What Happened?

I blamed myself for a couple of things that went wrong at work, at least one of which was not my fault. I made some mistakes typing some invoices from a template, which was a bit of carelessness on my part. Also, Dropbox was not working on my computer properly, which meant that J couldn’t access the files I was working on and vice versa. J suggested deleting Dropbox and reinstalling. I deleted, but was having trouble reinstalling when J said we should go home and leave it for Thursday. I feel like we are leaving earlier and earlier (probably because the traffic is getting worse and worse), but I guess J is the boss and he gets to decide when we go. I am concerned about sorting the Dropbox problem, but ultimately it’s not my responsibility (yes, I do take responsibility for things that are outside my control).

I texted PIMOJ in the morning to see how she was as we always do. I didn’t hear from her all day until I got a thumbs up emoji from her just before I left work this afternoon. We exchanged one or two texts, but nothing like what we usually do. We “went” (on Zoom) to a shiur (religious class) just now and I texted her to see what she thought of it, but she hasn’t replied yet, or even looked at the text. I’m not sure what is going on there any more and I feel pessimistic about it. Maybe she’s just giving me space, as yesterday I think I came across as passive-aggressive and when she asked if I was OK I said I was in my “cave.” Maybe she thinks I’m still there, my texts notwithstanding.

I guess I feel a bit hurt by everything that happened in the last few days. I do wonder what she thinks of me, whether she thinks I’m some immoral or irreligious person. I think our religious outlooks are different. She sees God and signs of His goodness everywhere, particularly in nature and in positive things in her life; I find it harder to find God in a world of suffering and a life that has really not gone to plan, and inevitably that was reflected in my writing. That’s what the situation with my book boils down to, beyond the sex, that she sees God everywhere in the world, and I struggle to find Him anywhere.

I feel a bit responsible, but also like I got hit by something out of nowhere. I didn’t want to let PIMOJ read my novel at this stage (albeit as much because I didn’t think it was polished enough than because of the content), but I felt pushed into it, and now who knows what is happening between us. This may be me trying to take responsibility for things that are not in my control again.

***

Perhaps because I was feeling depressed, I bid on eBay yesterday for a back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine (#242), the issue before I started reading the magazine regularly. I’ve mentioned recently my nostalgia for the DWM of that period (my teenage years) and wanted to read a couple of articles and interviews in that issue that I missed out on at the time. I hope I don’t start regularly buying back issues though, as it could be expensive. I only bid for this because, with just a couple of hours left, there were no bidders and a starting bid of £1. In the end I got it for £1, plus £2 postage, which is cheaper than the cover price of the current issue. I’m not sure if that’s the first time I’ve won a bid on eBay.

Also, this Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition is in stock again, surprisingly, and I put in an order for it, so it looks like I’m having a good time on the DWM front if nothing else!

Walking Away from Omelas

Ashley pointed out yesterday that I use a lot of “shoulds.”  It’s hard to know what to do with that, other than to tell myself that I “shouldn’t” use them, which is just another “should.”  I always wonder how people without shoulds avoid being bad people and just acting hedonistically.  Donald Trump, for example, clearly does not have many “shoulds” in his brain, and I don’t want to end up like him.  Serial killers like Ted Bundy also come to mind.  Maybe there’s a model for people who don’t have “shoulds,” but who aren’t total narcissists or psychopaths.  I think Orthodox Judaism does involve a lot of “shoulds.”  Maybe I could talk to my rabbi mentor about this, but I’ve been avoiding him since I became worried (on slender evidence, I must admit) that I had upset him.

***

My fear that I’ve upset my rabbi mentor may be more evidence that my social anxiety has got worse during lockdown.  Obviously there’s social anxiety in the obvious sense of worrying about saying the wrong thing, but also there’s a feeling of inadequacy, that I can’t give people what they want.  I emailed some friends this week to try to work on my loneliness, and they emailed back, but I felt strong feelings of my not being “good enough” to deserve a response, in some vaguely-defined way.  That sounds like a grey area between social anxiety and low self-esteem.

