Brief Update

Today was fairly busy. I spent over an hour writing, although some of that time was taken up with procrastinating, as I was nervous to write the sexual passages I needed to write. I did manage it in the end, but I feel like I’m going to be cringing inwardly the whole time I write this book! It did get a bit better over time. I somehow managed nearly 600 words, which was good. Then I was suddenly hit by inspiration and spent another twenty or thirty minutes polishing and re-writing what I had written, ending up with well over 700 words today, which is very good.

It is hard to write about sex and pornography while simultaneously doing the following: (1) not being coy and prudish; (2) not being vulgar or pornographic myself; (3) staying broadly within the boundaries of Modern Orthodox Jewish discourse on sex; and (4) not being triggering for any recovering/recovered pornography addicts or their families. This reflects the somewhat diverse audience I’m aiming for.

I went for a run, again not very good in terms of pace or stamina, and I got a headache, but at least I went. I did some Torah study too. So I achieved quite a bit.

J asked me to work on Tuesday rather than Monday this week, so tomorrow I have a blood test in the morning and then E and I have a Zoom call with an immigration lawyer in the afternoon. We’re both a bit nervous about it and what it will mean for our wedding timetable…

More/Less Successful

I saw an advert today for an event at the LSJS where one of the presenters is someone I was at university with. I didn’t know her well, but she’s obviously successful as a barrister (lawyer), from the advert, as well as presenting at an institution I only attend as a student.

I thought I was over these feelings of inadequacy, but obviously I’m not, even if I feel I have a sort-of exemption from achieving things now I know I’m on the spectrum. Although that doesn’t feel like a good sort of exemption, more like someone saying, “Luftmentsch is special” in a very patronising tone of voice.

Then I saw in the Jewish Chronicle that (Orthodox rabbi, social commentator, civil rights activist and writer (and former Hevrian, which is how I know him/know of him)) Rabbi Shais Rishon (also known by his nom de plume of Ma Nishtana) came out a while back as autistic and polyamorous. Leaving aside the polyamorousness, which is is really his own business [1], the autism claim inspires uncomfortable feelings. When I see people who are more competent and successful than me coming out as autistic, a whole load of thoughts go through my head. First, are they ‘really’ autistic? Have they been diagnosed professionally? I feel bad for even thinking this, because I know I should support people on the spectrum, or who are moving towards diagnosis, but this is the first thought that comes into my head, sadly. The reason for this is because after this thought, I have more uncomfortable thoughts. I wonder if I should be as successful as they are. Note the “shoulding” and the implication of being required to be successful if someone else with autism is successful, even though autism manifests itself in different ways in each individual. I think on some level I also wonder if people are going to be less understanding of my issues and say that I should be like the successful autistic person. Sad to say, the ‘ideal’ high functioning autistic person from my point of view still has considerable struggles — but not too many, to make me feel like I’m the one whose faking it and making excuses for being useless.

[1] Actually, reading stuff about other people’s successful sexuality makes me feel inadequate too. E thinks I’m strong for being thirty-eight and still a virgin, but I’ve never seen it that way, mostly because, one or two occasions aside, it wasn’t a conscious choice, but something forced on me. I probably would have decided this way if it was a choice, but I can’t be sure, but ideally I would have been married ages ago and it certainly wouldn’t apply. But I guess this is something that I just have to deal with.

***

One thing I do want to do, which I thought about before I saw all of this, is to start a non-anonymous blog on The Times of Israel and/or The Jewish Weekly (two linked Jewish newspapers, one Israeli (although English language) and one British, both with prominent user blog sections) for my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), just to put them out there and see if anything results. It probably won’t, but it’s worth trying. I won’t do it for a few weeks, though, as the current weeks at the end of Shemot (Exodus) and the beginning of Vayikra (Leviticus) are very ritual-based and hard to connect with from a modern perspective. I don’t want to start and then get stuck for things to write for several weeks.

***

I picked up another book from the free book box, this time Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s history book, Jerusalem: A Biography. I feel at the moment I am buying and acquiring books far faster than I’m reading them. I feel particularly guilty about the free book box, as I haven’t really donated anything other than a rather grubby history book, but have picked up quite a few books. I feel I should donate some things that I’m unlikely to read.

Falls the Shadow

I went to bed late last night because I was trying to Do Stuff. This was basically a mistake, as I struggled to get up in time for work today. Although if I hadn’t done it, I would probably be feeling even more useless and even further behind with all the things I have to do. I felt intensely depressed today and was wondering again if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or an element of it. My depressive episodes tend to start at this time of year, although they can persist through spring and summer, so it’s probably SAD co-existing with an underlying vulnerability to depression. Although I should see how I feel over the coming weeks, as I’ve only had a couple of bad days; I might feel better next week (maybe).

I don’t think I made any mistakes at work, but J discovered a bad one I must have made recently, not updating the address on an invoice that I was revising from a template. I’m not quite sure how it got to the right person. But even without many obvious errors, I was stuck in self-criticism and negativity today. I felt that it’s so hard to change my life, particularly to change it enough to be able to get married (having enough money to support ourselves, but also so that E can be allowed to immigrate). I wish I could work more and earn more, just for those practical reasons rather than because I want money or consumer goods in and of themselves.

Since I’ve got home from work and have snacked on some fruit, I feel quite a bit better. I think work is a not-ideal environment for me. The people are really nice, but the building itself is dark and gloomy and that does affect my mood, doubly so when I’m also tired or hungry. I don’t really begin to feel myself until after lunch most days because of that.

***

On the way home I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about whether Judaism is ‘sex positive’. There was some talk on the podcast about how the Jewish community should think about people who can’t have sex in the way that Judaism wants because they’re gay, transexual and so on. The sex therapist on the podcast was probably more liberal here than the rabbi. I’m not gay or trans, but that feeling of moral dissonance is something I’ve been experienced I hit adolescence over twenty years ago. E says I’m “strong” for staying a virgin for so long, but I rarely had the option not to be one. The actual times I’ve consciously made a choice not to have sex can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand, the times I’ve deliberately or unintentionally broken Jewish law around sex and sexual fantasy (without ever actually having sex) are far too many to be counted. However, I really feel strongly against any kind of “making excuses” for myself. But at the same time, I want people to understand what I’ve been through, hence the books I want to write. I want people to understand without lowering their standards, but having more compassion.

***

Some months ago, E sent me a link to an Instagram post from Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt where she said:

How about we invest in real Orthodox art? What if instead of investing in askanim & bloggers to whine about misrepresentation – we empower frum independent-minded artists to do creative work, tell stories of our communities, bravely, *candidly*? The beautiful & challenging, the inspiring but also the systemic issues that emerge in communities in which there is the inevitable tug-of-war between individualism & conformity, tradition & modernity...

No, not “my Orthodox life is fun & perfect” tales, but stories of faith, conflicts, struggles? Not sanitized hagiography, but flesh & blood. Not “content,” but art. Stories that show we are human & nothing more.

I want to do this, to the limit of my ability, and it’s one of the main things that motivates me to want to keep writing and keep searching for an agent/publisher even when (as at the moment) things are hard both in my head (mood) and in the world (rejection or just lack of time and energy).

I don’t think I’ve suffered more than most people, although I don’t think I’ve suffered less than them either. I’m not sure that many people are free of suffering for long. When I think of other people suffering, it motivates me to want to write to let people know that this suffering exists. However, when I think of my own suffering, I just want to give up. It’s hard to get to the right mindset.

It did occur to me last night that Rebbetzin Chizhik-Goldschmidt, as a prominent Jewish journalist and also as a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) might have contacts in the world of publishing and I was vaguely thinking about trying to email her to say what I’ve just said here and outlining some of my projects and ask if she had any suggestions of where to look for an agent or publisher. But when I started to look for contact details online I discovered that her husband has literally just been fired from his job and the family has been made homeless, as well as facing a huge amount of criticism from their former community. So it’s probably not the best time to try that.

***

There was a time when I tried to read one poem a day. I stopped doing that in an earlier episode of depression; it was just one more ‘should.’ Now I only read poetry when blog friends post it, and not always then (sorry). I have been wanting to re-read T. S. Eliot lately, though, primarily The Waste Land, but The Hollow Men has been on my mind a bit, thinking about wanting to write and writing not being the same thing:

Between the idea
    And the reality
    Between the motion
    And the act
    Falls the Shadow
                                    For Thine is the Kingdom
   
    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
                                    Life is very long

Anticlimaxes

My parents’ suspected COVID has turned out to be a heavy cold, fortunately, although I’m still hoping to avoid it. I’m actually not particularly susceptible to colds and viruses, so I’m hopeful. It would not be good if E comes to the UK and I’m too ill to leave the house!

