Quotidian Piety

I struggled today at work again. There was actually a reasonable amount of work for me to do; I didn’t have to do the paper-sorting (which isn’t make-work, but also isn’t a priority if there are other things going on). However, I felt like I was struggling and making mistakes again. I was going to go to the bank as it’s the end of the month. In the afternoon, J gave me a new task to do. I spent a while on it, then realised I needed to go to the bank if I wanted to be back by the end of the day. That in turn meant I needed to close off the banking. So I rushed through the new task and then didn’t finish it when I realised I was making mistakes, and I rushed to close off the banking. I had made a mistake on the banking spreadsheet too which took a while to find. I just hope I didn’t make a mistake paying in the cheques. I’ve done that before. I’ve put the wrong number on the paying-in slip and the bank queried it.

I found the bank trip difficult too. The crowds in London, the noise, the omnipresent video screens… it was just autistic overload for me. When I got back, J said I could finish for the day (not because of the overload, but because it was the end of the day), but I felt overwhelmed and sat in the Beit Midrash upstairs for a bit (it was quiet, and I turned off most of the lights, but the security guard turned them back on and told me to leave them on. I didn’t realise they were supposed to be on), then davened Minchah (said Afternoon Prayers) before coming home. The journey was stressful, with too many people and someone next to me invading my personal space. I would say ‘manspreading,’ but it was a teenage girl! Someone in the carriage had noisy music on their phone too. I felt pretty much physically attacked by all of it.

Then my sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner. It was fun, but I was feeling really burnt out and overloaded. Then I spoke to E (we Skype every day that isn’t Shabbat or Yom Tov), which at least didn’t exhaust me further. I should really go to bed, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down.

Some autistic people see autism as a “super-power,” like the homo superior of the David Bowie song Oh! You Pretty Things. I don’t really experience it that way. On days like today, it feels like a real disability.

***

Someone on the autism forum said she was a failure because she hasn’t achieved anything except getting married and having children. Unthinkingly, I said that I didn’t think she was a failure, mostly because I would say that to anyone. I do think that getting married is an achievement for someone on the spectrum, and having children is an achievement for anyone (strictly speaking, it should be that raising children well is an achievement). I realised, of course, that I view myself as a failure despite being married (sort of) and having a part-time job. I feel that I do my job badly, and that it’s not full-time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have children or how I would cope with them. It made me think a bit about what I mean by ‘achievement.’

Everyone says that Western society prioritises wealth, fame, status, looks, power – lots of things I think are not worthwhile. Realistically, most people are probably the same. Apparently research shows that most people really care about more spiritual or caring goals, but that they think that no one else does. Even so, it’s true that the media promotes wealth, fame, status etc. But I’m not interested.

I should say that my religion provides meaningful achievements for me, but too often it turns into a list of things I don’t do, or don’t do “enough”: (communal)(meaningful) prayer, Torah (Talmud) study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, charity and so on. At work I sometimes come into contact (albeit usually through looking at old minutes and letters) with extremely rich people who are able to devote significant amounts of money and time to charity and community work. I can’t do this. I feel that my ‘issues’ (autism, social anxiety, disordered sleep etc.) interferes too much with my religious life.

Today I came across the term, ‘quotidian piety,’ coined by historian Elisheva Baumgarten to describe the daily religious practices of Medieval Jews and how they were intertwined to their lives. I wonder if I have ‘quotidian piety.’ I do religious things every day. I wonder if they are ‘achievements’ in this sphere. I wrote the other day about trying to move towards God instead of more concrete, but often unachievable, goals. I guess that is a similar idea in terms of seeing small steps as an achievement.

Lately I have been thinking less about wanting/needing to write and be published as an achievement. This is probably because I’ve been too busy with E’s visa application and Yom Tov to think about it, but I’d like to try to keep it up. I don’t think it’s sensible to think of writing as an achievement or peg to hang my self-esteem on at the moment.

“…an almost Proustian display of modern Existentialist football…”

(Title quote from one of the Monty Python sketches I think about periodically, which happened to be in the episode I watched earlier, about a pretentious football commentator interviewing a monosyllabic footballer. It’s not really relevant, I just think it’s funny.)

There’s a lot I want to say, but I am totally exhausted, and overwhelmed with things to do. However, as I’m too exhausted to do much now, I’ll try to blog at least some of the things on my mind.

I flippantly remarked on Angela’s blog the other day that I’ve been tired for decades. I felt somewhat bad about it afterwards, as that was a post about tiredness through serious physical illness, but I’m not sure that tiredness from depression, autistic exhaustion and a sleep disorder is really less “real” or worthy of note. At any rate, I struggled to sleep again last night, although not so badly as some nights, and then struggled to get going in the morning, only to discover that while I was asleep, E had asked me to send her a particular document needed for the visa again, as I had forgotten to sign it. To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten, so much as not realised I need to do it (yes, classic autistic, “If you don’t explicitly ask for it, he won’t realise he needs to do it”). This delayed me a little, but I cut my usual truncated Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even shorter and got to work on time.

Work was exceedingly dull and I found some mistakes I had made weeks ago that at least went unnoticed by my boss. I listened to podcasts while sorting through papers then felt guilty that I had decreased my efficiency, although I’m not at all sure that that was the case, as the task is dull, but also difficult, as most of the papers I’m dealing with at the moment are legal or financial, but also twenty years or more old. They should be ripe for throwing away, but I worry that my legal and financial ignorance will lead me to throw away something we need. At the moment, I’m just trying to produce a general list of what everything is.

***

I have a tendency to take the world’s troubles on my shoulders, at least sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling concern for lonely people on the autism forum, abuse survivors and current victims in the Jewish community, as well as continuing sadness and perhaps anger at God for my parents’ friends’ late son. I do worry sometimes that abusers and gett refusers (men who refuse to give their wives the religious divorce they want) in the frum (religious Jewish) community will find a loophole to the Next World via their Torah study and communal involvement and somehow evade punishment. This is irrational, as I don’t believe God is as easily deceived, or has His values as warped, as the frum community sometimes is and, in any case, I believe spiritual punishment is inherent in the action in ways that are too complicated for me to explain now; you can’t avoid Divine punishment any more than you can avoid being in your own body. But I do think about it a lot.

***

I came across the idea a number of years ago that lots of frum people want to fast-forward through this time of year, the Jewish autumn festival season. For them it’s a time of painful self-examination and guilt. It is that for me too, with added autistic exhaustion and peopling, social anxiety, low self-esteem and disordered sleep issues, not to mention autistic issues with work routine changes and overload from working more intensively. I could also say that their guilt over sins is excessive and misplaced, whereas mine is logical and deserved, but I’m not going to go there (which is probably a good sign in and of itself). I feel like that now, with all the extra overwhelm of my life at the moment too, but today for the first time I felt frustrated that I haven’t worked on my novel for weeks because I’ve been focused on my wedding and E’s visa application. I’m glad, as I wondered if I had given up on writing. However, I still doubt I will have time to put pen to paper (or word processor) for another month.

One extra thing that is hard at this time of year is having alexithymia, difficulty noticing and understanding my own emotions. It’s hard to be sure I love and am in awe of God and that I love Torah, or that I have joy in the festivals and in being Jewish when I struggle to notice love for my family, let alone a being I can’t see and Who is the source of everything bad that ever happened to me as well as everything good. Mostly I try to “deduce” my emotions by my actions, which I guess must mean I feel something positive about God if I do all this religious stuff.

Related to this is my feelings about the frum community. On an Orthodox Conundrum podcast I listened to today, they spoke about the importance of being part of a community for spiritual growth. I’ve never really had this, at least not in the way they meant. Someone on the autism forum the other day suggested that while I say I want to be part of a community, I also seem to have negative feelings about it (I said making friends in the community seemed “terrifying and impossible”). I don’t really have an answer this.

***

I suspect the answer to all of the above is to “Let go and let God,” as the 12 Step movement says, but I’ve never been very good at that. It’s hard to “Let go and let God” when you can’t work out how much you trust God.

***

Good things that happened today:

E sent the visa application off, despite consistent issues with the third-party website.

I was told I can keep paying reduced shul (synagogue) membership fees because I’m on a low salary. I feel vaguely guilty about this and don’t know why, although as I have been paying money to a shul I haven’t been attending, and as I will continue doing this for some months more, I feel the shul is still getting a good deal.

My birthday present from E, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg finally arrived. The delay, I should say, was on the part of Foyles Bookshop, not E. Zornberg has written several deep books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), mixing traditional commentary with ideas from Western philosophy and literature and psychology. She’s very good, but no one expected her to write about the almost entirely legal and purity-focused Vayikra (Leviticus). So I am curious to read it, but will wait until it comes around on the annual Torah cycle next spring.

Also arriving today was the latest Jewish Review of Books (finally) and Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide. Actually, the latter came yesterday, but it seemed inappropriate to write about it on such a sad day. Then today I went into the charity shop and found a load of interesting-looking books. I already owned a couple of them, perhaps fortunately, but I did buy a copy of Yehudah HaLevi’s Medieval Jewish anti-philosophical philosophical work, The Kuzari for £2, which goes nicely with the Guide for the Perplexed I got for free a few months ago.

Yes, my plan to avoid getting new books until I work my way down the To Read pile is going well. Wait a minute…

Autism and Becoming Myself

I had the usual I’ve slept too much during the day sleep problems last night, plus when I finally did fall asleep, I woke up after an hour or two with a headache (migraine? It was localised intensely over one eye, but I’ve had more general headaches that have felt worse). Inevitably, I slept late this morning.

The main thing I did was go to two of the six online shiurim (religious classes) run today by the London School of Jewish Studies in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) starting next year. One was Rabbi Sam Lebens talking about God changing history so that penitents never sinned. This is interesting, but I was familiar with his argument from his book The Principles of Judaism and I’m not convinced that it’s really a necessary or credible hypothesis, either from Jewish religious texts or from logic. I’m more convinced by the argument he rejected, that repentance changes the meaning and consequences of our misdeeds, but that we still did those misdeeds.

The other shiur was more helpful for me. This was Rabbi Joseph Dweck talking about teshuvah (repentance) as a process of self-discovery. This is the type of existential/personal growth-focused shiur I like.

He quoted Rav Kook on teshuvah (translated as response or return) being a return to the self, leading to the return to God. Rabbi Dweck spoke about God’s first word in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) being “Yehi” “Be” (a literal translation of what is usually rendered “Let there be [light]”). God in Tanakh does not mechanically create the world out of parts (he didn’t say this, but this is essentially what happens in a lot of pagan creation myths), He wills it into being as itself. God’s fundamental charge to us and to the universe is simply to be ourselves. Similarly, Avraham (Abraham) is commanded to “Go for yourself” i.e.  become an individual for yourself.

He said we should spend our life working on becoming our ideal self or fullest potential and that to call ourselves stupid, ugly, useless (etc.) is to blaspheme against God Who created us. Becoming ourselves is thus the first step to returning to God through the integration of our parts.

This was good to hear in terms of my continuing struggle to come to terms with my autism and how that impacts on my religious life, particularly regarding shul (synagogue) attendance (admittedly due to the intersection of autism with social anxiety and disordered sleep) and my general feelings of being a failure at work, Judaism and life in general. Quite how I will assimilate the ideas and what I will do with them remains to be seen. I’ve heard similar messages before without shifting my low self-esteem, even before autism diagnosis. I hope that one day I will hear a critical mass of such teachings and something will shift inside me. Beyond that, I think I really need some practical way of internalising this message. Any ideas would be welcome (affirmations tend not to work well for me).

