Special Interests and American Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. As I mentioned on Friday, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), as I thought the COVID risk was too high to be worth it. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in bed, not from tiredness, but anxiety and an autistic desire to wrap up in my duvet to self-soothe. I’ve never got around to buying a weighted blanket, but I did wonder what it would be like to have one. Maybe it would just encourage me to stay in bed…

I did some Torah study and I read a bit more of America During the Cold War, but not much. I confess my recreational reading was mostly Mistress of Chaos, the latest compilation of comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine. The comic strip is arguably better (more imaginative, better-written), and more in tune with what I think Doctor Who should be like, than the TV version is at the moment. This has happened in the past, when David Tennant was the Doctor. Scott Gray, currently the main writer and editor on the strip, is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers, even though he’s never worked on the TV version.

I tried to accept that I was going to end up doing self-soothing things like reading comic strips and curling up in bed given that I’m struggling with my mood as a result of coming off olanzapine at the same time as some very stressful stuff in my personal life and in the wider world. Even so, I feel I wish I had done things differently.

A friend emailed after Shabbat to say that she now has an official high-functioning autism diagnosis. She has also gone through quite a long process to get diagnosed, so hopefully I’ll get my diagnosis soon.

My sister phoned after Shabbat and we had a long chat, mostly me talking about all the stresses I’m under at the moment. We hadn’t really spoken for a while. Later I watched the film Mr Holmes with my parents, about an ailing, nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes, losing his memory and revisiting his last case to try to remember why he retired. It was a character drama rather than a crime story, a little slow, and dark near the end, but it was OK. Sir Ian McKellan was very good as the elderly Holmes, nicely distinguished from his sixty year old self in flashback. I’m pretty sure it contradicted the original stories in several places (Sherlock Holmes is another autistic special interest for me), but not too violently.

I feel a bit agitated now. I don’t think it was the film, just anxiety about major things in my life right now. I feel like I have a lot going on. Aside from being in the middle of the autism diagnosis process, I’m a bit more settled into my new job, but still learning the ropes and conscious that it might end soon. I don’t think I’ve fully adapted to losing two days a week to work; I’m still struggling to fit everything in. Then I’m working on my novel and trying to move on my relationship in difficult circumstances (lockdown), while, like everyone, my ability to cope with COVID is getting less and less. I still get annoyed with people who don’t wear masks properly, but I feel less judgmental of people who are not social distancing or isolating properly. It’s hard. If even a shy, autistic introvert like me is struggling now, I guess almost everyone must be.

There’s not a lot else to say. I impulse-bought a lot of second-hand CDs on sale a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been listening to recently. One CD was scratched and unplayable and I’m waiting for a replacement, but the others were good. I’ve been listening a lot to ABBA lately. I never liked ABBA, but in the last month or two, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert. I use music mostly to cheer myself up or to motivate myself, so I like fast and upbeat music, and much of ABBA’s output fits here. I bought ABBA Gold (greatest hits), which was the broken CD, and More ABBA Gold (greatest hits volume 2), which wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but surprised me by still being very good.

***

I just commented on a friends’ blog to say, “The riots in the Capitol were pretty shocking. I used to wish I had been born in the USA, where the Modern Orthodox Jewish community is so much stronger than the UK. I wondered if I would marry someone from there and emigrate [I nearly did, as E was from the US]. Now I’m grateful that I’m nowhere near. I worry what will happen to a country where the political class is divided into two groups that each think the other is irredeemably evil, where the President can’t accept he lost the election and where there are more guns than people.” I really can’t see this ending well. Maybe not immediately, but a decade or two down the line. People say Trump is like Hitler, but my worry is more that Trump is someone like Karl Lueger and that someone much worse is waiting twenty years down the line.

On that cheery note — bed!

More Anxiety

Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.

Back here in London…

I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.

I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.

Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.

Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.

***

As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.

***

Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.

Relationship, Weight, Twitter and Doctor Who

I had another date with PIMOJ. We’ve had a lot of “walk and picnic in a park” dates of necessity, because of COVID, but we have been enjoying each other’s company enough for them to stay interesting. Today I asked if PIMOJ was ready for us to call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend and she was really pleased and said yes. We had a good time, we make each other laugh a lot. We have very different personalities, but I think we share a lot of core values, and we find the personality differences stimulating.

We were together for about four hours, with maybe an hour and a half more travel time to and from the park, so I felt pretty exhausted when I got home. I was too tired to do much after that. I spent an hour or so finishing reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. I was pleased to see that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, indicating that my research has been thorough. I just hope that comes across in the novel. Tomorrow I hope to start the third draft. I did about an hour of Torah study too, somewhat to my surprise.

My mood dipped a lot in the evening, to a level that would probably be mild depression if sustained over time. Sometimes when something good happens, my mood dips afterwards, perhaps as I realise that my life is going to change, even if in a positive way (autism doesn’t like change, even for the better). I also have a lot of guilt flying about at the moment, perhaps needlessly, connected in different ways to dating PIMOJ, whether it’s the guilt about my sexuality that I’ve been carrying for years or the fact that I know that E cared about me and that, even though we were not right for each other, and even though I did not rush from E to a relationship with PIMOJ, I still feel that E would be hurt if she knew that I have moved on and am serious about someone else.

***

I did feel a bit short of breath at times when PIMOJ and I were walking today, not bad enough that I had to stop, but I did slow down a little once or twice. I can’t tell if this is real or if it’s psychosomatic and I’m overthinking it. This is worrying me as it’s new.

It may be connected with being overweight, which is problematic as my weight gain has been from my medication and has not responded well to exercise. I haven’t really made significant dietary changes, although I did reduce my cheese and egg consumption a while back when I was told my cholesterol was a bit high (it’s crept up a bit again since then). I think I have put on more weight, although it’s hard to tell as I don’t weigh myself regularly. I do eat some junk food, but I feel not much, except on Shabbat when admittedly I do eat quite a lot, eating chocolate nuts mindlessly while reading or studying Torah.

I may have to try harder to control my weight with diet, but I’m not entirely sure how. I don’t want to quit eating junk food completely, but I may have to. In the past I’ve never managed to quit junk food entirely as, when I was depressed, I wanted to have some small treat to reward myself for getting through the day. I say I’m not depressed now, so maybe I can go without any junk at all, as if I was diabetic, but the thought of it does not fill me with enthusiasm.

I probably eat too many carbohydrates, but I don’t know how to cut them out without being hungry all the time. For reasons that would take a long time to explain, I think work has made my diet a little worse, in terms of eating more white bread and less wholemeal and more eggs again. I also often get hungry at bedtime and eat cereal and I don’t know whether that’s medication-induced or a bad habit or what. I already eat a lot of fruit and vegetables during the day, but I still get hungry, so it’s hard to switch more fruit and veg in instead of junk or carbs. I will try to go for a run tomorrow and see what happens in terms of shortness of breath.

Anyway, I’m not happy that I’m thinking about my weight in this negative way and having negative body image as even when my depression was at its worst, I didn’t have particularly bad body image. I didn’t have particularly good body image either, I just didn’t think about how I looked much and was too busy beating myself up for my thoughts and actions. But I have always wanted to be broadly healthy and I don’t think I am any more.

***

I deleted my Twitter account. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but the final straw was this post. Possibly I was a little impulsive, but I’ve felt that I’ve been on there too much lately, getting caught up in performative outrage. I don’t even post, just read, so I’m not even building online relationships, just watching other people get angry.

I worry sometimes about being in an echo chamber where I don’t hear opposing views. Then again, I constantly modify my political views, and I must get those new ideas from somewhere. I try to be open-minded, and to listen to people even if I don’t always go looking for ideas I disagree with, not least because I feel those views often attack me as a person. I probably do have a kind of Overton Window in my head that shifts back and forth.

This decision was confirmed by my starting to read Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book about the shift in the moral culture of the West from a communal focus to individualism with a resulting polarisation and inflaming of the public sphere.

***

I watched some Doctor Who (I didn’t feel in the right mood for the relative realism and cynicism of The Sandbaggers). Lately I’ve been watching season eighteen of the original run of Doctor Who, broadcast from 1980 to 1981, Tom Baker’s seventh and last in the lead role. I’m about halfway through, although I’ve seen the stories in it many times before. I’m not sure why I decided to watch the whole thing. I think DVDs have changed the way I watch TV from individual stories to whole seasons, even though the original run of Doctor Who didn’t have much continuity from one story to the next (although this season did, perhaps why I’m watching it as a whole).

It’s an odd season, based more around real science than most Doctor Who, and lacking in humour, but rich in world-building and atmosphere, albeit that I think the atmosphere comes from the direction, electronic incidental music and even costume design as much as the writing; certainly Logopolis, the season finale (in modern terms), lacks a lot of coherence in the writing and works more from imagery and the sobriety of Baker’s valedictory performance.

It’s a polarising season too; from broadcast onwards there was been a fan discourse that saw it as “adult” and “serious” and an improvement on earlier stories that were seen as “childish” and “silly,” but then revisionists switched those views around. The advantage of coming to original Doctor Who after it finished is not needing to take sides in debates like this; I can appreciate both sides.

This should probably have been on my Doctor Who blog, but it’s hard to feel bothered to write there when no one reads it, and when I feel I should post coherent essays, not little reflections.

Chores, Christmas and Punching Octopuses

Yesterday I was so tired that I went to sleep at 10.45pm. I slept until about 7am, then woke, but still felt tired and slept for another couple of hours. That may have been a mistake. I think maybe I should try to get up when I wake up, even if I feel tired or haven’t slept that long. (Realistically, I’m unlikely to wake before 6.00am unless a bomb goes off outside.) I had dreams that were slightly disturbing, but not interesting or insightful enough to be worth recording here.

Today was mostly another chores day. I went for a walk, did shopping and ironing, tidied my desk drawer and finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I’m not entirely pleased with my devar Torah this week. I know I say that a lot, but I’m really worried about bending my facts to fit my big picture interpretation this week. I would have liked to discuss it with my rabbi mentor, but I haven’t been able to get hold of him. PIMOJ liked it though.

I didn’t get to work on my novel. “Working on my novel” currently is reading a book on domestic abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community by Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski. I haven’t learnt much from it, which is good inasmuch as it means my previous research, and the way I (tried to) use it in my previous drafts, are accurate. I suspected that this might be the case, but I thought that I couldn’t write a novel about domestic abuse set in the Orthodox community without reading one of the few non-fiction works about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community.

I finished reading Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Song of Solomon) in Hebrew with Rabbi Sack’s commentary, making three complete (and difficult) books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that I’ve read in Hebrew this year, alongside much of Tehillim (Psalms). And I still have a week to try to squeeze in the very short book of Ruth! I haven’t read much commentary on them, though (the book I read on Iyov/Job was as much psychology as theology). I am hoping to get hold of this book, although probably not until the new year now. The other books I’ve read in that series have ranged been very good.

***

The rather self-pitying (or so I feared) comment about my experience of autism not meeting the “autistic superpower” narrative that I left on a mainstream news site has garnered twenty-eight upvotes in two days. I’m not sure what to make of this.

***

Tomorrow is 25 December. This is usually the day on which strange religious stuff is done, and for once it’s not me doing it. There are some amusing spoofs out there on what Christmas would be like if it was a Jewish festival e.g. the tree must be a minimum of three handbreadths tall and no more than twenty cubits tall; however a public tree may be any height because it is to publicise the miracle and no one fulfils their individual Christmas tree obligation through it. Rabbi Yehudah says the tree should be erected on 1 December, but the sages say it should be erected straight after Thanksgiving (this is all American) to go from one mitzvah to another. And so on.

However, this year 25 December coincides with the Fast of Tevet. I will not be fasting, because it’s not safe for me to do so on lithium (I only fast on Yom Kippur); still, it will be a bit more sombre than usual, although in the rush to get ready for Shabbat (which starts at 3.41pm) there won’t be much time for anything before shul (synagogue) in the evening and dinner after nightfall.

What I did do for Christmas was go to a Zoom class at the London School of Jewish Studies about the Jewish roots of the nativity story, given by Amy-Jill Levine, who is an Orthodox Jewish New Testament scholar. It was very interesting. There was an interesting suggestion that Jews are more open to multiple meanings of religious texts because Judaism is an ethnic identity rather than a religious one. Whatever interpretation a Jew makes of the Torah, they remain Jewish, whereas Christianity is a religion with a clearly-defined dogma, straying from which might conceivably carry a person out of the religion, so Christians see it as more important to find the correct interpretation of the Bible. I’m not sure that this is the only possible explanation, but it’s interesting.