I went to bed early last night as I had had an exercise headache after running and was not feeling 100% even though the pain had subsided. However, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if I couldn’t sleep because I was worrying, or if I just had time to worry because I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I thought I would write down my anxieties and possible plans for dealing with them. I didn’t want to go on the computer in case the light made the insomnia worse, so I wrote it on paper. I tried to write some suggestions to deal with the anxieties too, rather than just rehearse them.

Looking over it today, some of it seems catastrophising. It’s true that the publishing industry leans somewhat progressive/woke, and that few books (fiction or non-fiction) presenting the Orthodox Jewish community (or other conservative religious communities) in a positive light exist. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t find an agent or a publisher for my book, especially as I think the Jewish non-representation issue is as much a problem of supply as demand; there aren’t enough good writers in a community that does not value artistic creation highly. On a practical level, as I am struggling to send query letters to five or ten agents in one go each month, maybe it would be more realistic to send to two agents a week.

I do also worry that the novel I am planning will get me a terrible reputation for writing about sex and pornography use in the frum (religious Jewish) community, but I feel driven to write the novel regardless. A bigger problem is my fear that I won’t be able to pull the whole plot together and created rounded characters, but I have no way of knowing except by trying. I also fear that writing about sex when I’m a thirty-eight year old virgin is not the most sensible thing to do, but I guess I have a unique voice, and writing about pornography addiction is not exactly the same as writing about sex (not that I have experience of addiction either, but I’m researching).

More realistically, I was worried that COVID would disrupt E’s trip here. That’s less likely now my parents’ tests came back negative, but it’s still possible. It’s just something we (= the world) will have to learn to live with.

My biggest worry last night was actually the easiest to resolve today. I was worried about talking to J about mistakes at work, but when I did that today, he seemed laid back about it. On reflection, I think it’s only one or two tasks where I continually make mistakes and J seems to think I will improve with experience.

Other than that, it was an ordinary day at work, but I managed to do about an hour of work on my new novel in the evening! I wanted to plan out the story, but realised I needed to work understanding the characters first. It’s that idea of knowing if I can do it by trying. I have a better idea of character and plot now. I don’t think I’m going to get much time to focus on it in the immediate future, though, with E coming here soon and the fact that I want to spend some serious time finding an agent for my first novel. But I’m glad to have made some progress, as I want to get some kind of an outline written for the novel soon, so I can see if it has potential before I invest too much time in it. I would have liked to have spent even more time on it, but I got too tired.

I probably shouldn’t write too much about my creative process here, for fear of killing it, but it helps me to process things to speak a bit about it.

Answering

It’s the last day of August, which seems unbelievable. The year has dragged with regard to COVID, but in other ways it has sped past. It is also Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) next week, which also seem unbelievable. Rosh Hashanah is very rarely this early in the solar year (the Jewish lunar calendar moves about with regard to the solar calendar).

The Jewish year has been good for me on the whole. I feel a bit bad about that, when COVID has made it so terrible for so many people. But it’s good that I’m back together with E, that I’m working, albeit part-time (all I can cope with), and that I finished my novel. I just feel a lot of gratitude at where my life is, albeit coupled with a desire for help in moving it on to the next level (which would be marrying E and monetising my writing at least by getting my novel published).

Despite this, my mood today has been up and down, largely because of more boring data entry work and nervousness about speaking to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s (yes, that’s happening). I have tried to hold on to the good things, like Skyping E.

***

I listened to the Jewish educator Erica Brown speak about her book on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. She spoke about the difficulty of translating ‘teshuva,’ which means ‘penitence,’ which sounds rather heavy. It can also mean ‘returning’ and that’s a common translation in frum (religious) circles, but she prefers ‘recovery,’ having worked with addicts.

It occurred to me when listening to this that teshuva also means ‘answer’ in Hebrew. Perhaps our teshuva is an answer to God. What is the question? Perhaps the primordial question that God asked Adam and Chava (Eve) in the Garden of Eden: “Where are you?” (Bereshit/Genesis 3.9) The Midrash sees this as a question designed to tease out a repenting/returning/recovering/answering response from Adam and Chava, but instead they blamed other people and refused to take responsibility for their actions. At this time of year we can ‘answer’ God realistically about our lives.

Erica Brown talked about the importance of not focusing solely on the negatives in our lives, but also on the positives, asking ourselves what we are doing right morally and religiously. I think I have grown and improved in some ways over the year, although I won’t go into that here. I have also come to feel confident that my life should be with E, and that I should also be trying to write fiction professionally, tough though it will probably be to get published. This was reinforced by listening to the latest Intimate Judaism podcast, where they were talking about the way sex is spoken about at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) and whether there is a rape culture, a hookup culture or a generally unhealthy sexual culture in these places, and how the frum (religious) community should be encouraging young adults to view their burgeoning sexuality.

The podcast made me desperate to write my idea for a novel about a pornography-addicted rabbi. This is probably not what Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Scott Kahn intended as a response to their podcast, nor what Erica Brown intended as a positive to focus for the coming year, but that’s where I am at the moment. I need to get some books on pornography addiction as background reading before I can go any further with planning (I know Joshua Shea sometimes reads this so – yes, your books are on the top of my list!) which I probably won’t do until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals). I have a short story to work on until then, but I hope I can find the time to write between work, therapy, Yom Tov and general religious practice (Torah study, prayer). It’s a busy time of the year for religious Jews.

At any rate, I feel that writing is my current ‘answer’ to God, that I want to move on with my relationship and my writing, but that I need a lot of divine help.

Busier Than I Think

I woke up earlyish (9.00am), probably because I slept so much yesterday. I actually managed to get up, albeit partly because I worried that if I stayed in bed, I would just feel anxious. I spent some time writing some notes about the way autism affects me at shul (synagogue) and in my religious community so that I can speak to my communal rabbi when he gets back from holiday later this week. I’m not really happy with what I’ve written, but it’s a start and I still have time to talk about it with my parents (I already spoke to E), although probably not with my therapist, who is on holiday until next week.

I also spent some time typing up my notes on my “pornography-addicted rabbi” novel idea. Notebooks are good for jotting ideas down, but Word documents are better for moving things around and ordering them. At the moment I have some characters and vague story ideas, but no real plot. Well, I have an idea of where I want to go, but not how I get there. I’m already scared of what publishing such a story would mean for me as a member of the frum (religious Jewish) community, whether there would be any backlash like the backlash around Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life. I don’t intend the book to be anti-religious (if anything the reverse, but I can see that some people might not see that). However, this seems the best way (well, a way, maybe not the best way) to talk about issues around sex and gender, and around addiction and mental health, in the frum community.

I guess this has become an ‘aspiring writer’ blog, now that it’s not exactly a ‘mental illness blog’ or a ‘fighting for an autism diagnosis’ blog. I probably shouldn’t say much about ongoing projects, but I find it hard to keep total radio silence. If I speak about my projects, I feel I have to follow through with them. I can’t chicken out of writing a novel I’ve ‘trailed’ here. I probably also should call myself a ‘writer’ rather than an ‘aspiring writer,’ but I still feel that I’m not there yet.

***

Despite this, and having also gone for a run, done over an hour of Torah study and Skyped E, I have a vague feeling of not having done enough, and of having procrastinated online (despite my attempt to limit my internet use at the moment) instead of actually relaxing. I really do need to talk to my therapist about this.

Writer’s Thoughts and Religious Styles

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had the idea for a while that someone should write a novel about pornography addiction in the frum (religious Jewish) community, but that I didn’t think I was the person to do it. Except that the idea has roosted in my head overnight and now I find myself thinking up supporting characters and details, like, “What if he has a feminist teenage daughter who is struggling with Orthodox gender boundaries and her father’s addiction tips her over the edge into stopping being religious?” So I wrote some notes in my ideas notebook to one day come back to when I’m looking for a project. It’s a scary topic to even think about writing about, though, far more so than my thoughts about a Jewish fantasy/time-travel series of novels.

