Writing About Writing

Just a small note about today. Shul (synagogue) was OK last night, but it’s still starting quite late on Friday evenings so I got to bed late and struggled to sleep when I did get there. I woke up at 8am this morning, but could not face shul without really knowing why. I fell asleep again, woke up around 10am and fell asleep yet again, and napped in the afternoon. I didn’t go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I’m not really sure why. Part of me felt “shul-ed out” after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), but I think there was more to it than that, hopefully not laziness. I feel a bit guilty now. After Shabbat (the Sabbath) I resolved to work on my writing. I added a few ideas for my next novel that came into my head over Shabbat to the document where I’m brainstorming it. I spent ten minutes on my short story before realising I was far too tired to do anything. It was nearly 10pm. Shabbat hadn’t finished until 8.15pm, then with Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and helping to tidy up I didn’t start writing until gone 9.30pm, which is probably too late to do much. I still feel vaguely guilty about that too.

I’m wondering again if my writing is good enough. Writing proceeds slowly, a few paragraphs at a time, partly because writing well is a slow process, partly because I’m fitting it in around work, family and religious obligations, as well as recurrent autistic fatigue. Self-criticism, however, runs constantly and at the speed of light. I keep reading other people’s writing and thinking mine isn’t as good. I worry that I was never able to fix the major flaw in my first novel, that the villain was too darker-than-dark for a realist novel. I keep throwing “shoulds” at myself (“I SHOULD write more often, I SHOULD read more often, I SHOULD read more current fiction, I SHOULD read more focused on the genres I want to write for, I SHOULD get on with submitting my manuscript). I’m trying not to put pressure on myself at this difficult time of the Jewish year, but it’s hard, especially as I want to try to build some kind of writing career to help E and I move our relationship on. I worry that I don’t have enough good ideas, or really know how to develop them. I worry that I don’t really know how to be a writer (what does that even mean?) and am just winging it. The world seems big and unforgiving sometimes. I suppose I shouldn’t be so hard on myself; at least one big piece of the puzzle of my next novel popped into my head over Shabbat, and I remembered it until I could record it afterwards.

At least I’m a bit more understanding of myself regarding inspiration. I used to think I could never be a writer as I didn’t have good ideas. Then I thought I did have ideas, but I didn’t have the patience or ability to sit and develop them. Eventually, I realised (unconsciously) that it was confidence as much as ability that was holding me back. I didn’t think I could write anything worthwhile, so I never really tried. Even so, staring at a blank Word document is hard. Finally, I realised that planning a novel isn’t something you can do in one go, or even in a sustained way over a number of days. Not for me, anyway. Just staring at the document for hour after hour doesn’t do much. I have to let stuff percolate in my head for weeks or months, ideas distilling one at a time, at odd moments, when I’m at work or in the shops.

I really want to write stuff that’s distinctive. I worry about just churning out bland stuff. I would hate to be that kind of writer. E asked me in the week why I like Twin Peaks, as she didn’t think it would appeal to me. I don’t think I answered well, but afterwards I thought that I like TV that’s distinctive and unique. Favourite programmes like Doctor Who, Twin Peaks, The Prisoner, Sapphire and Steel and The Avengers (in its Emma Peel heyday at least) are all really distinctive. You wouldn’t stumble across them while channel-hopping and struggle to work out what they were, even if you’d never seen that episode before. It’s true that a lot of them are science fiction, and I do like the genre, but somewhat generic SF things like Star Trek or Star Wars don’t live in my head in the same way. It’s the same with prose fiction. You can’t mistake a Kafka story or a Borges story or something by Philip K. Dick for something by someone else. I really want to develop that kind of distinctive voice in my writing.

Well, I guess I SHOULD go and eat something and go to bed, as it’s late and I haven’t taken my tablets yet. I SHOULD read, but I feel too tired and too down, so it’s probably TV for me.

Success but Hollow Inside

I’ve only got a short time to write, but I wanted to write something and try to process my feelings about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

The background to Rosh Hashanah was a mini-heatwave that hit us unexpectedly. I was expecting it to be pleasant, but it was uncomfortably hot, which had an impact on my mood throughout. The other background is that I had asked to sit in the covered area outdoors, by the window of the shul (synagogue), intended for people who were unwilling or unable to sit indoors because of COVID anxiety or reduced immunity. The acoustics at the window were bad and I spent a lot of my time at shul round the corner by the door, where I could hear and see what was going on rather better.