***

We have a Brexit deal. I’m more confused than ever about what I think of this. Sometimes it’s tempting to wonder what it’s like to have the certainty of the single-minded on both sides. In any debate (not just Brexit), I tend to see points on both sides. My university essays were masterpieces of fence-sitting.

But the news story that I heard today that I keep thinking about is that scientists have discovered that octopuses sometimes “punch” fish out of “spite”. See here for video footage. Remind me never to upset a spiteful octopus. (They are actually really clever animals.)

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

I had mixed feelings about an online article on autism and left a comment, even though I don’t usually comment on that particular site (it’s mostly politics articles, and while the articles are interesting, the comments are often angry and lacking nuance). I’m not linking to it as I had to post the comment under my real name. I said that the difference between “high functioning” and “severe” autism is not always clear-cut, that I was extremely high functioning in the structured environment of school and got to a very good university, but I struggled there and even more since then. That I’m thirty-seven and have never had a full-time job or a relationship that lasted more than a few months, nor have I ever built my friendship network the way I would have liked (although I do have some friends, albeit many online). That like a lot of people on the spectrum I’ve spent much of my life struggling with mental health issues. I don’t consider myself to have “autistic superpowers” and I worry about how I will cope with the world when my parents aren’t here to help me.

In retrospect I’m not sure if I should have posted it. The line between “sharing experiences” and “self-pity” can be a fine one for me and I’ve crossed it many times in the past, usually when feeling upset and left behind by life or by my peers. That said, and very much to my surprise, within a couple of hours it had become the comment with the most upvotes on that article, and by a considerable margin, so I suppose some people thought it was a worthwhile contribution.

***

My main achievements for the day were cooking dinner (lentil dal and rice) and going for a run, the latter rather later than I wanted, after dark, as I made sure to cook dinner first in case I got an exercise migraine. I don’t think I was unusually short of breath, so perhaps the recent shortness of breath is a mask side-effect after all. I did come back with a headache though. I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study with a headache, so I listened to an online shiur (religious class) rather than read Torah. I’m trying to listen to shiurim more, particularly on days when I feel depressed, tired or otherwise unable to read Torah. I do see shiurim as somewhat second-best, though, as I internalise ideas much easier in written form than spoken, not to mention that I feel that written information is “denser” than spoken i.e. I will come across more new ideas in an hour of reading than an hour of listening to a shiur. I’m not sure how true that feeling is.

***

My line manager, J, texted me to say that he is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with COVID at our shul (synagogue), I assume/hope not at a service where I was present, as I haven’t heard anything. He has been going to shul a lot more than me in the pandemic, so it’s quite likely that that’s the case. So, no work this Thursday, or next Monday, which is bank holiday anyway.

***

I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to chase the letter I was supposed to have about changing medication to make me less tired. The secretary says that she was not told to write a letter and that she will have to speak to the psychiatrist, so another NHS error. I’m worried that this won’t be resolved until the new year. We ❤ NHS.

***

The Economist does a “world next year” publication at the end of each year. I’m amused that they’re still doing one for 2021, even though I’m pretty sure their 2020 edition failed to predict the pandemic, which dominated every aspect of the year, even more than either Brexit and the US election (which had its own surprises, such as Trump increasing his vote in absolute terms, but still losing). The BLM protests in the USA were unprecedented in their size, and the fact that they spread to other countries and no one predicted that. No one guessed that Israel would normalise relations with a slew of Arab countries either. “Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future” is a saying attributed to many different people, but it’s very true whoever said it.

I wish journalists would stick to reporting facts rather than trying to seem super-clever by predicting the future. Unfortunately, it’s cheap copy – it’s much cheaper to sit at your desk guessing what might happen instead of going out and asking people what did happen. No one remembers the failed predictions, so there’s no downside to it from the journalists’ point of view. It also means people you don’t like don’t actually have to do bad things for you to be able to criticise them, it just has to be possible for them to do bad things at some point in the future.

For example, at one point this summer, there were four different articles on the BBC’s Middle East news page saying that Israel was going to annex the Jordan Valley and asking if this would start a war. In the event, Israel didn’t annex the Jordan Valley, and the idea that it might looks like a bit of diplomatic maneuvering to get the Emirates/Bahrain peace deal. The BBC never retracted anything. It never does. About the same time, there was a skirmish on the Indo-Chinese border in which several soldiers were killed, which potentially could have started a war between the two most populous countries in the world, both nuclear-armed. It barely registered in Western news media. There’s a lot of ways you could understand this, none of them good.

(Coincidentally, I just came across a load of newspaper clippings on Twitter showing senior US politicians and health experts (not just Trump and, yes, including Democrats) saying in February that COVID wasn’t a serious problem and that people should celebrate Chinese New Year in big crowds as normal.)

Fragment

Work today was unexceptional, except that J and I were halfway to his car after work when I realised I had left my rucksack behind in the office and we had to unlock and go back for it. I felt rather sheepish. I’m not sure how I did that.

***

Someone re-blogged my recent politics post. They gave me attribution, so it’s not plagiarism, and it was in the public domain but I feel vaguely uncomfortable about that particular post being reposted, particularly as it’s a blog that contains no new material, but just reblogs dozens of posts from autism blogs. I think it was probably well-intentioned, but I don’t know for sure.

***

I wrote a couple of paragraphs about Tunnel of Fear, the previously-missing episode of The Avengers that I watched tonight, until I decided it really belonged on my Doctor Who blog, even though it’s not Doctor Who, and early Avengers doesn’t feel like a spiritually similar programme in the way that the Diana Rigg seasons do. I hadn’t posted on that blog for ages. I thought I had given up on writing reviews of things. I suppose technically I still have, as I just wrote about it rather than actively reviewing it. I do feel these days I’d rather write my own stories than analyse or review other people’s.

Volunteering, Religion, Politics and Spies

I volunteered again today. I got up even earlier than I did last week, but still arrived a few minutes late. It’s not hugely awful as people do drift in, but I would like to be there on time. I just seem to be late leaving whatever time I get up for volunteering. It’s not so bad with volunteering, but I want to stay punctual for work, although J seems pretty laid back about things like that. I know my line manager in my job in further education said on my last day that she was impressed that, despite my mental health issues, I was present and punctual. Considering she almost never gave praise, I thought that was quite something.

I was tired after that and didn’t do much all afternoon. I had a long chat with my rabbi mentor, which was good. He’s pleased with the way my life is going at the moment. I had to pick up a prescription and accepted my Dad’s offer of a lift, even though the round trip walking is only fifteen minutes, as I just felt too tired.

The only other thing I did today was go to an online shiur (religious class) in the evening. This was not through my shul (synagogue) or the LSJS, where I usually go to shiurim. It was being given by the former rabbi of my shul, who no longer lives in the area. I knew he has interesting things to say, so I went even though I knew I would be tired. It was very interesting and has given me a lot to think about, primarily in terms of what he said, but also in terms of thoughts it sparked about the nature of the frum (religious Jewish) community. However, I’ve already posted something political today (see below, if you haven’t seen it already) and I think it’s asking for trouble to post about politics and religion on the same day, so I will leave it there for now.

***

I published the post about politics that I’ve been tinkering with for a while. I hope I don’t get flamed. I know from experience that writing anything that even mentions Israel is asking for abuse, hence my staying away from politics posts for a decade or more. But lately I’ve felt a bit more comfortable here, so I wanted to push myself a bit. Even so, I spent so long discussing my personal political history that the mental health bit ended up as an afterthought, which is not really ideal on a mental health blog.

***

Wanting to read a spy novel about a week and a half ago, I borrowed an omnibus book of four spy novels from my Dad. I’d read the first one, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s good, but I didn’t want to re-read it. The second was The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. It was mostly good, but not really a spy novel; more a novel about criminals one of whom has moonlighted as a spy. The spy content was small. I wanted the type of book with detailed descriptions of spycraft like John le Carre, the kind not necessarily high in action, but high in detail, jargon, and internal politicking. This wasn’t the book I was looking for. It was pretty entertaining despite that, but I became less invested in the closing chapters, when the hero moved towards being an anti-hero; I struggle with books with anti-heroes. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m religious or because I have a rigid autistic moral sense (or both). I will probably carry on with the next book in the volume (The Naked Runner by Francis Clifford), although I had been switching between fiction and non-fiction books.

The Much-Anticipated Politics Post

I’ve mentioned a few times about wanting to write something about politics, not in a party political way, but in the sense of my moral and political intuitions and how I feel nervous about talking about them to other people. This post probably isn’t perfect, but it’s a start and I think I should just post it by this stage, so here we go…

***

There’s a good quote I came across relatively recently: “if people seem slightly stupid, they’re probably just stupid. But if they seem colossally and inexplicably stupid, you probably differ in some kind of basic assumption so fundamental that you didn’t realize you were assuming it, and should poke at the issue until you figure it out.”

If you want, please consider what follows an explanation of my colossal and inexplicable stupidity…

Like a lot of diaspora Jews, I was raised in an environment that was at least mildly left-of-centre. There was a feeling growing up that one should vote Labour/socialist (arguably not the same thing when I came of age in the Blair years) or at the very least Liberal Democrat/liberal. (It’s weird that antisemites see Jews as monolithically conservative when the reality is that most diaspora Jews seem to be left-of-centre.) As I reached my teenage years, I was influenced by two things. One was studying economics at A-Level and feeling that socialism simply doesn’t work, although I was open to more moderate state intervention in the market. The other was the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. I don’t want to make this about Israel, but I felt that the news coverage and response from politicians and NGOs was increasingly one-sided. I felt that in the space of the first decade or so of the twenty-first century the “narrative” moved from a position of “There are faults on both sides, but Israel is heavy-handed” (which is a debateable point, but not necessarily antisemitic) to the demonisation of Israel as a uniquely evil state and which implicitly has to have its very existence questioned. This is much closer to antisemitism, at least in a world where no other state has had its legitimacy questioned like this. This attitude had been present among the hard-left for decades, coming ultimately out of Soviet Bloc propaganda (the USSR backed the Arabs), but seeped into the media, NGOs and the moderate left, particularly on campuses, where the atmosphere is increasingly hostile to Jewish students, something not really reported in the mainstream media, although it’s been reported widely in the Jewish press and online. Given that Zionism and the State of Israel are a major part of my identity, as they are for most Jews, this felt like an assault on my sense of self and poisoned my view of much of the left and made it harder and harder to see myself as a part of it, even though the right was not particularly appealing.

Contrary to what many people on the left feel, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic about contemporary progressive thought that makes prejudice less likely than among conservatives, it’s just that the prejudice expresses itself in different ways. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Jews became identified on the left with capitalism, building on earlier antisemitic ideas about Jewish wealth and power. That idea was suppressed after the Holocaust, but has gradually crept back in, initially under the guise of anti-Zionism, but, as was seen in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, classic antisemitic conspiracy theories and even Holocaust denial are passed around quite openly now on the hard-left.

I suppose I had pulled on a thread and gradually my beliefs began to unravel. This all happened slowly, over a decade or more of time, but I guess by about 2010 I became interested in hearing views I had never really considered before.

I think my views achieved a kind of stasis for a few years where I didn’t really identify with anything other than a vague centrism. Then came Brexit, the most seismic event in British politics in my lifetime. I described myself as a “reluctant Remainer.” I disliked aspects of the EU, especially its lack of direct democratic accountability, but felt being in was better than being out. Still, when Leave won, I thought that was that. In the months that followed, I was horrified to see people I admired, working to annul a democratic vote because they disagreed with it. There seemed to me to be a class element to this: middle class, university-educated Remainers trying to block working class Brexiteers. All the Remainer talk of gullible working class voters being “tricked” into voting Leave made it hard to avoid feeling there wasn’t a sense of entitlement buried under there stemming from access to higher education.

As I read more over the coming years, I realised this paralleled the white working class’ embrace of Donald Trump in the USA. I hated Donald Trump, but I increasingly felt he was the only prominent person who had noticed that in the move to identity politics based on race, gender and sexuality, working class and lower middle class people, some of them living close to the breadline, had been forgotten. Their incomes have stagnated for decades while the rich and university educated have got richer. I felt that Trump was manipulative and probably had limited real regard for these people; like a businessman, he saw an attractive market. All the same, he signalled a failure in the democratic process that was most pronounced in America, but present in other Western countries.

