In Loco Parentis

I had some anxiety about volunteering at the asylum seekers’ drop in centre (held at a shul (synagogue)) today, including anxiety dreams last night.  It went OK in the end, I think.  As with last time, I helped set out donations of second-hand clothes that guests (which is how we refer to the asylum seekers) can take and then helped look after the children’s play area.  The children were more of a handful than last time, partly because I was the only adult looking after them the whole time (a couple of adults came and went and a girl of about ten who was volunteering with her mother also helped; she was pretty mature for her age and was a good helper), partly because they had probably been indoors all weekend because of the weather and really needed to go outside to burn off some energy, but that’s not really possible in the shul hall where it takes place.  They weren’t badly behaved, just a bit boisterous, but as the afternoon went on it grew harder and harder to keep them in the corner of the hall where they were supposed to be playing and to stop them running round the whole hall and disrupting the conversations their parents were having with volunteer lawyers and medics.  At least the experience seems to be helping me to overcome the anxieties I have about being able to look after children without doing anything catastrophically wrong.  I am probably an over-cautious ‘parent,’ as I realised I was saying, “Careful” more than anything else.  That came partly from being conflict-averse and wanting to stop the children doing certain not-good things without actually saying “No” and telling them off, but it was partly from nervousness about what sort of activities were suitable for them; not having had much experience with children, I was really feeling my way through this as the afternoon went on.  I do feel that there should be clearer guidelines about what the adults looking after the children should be doing.  I had particular problems when they needed to go to the toilet, as I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be alone with them at any point (a sad, but necessary reflection of the times we live in).

My rabbi mentor thinks that I should not be thinking about doing a PhD right now.  I know I probably rely too much on what other people say, but he is the wisest person I know and I always take his advice very seriously.  On the other hand, I have been thinking a lot about PhDs and about antisemitism.  It is a topic that excites me, if not exactly in a good way.  I do tend to have ideas that excite me and then get dropped as Real Life gets in the way or my interest just fizzles out or switches to something else.  It can be hard to tell what will stick long enough to get acted upon.

I currently would like to work on the following projects (given unlimited time, energy and resources):

  1. finishing my book on stylistic change in Doctor Who (second draft nearly finished);
  2. writing children’s stories based on the religious tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov;
  3. writing a book on Doctor Who comics;
  4. doing something to engage with and understand the topic of antisemitism, preferably something that can have a useful or practical outcome in terms of either helping Jews understand where antisemitism comes from and not internalise negative messages from it or to proactively challenge antisemitism in the wider world.

I would like to be working on any one of these and, in theory at least, the first three could eventually pay for themselves – in theory!  The reality is that they would probably only pay for themselves partially if at all.  Only the fourth option is one that could be funded in advance by some kind of research grant.  At the moment, the first option is the only one I’m actively working on and it’s probably better not to be working on too many things at once, especially as I realise that these four projects pull me in three or four very different directions (Doctor Who fandom; the frum (religious) Jewish community; academia and the general Jewish community).

A lot of people write on Hevria about the dangers of being a frustrated creative.  I thought I was a frustrated creative, but now I realise I’m a frustrated academic.  I want to analyse and understand existing things and explain them to others rather than create things for others to enjoy directly (it’s worth noting that I see my proposed children’s stories as effectively functioning as child-friendly commentaries to Rebbe Nachman’s stories as much as being original creations of my own).  As for what I analyse and understand, in many ways that’s less important than analysing something.  It could be Doctor Who or Judaism or antisemitism (or myself, on this blog).  But I think I need to be writing something serious and analytical and to feel that what I think matters to someone.

I have a couple of books to read here about antisemitism and am about to buy some more, so maybe that will help firm up my thoughts on the matter.

Well, my parents are off to sunny, er, Liverpool tomorrow for most  of the week, so I’ll have the whole house to myself for the first time in a long time, given that I’ve been living in a converted garage for the last two years.  It’s tempting to say that I’ll do something fun and/or productive, but based on past experience, I’ll probably be depressed and lonely and procrastinate, spending all my energy on necessary chores like cooking and shopping and not on useful things like job applications or working on my Doctor Who book.

Furious

I am furious.  I am so angry about this.  “Zionists” apparently don’t understand history or “English irony”.  I have a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford; Jeremy Corbyn got two Es at A-Level and did not move into higher education, so I think I know which one of us is more qualified to be doling out history lessons.  And as for the irony… well, the fact that the most humourless man in British politics, a man with all the comic sensitivity of being hit in the face with a plank of wood, is accusing people of lacking a sense of irony is ironic in itself.