I don’t really remember much special about the first night in shul. I think I did feel pretty positive, despite the poor acoustics. At home we ate the simanim, special symbolic foods eaten to symbolise a good new year. We have only been doing this for a couple of years and it still has novelty value. Even though it was late, I did some Torah study after dinner, as I hadn’t done much during the day and felt that I wanted to connect to God. I struggled to sleep that night, whether from the heat or the mixed feelings I had being at shul, feeling I was missing out by being outside, but also feeling that I would have a lot of COVID anxiety inside.

I woke up early the next morning, but struggled to get up, I think because of social anxiety rather than burnout, although maybe a bit of both. I find it hard to accept social anxiety as a legitimate excuse for missing shul, even though it happens a lot. I got to shul in time for the sermon and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet. Even though I was very late, I still stayed for another three hours until the end of the service; Rosh Hashanah services are very long. I slipped into the shul standing just inside the doorway to hear the shofar, otherwise staying outside except when I was asked to open the Ark for Alenu. I felt I couldn’t really turn it down as I had come in for the shofar, and I think it was an hour to be asked for that particular prayer (where we bow on the floor, something we only do here and on Yom Kippur).

I napped after lunch, then went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and then on to the brook for Tashlich, then came home. I was getting a headache, which I managed to stop turning into a massive migraine with early intervention, but I felt drained and justified in my decision not to go back for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).

I didn’t sleep well again and I struggled to get up in the morning. I had the “flat battery” feeling where I just don’t have the energy to sit up, let alone get dressed and go to shul. I eventually managed to get up around lunchtime. I was upset to have missed shul, but not surprised to be so burnt out. I was too burnt out to catch up on prayers and I didn’t want to delay my parents’ lunch.

After lunch I was still tired, so I napped again before saying the Mussaf prayers. I read the Jewish Review of Books for a bit, then went to shul for Minchah. I somehow found the confidence to tell the rabbi I had missed the morning prayers and the shofar blowing and he arranged for someone to blow it for me before Minchah started. I was pleased, and surprised that I found the confidence to do it, but I felt so socially anxious about drawing attention to myself asking for this that I struggled to focus on the shofar, and later on the prayers for Minchah. I decided I did not have the energy left for the shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv, so I went home.

J left the same time as I did and said he didn’t see me in the morning and asked if I was OK. I said I’d been unwell, but was OK now; I didn’t want to go into a big thing about autistic burnout in the street. He said if I’m unwell tomorrow not to force myself to come into work, which was nice.

On the whole Rosh Hashanah must be a success, as I got to shul quite a bit and heard the shofar both days. However, I feel kind of hollow and down now and I don’t know why. Some of it is lack of passive relaxation time or alone time. I’ve spent most of my waking hours the last two days with other people, at shul or at home. Beyond this, I suppose I just wonder if I’ll ever get back to being the person who can go to every single service and shiur during the festival.

I suppose I also always focus on the next goal rather than the one just completed. There’s a story about a Hasidic rabbi (I think the Maggid of Mezeritch; I don’t have time to check) who was asked by a Hasid why, whenever he tried to move closer to God, God seemed as far away as ever. The Maggid said that it’s like a father with a toddler. The father calls the child to him, who takes a few faltering steps towards him, but as he gets near, the father moves a few steps away and calls him again, and so on. This is frustrating for the child, but is how he learns to walk. Similarly, God moves further and further away to call us towards Him, but I don’t know how to deal with the lack of self-esteem that results from feeling I have not reached God and am as far away as ever.

I actually spent a lot of time over Rosh Hashanah thinking about what it would mean to accept that God loves me. I’m not sure I came to any great conclusions. I find it easier to see God as punitive than loving, at least towards me, and I’m not sure why or how to change that. I don’t see God as punitive in an abstract, theological sense, or towards other people, but I find it hard to believe He could love me unconditionally.

The other thing I thought about a bit over Yom Tov was abuse (child abuse, get withholding etc.) in the Jewish community. It’s been in the news again lately. I wonder how God can forgive us while it goes on. There isn’t really anything I can do about it, except write about it, which makes me want to get my novel published. On which note, a book I’d ordered, a guide to publishers, editors and literary agents, arrived today, which may help me to plan my next step.