(I suppose, if you want to go down this route, that I’m part of the lower middle class “left behinds” – fifteen years after leaving university, I’ve never had a full-time job or owned a home. Of course, in my case it’s due to autism and mental illness rather than “elite over-production” (briefly, the idea that there are now more people with degrees than there are good jobs that require degrees, resulting in unemployment among people who are already in debt from university fees that they were told they would easily pay off once they started working). Even so, there is some resentment of the prosperous middle class that I try to repress, but probably is in there to some extent, I can’t deny it.)

All the same, I feel uncomfortable calling myself a “conservative.” I don’t agree with all conservative policies, for one thing. For another, I find conservative political parties worldwide fairly repulsive. What works on a local scale as communal help ends up on a national scale as strict needs-testing and rooting out of “undeserving” claimants, backed up by occasional jingoism. COVID in particular has shown the British Conservative Party as inefficient when faced with a new challenge, while Donald Trump has shamelessly ignored the science and tried to make it a partisan issue (although I don’t see Trump as a conservative in any meaningful sense).

Nevertheless, I believe in evolutionary change and tradition; in localism and third sector involvement in social care; I believe that many problems are not solvable, not by government and certainly not within one electoral cycle; I am suspicious of simplistic mono-causal explanations; I am strongly opposed to monopolies and big corporations, whether public or private-sector; and I feel excluded from identity politics, which often seems antisemitic, and which in any case I see as socially divisive. So all these thoughts would mark me out as a conservative, albeit a very particular kind of conservative, what in Britain is sometimes referred to as One Nation Conservatism for its vision of a mutually responsible national culture that transcends the divisions of class. I care about many of the issues progressives care about (poverty, discrimination and injustice, the environment), I just find their answers simplistic and often unworkable.

I’ve tried other ways of looking at the political spectrum. One recent UK survey identified seven types of political ideologies and I’m don’t fit any one of them, so that didn’t help. Other people look at “Somewheres” versus “Anywheres” – those rooted in a place and culture against cosmopolitans who value global living and policies. This has the advantage of explaining Brexit and Trump well; both appealed to parts of the established right (but not the neo-liberals), but also to parts of the working class that had not previously voted conservatively. But my “Somewhere” place doesn’t exist; inasmuch as I want to conserve somewhere, it’s a construct of Jewish identity that only exists on an abstract plane, not in a real place (not even Israel).

George Orwell divided the world into moralists and revolutionaries. Moralists think there is no point in reforming institutions while human nature is in need of reform; revolutionaries think the reverse. I suppose I would mostly be a moralist. More pertinently, Orwell also coined the phrase “Tory anarchist,” defined by the political theorist Peter Wilkin as “a form of cultural dissident, out of step with and in opposition to many features of the modern world” who has “respect for privacy and the liberty of individuals, a fear of the state and its expanding power over social life; a nostalgic and melancholy temper… ; criticism of social conformism; and a pervasive sense of pessimism about the fate of the modern world.”

This is a phrase I’ve taken to heart. I like it partly because it’s loosely defined and allows me to avoid pinning myself down, but also because it suggests to me (although perhaps not to other people) a kind of dynamic tension between opposing outlooks that I feel strongly, as opposed to a synthesis or compromise.

I suppose I think that there is no one way of running a society/economy. It’s all about what trade-offs you are willing to make. I’m not a libertarian, but the libertarian saying that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” seems to me to be inherently true, but frequently ignored. You can trade off economic growth against economic redistribution or unemployment against employment laws and minimum wage legislation and so on. It depends if you think the gain is worth the cost. I think that’s entirely sensible behaviour. The problem is that politicians rarely frame the decisions in that way; they tend to try to mislead voters into thinking that you can have it all. I’m very much opposed to that kind of short-term, simplistic thinking, whether it comes from the left or the right. I do very much see politics as a pragmatic business of balancing different positives and negatives and I feel uncomfortable with people who see it in a very redemptive, almost messianic, way, about “saving the world.” I don’t think we can save the world, only God can do that. We can just try to make it marginally less awful.

Even though I’ve moved rightwards, a lot of my friends and family are more left-wing, particularly online. The library sector is very left-wing, unsurprisingly, being based on public sector and education sector employment. On the other hand, some people in the Orthodox Jewish community are far off to my right. I haven’t been able to work out if most Orthodox Jews are right-wing, or just the most vocal ones. I mostly walk away from fights that are impossible to win and let other people believe what they like. It does leave me feeling “They would hate me if they knew me,” which is not good for my self-esteem. I do feel a lot of the time that I have to hide my sense of self, which probably isn’t healthy for me. Hence, I want to write this, just so I can see what happens and whether I can afford to open up to the world a bit more.

Lockdown Working, and Going Slooooowly

The first day of my new job went quite well. The train was relatively empty at 9.00am. There were still a lot of people on it, but we could sit with at least one empty seat between us and everyone wore masks. Also, I’m pleased that London Underground has put up signs reminding people that some disabilities are invisible, but I found their “Be Kind” signs a bit patronising.

Once arrived at work, I was in an office with my friend/line manager (who I will refer to as J for convenience). It was a small office and although we were socially distanced most of the time, at times we were not. The work he had me doing today was mostly checking data, comparing hardcopy records with the database and noting discrepancies. I got through about three-quarters of the data today, which was faster than he expected. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve been sloppy. I was trying to be careful, and the office was mostly quiet, which hopefully means my concentration will be better than the previous data-entry jobs where I struggled with noise and interactions with others. I also hope that it doesn’t mean that the job won’t last long. J said he would look for other work for me when I finish this. He said there is work to be done migrating data from an existing database to Access, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that, although I was trained in using Access many years ago.

I felt awkward at lunch, as J just ate at his desk and seemed to keep working except when he went off to pray. I stopped for lunch, but felt too awkward too read my novel in the office as I would normally do to recharge during lunch. I ended up not taking a full hour because I was just sitting there messing around on my phone. My Dad says I should query this, or say that I need a full hour, which is already making me feel anxious. Part of me feels I shouldn’t ask for a full lunch as I’m already coming in to work an hour late (to avoid the Tube in rush hour with COVID) and probably leaving half an hour early most days (as J offered me a lift home and implied he always would, and he likes to leave around 4.30pm to beat the rush hour traffic). I can’t leave the office later, as we were the last ones out and I don’t want the responsibility of locking up. On the other hand, if J seems to be OK with this, maybe I shouldn’t argue. He seems to have an attitude of working towards the job rather than the clock.

As I said, J gave me a lift home as he lives near me. I sat in the back to socially distance, but I felt a bit uncomfortable, although I’m sure it’s safer than the Tube would have been at rush hour.

I was pleased that J did not talk much in the office, so I wasn’t distracted or too socially anxious. He did put the radio on in the car on the way home and then talked over it, so that I couldn’t hear and concentrate on either him or the radio. I probably should have said something, but I thought it would be rude. As he seemed to be making neurotypical small talk, I just made “Yes, right”-type noises and tried not to worry too much if I couldn’t hear everything.

On the whole I think it went well. It’s not a terribly interesting job and it’s not where my career should be going, but it keeps me occupied, plugs a gap on my CV and earns me some money at a time when the whole world is struggling, not just me.

***

I went to a Hasidut chaburah on Zoom via my shul (synagogue). I’m not sure how to translate chaburah. I guess it’s more informal than a shiur (religious class). The word is etymologically related to the idea of fellowship, of people getting together to work on their personality traits together, in this case via Hasidut, specifically the teachings of the Hasidic Rebbe of Piaseczno. To be honest, I was probably too tired to get much from it, and talks about character traits just tend to make me feel useless and bad, full of bad traits, but I was interested to hear the rabbi say that we are not our character traits, because I tend to identify overly with my character traits, especially the negative ones. I tend to struggle to identify myself away from my thoughts and traits.

***

I’m mostly feeling OK now, just very tired. But I do feel a bit daunted. Things are going reasonably well for me at the moment, but I’m daunted by how long it will be before anything can come to fruition. The job I just started is not going to be a career. It probably won’t last more than two or three months. I don’t know where I go with my career after that. My novel is progressing, but I blow hot and cold as to whether it is any good. I think it will be a year or so before I feel able to share any of it with anyone else (OK, strictly speaking E saw some early chapters, but I’m not in contact with her any more and I think she was biased as we were dating at the time).

Above all, things are going well with PIMOJ, but we can’t even see each other properly because of lockdown. I think things are good, but it’s hard to be sure when we get to spend such little time together. She’s not like me at all in terms of personality, but we have a lot of core values in common. I do feel that I can’t always communicate with her so well via text and I’m not completely sure why, given that I usually find text easier although, as I’ve said in the past, if we do communicate better in person, that’s better for our long-term relationship prospects (I’ve also said that the fact that English isn’t her first language probably complicates things). For various reasons this is not going to be a typical ultra-Orthodox-style whirlwind romance (in the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox world, people will typically go on six or eight dates at most before deciding to marry someone). Even conservatively, if not much goes wrong, it’s going to be several years before we could think about getting married (and we’re both religious, so my thirty-seven years of celibacy are set to continue indefinitely).

***

I know I’ve vacillated back and forth here about posting something about my politics, wanting to write something from a social anxiety point of view as anything else i.e. about feeling isolated in certain gatherings rather than advocating X, Y and Z. I actually wrote a long post which has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. I want to add a bit to it, but perhaps I’ll post it later this week, assuming I don’t lose my nerve.

I often seem to be in situations where most people don’t share my beliefs, whether political or religious (religiously, I’ve shared Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl notion that Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority or a minority of a minority). This is often uncomfortable, but it does mean that I can’t take anything for granted, I have to articulate what I believe and why constantly, at least to myself if not to other people. That’s probably a worthwhile exercise to undertake regardless of what you believe.

***

Poor Executive Function

I dragged myself out of bed to go to Zoom autism support group, which was probably not worth doing. I don’t know if I’m going to keep going, unless perhaps there’s a topic I find particularly interesting. I don’t really learn coping strategies, which is what I really want. My symptoms are often not the same as other people’s, so there isn’t necessarily the same empathy that exists in my depression group. I don’t know why there is such wide variation on the autism spectrum, but it’s true (hence the saying, common in high functioning autism circles, that “If you know one person on the autism spectrum, then you know one person on the autism spectrum”).

In addition, one of the moderators seems to have some prejudices against neurotypicals, which I find just as problematic as the reverse. I guess I also feel that although living in the neurotypical world is difficult, some neurotypical rules are worthwhile, even if I struggle with them. Maybe that’s autistic rule-keeping on my part, but some people in the group seem to think that neurodiverse people should be allowed to do what they want and neurotypicals should just deal with it; again, which, again I find as problematic as saying that neurodiverse people should just be forced to conform completely to neurotypical society. Adjustments should be reasonable. Society is about finding compromises, whether you’re on the spectrum or not.

It made me also think again about attention to detail and me. Attention to detail is generally recognised as something people on the autism spectrum usually have and can often put to good use in the labour market. I used to have good attention to detail, but I feel that in recent years I have lost this, particularly in the workplace. I hope that it’s just a consequence of being in environments that were not right for me (noisy, requiring multitasking or rapid task changes, or having a line manager I didn’t like) and when I was working in other environments without those challenges, I think I did have much better attention to detail. Still, I worry about it, particularly as I’m about to start a job that will probably require good attention to detail in an environment that might stress me out a bit because I’ll have a friend as my line manager.

All that said, the autism group session today was about executive function issues and then in the afternoon, I made a plan and then did something completely different to what I planned, which is a classic autistic executive function issue. Perhaps the fact that I fell into this behaviour again shows that the group really didn’t help.

***

I went for a 5K run, despite some slight pain in my foot and knee which mostly passed after a few minutes. It was good to get out again, as I hadn’t run for a while. I don’t know why I always seem to think about political stuff that annoys me when I’m running. I listen to music, but that doesn’t help. Maybe I should try something I have to concentrate on, like an audio drama or audio book. I came back feeling a bit ill, headachy and faint, as always seems to happen these days.