***

I did a little work on my novel, but quickly became stuck.  I went for a walk and thought about what I was writing and decided to change my plans a bit, but I worry that this chapter is going to be short, and I was already worried that some of the later chapters are going to be short.  I hope I don’t run out of story before I reach the minimum word count.

***

Depressing thought for the day (non-mental health related): I saw a Tweet thread from a teacher who asked his students what side they would think of slavery if they had lived in the Antebellum South in the USA.  They said they would all be abolitionists.  He was trying to teach them that they probably would at least passively accept slavery, because they would have values and ethics conditioned by the society they lived in and would be wary of exposing themselves and their families to scorn, social ostracism and possibly violence by supporting radical minority opinions like abolitionism.  Although the thread did not say this, in fact, most European liberals in the 1860s wanted the South to win the Civil War, despite not even coming from slave-owning societies.  This was because the war was widely seen as being about a tyrannical central government restricting states’ rights, rather than about slavery.  Our perspective on the war (that it was a moral fight against slavery) is arguably simply the perspective of the victors, and not even all of them (even Lincoln spent the early part of the war insisting it was being fought to save the Union, not to end slavery).

One could pick many societies to play this game with e.g. Nazi Germany or the USSR.  There’s a famous story by Ursula K. Le Guin called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, about a utopian society called Omelas that exists in complete bliss for all, except that one small child must be kept in misery and degradation to prevent the society falling into anarchy.  Most people accept this; only a few are the titular ones who walk away from Omelas, preferring an uncertain future of exile to condoning such a situation.  (The idea is also found in Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov and William James.)

This is something I’ve often thought about.  How can I tell I’m not making morally wrong decisions or passively supporting immoral actions that are so “normal” that I don’t even think about them?  In fact, I probably am, on some level.  I’m semi-vegetarian (I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals)) and I do think of going fully vegetarian or even vegan because industrial meat production is so cruel to animals (I don’t think eating meat is wrong per se, just that we should treat the animals more humanely before slaughter).  It’s a tough choice.  Then there’s the fact that a lot of our goods come from developing world countries where people are paid very little for their labour; in terms of cotton, there’s a real issue over actual slavery in some cotton-producing countries.  However, boycotting these countries would harm the poor of those countries much more than the rich and powerful, so how can we protest effectively?  Once you start thinking things through, it can be hard to know what workable solutions exist (unworkable solutions are much easier…  abolish this or that Bad Thing without wondering what the consequences will be).

I do have some minority beliefs that I would characterise as moral beliefs that most people disagree with (i.e. they see my unusual viewpoint as the immoral one, whereas I would see their dominant one as immoral, or at least mistaken), most of which I don’t talk about because I am conflict-avoidant.  I do sometimes wonder if I should “stand up and be counted” for them more.

It is scary to think that I am wrong about some of my core beliefs (I’m not talking just about ethical beliefs now, but general religious, political, social etc. beliefs), although doubtless I am.  It’s scarier to think that our society as a whole is wrong about major things and we’re all too close to see it.  I have often wondered what people will think of our society in a few decades’, or centuries’, time.  One wonders what statues our great-grandchildren will pull down.

On the other hand, it’s possible that I spend too much of my ruminating on unanswerable questions and expecting an impossible degree of moral perfection for myself…

Hypotheticals and Counter-Factuals

I was up late last night.  I mean, I’m up late every night, partly because depression makes me nocturnal and partly because having a girlfriend in a timezone five hours behind me makes for a lot of late night Skype calls, but I was up particularly late, partly writing my blog post (which shouldn’t have taken that long) and partly dealing with difficult emotions.  Watching an episode of Ashes to Ashes had triggered a lot of thoughts and feelings about could I have become a really bad person, like the villain in that episode (a sexually frustrated and religiously-motivated rapist and murderer), if my life had gone just a little bit differently.  Really there’s no end to counter-factual questions like that, because there’s no way to test which of our characteristics are innate and which are acquired, or even how much of each.  But depression (and, I guess, pure O OCD) love those kind of “Am I really a bad person?” questions, particularly if they can lead to me beating myself up for things I’ve never done and would never too.