OK, I’m off to get ready for tomorrow, and to see if I can have something to eat and fit in Midweek Twin Peaks before bed.

Last Day of the Year

I couldn’t sleep last night, possibly the result of eating ice cream late at night (it can give me a sugar rush, I think). It was a bad decision, but I felt that, after several difficult days, with several more to come, I needed a treat. About 3.00am, I decided to get up and do some work in the hope it would bore me to sleep. At the very least, I would wake up to less work in the morning. I did just under an hour of work at night and another hour today. All the bits I’ve done since Friday work out at roughly a full day for me, and I’ve also conveniently finished all the work I had to do at home, which I guess is a good way to finish the Jewish year.

I filled in the form for the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits. I didn’t have the payslips they wanted as I’m freelance and invoice J every month. I hadn’t kept all the invoices either, which I should have done, because the taxman may want them. I found the last two. I wish I wasn’t so vague and clumsy about practical and financial things. I don’t know what I’d do without my Dad here, really. There are courses in personal finance and the like for people on the spectrum. I’ve always resisted going on them, because I felt I’m too high-functional, but maybe I’m not really.

In a few hours it will be the start of a new Jewish year, 5782. I like that Jewish year numbers are so big, even though the count was only started (retroactively) in the Middle Ages and I don’t believe that Adam and Chava (Eve) were created literally 5782 years ago tomorrow. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is about crowning God as our King. This entails accepting that He knows what He’s doing with everything He does. To this end, I’m going to try not to worry about stuff over the next two days and accept everything He has planned for me for the next year, regardless of whether it’s what I want or expect. This includes trying not to worry about getting to shul, hearing the shofar, about talking to people or about walking in hours after the service has started and the like.

Shana tova – happy new year! May we all be signed and sealed for life, and a good life at that!

Muddling Through

I overslept dramatically again, as I basically do every day when I don’t go out to work. Sigh. Anyway, I managed to put in two hours of very dull work from home work (data entry and sorting my predecessor’s emails – I think he never deleted an email, even spam, and had something like 2,500 emails from a five or so year period when I started). It was boring, but hopefully will take some pressure off tomorrow.

I’m still pretty stressed. As well as the two hours of work, I did a couple of small chores and I went to a virtual shiur (religious class), but I still need to do an hour and a half or two hours work tomorrow and I have a load of paperwork about benefits and bank accounts that have suddenly been thrown at me at this busy time of year. It’s like everyone decided, “Hey, Luftmentsch is stressed! Let’s throw him some pointless busywork too!” Then I had to change some plans at the last minute and I’m not sure how I avoided a meltdown. I went for a walk and tried to be mindful which helped a bit and then I had a Skype call with E and felt a lot better after that.

Even so, I feel pretty overstretched, which is not the best way to go into the busiest month of the year, especially when I want to get to shul (synagogue) so much, but am aware that shul attendance is the first thing to become impossible (because of burnout and social anxiety) when I’m stressed. I guess remembering what I discussed with the rabbi last week about being strategic in my shul attendance is important here, and my general attempts not to beat myself up about everything. To remember that God loves me and knows my struggles.

On the plus side, I feel this year that for the first time, as well as goals for the coming year, I can set long-term goals for the next five years, which is exciting and scary. The long-term goals are more life stages to try to move to, while the short-term goals are more to improve aspects of my character.

***

The virtual shiur was interesting. It was about teshuvah (repentance/returning to God/returning to ourselves) being as much an inner psychological process for mental health as an external one. Rabbi Dweck was wary of the approach to teshuvah that says, “Take on another mitzvah (commandment)” instead of looking inside at our inner drives. This is a realisation I’ve come to myself over the years, at least for my (not always mentally healthy) self, but it was good to have external validation. I felt the shiur could have been a bit deeper, maybe with more practical suggestions. Rabbi Dweck did suggest journaling and just being aware of oneself during day to day life, which is part of why I write here, to process and understand myself.

The shiur reinforced the feeling I’ve had for a while that the novel I want to write about a frum pornography addict isn’t actually primarily a story about sex or addiction, but one about teshuvah, although I can see that many people will not be able to look past the surface to that. There is a quote I came across from Rav Kook recently about teshuvah being a subject for poets and artists, which is similar to what I want my novel to be.