One of the reasons I was always reluctant to go down the route of writing fiction (for publication or for fun) was the fear that I would eventually (and probably quite quickly) run out of inspiration. Related to this was a belief that a “real” writer would intuit a story in its entirety from the start without really needing to work on it. I realise now that ideas are regularly floating through my head ripe for development and in the past I’ve quite deliberately pushed them away for fear of where they would lead, in terms of feeling the need to write them and the potential for failure inherent in that. I also realise that even “real” writers have to work on their stories and sometimes significant things need to be changed quite late in the writing process.

Of course, that doesn’t make writing less scary, particularly when the ideas that find me sometimes seem to have to do with difficult, rarely-discussed subjects like abuse or addiction, but I suppose it’s the “not being discussed” element that makes me want to write them, because I want to read those books, but they don’t exist (yet).

Just to note why this might be important, I just looked on Aish.com, a popular Orthodox Jewish inspirational site, and found five articles on pornography addition in the frum community, three from the point of view of the addict and two from the point of view of the spouse. So, it is out there, whether we want to admit in the frum community or not.

***

I spent nearly an hour working on redrafting my novel (my current one). Initially, I tried to work for an hour as usual, without much success, as I procrastinated online. I switched to intense twenty minute blocs of writing interspersed with online breaks. It seemed to work better that way. I did about fifty-five minutes of work. I would have liked to have made it to a round hour, but I was at a chapter break before a long passage that would take more than five minutes to read and redraft and too tired to keep going beyond that.

Redrafting seems to be going quite quickly. I’m not sure if that’s good or not. It’s good that I don’t seem to need to change much, but maybe I should be changing more and I just can’t see the flaws in my writing because I’ve spent so long working on it (getting on for two years by this stage).

***

I wrote the following in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week (for those of you on my mailing list, consider this a sneak preview):

In a lecture entitled Religious Styles,[1] Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik describes Torah transmission as being two-fold.  There is the aspect of learning halakhah, the details of the various Jewish laws.  This can be learnt from any scholar or from a book.  However, there is also the aspect of learning how to develop “a Torah style of living,” to find the unique way that God wants you, and you alone, to live a Torah-based life, and this can only be learnt “by osmosis” from attendance on a personal teacher.  Even then, because style is ultimately unique and individualistic, the real creation of a religious style has to be done alone, through the experience of living a Jewish way of life.  In particular, it is only by developing a unique religious style that one can develop happiness, meaningfulness and satisfaction with Judaism, even ecstasy, and it is these that allow a person to transmit a Jewish way of life to his or her children – who can then develop their own unique style based on what they receive.[2]


[1] In Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah

[2] Rabbi Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality pp. 196-201

This passage helped me to understand my own feelings about Judaism, the way I feel that I do what is required of me, at least as far as I can, given my “issues,” but somehow feel a lack of something “more.” I think what I lack is the sense of having my own religious style, what Judaism means to me, and the distinctive way I live it. Maybe I’m so allergic to contemporaries who talk about “MY Judaism” (as if there were no objective content to Judaism) that I’ve over-compensated, or maybe I haven’t had a close enough relationship with rabbis and mentors. Certainly for a long time now I have felt that it is this, the close contact with great scholars and righteous people, that I feel that I missed out on by not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), as much as the actual content I would have learnt there. Or maybe I’m a work in progress. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, Rav Soloveitchik could be read as implying that developing a religious style is a work in progress across a lifetime as personality develops.

I am trying to convince myself that it is OK to have my own unique relationship with Judaism, which sometimes means doing things differently to my community and can mean doing things like writing fiction that aren’t traditionally seen as religious. Including potentially writing about Jewish pornography addicts.

Gimme Some Truth

Warning: this is rather more rambling and pity partyish than usual. Please don’t feel obliged to read.

Nietzsche wrote about mental illness being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” I think they’ve been barking a lot more in the last few days and I don’t know why. I was practically in tears while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) again today, and again at lunch, and a third time in the afternoon when doing Torah study, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know why specifically Shacharit and not the other prayers either; Shacharit is the least logical service for me to cry in, as I’m invariably late and rushing through just a few prayers before the final deadline. It would make more sense if I was in tears in the other services where I say the whole thing and at least try to have some kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).

I was actually doing OK early today at trying to stay in the present and not worry and obsess about the future, but over the day I drifted into one of my “I’m Fouled Up Beyond All Hope” moods.

***

Early today I felt that I should just rip up my novel and my Asperger’s article and start over, because neither of them have truth in them. Perhaps truth is the main thing distinguishing a good writer from a hack. George Orwell wrote about this, I think. Not some transcendent religious or philosophical truth, but simply the truth of someone’s experiences. I think my blog sometimes has truth, but not my other writing.

I thought of a particular saying from the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic leader) “The Evil Urge has found a new method, in which it succeeds; no longer must it do battle day and night. It toils only to take from you the delicate chord of truth in your heart, and afterwards it lets you do as you will: to work, to study, to pray… for without the point of truth, whatever you do is no longer important to the Evil Urge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk [sic] edited by Simcha Raz, ellipsis in original) I think it’s a long time since I’ve had the “point of truth” in my writing, my study or my prayer.

I don’t think I’m that truthful in friendships and relationships either. By truthful I don’t mean ‘not lying’ (I’m not dishonest), but being fully open and ‘myself.’ I’m quite truthful with my parents, but I generally only talk about the dark stuff when it gets unbearable. I’m not always truthful with my sister. I can joke around with her, and my parents, but not always talk about the dark stuff. With most of my friends, I’m not really myself and not open at all. I would want to be truthful and to be myself in a relationship, but I don’t know if I could. I think I did with E. There were things that didn’t work in that relationship, but that aspect did work. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision in breaking up, although it was already an on/off relationship, so clearly something wasn’t working. I wasn’t able to be truthful with PIMOJ at all, which is why the relationship failed, although to be fair she expected me to be truthful without being the same herself. I was truthful with my first girlfriend, but, again, she wasn’t with me, and again, it contributed to the failure of the relationship.

I was going to say I’m truthful with my therapist and my rabbi mentor, but even then I’m not entirely. I’m fairly truthful with my rabbi mentor, probably more than with other people. I try to be truthful with God. I don’t know how much I succeed. I can’t hide anything from God, although a lot of things seem too trivial to mention to him, even though they upset me a lot. I don’t joke with Him much, but it hardly seems important to do so with Him.

***

On a more positive note, when I went to look up that quote from the Kotzker, I found a bookmark pointing to the page that had this quote that I had forgotten about: “We have not found in any place in the Torah that a person is commanded to be a scholar and erudite in all the chambers of the Torah. For the purpose of study is not to be a scholar, but to be a good man, to do what is good and to act beneficently towards your fellow.” This is pretty much entirely against the prevailing worldview of the Haredi world, or at least the Yeshivish part of it, which sees becoming a great scholar as the only purpose of Judaism, at least for men. It reminds me of the man who boasted to the Kotzker Rebbe that he had been through the whole Talmud three times. “Yes, but how many times has the Talmud been through you?” the Rebbe responded.

Of course, it’s entirely open to question whether I’m a good man who does what is good and acts beneficently towards my fellow, but it’s a more viable target for me than going through the Talmud three times.

***

I did eventually sit down to work on my article. I read some published articles about Asperger’s and learning disabilities on Aish as research and I think my article isn’t hugely wide of the mark, although there are still many reasons it might be rejected. I spent about an hour reading and re-writing. I think tomorrow I will actually write the pitch and see what happens. I tend to be less successful at pitching things than writing them, I think.

I went for a walk after that. It was very windy, the wind blowing clouds of blossom around so that it felt like walking through snow or confetti.

I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah (Torah thought), using the English translations on Sefaria more than I would like (Sefaria translations are often crowdsourced and sometimes inaccurate). I have an idea of what topic to write about, but not really what to say, which probably means it’s going to be another week where I feel like I’m bluffing my way through it. I think writing a devar Torah each week is a good exercise for multiple reasons, but some weeks I do feel a bit of a fraud (truth again). I doubt I could do it if I worked full-time.

***

It gets REALLY pity partyish from here. Honestly, I won’t mind if you don’t read it.

