reading, fiction this time, is The Idiom and the Oddity by Sam Benito, or “Sam Benito” as it is apparently a pseudonym for a (so far) anonymous Haredi Rosh Yeshivah (ultra-Orthodox rabbinical seminary principal). It’s a coming of age novel in 1950s Jewish Brooklyn, which is not unusual, but it’s also a becoming frum (religious Jewish) novel, which is unusual. I’m just over halfway through. The first half was mostly about the narrator’s non-frum upbringing and relatives, so I’m only just getting to the yeshivah bits.

So far it’s been interesting, but hard to get through, partly because it needs a good proof-edit. It seems to be self-published, which explains it. Commas are a particular problem, perhaps because of the lack of punctuation in the traditional Talmud page. It also has a dense web of references to the canon of Western literature and complex wordplay in the narration, which also makes it heavy-going in places. I also struggle with the use of baseball as a master-metaphor for so much of the story. I know almost nothing about baseball! It’s very clever, perhaps too much so. I am enjoying it, but it’s not an easy read despite the short length (well, short-page count. The narrow margins, another sign of self-publication, probably means that it’s longer than it looks).

Whoops, I Accidentally Bought a Library…

Work was difficult today, comparing data from a database with a spreadsheet and trying to find the discrepancy, which inevitably was something I did wrong. To be fair, I knew it was wrong at the time and tried to rectify it, but the system messed up the rectification. Then I struggled with another problem with a different database later, not my fault this time.

I nearly led services in shul (synagogue). I’m getting closer to doing it, but I’m still too scared of being too slow, and also of not starting the communal repetition of the Amidah prayer as soon as I’ve finished the private prayer, but waiting until I can see that nine other people have finished as required by halakhah (Jewish law). This, I suspect, will not be popular, because it also slows things down.

Perhaps because of this, on the way home, when I saw that the local charity shop was still selling books (I thought they had stopped), I went in “Just to look” and ended up with a couple of books by science fiction author Olaf Stapledon, one of those authors I’ve always meant to read and never quite got around to it. This is why I have so many books that I haven’t read, and no shelf space…

Good Year for the Roses

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Reading and Sleeping

I finished a whole bunch of books over Shabbat: People Love Dead Jews (good, but depressing), Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Volume 5 (not great, and it’s pushed me back into a non-Batman-loving state… I tend to go in and out of Batman phases), plus I both started and finished re-reading The Waste Land (Martin Rowlandson’s pastiche of T. S. Eliot’s poem as a hard-boiled detective novel). I also finally “officially” gave up on reading The Koran, at least unless I can find an annotated copy that explains it better, as the cultural difference is too great for me to get anything out of it. I also started Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’d never read any of the books or seen the films. So far (sixty pages in), it’s fun and I can see why children like it, but I’m not quite sure I can see why so many adults like it.

I woke up at 7.30am this morning and rather than go back to sleep, I tried to get up and read. Unfortunately, pretty soon I did go back to bed and fall asleep. I had coffee after lunch and avoided falling asleep then, but I skipped shul (synagogue) and fell asleep mid-afternoon too, albeit only for forty-five minutes or so. So, good on the reading front, not so great on the sleep front.

Life is With People

I had another draining day at work. Not a huge amount to do, but draining, especially as I had to make some phone calls for the Very Scary Task. I was able to do some of the Task by text, which made it a bit easier. J doesn’t seem to have much of a preference for one medium unless there’s an urgent need to contact someone. I’m torn between makeshift exposure therapy from phoning versus not being in a state from texting. By the end of the day I was feeling exhausted and hungry, which fuelled anxiety. It wasn’t until after dinner that I felt completely recovered. I guess it’s a reminder that mental health ‘wobbliness’ persists even at the happiest of times, or, if we’re being honest, especially at the happiest of times. I say wobbliness because I’m not sure whether I’d technically meet the criteria for mental illness at the moment, but there are definitely a lot of overwhelming feelings around sometimes.

I told J about E too. He was pleased and asked me some questions about us. E and I are a bit wary about who we feel comfortable telling our whole story to: the on/off bit and the fact that we haven’t actually spent all that long together in person. You, dear reader, know that there has been a lot of skyping and deep conversations, that we have thought a long time about this and know what we want; the rest of the world has no idea. Only a couple of my friends are sufficiently frum (religious Jewish) to see getting engaged after a dozen dates as ‘normal.’ I would rather not spend a lot of time telling our story to the others.