I probably do ask myself these type of hypothetical questions too much.  I know I was asking here the other day about whether I would continue any Orthodox Jewish practice if I lost my belief, and I do often wonder if I was an atheist what my source of moral inspiration would be and so on.  Up to a point those questions are interesting, but once you go down the “How close am I to being a murderer?” route it’s more a sign of mental illness.

Then I realised (this is still late last night) that an invitation I had to a Zoom anniversary get-together for a shul (synagogue) friend’s thirtieth wedding anniversary (yes, my shul friends are mostly a lot older than me) was yesterday and not next Tuesday.  I was a bit upset to have missed it.  I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it, as I find Zoom events hard, but if I didn’t go I would have wanted to send a message beforehand to explain why I find them hard, rather than just not show up.  I sent an apologetic text today, but I still feel a bit upset.  I guess it is easy to lose track of time in lockdown.

I got woken up early in the morning, unfortunately by Mum being sick from chemo side effects.  I got her some water and she said she thought she was OK, so I went back to bed and then fell into a deep sleep for hours, waking up after midday, which was disappointing when I’ve been trying so hard lately to move my wake up time a bit earlier in the day.  It was almost the end of time for Shacharit (morning prayers), so I somehow managed to get dressed quickly and pray a little bit before breakfast, which I usually find impossible because I’m too drained and depressed until after eating cereal and drinking coffee.

I didn’t do as much as I would have liked today, partly because of that late start.  I spent a bit over half an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which might not have been the best use of time.  I’ve been trying to give my divrei Torah more definite conclusions.  The typical way most people would do this is either ending on a takeaway practical moral or personal development point or a quasi-prayer that the world should be redeemed soon.  I don’t really feel comfortable with either of those, but I feel like I should try them.  The topic for this week pretty much forced me down the “prayer for redemption” route this week, but I think generally I’d be happier with the “moral point” version.

I worked on my novel for a little while, but I didn’t do much.  That was partly due to starting late and finishing early (as I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) this evening), partly due to feeling a bit stuck.  I’m starting to write a new chapter, and that can be hard, and this time it’s 100% events from my research and imagination, not drawing from my personal experience except in the most general sense.  It doesn’t help that my confidence in this project is a bit reduced.  I don’t think it’s going to be amazing.  I am trying to stay confident that it might get published and speak to people, but I think there’s a limit to how good could be, and that’s difficult for a perfectionist like me.  In the end I wrote about three hundred words in an hour so, which I guess illustrates how productive I have been recently, that this now seems very substandard.

I also went for a walk for half an hour or so.  It has turned cold again.

In the late afternoon, my mood dipped.  I tried to accept the difficult feelings without fighting or giving in to them, but it was hard.  I was thinking that my life is so much better than it was a number of years ago, when my depression was a constant and unbearable thing, but I also reflected that I’m still struggling with my mood and especially with my engagement with the world (which is a combined depression/social anxiety/high functioning autism thing).  I no longer have the confidence in my ability to work as a librarian or cataloguer.  At the same time, I don’t yet have confidence in my ability to write professionally, and especially not in my ability to sell my writing to publishers, which stems from a mixture of low self-esteem and social anxiety, perhaps also some autistic social ineptitude.

***

As I mentioned, I had an online shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half on Zoom this evening.  The class was on Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak), the most important biblical commentator.  I struggled with it.  I find Zoom classes very difficult.  Even in speaker view, where you see primarily just the person talking (as opposed to gallery view, where everyone on the call is visible at once) the picture changes too much for me and there is often too much extraneous noise.  I think a lot of people struggle with this even without autistic sensory overload issues.  I feel self-conscious moving even slightly knowing that I’m on everyone’s screens and my usual lack of confidence in answering questions was magnified.  I didn’t really say anything at all, even when we were in smaller groups.