***

As well as thinking about politics when running, I procrastinate on Twitter too. 90% of Twitter consists of people being outraged about things they can’t change and the other 10% is videos of cute animals. I feel I should find out what people are outraged about, but a lot of the time it is stuff that is irrelevant out of their bubble, or stuff that simply isn’t true (everyone thinks it’s only the “other side” that does this; sorry, as someone who doesn’t easily fit on either side, I can tell you it’s both sides). Well, I do really know why I spend time on Twitter: it’s because I want to feel less lonely and confirmed in my views, but it’s pretty bad at doing that (particularly as I don’t post or comment, I just read). I’m not sure I should be trying to confirm my views, and I don’t think Twitter will stop me being lonely. Still, I get sucked in.

I did manage to spend about an hour on my novel after dinner, which was good. I felt a bit more positively towards it (I mean, positively about the quality of what I’m writing; I’ve always felt that the subject matter is worthwhile). I also cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree) and spent twenty-five minutes on Torah study and researching my devar Torah. I would have liked to have done more Torah study and more work on my novel. I always would like to do more of these things, but I always run out of time and energy. It’s frustrating that I never have enough time and energy (which may take us back to procrastination time and poor executive function). The Talmud says no one dies with even half their desires fulfilled; I think this refers to meaningful/spiritual desires as much as physical/hedonistic ones. At the same time, I know I procrastinate and get distracted (see above!). It is hard to change.

***

I felt a bit on edge for much of the day, although I think running got rid of this. I was vaguely irritable, although I think I kept from sniping at anyone. I do feel that I don’t know how I would like PIMOJ to react when I feel a mildly depressed. Do I want problem solving advice, empathetic support or just to be given space? The problem is, it could be any of those things at any time. With my first girlfriend, she largely ignored me when I was feeling depressed. My second girlfriend was long-distance, so there was a limit to what she could do as she was usually asleep or at work when I was feeling bad, although she would send supportive empathetic texts. But this feels like uncharted territory in that I think PIMOJ wants to support me and is in a position to do so. And I don’t really know what to ask her to do. I guess our relationship feels a bit like we’re making it up as we go along. Maybe everyone feels like that, or maybe we’re weird because I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, despite our ages.

***

More thoughts about Twin Peaks: The Return; feel free to skip.

There’s basically no incidental music. Given that successive scenes can take place in totally different parts of the US (Twin Peaks; New York City; Las Vegas) with characters that don’t seem to relate to each other or interact, and that after the first couple of episodes, it seems to be largely played for comedy, the whole thing comes across as a bizarre experimental comedy sketch show with no laughter track, the type of thing the BBC seems so fond of, where a bunch of twenty-something comedians try to be Monty Python. Or maybe I just have a weird sense of humour.

Ambushed By A Day

I went to bed early last night, but slept for twelve hours or more and got up around midday. Even after getting up I felt burnt out and went slowly. I didn’t even have much energy to be surprised or upset about the US election dragging on. It’s strange and frustrating how much volunteering burns me out, particularly as it’s more physical (moving crates of food, packing tins) than social (masks make it hard even for neurotypicals to chit-chat). I’m apprehensive of how I’m going to cope when I have a full work day after a volunteering day, as could happen soon. I guess I can push through these things when I have to, particularly when it’s not too frequent or intense, but there can be a psychological cost e.g. when I was working four consecutive days a week in a noisy open-plan office for three months, which was painful.

***

I saw a cataloguing job advertised at a university where I applied before, back in 2018. I went through the presentation I had to give badly, stumbled through the interview and then completely failed the exam I had to sit. I couldn’t answer anything, I just wrote on it that I was not well and had not been able to prepare properly and that I was sorry. I don’t know if I dare to apply again after that. I feel so rusty applying for cataloguing jobs and this one has bad associations, and they may recognise my name and throw my application out straight away.

***

My second autism appointment is booked for 20 November. Hopefully that will be when I get a firm diagnosis and find out what help the NHS can offer me.

***

I didn’t manage to do much today until late afternoon, then I tried to cram too much in. Aside from feeling burnt out all day, we had a cleaner here and a window-cleaner and I struggled with that as an invasion of space. I realise that because I already felt exhausted and down I felt this invasion of space acutely and that I would have been OK otherwise. Then I procrastinated a lot thinking about America, checking the BBC News website and looking at Twitter more than I should. I worry what will happen and what it will mean for the world. In the UK, social and political trends from the US as well as cultural ones tend to hit us a few years later and both countries have lost a lot of social capital as a result of the controversies and polarisation of the last few years. There may also have been some depression related to the job offer. Positive things can make me depressed if I feel unworthy or, in this case, if it leads to anxiety about not being able to perform as expected. I have that anxiety about all jobs now as a result of previous bad work experiences, but here I am extra-worried about letting my friend down and about managing to do admin work rather than library work.

Despite all this, I applied for a job, another school librarian job. It looked like a simple “CV and cover letter” application (I have stock CVs and cover letters on file), but after submitting them, there was a huge application form too. Why do companies insist on this (CV, cover letter, application form), when it’s basically the same information three times? Proof that HR personnel really are evil, I suppose (like “Catbert, Evil HR Director” in the Dilbert comic). They want to know everything too, including all time off for illness, which in my case is a lot. It was a really badly-designed form too (if you saved, it logged you out, then you had to wait for the system to email you a link to get back in). Then I left the form for a few minutes and it logged me out without saving my changes and without warning that it would do that. It also wouldn’t let me submit the form, because I wouldn’t state the “province” my previous job was in. We don’t have provinces in this country (must be imported software). I put London as both city and province to get past the thing.

The wretched thing took about two hours in the end. This is the type of thing that provokes my inner Patrick MacGoohan, co-creator, star, executive producer, sometimes writer and director and main creative force on 1960s “spi-fi” series The Prisoner, which pitted the unnamed, numbered Prisoner against the unstoppable bureaucracy of The Village where he was trapped – The Prisoner would regularly rail against intrusive bureaucracy and surveillance as well as smashing things. If he saw what our contemporary information culture was like, he might not have bothered trying to escape.

Filling in this type of form makes me feel bad that I have so many gaps on my CV and that so many of my jobs have been so short-term. I’ve only had one job for more than eighteen months. This form asks for my interests and extra-curricular activities too, which I feel is intrusive, and also outdated. I know people used to ask that as a standard question, but I thought it had fallen out of favour.

I had no time for working on my novel again as a result of all this. I wrote about half the first draft in the first lockdown; conversely, I think this lockdown is going to be spent on paid work and volunteering with little writing at all. I suppose it took Tolstoy eleven years to write War and Peace (I think) and I’ve only been working on my novel for a little under eighteen months.

I did redraft and send my devar Torah for the week. I’m not as happy with it as I was when I wrote it earlier in the week. I feel like my argument (for understanding a particular Midrash) is not as rigorous as it should be. PIMOJ picked up on one bit that I should have phrased differently (actually just one word), but it’s too late to change it now.

I didn’t get time for much Torah study in all of this, less than half an hour, mostly a shiur (religious class) I listened to while doing some ironing. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it as I had a hard day.

It was a hard day, even though I didn’t do much. Actually, reading this back, I did do quite a bit despite feeling bad (I fitted in a half-hour walk too). I just feel exhausted. Sometimes a day kind of ambushes me and it’s a struggle to get through it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading a high-functioning autism memoir by someone whose blog I read. It’s by an autistic woman, which I hoped might be helpful to me as in many ways my autism is more typically female than male. It’s been less useful than I hoped as she experienced very different things to me. She was probably better at masking socially than I am, and just had a different personality with knock-on social differences.

I’ve also been re-reading Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. Doctor Who is typically thought of as a TV series, but it’s been in virtually every medium from musical theatre to a story on the back of chocolate wrappers. The three media where it’s been most successful, outside TV, are novels, audio dramas and comic strips. The latter is definitely seen as the poor relation of the three among fans, but I much prefer the comics (at least the ones from Doctor Who Magazine), to the novels and audios. I’m about a third of the way through a re-read of the tenth Doctor comics, which were a high point for the strip (better than the TV stories of the time, in my humble opinion).

In terms of TV, I’m now onto Twin Peaks: The Return, the follow-up series to Twin Peaks. One episode in, it’s probably weirder and certainly gorier than the original series. I’m not sure whether I like it or not yet – I think some of it is weird for the sake of being weird, whereas the original felt like there was a logic there even if we couldn’t always see it. The first episode was largely not set in Twin Peaks and barely featured any characters from the original series, so it was a bit disorientating, which was probably deliberate, but it does feel like starting all over again, inasmuch as it took several episodes of the first series for me to understand who everyone was and what their relationships were to each other and now I’m being presented with another set of new characters.

Last-Minute Date

I struggled to sleep last night. I probably slept too much during the day. I finally fell asleep after 2am, then woke around 9.00am after an anxiety dream. I don’t really remember the content of the dream, just that I woke a bit anxious and very burnt out, but somehow I managed to get up. I said some of the morning prayers on time, which was good, although I skipped a lot of prayers because I felt so tired, more than I would usually skip if I got up so early and did not need to leave early.

I went on a date with PIMOJ. We were supposed to go on a date in town on Thursday and PIMOJ had already booked time off work, but then the new lockdown was announced and we hurriedly rearranged for today so that we could see each other one more time before the lockdown. I didn’t really want to go into town, given that infection rates are rising, so we went to the same park we went to on our previous three dates. Even I, with my autistic predilection for the familiar, found this a bit much, but we both agreed it was the best option available. Fortunately, we managed to go to another part of the park, a wooded area that was quite tranquil, although very muddy and slippery in places. We enjoyed each other’s company and I was glad to go out in nature, which I think I have needed to do for a long, long time – it helped me to calm and focus, I think. We also found a pergola, which I had been to before, but forgotten was in this park, so that was a nice surprise. Afterwards we went for a coffee.

I think I spoke more than on our last date. I was nervous at first, more so than on previous dates, but I think that was a product of opening up a bit more about myself and my world, being more willing to voice a differing opinion and so on. There was a slightly awkward moment at the end, but it led to an important text conversation afterwards and I think we’re in a good place right now.

And now we have to freeze for a month (at least). Fortunately there is Skype and instant messenger!

Other than that I didn’t do much today, an hour of Torah study and not much else. I feel a little ill now, achey and with some stomach cramps as well as quite hot although that’s common in the winter because my parents like the house warmer than I do. I hope I’m just tired and not coming down with something.

***

It’s been a busy few days, but when not busy, I’ve drifted into political thoughts again about the craziness in the world, this time about the Labour antisemitism scandal which has resurfaced again (first time as tragedy, second time as farce, so Karl Marx was right about one thing) and the religious murders in France. I don’t really feel that I have much original to say, and I don’t really want to get into an argument about them, so I stay silent, but there is a price to pay for silence in terms of silently carrying tension and sometimes anger. Sometimes I feel I might change someone’s mind if I spoke up, but that seems to happen so rarely in online discussions that there hardly seems any point.

So, TV to try to relax, and bed.

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.

NHS Fun and Games, Giving Up on Books, and A Slight Bit of Politics

I was expecting to be burnt out today after yesterday, and I was. I got up very late and felt burnt until late in the day, whereupon I tried to cram too much into too little time. There is only one job to apply for on my job application spreadsheet at the moment, and I feel it is really unlikely that I will get it (librarian at a big law firm), so I’m leaving that for the moment. I would like to have worked on my novel, but focused today on chores that absolutely needed doing. Hopefully I will get to the novel tomorrow.

***

More NHS fun and games: when I saw the psychiatrist a few weeks ago, she said that the company that manufactures my lithium was stopping production, so I would have to change brand. As I understood it, she wanted to decrease dosage and then build up on the new one. She said the details would be in a letter to my GP which she would copy to me. I haven’t received the letter. I tried to phone, but the number I had for (what I thought was) the clinic, which was also on the top of a (different, recent) letter from the psychiatrist was not recognised even though I’ve phoned it in the past. The second number on the letter wasn’t recognised either. Mum noticed a third number on the letter, which turned out to be the clinic main phone number; they said to phone the secretary and gave me a number which was the same as the first one, the one I thought was the clinic main phone number. I said it wasn’t connecting and they just insisted that was the right number. So I tried that number again (because insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome) and this time it connected and rang and rang, but no one answered. I hung up, waited twenty minutes, phoned again, and it rang and rang and no one answered. I think they shut at 4pm and I’m guessing they were being naughty and not answering the phone at 3.50pm so they wouldn’t be kept after 4pm. So I guess I have to try again tomorrow. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the impression that there are people working at the NHS who enjoy playing elaborate pranks on patients. Remember, kids, we ❤ the NHS!!!!!! 👏👏👏 🌈

***

I’m struggling with the novel I’m reading, Dominion. It’s a “What if the Nazis won World War II?” novel. I only really realised after I bought it that I already have three or four of these. I think there’s only so much mileage in these books. Dominion is a thriller, but so far I’m 150 pages in and very little that is thrilling has happened and its vision of a pro-Fascist Britain isn’t terribly interesting (Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell in the government, who would have guessed….). It was OK when the book was focused on the main character, but currently it’s focused on a possibly autistic man in a psychiatric hospital and I feel really uncomfortable with it. Maybe it’s just too close to home.