But this isn’t a politics blog and I wouldn’t mention this here were it not for the adjective “English,” which, combined with the statement that British Zionists have “having lived in this country for a very long time, probably [emphasis added] all their lives” leads to the suggestion that they possibly haven’t lived here all their lives, or that even if they have lived here all their lives, they still have the whiff of the shtetl about them.  That Jews – and I think the implication has to be that he means Jews, not, say non-Jewish Zionists like Tony Blair – aren’t really English.  That we don’t belong.  And this is the leader of the largest “progressive” party in the country, the man who could easily be Prime Minister in eighteen months if (when) the Brexit negotiations go wrong, using language more usually associated with the far-right.  They don’t belong here.  They haven’t lived here as long as we have.  They don’t understand us.  They aren’t really us.  No wonder he’s been praised by neo-Nazi Nick Griffin and former KKK leader David Duke.

This ends up on a mental health blog because of the emotions this brings up in me.  Remember what I said earlier this week about not fitting in?  Well, now I begin to feel that on an epic scale.  The old feeling that, however long we live somewhere, Jews are never quite accepted.  That we never belong.  As they say, paranoia is when you think everyone is out to get you; Jewish paranoia is when everyone really is out to get you.  I don’t think that’s true, I don’t think all non-Jews are antisemites, but I think a lot more of them are than I thought five years ago.  I feel a bit frightened.  I feel glad that, if things continue getting worse, I can indeed move to Israel (ironically – that word again! – the better Corbyn and Momentum do, the more Jews move from Britain to Israel).  But most of all I feel angry.

Anger is a hard emotion for me to deal with.  Because of stuff that happened in my childhood that I can’t go into here, anger feels dangerous to me.  I admit I get sarcastic with my parents sometimes, particularly when the depression is bad, but when I get really angry, as with my American friend the other week, I stifle it inside myself and burn myself up inside holding on to it.  I run conversations or blog posts or comments that I’ve read or that I want to write in my head over and over, I can’t concentrate, my mind races, I want to EXPLODE with all the stuff in my head.

Not this time.  I feel fairly calm, or I was until I sat down to write this (I’ve got a bit worked up now).  Just coolly, calmly angry and determined that I have to do something to fight the spread of antisemitism in this country and the ‘mission creep’ that lets its spread from legitimate criticism of the State of Israel to dubious anti-Zionism (dubious because why should this one state out of all the dozens in the world involved in some kind of conflict with neighbours be destroyed?  Plus I have yet to see a blueprint for its destruction that wouldn’t end in ethnic cleansing or genocide of its Jewish citizens) and then on to foul antisemitism.

And so, I come again to feeling that I ought to be doing a PhD in history, focusing on some aspect of antisemitism.  Even before I saw the story, I had been thinking earlier today that it might be sensible to buy a couple of the books I wanted on antisemitism and use some of my time, now I’m out of work, to read them, seeing if I can cope with immersing myself in antisemitism and if they spark questions in my mind that might be fruitful for PhD research.  I still don’t know if I have the energy (in terms of depression) or inclination for a PhD, but I really feel that I’ve been given a good shove in that direction.

(Oh, the job interview was OK, but not great.  I should know by Wednesday whether I was chosen.  Thanks, Jeremy Corbyn, for selfishly relegating my main news to a footnote in my own blog.)

Sluggish

I was trying to get an earlyish night last night, but then the electricity fused at around midnight and we (my parents and I) spent more than half an hour trying to resolve the problem, without success.  An electrician is here at the moment.  Fortunately, when the house was rewired when we moved in (the old wiring was downright dangerous) the electrician put it on two separate circuits as a safety measure: if one fuses, we at least have lights and power in some of the house.  Hence we have electricity for internet, for now at least.  But as a result, I didn’t get to bed until late yet again.  I’m not sure how late, I think it was around 2.00am.  Certainly after 1.00am.  Then I slept until 11.00am and woke up exhausted again, which even caffeine has not completely helped with.  At times I feel  too depressed and exhausted to keep my eyes open.  It’s 4.15pm and I still haven’t had the energy to daven (pray).  This could be the increased dosage of clomipramine, as it’s sedating.  It’s probably too early to tell whether the increased dosage will make me less depressed.

I’m trying not to think about politics, antisemitism or PhDs, but it’s hard.  Scary stuff just keeps coming up in apparently innocuous places.  I should work, but I feel too exhausted and depressed.

I have a job interview tomorrow.  I’m worried about problems with Shabbat and Yom Tov if I get the job, but also that I will be too depressed tomorrow to perform well at the interview.

It’s the Jewish month of Elul, which means it’s time for introspection (as if I didn’t do that all the time).  I haven’t done a cheshbon nafesh yet.  This may be the first year I don’t do one in twelve years.  Cheshbon nafesh is a sort of ethical and religious self-audit, assessing how you have been as a Jew in the last year.  I’ve been putting it off partly from lack of time, with job hunting and other necessary things, but partly because I’m afraid of what it will show, and afraid I don’t care.  This year I intended to work on my depression and social anxiety, which hasn’t happened.  I intended to daven (pray) with more kavannah (mindfulness), which has maybe happened a tiny, tiny bit, but on the other hand I daven with a minyan (prayer quorum i.e. a community) even less than last year.  And I intended to study one Mishnah a day, which I haven’t done and in fact am doing significantly less Torah study (religious study) than I used to do.

