Halfway There Day

Yesterday was my half-birthday, for those of you who take note of such things. I don’t really see any significance, but my oldest friend was born on 19 January and another friend on 20 January, so the date leaps out at me. I am now closer to my fortieth birthday than my thirty-ninth, which vaguely troubles me, although it shouldn’t.

I also worked out that if E and I get one of the two wedding dates we’re currently aiming at, both in the second half of May, we’re more or less halfway now between the civil wedding last August and the chuppah (religious wedding). We should have more of an idea this week if that’s a realistic date.

***

This week was the baby blessing week for Nephew. I couldn’t go in the end because of difficulty finding somewhere suitable to stay. I was OK home alone. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night because I felt too tired, which was a shame and vaguely troubling in terms of how frequently it seems to be happening. The house was cold and I have chapped hands again, but otherwise things were fine.

I did some Torah study: Talmud and The Guide to the Perplexed, which is currently full of stuff about the Aristotlean view of the universe as a series of living spheres, one inside the other, definitely not made of atoms and definitely not containing any vacuum. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but this bit is not really relevant to modern day theology. Hopefully it will get back to more relevant stuff (from a contemporary perspective) soon.

I finished reading Dune yesterday. I intend to go on to the second book, Dune Messiah. It was a good book, but hard to get into, and weirdly structured.

I slept too long as usual, about twelve or thirteen hours at night. I still went back to bed after lunch today, more because I was cold than tired. I think I drifted into that state of mind between sleeping and wakefulness and was late for seudah (the third Shabbat meal).

It was a struggle to do things after Shabbat. It always is, as I feel lethargic, even at 5.30pm. I did manage to tidy up and do a bit of Torah study. I did a little novel planning too. I would have done more, but I had a headache for a while.

***

I tried to friend someone on the autism forum a while back. We have some things in common (librarians, Doctor Who fans). He didn’t respond to the friending and accompanying message, but has chatted with me on threads since then. He’s got other friends. Friending doesn’t really do anything other than allow direct messaging, but I do feel weirdly unliked from only having two friends, both people who are not there any more and who didn’t stay on the forum long. But I’m nervous about friending people (in general and after this). I wonder if the friend request didn’t go through properly to this person and if I should send it again, or if that would make things worse if he was deliberately not responding to me.

I also wonder if it’s worth friending other people. I would be open to making friends on the site, which would realistically only happen if I friended people, but I don’t see it as essential. Still, I wonder what to do. I feel really self-conscious about being the only (open) Jew on the site, but can’t stop mentioning it. I don’t think anyone is antisemitic, but a lot of people have funny ideas about Jews, particularly if they haven’t met any (which is feasible as Jews make up about a half of per cent of the UK population, largely concentrated in just a couple of cities).

Sex, Friends, Books (No, the Genie Didn’t Give Me Three Wishes)

I had my last chatan (bridgegroom i.e. marriage) class last night. I think there might be another one closer to the wedding (no, still no news on the visa). I learnt more than in the previous one, although I still struggled to work out if I was expected to say anything and if so, what. I did wonder what someone who isn’t already committed to observing at least some of the laws of taharat mishpacha (family purity) would make of it, particularly if they were already having sex with their fiancée, as, realistically, many couples getting married through the United Synagogue would be. I don’t know whether taharat mishpacha contributes to keeping marriages fresh the way that it’s often claimed. Probably it sometimes does, but not always. I’m committed to the idea for religious reasons, regardless of any other benefits. I am, as a rule, sceptical of the idea of non-religious benefits from mitzvot (commandments) such as the purported (and mostly spurious) health benefits of kashrut (the dietary laws). Inasmuch as I see non-religious benefit in taharat mishpacha, it’s to stop men pestering their wives for sex when they’re on their period. I guess my view is different to most people’s anyway; if you’ve been celibate until the age of thirty-nine, abstaining from sex for two weeks a month doesn’t seem particularly daunting. It’s the being able to have sex for two weeks a month bit that is novel.

***

This morning neither of my alarms went off, for some reason, so I overslept by quarter of an hour, although I hurried and got to work on time. Work was busy again as it’s the time of year when most people pay their membership fees. I went to the bank and paid in fifty cheques to the astonishment of the clerk until she realised we are a charity, not a business, although we’re not a typical charity (“communal organisation” would probably be a better term), hence the membership fees.

I came home and intended to spend some time unwinding without screens, but went online instead. Big mistake. After a while, I felt ill from too much screen time, which was my fault, and from not eating which was not my fault, as dinner was very late. I hope E’s visa comes soon so we can set up home together; like me, but unlike my parents, she prefers to eat dinner early.

I would have liked to do some more Torah study or novel work after dinner, but felt too exhausted. I’d like to read some more of Dune before bed (I’m about three-quarters of the way through now), but don’t know if I’ll have the energy/brainpower. I’d rather not push myself too hard and burn out tomorrow, although it may be too late for that by now.

***

In therapy we touched on a subject that I’ve discussed a bit with E, about the fact that I mask my autism (as a general rule, masking in autistics tends to result in burnout in the end). I try to be what people expect me to be, to do what is “normal” or “right” rather than – well, I don’t actually know. I can’t really say “rather than what I want to do,” as I don’t actually know what I would do without masking, because I’ve been doing it from a very young age, maybe four or five, but more so from adolescence.

I don’t really know what I would like to do or who I really think I am. I remember Ashley saying a while back to imagine how I would behave if I was on a desert island just with E. It’s hard to tell, as I’m not terribly imaginative in that way. I probably wouldn’t be that different from how I am with E now, but it’s hard to map that on to interactions with other people. I would probably be a bit freer to voice opinions, including controversial ones, to make jokes or explain things to people.

***

The flipside of this is the online autism forum, where I’m beginning to wonder if people are deliberately not “talking” to me. Other people seem to have conversations, but that rarely happens to me. There’s a core of people who seem to connect and refer back and forth to each other and I can’t seem to get “in” to the group. Possibly they comment a lot more than I do, I’m not sure, so maybe it’s a visibility thing. I try to only say things if it’s going to be helpful or incisive, I don’t just joke around. And, as I mentioned the other day, I tried to “friend” someone on there, but he didn’t respond and I don’t know if he didn’t see it or didn’t want the contact.

The worst thing is, because I’ve mentioned being an Orthodox Jew a number of times, I wonder if that’s why people aren’t responding, not so much from antisemitism, but because they have an image of Orthodox Jews being judgmental, ascetic, humourless, and who knows what else. In a word, “Other.”

Probably I should stay away from there. I feel I’m on the forum and the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group too much at the moment, trying to get noticed, in a “I want to be friendly and talk to people” way, not an ego way, but I don’t think it’s really working. I look forward to E being here; hopefully I won’t need to feed my social needs in this unhealthy way when we can interact normally like most couples instead of through WhatsApp texts and limited Skype time.