Other than that, I went for a walk and finished scanning documents to go to the Home Office for E’s visa application. E put together a cute PowerPoint presentation of photos of us and screenshots of our emails and texts to prove the legitimacy of our relationship to the immigration bureaucrats.  I briefly checked out a couple more autism forums to see if there’s one that suits me more than the one I’m currently on, but I don’t think there is, although it doesn’t help that I can’t really articulate what I’m looking for, just that I haven’t seen it yet. I did come across a Jewish autistic Facebook group, which I will check out when I rejoin Facebook, although it looks like it only has twenty-nine members. It has a sibling group for people with “‘lived experience’ of autism”, which I guess means family of autistic people as well, which is somewhat larger with over two hundred members, but still fairly small. They were both created this year, so may grow over time.

Immigration Woes, Religious Growth on the Autism Spectrum and Performative Judaism

Most of today was spent scanning documents for E’s visa application and sending them to her. I didn’t have much time for anything else, although I cleaned the kitchen a bit as we haven’t got a cleaner coming this week.

I phoned the building society to try to get a printout of my savings account statement for the last year. I couldn’t get it to show as a pdf through online banking and a screen shot wasn’t good enough for the Home Office (for E’s visa). The woman I spoke to said that my account was for a book, not individual statements. This sent me into autistic/socially anxious panic, as I was pretty sure I didn’t have an account book, and I hung up.  I decided it would be easier to sort out in person, so I walked to the building society, wearing my invisible disability lanyard (just in case), which may have helped.  They said they would print my statement, but first one cashier and then the other had printer problems.  I thought I would have to come back another day or go to another branch (which would also have to be another day), but at the last moment they managed to print what I wanted.

I later discovered the printout only has the last four digits of my account number, which I suppose is for security reasons. I hope the Home Office still accept it. E and I are both terrified concerning every little detail that is not 100% the way they want or which we just had to work out on our own initiative. We are sure they will use this to refuse the visa application. E says what if the Home Office website is like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and we need the Immigration Talmud to understand it properly because its literal meaning is deceptive? It’s a frightening thought. Likewise concerning the problems I had with the benefits I was mistakenly paid, which the Home Office will see from the bank statements they are making me submit. I wrote a whole piece for them explaining what happened and that it was not my fault, but we’re still terrified that the Home Office will think I’m some kind of benefits fraudster and assume that E is the same and refuse her visa. I hate bureaucracy.

Then I came home and tried to phone to confirm the psychiatrist appointment I’ve been sent. Once again, the call went to the answerphone even though the office was supposed to be open. I got annoyed about this, particularly as I wasn’t sure that it’s the right number to call, although the only other phone numbers on the letter were the crisis team and the “smoking cessation” line (?!), and it certainly isn’t either of those. I worried they would cancel my appointment because I haven’t confirmed on a number they haven’t given me. The answerphone gave another number, so I called that, only to be told that I should have phoned the first number! I said I left a message on the answerphone and the receptionist said that would be fine, but who knows with the NHS? I would say I need the NHS Talmud too, but I suspect it exists as an oral tradition only.

There was a Mussar (Jewish ethical development movement) yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in the early twentieth century where students were sent to do stupid tasks, such as going into a hardware shop and asking for milk, so that people would get annoyed with them, in the process teaching them that self-esteem comes from within, not from other people.  I feel that, with autism and social anxiety, most of my social interactions that aren’t with a small, select group of people feel like that. It hasn’t done much for my self-esteem, though.

I feel I haven’t really adapted to post-depression/burnout life or to ‘normal’ life with autism, a suspected sleep disorder and social anxiety. In particular, I ignored my social anxiety in the past as it seemed insignificant compared to my depression and OCD, but now they’re under control, it feels like a real impediment. I did CBT for it on the NHS, but I only had ten sessions and didn’t push myself hard enough or sustain the effort afterwards. Then COVID came along and knocked back what progress I had made.

I wonder what I should be doing right now in terms of growth i.e. dealing with autism and social anxiety and also growing as a person and growing religiously (this being the time of year when we think about these things in the Jewish world). I just got married and usually someone who just got married would be told to focus on that relationship for the first year, but it looks like half or more of our first year will be spent on different continents. More generally, I don’t know enough autistic or socially anxious adults in the Orthodox community (with or without significant sleep and energy issues) to try to gauge what is typical or even possible behaviour from someone in my situation.

In particular, trying to assess my relationship with God, as one Jewish site suggested, is hard. Being on the spectrum, I find it hard to assess my relationships with people who are actually communicating with me, let alone those who aren’t. I know I have a good relationship with E, but that’s partly because I can judge interactions, like how we resolve disagreements, and partly because she explicitly tells me that she thinks we have a good relationship. I’m sorry, I’m autistic, I find it hard to read these things without being told. With God, I have to intuit how He feels about me with really no evidence at all, and it’s all too easy for that to be distorted by low self-esteem. I’m not really a person who has a “sense” of God’s presence in their life and I find it hard to really know what that would feel like, although I perhaps have felt it at very specific points in my life.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read/listened to some things about Judaism and feminism in the last few days. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I find it interesting that they present Judaism as primarily performative, not contemplative. In other words, Judaism is something you do (study, lead religious services, lein), rather than something you think about or contemplate. Women’s exclusion from Orthodox Judaism is seen as stemming from exclusion from doing certain things and can be rectified by letting them do those things.

Judaism is primarily a performative/action-based religion rather than a contemplative/faith-based religion like Christianity or Buddhism. That has certain advantages (setting aside the issue of gender segregation for the moment), but it arguably does lead to the marginalisation of those in the community who, for whatever reason, can’t do Jewish things (whereas fundamentalist Christianity leads to the marginalisation of those who, for whatever reason, can’t believe Christian things, which is a whole other set of issues). When it comes to feminism, we frame the argument around what women are allowed to do and who is allowing, or not allowing, them to do it, but I’m interested in people who aren’t able to do for pragmatic rather than societal/halakhic reasons and what happens to them. Do they just leave? Or get excluded, or at least demoted to second-class status? I want to start my Facebook group to find out!

There is an idea of meditation in Judaism (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tzl wrote three books on it, one of which I have), but it’s not very prominent except in the Breslov Hasidic community. (I’ve tried meditating, but struggle with it currently.)

The thing that I keep thinking about in this context is a story I haven’t seen in the original (I saw it paraphrased in Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerksi’s book Let Us Make Man). I think it comes originally from the Jerusalem Talmud. The story is that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who was one of the leading sages of the Talmudic era, was severely ill and all his students came to visit him. They tried to cheer him up by saying what a great Torah teacher he was and he just got more depressed because he knew he was not going to recover enough to teach again. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Suffering can be precious” (as a way of developing character and earning spiritual reward), which caught his attention because accepting suffering was something he could do in his passive state. I feel that kind of intellectual/contemplative, even passive, approach of “Suffering can be precious,” is generally not discussed in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Rather, people in crisis are pushed to do more, even if that’s not really feasible for them.

How to Destupidify myself?

I didn’t have work today, J having switched my days this week.  This was probably for the best, as I slept a long time after all the stuff I was doing yesterday (tax return, visa form).  The house was almost empty when I woke up, just me and Dad.  I know that’s the usual number of people on a weekday, but after so many being around for the last few days, it felt empty.  Dad made some enquiries on my behalf about changing shul (synagogue) membership to get married by my parents’ rabbi. We don’t have to change it for a while.  When we do change, I think we get a year of free membership in any shul in the United Synagogue, so it’s worth not changing that until nearer the time, although Dad feels I should continue with membership of my current shul until then “just in case” (this is him being morbid, meaning so that I’m not left without burial membership anywhere for a number of months, just in case I drop dead suddenly). I’ll go to my parents’ shul for the Yom Tovim (festivals) as my shul will be in its new premises, twice as far away. If I wasn’t getting married, or was getting married there, I might have still gone there, but it seems silly when I won’t be going there much longer anyway.

Today was mostly spent on the tax return (which was a real headache, but which I still need to spend some time on, despite having spent about three hours on it already) and scanning documents for E’s visa application.  I didn’t manage much of the latter, as the tax return left me exhausted. I did get a walk in, which I didn’t manage yesterday, but I only did a few minutes of Torah study, compared with more yesterday.

I miss E a lot and I know she misses me.  It’s hard being apart for so long when we already feel married.

I did manage to phone about pre-marriage classes for E and myself, which is positive, especially as I had a lot of social anxiety about the call beforehand.

***

As I mentioned, I’ve been filling in my tax return.  It seems really difficult.  I feel like, “I’m autistic, I’m supposed to be good with numbers and methodical; I am (or at least I was) a librarian, which is also supposed to make me methodical; so why do I always struggle to find the documents I need, and to find the right figures on the documents once I’ve got them?”  The papers aren’t even in that much of a mess, they’re actually organised reasonably well, but somehow the piece of paper I need isn’t ever where it should be.  And I’m not that good with numbers.  Even at school, where I got good grades in maths and even did A-level physics, I wasn’t intuitively good with numbers the way some of my geeky friends were.  Maths was always a second language I could translate into in my head, but not intuitively think in.

Doing things like this just leaves me confused as I go from document to document.  I have to keep reminding myself which tax year I’m doing this for, otherwise I’ll forget and enter the wrong data.  Just to confuse myself further, midway through the last tax year, I switched from being a freelance contractor to a permanent staff member, although still doing the same job in the same institution.

I just feel incompetent these days.  At school, I was a high achiever, academically (socially was another story), but I think I survived by putting myself in a protective bubble for fourteen years, memorising vast amounts of data and filtering out the real world (noise, smells, social interactions, bullies, eventually even out-of-school-activities and almost everything other than work in the end).  My good memory for trivia stood me in good stead in exams, but after that, I had to go into university and then into the world, and suddenly critical thinking skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility and creativity were all more important than just being able to remember lots of facts or even remembering other people’s arguments.

I have two degrees, but I work two days a week in a low-skill job which I am over-qualified for, but in which I still regularly make big mistakes.  The mistakes are probably partly out of boredom, but also from having to work on multiple documents at once or just my inability to remember things nowadays.  My mistakes fuel my low self-esteem, which in turn probably causes more mistakes as I assume I will fail.  I feel like somewhere along the line, after years of autistic burnout and mental illness, I just got stupid and I don’t know how to destupidify myself.  Sadly, I think anecdotal evidence indicates that prolonged autistic burnout, and prolonged bouts of mental illness, can both lead to a decline in cognitive ability.  It now looks like I have a sleep disorder too, so I can throw sleep deprivation into the mix too.

***

Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister.  I don’t really have any thoughts about this, except that it cements my feeling that I can’t vote for any current political party.  I think I dreamt about Gladstone last night, although I don’t remember the details.   I do feel the world in general has a terrible crisis of leadership at the moment, although realistically great leaders only come around every quarter-century or so.