To be honest, I’m worried about the upcoming Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days i.e. Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I don’t feel capable of spending hours in shul (synagogue) and I don’t really want to do it either.  I’m not sure if I feel angry with HaShem (God), but I certainly feel disconnected from Him and from Judaism.  The fact that I have no simcha shel mitzvah (joy in performing the commandments) is really upsetting me and I don’t know if it’s my fault or a product of the depression or what to do about it.  One rabbi said it’s the depression and there’s nothing I can do until I get better, which I don’t really see ever happening; another said I should at least have a bit of simcha, which just makes me feel that I’m a bad Jew and it’s all my fault.  I feel resentful of the fact that, until recently at least, I was trying for years – decades – to be a good Jew despite feeling terrible and having depleted energy levels and I have nothing to show for it except the feeling that I’m a bad Jew and it’s possible all my fault, but even if it’s not, then HaShem obviously hates me and doesn’t want my mitzvot.  The fact that I feel completely disconnected from my community, and the fact that it looks like I’ll never get married and have children (which is a key part of being accepted in a frum community as well as something I want for myself) just makes things worse.  I genuinely feel that it is at least likely that HaShem views me as wicked and hates me.

It’s a struggle to daven or to study Torah with this mindset or to do mitzvot.  I’ve been slipping with my mitzvah performance a little, mostly in minor things, like following lenient views on certain matters that I wouldn’t have done previously.   I worry that soon I will move on to bigger things, though.

Twitterings, Thoughts and Theses

Today has been a rather better day than recently (actually, although yesterday was hard, the evening was good: my sister and brother-in-law came over and I told everyone about my New York trip and showed them my photos).

The bad news first (to get it out of the way): I spent three hours filling in an online application only for me to lose the whole thing when the internet crashed, as it periodically does on my laptop for reasons unknown.  I was actually trying to save it at the time, because I got worried that the internet would crash and I would lose it.  Which it promptly did.  I don’t know whether to apply again, as it was a long-shot application and I’m not convinced I would be any good at it, or enjoy it, if I somehow got the job.

Also, today was a bad day to chose to set up a Twitter account to promote my new Doctor Who blog as there was a big argument in the Doctor Who online community about racism.  Doctor Who fans can be very ‘right on’ and also very argumentative and dogmatic, weirdly, for fans of a programme that is supposed to be about tolerance and open-mindedness.  In the context of the ongoing argument about antisemitism in the Labour Party, this made me wonder why people who are (rightly) so aware of most types of prejudice can be so blind about antisemitism in their ranks.  The fact that argument had spiralled out of something in the latest Doctor Who Magazine and rapidly turned into people telling two half-Chinese journalists who edit it that they should be offended by, and not enjoy, a particular episode from the seventies that treated the Chinese in a way which now seems racist, even though these journalists enjoyed anyway just reminded me of the way Jews get told by certain non-Jews to be offended by some things and not offended by others, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with what I actually find offensive and antisemitic.

This all reignited the thoughts about whether I should do a PhD in the history of antisemitism and then move into some kind of career involving researching antisemitism to fight it, an idea I have been toying with (in a “someone should do that” sort of way) for years without ever thinking I would seriously act on it… more on this later.

I didn’t realise how aggressively Twitter markets other people to you, though.  I haven’t been on Facebook for years, so I wasn’t expecting to see every single thing that the people I follow do turn up on my timeline.  And I’m only following four people at the moment!  (Strictly speaking only one is a person, the others are groups or organisations.)  I’m going to have to be careful with this, it’s going to be easy to get sucked in, both into procrastination and into arguments.  Bear in mind my political views in particular can be idiosyncratic so no one agrees with me.

With all that out of the way, the good news: I managed to get an appointment with a doctor this morning.  My usual doctor is away, but I saw another one.  He was very understanding, increased the dosage of my antidepressants and referred me to an NHS psychiatrist.  He also booked me in with an appointment with my usual doctor later in the week to keep him in the loop.  He booked me in directly, so I didn’t need to go back to the receptionists.  It also looks like the larger dosage tablets of clomipramine are back in stock at the pharmacists, so I should be able to reduce the number of tablets I take while increasing the dosage I take.

I also got a job interview!  The Jewish careers advice service where I saw the careers advisor last week had sent my CV out to some places and one is interested.  It’s only short-term (eight to sixteen weeks, depending on whether they decide to employ one person or two) with the possibility of being flexible with hours.  It’s billed as research, but it looks mainly like searching names and contact details on company websites and inputting them into a database.  At least it’s a start.  The date of the interview hasn’t been set yet.