***

I found a substack by someone who experienced child abuse in the Jewish community. I am not sure whether to follow it. I don’t know why I have this fascination with abuse survivors. Is it because I dated one? I suspect not. I think I became more aware through being in group therapy-type spaces (support groups etc.). It made me realise how many survivors are out there, and how invisible they are unless they tell you what happened to them.

I worry that it’s some kind of morbid emotional vampirism, as I’ve mentioned before. I think a more likely reason is that for decades, I’ve been aware of myself on the margins of the frum community because of neurodivergence and mental illness. Somewhere along the line, I got interested in other people on the margins of the frum world, and abuse survivors are about the most marginal people there, often actively thrown out by people who don’t want to believe that abuse happens in the community, and that it’s often the most powerful, influential or “religious” people who perpetrate it. Hence, I am more interested in survivors from frum backgrounds. What I have experienced isn’t anything like what they have experienced, but I see some similarities about feeling unwanted in the community, feeling anger at being marginalised, wanting to fit in, but not knowing how, feeling shame just for being who you are…

“Tali Steine” writes: “My light speaks to me, enveloping me with goodness, with beauty, with love. You aren’t bad or worthless, she says. This wasn’t your fault… You don’t have to carry this shame.” I feel if she can tell herself this, then I should be able to tell myself. But somehow I can’t. I feel, “If I suffered as much as she did, I could say it wasn’t my fault, because it would clearly be disproportionate to anything I might have done, but I haven’t, so maybe it is my fault.”

I’m still not sure what to do about the substack.

***

I’m a bit stressed at all the books on my To Read shelf, particularly those in series. Herewith, a list of book series I’m in the middle of at the moment. To qualify, it has to be a series where there is reasonable continuity beyond one recurring character and I have to want to read the whole series; I’d like to read all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot stories, and all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories, but the links between stories in these series are slight and the series are long enough that I doubt I’ll read all of them (I think Christie wrote something like seventy-nine mystery/thriller stories, plus half a dozen pseudonymous romances and a couple of memoirs).

James Bond: I figure these just about have enough continuity to qualify. I’m reading them in a completely random order, for various reasons. I’ve got about two thirds of the way through the series in two years or so, so I guess I like them… I currently have copies of Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me on my To Read shelf, then there are another three to read after that. In recent years, a bunch of people have written other James Bond books, but at the moment I only plan on reading Ian Fleming’s ones.

Dune: I just started this a few weeks ago, but I do want to see how it plays out, even though it consists of two trilogies (or one hexalogy) of very long books.

Harry Potter: I’ve read the first two and I have most of the others and I will read them, but I’m not in a huge hurry, as I felt the first two were a bit over-rated. On the other hand, I like the word “Azkaban,” so I’ll probably read book three sooner rather than later.

A Wrinkle in Time: I’m not sure what the overarching title for this is, so I’ve just gone with the title of the first one. I read it a couple of months ago. It was OK, but I’m not sure whether I’ll read the others. As with Harry Potter, it seems to clearly be a children’s series and I wonder a bit why so many adults read it.

Robot/Galactic Empire/Foundation: in the 1940s (I think; I’m too tired to check), Isaac Asimov wrote three science fiction short story series, collected into books: the Robot, Galactic Empire and Foundation series. The three series were totally unconnected (technically, you could argue that he originally wrote two very different series of a robot stories, some short stories and longer murder mysteries with a human and robot detective team) [EDIT: Wikipedia tells me that there were light connections between the Galactic Empire and Foundation stories from the start]. Then he stopped writing them for decades, but in the 1980s, he went back and expanded the Robot and Foundation stories and tried to join them together, with the Galactic Empire stories in the middle, into one big future history sequence.

I’ve read the Robot and Foundation series and I keep thinking I should read the Galactic Empire books (there are only three novels and a short story), but I’ve never been that enthused by the concept. The Galactic Empire was the only series he didn’t later expand to make the connections clearer and I feel it will be disconnected and galactic empires don’t really grab my attention, unlike the premises of the Robot and Foundation series. But I also feel I should read them while re-reading the other books, as a lot of the connections between the books and the overarching narrative went over my head on first reading (I’m not actually sure what the best reading order is: internal or external chronology). I should also say that, as an end to this massive series of about fifteen books over five decades, Foundation and Earth was really weird. Not exactly bad, but weird, with a strange “The end… or is it?” moment just when it seemed finished that makes me feel vaguely negative about the whole sequence. On the other hand, Asimov is a light read, so I could probably get through fifteen of his books in the time taken to read the six Dune novels.

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy: technically, I haven’t started this yet, but I got the first two volumes from the free book box a few weeks ago and I’d like to read them, but I feel I ought to make progress on some of the other series first.

Richard J. Evans’ Third Reich trilogy (I didn’t say this was only for fiction series!): I still have the third book in this series to read, The Third Reich at War but I know it will be the hardest, given that it deals with the bloodiest war in human history and is permeated by the Holocaust (the Holocaust has its own chapter, but Evans says in the introduction that it’s really present in every chapter because it was so tied to the Nazi war aims and conduct). I actually have a big book on the Soviet Union to read afterwards, because I told myself to concentrate on one totalitarian dictatorship at a time! Thankfully, that’s a one-volume history.

Bumper Last Night of Chanukah Post!!!!

My mood slumped last night and didn’t really rise all day, at least not until I Skyped E. I went to bed late last night as I was reading Quantum of Solace, a James Bond short story that isn’t really about James Bond. It’s a story told to him by someone else, a story that has nothing to do with spies or anything usually associated with James Bond. I thought it was still quite engaging; I think Ian Fleming is under-rated as a write, like many successful authors of “pulp” fiction.

Despite that, I got up early this morning (about 9.30am – early for me, anyway), mostly because I woke up early and felt hungry. I even stayed awake, although I went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast. It was a struggle to daven even an abbreviated Shacharit and Musaf (say Morning Prayers), as I felt so tired.

That said, I think I woke early because I woke struggling to breathe again. I’m still waiting for the results of my sleep study to see if I have sleep apnoea. I might have to wait another two months for the results! I believe the results can be downloaded as soon as the sensors are returned to the hospital; the huge delay is in getting the personnel to interpret said results. All E and I seem to be doing these days is waiting…

I went for a longish walk for an hour. This helped my mood a little, but not totally.

I didn’t do much else. I spent far too long messing about on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page (see below). I’m enjoying being on there, slightly more than my annoyance at how awful FB is nowadays, but I’m not sure that I’ll achieve any of my aims for joining the group, such as making frum (religious Jewish) friends, becoming more integrated to the frum community or starting a conversation about the place of the mentally ill and neurodivergent in the frum community (again, see below).

I did spend a little time working on my novel plan, even though I said I wouldn’t, because apparently I really can’t keep away from it (see below). It looked better than I thought it would, although there’s still a lot to do.