It didn’t help that I think I seemed to be more familiar with the texts in question than most people there, so I knew a lot of the answers in advance, but not because I worked them out, just because I had encountered them previously, so I was reluctant to say anything.  I struggle to find the confidence to speak out in classes and shiurim in general, even though by this stage I know that I am often right, and that at the London School of Jewish Studies I’m usually one of the more knowledgeable people in the class, and my confidence could use the boost of being told I’m right sometimes (which is probably a horribly arrogant thing to say).

So, I’m slightly apprehensive about the other five classes in this course.  I’m also somewhat apprehensive about another Zoom shiur I’m booked for next Monday, but I think that will be a more traditional “one person talks and everyone listens” format; likewise a three session course I’m thinking of going to in a few weeks on meaning (I feel desperately in need of more meaning in my life).  Monday’s course might help me decide what to do about the meaning course, although my current thinking is that I should have skipped the Rashi course and done the other two shiurim/courses.  However, I have paid for the Rashi course, so I will try to get the most out of it.

Napoleon

I had a weird dream about Napoleon.  Maybe I want to conquer the world.  Actually, I know I want to conquer the world.  I just wouldn’t know what to do with it afterwards.

***

I felt really apathetic today.  It’s easy to get sucked into depression, thinking nothing can change, even getting sucked into “I don’t want to be here” (meaning, “I don’t want to be alive, here in this world,” although not actively suicidal) type thoughts.  I have to remind myself that I want to build my relationship with E., that I want to write my novel, that I have friends and family who care about me…  It’s hard on mornings like today, when I’ve overslept and feel drained and exhausted and a bit lonely and wish E. was here and can’t face the day and am worrying how I will write my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week and a whole bunch of other things…  Even after lunch the feelings didn’t go.  I had to force myself to do things when I really just wanted to vegetate.

I probably do have a negative tendency to seek not just perfection in myself, but brilliance.  In other words, not just to avoid errors, but to produce things (blog posts, stories, divrei Torah) that are outstanding.  This is probably just setting myself up to fail on two counts, because no one can be perfect all the time and no one can be brilliant all the time.  It occurs to me that the last year or two I have slowly been coming round to the idea that I’m never going to be a tzaddik (saint) and stopping trying to meet certain halakhic (Jewish legal) requirements that I simply don’t think are achievable for me at the moment, and possibly not ever.  I think I still want to be a serious literary novelist, but I don’t know if I have it in me or how to go about it.  Like I said, I want to be Napoleon, I want to conquer the world.

I did at least spend nearly two hours drafting my devar Torah.  It was very draining on one level, as I did a bit of research online, tracking down resources about honouring, or not honouring, abusive parents, but I was glad to get it done, although I still need to proofread it tomorrow.  I decided that I felt well enough after all that to go for a run, which was OK, but complicated by social isolating; I had to cross the road a lot to avoid people and at one point got stuck on a traffic island in the middle of the road, avoiding two dogs and owners on both sides of the road (although I would avoid dogs when running even without COVID-19).

I also joined in some of a Skype call with my parents and Israeli family.  I was a bit reluctant, as I get annoyed that it’s always assumed that I will join in with family stuff whenever it suits everyone else.  I know I’m the person least likely to have anything else going on, but it does annoy me.  I do have some kind of life.  To be fair, my sister couldn’t make it at all because it was short notice, so it’s not just me.  Anyway, I joined in.  It was a bit crazy, but not as much as I had feared.  My Israeli family are mostly extroverts and like being in the limelight; there’s a fair amount of diagnosed or presumed ADD/ADHD, so it can get pretty loud and distracting, which I don’t find easy either in person or on Zoom.  It did eat a chunk of my novel-writing time, though, thus further encouraging my nocturnal habits.