That said, I was feeling strongly today that I need to do something academic-ish.  I felt in the past that academic librarianship would be that thing, but I’m increasingly unsure.  The CBT therapist I saw for the OCD was not convinced that it was intellectually-stimulating enough for me and she may have been right.  Certainly cataloguing doesn’t involve as much reading as I’d hoped!  And working in libraries for the last couple of years has made me itch a bit to something that involves more abstract thought and writing.

So, I’ve been kicking around thesis ideas again.  To summarise my thinking so far, I looked at all the areas I’m interested in and tried to see what might work.  A cultural studies thesis on Doctor Who or science fiction?  Not sure it’s really considered rigorous enough to open the doors I want and certainly I would feel a bit silly spending years on end writing about Doctor Who, much as I would probably enjoy it.  Plus, I’m not into the jargon and postmodernist theory that accompanies so much of the field.  Jewish stuff?  My language skills aren’t good enough for Tanakh (Bible) or the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe and I don’t have the grounding in general philosophy for a PhD on Jewish philosophy.  I’m not sure that I feel any great affinity for any general historical topic at the moment and my gut tells me that the main topic in Jewish history that I feel I could write about is antisemitism.  I think I have some things I could say here, but it’s hard to know if I’ve got anything substantial and new to say or anything that could be said at thesis length or how I would go about researching it or if I have the right language skills, or, or, or, or…  I don’t know.  It’s scary and I don’t know who to talk to about it and I still don’t know if I’m willing/able to do a thesis.  But I do think something about antisemitism, either historical or contemporary, and probably focusing on antisemitism, perhaps on Israel and the political left or maybe a more general thesis on the image of the Jew in wider culture and how this informs political and philosophical debate on Israel and Judaism in Western society… despite decades of secularism, I think a lot of Westerners, even militantly secular ones, view Jews through the spectacles of Christianity, which is hugely problematic (the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, once called Richard Dawkins a “Christian atheist” in a debate; Dawkins was apparently not amused, but his view of Judaism does seem to be unconsciously filtered through centuries of Christian anti-Jewish polemic).

So unfortunately I spent a lot of the day thinking about antisemitism, and about the ongoing hooha in Doctor Who fandom, and how the two are linked, conceptually, if not directly.

In other news, more evidence of my being tuned to a different wavelength to other people: I suddenly stopped dead in the street while walking home to watch some ants (but there were a lot of them, probably a whole nest), which maybe isn’t so normal.  Then when I got home watched Dad unloading the dishwasher and it was genuinely not until he had about three plates left that what he was doing registered in my head and I realised I should help (to be fair, I had just put the washing on the line, so I did some housework).  Then I couldn’t concentrate on job hunting because I was really pleased with a joke I came up with and kept replaying it in my head (someone on Twitter was posting about portraits of American Presidents and I wanted to say that you can tell that Nixon’s a portrait is good because of the way the lies follow you around the room).  I need to find some kind of way to live in this world like a normal person. (I’m normal, it’s everyone else who is weird.)

One last good thing: I put up posters of Doctors one through twelve (plus the Valeyard and the War Doctor) in my room a few weeks ago and now, thanks to the latest Doctor Who Magazine I’ve got the incoming thirteenth Doctor up too.  It’s silly, but having her picture on the back of my door makes me feel more optimistic about the thirteenth Doctor and the upcoming episodes.  (I was worried I wouldn’t like the new series.  Doctor Who fans do this a lot.  I have hardly ever gone into a new series without at least a bit of worry that it wouldn’t be as good as it used to be.)

Stopped

I’ve just stopped.  My brain has just shut down.  I can’t apply for jobs.  I try thinking about PhD ideas, but nothing comes, or nothing substantial enough.  I have vague ideas about writing something on television science fiction or the novels Philip K. Dick or antisemitism and the way it tries, often successfully, to dictate the terms on which Jewish identity is founded… but I can’t get anything right and I don’t really want to do a thesis using identity politics (which I find politically problematic) or antisemitism (interesting and worthwhile, but really depressing and triggering), even though it is tempting to learn identity politics antisemites’ tricks to use them against them ( a Jewdo throw?).

I’ve just… stopped.  I can’t actually do anything.  I don’t know what to do with my life.  Lately I’ve been prone not just to sleeping late, but to dozing off during the day.  I put it down to jet lag initially, but now I’m not sure.  It’s like my brain is just switching off and not cooperating any more.  I have ideas for things, but then the depression sets in and I can’t follow through.  I worry that people are growing tired with me.  It’s hard to convince people how bad I feel sometimes.  I wish I could just follow through on something.  I guess I’ve nearly finished the second draft of the Doctor Who book I’m working on, but I dismiss that and say the other books I want to write that I’ve thought of since would be better if I could work on them instead, but I’m too depressed and I want to work on one thing at a time.