***

It’s really hard being away from E, especially not knowing when we’ll be together, let alone when we’ll get married. I read an article on a Jewish site (that will go unlinked, as I’m going to criticise it) about the laws of taharat mishpachah in Judaism (essentially, not having sex when the woman is having her period and for a while afterwards). The author repeated the standard frum line about this preventing divorce. Which it may do, as I think the divorce rate in the frum community is still lower than in the secular world, but it’s clearly not a panacea, as divorce is still a very real thing in the frum world. The type of married people (not just Jewish ones) who write essays about relationship breakdown seem to think that there’s one simple mistake that all divorced couples make that dooms their relationship and other people can easily avoid it, and I really don’t think there is. That’s what makes it scary.

That said, the thing that really annoyed me was where the article stated that newlyweds are “young and carefree, with no grey hairs or wrinkles.” Although aimed at less frum people, the article seemed to be based on the idea that everyone marries young and no one has any life problems until they have children. Um, maybe you were, but E and I are in our late thirties and come with suitcase loads of “baggage”! But we love each other despite this (actually, E doesn’t have wrinkles, although I do).

In the wake of this, I did think of posting something about conformity in the Jewish community on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group, perhaps based on the thing I wrote here a few days ago about the difficulty of being frum if you’re mentally ill, neurodivergent, poor, etc., but I held back because it was too long, unfocused and ranty and because I didn’t know what response I even wanted (cf. my discussion with JYP in the comments to that post). The OC group does show care about some marginalised groups in the Orthodox world, such as abuse survivors, LGBT Jews and agunot, as well as about women’s rights in the Orthodox world in general, but I haven’t really found a way of starting a conversation about mental illness or neurodivergence there. I searched for older threads about mental illness and they tended to be focused on issues like rabbis answering mental illness-related questions badly rather than integrating the mentally ill or neurodivergent into the community.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing at the moment instead of actually writing, as I’m on a break to try to calm down about it. I felt a kind of urgency about writing as I wanted to get something published and try to build a career as a writer to help support E and our potential children. This is clearly not happening, as we will be married long before I get anything published, particularly as I’ve stopped sending out my first novel to agents, as I’m not sure whether I want to rewrite it. I do want to get set up as a freelance proofreader in the next few weeks, as that seems a more practical way to earn money.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I do still feel the need to prove myself with writing, to show I’m as good as all my school and university peers who went on to good jobs (or any jobs, really), not to mention the other writers and newspaper columnists who I read and think, “I could do better than that,” although I probably can’t. Spite and envy probably isn’t a good reason to do anything, let alone to make art.

I probably will keep writing as a hobby/psychological need. It’s hard to work out how to balance it with religious obligations and family obligations. E supports my writing more than I do and wants me to keep writing despite family obligations, but the frum world doesn’t really see writing or creativity generally as an important activity. I don’t think I can justify my writing on the grounds of supplying an important need to the frum/Jewish community or increasing Jewish visibility in the wider world, as I really don’t think I’ll get published. It’s just something I need to do.

I used to get annoyed with the Hevria people for prioritising writing and creativity over religious obligations, but maybe they were right. Maybe you need to be ruthless about family and community to get published. Then again, I think Mattue Roth was the only Hevrian who actually got any fiction published professionally.

 I’ve mentioned before that David Bowie said the worst thing God can do to you is make you an artist, but a mediocre artist. I feel that’s true of me. I have basic writing skills, but I lack imagination, unsurprisingly, as that seems to be common with alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions).

As I said above, I did do some work on the novel plan today, which was good, and I do feel very drawn to writing it, but I am struggling a bit with where the novel is going and what to write, while feeling that I need very much to write.

***

Books: if I’m not writing them, I’m reading them (which is not a bad thing).

I finished re-reading Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. It was a good 90s fandom nostalgia trip, but other books came out later and went further than it did. I also tried to put my pile of new Doctor Who novelisations away. These were the books I felt a little guilty about, as I was pleased to add them to my collection for free, but wasn’t likely to read/re-read them in the near future, and wasn’t sure if I should have accepted them.

My bedroom is hardly minimalist. It’s got four bookcases (three big and one not so big), one packed full with DVDs, most lying on their side, warehouse-style, so I can fit more on the shelves. The other three are full of books (and some CDs), many of them also lying on their side. (I also have books in a couple of cupboards and a bookcase full downstairs too.) There are also several piles of books on top of one of the bookcases, containing over 150 Doctor Who books (fiction, as the non-fiction is on another shelf) along with a couple of other TV/film tie-in books. I have about 1,300 books in total. Yes, E is right that I should get rid of some. It’s hard! I might donate some non-fiction books I’m never likely to read to the charity shop in a week or so, although I don’t know who will buy books on Medieval Scotland.

I went to add the new books to the pile on top of the bookcase. I hadn’t realised how far the case has come forward from the wall with the weight of all the books on it and one of the books fell down the back. It was Doctor Who – The Daleks, the novelisation of the first Dalek story, which I disliked as a child because it departed from the TV series in its depiction of the events of the first ever TV episode (which isn’t even part of the Dalek story on screen), but which now, in the age of DVD, seems significant for precisely that reason, for being an entirely new take on the events of the TV story.

I’m not sure how to get the book back from the black hole behind the bookcase. I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to take the hundreds of books off the bookcase (not to mention wargaming models) to move it out, especially as it’s the middle bookcase and I might have to move one or two others too to get to it! So the book will sit there in the black hole for now.

I noticed a while back the bookcases wobble a bit, and I am vaguely worried about them falling on me one day. I guess I just have to hope that when E and I move somewhere of our own, we have enough space that taking a reasonable chunk of my books is a good idea and that I can move the bookcase then. I think we’re unlikely to be able to afford a place big enough to hold all my books along with those E brings over from the US.

***

My parents bought me an extra Chanukah present, even though I said they didn’t need to: A Fire Burns in Kotsk: A Tale of Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland by Menashe Unger. Even though I own every English language book I can find about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk), I’ve put off buying this for years because (a) it’s expensive (about £30) and (b) it’s a weird book, sitting on the boundary between history and historical fiction, presenting itself as the true story of the Kotzker Rebbe and his Hasidim, but also written in novelistic style with (presumably) invented dialogue. I’m not quite sure what to make of it and probably won’t be until I’ve read it (if then). At least it’s something to read on the way home from work while I’m reading The Great Dune Trilogy, which is too big and heavy to take to work.

***

Contemplating all this stuff (low mood, not fitting into society, struggling to sell my writing, lack of imagination), I’m having one of my “I hate being autistic” days. I think I get fewer of these than I did a couple of months ago, but I’m still not at peace with myself, and I still see ASD as a bad hand I’ve been dealt, albeit one I want to play as well as I can, and admitting that it’s better than some other people’s cards. It frustrates me enormously that so-called “high functioning” autism means I can write literary fiction, read in a dead language, read and understand (at least partially) twelfth century Jewish rationalist philosophy… and still screw up basic stuff like editing  an invoice template at work (why? This is like proofreading; I should be good at it, unless it’s the pressure of masking in the office), speaking on the phone (or at all), doing tasks in the right order, promoting my writing, networking, etc., etc., etc.

It doesn’t help that I have a lack of mentors or guides to help me integrate into the frum world or for raising the profile of my writing. It’s sad, because I do feel I have stuff to say to the frum world and the wider world, but I don’t know how to say it because of my autism, while people who might know how to help me say it don’t know that I have anything to say.