Maybe close to home in more ways than one. I don’t believe in the author’s alternative history. I can see a Lord Halifax-led government making peace with Germany in 1940, but I can’t see Britain becoming Fascist without invasion. Appeasement was popular in Britain in the 1930s because of fear that another World War would lead to massive carnage, which it did, but I don’t see Fascism having enough support in Britain for a Fascist government of the kind described here. I guess chimes with some experiences I’ve had recently, talking with friends who feel that the contemporary USA is on the verge of becoming a dictatorship. I don’t like Donald Trump at all, and I hope he loses the election, but I really can’t see America becoming Fascist overnight. I don’t believe that countries with a long experience of democracy suddenly become dictatorships without war, invasion or severe economic and social trauma. So maybe this is reinforcing my fears that I see the world very differently to my friends, and worrying that they would stop being my friends if they knew, the feeling I have alluded to in the past here when I say I want to write about the way my political views make me feel alienated.

All this said, I’m bad at giving up on books. E. used to tell me to be more ruthless, saying time spent forcing myself to read a book I don’t enjoy is time wasted that could have been spent with a book I do enjoy. But I’m not sure I really want to spend another 550 pages with this one. I’m not sure what else I would read at the moment though. I feel I probably need something light, but don’t have anything obviously to hand. The thoughts about what could make a country become a dictatorship have been pushing me to have another go at my Mum’s copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I started when I was fourteen or fifteen and gave up on after a couple of hundred pages. I was probably not old enough for it, but I think it might be to heavy (in all senses of the word) for me at the moment.

***

Achievements: I went for a longish (forty-five minutes) walk. I did nearly an hour of Torah study and dealt with a lot of emails and little chores, but felt that I didn’t manage that much overall. It feels a bit like a wasted day.

Who Killed Laura Palmer?

I wrote the first chunk of this yesterday, but the internet died when I was trying to send it and didn’t come back until after I’d gone to bed. As today is a “short” day i.e. Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts in the afternoon and I would have to post early, before that, it seemed easiest to just add to this post rather than post in the morning, then post briefly again in the afternoon.

Thursday

Today was another day when I made a plan and completely failed to stick to it. This is another occasion where I think, “If I’m autistic, then this (poor executive function) is understandable and expected, but if I’m not autistic, then I’m just useless.” This is probably not a compassionate train of thought, but I’m not sure what to change it to, particularly not knowing if I’m autistic or not.

I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I find I tread a fine line with these divrei Torah between wanting to put forward my own ideas and explanations and wanting to look at those of other commentators, to engage with the tradition, and also because I know some people in the Orthodox community would rather see traditional sources than new ideas from someone who isn’t a rabbi. This week it was mostly my own ideas on a topic I hadn’t seen much about before (Chanoch (Enoch) the son of Cain, of Cain and Abel fame). That always makes me vaguely nervous about how people will respond. Then, after sending out the devar Torah I happened to look at the devar Torah I wrote this time last year, and I was arguing something very different, really something contradictory, from the same point! In Judaism there’s a surprising openness to interpretation of the Torah’s text in non-halakhic (non-legal) matters, so having two contradictory views isn’t necessarily a problem, but it made me wonder if I was jumping to conclusions, especially given that I wasn’t 100% confident that what I had written made complete sense. It’s too late to change it now though.

I Skyped my oldest friend, who I hadn’t seen for years – we didn’t fall out or anything, just both got busy with our lives. It was really good to speak to him again.

I found it hard to get back down to working on my novel after Skyping my friend. It is hard to “change gears” with autism, and the shift from social mode to work mode seems to be particularly hard. I did manage an hour or so in the end (I know, I said yesterday not to count time spent on things). I feel like I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence in my work, but as I don’t feel ready to share it with anyone yet, I have to contain those feelings by myself for the moment.

One problem with writing something semi-autobiographical is that it can be upsetting to revisit bad experiences from the past, which is what happened today. The other fear, which I can push away for now, but not forever, is that people might realise the book is semi-autobiographical and make incorrect assumptions about which bits are autobiographical and which bits aren’t. This is less of a problem for a general readership and more for people who know me and might feel unfairly (or fairly) insulted or guess things I don’t want them to know.

I went for a dusk run, which was fun in the summer (later in the day, obviously), but seemed a bit miserable and damp today. It was a reasonably good run though. My iPod told me afterwards that it was my longest workout, timewise, which isn’t quite as positive as it sounds, as I’ve been running the same route for a while now, so it means I was running a bit slower, although looking at my jogging record, I’m not convinced there was a significant change. More positively, it was my first run in about five weeks, having been focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and job interview preparations as well as put off by bad weather. I had a slight headache afterwards that did come and go across the evening even after I’d taken medicine, which was irritating, but fortunately it was not a full-blown exercise migraine.

**

I’ve felt on and off for many months now that I want to write something about my political opinions here, less in terms of parties and policies and more about feeling fearful of sharing my opinions with people (online and in real life) in an increasingly turbulent and judgemental society. Also, I guess, to write about the non-religious aspects of Jewish identity, the “Israel, peoplehood and antisemitism” aspects which are as much about politics and ethnicity as religion and which have come to affect my general political views and how I feel in non-Jewish society. To write about how those fears of rejection fit with my general social anxiety and also with my feelings of not fitting in completely in my religious community, as well as my thoughts that maybe I’m not actually that weird and I’m just catastrophising and assuming the worst about other people and what they might think of me when they probably don’t care. I’m also concerned about the fact that our political culture (politicians, media, social media, right and left) has become dependent on manufactured outrage, performative virtue and competitive victimhood, which I can’t really cope with, but seem strangely addicted to. But every time I try to write about all of this, I panic and delete what I’ve written without completing it or else save it as a draft to be returned to later, but I never do. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, as I don’t really intend to write about it now, but maybe if I put this out there I’ll return to it one day when I feel braver (or angrier).

Friday

Today has been a busy day, mostly doing Shabbat preparation. I am going to shul (synagogue) later, which I am a little anxious about, but I’m more focused on feeling drained and wanting to curl up and needing to push through this until the evening.

I don’t have a lot else to say about today, so I’m going to talk about television again. I’m rapidly losing myself in the world of Twin Peaks. I’ve seen the first three episodes; the first was double-length. It’s a strange programme, pitched as a murder mystery that unfolds like a soap opera, but with increasingly supernatural elements and horror overtones alongside moments of mild surrealism. It has awkward silences, interruptions, eccentrics and eccentricities, and moments of pure incongruity and surrealism. In a weird way, it feels like being autistic, in the sense that I feel that ordinary social interactions for me do feel confused and confusing, taking turns that I can’t predict, people seem to do things I don’t understand and that seem irrational to me and I’m just left to deal with it. I guess that’s why I like weird TV drama; sometimes “realistic” drama feels a lot less like how I experience life than Twin Peaks or The Prisoner.

Anxiety Again

I struggled to sleep again last night. I guess it’s my fault for napping for over two hours in the afternoon and then being up late on screens, messaging PIMOJ and watching Doctor Who before bed. The result was that I slept later than I wanted, which might also be post-Yom Tov burnout (not that I was doing much).

***

This morning brought a mysterious text message telling me that I have an appointment next Monday and I should call the team if I can not attend, but that I should “NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE” (in capitals). Unfortunately, there was no indication of who the message was from or how I should contact the team, whoever they are, or even whether the appointment is by phone, Skype, Zoom or whatever. This seemed to me like NHS incompetence, probably connected with my mother’s appointment about my autism assessment on Monday. She phoned the hospital and, yes, it was for her. They didn’t have her mobile number, so they messaged me instead, which I guess makes a sort of sense, even if it could have been handled better. It did make me worried for while though.

***

I felt somewhat depressed and anxious on and off all afternoon and evening. I’m not sure how much was anxiety about the job interview and date tomorrow and how much was getting annoyed with “performative virtue” online, including from the professional body I belong to. The job interview worries me as I have never worked in the primary school sector before and have limited experience with children (for all that my Mum insists I have a natural ability with them) and I worry that my experiences in further education won’t be transferable. I’m not sure what I’ll say if they ask me specific questions about what I would do in certain situations. I suppose I should just tell myself I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

I guess the date could also be called pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. PIMOJ today encouraged me to share my negative feelings with her, but I worry that she’s so positive, she won’t put up with my depression and anxiety for long. I guess the only way to tell is to try, just as the only way to see if I’m capable of being a primary school librarian is to put myself up for the interview. I want to open up more to her, I’m just scared. Maybe it will be easier once we’ve actually met in the real world.

As for performative virtue, I wrote 400 words about politics, not fitting in and being anxious about antisemitism, but I don’t have the courage to post, not the first time this has happened (although I was quite proud of writing the phrase, “dialectical ping-pong”). I suppose one day I’ll post something before I think better of it and have to live with the consequences.

***

I thought going for a walk would help with my mood. It started raining heavily while I was walking, but I carried on as I thought the walk would do me good; I had hardly been out the house since Thursday. I did get soaked and lapsed back into depression on returning.

***

On to fear and anxiety of a different kind: I think I mentioned here a while back about wanting to watch the TV series Twin Peaks, but being worried about how gory and violent it might be. In the end I took the plunge and bought the DVDs having heard it wasn’t so gory, but when they arrived the other day, the packaging warned of “Very strong language, strong bloody violence, gore, sex, drug misuse”. I don’t care much about swearing or drugs and find sex on TV embarrassing more than anything, but I am nervous about violence and gore, which make me feel queasy. The most gory DVD in my collection up until now has been Blade Runner: The Final Cut, which is an excellent film, but one I have to fast-forward or look away from at a couple of points to avoid blood or other disturbing things. That said, I think the most disturbing thing I’ve seen on TV in recent years is Ken Burns’ excellent, but brutal documentary series on The Vietnam War; malevolent extra-dimensional beings are nothing compared to man’s inhumanity to man in the real world.

I think I probably will watch Twin Peaks (once I’ve finished Star Trek Voyager – I’ve got about half a dozen episodes of that left) – I’ve wanted to watch it for long enough and it now feels like some bizarre kind of endurance test I have to make myself go through with, but I probably will watch it with the lights on and the volume not too high, to stop it from being an overly-immersive experience, the opposite of how I usually like to watch TV.

***

Achievements: interview preparation (although I still feel unprepared, not really knowing what to expect regarding an interview from this sector); a half-hour walk; half an hour of Torah study (I would have liked to have done more, but as I averaged an hour for the last few days, maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up too much). It doesn’t feel like much, but I guess anxiety and depression eat up a huge amount of time. I did manage to eat both lunch and dinner in the sukkah, which ate up some more time, as it takes time to unlock the door into the garden, remove the sukkah‘s roof, wipe the table, carry food out the house and so on – I find meals in the sukkah take noticeably longer than meals inside.

I’m probably going to get an earlyish night, trying to sleep and not worry about the job interview or the date or whether PIMOJ will drop me as soon as she sees how fragile my mental health can really be. At any rate, by the time I post again, I should have a better idea about some of these things.

A Burst of Activity, and Politics

Last night, around ten o’clock, my burnout suddenly lifted and I knew I could raise my mood if I started work on my novel – not reading about how to write better, but actually working on writing. Perhaps inevitably, I didn’t do much late at night. I went over my notes about what to work on in redrafting, printed them off for easy reference and opened a document for the next draft, this time including an epigraph that may or may not stay there as drafting progresses. It was probably too late to really do much. I drifted to Tablet Magazine and skimmed some articles and this time it really was procrastination and not letting my unconscious mind work on things as I said yesterday. Then I started feeling tired and stopped for the night. But I made a start on the next draft, and I made clear to myself that, for my mental health, I need to be writing/redrafting, even if I’m reading about writing technique at the same time.

***

I feel like nothing happened today, but I did quite a bit. I Skyped my rabbi mentor. We had a good talk and he was lenient about something I thought he wouldn’t be lenient about. Even so, I found myself filled with anxiety in the afternoon, and I wonder if I feel guilty about this. I will talk to my therapist about it tomorrow. I need to tell myself that things are going well, and to stop worrying.