I’ve made a couple of attempts at getting an appointment with my doctor today, but it’s difficult.  I was told either to wait four weeks or to phone on Monday afternoon to try to get a 48-hour appointment for Thursday (which is actually over 48 hours after Monday afternoon, but I’ll let that go for now).  The surgery seems to deliberately make it hard for people to make an appointment, possibly in the hope that patients will naturally recover or drop dead before getting to the appointment; either way they don’t have to worry about numbers on the waiting list.  It’s pretty much impossible to get an appointment for a non-emergency, non-routine matter i.e. something urgent enough that I want to be seen in the next week, but not urgent enough to require hospitalisation.  I feel I need to be seen as I can barely function and want to discuss if I can be referred back to a psychiatrist, but who knows what the NHS bureaucracy will think?

In other bureaucracy news, I’m chasing a non-trivial sum of money my shul (synagogue) owes me (they changed the way they charge membership fees, which meant I paid twice) that should have been paid back to me about six months ago.  I don’t really have the energy to do this kind of thing.

I applied for a job as a proof-reader at a cosmetics internet start up.  I almost certainly won’t get past the first hurdle, as they specified that they wanted someone with three years of work experience proof-reading, but I tried on a day when I didn’t feel that I could do anything.  I also revised my CV and cover letter templates in line with advice from the careers advisor I saw on Tuesday.  So I guess I’ve achieved something today,  however small.

Slight Update and New York Holiday Part I

Today has been hard.  I tried to take a test for a job I applied for, but struggled with it; I’ll have to finish it tomorrow.  I was depressed anyway, and thinking that I can’t manage to do a PhD after all, then flipped back to having ideas, then to despair again.  I feel like I’ve spent the last two days moving back and forth between agitated/energetic “I can do it” and passive despairing “I can’t do anything.”  Maybe my psychiatrist was right about there being a bipolar element in me, I don’t know.  Then I spent about two hours with my parents cleaning my old flat.  I think I probably had higher tolerance than my Mum for dirt, or less time/energy for cleaning (although she usually has a paid cleaner), which embarrassed me.  I didn’t have much energy or motivation for cleaning today, but struggled through and handed back the key to my landlord, so I guess I’m officially back to living with my parents.

I thought I should really start to write up my notes from my holiday in New York, so here goes:

Sunday 5 August

The flight to New York was OK.  I read quite a bit and tried to write some notes for a book I want to write, but the plane was not really an environment conducive to work.  There was an issue with the shuttle bus to the airport when I landed which worried me, but I got it sorted.

The hotel was fine, but had seen better days.  I had to ask for a safe and a fridge to be put in my room and the WiFi in my room was patchy and I often went to the library downstairs to connect to the lobby WiFi, which seemed to work better.  My room window faced a courtyard with high walls on all four sides, so no natural light came in.  But it was all hygienic and there were no cockroaches or rats, so it was good enough.

Because of US laws about importing food, I had to buy food when I arrived rather than bringing anything in.  The hotel receptionist didn’t seem to know where to suggest other than Whole Foods, which I suspected would be expensive organic stuff and I was right.  However, I desperate, so I got bottled water, fruit, milk and then – joy! – discovered kosher bread, cereal and peanut butter upstairs.

I had some culture shock on arriving in New York, although I’m not sure why.  I’ve lived in London all my life, so a big city should not have been such a surprise to me.  I suppose I live in the suburbs and commute into town when necessary and even when I worked in Canary Wharf, the skyscrapers there aren’t like Manhattan, completely blocking out the sky.  Maybe it was just exhaustion, anxiety, stress and mixed feelings about the thought of seeing E. in person, but I felt close to tears in the shuttle bus, although I did feel better after getting settled at the hotel and having something to eat.

Monday 6 August

E. and I were both running late, but eventually met.  We spent much of the day in Central Park, looking around and chatting.  It felt a bit weird that this was the first time we had met in person.  Afterwards we did some shopping in the area and had pizza for dinner.  It was a quiet day, but I wanted that to deal with jet lag and culture shock.

An amusing story: over lunch, E. told me to believe in myself more.  Then in the afternoon we went into a Jewish bookshop where I picked up a book and opened it to a random page, which was a chapter entitled, “Believe in Yourself”.  I bought the book, although not because of that.

It was a very good day, slightly marred by my getting a bad headache/minor migraine in the evening, possibly from dehydration and I couldn’t take anything because my solpadeine was still in my hotel room and I didn’t know which American painkillers are safe to take with my anti-depressants.