I wish I knew how to cope with being celibate. The internet is monumentally unhelpful about this. After more than twenty years of celibacy since I hit adolescence, I feel at my wits’ end. I emailed Intimate Judaism about this, but the sex therapist there didn’t respond to that aspect of the email, only saying she would try to set me up with a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with special needs in the UK. She said she has asked her colleagues and is waiting for an answer. I am doubtful, as I have made similar inquires in the past. Even if she finds one, there is also the realistic likelihood of me being too modern for such a shadchan and her clientele. And I still need help to cope with celibacy in the interim, especially as I’m not sure if I should go to a shadchan while only working two days a week and financially insecure, not to mention being emotionally fragile.

(I should probably add in terms of the special needs shadchan that when I tried looking for one a few years ago, my father asked the wife of the then-assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) if she knew anyone who could help someone with depression get married — at that stage, depression seemed to be the main issue as I wasn’t diagnosed on the spectrum. She said “Rebbetzin D” who I never got around to phoning. There always seemed to be good reasons (it was nearly Pesach; I found a relationship independently; I went to a different shadchan that seemed more promising and so on), but I suppose unconsciously I was socially anxious and unsure whether she could help or even how I would start the conversation as Rebbetzin D isn’t a shadchan and I was wary of what “help” she might be able to provide and how she would respond to being phoned out of the blue by a stranger. I suppose I could try to contact her now, although it’s three or four years down the line, and, as I said, I don’t know if I should be looking to get married in my current financial situation.)

I need touch sometimes. I live with my parents, so I can still get hugs, although physical contact with my parents can still be awkward for autistic reasons and reasons based on my past. I do long to be with someone I really connect with again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a partner, but could be a close friend; nevertheless, since adolescence, I’ve only had such close friendships with women, which makes them awkward when they are platonic, because usually I want them to be more, but the other person doesn’t, or because the other person isn’t Jewish or isn’t religious enough for me, which is also awkward. I have dated women less religious than me, at my rabbi mentor’s encouragement, but I don’t know how viable such a relationship would be in the long-term. Certainly it put strains on those relationships which contributed to their ending.

Above all, I want to learn how to deal with sexual and romantic desire when single from a halakhic (Jewish law) point of view. I don’t think I have a particularly high sex drive, but I do have a greater desire for love and sex when depressed and lonely — in other words, when marriage seems most distant from me. This is rather cruel. I can’t say that I live my life entirely halakhically regarding sex. I just try to do the best I can, but I don’t know whether I could do better if someone guided me, or if I had more willpower or more control over my thoughts and emotions (autistic emotional regulation is not always the best). And I don’t know what God thinks about me, whether He thinks I’m at least trying to keep halakhah or if He thinks that frankly I could do better and wants to punish me. Or is punishing me. To be honest, while my low self-esteem is rooted in negative childhood experiences like bullying (among other things) the constant level of sexual guilt since I was thirteen and hit puberty probably hasn’t helped much. The Orthodox world’s only answer to this is early marriage, which doesn’t really work when you’re thirty-seven.

(And I should say that although I feel hugely guilty about my sexuality, I’ve still never had anything approaching actual intercourse, which somehow makes the whole thing seem even more pathetic.)

It feels like the most realistic option for me is to learn to be happy alone and celibate, but everyone just says, “No, you can get married,” without doing anything practical to advance that outcome. It’s weird, because I’m used to people saying that you should be “happy with your lot” rather than endlessly daydream about some eventuality that might never come to pass. Yet everyone encourages me to stay positive about finding a mate even after so many years and so many rejections. It’s like everyone was suggesting I should solve my financial problems by trying to win the lottery when I want to find a job.

I feel that what I want more than anything is for God to tell me that He thinks I’m a good person (God, not human beings who don’t know me and might lie to make me feel better). But He won’t, not in this world.

Beating Myself Up

Today seems to have been a day for beating myself up. Most of the things below happened independently of each other, but all seem to have provoked me to beat myself up. I kind of take my low self-esteem for granted and don’t write about it much, but it is there a lot of the time, closely linked with social anxiety and autistic communication difficulties.

***

I was tired when I woke up this morning, but my mood was initially OK. I did spend too long online before getting dressed though. I don’t know why mornings are so hard. I went out to get my lithium blood test form and do some shopping and my mood dropped. I was somewhat self-critical and negative about the future. When I’m at home, I can feel OKish about where I am in my life: part-time work, single, living with my parents. But when I go out, I see other people and start to compare. Even if I’m not consciously comparing, I think I’m doing it unconsciously. I live in an area with a lot of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) families, so I invariably see people ten years or more younger than me with children, which just makes me feel like I totally missed the boat regarding marriage and family.

I used to rate my mood each day out of ten, to track my progress. It occurs to me that maybe I should do that again to see how it fluctuates from day to day and even across the day. Today I felt bad compared to the last few days, but, trying to rate it objectively, I doubt my mood was less than 5/10, which is obviously much better than when it never rose above 3/10 even on a “better” day.

***

Someone at depression group last night spoke about people on the autism spectrum being good at noticing things and spotting patterns and discrepancies. This is an idea I struggle with. I have heard it often; I know the psychologist Simon Baron Cohen has published a book recently about autistic people being “pattern seekers” and therefore able to contribute to society in that way. I know some finance firms deliberately recruit people on the spectrum on the grounds that they can see patterns in the money markets better than neurotypical people.

I feel uncomfortable with that because I don’t know if I “pattern seek” at all; if I do, it’s not in a socially useful way. I do notice some things other people don’t. I stop suddenly in the street to look at an interesting insect and it’s hard for me to walk past writing without reading it, whether on a billboard, on a scrap of paper or leaflet on the street or on the newspaper of someone opposite me on the Tube. That might count as noticing things and seeking patterns, although it might just be that my interests are weird (which would also be typical for someone on the spectrum).

I can find patterns within the things I like. For instance, it excites me that David Bowie had a cameo appearance in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me because it’s two things I like (David Bowie and Twin Peaks) meeting unexpectedly. However, I don’t feel I can do anything useful with this ability, if it even is an “ability.” I can’t do anything that other people can’t do and I don’t think I am particularly good at finding patterns in the abstract or noticing things. In fact, in many ways I’m very bad at noticing things. I notice immediately if anyone moves anything in my bedroom, because I jealously guard my own territory, but I don’t necessarily notice if my parents rearrange the furniture downstairs, because “their” territory doesn’t really interest me or register on my consciousness.

I guess I would like to find an area where my autism/Asperger’s gives me some kind of advantage, if only to feel better about myself, but it’s hard to think of one.

***

A related issue is that of analytical ability. People on the spectrum are often very analytical. I’m not and I’m not sure if I ever was, or if it was eroded by depression. I did well at school, including in science, so I must have had some analytical ability as a child and teenager. Somewhere along the line I lost it though. In particular, I’ve never been good at studying Talmud, whether Mishnah or Gemarah (Mishnah, the earlier part of the Talmud, is somewhat clearer and easier than Gemarah, the later part of the Talmud which analyzes the Mishnah), back from when I first encountered it in voluntary lunchtime lessons at school. This was one reason among several why I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Why would I spend a year of my life in a foreign country studying texts I can’t understand and don’t enjoy?

The problem, as I was reminded today listening to a shiur (religious class) online while I cooked dinner, is that Talmudic study is considered the paramount religious activity in the frum (religious Jewish) world, at least for men. Tanakh study (biblical study), which is probably my favourite Torah activity, along with the study of Midrash (the rabbinic expansions of the biblical text, which function as both creative commentaries and non-literal ways of exploring theological and ethical topics). It is more intuitive and creative that Talmud study, which tends to be strongly based on logic, but is largely ignored for men, except in parts of the Religious Zionist world.

The shiur I listened to was poorly recorded and had lots of untranslated Hebrew, neither of which endeared it to me (to be fair, the fact that I was cooking at the same time probably didn’t help matters), but it was mostly about the importance of studying Torah for its own sake, which mostly means Talmud. Even when I study Tanakh, I’m not sure how much I’m studying to “know the mind of God” and how much just because I’m frum and it’s what I’m supposed to do, just as I don’t enjoy fasting on Yom Kippur, but I do it anyway.