Existential Spirituality

I wonder sometimes about my spiritual life. I feel I have more of a religious life than a spiritual one. I would like to have a more spiritual life, but it’s hard to know where to start, especially from inside a major religion — where do you go when you’re already where you’re supposed to be, and don’t want to leave, but aren’t fully fulfilled? I want more spirituality, not less Judaism. Further, I find ‘spirituality’ a vague and unhelpful term, and Hebrew words like ruchniut aren’t any better.

I used to read a lot of Jewish religious existentialists (not all Orthodox). I found Jewish existentialism an approach that resonated with me more than many approaches in the Orthodox world, so out of curiosity, I searched online for stuff on existentialist spirituality, despite knowing that secular existentialism is very different to religious existentialism.

I found an article on existential spirituality in psychotherapy the other day that says the following:

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

I do struggle with several of these areas. I’m able to experience nature well when I’m in a natural setting, but I struggle to find one in the suburbs. It might be good for me to walk more often in a little area of land left wild at the edge of the nearby park (although it only takes five or ten minutes to walk the length of it).

Skipping number two for the moment, I am a lot more OK at being with myself than before. I still have low self-esteem, something worsened by autism-induced mishaps, and some social anxiety and catastrophising, but I’m mostly comfortable being inside my head. I feel positive about my sense of integrity, which ties into my Jewish practice as I practise Judaism less to feel “positive” or “spiritual” in the moment and more because overall I have a feeling of integrity and rightness from acting in accordance with my religious beliefs and as part of a three thousand year old community.

The really hard areas are two and four. I think being with others is very important (this is perhaps the biggest thing I take from Jewish existentialism), and it does help me when I find a way I can interact with others well, but finding that way can be hard. I definitely missed volunteering the last couple of weeks when it was on a break and I felt depressed until it restarted yesterday. The downside is that I feel depressed and burnt out today, which may be cause and effect or may be coincidence.

The fact that I go to shul (synagogue) a lot less than I did seven or eight years ago is probably a negative here too, from a social point of view as much as anything. Communal prayer does create social bonds. In recent years I have gone to shul a lot less, as a result of sleep disruption, social anxiety, changing communities and then COVID. I’m now totally out of the habit of regular shul attendance and struggling to get back into it.

I think my marriage to E might be the biggest positive change I can make here. Following the Talmud, I see marriage as the primary model of a loving relationship (the Talmud sees “Love your neighbour as yourself” applying particularly to marriage) and I think the intimacy (emotional as well as physical) there will help me feel more spiritually-fulfilled. I think already our emotional intimacy has led me to feel better in this way. It is hard at the moment, though, when we are so far apart and know it will be so long until we get married. E said it feels like we should be married now and our current status is a weird aberration, and I agree with her. E also thinks that God wants us to marry so I can help her be more religious and so she can help me to have more fun, which may be true too.

Connecting with God directly is harder. I struggle to connect with God through Torah study, except on occasions when I suddenly gain some new insight. That doesn’t happen often, but maybe I have to do a lot of study to provide “scaffolding” for those moments of connection. But often it’s easy to forget God while studying Torah and just focus on the text as a text. Possibly I should try to get back to reading something inspirational or about personal growth every day.

I have improved my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer lately, but even then it can be hard to concentrate on God. I can focus on God or on the words of the prayer, but it’s hard to focus on both at once.

I guess a lot of the problem is the subjectivity of what constitutes a spiritual experience or a connection with an invisible God. Maybe I’m trying to over-analyse.

***

I got a phone call from A, the person who seems to be a middleman between me and the psychiatrist. He turned out to be a psychiatric nurse. He said that before my medication was reviewed by the psychiatrist with a view to reducing it, could I tell him what happened about the autism assessment I was referred for in 2019, as they had no further information. I was pretty shocked he didn’t know about my diagnosis. In fact, I don’t think he even knew I was referred for an autism assessment, as he thought it might have been for ADHD (the hospital assesses for both). I offered to scan the report and send it to them, which was fortunate as he said he could write to the GP, but that would take weeks (!). You would think that an advantage of a single, national healthcare provider would be some kind of shared data base, at least within the locality. Honestly, this service is just so useless.

***

I was going to go for a pre-wedding haircut after this, but it started raining really heavily and I decided to go after work tomorrow instead. It’s still quite hot and I think the rain and heat/humidity combination along with the disruption to my plans brought my mood down. I am nervous of having my hair cut by a stranger again. I’ve always found haircuts intrusive, probably for autistic reasons about personal space and sensory stimuli, but for many years now I’ve had tremor in some social situations and haircuts are a major trigger, indeed, they were the first trigger when it started. I hope it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

I forgot to go to shul (I want to go on Wednesday evenings), although I wouldn’t really have had much time to spare. Instead, I submitted my first novel to two more agents, both UK-based. I’m trying to focus on UK agents at the moment. One is Jewish, but is super-influential and well-connected, so I probably won’t be accepted by him. To be honest, I suspect all the agencies on the list I’m using are too big for me and that I need some small boutique agency. E disagrees with me here; I hope she’s right.

***

I got sent £3.34 from Lulu.com, which means someone bought my non-fiction Doctor Who book!

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

I really struggled to get up today, feeling utterly drained and self-critical (it goes without saying I got up really late, as it was a non-work/volunteering day — no volunteering this week for the summer holiday). The fact that another heatwave seems to have started probably didn’t help. Even if I can sleep when it’s hot, I tend not to sleep well (or, even less well than usual). Dad was watching the news when I went down for breakfast, so I got to see the latest on the Conservative Party leadership contest (“Tax cuts will fix everything in our broken society”) and Donald Trump being raided by the FBI, which is the least surprising “unexpected” story ever (I would not be surprised if he eventually goes out in a hail of bullets). None of this helped my mood much. I did manage to get dressed in about ten minutes to just about say some of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) while it was still time, which was good, and unexpected.

I waited over an hour at the dentist, as there was a child (I think) who needed emergency treatment. I was OK with that, although I had nothing to read, and the waiting room would probably have been too noisy for me to read anyway (radio, child playing videos on a phone without headphones). I think the dentist said I shouldn’t have gone to the dentist until I had two separate instances of pain, but possibly she was just saying that she wouldn’t extract the tooth for just one instance of pain. She said the gum was inflamed and cleaned it out, and suggested I rinse after meals with salt water to keep it clean, but that was about it.

Because of the long wait, I lost a lot of time. I tried to do some Torah study while cooking to save some time, but I struggled to find an appropriate shiur (class) to listen to. I ended up listening to a short ten minute thing and then some more Orthodox Judaism, which was interesting, but more pedagogy than actual Torah study. There was more discussion about teaching Talmud to schoolchildren, which made me think maybe I know some more things than I thought, not so much in terms of facts, but concepts, like knowing some of the history of the Talmud and the way it uses particular topics to discuss general concepts.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz spoke about speaking to a meeting of three hundred (I think) Haredi single mothers who wanted to understand their sons’ schoolwork (Haredi women are generally not taught Talmud). One woman asked why her son is always talking about oxen. I was already aware that the Talmud uses four different types of dangerous items (foot, ox, pit and fire) as shorthand for various ways of causing damage, so I felt somewhat ahead of the game here. It was also good to hear a Haredi rabbi admit that one hundred years ago, only the top one per cent of Jewish schoolboys would have even gone to yeshivah and studied Talmud. Again, I knew that already, but it’s not really admitted to in the Haredi world. I recently saw someone arguing that while most Jewish men in pre-war Eastern Europe did have to work, they dreamt of spending all their time studying Tosfos (Tosfos, or Tosafot in the Modern Hebrew pronunciation I use, is a collective Medieval commentary on the Talmud, even more complicated and difficult than the Talmud itself). I can’t prove that this is untrue (I don’t have access to the dreams and fantasies of every Jewish man in pre-war Eastern Europe), but it seems unlikely given the social and economic situation of the time. Study was important to people even quite low down the social scale, but of much less challenging texts, and it seems unlikely that all Jewish men wanted to spend as long as possible in religious study.

I tried to phone the United Synagogue Marriage Authorisation Department to get the paperwork to move on the religious marriage. I got the answerphone, as I did when I phoned last week, which worried me a bit. I will try again…

The other thing I did was spend an hour or so working on my novel. I feel a bit bad about writing instead of studying Torah, but I tell myself writing is my livelihood, even though it actually isn’t, I’m just hoping it will contribute to it one day. I did make myself do a few minutes of Torah study on this week’s sedra (Torah reading), which happens to be my bar mitzvah portion (although I no longer remember how to lein it — I got so much praise for my bar mitzvah leining that I freaked out with social anxiety and refused to lein again, except when my parents forced me to lein haftorah for my sister’s bat mitzvah).

There are other things I would like to write about, but I am tired and between struggling to get up and get going this morning and the wait at the dentist, I am out of time.

I Come from Barcelona

Work is very slow at the moment, which possibly gives me too much time to think, or to overthink things. I thought more about trying to find my religious place and about trying to find some kind of purpose in life beyond doing boring work, badly, for inadequate pay (my pay is very generous compared to what I do, but inadequate to live on unsupplemented).

I woke up feeling a failure, I’m not sure why. The exception, the non-failure, is my relationship with E, which is a big exception, but still, I feel that I’m not achieving enough (what is “enough”? Enough to help support a family or enough to stroke my ego?). I sometimes feel like I interpret any error on my part or anyone with difference of opinion to me as a sign of failure on my part, that I should have spotted the error or predicted the difference of opinion and accounted for it in advance.

On the way to work, I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum discussing whether Modern Orthodox schools [1] teach too much Talmud. This was interesting, but also (for want of a better word) triggering. The argument in favour of as much, or more, Talmud included the need for immersion in the language (Aramaic and rabbinical Hebrew) and thought-system of the Talmud and Medieval commentators to really make progress in understanding, which I probably agree with, in a way, but I was left with the feeling that, having not gone to yeshivah and not studied/studying Talmud in depth or at length, my Torah study is at best “dilettante” (as the “pro-more-Talmud opinion said) or even that I am a “second class Jew.” I’m not sure what the context for this remark was, and I’m pretty sure it was being said along the lines of, “We mustn’t let people who don’t study/understand Talmud feel like second-class Jews…” but I still felt uncomfortable. On the other hand, Rabbi Kahn did argue that some students are simply not going to understand or enjoy Talmud study, particularly at age fourteen, and that they should study other Jewish topics (like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or philosophy) and more creative ways of studying and engaging with Jewish tradition. I agree with this, and it is part of why I didn’t go to yeshivah, but it did prime me to spend the day introspecting about where I fit in the Jewish world (again).

If Torah study is the most important mitzvah (at least for men), and Talmud study is the most important form of Torah study (again, for men), then where does that leave me? Again, reading When Rabbis Abuse, it sometimes seems like being learned is more important than being good in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Certainly being able to study Talmud and lead prayer services seems to lead to status in the frum world in a way that just being a good person does not, or not necessarily. I am still haunted by the image of serial child abuser Todros Grynhaus leading Yamim Noraim (High Holy Day) services even after serious allegations of abuse had been made against him. This was in a Federation shul (synagogue), so moderate Haredi rather than extreme Haredi.

Less melodramatically, I worry that the people I admire would find little to admire in me (except E). I do have a need for approval.