I did just dig out an email from my parents’ friends’ son-in-law from an earlier attempt to set myself up as a proofreader. He is a freelance proofreader and said to persevere as work is out there. He also said YOU HAVE TO NETWORK!!!!!!!! (I put it in capitals because that’s how scary it is.) That email was pre-COVID, though, so I don’t know if it is still true.

***

I saw the Doctor Who trailer. I wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t expect to be. David Tennant + Catherine Tate + Russell T Davies = pretty much my least favourite Doctor/companion/showrunner combination.

Fast Running Out of Spoons

I stayed up late again last night. Everything was late as a result of going to Sister and Brother-in-Law’s, then eating with my parents, plus, I admit, procrastinating online, then trying to do more Torah study. I watched an episode of Do Not Adjust Your Set late at night to try to get some downtime, but also ended up staying up late thinking about Nephew, and then about Hitler (the chain of thought was complicated, but basically involved thoughts that have troubled me for years about whether Hitler was a cute baby, and at what point Hitler became evil (is there a precise moment, like when Macbeth decides to kill Duncan? It seems doubtful) and then onto whether I had ever seen pictures of Hitler smiling and whether this was a deliberate propaganda decision to make him look aloof and imposing). This ended in me flicking through history books around midnight, trying to find photos of Hitler smiling, which in retrospect was not the best time management.

I woke up missing E. I know I say this a lot, but I miss her so much. It’s hard not knowing when we can be together again, or when the wedding will be. The visa shows no signs of coming, but I am still hoping for a Chanukah miracle, unlikely though it seems. I waited so long to find someone who loved me, and it’s frustrating that now we’re waiting indefinitely due to immigration bureaucracy.

I had to rush a bit to bring the Tesco grocery delivery in, but still ended up doing so in my pyjamas. I do this most weeks, so the delivery guy probably thinks I never get dressed. I felt a bit ill afterwards, headrush/low blood pressurey. I do feel stressed and un-relaxed at the moment; as I said last night, I’m doing extra peopling and getting less autistic recovery time this week and that probably contributes. I’m not really looking forward to work tomorrow, and then, because of the bank holidays, I’ll be working consecutive days next week, so that will be hard too. I feel like as Chanukah goes on, I’m running more and more out of spoons, with no way of recharging (a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean).

I wanted to go back to bed after bringing the groceries in, but had to quickly daven (pray) before it got too late for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) and then to stay up to be around for the cleaner. I actually went to bed for forty-five minutes after the cleaner came, at lunchtime. I don’t think I slept, I just lay there with my eyes shut, but I felt a bit better afterwards.

I think I’m suffering some autistic exhaustion from the peopling and lack of recovery time. I was more sensitive than usual to the noise of the cleaner hoovering, which is a good sign that my autistic sensitivities are heightened, which usually accompanies autistic exhaustion.

Because I was feeling exhausted, I thought it was a good time to finally watch a YouTube video I bookmarked ages ago of an autistic scientist (an scientist who is autistic who also researches autism) talking about autistic burnout (even though autistic exhaustion and autistic burnout are not the same thing). The presentation is here and the slides for the presentation can be found here.

There was an interesting flow diagram showing that burnout can be triggered by a collapse in energy or a decrease in ability to mask (appear non-autistic) in situations, but it can also be triggered by a growth in ability to cope and mask which leads to further expectations being put on the autistic person by the outside world beyond the person’s ability to cope. You can get to a point where you can’t mask any more because you haven’t got the internal resources, but if you try to step back, you lose the external resources from your job or non-autistic support network because you aren’t doing what you’re expected to be doing. This all resonated; I feel that I’ve burned out for both reasons in the past.

The presenter spoke about the role masking plays in this, in feeling that you need to be “better” (more functional, less autistic) than you are and compared it with other areas where people have to mask. My mind went to LGBT people masking in traditional religious communities, which I guess shows where my mind is on this, but she actually compared with doctors who have to mask their emotions at work and appear unmoved by the suffering they see and how this can lead to high levels of depression and suicidality.

There was a lot about other people having realistic expectations for the autistic person, particularly at work and regarding socialising. This is very true, but it’s hard to manage other people’s expectations. I find it hard enough to manage my own expectations. The presenter also wanted reduced expectations NOT to lead to thoughts that autistic people can’t achieve work/life goals. Rather, they should be allowed to have goals, but not expected to achieve them in the same way as allistic (non-autistic) people. It occurred to me that this is difficult generally, and very hard in a conformist environment like the Orthodox Jewish community.

The presenter spoke about trying to get a job in alignment to a special interest, which I’ve found incredibly difficult. It’s good if you can get it, but I doubt that many people with “niche” interests achieve it (as opposed to those who like numbers or computers).

I find it can be offputting, seeing autistic people who succeed in their careers, particularly if autism-related, while I’m struggling so much in employment. There probably is survivorship bias in autistic advocates and patient experts being drawn disproportionately from the most successful autistics, on the grounds that only those people who are coping well have the wherewithal to engage in advocacy or to become professionals in the autism field. On the autism forum, where the barriers to entry are lower, there seem to be lots of people who are not coping well at all, although there are some fairly successful ones too.

I didn’t do much else. I felt too bad. I really wanted to move forward with setting myself up as a freelance proof-reader so I can start that in the new year (I figured no one is going to be looking for a proof-reader right before Christmas), but I didn’t do anything for it. I didn’t do any novel work, even though I have ideas to add to my unfinished plan. I studied The Guide for the Perplexed for fifteen minutes or so, but struggled to get anywhere with it in this state.

The only other thing I did was to go for a walk and picked up the first two of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books from the free bookcase. I haven’t read these as I was put off by the length and also by the fact that I read an early novel by Mantel, Fludd, for a book club I was in years ago and wasn’t overly impressed, for aesthetic reasons, although it also annoyed me as yet another book where someone losing their faith is presented as an unambiguously good thing, although at least the religion here isn’t abusive. However, I felt I should give her a second chance with a later book, where her style might have matured. I should really donate some more books to the bookcase, although two of those I donated a while back are still there. Some of the books in the case were badly water damaged from the recent weather, which made me a little sad, and makes me think I shouldn’t donate anything until the weather improves and/or more books are taken so that the ones I donate will be within both plastic boxes (a box within a box) and not on top of the inner box, more exposed to the elements.

Excursions, No Alarms

I started reading Dune a few days ago and read it to relax before bed yesterday evening rather than watching Doctor Who. It’s good, but not an easy read. There is a glossary of fictional words at the back, but I don’t like to keep turning to it and disrupting the flow of the novel, instead using it just for what seem like key words and working out the rest from context or just letting them go. The world-building is extremely complex, more so than anything I could write. This is positive, but intimidating. The fact that the book (the first three Dune novels in one volume) is too big to take to read on public transport means that it will take twice as long to read as the average novel even without the complexity, as I usually do a lot of my reading on public transport.