It’s strange that I have a strong connection to a form of Judaism that I’m unable to really practice or enjoy. If you look at the major aspects of frum life, I can’t study Talmud and halakhah; I find it hard to connect to God with prayer, whether set prayers or spontaneous prayers (years ago I could connect this way, but I haven’t been able to for a long time, at least not consistently); I’m too socially anxious to really engage in communal activity or chessed (acts of kindness); I have failed to get married and start a family… I can’t do these things well or at all, no matter how hard I try, and I do not enjoy most of them (which admittedly is not a brilliant measure of anything, as I’m pretty anhedonic even when not actually depressed and struggle to enjoy anything, but certainly the idea of enjoying studying Torah and enjoying doing mitzvot are key ideas in Judaism). Yet I continue to try to be frum, and to beat myself up for not succeeding. I’m not sure what spiritual or psychological drive is pushing that. It’s like I want to set myself a target I can’t attain. I suppose that no other religion or philosophy of life seems to offer a better alternative to me, and I believe in God and the Torah, and want to connect to the Jewish people, my contemporaries and my ancestors. But it’s very hard to actually do it.

***

I also heard back from the Intimate Judaism sex therapist. I just cringed when the email came in, the way I always do when I reach out to people and they respond positively — yes, I mean positively; positive responses can be as shame-inducing as negative ones, with less reason. I guess I feel that I am not worth it, or that there will now be another stage of possible failure e.g. the sex therapist says that she can suggest shadchanim (matchmakers) who might be willing to work with me to find a spouse, which raises all the fears around dating and rejection there. Actually, even beyond a further stage of failure, I’m so used to being ignored that when people are nice to me, I panic and don’t know what to do, and don’t feel like I deserve it. I think across my life the times when I wanted the ground to swallow me up were as much for compliments and positive attention as for shame and negative attention.

Now I need to find the confidence to respond…

***

Where has WordPress moved the tags box to? Why do they keep changing things? EDIT: it’s back now. Maybe the page wasn’t loading properly.

Coming Out As Autistic

I didn’t watch The Favourite in the end last night. After about ten minutes of it, my parents decided that, for a comedy, it was too weird and unfunny and stopped watching. I don’t mind weird, so I carried on for another twenty minutes or so, but I felt self-conscious, like there was a voice in my head asking me all the time if I was really enjoying it. Plus, I was getting annoyed by all the anachronisms. There was no “Prime Minister” or “Loyal Opposition” in Queen Anne’s reign and, although I wasn’t sure about this, I doubted that there was grouse shooting either (it seems I was right — I think in the early eighteenth century we’re still talking about guns that are difficult to aim accurately and take ages to reload). Also, while I can see that authentic eighteenth century dialogue would be off-putting, Tory leader Robert Harley saying something was “cute” just sounded weird (I was more offended by that than by conspicuous use of another four-letter word beginning with ‘c’ which was at least more authentic). So, I stopped watching, but I do vaguely wonder if I should have persevered.

I was a little burnt out on waking today, tired and a bit low, but I did manage to get ready for work. I had a small moral dilemma at work. Nothing huge, an issue of copyright law, but I feel a bit bad thinking about how I dealt with it. Other things being equal, I would not have done what I was asked to do, but I didn’t feel it was important enough to complain about, but now I feel vaguely guilty. I feel similarly bad about not socially distancing properly when I was dating PIMOJ, which was again something I sort of went along with to avoid making a fuss. I definitely find it easier to make a stand when I’m by myself, which is not a good thing.

At work I did tell J about my Asperger’s (I used that term rather than autism, although he did mention autism as something similar and I said it was a spectrum without going into details). I mentioned it in regard to processing verbal information, multitasking and phone conversations, as they seemed to be the most relevant areas. With regard to the first point, he said it’s OK to take notes. As for the other points, I didn’t make any specific requests or suggestions. It was a bit of a non-event and I suppose he may have been wondering why I brought it up, as nothing practical really came out of it, which I guess is a lesson for when I talk to the rabbi (which I still haven’t decided about yet).

We finished work early. We were going to one of our other sites briefly and J wanted to go before the rush hour traffic started, so I had a very truncated work day.

I wrote to the Intimate Judaism podcasters. I feel rather nervous about it. I worry I said too much. I would be a useless spy, I have the urge to confess all my secrets (see also: this blog). I’m also worried they’ll remember I wrote to them a year or so ago, when my life situation was rather different. I thought they wouldn’t remember, as they get loads of emails, so didn’t mention it, but now wonder if I should have done so. I asked for tips dealing with long-term celibacy and religious guilt, as well as feeling on the fringes of the frum (religious) community because of autism and mental illness. I’m not sure if a rabbi and a sex therapist were the best people to ask about the latter, but, having mentioned that I feel on the margins of the community as both a cause and a result of being single, it seemed silly not to mention it.

I had depression group in the evening. I wasn’t feeling particularly depressed, but wanted to go to support others, although I don’t say much in these meetings, aside from when it’s my turn to speak. I do this even when they’re in person, let alone on Zoom. I can’t always think of something to say and rarely work up the courage to say it; if I manage both of those things, the moment has usually gone by the time I’m ready to say anything. But I’m glad I went. I do feel more self-conscious at these meetings now I’m talking more about autism than depression, though. I’m not entirely sure why that is.

***

Recreation-wise, I finished reading Vampire Romance (amusing, but I found there were too many characters to keep track of in such a short novella). I just started reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. I’ve read all of Orwell’s essays, even the not-famous ones, but not any of his book-length non-fiction. In terms of TV, I’ve been watching The Simpsons while I still have access to Disney+, although the more recent episodes are not very funny. My Babylon 5 re-watch is on hold (at an exciting bit) as the season four DVDs needed replacing like the earlier ones (why? WHY??). I’m also watching Doctor Who: The Time Monster, probably the least successful serial from Jon Pertwee’s five years in the title role. I’m not sure why I picked it. I think I wanted to watch something with Pertwee and, because this isn’t very good, I haven’t watched it as much as some of the others. It is silly, although not in the deliberate way something like The Creature from the Pit or Love & Monsters is silly. Nevertheless, I marvel that, in 1972, dialogue like “Being without becoming — an ontological absurdity!” was deemed suitable for a family show with a large child audience.

***

Names encountered today at work: Abraham Abrahams and Nathan Nathan (genuine names, but from the nineteenth century). Reminds me of Catch-22 and Major Major.

Shul, and the Terrible Allure of Pity Parties

My mood over Shabbat (the Sabbath) was not as low as I feared, although it did dip at times. Friday night was mostly OK. I went to shul (synagogue) and we did Kabbalat Shabbat outside as normal so we could sing. I overslept this morning also as normal and dozed for a bit after lunch too, which made me late for shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). This is awkward, as we were praying outdoors again and the only way to get to the seats was to walk in front of the makeshift bimah (the table where the service is led from), which isn’t really consider the proper shul etiquette. Also, the only seat free was right down the front, which increased my feeling of being painfully conspicuous.

Social anxiety plays a big part in my oversleeping on Shabbat. I haven’t been to shul for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) more than a few times in the last couple of years, and I’m sure I oversleep because if I wake up, I have to confront my social anxiety about going. Similarly, I struggled with social anxiety again this afternoon. Some of it is probably feeling I don’t fit in to my shul, but a lot of it is fear of getting an aliyah (being called to say the blessings over the Torah or otherwise get involved with the Torah reading), which is why I don’t get it on Friday nights to anything like the same extent. I’ve had an aliyah loads of times, but I still worry about it. I get flustered and do the wrong things, I worry I will start shaking and I generally feel conspicuous. I really don’t like it, but it’s considered an honour and you can’t really decline it.

I sat through Talmud shiur although I’m not sure how much I understood, even having prepared on Friday night. By the time I got home, I was getting a headache; I did a little Torah study and read a bit (Vampire Romance is a novella included in Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron — if The Bloody Red Baron is “Biggles with vampires,” Vampire Romance is a blend of P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie with vampires, and it’s a lot more fun). Eventually my headache got too bad to read, although it responded quickly to medication after Shabbat.

Something that was at the back of mind, and sometimes at the front (where it shouldn’t have been) during Shabbat was my idea to email the Intimate Judaism people to speak to them about my circumstances and see if they have any suggestions. I do want to formulate one or two actual questions; I don’t want to just write a self-pitying email. I don’t think anyone still reading this used to read my comments on Hevria.com, but I used to write these enormous “pity party” comments about my depression, social anxiety and loneliness (I can’t remember whether autism was on my radar at the time). The silly thing was that I used to convince myself that they were relevant and responding to the articles in a meaningful way. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t get banned from the site. Eventually I started this blog and drifted away from Hevria for various reasons. Anyway, I don’t want to do that again, tempting though it is to just offload my issues on people (which I suppose I do here).