***

I’m having conflicted political thoughts again. I find that I don’t fit easily into any party these days. When I see political blog posts, I often find myself partly in agreement, partly not and then I wonder what to say, if anything. Usually I find that whatever issue it is is not a hill I particularly want to die on and I let factual inaccuracies, let alone differences of interpretation, go. Sometimes I wonder if I should say something, but I find few people are open to having their minds changed, particularly not by counter-argument (as opposed to coming across something, often a personal narrative, unexpectedly, which sometimes works).

Worse, if someone is arguing, “X, Y and Z are true” and I want to say, “X and Y are true, but Z is not,” there is a fear that people will read that as me saying that “X, Y and Z are all false.” We do not live in a subtle or careful age. Usually I don’t want to be seen as an opponent of X and Y, so I let the falseness of Z go. Still, as a librarian, and as a Jew, I’m supposed to be bound to truth, but it’s hard in this “post-truth” era of “alternative facts,” not to mention divisive politics and conspiracy theories. It does make one long a bit for the era of “The Third Way” and managerial politics, when there were no major ideological divisions between left and right, although there were still plenty of arguments.

Mind you, I just saw something on the BBC News (about the Israel-Emirates peace treaty) that made me want to throw things at the screen, but I’ll suppress my anger here…

***

I’m not sure that this will mean much to most people here, but my family and I think it’s hilarious that the British government just issued guidelines on how to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and how (not) to have sukkah crawls on Sukkot (Tabernacles). Who knew that Matt Hancock had smikhah (rabbinic ordination)?

***

Achievements: spoke to my rabbi mentor, spent an hour or so redrafting the first chapter of my novel, cooked dinner, went for a walk. Drafted my devar Torah (Torah thought) for Rosh Hashanah, although I’m not happy with the final paragraph and may change it. Did a little bit of Torah study too, although, as usual not as much as I would like. So I guess it was a busy day.

Happy for Myself, Worried for the World

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

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

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

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

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

Practise, Practise, Practise

I got a short “thinking of you”-type message from the person I thought I scared off on JDate with my moment of anxiety/OCD, saying she plans to write at length soon, so I guess I didn’t scare her off. That’s good, although I am, of course, nervous about where this might go and how she will react if my mental health gets worse again.

***

I watched the webinar for my job training. It made more sense to me than reading the guidelines, probably because I could see the system I would be using. I started on the practise data. I’m struggling with it. Part of it is the sheer amount of stuff I’m expected to remember or find easily in the guidelines. I haven’t had to memorise and process this much information in a short period in a long time. The other problem is the format of the practise data. After I send in my ratings, I get an automated response, but I find it hard to tell what I should have done differently and why. I would like to have a human being to talk me through some example data, but it’s all automated.

When I worked on it, I soon started to feel overwhelmed and depressed again, which is not good. This is partly from fear that I will come into contact with political content that I will find upsetting (the second item I was assessing was a political piece that I found somewhat upsetting). I’m trying to avoid politics lately as too upsetting. But I think I could cope with that. A bigger problem is that when my OCD was bad, I had OCD fears that I would come into contact with illegal material online without noticing it and that I would then get arrested. I’ve already been told that I could theoretically come into contact with illegal material doing this job and how to report it, which has made me very anxious about the whole situation even though I’ve been told it’s unlikely that I actually would come into contact with such material and they just have to tell me what to do as a precaution.

My parents think I should let this job go, but I’m still persisting, I suppose partly because I don’t want to admit defeat (AKA I’m stubborn) and also because I feel that, on paper, this should be the ideal job for me, a job that uses information skills, can be done from home, for a couple of days a week, with the rest of the time free for writing. Plus, I suppose, I want to have some kind of a job to sound like I’m working on my issues to the person I’m messaging on JDate (who I really need to give a better pseudonym than “the person I’m messaging on JDate”). It’s also depressing that it’s another job that I can’t do and this one doesn’t even have a clear reason why.

Trying to Be Present in the Present

Today my mood has been OK when I’m busy doing things, but it drops pretty quickly when I’m not.  I especially low at the moment (see final section).

I feel sexually frustrated again, not the in obvious way, but just wishing that I was with someone I loved and could give to that way.  Also, to have that type of intimacy.  I think I’m generally a sensible, play it safe, type of person.  I don’t take risks.  I don’t drink or smoke and illegal drugs scare me.  Yet, for most of my adult life, I’ve found myself constantly wishing that I was in a relationship, even though I know that would not have been a sensible thing for me to do most of the time, given how much I’ve been struggling with mental illness since I was sixteen (at least).  I guess it’s loneliness and feeling that I’ve never been completely accepted and understood.  I felt that acceptance with E., until suddenly it wasn’t there, which was frightening.

I’m trying not to think like that (about wanting to be in a relationship), but it’s hard.  I guess it’s better to accept those feelings, and to sort of make space for them in my head, but to acknowledge that I shouldn’t be focusing on them right now.  It’s hard not to focus on them.  Lately my mood has been OK when I’m doing something, but then I stop and suddenly the depression and loneliness rush in.

We’re in the introspective time of year.  The Three Weeks of Mourning are introspective, thinking about what we’ve done wrong to contribute to the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction (or non-rebuilding) of the Temple in Jerusalem, then we go into Elul which is the month of introspection before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and then we have the Ten Days of Repentance bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  Even though this introspection is only really starting, I already feel that I know what to focus on this year.  I need to learn to be in the present and not worry about the future and to stop trying to predict it, because it’s impossible to predict accurately.

The Medieval Torah commentator Rashi says (on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18.13): “‘You shall be wholehearted with HaShem Your God’: walk before him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you accept it whole-heartedly, and then you shall be with Him and become His portion.” (translation via Sefaria, slightly modernised)

I think Rashi is quoting or paraphrasing the halakhic Midrash (I haven’t checked which).  It’s talking primarily about not engaging in soothsaying, divination and the like (that’s the context of the verse), but Rashi makes a wider homiletic point about having faith in the future and accepting whatever happens.

I’d like to have the mindful/present-centred mindset of not worrying about the future or feeling excessive guilt and shame about the past, but it’s hard.  I worry a lot, and when I think about my past, it almost always seems to lead to guilt or self-blame.  It would be so nice to think of myself married to someone who I love and who loved me, just as it would be nice to think of myself as making a career writing Jewish novels, but both seem so distant that they seem like I’m taunting myself rather than setting realistic goals.

I guess I feel scared because it seems like I’ve passed the point in my life where I could have the things I want in life.  I could still get married any time until I’m ancient, but if I want children (and I do) I have to either find a wife in the next few years or marry someone significantly younger than me.  I know people who have happy marriages who do have a big age gap, but I feel it’s not so likely for me.  Likewise with careers, it’s really hard to be building a career from nothing in my late thirties, especially as I am struggling with librarianship, but not confident enough in my writing ability and struggling to get started with that too.  If I built some kind of career and if I got married, then I think I could have some happiness even if I couldn’t have children, but I struggle to feel positive about being unemployed, single and living with my parents in the long-term.  And of course in the frum community almost everyone my age is married, just as most of my Oxford peers (that I still know of) have important jobs in law, politics, academia, the rabbinate or the like.  This is why I left Facebook, to try to stop myself from comparing myself to others.  I have to accept that my life is going to be very different to other people’s (including my sister’s), but it’s hard to do that when I don’t have a clear idea of what type of life I could realistically build.

***

I woke up early, about 7.15am.  Despite only having had four or five hours sleep (I went to bed late and then struggled to sleep, probably from sleeping too much in the day), I didn’t feel too tired, but I didn’t feel inclined to get up and just stayed wrapped up in my duvet.  It wasn’t a particularly sensible thing to do, as I eventually fell asleep again, for several hours and ended up getting up no earlier than usual.

Achievements: an hour and twenty minutes spent on the novel (admittedly with some procrastination).  I finished another chapter.  I’m up to 66,000 words, with two chapters left to go, so hopefully the word count will be OK.  There’s a lot to do in redrafting, though.  I see this taking at least four drafts, maybe more.

I also did forty-five minutes of Torah study, reading this coming Shabbat’Torah portion (Va’etchanan, my bar mitzvah portion).

I got changed to have a run, put insoles in my trainers to see if that makes them more cushioned and stops hurting my feet, and warmed up, but once I started running, I could feel my ankle hurting again.  Not badly, but I didn’t want to risk making it worse, so I decided not to run for a few days.  I went for a walk instead, which isn’t as good at sublimating negative feelings, but is better than nothing.

***

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or think.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about China persecuting the Uighurs, and also the Tibetans, Chinese Christians and adherents of Falun Gong, who are also being persecuted, but aren’t in the news.  I want to do something, but I don’t know what.  I feel very small and insignificant.  It’s hard even to talk about it without sounding like I’m making a point about some other issue.  The Jewish newspapers have been drawing parallels between the treatment of the Uighurs and the Holocaust, but it is hard to know what can be done.  There aren’t large numbers of refugees here that I could help in some practical way (I used to volunteer at a refugee drop-in centre, although it’s been shut from COVID), nor is escalated confrontation with China a promising option, when it could easily become a nuclear standoff that would destroy the planet.

***

The Doctor Who bit; also the antisemitism bit (skip if not interested):

Asking for the Doctor Who Series Twelve box set for my birthday looks more and more like it was a mistake.  I watched episode three, Orphan 55, which I hated first time around, in the hope that I would find something to like now I know what the bad bits are.  I didn’t.  In a word, awful.  In two words, really awful.

Unlike first viewing, I’m not completely sure that there’s an antisemitic bit.  There’s a montage of images of natural disasters and riots that includes a shot of fighter planes flying over Jerusalem, the only identifiable place in the sequence.  I feel it shows that BBC-types see “Israel” as a shorthand for “evil” in a way they wouldn’t with other countries.  At least, I hope it’s “Israel”; it’s possibly “Jews,” a thought not dispelled by the BBC’s low-key coverage of the weekend’s Twitter antisemitism storm compared  with the coverage of other forms of prejudice.

I told myself I wouldn’t write negative reviews any more, for various reasons, so I’m going to let it go rather than reviewing it on my Doctor Who blog, but I hope I get more out of the rest of the series or this will be a waste of time and money.  I think the series did get somewhat better as it went on.

The sad truth is that I’m enough of a completist that I still want to have every TV episode and that I will watch episodes at least twice because I know a first viewing sometimes obscures good points.  Experimental episodes in particular can improve on second viewing once you can see what they are trying to do, although very little of this series was experimental.  You can call that autistic obsession on my part if you want, and certainly the BBC makes a lot of money out of people like me.  Still, there are more expensive hobbies out there.  I’m just glad I don’t have the need to own every Doctor Who novel, audio drama, comic strip, computer game, etc. which would be an enormous drain of time as well as money.

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

“I don’t ever want to play the part/Of a statistic on a government chart”

Just feeling awful today.  It’s hard to do anything.  I just want to sleep.  Even in my dream last night I felt tired.  I want to withdraw from the world, what’s left of it.

Difficult things are happening to me and I’m struggling to process them, particularly without being able to write about them.  I may write some private thoughts for myself.  I tried to work on my novel, but I was just too depressed and anxious.  I feel that I don’t cope well with life.

I also feel like a statistic.  Some stuff I’ve been reading lately has been talking about the radicalisation of the middle classes, the expansion of university education leading to too many university graduates fighting over not enough good jobs that genuinely require a degree and not enough (and over-priced) houses.  I’m obviously unemployed and living with my parents, but I haven’t become radicalised (or Awoken), perhaps because I find it hard to hold a political opinion without questioning it for long.  Regardless of politics, I have a shed-load of other “issues” going on which would make life difficult for me even without the expansion of higher education, the housing crisis, COVID and a million other things.

Will I ever get my life sorted?  I don’t know.  I feel I need to scale down my understanding of what “sorted” would entail.  I had a morbid, but necessary, discussion with my parents the other day about how I would survive financially if they died.  The financial side worries me, but so does the practical side, meaning, even if they left me enough money, I worry I would be calling my sister all the time for help with things.  I’m probably better at practical things than I give myself credit for, but I do often need help.