I began to wonder if I need a clearer purpose in life than other people. I need to do more than work to earn money to buy food and pay rent/mortgage so I can live to work to earn money to buy food… I feel this should be important to everyone, but apparently it is not. For many people, work, family and conventional religious behaviour seems to be enough for them[2] and I wonder why it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Is it just because my family is still hypothetical and my religious behaviour is fraught with difficulty because of autism, social anxiety and disrupted sleep? Or is it because I feel myself to have a weak sense of self and my own opinions, bouncing off other people’s ideas, so I look for a clear mission or guiding principle in life to manifest my life around? I feel that, even without all my “issues,” I would want more from my religious life than going to shul three times a day and studying Talmud (or even something else) for an hour or so a day. I need something more, but I don’t know what.

To some extent, I probably want something conventional Orthodox Judaism just isn’t offering. I went to the little shul (really a Beit Midrash) upstairs to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) after work this afternoon. There wasn’t a service, I just wanted to pray in a shul and I knew I wouldn’t go this evening. Before I davened, I just sat in the quiet and calm of the empty room and it was very peaceful and comfortable, but that’s not really a Jewish way to respond to sacred spaces. There are kabbalists and Hasidim who meditate (I’ve done it in the past), hitbodedut, mantra meditation, other types of meditation, but it’s not considered mainstream. It’s not something most frum people would associate with Judaism.

Then again, maybe once I get married, I really won’t need anything else, particularly if we have children. Maybe being with someone I love and who loves me, in a genuinely reciprocal relationship (unlike previous relationships, which were always one-sided, despite my efforts) will be enough for me, and I won’t care any more about where I fit in the religious world beyond where we happen to be, or about getting published or being taken seriously or anything else (OK, I would probably still worry about money and boredom if I was in the same job). I hope so, because sometimes hoping for more than that seems foolish.

[1] I’m not sure how the American school system works and what grades correspond to what ages, but I think this was mostly about secondary schools.

[2] Admittedly not the scores of people who are all over the internet describing themselves as “activists,” but, then again, I’m not sure what these people do other than repost stuff on social media.

***

I tried to submit my first novel to another agent. The first agency I looked at didn’t want religious fiction. I’m not sure that my novel is “religious fiction,” exactly, but it’s probably near enough to make it not worth my time submitting. The second agency said something along the lines of, “Fiction doesn’t need to be Christian, but it should not conflict with a Christian worldview.” Talk about betwixt and between. The next agent is apparently autistic, and wants the usual standard marginalised voices, but doesn’t want “inspirational works including religious overtones.” What does that mean? (Please don’t tell me that religious people can’t be marginalised, or aren’t marginalised if they’re Jewish or Christian rather than Muslim or Hindu.) They only wanted the first five pages, which I don’t think is really enough to sell the story (what next, the first five words?), but I was just desperate to submit to someone so I hadn’t wasted the evening. In the end I sent to a different agent at the same agency. The agency wanted me to follow them on Twitter, which did lead me wonder just how desperate they think I am. I am desperate to get published, but not that desperate. I wanted to submit to another agency, but it was hard finding one that was suitable and I ran out of time.

Anyway, I have applied to twenty-five agencies in a year, which is NOT good going. Admittedly, there have been times when I stopped submitting for months on end, for various reasons (applying for jobs, waiting for the emerging writers’ programme to get back to me, E here or me going to the US, Pesach preparation…), but it’s still disappointing. I’m up to ‘J’ in the alphabetical agency list I’m using. Also, some of these agents sound really annoying, super-privileged middle class people super-proud of themselves for being on the side of a carefully-curated and approved set of Little People.

***

E read, and told me about, the recently-published novel Shmutz, about a Haredi woman who is addicted to pornography. I was worried about it stealing the thunder from the novel I’m working on about a pornography-addicted Haredi rabbi. She doesn’t know where my novel is going, but she has seen the first draft of the first couple of chapters. She says it didn’t seem like there was a huge overlap. Shmutz has apparently some very graphic descriptions of violent pornography, which there definitely won’t be in my novel.

After we spoke, I took the plunge and skimmed the first few pages on Amazon look inside, although I don’t want to read the whole thing until I’ve finished my first draft. It left me somewhat despondent. Shmutz gets off to a much quicker start than my novel, opening with the main character telling her doctor she doesn’t want to marry as that would involve giving up pornography on the first page. My first chapter tries to build up slowly to the reveal of the apparently too-good-to-be-true protagonist’s secret, but I worry it will bore people, and agents only seem to want to look at the first ten or even five pages, not the first twenty-five. Shmutz seems much more open about its subject matter than I’m able to be, much more fitting with the contemporary idiom. I struggle with things like slang and think my prose is probably ponderous (in general, including here, not just in the novel). In terms of explicitness, I want to balance between writing something vaguely suitable for religious Jews, pornography addicts and partners of pornography addicts to read without being triggered, while still trying not to be as coy as most Orthodox writing about sex.

I suspect Shmutz doesn’t have my pretentions to Serious Literature either; I want my novel to be deeply about things like the Jewish idea of repentance and redemption as much as about sex. I probably want to be taken seriously too much (again, in life as well as in writing). E thinks I’m wasting my talents writing serious fiction when she thinks I’m better at writing science fiction satire (based on a squib I showed her a while back), but I have to really be in the right mindset to write that, and I worry I can’t put myself in that zone, I just occasionally get pushed into it by things around me. Plus writing satire would involve being more aware of current events and the idiocies of the age (Big Tech, Trump, woke, etc.) than I want to be right now.

***

I’ve been re-watching some Fawlty Towers lately. Sometimes, at work or volunteering or occasionally in other places, someone says something to me and I just have no idea what they’re saying, whether through executive dysfunction, sensory overload, difficulty processing spoken instructions or something else. Whoever I’m talking to has to say the same thing multiple times and I stare blankly until it eventually sinks in on the fifth attempt. The reasons are different, but I think from the outside it looks exactly like Basil Fawlty trying to communicate with Manuel, only without the casual sadism. “Please try to understand before one of us dies!”

Difficult Thoughts, and Staying Frum

I slept until 11am, which I probably needed.  Then I spent a while in bed, which was a mistake, as I fell asleep until 12.30pm, which I did not need and was not good.  I felt self-recriminatory after that, and about the over-excited post I wrote yesterday.  Sometimes I get stuck in fantasy that things are suddenly going to improve and then it’s painful coming back down to earth.

I also noticed that I’ve had a lot of difficult thoughts lately, not self-criticism so much as pure O OCD-type thoughts (e.g. thoughts about saying hurtful things to strangers).  Apparently everyone has these thoughts, or thoughts like them, all the time, but people with OCD can’t dismiss them as ‘just thoughts.’  I do wonder why people don’t discuss them more if this is true.  They do lead on to self-criticism, because I think, “How can I have thoughts like that in my head, even subconsciously?  I don’t want to say these things, so why is my brain suggesting that I should?”  I’m not obsessing over them and I don’t really think I’m a bad person, so it’s not reached OCD-level, but I just wish it would shut up.

To be honest, I would probably be a lot happier generally if my brain would just shut up sometimes.  I know someone who seems to wander around broadcasting their entire inner monologue constantly to avoid the silence.  If that really is what they’re doing, their inner monologue is a lot quieter and more banal than my inner monologue.  I do wish I could turn things down sometimes.

***

I felt down today, I’m not sure why.  The day has been a bit of a struggle.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about this.

I did phone the GP surgery this afternoon and managed to get an appointment with the doctor I spoke to last time.  This was regarding wanting to reduce my medication and being told by the psychiatrist not to do so.  The GP seemed a bit annoyed that I hadn’t been able to speak to the psychiatrist directly to explain my situation, but had to speak through a “link worker.”  This was the person I spoke to on the phone, who I thought was a psychiatrist, but apparently was not.  The GP is going to write again to request a direct phone call between me and the psychiatrist.

I spent a while psyching myself up to phone the United Synagogue about moving forward with E and my marriage application paperwork, but got the answer phone.

So many things at the moment can’t be done in one go.  A lot of this relates to going to the US and getting married, but also to other things like filling in my tax return (which I’ve never had to do before).  I just keep pushing things off or only managing to do the next step and I find it frustrating that nothing is ever finished.  Maybe that’s contributed to feeling down.

***

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed frum (religious Jewish).  It’s hard to stay frum if you don’t feel connected to the community, or aren’t getting positive feelings from Jewish practice, or are just struggling to do all the stuff that being Jewish entails, and I’ve struggled with all three things at different times.  I guess I’m struggling with most or all of them now, if not necessarily to the same extent as in the past.  And autism/Asperger’s and mental health issues just makes everything even harder.  My main mental health issue at the moment is social anxiety, which isn’t as bad for me as depression and OCD were, but it’s particularly good at sabotaging anything I try to do related to being in a community, and a lot about Orthodox Judaism is ideally done in a community.  Alexithymia (difficulty sensing and understanding my feelings) probably also means that I miss some positive feelings from Judaism and community, strange though that may seem.

Does that make me a good Jew for persisting despite all this or a bad one for not being so enthusiastic, committed or involved?  I don’t know.  I feel like a good Jew wouldn’t be struggling with these things in the first place, but I also feel that I didn’t choose to be in this situation.   I once saw one rabbi write that “A good Jew is trying to be a better Jew,” but I worry that in the last few years, rather than improving, I’ve even cut back on things to try to consolidate what I’m still doing.

I am aware that people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community, for whatever reason, tend to drop out.  I’ve known a number of people who became frum as a young adult, but dropped out of observance later due to mental health issues (sometimes becoming observant is a symptom of mental illness, although I don’t think that was the case with me).  So I know I should feel that I’m doing OK.  It would just be nice to have some certainty that I’m a good Jew and a good human being.  Although, as I realised a while back, but still haven’t internalised, there isn’t going to be a day when someone gives me a medal to officially recognise that I’m a good person or a good Jew, and I should really stop wanting it to happen.  At least E thinks I’m a good person and a good Jew; it probably is too much to hope for other people to say the same.

Tangentially-related to this, on one of the Orthodox Conundrum podcasts I listened to, Elisheva Rishon (fashion designer and Jew of colour) spoke about connecting with other Orthodox Jews online, but struggling to overcome stigma in real-world Orthodox settings.  I don’t think I experience stigma per se (although it’s easier for me to mask), but it nudges me towards going back on social media to try to find people I can connect with.  But then I remember how awful being on Facebook was, and I scare myself off it.

***

I am currently reading The Third Reich in Power by Richard J Evans; When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture by Elana Sztokman; and Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World by Yael Ziegler[1].  These are all good books, but very heavy-going [2].  I tried to read the Third Reich book this evening and struggled with it.  I think I have to throw a novel in there or something lighter.  It’s frustrating, as the Third Reich book is very long and I don’t want to be reading it for months on end.  I don’t want to take any of those books to New York in a few weeks (not least because they’re too heavy in a literal sense), so I’ll have to start something soon anyway.  I do want to finish the spring Jewish Review of Books first (the summer issue is out, but it takes ages to get to the UK).

[1] I am also occasionally reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who by David J. Howe and Steven James Walker, which is annoying in another way entirely, but that’s not a topic for now.

[2] When Rabbis Abuse is also in desperate need of a proof-reader, as I’m not sure I’ve seen a professionally-published book with so many typos and errors, but, again, that’s not a problem for now.