Tuesday 7 August

E. and I went to Ellis Island by boat via Liberty Island, although we didn’t get off at Liberty Island.  I was really disappointed when planning this trip that the Statue of Liberty was sold out, but I think it may have been for the best, as I’m not sure going inside would have added much.  It’s just a statue, really.

Ellis Island was fascinating, though, and I felt it struck a good balance when talking about things like Nativism, slavery, treatment of Native Americans and so on.  It could either have glossed over these things or turned into a politicised privilege-checking fest, but it wasn’t either of those.  I don’t know much about pre-twentieth century American history, so the exhibition about population movements in North America was actually more interesting to me than the one on Ellis Island itself, some of which I had heard elsewhere.

The weather, like the previous day’s, was hot and humid and it really stayed like that for the whole of the trip, although things got slightly cooler and less humid after thunderstorm on Tuesday evening.  The only place I’ve felt so humid is the tropical greenhouse at Kew Gardens (the London one).  It was very tiring being out in the heat and humidity and that perhaps contributed to my getting more tired and doing less than I would have liked over the week.

E. and I went for kosher Mexican food for dinner.  I hadn’t had Mexican food before, so that was a good new experience.

Wednesday 8 August

I woke very depressed and anxious, so anxious in fact that I lay in bed for about two hours thinking that I was physically ill because I felt so nauseous.  Eventually I forced myself to get up, far behind schedule, but I managed to get out on time, if only because I had planned a late start anyway.

I went to the United Nations and had an interesting tour (the General Assembly seemed to have a smaller floor space than it seems on TV), although I was disturbed by the fact they went out of their way to side with the Palestinians against the Israelis even where it was not really necessary.  For example, out of all the international conflicts in the world, there was only one that got its own (big) display, Palestine (it didn’t even say Israel-Palestine, just Palestine).  Then in the gift shop, one could buy postcard of the national flags of every UN member state, with the caption, “Britain”, “India” and so on.  Only one said “State of X,” the “State of Palestine”, even though there is no such internationally recognised state.  It’s just petty, really.

Afterwards, I went back to the hotel to pick up some things, as I hadn’t been allowed to take much with me to the UN.  I ground to a halt for an hour or two, lying on the bed until I got the energy to go out again.

I was thinking of taking a bus tour of New York, but I wanted to see the New York Public Library first, thinking it would not take long, but I ended up staying for a long time.  I have never seen such an ornate library!  I was scared to look around because it is a working library and perhaps I should have been bolder to see more.  I popped in to an exhibition on sixties radicalism, but I found it triggering for me, as all political stuff seems to be these days.  I feel I don’t really fit in anywhere on the political spectrum and that everyone will hate and reject my opinions, one reason why I’m nervous about thinking of doing a PhD in a subject as politically-coloured as cultural studies.

I managed to walk to a small kosher restaurant for dinner.  The food was great, but it was really crowded and noisy.  In fact, I found New York as a whole much bigger, louder and smellier than London.  A  really bad place for autistics/Aspies, in fact.  I’m OK in much of London, which may just be experience and the knowledge that I can go home at the end of the day, but New York was a very difficult experience for me at times in terms of sensory overload.  Still, I navigated my way around the city by myself for the first time and didn’t get lost, mugged or run over, which I think is a win.

To be continued…

Still University Challenged

I went to bed very late last night, or early this morning, really.  I was up late trying to do stuff, then I crashed emotionally and wanted to cry.  I feel so confused about so many things.  I know I still have to write up my notes from my holiday, but suffice to say that I saw E. a lot and enjoyed being with her, but that’s just left me more confused about where we are, wanting to be with her, but scared it could never work out.  I’m also worried about my idea of doing a PhD in cultural studies or communication studies: is it the right degree for me, a question I pose for many reasons, and is my thesis idea sensible or crazy.  Yesterday it seemed the former, today absolutely the latter.

That said, my mind has continued working this morning and has moved from Jewish imagery in Doctor Who (or the lack thereof) to Jewish identity in popular culture/television as a whole, embracing a whole slew of TV shows and films, many of which I know only second-hand, but which might support my thesis that unless produced by or for Orthodox or formerly Orthodox Jews, popular culture never represents  Judaism in a substantial manner, but simply as a vague set of ethical values that are essentially compatible with the tenets of secular liberalism, rather than anything more challenging.  Doctor Who might not even make it into this thesis, or maybe as a chapter noting that Judaism is presented in such a slight manner that an atheist alien Time Lord can feasibly be presented as “the most Jewish character on British television.”  (The Doctor is almost as Jewish as Josh and Toby in The West Wing.)