***

Twitter is dangerously tempting at the moment.  The desire to find people who can explain and contextualise the world in a way I agree with is strong, even though there aren’t many people I wholly agree with at the moment, and arguments online just prompt more depression and anxiety.  The other temptation of Twitter is that it’s short.  I don’t have the head to read a 2,000 word essay at the moment, but Tweets are just short lines, so it’s easy to tell myself “Just one more,” but that strength means that they are often just name-calling or virtue signalling, not reasoned debates (although I have seen one or two reasoned debates on threads today).

I just feel confused and frightened by the news at the moment, really.  It’s hard to say, “Actually, I think both sides make some good points and some bad points,” when people are trying to drag you to one side or the other or to demonise you for not being on their side.  I mean that as a general cultural point, not specifically about Black Lives Matter, cancel culture, riots, capitalism, COVID responses or anything else.  It’s hard to have the courage to be independent.

The Problem of Suffering

There are some things going on in my life at the moment which I can’t blog about.  I just feel bad about a lot of things.  Defining “bad” is harder: probably sad, despairing, anxious, frustrated and guilty.  I just feel a lot of difficult feelings and it is hard to tease out what each one is.

***

I’m also still getting upset by the news, different thoughts and feelings, back and forth.  Worried that I’m not thinking the ‘right’ thing, that people would be angry with me if they knew what I thought.  Feeling that I can want to end racism and police brutality without particularly wanting to “end capitalism” (whatever that would even mean).  Wondering why, if Sir Keir Starmer is so opposed to prejudice that he will “take a knee” to oppose racism, that he spent three and a half years on the Labour front bench as the party became a safe haven for antisemites and Holocaust deniers without uttering a word of protest.  Then feeling guilty for “making everything Jewish.”  There’s more, but I don’t want to go there.

I try to tell myself that “It doesn’t matter what other people think.  That’s just their opinion.  I’m allowed to have my own opinions,” but still I feel the need to justify everything, argue everything back and forth in my head.

***

Achievements today: I blogged on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in ages, excluding an advert post for my book.  I spent an hour and a half working on my novel, or trying to, amidst difficult thoughts.  I went for a half-hour walk and cooked dinner.  I guess that’s quite a bit, although it is hard to see it as an achievement.

I went to a half-hour Zoom shiur given by the rabbi of my parents’ shul (synagogue).  It was on love of God and how to love God when things are difficult.  I’m not sure how helpful it was.  The idea was that if we are aware of God’s greatness and His wisdom, that should lead on naturally to love of Him.  I struggle with doing that.  It should also lead on to thinking that anything bad that happens must really be for the good.  I can understand that intellectually, but it’s really hard to internalise when so many things in my life seem so bad, or just so painful.  It’s not so much that I can’t accept that bad things might be good or necessary or that a benevolent God wouldn’t put me through them, it’s more that I feel I have nothing left to give any more.  I’ve used up all my energy coping with the last thirty-seven (nearly) years.  Everything just hurts too much for me to carry on.

Not Waving, But Drowning

I spent today feeling a mixture of depression and anxiety about myself and the world.  Also a lot of loneliness.  I feel very lonely lately, despite living with my parents.  I feel like I’m going insane and I don’t know why.  I feel like I have done everything I “should” do to try to make friends, in person and online, and it never works.  We spoke about this a bit in therapy today, that it feels like I try to make friends and fail.  Then I get sucked into a downward spiral of self-recrimination, loneliness, social anxiety and depression, which makes it hard to even try to come out of the lonely-depressive spiral.

***

I thought about 1990s TV science fiction epic Babylon 5 and the questions posed by the series’ two ancient alien races: “Who are you?” (The Vorlon Question) and “What do you want?” (The Shadow Question).  I’m vague about who I am.  I just have vague impressions: curious, honest, non-judgmental.  As for what I want…  Money?  No.  Power?  No.  Status and fame?  No and no.  Sex?  Closer, but no.  Love?  Almost.  Acceptance?  I think that’s it.  I tell myself I want to be accepted by other people and beat myself up for not being accepted, when I really needed to accept myself.  The problem is that I don’t know how I learn to accept myself.   How does one suddenly do that?  CBT has not helped here.  I don’t feel that I’m a particularly good person.

***

I feel like I’m drowning in a world that is too complex for me to understand and live in.  I can’t bear the news, but I don’t know how I can change things or what to change.  People probably think I am part of one problem or another; goodness knows I’m not part of anyone’s solution, let alone having a solution of my own.

***
Sometimes I get in a situation where I’m counting down the hours from one therapy session to the next, because I want to go back and talk again.  In the hope I can find an answer.  But it’s time that brings the answers.  I’m just whirled around by the currents.

Trying to Think My Own Thoughts

I woke up feeling OK: tired, but OK.  But then I looked at some news online and drifted down into depression and despair.  I felt disgruntled with political stuff.  I wrote some stuff here, but deleted it to avoid arguments.  I will say that it certainly is hard, when I’m being told by therapists and psychiatrists not to personalise and not to feel guilty about everything, when the media, politicians and activists tell me that I’m “part of the problem,” and that I’m full of unconscious privilege that makes me an inherently bad person no matter what I do.

I’ve been having difficult religious thoughts too, thinking I will never fit in to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) society.  I feel like I’m torn by opposed ideas.  This is true in politics and culture, but particularly in religion.

I was thinking today about Rav Kook, one of the most important Orthodox Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century.  He was also a man of opposites: mystical, yet accepting much of modern science and academic scholarship; a Zionist, but also a universalist; a halakhicist and posek (Jewish legal expert/decisor) who was also an accomplished poet and advocate of Jewish cultural revival; a religious Jew who was friends with non-religious Jews; a Litvak who thought like a Hasid…  Somehow Rav Kook took outlooks that feel like opposites in me and integrated them into a flawless whole.  Sadly, his writings are very difficult, and the more controversial aspects were suppressed by his son and his chief student after his death to make him look more conventional.  I do have a couple of recent books that either present his thought with explanations or paraphrase more complex teachings.  But I feel like I need something more personal and more able to reach my core.  I also feel that I don’t need a book, but a teacher I can have prolonged conversations with, maybe even be set tasks.  I can speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes, but generally not for long and I don’t like to do it too often.  I would be asking a lot of anyone to guide me the way I feel I need.

In a previous crisis of faith, about ten or fifteen years ago, I read books and articles by apologists, who tried to prove the existence of God, the veracity of the Torah and the integrity of the biblical record in various ways.  I regard these attempts as mostly flawed if not nonsense now.  These days I prefer what I might call “soft” apologetics, that stress Judaism as a system of meaning and a way of being part of a living three thousand year culture and history (as opposed to what I call “hard” apologetics that try to prove God etc.).  The problem for me currently is that the “meaning and living” approach is tied up with ideas of community and family that I feel distanced from because of my situation (being single, not having a community I completely fit with) and my issues (depression, social anxiety, autism), as well as assuming a degree of joy and meaning in religious performance that I rarely experience because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).  It makes it very hard to keep going.

Online I came across an old debate from over ten years ago.  One of the participants was someone then struggling with Orthodox Judaism who I used to encounter sometimes in various online fora.  He could be very critical of Orthodox Jews, but once said that he felt that I was one of the few he knew who made him think that we aren’t all [rude word].  So now I feel that I’ve somehow let him down, let myself down and let down the Judaism I was modelling by slipping into despair and scepticism.  Possibly this is me making everything about guilt and despair again.

***

It’s hard sometimes to be sure that I’m thinking my own thoughts, and not having someone else think them for me.  I don’t mean in terms of psychosis, but in terms of originality, and resisting propaganda and indoctrination and even the subtle effects of peer pressure and language (not to mention the incongruous and hypocritical virtue signalling of woke multinational corporations… I don’t think Amazon are in a position to lecture anyone about ethics).  This applies regarding culture, religion and politics.  Especially politics at the moment.

***

I tried to do some practice library cataloguing to prepare for my job application test, as I hadn’t catalogued anything for nearly two years.  I made some stupid mistakes initially, but I think I was OK after that, but I don’t have much confidence.  I read the rubric for the test, and I think they are asking for a lot of related stuff I only vaguely remember from my MA course or can’t do easily without resources I don’t have in lockdown, like Library of Congress subject words, which I haven’t used since my MA.  I would have to use the online version when I’m used to the hardcopy version.  I was also taught how to catalogue with the new standard, RDA, but everywhere I have worked used the old standard, AACR2, so I can only vaguely remember RDA.  They did say it was OK to use AACR2 if necessary, but I don’t know whether to try and risk failure or not.  As I’ve said before, I’ve rather lost my confidence in my ability to catalogue and I don’t know how to get it back.  I’m not sure there’s much point in practising any more.  I need to jump in and do it.

I don’t know how long I spent on cataloguing.  Probably not long if I took out the procrastination time involved.  I also spent a bit of time on my novel (just under an hour writing over 600 words) and went for a half-hour walk again.  I feel frustrated that the novel is going slowly, but it is going steadily.  It’s hard to judge how long the first draft will take at this stage.  I discovered today that I’ve been working on it for eleven months so far.  Of course, there was a lengthy interruption when I concentrated on my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  It does seem a long time though.  I’m about half way through, maybe a bit more.

***

I had shiur (religious class) on Zoom again.  It was difficult.  I still struggle with the noise and changing pictures on group Zoom calls, and my usual social anxiety around speaking up is even worse when I need to unmute myself first.  I had an autistic “I think they’re joking, but I’m not sure” moment too.  The worst bit today was when the teacher thought I had answered a question, but it was someone else, but I couldn’t tell who.  I’m not sure that I gave the credit to the right person.  I started stimming (autistic self-soothing touch or movement), stroking my face and pressing my fingers in my desk cupboard door.  I felt self-conscious about this, but also unable to stop.  As autistic people will tell you, it is hard to consciously stop stimming especially if stressed.  I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from the class either.

On the plus side, the handouts this week included useful lists of Hebrew abbreviations and key words.  These are primarily intended for Rashi’s Torah commentary (the focus of the shiur), but I suspect will be useful for rabbinic literature in general, as key phrases are often abbreviated in all the Medieval commentaries, as well as in the Talmud.  It can be very irritating if you don’t know what the abbreviation stands for.

***

Good things today: Ashes to Ashes series two so far is a lot better than series one, on a par with its predecessor Life on Mars; I don’t think I’ve put on weight during lockdown; and some how-to-write books I was waiting for arrived today, although I’m still waiting for one more.  It is daunting to think of reading the writing books and then applying them to my own writing.

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

“Rescue me before I fall into despair”

“More loneliness than any man could bear/Rescue me before I fall into despair.” – Message in a Bottle by The Police

A new issue of The Tides of Time, the fanzine of the Oxford University Doctor Who Society is out online.  It looks interesting, but I’m not sure how much I’ll read, as it has already provoked mixed feelings.  Partly this is from feeling that my time in the society has long gone.  The new issue, although containing many articles from people who have left or were never even there has little from people who were there when I was there.  Even the nickname of the society has changed from the Doc Soc (my generation) to Who Soc.  I’m very much out of the fandom loop, which is why (I assume) I missed the call for articles on Twitter.  Fandom today, as far as I can tell, largely takes place on Twitter and big, multi-fandom super-conventions like Comic-Con, neither of which are good environments for me, for different reasons.  Plus, modern fandom is so political, and these days I keep my politics to myself to keep myself safe, but it’s often different from (stereotypical) fan politics.  Add in that I didn’t much like the last series of Doctor Who, unlike the reviewers in the fanzine, and it’s hard to find common ground, and when I fail to find common ground with people, I read that, perhaps wrongly, as implicit criticism of my positions, and run off before people can attack me.  I feel like if I could have stayed in the loop, I could have promoted my book more (not in the fanzine, but online or in person), or would have had more friends to promote it to, but it’s rather pointless to go down that route now.  But there is a feeling of loneliness from having lost (or never had) these kinds of friendship networks.

Speaking of which, after I posted on Thursday, before Yom Tov, I realised what the nagging sense of melancholy was that I was experiencing: loneliness.  I feel that today, the feeling that I can’t connect with people.  That the attempt to live two lives, one religious (Orthodox Judaism) and one secular (Doctor Who fandom, and secular life in general) has failed, and that neither appreciates or respects the other.  E. has remarked that Orthodox society is often uncultured, which I can’t deny is true, to some extent at least.  It can be rather bourgeois.  I try to put up with it, but I worry that she won’t be able to.  I worry that I will just drive myself crazy trying to find people I can connect with, then running away from them when I find them because I think they must hate me really.  Hiding parts of my personality all the time.  This is basically what I have done for the last twenty years or so, since I went to university.  Kafka writes somewhere about someone chained with one chain to Heaven and with another to earth, so that he can’t move in either direction.  I feel a bit like that.