(I Don’t Believe In) Modern Love

I thought I would be very burnt out today after such a busy day yesterday and I was more or less right. I think I’ve been somewhat more optimistic since my autism diagnosis (which was less than two months ago, so quite fresh, even if I’d thought I was on the spectrum for years), but today I feel in “No one could ever love me, or if she could, I wouldn’t know how to meet her” mode. I’m not that hopeful about my novel either after the freelance editor I sent the first chapter to sent me feedback. She was reasonably positive, although she felt the type of editing I need was too far outside her experience for her to accept the work, which is fair enough. She did mention something E said on the early chapters she saw, though, about feeling too distant from the action, as if it was autobiography, telling rather than showing as E put it. There is an autobiographical element to the novel, but I didn’t want it to feel like that. So that’s one thing to think about for the next redraft, which will have to be quite drastic. I do feel that the parts that seemed to flow best and felt most engaging when I was writing them (if that proves anything about how things read) were the small bits of action, which is part of what is pushing me to genre fiction next time (“next time”!). I’m not sure what to do now though. The thought of going through the manuscript and doing a total, line-by-line rewrite is quite daunting, even if I had confidence in my ability to “show, don’t tell” the story, which at this stage, I don’t have. Maybe this is why Kafka hardly finished anything.

I actually had a dream related to writing anxiety last night. In the dream I was putting stuff online about what happened with the first woman I asked out (I asked her out; she said no; I stupidly didn’t stop off-loading my depressive thoughts on her; she panicked when I got suicidal and cut off all contact with me) and she understandably got annoyed. I’m not surprised I dreamt this, as I’ve been wondering whether it was a good idea to use that experience in the novel. I don’t know if she would recognise what happened between us in the novel (it was a long time ago and I have tried to fictionalise it somewhat) if she ever read it, but I do feel nervous about that sometimes. I know they (they = people who speak about writing) say to write what you know and I know some authors draw more heavily from their own experience than others, but I worry about crossing a line, although the reality is that even if I get published, she probably won’t read it. Last I heard, she doesn’t even live in this country any more.

***

After my post yesterday, I found myself wondering why I think about sex so much. Someone (I haven’t been able to source the quotation) said that “Sex is like water: if you have it, you don’t think about it; if you haven’t got it, you can’t think about anyone else.” To be honest, with me it’s probably a shorthand for love, intimacy, closeness and the absence of loneliness rather than just sex. Possibly it’s a shorthand for those things because the idea of touch is very difficult for me, on the spectrum: it can be very good, but often is very uncomfortable, even with people I love, like my parents. So the thought of someone I feel completely comfortable with touching me is very powerful and also very elusive and tied to ideas about trust and intimacy (especially as my first girlfriend rather trampled on my boundaries about touch).

In a low, burnt out mood this morning, I found myself wondering if I made a mistake in breaking up with PIMOJ and even if I made a mistake in breaking up with E last year (she tried to get back with me a while back, which I don’t think is a good idea rationally, but has a certain amount of emotional appeal). It’s hard to avoid feeling that I didn’t make a mistake in one of those breakups. It’s also easy to start thinking that I’ll be alone forever. I suppose the trick is just not to think about love and relationships and focus my attention elsewhere (where?).

***

Inasmuch as I did anything today, it was a chore day, as usual for a Friday. I did my usual Shabbat (Sabbath) chores; sorted out my desk drawer, which gets into a mess as I just shove stuff in it to keep my desk clear; phoned the GP’s surgery to request the form for my next lithium blood test (more NHS bureaucracy and I spent ages on hold); and went for a walk. During the walk, my mood, which had been OKish, mostly just tired, dropped quite a bit into “My life is never going to come together” mode, which makes me a bit nervous about my mood going through Shabbat.

My shul (synagogue) is bringing in Shabbat early during summer, so I won’t get time to look at this week’s Talmud page before Shabbat. I’ll try to look at it tonight, but I suspect I’ll be too tired to make much of it. I feel bad that the shiur (class) has only been going one week and I’m already slipping in my desire to look over it once before the shiur and revise it once afterwards.

Eventful Day; Also Sex and the Single Orthodox Jew

Today was a pretty good day, but some unpleasantly familiar thoughts hovered in the background and at times came into the foreground.

Work was quite eventful. In the morning, J and I went to one of the organisation’s other sites. I’m not really able to say here what site it was, because it would make it too easy to work out where I work although it was somewhere people don’t usually go. I didn’t feel I contributed much, but it was interesting to see it. We weren’t there for long, about half an hour, but the length of the journey there and back meant we were out for most of the morning.

In the car on the way back, J and I went over the new task he’s training me for again, roleplaying a typical situation again. I felt I did badly at this, although I didn’t have my notes or the forms I would normally be filling in as part of the process; obviously it’s easier to remember what to say if you have a form of blank spaces to fill in right in front of you. Still, I felt a bit self-critical, something made worse by a mistake I caught this morning (by chance) that I must have made on Monday. I do worry about how many mistakes I must make that I don’t catch in time. I feel that I should be better at handling these tasks; after all, people on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at routine tasks. I think the problem is that I have to have different spreadsheets and data bases open at the same time and people on the spectrum are not good at multitasking and going from one thing to another like that.

In the afternoon, a situation arose when I had to actually work through a type of situation that we had been practising in the morning. Again, I’d love to say what I had to do, but it would make where I work too obvious. Suffice to say that the task is not particularly autism-friendly or social anxiety-friendly, involving phoning various people, some of whom might be emotional, and getting quite a bit of information verbally and transcribing it correctly. I think I did OK, and J was listening in to the call and nudged me once or twice about some things, but I also think that maybe the time has come to tell J about my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis and what it means for me, especially about the way I struggle to take in rapid verbal information (J has a habit of throwing a lot of information at me at once). I’m not sure what exactly to say though.

One other awkward thing happened at work: I can’t easily check my emails on my phone and was hoping for an email from a friend who I was worried about, so during lunch I logged on to webmail on my work computer, only to be confronted with a not safe for work email subject line from the Intimate Judaism podcast. This features an Orthodox rabbi and sex therapist talking about sex and intimacy in the Orthodox world. I would not have done that if I had known the message would be there, but they email very rarely.

Best moment of the day: realising on the way to the other site that we were driving across a bridge that appeared in Doctor Who. Tom Baker stood here. It’s the little things…

***

I like the Intimate Judaism podcast (when it’s not embarrassing me at work), but after the awkward email today I found myself wondering why. I started listening to it when I was dating E. Although she was not frum (religious Jewish), she thought it might help me deal with some of the questions and anxieties I have about sex (in general and also in terms of Jewish law). Which it does, and it also has given me insight into parts of the frum world that I would not otherwise know about, which has been useful in my writing. I doubt I would have written a novel that highlights issues of sexual consent in Orthodox marriage without several discussions of this issue on the podcast making me aware of it.

However, it also highlights my feeling that I’m some kind of freak for being a virgin at thirty-seven, doubly so in a community where people typically marry in their early twenties and where kiruv (out-reach) professionals like to boast that Judaism celebrates marital sexuality. As well as feeling freakish, it makes me wonder if I can ever get married. For one thing, is there anyone left to marry? And can someone like me (autistic, socially anxious, prone to bouts of depression, not on a real career path) find someone to love him? I guess it turns sex into a spectator sport for me. Not in a pornographic sense, but in the sense that I’m listening to other people discuss their sex lives, knowing full well it’s of only academic interest to me, that I can’t get involved myself.

I actually feel like a freak and a child a lot, although I feel like a freak less often since I started making progress towards my autism diagnosis. These feelings are not just from being a virgin, they’re also from living with my parents; not working full-time; finding social interactions awkward; not being well-socialised into the frum community and so on. Nevertheless, being a virgin is a big part of it, not least because “being a virgin” is tied up so much with living with my social and emotional issues and lack of socialisation into the frum community.

Having only just broken up with PIMOJ, I don’t have any intention of dating again soon, nor do I feel optimistic that I will find the right person quickly (or at all) when I do try to date again, or even have a good idea what “dating again” would look like for me. I feel I’m out of options other than professional shadchanim (match-makers), a prospect that terrifies me. I’m not sure how I navigate the feelings of difference and inadequacy in the meantime.