I got up later than I intended this morning and was tired. I miss sleeping on E’s sofa, where my sleep seemed more refreshing than in my bed in London, although it was probably more proximity to E and the absence of work in New York that made the difference. On which note, I’m still waiting for my sleep study results.

This morning, instead of going to volunteering, I went for my appointment with the psychiatrist to speak about reducing my medications. Except when I got there, I was told there was no record of my parents changing the appointment date (from 9 January) while I was away. They said something about a doctor having left and I wondered if someone was going to see me out of hours from kindness. The receptionist said appointments for new referrals (which I am, having been discharged years ago) are at 9.30am and 1.00pm and never at 12.00pm which was when mine was supposed to be. It’s yet another awful NHS incident. I hope I never have to see a proctologist on the NHS, as I don’t think an NHS employee could find their backside with both hands. I do at least still have my 9 January appointment, but I’m annoyed to miss volunteering, especially as I will be missing two or three consecutive sessions in a few weeks as I’ll have to rearrange my work days around the winter bank holidays and then so that I can go to the 9 January appointment.

I came home for lunch and went out again as I had a blood test in the afternoon. That at least went OK, except that when the needle went in, I suddenly got a stabbing pain in my forearm, a couple of inches below where the needle was, which continued until after the blood had been taken. I’m not sure what caused this (psychosomatic?). By this stage, the snow had largely turned to ice and I slipped twice on the way to and from the hospital, but didn’t fall over. I went into some charity shops. I bought the complete BBC Chronicles of Narnia on DVD for £4 as I knew that E wants to watch it. I also picked up the DVD of Donnie Darko, as it’s a film I vaguely feel I should watch and there seems to be a copy in every single charity shop in the country, like the universe wants me to buy it. I nearly bought Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, which I sort of want to read, but I decided my reading list is long enough, and my mood low enough, as it is right now without adding a thousand page book about the Battle of Stalingrad.

My Torah study today was mostly listening to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast while walking to and from different appointments. It was on Rabbi Sacks’ Jewish philosophy, with Dr Tanya White and Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens, two of my favourite contemporary Jewish educators. They spoke about Rabbi Sacks’ communitarianism. This appeals to me, but I struggle to be community-minded with social anxiety and autism, which impair socialising. Then again, I do volunteer, and I do a job that is inherently socially worthwhile, even though my role is mostly paperwork. Is this enough? I don’t know. I do feel disconnected from shul (synagogue) and real world contact with other religious Jews, especially since COVID. Am I wholly or partially exempt because of my “issues”? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t an easy answer. It did occur to me that I study Torah from a Jewish perspective, through Jewish texts and commentaries rather than just from my own thoughts, so that’s a kind of communal connection, albeit more with dead people than living ones.

I worked on plotting my novel. However, I feel frustrated by having to do so much planning, and that so much of it is so difficult. I do feel that my satirical dystopian thriller is likely to be a failure as a satire, as science fiction and as a thriller, but I do want to persevere with it for myself, if only to see how it turns out. I do feel at the moment that I will probably never be a published fiction writer, but I’m trying to accept that. It’s frustrating as I feel the things I want to say exceed my ability to say them. I’ve been told I’m a good writer on more than one occasion, but there’s good writers and there’s good writers. My sister used to be a talented amateur artist, and my parents have three of her paintings on the wall, but I don’t know if she could sell any of them, certainly not for enough to justify the time spent on them, which was probably a lot less than the time I would spend writing a novel. I do feel a little envious that my parents’ friends can see and admire the paintings whereas my writing is harder to casually show off (although one of my parents’ friends did buy and apparently read and enjoy my non-fiction Doctor Who book).

That said, I do feel a sort of general pessimism at the moment, some worry and frustration about when E’s visa will come and general feelings of inadequacy. A couple of conversations, in blogs and the real world, lately have hinged on the idea of how one copes with feeling inadequate compared with other people’s achievements, which in my sake would include people with children, successful careers and comfort and respect in where they stand in the Jewish community. I try not to be bitter or envious, but it is hard sometimes knowing that to some extent I’ve been set up to fail by my autistic genes and my childhood and adolescent experiences. However, there really is very little I can do about it at the moment, so I try not to think about it too much. I also wish I knew why I was here on Earth so I could get some sense of whether I’m doing what I’m supposed to do or not, but there’s no real way of knowing.

I also feel vaguely nervous about chatan (marriage) class tomorrow without really being sure why except for it being a late night before a work day, and the embarrassment if the teacher offers me a lift home again – not driving is another thing to feel inadequate about. I suppose a lot of it comes from feeling I know a lot of what I’m being taught, but I’m too shy to make that clear, and also that I struggle to contribute to the class, in both cases because of social anxiety and autistic communication issues.

New York and Back Again

I’m not going to give a day by day account of my trip to New York as I did for the two previous trips this year, partly as I don’t have time, but also because much of it felt to personal and intimate to share. It was effectively E and my civil honeymoon, as I had to go back to the UK twenty-four hours after our civil wedding ceremony in August, and a lot of those twenty-four hours were taken up with paperwork and a really good, but far from intimate, dinner celebration with E’s family and friends. This trip was our first real time to be together as husband and wife (in the eyes of the US and UK governments, but not the eyes of God and the Jewish community, yet). So, I don’t really want to write much about it.

I will say that E and I got on really well even sharing a studio apartment that was not really built for two people. We had no arguments and my religious OCD was under control. We had a lot of fun and both feel even closer than before and REALLY ready for marriage now. I also spent some time with E’s mother and E and I had dinner with my rabbi mentor, who was also in New York.

My hidden disabilities lanyard seemed to get me positive attention at the airports and on the plane, so I will wear it again in the future.

One place I will briefly talk about was Torah Animal World, a museum in a converted house in Boro Park. It’s a strange, but fascinating place, more like a seventeenth century Cabinet of Curiosities than a modern museum, full of taxidermied animals and ancient artifacts (coins, pots, etc.) mentioned in ancient Jewish texts. You can even touch many of the objects, which was fascinating and slightly troubling (from the perspective of someone more aware of how modern museums function and why).

The rabbi who founded it, who gave us the tour, told us that he was always being told off at school for asking questions about the Torah, such as, “How much water would Rivka (Rebecca) have to draw to water ten camels?” or “How did they sew gold into the High Priest’s vestments?” He decided that he would find the answers and make them available to other people. I’m inspired that he took an experience that could have turned many people off religion totally and made something positive out of it, and that he has found a way to be himself while staying in the frum (religious) community.

The other notable thing about the trip was the staggering number of books I acquired. I came back with about fifteen books that I hadn’t had in my possession when I went out (versus one I left behind, a siddur (prayerbook) I gave to E). I did not buy all of these and I bought few at anything approaching full price. Two are Chanukah presents to me from different people, one was a book E wanted to lend me and several are cheap or free from second-hand bookshop The Book Cellar (free advertising for them as it’s a great bookshop). The Book Cellar haul came to seven books plus a further one for E for under $10 total! Finding time to read them all is another question. The books were a mixture of Jewish religious non-fiction, history, thrillers and mysteries, humour and an autism-themed rom com (the book E lent me). My attempt to run a “one in, one out” policy for books (only buy/acquire one book when I donate another one to a charity shop or free book shelf) seems to be in ruins already (like my diet, something else that slipped and then totally went to pieces in New York).