***

I did a COVID test for the first time. My shul (synagogue) wants everyone to do one before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the upcoming Jewish festivals. The first time I tried, I spilt some of the liquid, so I had to redo it. Then I’m not sure I got my tonsils properly with the swab. I just stuck the swab in until I wanted to gag, then repeated on the other side. I don’t like the way COVID is triggering OCD-type thoughts in me, less contamination thoughts than scrupulosity: “Am I doing it right?”-type thoughts. I still have guilt about hugging my ex-girlfriend (just hugging!) although it won’t stop me hugging E when she comes to visit. One site I found said that if you’re infected, swapping the uvula and perhaps even the cheeks will show up enough virus for a positive result, so hopefully I’m OK. I feel like this could turn into the COVID equivalent of kashering my sink for Pesach if I’m not careful, something I repeat and obsess about endlessly.

Prejudice

I’m not sure what I feel about dinner with the rabbi yesterday. It was basically OK. I didn’t say much, but I did say a bit and mostly felt comfortable except when I spilt some water and then worried that I had tried to mop it up in a way that was not permitted on Shabbat, although I don’t know why I got this impression. On the downside, I felt some people were talking about non-Jews in a less-than-respectful way. This kind of casual racism in the frum (religious Jewish) world bothers a lot of people, including me, but it’s hard to know how to challenge it. A lot of Jews seem to have an attitude that Jews have been the victims of prejudice so often that we can’t perpetuate it, which is illogical (as illogical as the parallel view in the woke world that Jews can’t be the victims of real prejudice because many of them are pale-skinned).

It would annoy me in the abstract, but having had a lot of non-Jewish friends over the years, through Doctor Who fandom and the blogosphere, I take it somewhat personally. Plus, the Torah says that all human beings are made in the image of God, and human dignity is a fundamental Jewish value.

There was also some discussion at dinner over whether the mission in life of a Jew is just to study Torah or whether there is room for political engagement (or artistic endeavour, which wasn’t explicitly stated, but was hinted at). I said that it’s impossible to know what an individual’s mission in life is; for one person it might indeed be significant Torah study, but for another it might be something else. Fortunately, the rabbi agreed with me. I did not think to mention an idea I once heard that the descendants of Leah have the role of engaging in pure spirituality, whereas the descendants of Rachel have the role of bringing the spiritual into the physical world, although as I heard this from a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshivah, maybe it’s as well I didn’t.

It’s things like this (racism and narrow viewpoints) that make me feel that I will never fully fit into this community, even though it has many aspects I like and appreciate, such as good decorum (Orthodox shuls (synagogues) are notorious for talking during prayers and even Torah reading and for young children running in and out the whole time) and a davening (praying) pace that is neither too fast nor too slow for me, as well as an attitude to davening and Torah study that is serious and committed, but with humour and self-awareness as well as not supposing that everyone is at the same place religiously or working at improving the same practices and character traits. I wish I could find a shul with these positives, but a slightly more modern social attitude. It does seem that a strong sense of “us” can only be inculcated by demonising “them.” I feel that Torah wants us to disprove this, but most Jews are unable to meet the challenge, either with too weak a sense of Jewish identity or negative feelings about outsiders.

One thing I noticed was that when the rabbi blessed his children, as is the norm in the frum world on Shabbat, the rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) blessed them too. I don’t think I’ve seen that in an Orthodox household before.

I got home very late. I spent a little time in Torah study, as I hadn’t done much in the day, concentrating on work. Then I read for a bit, as I was drained and needed some relaxation time before bed, but I was too tired to read for long. I couldn’t sleep when I got to bed, but I was too tired to get up and read and just lay there.

Inevitably, I struggled to get up this morning. I also napped after lunch and had to rush to get to shul for Talmud shiur (religious class). I hurried out of the house with no tie to save time and felt under-dressed in shul. Talmud shiur was OK, but I began to get a headache during Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). It wasn’t a bad one by any means and has mostly gone by now, but it’s left me feeling tired and, bizarrely, craving carbohydrates. I should do more Torah study and do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer before bed, but I don’t really feel I have the energy, although I don’t feel that I would fall asleep if I went to bed, so I’m uncertain what to do for the next hour or so.