Of course, it now becomes a question whether this is a media/cultural studies question or a Jewish Studies question (or inter-disciplinary).  I feel the Jewish Studies department would be more sympathetic to explorations of Jewishness, the Cultural Studies department towards the use of film and TV as source material.   At any rate, SOAS’s Jewish Studies department seems to focus on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, UCL’s seems to requires better Hebrew language skills than I actually have (or probably need for this topic) and I had a bad experience with them when applying for my MA (they weren’t sympathetic to my mental health, which was why I ended up doing my MA in a not very good university).  I’m not sure that any other London universities actually offer a PhD in Jewish Studies.  I’m not sure how to resolve this, or whether I’m going too far from my area of expertise (such as it is).

I don’t know who to talk to about these things.  My parents are supportive, but not expert on higher education (neither went to university), my rabbi mentor and my therapist are both on holiday and in any case I was strongly thinking of changing therapist and therapy style.  I might email my friend who is a professional historian and has written cultural studies stuff about Doctor Who about my thesis idea, but I’m worried he’ll say that he isn’t qualified to pass judgement.  I could leave things for a week or two and see if the idea matures further, I suppose, but I really don’t know what to do or even who to talk to for advice.

Addendum

Just further to my last post I think it’s probably a good thing that I started thinking idly about what I would write about Jewish influence on Doctor Who (and the Nazi influence on the Daleks) if I end up doing a PhD on it, and I ended up spending an hour with ideas constantly flowing resulting in well over a page of typed notes.  Not sure about the ‘making a contribution to knowledge’ side of things, although I think there is definitely scope to talk about the presentation of both religion and Jewishness in Doctor Who in particular and the media in general, perhaps also to write about the fact that, while many science fiction and fantasy authors have been ethnically Jewish, only a tiny minority have engaged with Jewish identity and issues in a more than superficial way, or indeed in any way at all.

(I also have long had ideas for an essay about John le Carré and the Jews, which would probably be easier to defend as a contribution to knowledge, but harder to spin into a whole thesis.  Though it suggests that I could make a career out of Judaising identity politics and cultural studies…)

University Challenged

I saw a careers advisor today.  He had some helpful advice about CV layout and content and some less helpful advice about career direction.  I felt he didn’t really know that much about librarianship, which I guess is the problem with my having a minority career.  I was annoyed he hadn’t looked at my CV in advance even though I had been asked to send a copy and had done so.  I had the usual social anxiety thing of thinking he hated me and thought I was an idiot every time he suggested I do something differently, particularly when I said I’ve applied for six jobs and he said if I’ve been looking for work for a month, I should have applied for more jobs, one a day.  The thing is, I thought I had been applying for almost one a day and even given that I have been on holiday for nearly two weeks (counting days lost due to moving flat as well as being in New York) that should be more than six jobs.  Now, six jobs was to some extent a number pulled out of the air in desperation when asked on the spot about how many jobs I have applied for, as I honestly didn’t know, but I thought it was a ballpark figure, so I have no idea why I have applied for so few.  Maybe I have applied for more and can’t remember?

The really interesting/scary thing he said was that if I want to work in research, I should do a PhD.  This was even without my telling him my pipe dream of writing about science fiction TV because it seemed too silly and impossible.  The thing is, I don’t know how I would go about doing that.  My initial reservation was that, having been very depressed while doing my BA and my MA and in both cases taking significantly longer to finish than I should have done, a PhD would also make me depressed, but I’m sufficiently depressed now to wonder what difference it would make.

The second issue is that my MA was not at a good university and I wonder whether a good university would accept me for a PhD.  I am not sure if this is a valid concern or how to find out.  I guess I could try writing to admissions tutors.

The third issue is what to study.  I don’t want to work on Library and Information Management (my MA field).  History (my BA) is a possibility, but I don’t know what to specialise in.  My BA curriculum was broad.  I don’t really want to work on historiography (the subject of my BA extended essay, Oxford-speak for my dissertation).  The English Civil Wars and Interregnum, the subject of my special subject (a historical period of a decade or so in length, studied in detail and with primary sources, a specialism of sorts) is more promising, but I don’t feel either interested or capable in engaging with distant historical sources in a detailed way again after so long and I don’t really feel greatly interested in the seventeenth century any more.

Working on the problem from the other direction, my interests these days are interdisciplinary, particularly in the area where history, cultural studies and politics meet.  I’m interested in Jewish history and particularly in the causes and manifestations of antisemitism  and especially in the place where legitimate criticism of the State of Israel mutates into actual antisemitism and support for the Palestinian cause turns into support for anti-Jewish violence (*cough* Jeremy Corbyn *cough* the Labour Party).  I might just go mad if I studied this all the time, though, and given the political climate in much of academia (increasingly very anti-Zionist to the extent of sometimes being in my opinion antisemitic), finding a supervisor I was on the same wavelength with about what constituted legitimate anti-Zionism and what antisemitism could prove difficult.

I’m also – and this would be much more enjoyable to study – very interested in British television science fiction of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, particularly for what it tells us about the values, politics and worldview of writers and audiences of the time.  This is the most exciting area for me to think about working on, but it also has the most challenges.