I did spend some time thinking about my novel on the flight out and had some ideas while in New York, but as yet I haven’t actually written down my emerging story plan.

***

The other big news is that my sister’s waters broke two nights before I left. She didn’t go into labour, so the hospital induced labour while I was away. I am now the uncle of a little nephew! I haven’t met him yet. I was still travelling when he had his brit and, given that I have been in recent contact with someone who now has COVID (E’s mother), I am not sure when I will.

***

Today was a back to reality day. I overslept and got to work late, so I stayed late this afternoon to catch up. The office was very cold as the boiler is broken and noisy as the carpets were being cleaned. I dodged a bullet on phoning people to ask for unpaid payments (I suggested writing to some of them), but probably not for long. When I got home, I learnt that I had missed out on the job I had an interview for. They must have given it to someone else while I was away.

Not having slept on Tuesday night, having spent most of Tuesday and night and Wednesday morning travelling, then having spent Wednesday evening unpacking and not relaxing, then having a stressful day at work today, I decided to watch a James Bond film to try to unwind. I opted for perhaps the most low-key Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, but having watched the first eighteen minutes over dinner, I then got distracted writing an angry comment on a Jewish website. I am very concerned about rising antisemitism too, but saying that the USA today is literally the same as Nazi Germany isn’t helping anyone. Some people seem to have a psychological need to believe that they live in the worst period of history ever or to feel like the biggest victim ever (I’m not saying that I haven’t thought those things myself at some time). I then Skyped E and now I’m writing this and about to put my books on Goodreads, so I hope I still get time to watch the rest of the film, otherwise I suspect I will crash tomorrow (which I may well do anyway).

***

Someone on the autism forum apparently likes Jeremy Corbyn enough to have Corbyn’s surname and the year he became Labour Party leader as his username, yet he seems unaware of how Corbyn actually spells his surname. I find this oddly hilarious, although I hope I never have any interactions with him.

You Had One Job, Hamlet

I feel somewhat depressed again today. It’s hard to tell if it’s SAD or missing E or both. I don’t think it’s general depression. At least, I hope it’s not.

My sister and brother-in-law came for lunch. My sister is less than a month from her baby’s due date. I’m vaguely worried the baby will arrive while I’m in the USA, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

I sent off my CV for the job I mentioned the other day, but I realised it’s actually less money for more work I’m not ruling it out at this stage, as it is a library job that could potentially restart my library career. My current job isn’t in the library sector and has no prospect for promotion or career development. Even so, I suspect the selection committee will be put off by the gaps on my CV, long gaps where I was working in non-library jobs, or not working at all.

I felt tired after seeing my sister and BIL and skyping my rabbi mentor for a while. I didn’t have time or energy to go for a run, and it was probably too wet outside anyway, so I went for a brisk walk. That and some Torah study were my main activities today.

***

Lately I have been wanting to read Hamlet again, or (given I have a stack of unread books to read) at least to watch the five hour Kenneth Branagh unedited film version again (I have it on DVD). I’m not sure if this is related to feeling depressed. I tend to think about Hamlet when I’m feeling depressed for some reason.

There’s an internet meme about “You had one job,” mostly depicting badly-done practical workmanship e.g. handrails that go up while the stairs go down or toilet bowls placed so they stop the cubicle door shutting. But I feel that Hamlet “had one job” and messed it up too. All he had to do was avenge his father by killing his uncle. Instead, he procrastinated about killing his uncle; broke up with his girlfriend and then killed her father, driving her insane and ultimately to her death; nearly killed his uncle, but decided killing him at prayer would allow him to Heaven and decided he wanted to send him to Hell; got into a duel with his late girlfriend’s brother; finally killed his uncle, but was killed in the process; was also responsible for the deaths of his mother and late girlfriend’s brother at the same time; got a couple of his friends killed along the way; and finally handed over Denmark to the Norwegians. I feel that Richard III would have handled this job a lot better. Sometimes over-thinking doesn’t help.

Perhaps I empathise with Hamlet as I often get set simple tasks which I fail to do properly. Like Hamlet, I stand around trying to be clever and good with words, but don’t actually get the job done.

(No, of course I didn’t spend twenty minutes looking at silly “You had one job” photos online, why would I do that? That would certainly have been a waste of time and procrastination, not to mention making light of other people’s misfortune…)

***

I watched Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life last night. I had to buy a copy of the DVD, as I didn’t have one, unlike the TV series and the other two films. I think I thought it wasn’t funny enough. I enjoyed it more than I expected, more than my recent re-viewings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. I’m not sure why. It could be that I’m less familiar with the jokes from The Meaning of Life than the earlier two, which were quoted endlessly by my friends at school. The sketch format of The Meaning of Life is a double-edged sword: there’s a lack of engaging narrative to hold the attention through it, but it’s more similar in style to the TV series. I think the Pythons have subsequently said that they should have worked harder on the script to fuse the sketches into some kind of narrative, maybe the story of one person’s life, although I’m not sure how that would have worked.

It’s interesting that I’ve been watching Python for the first time in years now I’m thinking I should try to write my satirical novel, because I guess I want to have Python-esque feel, not so much in terms of surrealism or even sometimes bad taste, but in terms of mocking authority and saying things that society doesn’t want you to say.

“The red-eyed scavengers are creeping”

I kept waking up this morning and not getting up. I don’t know why. This left me feeling bad when I finally did get up around midday. I don’t know how much is habit, tiredness, autistic comfort or something else. I did get woken up about 7am and kept awake for a while by the rain – not by the rain itself, but by something (I guess a gutter or something similar) that was dripping loudly and regularly and was driving my autistic brain crazy. But eventually I did get back to sleep.

I feel pretty bad today, very depressed. I felt like I was fighting back tears a lot of the day. I know it’s too early to say if I’m having a few bad days or relapsing into depression, SAD or autistic burnout, but I worry that I am, and how that will make things so hard for E. I’m trying to stay focused and in the present, but it’s hard when I just want to curl up and sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing a psychiatrist on the 15th of November to discuss cutting my meds, but it looks horribly like I may have to stay on them, and who knows when I’ll get to see a psychiatrist again on the NHS?

I went for a run, just to do something. I hadn’t been for a run in nearly two months. It was a poor run, but I knew it would be; I’m just glad I managed forty-five minutes and nearly 5.5km (far from continuous running, though). There was very loud music playing, I think Jewish rock. Then, suddenly, about five o’clock, the music stopped and a lot of frum (religious Jewish) parents appeared with children. I guess there was a big birthday party nearby. Seeing the children made me feel vaguely bad that if E and I manage to have children, we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff for them. I know loving your children is more important than giving them toys or expensive holidays, but it’s sad for the children, who won’t appreciate that at a young age, and who will have to deal with the school bullies for not having the fashionable toys.