Pitch Imperfect

I stayed up late last night blogging, which was probably a mistake, although I thought I wouldn’t fall asleep easily as I slept so much during the day, finally getting to bed about 2.00am, just before the fast of Tammuz (see below) started. This was probably a mistake, as at 5.30am I woke up with a headache and even after it went, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I did eventually fall asleep midmorning and sleep for another three hours or so.

This week is set to be a disrupted week. Today is 17 Tammuz, a Jewish fast day and the start of the Three Weeks of mourning (no haircuts, shaving, music, weddings, parties, etc.). Fast days always feel strange and disrupted to me, even though I haven’t been able to fast on the minor fasts for fifteen years or more because being on lithium makes the risk of serious dehydration too great. This year, my family aren’t fasting either; both the United Synagogue and the Federation of Synagogues put out warnings that people in various categories of vulnerability should not fast because of the heatwave and dehydration risk. So it feels a strange day.

J said I could work at home tomorrow because of the heatwave that we currently have in the UK, but there isn’t really any work I can meaningfully do at home right now and I didn’t want to do pointless make-work, so I suggested going in on Wednesday instead, when it should be cooler, as I don’t have therapy this week. I’m probably going to see a friend sit shiva (mourn) for his mother tomorrow. And it’s my birthday on Wednesday and my sister and brother-in-law are coming round. I’ve moved some other parts of my routine around to accommodate these changes. I hope I cope OK with everything, as disruption to my routine can be difficult. And the heat makes everything extra-hard.

***

I thought I had an idea for an article that I could sell to a Jewish website. I spent an hour procrastinating and not starting it, which was a bad sign (admittedly I did about fifteen minutes of novel research in the procrastination). I spent half an hour or so writing it, but only managed 400 words and don’t think it’s going anywhere. I could try to expand and improve it, but it’s a news-related story (Jewish websites like to be topical for some reason) so it has a limited shelf-life and I’d need to finish it soon.

Admittedly it is very hot today and hard to work, and there was also a lot of noise from children playing outdoors and people playing music with the windows open. Still, I don’t feel confident in the idea any more. Possibly I am too much of a perfectionist to be able to write for websites, magazines and newspapers, which seem to need a lot of copy to be produced very quickly to generate enough income to live off. I was discussing monetising blogs, and writing in general, on Ashley’s blog today and I gloomily concluded that I’m not good enough at selling myself to make writing a really good career for me, but as I don’t seem to be good enough at anything else, I feel I have to try it anyway.

I feel I should be able to pitch articles to various Jewish sites, but somehow I don’t know how to generate ideas, and, as I said, Jewish kiruv (outreach) sites tend to like a ‘hook’ linking the topic to the news (which means writing very quickly) or to popular culture (which means writing quickly and also having more pop cultural awareness than I’ve ever had). They generally aren’t interested in a straightforward devar Torah or textual/philosophical insight, as they’re aiming at people who aren’t frum, trying to show the relevance of Judaism to their own world of politics and pop culture. Some people I knew from Hevria write for the Haredi press, but I don’t think I have the right understanding of frum culture for that, and I don’t want to work for papers that won’t print photos of women (which is all of the Haredi papers now, sadly — despite this, the people I know who write for them are women. I don’t think they like the situation, but they seem to have accepted it, on some level). I tried pitching to less religious Jewish newspapers in the UK a number of years ago, but didn’t get anywhere.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do a lot today. I Skyped E for a while and went for a walk at dusk, when it was cooler and did a tiny bit of Torah study, but I didn’t get to write more of my novel, which was a shame.

The fast is over now, and I should think about heading for bed, but it’s too hot to sleep and despite/because my disrupted sleep last night/this morning, I don’t feel at all tired.

All In My Head?

I don’t usually comment on the Rationalist Judaism blog (which is basically a critique of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, despite the misleading title), as people on both sides can be aggressive and unwilling to listen. But I left a comment on this post. It left me thinking about my position in the Orthodox world (Modern Orthodox as well as Haredi).

I always felt I didn’t fit in in the frum (religious Jewish) world, in the Haredi community, the Modern Orthodox community, the unusual world of the Oxford University Jewish Society. But I always feel I don’t fit in anywhere, and that may be just my own perception due to autism, low self-esteem, social anxiety or any number of things. It could be that I could fit in, IF I could find the right community (probably Modern Orthodox) and if I can overcome my social anxiety. I wonder how I can do this, given that CBT didn’t work so well here and autism-adjusted CBT is not likely to be forthcoming for me for a long time. It also makes my personal history more depressing, in a way, if I could have had friends and fitted in if only I had known how to do it. All those wasted, lonely years.

The alternative is that I really didn’t fit in, and then I really don’t know how I will fit in in future, particularly given low self-esteem, autism, social anxiety, etc. I guess being married will automatically help me fit into the Orthodox community a bit better, and E has superior social skills to me, although I’m not sure we would be trying to connect with the same people.

As an aside, I think the reason I still think of Hevria so much, and with such mixed feelings, is that that was the place where I should really have fitted in, and somehow I always felt I didn’t quite manage it. Again, that may have been all in my head (when I was suicidal, a bunch of Hevria writers emailed me to send moral support, which I did not expect, particularly as I’d barely connected with some of them), but then, I did feel upset that I was never asked to become a regular writer, even though the people running the site knew I wanted to be one, and they ran my pieces occasionally as guest posts, and that made me feel I wasn’t quite fully there.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, and I have to get ready for Shabbat anyway.

Wedding Plans

Work today wasn’t very good. I think I slept badly again because of the heat and yawned away like crazy on the Tube and struggled to stay awake. There was a fair amount of work to do in the morning, but in the afternoon I was sorting old papers again, mostly minutes of meetings from circa 2002-2006. There were minutes from a number of similarly-named committees mixed up together, which was confusing. I spent a lot of time feeling anxious about E and my wedding ceremony and got into a bad state. E and I were texting about it too, and that probably made things worse, as we both got into a negative mindset where each thought that the other deserved a better partner than we could be. I probably texted too much for a work day, but there wasn’t really much work to do.

I got quite down and self-critical, so E and I had a long conversation this evening when we looked at wedding plans systematically and said how we envisioned our wedding, as well as listing our top three wedding priorities. E let me count “religious stuff” as one thing, which was generous of her (I’ve already told her that having Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) is lower down my list and might get cut). I think we both felt better after that as we have a clearer idea of what we want, and I have a clearer idea of why she wants to keep the costs down.

It’s scary that tiredness + boredom and maybe + heat can quickly = extreme self-criticism and pessimism about the future, as well as cynicism about my ability to make good life choices. I should remember that I can get quite down at work, particularly when there isn’t much to do or I’ve made mistakes (both of which happened today). It is good that E and I have talked this through now.

Unfortunately, I am no closer to determining how many people I would feel comfortable with at the wedding, or how to narrow down my list if I decide thirty people (plus E’s guests) would be too many.

***

When I was self-critical and beating myself up about life decisions that weren’t entirely within my control, I had a thought about autism spectrum disorder, namely that it seems to be entirely random whether you get a version that turns you into someone severely disabled, a version that turns you into a super-successful Elon Musk-type visionary, or something in between. I’m not sure of any other condition that can be either disabling or enabling except perhaps ADHD (which has some links to autism). There isn’t really a clear way of causing one or the other outcome (that we know of currently).

Unfortunately, these days I feel that I’m moderately disabled. I have a reasonable degree of functionality compared with someone who is non-verbal or even compared with someone who essentially lives at home and does no paid work and has no friends (which is somewhere I’ve been in the past, or close to), but I’m clearly not functional enough to fully support myself financially at present or to have the kind of lifestyle many of my neurotypical peers have attained, and I don’t know how I go about changing that. My book learning has not really helped me in a work environment that values “soft skills” and networking ability so much more than academic skills, and my inability to function in noisy environments or under pressure do not make things easier for me.

Self-Recrimination

I was tired even by my standards this morning. I struggled to get up and I think I fell asleep on the bus to volunteering. I think the heat has made my usual sleep issues (whatever they are) worse. I was worried that I would struggle with volunteering because I was so tired, but I actually felt OK, perhaps because I was on my feet the whole time. It did come out that I’m on psychiatric medication, which was slightly uncomfortable, but I feel like I have a load of issues that I have to accept will come out periodically with people I’m not close enough to in order to feel completely comfortable with them hearing it. And I came away with loot! There were too many vegetables and they wouldn’t last until next week, so I took some potatoes and carrots.

More excitingly, there was a big pile of religious books to be buried if no longer wanted (holy books are buried in Judaism), or to be thrown away if they were less holy. I asked if I could take some, and no one minded if I took one or two. Or ten. I’m not joking, I really took ten, as they were free and just going to be buried or even thrown away if I didn’t take them. Admittedly some I only took because they were free, but I was pleased to get a one volume translation of Rambam/Maimonides The Guide for the Perplexed (I don’t know if I’ll read it from cover to cover, but it’s good to have for reference), the The Hafetz Hayyim on Pirkey Avoth (not how I would transliterate, but anyway…) and Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems (quite a well-known Modern Orthodox book from the seventies). One of the books I ordered for novel research was at home when I got there too, which was good.

(Unfortunately, once I got home I discovered that I now have about 1,275 books and no space to store them in, particularly the Jewish ones, which can’t be stacked horizontally like the novels, for various reasons.)

I seemed to spend half the afternoon dealing with odd chores (adding the books to Goodreads and finding space for them; dealing with and filing a bunch of tax and financial letters) just to get to the point where I could do things for my trip to New York for E and my civil wedding in August. I then discovered that the airline had not sent me a confirmation email for the flights I booked on Sunday. I did eventually manage to retrieve the information, but it shocks me a bit how naive/clueless I can be; it had registered that they hadn’t sent anything, but I vaguely thought they would given time. Yes, I know executive function issues in autistics can mean that problems register on an abstract level, but don’t lead to the “Do this to fix it” thought that neurotypicals get and that’s probably more the case for me than I realise. I’m still not sure what the problem was, but I did get an email in the end, and then managed to find a hotel at a reasonable price.

My mood did go down a bit when confronted with all this, but it’s comforting that one feared obstacle after another has been surmounted or just melted away.

I wanted to do some Torah study, but I had a headache and Skyped E. I hopefully will do a few minutes before bed, but not much. The heat just feels really oppressive and it’s hard to do anything, particularly after a busy day and poor sleep last night. E and I spoke about the wedding, and I had a longer-than-intended discussion with my parents afterwards. Discussing in the heat and tiredness was not easy. I think I need to write my delayed password-protected post to process and understand my thoughts about the wedding.

***

I’ve been feeling some self-recrimination lately. A lot of it is wanting to explain myself to people, to explain how my autism affected me when I was younger. I think there are people who tried to befriend me who I ran away from; certainly there are people who tried to get me more involved in adolescent/university Jewish social/religious groups who I ran away from. I think some of the kids who bullied me at school did so because they misread my social anxiety as intellectual snobbery or worse. And there was the horrible situation I got into at university with the female friend I had a crush on where I overloaded her with my troubles until she stopped talking to me; I basically destroyed the friendship, or at least I partially did it. Sometimes I wish I could have my time again and be the somewhat more socially-functional person I am now, but back when I was a teenager. Or just to tell people that I’m on the spectrum and that’s why my reactions are weird (not neurotypical).