I suppose I feel vaguely resentful of losing quality writing time.  I worked on my novel for a bit, but late at night when I was tired.  I gave up at 10pm.  I was just too tired.  I lost track of how much I wrote today, but it wasn’t much.  It’s not my family’s fault, but it’s not my own fault either.  It’s not my own fault that I’m still depressed in mornings, that my devar Torah sometimes seems a big commitment (I didn’t mean to spend nearly two hours on it today), that exercise seems to eat up more time than it should with changing and showering, warming up and cooling down.  I wish I could be a normal person managing seven productive hours a day, plus family/social time, plus exercise time, plus religious time.

***

I got an email from the editor of a Doctor Who book I contributed to years ago, asking me if I want to write for a book on The X-Files.  I don’t know anything about The X-Files.  I wanted to try to get into it a few years ago, but reading about it online convinced me it was too scary for my tastes (I’m a wimp).  Said editor asks me to write for books on subjects I don’t know enough about every so often.  I wanted to be part of the second Doctor Who book he edited, but he didn’t ask me and I didn’t hear about it until all the slots were taken (so my Fear Her appreciation will have to go unnoticed by the world).  I pitched my Doctor Who book to the same publisher and got rejected.  There’s a moral there somewhere.  Speaking of which, the money for my Doctor Who book sales finally arrived in my bank account today.  I hope I get some more; right now I haven’t sold a copy to anyone not known to me personally.

I have a Skype therapy session booked for Monday with a new therapist…

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

Days Like Crazy Paving

Unsurprisingly, I woke up late after yesterday.  I wasn’t particularly depressed, but I was exhausted and spent a long time reading online trying to find energy and then struggling to get dressed and daven (pray).  I actually had to eat not just breakfast, but also lunch, before I had enough energy to daven.

My main achievement for the day was going for an after dark run.  I was worried about how this would go, as I was feeling tired just from my warm up, but it was OK.  I do worry a bit about running after dark.  I’m not the most aware person and even when walking I can step into the road without looking or cross a driveway without noticing the car reversing out, and when jogging I have music and the distraction of feeling exhausted.  I do worry I’m going to be in an accident one day, running or even walking, and it will be my fault (I’ve had a couple of close calls already).  Plus there are trip hazards running after dark.  Still, I survived.  And the post-run positive brain chemicals flowed for a bit.

I tried to work on my novel a bit, making the plan more detailed, but I didn’t get far because I was depressed as well as exhausted from running.  I have mentioned that I’m more of an intuitive writer than I expected.  To be honest, I feel I’m more of an intuitive writer than I really feel comfortable with.  I have an idea of the main events in every chapter and some chapters are plotted in quite a bit of detail, but so much seems to be being left for the writing.  I’m not sure why.  Some of it is not wanting to set things in stone, but let the novel grow organically, but I think some of it is a genuine inability to plot properly or perhaps even laziness.  It worries me.  I think of myself as a meticulous planner, although I’ve come to realise in recent months that I’m a very bad planner or at least very bad at sticking to plans, but I feel worried that I will suddenly run out of petrol mid-story, so to speak.

I’ll try to return to the story plan in the coming days.  I also have to start the proofreading job I said I would do for a friend and start planning for my new job.  Plus the usual things: pray, study Torah, exercise…  (more on this below).  All I did today was the run, and a little bit of work on the novel.  I didn’t even get up to ten minutes of Torah study.

I had dinner with my parents, which was not ideal, because I was stressed.  I was somewhat worried about my book, I was exhausted and hungry and a bit bad-tempered because of that, plus I didn’t really feel like eating as a family; I really just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV.  My Dad was making small talk and my autistic brain struggles with that at the best of times.  The autistic brain goes, “Why are you asking me about my run in such detail?  What can it mean to you?  And even assuming that you genuinely want to know the answer, I can’t remember what happened when I was running.  That was a few tasks ago.  I can only focus on one task at a time!”  So that didn’t go too well, although we didn’t have a blazing row or anything, just a general feeling of tension.  I got soup down my polo shirt too.