I came home and sent some more emails to friends to tell them about E and me. I’ve now told all my friends, which didn’t take long. I thought I had more friends, but some of the names in my address book I haven’t communicated with for years and I didn’t feel comfortable suddenly getting back in touch for this.

When I got home, my parents were in the middle of telling all their friends, by email and by phone. They have a lot more friends than I do and they prefer to phone where possible, so this was more of an undertaking. Even so, some people got emailed. Everyone is happy for us, which is good, but it feels overwhelming. If the engagement feels this overwhelming, how will I cope with the wedding?! Somehow everyone wishing me mazal tov makes me feel that I’ve done something terribly wrong and everyone will be upset with me soon. Is that a weird type of Imposter Syndrome? That I don’t believe I deserve people’s good wishes and will end up showing them how useless I am?

My parents want to host an engagement party for their friends. I guess in Hebrew we would say a lechaim i.e. people drink a toast to us. They say I wouldn’t have to attend, although I would feel obliged to make some kind of nerve-wracking appearance, however brief. They’re planning on inviting quite a lot of people. I don’t think E thinks that this is normal. It seems somewhat normal to me, but possibly only because my parents went to a similar engagement party last night for the engagement of the daughter of two of their friends (I’m not sure if the engaged couple were there either or if it was just their parents’ friends). I think E is surprised that my parents have often met their friends’ children’s spouses at shul (synagogue) or family celebrations long before the wedding. I think some of my parents’ friends were surprised that I got engaged because no one had told them I was even dating. I’d say that the frum world can be incestuous, but not all these friends are even that frum, it’s just the North-West London Jewish bubble. As the title of an anthropology book on the shtetl (Jewish towns in Easter Europe pre-Holocaust) proclaimed, “Life is with People“.

***

I went to a Zoom class at the LSJS. It was on three recent English Bible translations: that by Robert Alter, the Steinsaltz Tanakh (Bible), which isn’t actually by Rabbi Steinsaltz, although it is based on his modern Hebrew commentary, and the Koren Tanakh, which is being promoted as being translated by Rabbi Sacks, but he died after only completing the Torah (in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses) and Tehillim (Psalms).

To be honest, I didn’t get a lot from the class. Having spent about twenty years reading the sedra (weekly Torah portion) every week in Hebrew, trying to translate it myself and comparing with an English translation, I have a good sense of the pitfalls of translation and the difficulties a translator must face.

Of the translations, the Alter one sounded the most interesting to me, now that my Biblical Hebrew is reasonable, because he has a detailed commentary on problems of translation and alternative word choices and sometimes suggested amendments. Nevertheless (and this may sound crazy fundamentalist), I heard Alter speak when the translation came out and he said translating Tanakh only moved him in a literary/aesthetic way, not a spiritual way. That upset me in ways that I did not expect and can not really describe. I knew he wasn’t Orthodox, but somehow only getting aesthetic pleasure from Tanakh troubles me. It reminds me of what T. S. Eliot said when people speak about “The Bible as literature,” that the influence of the Bible for English literature was that it was seen, not as literature, but as the word of God, and now it is seen as literature, it is unlikely to have much literary influence in the future. Strangely, Alter’s use of Higher Criticism (the type of Bible criticism that tries to break the Five Books of Moses into putative ‘sources,’ an activity that has never been accepted in Orthodox Judaism and which I do not believe in) does not bother me as much and I’m not sure why.

***

I have more things to say, but I’m too tired and ready to crash. I’m not sure what I’ll crash in front of, though. I have half of a so-so episode of The Twilight Zone that I started watching over dinner, before I had to stop for the class. I’m still reading Gaudy Night, but my inability to distinguish half the characters from each other and the falling off of the escalating tension in the second half of the book has left me longing for the end with another seventy pages to go. I’m invested enough to want to finish it, but not tonight. I think I’m too tired to read anyway.

I am tempted to break my diet to reward myself for a stressful day, but I should try to be strong. I am definitely hungry enough to want to eat cereal before bed, though, a bad habit I should try to break. It would probably save me more calories than skipping my one biscuit a day.