I’m particularly struggling with talking to my Dad. It’s at least partly my fault. We don’t communicate very well any more. I would like to say more, but don’t want to do it on a public post. This has been going on for years and getting worse. I’ve spoken to my therapist, but I really don’t know what to do about it. I blame myself and tell myself to be more patient, but I can’t seem to train myself to behave differently.

How I Broke the Shidduch System

I’m still thinking about dealing with Impostor Syndrome and with other people’s success (two slightly different topics, but related)(also, I tried to link to Ashley’s Impostor Syndrome post when I wrote about it yesterday, but WordPress ate the link somehow — sorry Ashley!).

I want to think, “I’m trying to live according to my values: to support E and my family emotionally; to be kind and empathetic to others; to try to connect with God and Torah; to try to connect with the Jewish community across time and space; to be thoughtful and curious and honest; to be creative sometimes; and to focus on personal growth; and if I don’t always succeed, at least I succeed sometimes.”[1] Still, it is hard to think about that a lot of the time. I don’t really want to be super-rich, but I do worry about how E and I will make ends meet basically relying on one and a bit wages between the two of us, without relying on our parents. And, as I said the other day, part of me would like my opinion to be taken seriously in the Jewish community (or even more widely). I’m not proud of that thought and I don’t really think it’s a good character trait to have, but it’s there.

I hope this feeling might go away. I used to be very caught up in self-pity and that’s reduced (although not entirely vanished) since being diagnosed autistic, getting a permanent job and getting engaged. Maybe the desire to be taken seriously by others will subside at some point too if I can deal with whatever’s prompting it, probably a feeling of not being taken seriously, and even being ignored and bullied, as a child, as well as low self-esteem generally.

[1] Sadly, my biggest failure is probably being kind and empathetic to my parents. I know it’s hard to live with your parents when you’re pushing forty. And I know my parents have their own character traits and issues that make it hard to live with them sometimes, and that sometimes those things are a particularly bad fit with my autistic needs/disabilities. But I still I feel I should do better. I want to say more about this, but I’ve never worked out how to write about the situation without going into lashon hara (improper speech) and dishonouring parents territory. Maybe it will be easier once I move out.

***

I watched a YouTube video of family therapist Elisheva Liss being interviewed by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and his wife Yocheved. From what Liss said on her weekly newsletter, I thought it would be about narrative therapy. However, I must have misunderstood, as they spoke mainly about shidduchim (the whole system of arranged dating in the Orthodox Jewish world) and marriage. I probably would not have listened to the whole thing if I realised that they would not be talking about narrative therapy.

I used to think I was too defective for the shidduch system to work for me, but maybe it’s more the case that the shidduch system is too defective to work for me. I’m not sure. It’s true that in the end I met E away from the system, and that E would never have been in the system in the first place. And I am aware that most shadchanim (matchmakers) and rabbis would throw their hands up in despair about E and me, with both of us having some ongoing psychological issues, neither of us earning very much money, and both of us on somewhat different religious levels. I do worry about those things a bit, although less so since we got engaged, but ultimately it’s just the two of us in this relationship/marriage and we arguably have skills that many twenty-somethings in the shidduch system don’t have in terms of self-knowledge and values-awareness; knowledge of each other from dating together so long; honest communication; willingness to compromise; and just general maturity. Not that I would say that I am particularly mature, but I have to believe that I can’t have got to (nearly) thirty-nine without picking up some maturity and life-skills I didn’t have at twenty-four. To be honest, E and I both need someone who understands and accepts us, with all our issues, more than we need someone on the same religious level. I know that thinking that probably would not be accepted in much of the frum world, but then it’s probably why I couldn’t find a partner in the frum shidduch-dating world.

***

I did a bit of novel writing today, but I struggled with procrastination. I’ve been writing quite a lot lately and maybe need a break for a day or two (more than just Shabbat). I’d like to finish reading over this chapter first. I thought I would do that today, but E asked me to help her with an important wedding thing that rightly took priority. That left me feeling a bit anxious. We are making progress with this wedding, but sometimes it feels that for every worry we knock on the head, another one emerges. I can’t go into details, but it did remind me of something Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl once said, that everyone thinks a moral dilemma is a choice between something right and something wrong, but it’s not; a moral dilemma is a choice between two things that are both right and you can only pick one, or two things that are wrong, but you have to pick one i.e. a situation in which there can be no perfect response. As a perfectionist, this sort of situation makes me anxious and stressed.

Materialism, Ego and Spirituality

I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast about materialism today. I had mixed feelings about it. The guest, Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, spoke about contemporary America being defined by four ‘isms’: narcissism, hedonism, consumerism and exhibitionism (the UK is probably not so bad, but still affected by all four). This is probably true, on some level, but I felt Rabbi Wieder and host Rabbi Scott Kahn struggled to define their terms, particularly as they felt this is an area where something may be within the letter of the law, but not the spirit. As they said, it’s very subjective; person X may say that person Y is being hedonistic and consumerist, but person Z may say the same about person X.

Historically, there have been people in the Jewish community who have been very wealthy and lived extravagantly, and they were often great philanthropists and ambassadors for the community to the non-Jewish world e.g. Sir Moses Montefiore and the Rothschilds. In modern days, maybe someone like Lord Levy. If they hadn’t been blessed with great wealth, and used some of it not just for philanthropy, but to enter high society and provide a Jewish voice there, the Jewish community as a whole would have suffered. Maybe this is less obvious in the less aristocratic USA. I feel someone lucky enough to be rich and influential needs to do some serious soul-searching about what their role in life and the Jewish community is and why God wants them to have that wealth and what the best thing for them to do with it is (I have never had this problem myself!).

Incidentally, I worry a bit about being exhibitionist myself on my blog, but I think I tend to talk most about my failures and gloss over my successes (like the Kotzker Hasidim who were said to sin publicly and perform mitzvot (commandments) in secret to avoid pride in their behaviour).

The podcast did at least make me realise how E and I would have struggled to raise a frum (religious Jewish) family in the USA, given the astronomical price of private Jewish school fees (in the UK there are Jewish state schools), on top of needing to find me a job with health insurance.

By coincidence (or not), while having these thoughts about materialism, part of my work today involved inventorying someone’s flat. (It’s a long story how this was relevant to my job.) If you want to test how much envy you have, try inventorying someone’s furniture, complete with price tags! And they weren’t even paying for it as it was being provided by their employer. It did make me worry how E and I will survive on about the equivalent of one salary between us, even without kids. And we’re limited to staying in Jewish communities, which tend not to be the cheapest. People we try to befriend will probably be earning a lot more than us too. It’s kind of depressing.

Also depressing was discovering that I didn’t get on the emerging writers’ programme. I tried not to get my hopes up, but part of me was hoping that this would be the big turning point in my life, or at least in my writing career. But it was not to be. Maybe it’s for the best, as it allows me to pause writing my novel when I need to, to focus on my wedding. I can also go back to submitting my first novel to agents, something I stopped doing because I thought the project I submitted for the emerging writers’ programme was supposed to end up as my first novel.

It does all make me wonder what my role in life is, whether writing is a part of that, and whether E and I will ever be living above subsistence level (or, more realistically, living without parental support). In this context, Rabbis Kahn and Wieder spoke about focusing on spirituality rather than materialism, which is a word I’ve always struggled with. It seems very nebulous and ill-defined. As I’ve said before, I see the quest for God and for meaning as more a part of my life than finding God or and meaning. I suspect some people would see this as spirituality, while others would wonder why I can’t just find God and then I would be spiritual. Likewise, I try to focus on spiritual growth, rather than attainment, but I am very bad at maintaining this perspective without slipping into self-criticism.

I saw an article recently that said that spirituality is about trying to adopt God’s perspective on the world. I did not like this, at least not in the way it was presented. I feel God’s perspective is decentred and plural (God can see things from literally everyone’s point of view). Hence, the Talmud is a pluralistic text, with multiple answers to any question, and it’s more concerned with presenting all those answers in the internally strongest way than with seeing which answer is better than the others (part of the reason Talmud study is so difficult is that it’s often unclear which side actually ‘wins’ the argument). And scholars like Rav Kook z”tzl, Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl and Rabbi Steinsaltz z”tzl saw many religions as being legitimate paths to God.

Perhaps related to all this I had another, “Oh, there’s someone I used to know; they’re a lot more successful than me” moment today. The fact that this person was the one who left me with a life-long feeling that I am inferior in the frum community for never having gone to yeshivah did not help, particularly as I feel that, on some level, that is precisely why I’ve never really fitted in (well, that and being a socially anxious autistic).

To be honest, a lot depends on how you define ‘successful’ here, but I hope — hope! — that one day I will earn enough money to help support E and hopefully some children or at least a child. And I would like to think that people are interested in my ideas, at least by publishing and reading my books and maybe by sharing them in other ways (I’ve always had a weird desire for a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, I’m not entirely sure why). This is ego, I admit. After a childhood of receiving no attention, or only negative attention (bullying etc.), I would like to be taken seriously as a writer for the sake of my own ego, but as I intimated with regard to the super-rich community machers (people who are very involved in the community), sometimes spirituality is about trying to harness your gifts to help others, not supress them or give them away.

Yes, I’m aware there are a dozen or so people who take my writing here seriously enough to regularly read. I’m grateful, although I’m a bit bemused as to why anyone would read these rambles, mostly about my autistic struggles, as I don’t consider them anything like my ‘real’ writing.

Speaking of which, when I got home from work, I managed to work on my novel for quite a while. I sat at the computer for an hour and a half. Not all of that time was spent writing, but quite a lot was, so that at least was positive.

Egos and Alternatives

I volunteered at the Jewish food bank for the first time in a year or more. I had stopped going because getting up early an extra day in the week was draining me, and volunteering on therapy days was also exhausting. However, the volunteering starts later now and is on a different day, so it seemed a good idea to try it again, not least to see if it could get me up earlier another day in the week. I did still struggle to get up at 8am, even after eight hours of sleep, which suggests to me that there is something wrong with my sleep, whether it’s medication or something else. But the point here is that I made it there on time.

Some of the paid staff were the same as when I volunteered previously, although most of the volunteers were different, I suppose because it’s on a different day, plus food bank volunteering is on multiple days now, so some people may go to those other days. A couple of the paid workers I knew were pleased to see me, which always disorientates me. It’s a long time since I was bullied at school, but my default still seems to be to assume that people are going to be indifferent to me at best, hostile at worse, and when that doesn’t happen, I am surprised, which is sad, I suppose.

Unlike many autistic people, I don’t usually have problems understanding humour, but I did do a kind of mental double-take a couple of times this morning when people said something and it took me a second to realise it was a joke. I guess it’s the unfamiliar people and lack of context of their lives as it seems to happen more at volunteering than elsewhere.

I possibly left early. The advert for volunteers said 10.30am to 1.30pm, but when I emailed, I was told 10.30am to 12 noon. At midday we had finished what we were doing and one volunteer left and others were getting coffees, so I thought it was over, but in retrospect maybe it was just a break. I said goodbye, but maybe people thought I needed to leave early. I’ll have to see what happens next week. To be honest, it was tiring work, and I had a fairly long journey home, so it wasn’t such a bad thing I left when I did, especially as I had been drinking water to avoid dehydration and there is no toilet there.

In the afternoon, I worked on my novel, finishing Chapter Two and starting Chapter Three. I spent an hour and three-quarters on it; I would have liked to make it up to the round two hours, but I could feel my brain had checked out and decided against forcing myself to write a few more, sub-standard, paragraphs, especially as I wanted to go to shiur (religious class) later.