Now the noise is all Guy Fawkes Night fireworks. I guess I should be glad people are still celebrating it, as I thought everyone had switched to celebrating Halloween (not a major event in the UK when I was growing up), but it’s not necessarily good with an exercise headache and autistic reactions to loud noises. I tried to do some Torah study, but it just made my head hurt more. I will try to do a little before bed, if I can.

I still felt depressed after the run. While running, the line came into my head, “The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green” from T.S. Eliot’s A Cooking Egg (I got the quote a bit wrong, but corrected it here). I probably shouldn’t quote it, as it’s antisemitic. The “red-eyed scavengers” are almost certainly Jews (or “jews” as Eliot would have written it; as Rodger Kamenetz pointed out, Eliot repeatedly denied the Jews the dignity of a capital letter), as Kentish Town and Golders Green were (and Golders Green still is) very Jewish parts of London. Strangely, the material I’ve found about the poem online doesn’t mention this (you can be sure they would have pointed it out if he’d used a slur against various other minority groups). Even so, the line is powerful and I feel comfortable repurposing it to refer to the scavengers of depression, anxiety and OCD trying to creep in to my consciousness (or unconscious) when I’m exhausted. It’s an effort to keep them out, but if I make that effort, where will I get the energy needed to work, do household chores, fulfil religious obligations, write, exercise and so on? In short, how can I have a life if all my energy and brainpower goes on staying mentally healthy and vaguely functional?

***

It’s also harder and harder every day to function without E.

***

Responding to a comment from Adventuresofagradgirl (is this how you would like to be referred to here? Please let me know!) on my last post that God wants us to be good and to be happy and whether I write or not is secondary, I wrote:

I want to be good, but I feel I would find it easier to be good if I wasn’t on the spectrum. But presumably God dismissed that thought for some reason. I don’t know if God wants me to be happy, or how to achieve that. I worry that God wants me to write for some purpose, and if I don’t achieve it, that will be consider sinful or at least negative. But if I’m not supposed to write and devote time to it that should be spent on Torah study, volunteering, family, etc., that will also be considered sinful. It’s hard to know what to do or how other people navigate thoughts like this.

***

I want to post the following on the autism forum, at least the first point if not the second, but I lack the courage:

It’s over eighteen months since I was diagnosed autistic and I feel that I’m still processing what that means to me.

I still feel that autism is a disability to me rather than a difference and definitely not a “superpower.” My autistic traits are mild enough to be irritating and somewhat disabling, but don’t come with any benefits I’ve found yet. The only partial exception is my ability to spot errors of spelling and grammar. I would like to use this to work as freelance proof-reader, but I worry that that will involve a lot of skills I don’t have for networking and self-promotion. Autism is a drawback for those things. (My proof-reading skill doesn’t work so well in the office either, for some reason, and I make mistakes there.)

I want more than anything to write serious literary fiction, but I struggle with creating and motivating characters as well as using metaphorical language (I can understand non-literal language, but I seem to struggle to write it). I also think my writing tends to be overly-formal.

Also, unlike many people on this forum, I don’t feel that I’ve found my “tribe.” Autistic people seem to be too heterogeneous a group, and many of them too different from me, to be a group I can fully identify with. I dislike the term “intersectionality,” but my struggles seem to be primarily located at the intersection between autistic identity and Orthodox Jewish identity. I struggle with my autism particularly because I’m trying to live in Orthodox Jewish spaces, resulting in issues other autistics don’t have and I struggle with my Judaism because I’m practising it while struggling with autism, resulting in issues other Orthodox Jews don’t have.

Orthodox Jewish identity is fundamentally communal, whether regarding prayer (private, individual prayer is definitely considered inferior to communal prayer), religious study (which is ideally done in pairs and often in noisy, crowded rooms full of people arguing) and acts of kindness. As the title of an anthropological study of the shtetl (semi-autonomous Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) notes, “Life is with People”. It is not clear what can be done in the community for people who struggle to be around other people. This is before taking into account that Jews are, culturally, often loud and social, sometimes intrusively so (a generalisation, obviously, but rooted in reality, I think).

Orthodox Judaism lags some years behind the trends in the secular Western world. It is still catching up on awareness of mental illness; it will probably be some years before people begin talking about provisions or adjustments and leniencies for the neurodivergent. I’m not sure where I go in the meantime.

***

Facebook has been good and bad today, with some angry spost I didn’t really understand and a question on the Orthodox Conundrum group about non-Jewish books that have spiritual value. I probably over-thought this, and also realised that while I think Hamlet and The Brothers Karamazov have spiritual worth, I don’t remember enough detail about either to really justify recommending them, which is sad (especially as I’ve read Hamlet twice, once without notes and once with, and seen it (on TV) twice). In the end I went  for The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (on the dangers of playing God) and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. One plot thread is proto-Zionist, but it’s actually the other one, about a not-very-good person who’s made big mistakes trying to live a better life that is more spiritual (and more engaging, I thought).

There was political stuff (actually economic stuff) I wanted to disagree with on a blog, but I just didn’t feel up to getting in an argument. As I’ve said before, I think people rarely change their minds based on internet debate. I don’t like feeling people think I’m cruel or callous for decisions that are taken for pragmatic reasons when they know nothing about my thoughts, feelings or wider life (volunteering, charity, etc.). I do wish economics was a compulsory school subject, though.

It occurs to me that by avoiding discussion, I am perpetuating the problem, as well as potentially avoiding views that contradict my own and that may be true (although, to be fair, I do read some opposing views, I just don’t vocalise my responses. I think I’m probably better than most people about listening to the other side of the debate and being open to criticism of my own views). But I don’t really have the stamina to get into fights and there are not many places that I feel are safe for this kind of discussion.

***

I finished reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who over Shabbat. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there could have been a more balanced presentation of late seventies Doctor Who.

On to Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. In the introduction, the authors (Paul Cornell, who would go on to write for the revived TV series, plus Keith Topping and Martin Day) state, “We only mock Doctor Who because we are here to celebrate the fan way of watching television, a close attention to detail matched by a total willingness to take the mickey.” I feel that this doesn’t exist any more, or at least that I can’t find it. It’s possible that character limits on social media prevent such a complex way of engaging with a text.

Then a few lines later they state that calling stories with no name on screen by their official name on BBC paperwork rather than by the names common in fandom, “might be a mark of strict accuracy, but it could also be a sign of elitism” which, aside from referring to a now largely subsided fan argument of the nineties, shows that making something completely non-political into a angry and self-righteous political point for no good reason was happening even twenty-seven years ago.

Precedented Times

I had a guilt dream last night about missing shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). As I had a migraine this year, I feel it was unjustified, although previous years are more ambiguous. Although arguably I shouldn’t be beating myself up for autistic exhaustion and social anxiety.