And that was it for the day, really.  I felt too exhausted and depressed to do anything else.  I watched half a Bond film (Licence to Kill), but it was too uninteresting for me to watch the whole thing in one go.  I think that James Bond, like Doctor Who, is better fun, even if slightly silly.  I think a lot of fans of both would disagree, but there you go.

***

Ashley Leia asked on my previous post, “if the frum ideal is for adult men to devote almost all day to Torah study and davening, how does anyone avoid feeling inadequate?”  I think it’s worth answering this here.

It’s only in a subset of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, the most extreme part, that people believe that literally all day should be devoted to Torah study (with no paid employment).  This mostly happens in Israel for reasons that have more to do with politics than religion (it’s connected with avoiding the draft for the Israeli army out of a fear that the army is a secularising influence).  In my type of community there’s a more nebulous idea that all available free time should be used for Torah study.  This allows paid work, but it also allows a degree of relaxation time, provided it’s taken with the intent of returning to Torah study refreshed (rather than because I want to watch TV or I’m too lazy to study).

I suspect that there are some people at my shul (synagogue) who don’t do much religious study, although I haven’t asked them and it could be I’m making assumptions based on my own preconceptions of the type of people they are or misunderstandings of things they’ve said.  On the other hand, there are definitely people in my shul who get up at 5.00am to get in an hour of Gemarah chevruta (paired study of Talmud) before Shacharit (Morning Prayers) and paid work.  And in between are people who study Mishnah for an hour on the train into work or the like.  I’m assuming most of these people are able to live with their consciences and don’t feel seriously inadequate i.e. they all think they are doing “enough,” for their own values of “enough” – which may not be exactly the same as other people’s value of “enough.”

I guess the problem for me is that this is fairly nebulous, and I’m not good at nebulous, probably for reasons that have as much to do with autistic black and white thinking as low self-esteem or depression.  In some ways, living in the ultra-Haredi “no work” environment would be easier, because at least I would have a clear ideal to work towards, even if I would find it impossible.  I don’t know how much study (or prayer, although the boundaries there are clearer) is “enough” particularly when I’m not able to do a consistent amount from day to day.  Some days I can manage an hour, which is probably what a lot of people in my shul are doing every day, but other days, because of depression or simply lack of time (which is in part also due to depression, to be honest), I only manage ten minutes and it’s hard to feel that something that was not enough one day can be enough the other day.

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I came across an interesting thing today that is somewhat relevant to this.  Giles Fraser is a Church of England clergyman and one of my favourite writers on UnHerd.com.  He tends to write a lot about theology and philosophy.  He writes here:

The word they use in theological college about the process of “becoming who you are” is formation. In this context, formation is achieved by acclimatising oneself to a tradition that stands over and against one’s individual choices. Indeed, it is only by recognising that one is situated within a given set of values that precede who we are that we are enabled to make the very choices that have come to define adult responsibility.

I feel very much that I need the Orthodox Jewish tradition as a set of values that precede my choices, even if my choices are not always the ones that the tradition would dictate.  There probably would be less of a disconnect if I was in a Modern Orthodox community rather than a moderate Haredi one, but that’s not really an available option at the moment.  I suppose I feel at least I’m in dialogue with tradition, even if I can’t fully follow it.  I want to choose with a tradition rather than against it, to find my place within a tradition rather than to create myself ex nihilo.