***

Rabbi B (who isn’t the Rabbi B I mentioned having to see over a year ago, when I was dating PIMOJ) still hasn’t got back to me about E and my wedding. I wonder if he’s away. I found his phone number online. It’s the next extension to the person who gave me his email, which makes me think that (a) he wasn’t in the office when I called last week or she would have put me through to him and (b) she may not know when he will be around, or she would have got me to phone him. These may be an unwarranted assumptions though. Either way, I suppose I will have to make a phone call tomorrow, to Rabbi B’s extension and, if he doesn’t answer, to the person who gave me his email to ask what I should do. Have I mentioned that I hate the phone? E and I just want a way through the wedding bureaucracy, Jewish and immigration!

***

George Orwell wrote that people write for four reasons: (1) “Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.”; (2) aesthetic enthusiasm for words or the beauty of the world; (3) desire to preserve certain ideas for posterity; (4) political purpose, to change the world and people’s opinions. To be honest, I think egoism is the main reason for me, to want to show that I’m worth paying attention to, after all the people in my childhood who told me, directly or indirectly, that I wasn’t. I’m trying to care less about that, as it’s a pretty stupid reason to do anything. I shouldn’t rely on other people for my self-esteem, and, anyway, lately I’ve come to the conclusion that my thoughts are changeable (not in a good way, in an inconsistent, irrational way) and generally not particularly profound (but neither are most other people’s).

***

Another thing I’m trying not to do is to think about how my life could have gone differently. There are so many Sliding Doors (or Turn Left) possibilities: if I hadn’t been bullied, if I had gone to a different school, if I had been diagnosed autistic earlier, if I hadn’t gone to Oxford, if I hadn’t trained as a librarian, if I had coped differently in various library jobs, if I hadn’t made such a fool of myself in the further education library job, and on, and on, and on…

It’s pointless to think like this without knowing where my life is headed. Sometimes I feel that everything bad that happened to me was necessary to get the experience to write (I’m not great at imagining emotional states I haven’t experienced, I need to tap into something I’ve felt or that I’ve read by someone who did feel it). If I hadn’t been through the negative experiences I’ve been through, I wouldn’t want to write the books I want to write, which I believe in, even if agents and publishers don’t (so far). If I didn’t feel not-quite-connected to the Jewish community, I wouldn’t have had those negative experiences, and perhaps I wouldn’t have had the guts to write about things the community prefers not to talk about. And if I had a more conventionally Orthodox fiancee, she probably wouldn’t have been supportive of my writing in the way E is (PIMOJ was pretty horrified by my first novel, and that was tame compared to the one I’m working on now). But this all assumes that I’m “supposed” to be a writer, which may also seem untrue in ten years time.

Sometimes you just have to accept that life is the way it is and there isn’t much we can do about it. It’s hard though.

Failures (Griping)

I just posted this on the autism forum. I probably shouldn’t; it’s like I slipped back to my Hevria commenting days.

I feel like I can’t take my own advice.  Lately I said to a couple of people here that they shouldn’t see themselves as “failures” because of their lives and careers (or lack thereof), that people on the spectrum have extra challenges in life and need to celebrate their successes.  Yet today, and most work days recently, I feel like a failure myself.

I’m not in a great job.  It’s an admin job, two days a week (I can’t really manage much more).  It requires me to do things I find hard, such as using short-term memory to use multiple windows at once, as well as periodically having to make difficult phone calls.  There are times when it’s very quiet and I have to do a lot of dull sorting through boxes of old papers.  My boss is supportive, but I worry that he thinks I’m an idiot.  I frequently find myself feeling both bored and stupid, as well as useless for even being in this job.

I did really well at school and went to a very good university, then crashed with years of depression (or more likely autistic burnout, but I wasn’t diagnosed then).  I slowly pulled myself out of that and towards an MA that would lead to a career in the library sector, then crashed again and struggled through the MA.  Then struggled through a couple of jobs in librarianship before finally running out of job offers in that sector and taking the admin job when a friend offered it to me out of desperation.  I feel I’m pretty much out of librarianship, that my skills are rusty and that there are far fewer part-time jobs in the sector than I expected, especially as I won’t work on Saturdays.

I worry about my finances when I get married (hopefully soon, but dependent on immigration bureaucracy).  I want to build a second career as a writer and proofreader, but am nervous about my chances of success.  I tried to work as a freelance proofreader once before, and couldn’t get any clients.  I’ve been writing for years and had pieces published in various places, and people say I write well, but I struggle to get anyone to actually pay me for anything I’ve written.  I wrote and self-published a non-fiction book about Doctor Who (special interest!), available through Amazon, but only bought by people I know in person because I don’t know anything about design or marketing, and didn’t know I could easily get people to help me with them until it was too late.  I wrote a novel (about a young man struggling with Asperger’s and mental illness at university and in the Jewish community, because write about what you know), but haven’t found an agent for it yet.  I’m working on a second novel, which I think will be better, but I’m scared I’m doomed to write and never get published.  People praise my writing, but I can’t live off praise.  I’m up for a Jewish journalism award soon for a non-fiction piece I wrote online about being on the spectrum in the Jewish community (again, write about what you know).  I hope that might lead to other, better, things, but who knows?

I try not to compare myself to other people.  I’ve mostly lost track of peers from school and university, but periodically I run into people working as lawyers, academics, rabbis, senior staff in NGOs.  Good jobs.  And I just dropped off the radar.

In art and literature, at least, I prefer interesting failures to slick, predictable successes, but feeling like an interesting failure isn’t noticeably different from feeling like any other kind of failure.

Mission and Identity

I haven’t blogged publicly much recently. I’ve had some issues that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing openly. Hopefully these are resolving now and I can go back to more regular public posts.

***

Work was hard today. I realised I made a mistake that could have cost us £80, throwing out the office shredder that might have been working because I thought it was broken when it may have been that it just wasn’t plugged in. On testing it again, I think it really was broken, but I felt stupid and feel like I made myself look stupid in front of J again. This may be low self-esteem. Then I had to make some difficult phone calls dealing with someone who owes us a substantial sum of money, but who has cancer. I want to be sympathetic, but, as J said, being ill does not mean being poor, especially in the UK where the NHS does at least mean people don’t usually impoverish themselves seeking treatment. Moreover, this person’s son was supposed to be dealing the matter, but has let it drag on for a year. He said he would pay in two months’ time once J authorised me to waive 50% of the money owed. Again, I want to be sympathetic, but if we just write off large debts it’s not fair on those who do pay. Then I spent most of the day printing off a database again. I did at least listen to music some of the time.

***

On the train to work I was reading The Thinking Jewish Teenager’s Guide to Life by Rabbi Akiva Tatz. Yes, I know, I’m nearly forty, but I feel I haven’t got the “sorting your life’s mission out” aspect of my life down right yet. I have mixed feelings about the book. I’ve heard Rabbi Tatz speak a couple of times. He’s an engaging speaker, and writer, but I don’t always share his outlook on Judaism and life, not least because he’s a Haredi kabbalist (mystic) and I’m not either of those things.

Rabbi Tatz said to draw a circle and write inside it all your character traits, interests and so on and to write outside it all the traits and interests you admire. The stuff in the circle is you. Your mission will involve all those things and only those things. The idea is that you can concentrate on those aspects of your life. Your supposed to be able to do this by the time you are twenty or so, an idea I’ve also heard from another Haredi rabbi.

I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t know what my mission is at thirty-eight! Granted, I’m probably unusual as I have a disability that impacts social functioning (autism) that I didn’t know about until last year; until then I was pushing myself to do things that I just can’t do and feeling guilty or embarrassed about some things that are normal (for me). To be honest, I’m still struggling with this. It has certainly affected what I think my mission in life is and what I can reasonably expect myself to do.

Nevertheless, I’m aware I’ve moved from one career idea to another over the years with no consistency or success. I wanted to be an academic (actually, it was more that I thought I would stay in academia by default because I had no idea what else to do and wasn’t good at anything other than studying), then an academic librarian, then a writer. I have achieved none of these things and currently work in a non-career-advancing low status job. I don’t think your career and your mission are necessarily the same thing (although they are for some people), but Rabbi Tatz implies a strong correlation. I hope my mission is writing, but who knows if it is? And what if my mission is to bear suffering with dignity? It could be. It’s not an optimistic thought. At least Rabbi Lord Sacks said that the rabbinate (let alone the Chief Rabbinate) was his fourth choice career after failing to become an academic (philosopher), economist or barrister. I find those odds more reassuring.

***

On a related note, I’ve been thinking about identity a bit lately, partly the result of reading an article that complained that millennials use medical diagnoses, particularly mental health or neurological conditions, and particularly self-diagnosed from the internet, as their identity. I’m not at all sure that this is true, but it did make me wonder if autism is part of my identity, and what I would consider my identity to be.

I feel like my autism affects my identity, while not being my identity. I don’t feel being a Doctor Who fan is my identity either, although it apparently is for some people. I do feel being Jewish is part of my identity, a key part as it shapes so much of what I do and think, how I see the world and engage with it, but it isn’t the whole of my identity.

In the end I concluded that my identity, inasmuch as I can identify it, is a sort of zone where “What I am” meets “What I do” and “What I think and feel” even though none of those things by themselves would consist of my identity. It’s a dynamic process rather than an objective “thing.” But I’m still thinking about this and am open to suggestions.

***

You may have detected an undertone of self-criticism in much of this post. I have been struggling a bit with negative self-thought today, sometimes apparently justified, like with the shredder, sometimes perhaps not. I’m not sure how justified it is. I guess it’s good that I’m noticing it and being mindful of it.

Questions

I had another novel agent rejection. He said, “You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.” I’m confused by this. Is it the literary equivalent of “I like you, but only as a friend”? (I got that a lot too in the years before E.) It makes me wonder if agents are really put off by the Jewish nature of my novel and think they can’t represent it. If so, maybe I ought to seek out Jewish agents (how would I find them?), or apply to the one or two Jewish or Jewish-ish publishers I know.

***

I woke up this morning to a text telling me I could apply for a vaccine passport. As the text did not come from an NHS number (they always say “NHS”) and didn’t link to an NHS website, and as I already have the NHS COVID app, I concluded that this was a scam, probably asking for money for phishing for personal details. Things like this leave me a bit shaken though. Not to a huge extent, but I worry that I might fall for a scam one day, and just experiencing it makes me feel negative about the world.

***

At work J sent me to get a key cut. It was a special key, so I had to go on the bus to a particular hardware shop. He said that if it took up to an hour, I should just stay in the area and collect it, but if it took more than an hour, I should come back and he would collect it later. I was told it would take an hour, so I wandered around the area for a while. There wasn’t really time to go anywhere. There was a small park nearby, but I hadn’t brought a book to read, so I just wandered around listening to Eurythmics’ greatest hits on my headphones. So many shops have video screens in the windows now. I’m sure it contributes to autistic sensory overload.

Other than that, work left me feeling vaguely stupid again for not using my initiative or common sense, probably for no good reason, or only a mild reason. I vaguely recall that when I was a child, adults used to say I had intelligence, but not common sense. I’m not sure whether that is shorthand for autism or not.