I think about sex too much for a frum person. I wish I didn’t, it seems like I’m tormenting myself endlessly with what I can never know. I also feel that I write about it too much here, but feel I have to because (a) no one else does and (b) I need to vent periodically and I don’t have anywhere else to do it.

I am vaguely thinking about emailing the Intimate Judaism presenters about this, although I’m not sure what I’d say or what kind of response I’d be hoping for.

***

Related to this, I was trying to think what lessons I learnt from the three relationships I have managed to keep together for a few months (I think eight or nine months is the record).

Relationship 1) My first relationship, rather late (aged twenty-seven) so lots of things learnt for the first time: that someone could want to go out with me for a longish period; that I could actually maintain a relationship; and that I could care about someone else and make sacrifices for her. From the ending of the relationship, I learnt that I could set boundaries and end a relationship when I realised those boundaries were being trampled on (I used to wonder if I would stay in a painful relationship indefinitely for fear of being single).

2a) I’m not sure what I learnt from dating E first time around. Maybe that I could make a long-distance relationship work for a bit. Or maybe that even someone who really cared about me and wanted to marry me could still not cope with my “issues” in the long run.

2b) I suspect the main thing I learnt from dating E second time around was that on/off relationships are not a good idea and that if I’ve come to feel that a relationship could not have worked, restarting it because of loneliness and the excitement of the other person saying she made a mistake and still cares about me is not a good idea.

3) That a relationship needs chemistry as well as shared values to work (which is not always the Jewish dating experts’ message) and that while relationships need trust based on shared vulnerability, it has to be mutual or it won’t work.

Something I learnt from all my relationships is not to look back and wonder if it was a mistake to break up or there is no end to the potential regret and self-doubt.

Special Souls and Scapegoats

I’m feeling down today. I feel drained and listless. Also guilty. These days most of my guilt comes from wrestling with my sex drive and loneliness. I want to love and be loved, but I feel incapable of either of these, which sets me on a downward spiral to emotional places I don’t want to go (“sin” if you want to use stark Victorian words). Also, periodically I think about PIMOJ and feel sad that it didn’t work out for us and guilty that I upset her by breaking up with her. Watching Babylon 5 just reminds me that I thought she was like Delenn: gentle spiritual and intelligent, but even then the relationship didn’t work; I couldn’t open up to her or be myself with her. So who could I be myself with if I can’t be with someone who was practically my dream partner?

My sister and brother-in-law came over for socially distanced tea and biscuits this afternoon. I ate too much cake and biscuits, but otherwise had a good time. Then I left early to work on a job application and my mood came down again as I realised how my skills have atrophied and my career stagnated (see below). I went for a run after my Torah study, but it failed to boost my mood much.

There’s an idea in Judaism, particularly in Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) that people with severe learning disabilities, including severe autism, have special souls. I’m not particularly mystically minded (a problem PIMOJ had with me), but I wonder how this applies to high functioning autism. Somehow it doesn’t seem like the same idea applies to me, given how functional I am compared to a non-verbal person. Yet autism is a spectrum; at what point on it does having a special soul not apply? It would help me feel less broken and defective, and less of a disappointment to God and my parents, if this was the case, but maybe this idea is not coming from a good place in me. Maybe I just want to feel special, or at least special in a good way, rather than just feeling like a “broken” failure and freak.

I don’t know what can be done for someone like me who wants to fit in to the frum (religious Jewish) community, but doesn’t know how, who wants to love, but can’t find someone willing to love him and so on.

***

I read this week’s sedrot (Torah portions) of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei Mot starts with the High Priest’s Temple service on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), including the choosing of two goats by lot, one sacrificed in the Temple and one sent into the wilderness and thrown off a cliff, symbolically carrying away the sins of the Jewish people. This goat is known in Christian Bibles as the scapegoat (hence the term). The Talmud talks about this at some length and speaks about the two goats being, as far as possible, identical in size and colour, like twins. People talk about the symbolism of this, the two goats that looked identical and expected the same fate, but the High Priest drew lots and one goat was sacrificed in the Temple (which is supposed to be the best thing that can happen to a goat) and one died horribly in the wilderness, symbolising that we don’t really know what will happen to us.

When I was at primary school, I had a “mentor friend” (as Tony Attwood describes a neurotypical child who befriends an autistic child and models social behaviour for him). We looked quite similar, except that he was a lot taller than me and had redder hair. We were together a lot and people thought we were brothers. We went on to secondary school together, where we drifted apart a bit, but stayed friends. We went on to Oxford together, although I ended up a year ahead of him, as he took a gap year at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) first. We are still friends (we didn’t end up enemies like the Doctor and Master!).

I wonder about us in the light of the scapegoat. He started dating someone at the age of fourteen or fifteen; they have been married for many years now, with children. He has (non-Orthodox) rabbinic ordination and his own community as rabbi. He is very charismatic, was the centre of our geeky friendship group at primary and secondary school and was active in the Jewish Society at university, an environment that I completely failed to adapt to. I imagine he’s a popular rabbi in his community. He was once named on an annual Jewish newspaper list of the forty most influential people under the age of forty in the Anglo-Jewish community.

He has not by any means had an easy life, but somehow I feel he is like the goat sacrificed in the Temple, and I’m the one who has to carry the sins and get thrown off the cliff. I don’t feel jealous exactly, but I do kind of feel like I’m a failure in comparison to him, even though we were once so similar. And I know I shouldn’t compare, but I find it hard to see what I’ve achieved by myself. I’ve never really been happy, so being “happy with my lot” doesn’t really come into it, and I think my moods are unlikely to improve much (although I’m not sure why). I haven’t got tangible achievements (except one book no one bought and one novel that isn’t finished yet), I don’t think I’m particularly devout or spiritual, or a great scholar (Torah or secular) and I haven’t done much for other people in terms of acts of kindness or charity. I’m not sure what else I could do that I would value. I try to be nice to people and to listen, but I don’t think I’m good at that sort of thing.

I feel guilty about these jealous or comparing thoughts, just as I feel guilty about the sexual thoughts. I suppose that the fact that he was a mentor friend to me growing up, and that our lives ran so much in parallel from the ages of four or five until our early twenties mean that it’s harder to avoid comparing myself to him than it is to avoid comparing myself to other peers. Not that I find it easy to avoid comparing myself to them.

I just want to feel that I’ve done something meaningful and good with my life, which inevitably leads me to compare myself negatively to people who I feel have done something meaningful and good. That’s why I feel so uncomfortable about my shul‘s (synagogue’s) fundraising drive, that it puts a precise numerical value on my worth to the community, in tens where other people are worth tens of thousands.

I hope that writing about these things here will exorcise them, put them in a box and let me forget about them, but perhaps it just encourages them.

***

I wonder a bit why I’m still subject to so many low moods even though I’m “officially” not depressed any more. Also why I’ve so rarely been happy in my life, from adolescence (I can’t really remember childhood) to the present, even when I haven’t been depressed. The best I ever seem to get is a state of neutral contentment. I’m not sure what happiness would actually feel like. Some people say antidepressants can “even out” moods, getting rid of lows, but also highs. I’m not sure if that’s true. Or maybe I just feel so uncomfortable and out of place, being on the spectrum in a world designed for neurotypicals, that I just can’t get happy. Lots of people on the spectrum do struggle with depression and anxiety at clinical or sub-clinical levels.

***

I’m applying for the job I mentioned the other day, but I don’t feel positive about it. It’s a larger library than I hoped (seventy staff members and eight thousand users) and regular issue desk duties are a key part of the role, even though this is the part of librarianship that I have struggled with the most. The first role on the job specification is providing inductions, support workshops and training sessions to students and researchers. I have done things like that in the past, albeit in a very limited way, but I’m not sure I would want it to be a main part of the role. I think it’s as much a teaching role (teaching library use and general information literacy) as a traditional librarian role, which is not uncommon in modern libraries. Plus, looking at my CV, a lot of my skills are rusty, unsurprising given how little I’ve worked in the sector in recent years, and having my current admin job at the top of the list doesn’t look good, although the alternative is saying that I haven’t worked since January of last year.

That said, I’m doubtful that I’ll even be called for interview given that I don’t have much experience with the teaching work they want, so I’m not too concerned, although it does make me wonder why I’m filling in the application (to satisfy my parents? For practice? To feel like I’m still a librarian?). I’ve been told many times to apply for jobs where I don’t meet 100% of the criteria in case no applicant completely fits, but I think I often have far too few of the desired attributes and experiences. Sometimes I wonder if I actually fit more of the categories, but have too rigid a view of my experiences. If I didn’t think in such black and white terms, I could see I’ve had done of these things. Maybe.