I got up early, but procrastinated, ran late and had to cut my curtailed Shacharit davening (Morning Prayers) even shorter. I woke up in a thunderstorm and was not happy about having to walk to the station in it. The thunder had stopped by the time I set out, but it was still raining heavily and the commute to work was uncomfortably wet.

It was a boring day without much going on. I sorted a lot of papers and wondered why I’m not better at this, given that I’m a librarian and should know how to organise data. On reflection, I thought that I’m not an archivist and what I’m doing is more like archival work than librarianship, even if both do involve organising bits of paper. Although I’m not sure it’s really archival work either. To be honest, I would really need to be a solicitor to know what to do with lots of legal documents and copies of documents. I worry about throwing away something important, then I worry that I’m just shuffling bits of paper from one box or shelf to another without getting rid of anything or really producing an ordered set of papers.

I keep coming home from work feeling physically ill. I was worried about walking home as I was feeling quite light-headed, but decided to be independent and try, which turned out OK, but might not have done. I think part of the problem is being unwilling to eat on the Tube on the way home post-COVID.

To try to deal with the anxious thoughts in my head, I started drawing up a long To Do list. This is in addition to the long one I already had, most of which is marginally less urgent at the moment. Sigh.

***

At work, there’s a room with inspirational quotes on the wall from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl. One I saw today says that Judaism is not a religion of private communion of the soul with God, but of the life we build together. This is similar to something I said the other week (I may have been quoting unconsciously). It does make me wonder what happens, in a social-based religion, if you have a neurological disability that stops you connecting and communicating socially. I mean what happens from God’s point of view – does He give some kind of dispensation? How much stuff would a person be excused from? A number of famous rabbis are supposed to have stood up respectfully for people with severe intellectual disabilities, saying that they are serving God better, on their level, than those famous rabbis were. Likewise, blind people are exempt from many mitzvot (commandments) as it was traditionally hard for them to fulfil them with their disability. But where would you draw the line? I have social deficits, but I’m not the equivalent of blind or severely impaired, so how much leeway would I get? I know what happens from a practical point of view: all too often you end up getting left behind by the community.

***

Speaking of Rabbi Sacks, I reflected that if you look at my divrei Torah, and possibly my blog, the two biggest influences on my hashkafah (religious philosophy) are Rabbi Sacks and the Kotzker Rebbe  (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). They’re the thinkers I quote most often. I feel like Rabbi Sacks is the Maimonidean philosopher: calm, balanced, focused on moderation and building society. Whereas the Kotzker is the Romantic, the individualist and anti-establishment rebel, the radical pushing himself to the brink in his quest for truth and the authentic self. Possibly they don’t go together very well. Emotionally, I’m closer to the Kotzker, who may have had bipolar disorder and/or social phobia (undiagnosed as he died in 1859) and certainly spent the last nineteen years of his life not leaving his study, although current research suggests he wasn’t as self-isolated as was once thought.

The Kotzker is someone many people quote, but few people are interested in emulating. I wonder sometimes what he would have made of me, really what either of them would have made of me. I was in the same room as Rabbi Sacks on a couple of occasions, but never spoke to him, which I now regret, although I have no idea what I would have said or what kind of conversation might have resulted. I do feel a kind of inner tension represented by these two different religious guiding lights. I think there’s a similar dissonance in my political views too. I think I probably am someone torn apart by different intellectual currents and competing ideas and approaches to life.

***

I started reading Flowers for Algernon. I’ve known about it for years, but I didn’t want to read it, as I thought it sounded too sad. Then I thought that, as a famous science fiction novel, I “Should” read it, if I want to think of myself as a science fiction fan (I’m honestly not sure that I do, but that’s a subject for another time) so bought a second-hand copy for £1 in a charity shop, but it has sat on my shelf for many years, as I couldn’t bring myself to start it. Then I thought that, as I’m thinking a lot about my childhood and teenage years and my struggles to fit in with undiagnosed high-functioning autism/Asperger’s, maybe it would help. It might help with my feeling of having a much higher level of intellectual maturity than emotional maturity (which admittedly is probably less pronounced now than at any time since adolescence – after all, I’m managing a long-distance marriage at the moment). So, I started it the other day.

I have some qualms about the presentation of learning disabilities and the usual problem in fiction like this where intelligence is confused with knowledge, so someone whose intelligence is augmented suddenly becomes more literate, knowledgeable and worldly, which would not necessarily happen. Charlie is supposedly reading a lot of serious books very quickly, but even setting aside the time factor, to be reading Dostoyevski and the like so soon after being functionally illiterate would require a lot of mental scaffolding. I could also question whether the “illiterate” language of the early sections is how an actual functionally illiterate person would write (admittedly I’m only aware of this because it was a plot point in an Inspector Morse novel). I admit most of these flaws are necessary to get the plot moving and produce something readable; ultimately, it’s a novel, not a documentary.

So far, it’s made me think about bullying. It turns out that being bullied for not being clever feels pretty much the same as being bullied for being too clever by half; the taunts are different, but the feeling is the same. I’m glad I had some friends as a child, and I was probably lucky that my naivety wasn’t abused as much as it might have been.

The book makes me worry a bit about having children, though. I’ve been worrying about this lately anyway, as Adventuresofagradgirl commented on one of my recent posts asking what I thought about the likelihood of E and I having a child with autism, either moderate like myself or severe, which is a possibility at least, given that I’m on the spectrum and E has a number of autistic traits. We have discussed it a bit, as we do both want children (although this further assumes a lot of things we don’t know yet about our fertility and ability to cope with life). We are fairly positive about our chances of having high-functioning children, certainly with early intervention. I have met (online) a number of autistic parents, and most of them don’t have severely autistic children, but then, as I’ve said here before, “high-functioning” is a fluid and unhelpful term; people can function in some situations, or in some mindsets, and not in others. So it’s been lurking in the background as something I’d like to ignore, but shouldn’t.

Other than that, the book makes me feel sorry for myself, although I find it hard to say why exactly. While I haven’t suddenly gained intelligence, I have gained insight into myself in the last eighteen months and, like Charlie, I’m still applying that to my personal history and current social interactions.

***

I didn’t really want to talk politics, but I feel I have to say something. In September 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago, but was only about three years ago, The Daily Telegraph’s pocket cartoonist, Matt Pritchard, drew a cartoon of a man saying that “Sometimes I wish we could go back to living in precedented times.” And that was just during Brexit and Trump’s impeachment! We didn’t know how lucky we were! That was before the COVID, the Capitol Riot, Partygate, Ukraine, the death of the Queen and Liz Truss’ forty-four day premiership![1] And the possible return of Boris — it’s like a zombie film![2] I definitely want to go back to precedented times. Is Sir Keir Starmer the dull, charisma-free, nonentity Britain needs to drift aimlessly back to normality?

[1] The brief Truss administration also saw a situation where, for an “unprecedented” first time, none the four great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary) were held by a white man (white woman, black man, another black man, Asian woman). Strangely, the press is not terribly interested in this. Diversity doesn’t count when Tories do it.

[2] Boris, Trump, Netanyahu – why do none of these leaders know how to make a graceful exit?

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.