***

Almost no one is wearing a mask on the Tube any more. I feel torn. The evidence for masks, particularly cloth ones, is not great, as I understand it. I suspect a lot of it is about wanting to feel one is doing something at a time when we couldn’t do anything. The college where I am having a job interview tomorrow still insists on masks in public spaces (I’m not sure what the define as ‘public’). Being autistic, I like clear rules, and the clash of different masking regulations (entirely voluntary/compulsory in places) is confusing to me. I fail to make up my own mind.

I am wearing a mask at the moment more to avoid panicking others than because I think it will help me, maybe because my Dad gets annoyed if people aren’t wearing masks. I wore one to shul (synagogue) over Purim, but took it off when I realised almost no one there was wearing one.

***

My ability to catastrophise about my job interview tomorrow is impeded by my inability to work out if I want the job or not. I feel like I’ll mess up the interview and still be faced with the difficult decision of taking the job or not, even though both of these things can not happen simultaneously.

I said to my parents that I feel I haven’t done well at a librarian job in the last five years. My Dad said this was untrue. I think it is largely true, although not entirely. I had a job that lasted one month in a shul library that went OK, although no one ever gave me real feedback on what I did, or even seemed to really look at it. I also, as my Dad said, did well at the job at a university library. However, as I said to him, it was not really a job for a professional librarian, although they advertised it as such, but a trainee; someone else at the institution asked if I was going to train as a librarian and was shocked that I was already qualified. Other than that, my only library work in the last five years was the further education job, which was not good at all, albeit mostly because I was in a terrible environment for an autistic person (because I didn’t know I was autistic at that stage).

I’m not sure how much of this negativity is low self-esteem and autistic rigidity and how much is real. Dad seemed to think a lot was rigidity, but I’m not convinced. I still remember how my boss at the further education job told me that I wasn’t doing as well as she expected. I don’t think I’d ever really disappointed anyone that much before.

I do feel my professional qualifications have withered over the intervening years and I’m depressed by the fact that I rarely get interviews for library jobs and when I do get them, I don’t seem to do well. I wish there was some kind of objective test I could take to see if I’m still a good librarian, like doing my MA coursework all over again (although I felt that, like job interviews, library MA coursework tested exam-passing skills as much as the skills I would use in the field). I feel that maybe I should look for a cataloguing course on CILIP, but I feel that my once-desired career as a cataloguer no longer excites me. I’m too scared that my concentration has gone and I make stupid mistakes. I don’t know if that’s due to autism-unfriendly environments or my own decline.

Someone on the autism forum was saying the other day that he has built a successful career for himself as a librarian and that he thinks that many of his colleagues are on the spectrum (diagnosed or otherwise) and that it’s an autistic-friendly career, so I feel particularly useless that I could never get this to work for me. I was dealt a bad hand in the early years of my career (and before, when I was doing my librarianship MA), having to deal with burnout, depression, social anxiety and OCD all while not actually knowing the root cause of everything, the fact that I am autistic, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

I guess I feel I’ve despaired of building a library career and am already focused on writing, which is even harder to get into (see above) or earn a living from. Except I don’t let myself write, because I enjoy it too much, so I prioritise everything else over it. To be honest, sticking in my current job and working hard at my writing would be the best thing for me, IF I could find a way to fight the autistic/medication-induced exhaustion and get some serious writing and submitting time in each week. But maybe even that is running away from librarianship because I feel I failed.

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

I didn’t have insomnia last night, which was good. I woke up a bit earlier than usual this morning too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get up for hours (and eventually fell back to sleep) because I was feeling really strong anxiety. Once I actually got up, the anxiety subsided somewhat, but it was really hard to get up. Maybe the olanzapine was reducing my anxiety without my really realising it? I remember the morning anxiety feelings from when my religious OCD was bad. It was pretty terrible. I am going to see how I am over the weekend, but I might try to talk to a doctor on Monday (if the surgery gatekeepers deign to allow me…). I felt the ‘hot and bothered’ feelings again too, which is presumably withdrawal again.

J wants me to work on Tuesday instead of Monday next week. I was supposed to have therapy on Tuesday as my therapist can’t do Wednesday this week. I felt paralysed with anxiety not knowing what to do. My Dad said I have to go to work, which deep down I knew. J is a very understanding boss, but he does sometimes throw changes to what day I work at me at very short notice, as if I don’t actually do much on my non-work days, although I guess he doesn’t know that I’m in therapy. I emailed my therapist, and she thinks she can fit me in on Monday or Friday, which is good.

I’m also desperate to move things on with E, but nothing will happen until she comes over here for Pesach. At least that’s only a month away. On the downside — Pesach is only a month away! That’s anxiety-provoking too! I hope staying eases some of the anxieties E feels about taking on so much religious stuff. I said she should talk to my parents about living with me, as they aren’t as religious as I am. It is scary and I do understand what she feels. I feel it a bit myself, especially on an anxious day like today. Unfortunately, E’s medical insurance wouldn’t let her see a psychiatrist about changing her meds. She’s still trying to resolve that.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I ran out of time, partly because of anxiety. I’m doubtful that I will get time after Shabbat tomorrow, and now we’re in the run-up to Pesach (Passover), with all the time-eating preparation that implies. I just feel such pressure to change my life in so many ways at the moment, to make time for things from more paid work to more writing and submitting writing. I find it hard to work out where to start, everything seems interconnected; to change one thing, you have to change everything else first. I need to start looking for more support after my phone call with my occupational therapist last week. This week was lost to withdrawal and Purim. At least the weather is more spring-like.

I’m going to try to go to shul (synagogue), especially as it’s the last week in our current premises and I doubt I’ll go again for six months (to the interim premises), until the new premises are open. I don’t really want to ‘people’ any more after yesterday. I feel I shouldn’t give in to anxiety and autism, although the people on the autism community would perhaps disagree. Then again, if I fight my nature to work, I guess I should fight it in other ways. I feel like people send me mixed signals about which parts of my personality I should be fighting and which accepting. As someone with poor self-knowledge, esteem and confidence, it’s very confusing.

The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

Suffering

The perfect storm I feared yesterday was not so bad, although I still have a few more days to get through.

I had trouble sleeping again last night. I went to bed so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, but an hour later I was still awake. I’m not sure what is going on there.

The commute on the bus (because of the Tube strike) was crowded and tiring. I read a bit, but found it hard after a while and eventually started getting travel sick. But I got through it. I arrived a bit late in the morning. I usually get to the office between 9.15am and 9.30am, but today I arrived at 9.45am, which wasn’t too bad. J let me leave early so I didn’t get home too late, even after doing shopping.

Work was OK, although I nearly went crazy spending two and a half hours staring at spreadsheets this morning. And I obviously did not stick to my plan of not going online after work, not least because I skyped E, but I did try to minimise time online, and to avoid going online soon after getting home. I did lose all self-control in the evening and read politics and religion sites that frankly have too much arguing to deal with at 11pm.

I did some preparation for Shabbat this evening. I have quite a bit to do tomorrow, but hopefully I should get it all done in time, even if I end up too tired or late to go to shul (synagogue). I have been feeling a bit self-critical the last few days, though, the sort of mood where I blame myself for every bad thing I’ve ever done since childhood. I haven’t been doing it a lot, but I catch myself doing it from time to time. I guess the thing to do is to catch myself and think about other things rather than dwell on it.

***

I saw an article on Chabad.org the other day about there not being such a thing as being “stuck.” I sort of see the point, that wherever we are, God has put us there for a reason. There must be a task to perform there. At the same time, it’s the type of attitude that, if it doesn’t inspire, can really annoy and even upset, especially if people can’t easily see the positive side or find the task to perform. It can even seem like victim-blaming: if you are feeling stuck, that’s because you’re too wicked (or stupid) to see the positive. That’s without analysing the question of rigid autistic thinking making it hard to find a new perspective.

Something else I’ve wondered about for a while is possibly related to this question of suffering and finding a purpose in it. In Bereshit (Genesis), there are various genealogical lists. The trend is for the genealogies of the “off-shoots” of the covenantal family, the “cousins” of the Israelites who aren’t going to end up in the covenant and part of the Jewish people, to be rattled through very quickly, putting a lot of information into a short space. I mean the genealogies of Avraham’s (Abraham’s) brother Nachor, Yitzchak’s (Isaac’s) half-brother Yishmael (Ishmael) and Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) brother Esav (Esau). These families are listed relatively briefly compared with the long narratives of the covenantal family and it gives the impression that not much happened to them, that they grew very quickly and easily. The covenantal family, however, grew much more slowly, with frequent problems with infertility and difficulty finding a wife (or marrying the right one) as well as rivalries between wives and concubines. It seems that the covenantal family simply has more suffering and angst than the branches that opted out of the covenant, or were never part of it in the first place.

Is this real, I have asked myself for some time, or is it just a by-product of literary technique: that because we focus on the covenantal family, we hear more about their suffering, whereas because we aren’t interested in the other branches and skip over them, we necessarily don’t see their tzores (angst). We don’t know if Yishmael’s wife had fertility issues or if Esav’s wives got along because the Torah simply isn’t interested in telling us either way. Or is the Torah telling us that the road to spiritual greatness is paved with suffering?

I incline towards the latter view, even though the evidence from Bereshit is circumstantial at best. Certainly the Talmud states that “Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, all of which were given only by means of suffering: Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come.” (Brachot 5a, translation from the Steinsaltz Talmud via Sefaria with changes.) The pinnacles of the religious life: Torah study, the Land of Israel and the afterlife, can only be achieved through suffering. There is also the slavery experience of the Israelites in Egypt, which seems to be a necessary precondition of covenant and land. There is a lot more that could be said about this (tzarich iyun).

I feel I should have some kind of take-home moral or practical point from this, but I don’t.

Dilemmas

I have the Buridan’s Ass feeling of being caught between two writing projects. Strategically, the literary novel of character is probably the one to go for before the controversial satire, to build some kind of audience, and because it’s somewhat further ahead, but who knows which, if either, would be well-received? Anton Chekov said that medicine was his wife and literature his mistress and when he got bored of one, he went to the other. I’m not sure where that leaves me, with a part-time job, two unwritten embryo novels, one written-but-unpublished novel, various ongoing religious obligations and (last, but definitely not least) a long-distance relationship.

Of course, I have a written novel that I want to get published and today I got another rejection for that, so maybe I should prioritise getting that to lots of agents. Except that sending to agents isn’t fun, unlike thinking of ideas and writing.

***

A number of people on the autism forum seem to be struggling with constant fatigue and disturbed sleep (too much or too little), so I guess it’s not just me. Someone else on the forum sounded like me a few years ago, really lonely and wanting a girlfriend, but not knowing how to get one. I felt I should respond, but I didn’t know what to say, because the fact that I’m not still there is largely due to factors outside of my control, not things I can advise him to replicate. I guess his post also triggered my self-loathing, the feeling that I don’t deserve to be loved. When I went back to the site later to try to give some moral support, even if I couldn’t advise, the post seemed to have been deleted.

I am also getting a bit annoyed at the number of people on the forum who don’t choose a username and just stick with the serial number generated by the site when you join. It makes it hard to remember who is who when half the people just have a string of digits for a name. I understand why people might want anonymity (I think the site actually forbids the use of information that could identify you in real-life), but I prefer to talk to people, not numbers. It’s not that hard to think up a pseudonym.