Is this rationalisation after the event?  Possibly.  I thought that a commenter on my previous post suggested I give up religion; she was actually suggesting I give up my volunteering opportunity, but I misunderstood and it got me thinking about what religion adds to my life.  I can’t really imagine what my life would be like without Judaism.  I would lose the things that give me structure on non-work days, as well as my only regular in-person social contact.  I don’t know if I could cope with the guilt, or the feeling that I’ve lost something.  I would lack meaning and purpose, inasmuch as I even have them now.  I would feel cut off from my ancestors, which would be a big thing for me.  Would I be happier if I wasn’t frum?  I don’t know.  Quite possibly, but I don’t think happiness is everything, to be honest, nor something I can really aspire to for long periods with my poor mental health.  If I’m staying religious, it would be better if I had a stronger feeling that God loves me or if I had more support and acceptance from my community, but that’s not really an option right now.

Lately I’ve been reading Genesis: Creation to Covenant by Rabbi Tzvi Grumet, which is a literary critical analysis of the book of Bereshit (Genesis), based on close reading.  One of the main things I’ve taken from this is Rabbi Grumet’s idea that the biblical characters grow.  I knew that already on some level (it’s most obvious for Yosef (Joseph) and David both of whom change a lot), but he really shows at great length that Avraham (Abraham) doesn’t always understand God, that Yaakov (Jacob) has to learn how to be devious, but also how not to be too devious and so on.  I don’t agree with all of his arguments, particularly his presentation of God making mistakes, but I think it’s true that Bereshit presents us with a God who seems to make mistakes, even if it’s with a big kavyachol (“If it were possible” – Talmudic language for saying something about God that isn’t theologically the case, but is how something seems to us).  It’s reassured me a bit that growth is allowed and I don’t have to get everything right first time, which is very much something I struggle with.

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I forgot to mention my Chanukah presents yesterday: the complete DVD box set of Star Trek: Voyager and some dark chocolate coins from my parents and the DVD of Darkest Hour (which I missed when it was in the cinema, to my annoyance) from my sister and brother-in-law.  I had been agonising for ages over whether to buy the Voyager box set.  I watched it on TV when it was first broadcast in the UK and while it wasn’t as good as the earlier Star Treks, or the more recent Discovery, it was entertaining enough.  Then the price of the DVD suddenly dropped and it was within budget for Chanukah (we don’t do surprise presents in my family, rather we ask for things or even buy them and get other family members to pay us back).  At any rate, it should be good escapism, particularly as I’m getting a bit tired of James Bond and could do with slowing down my viewing of those films.

 

Eeyore

I had a couple of insights into myself and my recent thoughts in the last few days.  One was reading Gold from the Land of Israel, Chanan Morrison’s elucidation of ideas from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook.  The idea was familiar to me, but hit me with a force that it hadn’t had before.  The idea was that experiencing miracles is not the highest level of righteousness; the highest level is not needing overt miracles because one sees God’s hand in apparently natural events (this is, although he didn’t say it, the meaning of the forthcoming minor festival of Purim, which I am already dreading).  This made me think that I shouldn’t see myself as inferior to those people on Hevria.com or Aish.com who claim to have experienced miracles, except that I don’t know that I really do see God’s hand in natural events; at any rate, it’s hard to think of much that has happened to me that seems unequivocally good in the way that this does.  Usually if something good happens to me, as soon as I let my guard down and give thanks for it, I get whacked with something awful.

The other thing that occurred to me was that a lot of the pressure and anxiety I feel at moment stems from my perfectionism.  I feel I have to be perfect at my job to avoid getting fired (and to prevent my colleagues and the students thinking I’m an idiot).  I feel I have to be religiously perfect in order for God to love me and to have a share in Olam HaBa (the Next World).  Perhaps most of all, I feel I have to be a perfect person in order to be accepted into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community and to get married, and that this perfection basically includes getting rid of my eccentricities and unusual character traits (secular interests, geekyness, mental health issues, autistic traits).  Underlying most, if not all of these things, is a belief that no one will like me for who I am, flaws and all, and that there isn’t anyone else who struggles like me or who has unusual traits like me.