Talk with the Rabbi

Today was one of those days that got away from me. I had therapy in the morning, which was good. Then I went to speak to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my Asperger’s in the afternoon. The meeting went well. He was very understanding and supportive. We spoke a bit about being strategic in my shul attendance to handle burnout, maybe trying to go less often but more focused or to more inspiring services. I need to think about what that would mean in practical terms. We spoke a bit about social anxiety too, and wanting to challenge that, but in a safe way, and about COVID making that harder by adding a new layer of anxiety to social situations. He said I looked more animated than he had ever seen me before (we hadn’t really had a one-on-one conversation before).

When I got back from that I spent a while speaking to my parents about the meeting and some other things and then, unfortunately, wasting time. I wanted to do things, but couldn’t get down to anything. In the end I did some Torah study and spent half an hour on my short story, writing about 500 words, which was good. But other than that I haven’t done much, and I need to be up early for work tomorrow. I’ll watch the rest of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks before bed, which I started at dinner, but I don’t feel particularly sleepy. I probably should have taken time to relax after speaking to the rabbi instead of just procrastinating.

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.

Ennui

It’s gone 10.30pm and I’m far too awake. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was not great. I guess it can’t be good every week. I got to shul (synagogue) early on Friday night, but someone had already taken “my” seat. It’s not really my seat as we don’t have set seats, but most people usually sit in the same place. Anyway, someone had put a bookrest and tallit bag in my place, but wasn’t sitting there, and didn’t sit there for the entire service. It was quite rude to do that when space is at a premium, as we are still somewhat socially distanced and we’ve lost a chunk of the room now the school we rent it from have renovated it. I probably should have just sat there, but (a) I was too social anxious and (b) I thought I knew whose tallit bag it was, and he’s someone I’ve seen explode angrily at people over trivial things, so I wanted to steer clear. I went into autistic rigid thinking and couldn’t work out where to sit, so I just sat in the row behind, but I think I sat in the seat usually taken by someone who sits with his son-in-law. I was davening (praying) when he came in so I couldn’t offer to move, but I felt a bit bad about that too.

Then I became aware that I was the only person wearing a face mask. Even the doctor who usually wears one had stopped. I felt too nervous to remove it, but I felt like I stood out wearing it. So that wasn’t fun.

Dinner was fine, but I struggled to sleep and got up and read for a bit, a Philip K. Dick story that was better than the last one, but still quite bleak (A Little Something for Us Tempunauts).

I slept through the morning again. As often happens, I woke up early enough that I could have gone to shul, but felt overwhelmed with whatever it is that overwhelms me (social anxiety? Depression? Ennui? I don’t know) and fell asleep again. (This blog sometimes seems to revolve largely around poor sleep and social anxiety.) I fell asleep after lunch too, and the alarm I have set to wake me at 5.15pm for Talmud shiur (religious class) and shul didn’t wake me. I woke an hour later and had to hurry to get out in time.

Shiur was OK. I didn’t wear a mask for shiur or Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I got an aliyah (called to say the blessings over the Torah), which was nice, although it was a bleak passage, literally fire and brimstone.

I came home and we had rather late seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). It’s ideally supposed to be started before sunset, but it was halfway between sunset and nightfall by the time we ate, which I felt bad about, although I couldn’t have done anything differently as I was in shul. I seem to have felt vaguely bad about things that weren’t really in my control quite a bit this Shabbat.

Now I feel drained, but not sleepy, and somewhat down for no obvious reason. I will probably watch TV for a bit as I don’t really feel like reading. More ennui, I guess. I’ve had some weird dreams lately that aren’t worth recording, but which make me wonder if I’m anxious (well, I’ve been consciously anxious lately) or unconsciously trying to work something through. I hope I can do all the things I want to do this week, as it seems a bit overwhelming (speaking to my shul rabbi and my rabbi mentor, having therapy, working). Anyway, finis.

The Curses of COVID

I set an early alarm because I had a vague magical thinking fear that J would call me to do the Very Scary Task again early today. In the event he did not, thankfully, and I fell asleep again after turning my alarm off. It’s interesting how much magical thinking I’ve had around the VST this week. I don’t usually think of myself as a superstitious or magical thinking person, but I can’t deny the evidence of my own thoughts.