Making this application is also a reminder that of the six jobs I’ve had, two weren’t in the library sector at all and one did not really need a librarian qualification (although it was actually a job I enjoyed a lot and got a lot out of).

***

The other news today is that I contacted a professional editor about my novel. She is an acquaintance from the online mental health community, but not a close friend, so I thought this might be less awkward then asking my writer friend for free feedback. She wanted to know a bit more about the novel before saying if she can take it on, so I just sent her an email with a bit more information and a sample chapter.

I feel pretty nervous now. E saw the first draft of the first few chapters when we were dating and liked them; PIMOJ saw the whole of the second draft and didn’t like it; both possibly had a distorted view from the fact that we were dating. Also, PIMOJ doesn’t read much fiction and was rather shocked by the discussion of sex and domestic abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. I’ve written another draft since PIMOJ saw it. So, it is nerve-wracking showing someone my writing, and also wondering how much professional editing would cost. I guess I have to ask myself how much I want this book to be publishable.

***

This blog post is too long and I should go to bed as I have to be up early for work tomorrow, but I don’t feel tired, just melancholy…

Sir Galahad

I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.

Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.

It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.

Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.

Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.

I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.

I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.

***

I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.

I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.

I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.

***

In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.

***

Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.

***

All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.

Neurotypicalism

I went to my autism support group on Zoom this morning. I was wary of it, as I find it a lot less helpful than depression group, but it was about relationships and I wanted to see if I would learn anything. The main thing I learnt is that the person who runs the meetings seems to have issues with neurotypicals and needs to work them through somewhere else rather than just ranting about them in the meeting. I left early because it was just too much. There wasn’t really much helpful advice, just some stuff about being authentic and making room for yourself in the relationship and feeling free to have non-standard relationships if that works for you. Someone there had been married for nearly fifty years, which is reassuring, although other people were speaking about not wanting to live with anyone at all. It makes me feel vaguely weird for wanting a “neurotypical standard” relationship involving marriage and living in the same house. I felt there wasn’t really enough talk about how to make compromises for a relationship rather than expecting your neurotypical partner to make compromises for you. The final straw was when the presenter said that, for autistic people, no means no, but neurotypical people are “play games” and often say no when they mean yes, which struck me as a misleading and dangerous thing to say.

I was also a bit worried by the number of people in the group who are quite happy living by themselves. Not worried for them, if they’re happy, but I’ve had mixed feelings about that. I have lived by myself at times and I coped and enjoyed parts of it, but I also found it very lonely and isolating at times. Realistically, there isn’t any easy way I can have people around me when I want them, but not when I don’t, so either living alone or with someone involves trade-offs. I also think that some of the people in the “want to live alone forever” group were OK with having casual sex, and I’m not, for various reasons, so that certainly does alter the cost/benefit analysis.

I spent an hour or so working on my devar Torah for the week, partially abandoning my original plan when I was unable to locate some quotes in the primary sources. I prefer to use primary sources than secondary ones, but I don’t always know where to find the primary sources for concepts and sayings I’ve picked up over the years, plus I’m often reliant on online sources and my imperfect Hebrew translation skills. I know I’m not alone in struggling to remember where I heard things as the internet is full of Jews either misattributing quotes and concepts or saying vaguely that, “It’s a Jewish idea that…” or “The rabbis say that…” Someone should make an index of well-known Talmudic and Midrashic stories and quotes. Famously, a lot of Jews, including some very frum (religious) ones, misremember the story about Avraham (Abraham) smashing up his father’s idol workshop as an actual passage in the Torah (it isn’t, it’s a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative)).

After that, I did a mixture of Torah study and cooking and went for a 5K run, but I did feel a bit lost without either paid work or my novel to work on. I’m resting the novel for a few weeks until my writer/editor friend can look at it. I feel pretty negative about it at the moment, to be honest, and keep wondering what possessed me to try to a mainstream novel of character. Part of me wants to start on a new novel, but I know I have to stick with this one until it’s either ready for publication or definitely unpublishable.

I spoke to PIMOJ in the evening. To be honest, during and after my run I was having negative thoughts (personal worries, worries about antisemitism… the usual), but I did feel better after speaking to PIMOJ. We didn’t even talk about my issues, we just talked. It was good.

Lately I’ve had some minor religious OCD, not the Purim Megillah issue I wrote about, but “idolatrous” thoughts when I was trying to pray. I’ve had this a lot over the years. The easiest way to get rid of them is exposure therapy. Trying not to think about something tends to make you think about it, so the anxiety about not thinking X immediately prompts thoughts of X. The solution is to deliberately think about X a lot, so I spent time this evening repeating the phrase where I usually have the trouble while thinking the things I usually try not to think in the hope that I will get to a point where I’m so desensitised to thinking about them that I don’t try not to think about them (if that makes sense). I may have to do this for a number of days until it works, but I’ve responded well to this in the past.

Vulnerable and Fragile

The good news for today is that I have an appointment for the final part of my autism assessment booked in for 9 March, two weeks’ time. This is really all down to my Mum, who has been phoning to chase it up. Sadly on the NHS, or parts of it, there’s a benefit in having someone willing and able to make a certain amount of noise on your behalf when waiting for an appointment, in case you drop off the system, as I suspect I had done.

***

I was burnt out again this morning, sleeping for about twelve hours, although I intended to “only” sleep for ten. The problem is partly that I turn off my clock radio alarms in my sleep, or at least don’t wake up for long enough to really wake up and stay awake. I put my phone on the other side of the room, so I have to get up to turn the alarm off, but its alarm is too quiet to really wake me and I sleep through it. Even if I do wake up, I fall asleep again before I can summon the energy to get up. I’m sure this must be boring and repetitive to readers, but it’s how my life is at the moment, with this major obstacle (burnout and oversleeping) that I just can’t make progress on and don’t really understand, even though I’ve made a lot of progress with the rest of my life.

I went for a walk and to the post office. That was crowded. The post office is inside the pharmacy and the pharmacy is doing COVID vaccinations, so there were a lot of people trying to socially distance inside and outside the shop. My mood slumped again while I was out walking, which might be a late afternoon blood sugar thing, or maybe because I was listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and Orthodox Judaism and it made me think how slow and uncertain it will be to move my relationship with PIMOJ on to a point where we can marry. My mood dropped a bit again while I was cooking dinner (vegetable curry), although it improved as I focused on cooking, which suggests that not having a focus is a trigger for negative thoughts.

I went to a shiur (religious class), the last of this set of shiurim, this time on Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther). It was more in depth than the previous ones, presumably because Esther is one of the better-known books of the Hebrew Bible among Jews, as we read it every year (twice, morning and evening) on Purim, which is this Thursday night and Friday. There were some interesting points about liminal spaces and identity in Esther. It made me feel more positive about the upcoming Purim, a festival that traditionally inspires very mixed feelings in me.

Then I saw that my shul (synagogue) had sent out an email about social distancing over Purim. So the whole community can all hear the Megillah, morning and evening safely, they are running four different readings at night and another four in the morning in different rooms of the building. I’m not entirely sure where my room is, so I need to go early to make sure I get there on time. They said there will be stewards to guide us, but I’m slightly apprehensive about it and plan to get there ten or fifteen minutes early to be safe.

***

I’ve noticed that I’ve had to struggle against religious OCD thoughts more lately. So far I haven’t sent any panicked emails to my rabbi asking if things were OK, which means it’s mostly under control and no actual OCD, just thoughts. (Actually, there was one email, but it was realistically a necessary email, and I didn’t send follow-up emails even though I was still worried.) Even so, I’m a bit concerned about things spiralling out of control as we approach Pesach. I’m trying to remember my coping strategies and exposure therapy techniques. I’m also trying to tell myself “I can cope” as my therapist suggested.

I guess my life is far from perfect right now, but realistically, no one’s life is ever perfect, and my current life is manageable, at least for the foreseeable future. I’m going with that for now. I do feel kind of fragile and vulnerable though, as if I’m aware I don’t have great resilience at the moment and am worried how I might cope if things start to go wrong.

Relationship, Weight, Twitter and Doctor Who

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

Lockdown Working, and Going Slooooowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.