I want to believe there is a frum geeky woman out there who maybe has experienced some difficulties and will be a good match for me, but I can’t believe it is true or, worse, I think maybe she does exist, but we will never meet or even know of each other’s existence because God hates me and doesn’t want to bring us together.  The evidence for my views is mostly that it hasn’t happened until now, so I doubt it ever will, but also from various near misses where I met someone I thought was like me, but then they turned out not to be a good match, or simply not to like me.  In the last year or so I’ve “met” (in real life or online) three frum geeky women who I thought might be right for me, but they weren’t (they didn’t want children, or at least weren’t certain (I very much do) and in some cases weren’t interested in me anyway).  Plus I dated one frum geeky woman years back, but that didn’t work out for reasons I probably shouldn’t mention here, but it left me very hurt and sceptical of finding someone like me or who could at least accept me, feeling that the only person who would accept me would be even more messed up than I am and would hurt me. I don’t know what I can do about these feelings.

To be fair, the frum community is quite old-fashioned and conformist, and rather bourgeois in its outlook.  Then again, I can perhaps over-stress that.  It hasn’t been my experience so much as what I’ve picked up from reading Hevria and other frum blogs, but I suppose they are often written by people with a grievance, real or imagined, so maybe I shouldn’t pay too much attention to them.  The Hevria people in particular are fairly counter-cultural and Bohemian and most of them are ba’alei teshuva (Jews who became religious late in life) who reached Jewish observance via counter-culture, drugs and Eastern mysticism so I guess they were always going to struggle to conform in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily do.

(I’m not really part of a specific counter-culture.  My mental background is a bit like this quote: “Doctor Four and Romana Two… were unfettered by popular culture, adrift in a time-warped world that was a liberal intellectual’s wet dream, a weird wonderland formed from bits of the 1890s, 1960s, the future, a higher plane, a secondhand bookshop, an ivory tower, and the anti-bourgeois underground…”  From The Lovers by Ian Berriman in Purple Haze #1 reprinted in Licence Denied: Rumblings from the Doctor Who Underground edited by Paul Cornell)

It’s going to be a strange week, anyway.  It’s half-term, so I’m supposed to be off, but there’s a major project going on at one of the colleges that my college merged with.  We’re basically setting up a library there from scratch with thousands of books to process in a few days.  I’m going there on two days to help with the job and pay off the time I took off for my sister’s wedding in December and maybe earn some overtime; the other days I’m having off, as I needed a break and have things to do, especially having a long-needed haircut (I hate having my haircut, but I don’t like leaving my hair long these days either).  It’s right the other side of London, even further than my usual commute, so I’ve arranged to come in around 10.00am and leave around 4.30pm, maybe a little earlier.  I still have to leave home almost as early as usual, though, as the commute looks like being anything from an hour and a quarter to two hours each way compared with my usual commute of an hour and twenty minutes, which is bad enough.  I hope to get some reading done, but if I’m tired or depressed or can’t get a seat in rush hour, I might end up just sitting feeling awful.  Ugh, I’m going into full Eeyore mode again.  (Heh, the WordPress spell checker recognises ‘Eeyore’.  But not ‘WordPress’, weirdly.)

In terms of moving my life on, I’ve got in contact with an old friend of mine who works as a researcher to ask if we can meet and discus my options in that field, although he warned me that he might not be the best example, as he doesn’t earn much from it.  I’d like to catch up with him anyway as we haven’t seen each other for months.  I’ve also thought that it might be worth contacting CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals, of which I am a member, to see if they offer any careers advice or information.  Make them earn their membership fee for a change.  I actually felt a bit positive about this recently, although when I stop to think about it in depth, I start worrying again.

My father asked his rabbi if he knows a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with health issues.  He didn’t, but recommended the shadchan his daughter used.  I am sceptical, but have emailed her with my shidduch profile (dating profile).  As I said above, though, it’s hard to believe there’s someone compatible with me out there, still less that the one shadchan I go to will happen to know her.  Hello again, Eeyore.