It’s been a fairly tough couple of weeks covering for J and working from home and I’m aware that it’s going to continue to be tough for a while, albeit for varying reasons. Next week I hope to ‘come out’ as autistic to my shul (synagogue) rabbi. I’ve prepared notes of what to say, but I really have no idea how it will go or even what I really expect or hope from the meeting. Then, for unrelated reasons, I’ve been invited to his house for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner next Friday. I accepted, but only afterwards did I wonder how safe it would be, COVIDly. I mean, the government COVID regulations permit it, but I wonder if I’m being reckless. It’s hard to tell. But the real thing worrying me about it is the usual social anxiety stuff.

E was surprised that I don’t get extra-socially anxious with rabbis than I do with other frum (religious) people. To be honest, I think I’m nervous enough with ‘ordinary’ frum people that there isn’t anywhere else for the anxiety to go, plus I feel I’ve had exposure therapy with rabbis over the years. I have eleven Orthodox rabbis’ phone numbers on my phone (a minyan and a spare), so I do have experience with talking to them. They don’t intimidate me the way they do to some people.

If I get through that, then we’re into the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals), but I’m trying not to worry about that now, albeit that I’m starting religious preparations for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

This week in shul we read the Torah portion of Ki Tavo (I admit I’m not that likely to get there for this in person). This contains the curses that will befall the Jews if they break their covenant with God. The Talmud says we always read this a couple of weeks before Rosh Hashanah so we can say, “Let the old year with its curses end, and the let the new year with its blessings begin.” I think we’re all looking forward to new blessings after eighteen months of COVID curses, although COVID doesn’t look to be vanishing any time soon.

E and I have both taken COVID very seriously, mostly followed regulations and are both double vaxxed; still, we’re both sick of it and want to get back to normal life, life without masks, travel restrictions and noisy social media arguments about masks and vaccines. We wondered last night how long it can carry on for like this and whether governments are secretly aiming for zero COVID deaths, which seems as unachievable and flawed a target as zero flu deaths. I don’t think the UK or US governments are aiming for this, although the New Zealand government seems to be doing so; I think it’s only possible in a small, sparsely-populated and out of the way country. However, I’ve heard people (experts and callers) on the radio who seem to really want zero COVID deaths. One expert even seemed to want zero COVID infections, on the grounds that infection, even in the young and vaccinated, can lead to long COVID and long COVID is debilitating, therefore the government should aim at eradicating it, presumably like smallpox and bubonic plague. This seems as crazy as vaccine refusal, albeit in the opposite direction.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine ever getting back to normal. It just goes on and on. I still feel nervous at shul, one of only three or four people still wearing masks now they are no longer mandatory. At the moment E is worried about being able to come and visit me, in terms of fear that the USA might be put on the UK’s red list and Americans banned from entry, and at the moment I couldn’t visit her, because direct travel from the UK is banned, and also because I’ve had the AZ vaccine, which the USA still hasn’t recognised (all of which strikes me as a bit rich, considering how poor vaccine uptake has been in the US; please get your own house in order before criticising others). We just want to spend some time together this calendar year! Is it too much to ask? Sigh. At least we have Skype.

***

My shul is still bringing Shabbat in early, at 6.25pm today, so I didn’t have much time to do things, considering I slept late and struggled to get going. I did my usual pre-Shabbat chores and spent some time on my cheshbon nafesh, my self-reflection on the previous Jewish year. I didn’t get time to work on the short story I planned yesterday or to do much in the way of Torah study. The latter doesn’t bother me much, as I can catch up while I wait for my father to daven (pray) tonight, as his shul isn’t starting until 7.35pm.

***

I just wrote this comment on Ashley’s blog: “My self-esteem has been pretty low since adolescence, maybe earlier. Getting my autism diagnosis earlier this year has really helped, though, inasmuch as I can now see myself as an autistic person who is trying hard with some success rather than a neurotypical person who is frequently failing for no obvious reason.” I don’t think there’s really anything to add to that.

***

I read a Philip K. Dick short story last night that was extraordinarily misogynistic and generally misanthropic (Cadbury, the Beaver who Lacked). It rather made me regret my decision to read rather than just watching TV. Dick had issues with women, to put it mildly (he was married five times). His last completed novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, has a female narrator who is a likeable and interesting character, but most of his other female characters are not, to put it mildly. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how negative the short story would be.