All that said, I have opted to renew the subscription on my Doctor Who blog for another year.  Just in case.  Now I need to find something to write on it, and the time to write it.

I am feeling lonely today though, ill at ease with myself and the world(s) around me, the one world I see on the news and in the papers and the other world I see on Jewish blogs.  I also feel depressed, which I suppose ties in with the loneliness and also with the world I see around me.  It’s scary to think that I could potentially be living in the USA in a few years time, looking at the stuff on the news.

***
I’m trying to practice “radical acceptance” of my parents’ quirks and foibles, accepting things that I can’t change.  It’s difficult.  It’s even harder to apply it to my neighbours’ behaviour.  The latter is very hard, because, as well as lockdown-breaching minyanim (prayer meetings), they had a noisy garden party with I think more than six guests (possibly six adult guests, but a load of children too), and not at all socially distanced.  From the conversation that drifted up, it sounded like one of the guests was trying to convince our neighbour to keep his minyan going after lockdown.  If they did that, I think I would alert the council to an unauthorised change of house use.  This has happened before with shtiebels (tiny synagogues in houses or above shops) that have been started without the necessary permissions.

***

I applied for a job a while back that was rather rashly advertised in lockdown.  They have now cancelled or possibly just postponed the interview stage, but have sent me a cataloguing exercise to complete.  I’ve glanced at it and gone into panic mode.  I have rather lost confidence in my cataloguing abilities, although they used to be good.  I feel like the gunslinger who has lost his nerve and with it his ability to sling guns quicker than other gunslingers, or at all.  I suppose failing at this at least avoids the face-to-face nature of the interview fail.

***

Other than that, it was a fairly ordinary locked-down day.  I spent about two hours working on my novel, writing just over 1,000 words and struggling against the noise from next door.  I went for a half hour walk and had my Skype Torah study session with E.

Mum cut my hair.  Most of it, anyway; I trimmed the sideburns.  I don’t think it had been cut since February (February 6, according to my private journal posts).  Mum did a good job, but I had to trim my sideburns, which I’d left long when I shaved off my omer beard, as they looked silly with shorter hair.  This is a shame, as I like having longish sideburns.

***

Towards evening, depression set in, and guilt.  I felt bad that I ate dinner separately to my parents so that I could watch TV.  I felt bad over something I had done repeatedly in the past, something forbidden by Judaism and sometimes seen negatively more widely.  Although maybe this guilt is a good thing, as I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about including this in my novel.  It probably is an issue worth bringing up (in the secular world, even more so the religious one), but I’m scared of how people will respond, whether they will judge me, boycott my book or ignore the other messages in it, about autism, mental health and abuse.

Bits and Pieces

I watched an hour-long “based on a true story” drama, Murdered By My Boyfriend on BBC iPlayer. This was because I felt I was floundering with one thread of my novel, which deals with domestic abuse. I watched it for inspiration about handling such a plot line, although the type of abuse in my novel is somewhat different from the type in the TV programme. It did reassure me that I’m not totally on the wrong path, but it was difficult viewing and I could hardly watch it by the end. I stayed upset for quite a while afterwards.

I sometimes struggle to understand how people can deliberately hurt other people. That’s probably good for my moral development, but not so good for being a writer. It’s horrifying that every week in the UK, two women are murdered by their partners. If that was being done by a serial killer, or some kind of terrorist group, the papers would be full of it. Instead, it’s ignored.

I feel awkward writing about violence against women as a man. Like whatever the equivalent is of a ‘white saviour’ for feminists. But I became aware from both online accounts and what people said in group therapy and support groups that I’ve attended that the link between abuse (of all kinds) and mental illness is very strong, so it seemed worth talking about in a novel about mental illness. I also became aware that very few people in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community are talking about it, for various reasons. Jewish Women’s Aid has posters in some Jewish shops and shuls (synagogues) and even had a billboard poster up at one point, but a while back they ran an advert in The Jewish Weekly with one woman’s story and there were complaints about how graphic it was in its description of sexual violence, which makes me feel there’s a 1950s atmosphere in parts of the community where some things are just not spoken about. Given that the number of people writing any fiction in the frum world is vanishingly small, it seemed important to talk about it.

***

I got woken up early by another morning minyan (prayer meeting) in the garden next door. Years ago I heard a definition of fundamentalism that has always stuck with me:

“If you’re absolutely certain that you’re making the proper decision, and what you’re doing is the right thing to do — it doesn’t matter if you hurt people in the process. You don’t even owe them an apology.”

I’m beginning to wonder if my next-door neighbours are meeting that definition of fundamentalism. To be honest, this has attitude little to do with religion and more to do with selfishness and entitlement (e.g. Donald Trump). It still annoys me though.

***

I don’t have so much to talk about today in terms of emotions and thoughts. There were some anxious and despairing thoughts at times, but I’m trying not to focus on them, although I’m still struggling to remember to greet them and sit with them.

I went for a reasonably good run, considering it was hotter than I expected. I did get a bit of an exercise migraine, although not too bad. E. and I had our weekly Torah study Skype chat, which was good.

***

I’m struggling with keeping up with the news at the moment, but “Is Cummings Going?” ought to be a headline somewhere.

Audacity Towards Heaven

I started re-reading the Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942.  It’s a collection of sermons Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe, gave in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  He hid the papers, along with other writings of his, with other papers about life in the Ghetto hidden by the Oyneg Shabbos group who tried to record life in the Ghetto.  Rabbi Shapira was murdered by the Nazis, but after the War the papers were rediscovered and Rabbi Shapira’s books were published.

I’ve read the book before, but I read it as a sedra book i.e. all the sermons on one sedra or festival (it actually starts with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in 1939 and not Shabbat Bereshit several weeks later) and then all the sermons on the next sedra to coincide with those points in the Jewish year.    So three sermons on Rosh Hashanah (1939, 1940 and 1941) and then three on Shabbat Shuva and so on.  I’m now reading it as a work of Holocaust theology in chronological order of delivery (1939, 1940, 1941, 1942).

Already in November 1939, Rabbi Shapira is voicing bold ideas.   For parashat Chayei Sarah he refers to the rabbinic tradition that Sarah died of shock when she heard that Avraham (Abraham) had nearly sacrificed their son, Yitzchak (Isaac) at God’s command:

The Torah may also be telling us that our mother Sarah, who took the binding of Isaac so much to heart that her soul flew out of her, died for the good of the Jewish people.  She died in order to show God that a Jew should not be expected to suffer unlimited levels of anguish.  Even though a person, with the mercy of God, survives and escapes death, nevertheless elements of his capability, his mind, and his spirit are forever broken and, as a result of his ordeal, lost to him.  In the final analysis, what difference does it make, whether all of me or part of me is killed?

Here we see rabbinic chutzpah klapei shmaya, audacity towards Heaven, protesting that human suffering is unfair.  What resonates with me is the image of being “forever broken” in mind and spirit and partly killed.  I have not suffered like those in the Warsaw Ghetto, but there is the fear that I can never be whole, particularly in terms of making up for the years (decades, really) of life lost to mental illness, in terms of lost experiences, love, career progress etc. and in terms of the scars left by what I thought and felt.

***

In other news, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was an ordinary lockdown Shabbat.  Eat, sleep, read, daven (pray), study Torah etc.  I didn’t go for a walk today, mostly because I slept too long in the afternoon.  That was it, really.

Matt Pritchett (“Matt”) is The Daily Telegraph‘s pocket cartoonist.  I think he’s wonderful.  We’re all big Matt fans in this house.  We bought Dad the Best of Matt 2019 book for Chanukah last year.  I flicked through it today and it’s still really funny, but it made me realise that we didn’t know how lucky we were when all we had to worry about was Brixit.  To think that we used to say, “If only Brexit was over and we could talk about something else…”

Community and Outsiders (My Frum Dating History)

I ended up with a copy of the magazine for the umbrella organisation that my shul is part of.  It got pushed through our door, as it usually does; I’m not sure if it’s targeted at me or they just distribute it widely around here to try to drum up trade.  There was an article that really made clear to me why I haven’t been able to adapt to my moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul fully and especially why I failed to find a partner in that community.

The article was about the circumstances in which you can reveal negative information about someone else to a third party they are dating, according to the laws prohibiting gossip except in case of significant danger to another.  Apparently you can only do it if the person (a) has an illness, disability or fertility issue that they haven’t disclosed (and this includes if several people in their family have had the same genetic disease, even if they have no symptoms of it; (b) if they have heretical ideas or have significantly broken Jewish law; and (c) if they are “immoral.”  This was left tantalisingly vague, probably deliberately.  There are some Jewish communities where a man saying hello to his sister’s best friend in the street would be seen as hugely provocative and immoral.

I had two thoughts about this.  One, while people should disclose illness and disability to their potential life-partner, and while someone in a religious community intent on marrying someone within that community, but who is also contemplating leaving that community should disclose that to that potential life-partner too, nobody else other than the two people dating really has any business getting involved in either of those situations.  As for the “immorality” situation, that’s hugely more complex, not least because of the way the definition of “immorality” can vary from community to community and person to person (“I think you should know that I saw your male date say “hello” to a woman in the street!”), but I’m not really sure that there’s even a requirement for the people dating to admit to this unless they think it’s likely to have an impact on their future life together somehow (basing myself on something Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said here as well as something my rabbi mentor said – although don’t take my thoughts as psak (a Jewish legal ruling)).

The other thought was realising why I was never realistically going to get married in this community.  When I joined the community, I was aware it was less modern than my theological outlook, but also that it had many advantages in terms of passion for prayer and Torah study and friendliness, which are not always present in other communities.  I think if I had been set up with someone from the community or a similar community and married her, I would have integrated into the community, especially if my wife was more attuned to the standards of the community or was more of a “normal” Haredi maidel (young woman).

That didn’t happen, though, and I think it’s clear why: my mental health issues would have pushed me to the bottom of the pile (I had one date dump me as soon as she found out about my depression, and she was a healthcare professional!), my bookshelves groan with dubious literature (from a Haredi point of view), both fiction and non-fiction, I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and I have a number of female friends (mostly online, but one or two in person), which would be seen as extremely suspect if it was widely known.

I don’t bring this up to berate my lack of a community that really suits me.  I’ve done that before, and it’s frustrating, but I don’t see the need to go over it again, especially as I’m dating E. now and I’m a bit more hopeful that we will one day find a more modern community that suits us both (more likely in the USA than here).

My point is rather about community in general.  I’ve come to realise that the closeness of traditional religious communities, the kindnesses and support, is, on some level, not despite, but because of the judgemental attitudes, nosiness, ostracising of nonconformity and negative views of outsiders.  It is because the boundaries between ‘in’ and ‘out’ are policed so effectively and, sometimes, brutally, that people feel that they can trust the other members of the community, that they have all passed a rigorous test in being Our Sort of Person.  That’s why there are Haredi communities where people trust their rabbis more than the doctors and governmental health officers regarding how to respond to coronavirus (not my community, I hasten to add). I’m not the type of person who can easily pass tests like that, though, in any sort of community.  I like to investigate different ways of thinking and explore different attitudes, and I exist too much on the dividing line between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ rather than on one side or the other.

It’s worth reflecting on as, while I don’t want to talk about politics here, I feel that the extreme individualism that has characterised British and American society since the sixties, and especially since the eighties, is drawing to an end, and some kind of more communitarian outlook is likely.  That’s probably a good thing, but it does make me wonder who is going to decide who gets to police the boundaries and according to what criteria e.g. trial by Twitter, which is the secular equivalent of this sort of boundary policing.

***

I had was a restful Shabbat (Sabbath).  No illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next-door.  It could have been a pre-coronavirus Shabbat if it weren’t for the absence of shul (synagogue).  I read quite a bit.  I didn’t have insomnia on Friday night, but I did wake up around 4.30am and couldn’t get back to sleep until around 6.00am.  I started reading Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman, the book I bought when I heard Rabbi Berman speak a month or two ago.  I’m also reading another Doctor Who novel and a short book on the Russian Revolution, but after I finish I think I’m going to stick to light fiction rather than serious fiction or non-fiction until the health crisis is over (not counting Jewish reading/Torah study).  I’m too stressed for heavy recreational reading.