First, I have no experience of working on cultural history, bar one term at Oxford on eighteenth century British popular culture, although I did do a piece of coursework for my MA on how Doctor Who fans make use of information resources.  Second, I don’t know what exactly it could lead on to (although I’d be interested to find out).  Third, as a librarian I’ve catalogued a bit of cultural studies material and both sixth form and degree level and I’ve found a lot of it does not interest me because it’s very postmodern theory-driven (I find postmodern theory confusing and not as obviously correct and useful as many humanities academics do) and also very driven by left-wing identity politics, which again is not my political viewpoint and has the additional problem that my identity (religious Jewish and Zionist) is marginalised or even demonised by academics working in this field, whereas I feel i have very little meaningful to say about race, gender and sexuality perspectives which are what dominate.

I feel there is nothing really to say about a Jewish perspective on TV science fiction in this period, unless it is to ask why there are no Jews in it despite the presence of some Jewish creators (although I’m not sure how many or how to find out; I can think of a couple off the top of my head); even then the answer is probably that religion as a whole was avoided as too controversial rather than a specifically Jewish response.  That said, some (including me, years ago in a blog post as well as a more serious (if flawed, IMHO) academic article in the journal European Judaism) have suggested that the Doctor could be considered coded as Jewish in some sense.  There was an article I read the other day in the latest Jewish Review of Books that may help here, arguing that Jewish film director Stanley Kubrick consistently took books with Jewish characters or themes, denuded them of obviously Jewish content, but then filmed them with Jewish actors or thematic elements that could be seen as coded for Jewish; one could perhaps see something similar going on with Doctor Who.

Crunch time: if someone gave me a sizeable research grant and the opportunity to work on anything I like, with the proviso that I had to produce a decent thesis at the end of it, my inclination would be to do something on the British television science fiction (TV SF for ease) of the fifties, sixties and seventies.  My current ideas for topics (and this is just from a couple of hours of thought) would be either looking at the presentation of technocratic scientific projects in the TV SF of the era as a way of looking at the breakdown of the “Butskellite” consensus on economic policy in post-war era (Quatermass II, A for Andromeda, late sixties/early seventies Doctor Who, The Avengers and maybe The Prisoner would be key here) OR looking at the presentation of Jews in British television of the time, particularly looking at whether the Doctor (co-created by assimilated Jew Sydney Newman and originally produced by the Jewish Verity Lambert, but originally portrayed by the somewhat antisemitic William Hartnell) can be seen as a symbolic grappling with mid-century Jewish identity[1].

I can actually see myself enjoying writing either of those theses, but whether I could get accepted on a PhD course to write them, and where I would do so, is another question.  I would definitely welcome any feedback from readers in academia or with experience of ‘aca fandom’ (academics who are also Doctor Who fans, writing professionally and academically about Doctor Who, science fiction or fandom), either about whether my ideas are worth pursuing or general hints about picking universities/supervisors/topics, whether having gone to a not-so-good university for my MA (after Oxford for my BA) will count against me and so forth.  EDIT: ideally I would stay in London for my PhD, although I could just about move to somewhere with a Jewish community e.g. which would basically be Manchester or maybe possibly Leeds or Glasgow.

 

[1] For those interested, the short reason why the Doctor is seen as coded Jewish is his consistent presentation as a wander and exile, as per Jewish history and stereotype (the wandering Jew and historic Jewish migrations over the last 2,500 years), but also per many Jewish refugees from Nazism and Communism, many of whom turned up in pre- or post-war London with Doctorates from foreign universities and a suspicion of authority, very like the presentation of the Doctor himself in the very first episode of the series.  Like many Jewish figures (again, Holocaust and Soviet refugees, but also back into the nineteenth century), he espouses progressive values of empiricism and social justice and provides a unique outsider’s perspective on society’s problems.  Like many Jews, he can ‘pass’ as a member of the societies he visits, but, again like many Jews, is often ‘outed’ as different either by enemies who dub him ‘impure’ or by his own principled refusal to approve behaviour he finds unethical.  The first and eleventh Doctors in particular are visually ‘coded’ by their dress, not specifically ‘Jewish’, but certainly visually redolent of mid-century academic refugees from Nazism and the USSR and it’s certainly not hard to imagine the Doctor having tea with Jewish refugees like Albert Einstein (mentioned in The Stones of Blood and glimpsed in Time and the Rani), Sigmund Freud (mentioned as having a comfortable couch in The Curse of  the Black Spot), Karl Popper or Sir Isaiah Berlin (we also know he was friends with Jewish escapologist Harry Houdini (Planet of the Spiders and a recent Doctor Who Magazine comic strip), a less obvious connection, but another Jewish immigrant who debunked spiritualism in the name of science.)