Stuckness, and Television

I feel vaguely anxious and stressed. I’m not really sure why or maybe there’s over-causation. I’m worried about another week when J is away, when I’ll be struggling to get up early and do the only, boring, task I can do from home, and when I might have to do the Very Scary Task again. I’m worried about speaking to my rabbi soon about my autism/Asperger’s, and extra worried as I don’t actually know when would be a good time to speak to him. I’m just focused on getting through this coming week. I’m worried about the upcoming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals), with all they entail in terms of disruption to my routine, working longer or harder to catch up afterwards and time in shul (with a mask, but around people who won’t be masked) as well as the introspection these festivals entail. I haven’t yet done a cheshbon nafesh, an assessment of how my spiritual progress over the last year. I was supposed to do it today, but ran out of time. And at the back of my mind are vague worries about E’s trip to the UK and other obstacles to our getting together, although those worries are pretty swamped by more imminent ones, which I guess is good, in a weird way. Also at the back of my mind is an awareness that I haven’t done any creative writing lately, except for jotting down book ideas haphazardly as they occur to me. I don’t think I’m going to have much time or energy for that soon either.

I have a feeling of stuckness with a lot of things: COVID, getting to move my relationship with E on, my novel(s), work… Just contemplating my cheshbon nafesh I can see things have moved on since this time last year (I’m working a bit, I’ve finished my novel and I’m in a serious relationship with someone who is more suited to me than my previous relationship), but it’s hard to remember that sometimes.

***

Things done today: Torah study for just under an hour; went to collect my new suit; was going to go for a run, switched to starting my cheshbon nafesh when it started raining, then went for a run when the rain stopped. It wasn’t a great run. I had poor stamina and had to walk a lot, and for the first few minutes I felt so unbearably awful that I thought I was going to have to give up, but I managed forty minutes and just under 5K and I did run a bit better after a while. My mood was better afterwards, even if I spent a lot of the run worrying about the state of the world and about my family.

***

I have other anxieties. When I’m worried about something that I can’t do much about, I sometimes fixate on other things, often books I want to read or DVDs I want to watch or re-watch. Lately I’ve been wanting to re-watch Twin Peaks, even though I only watched it less than a year ago and know that a lot of it is not that good, but it’s structured in a way that makes it hard to focus on just the good bits. The soap opera-style plotlines make it hard to skip whole episodes without it losing coherence. I’m also aware that I’m watching Doctor Who with E and that I’ve also recently bought The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series (I’m partway through season two) and The Simpsons season three. I feel I should finish these first, without really having a good reason why. After all, they won’t go off, and I have no qualms about reading or re-reading novels with more recent (or less recent) purchases waiting. Perhaps more pertinently I feel I shouldn’t watch so much TV (not that I watch much more than an hour or an hour and a quarter a day) and that I should read more (even though I often watch TV when too tired to read or when in a bad state mental health-wise).

The “reading not watching” question is interesting. I enjoy reading, and, as an aspiring writer, I read to learn how to write as well as for enjoyment. My favourite writers, as I’ve mentioned, are Franz Kafka (who I hardly ever re-read, as a counsellor once told me not to read him when depressed and I find it hard not to do what authority figures say – I don’t consciously do this, but I do unconsciously), Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick (who probably shouldn’t be read by the mentally ill for a whole other reason). These writers have entered my mind in way that few others have, but I’ve been affected in a similar way by television series such as Doctor Who, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks and Sapphire and Steel. The writing is important in all of these, sometimes compensating for low budget, sometimes providing or supporting a sense of menace or surrealism that would be incoherent or silly with visual cues alone.

I’ve never really understood the criticism that TV encourages passivity. While many viewers are passive, I don’t think serious fans of a TV programme watch passively, however they respond to it: analysis (what tends to be dubbed ‘meta’ these days), fanfic (writing their own fiction with the characters and setting), cosplay (dressing up as characters) and so on. Fans respond in different, personal, ways, but they are not passive. Maybe it’s because I encountered Doctor Who largely through novelisations at first, and then original novels, so it’s always been on the boundary between TV and prose for me. At any rate, I watch attentively, looking at structure and characterisation, and as much as I would like to write like Jorge Luis Borges or Franz Kafka, I would like to write like Robert Holmes, P. J. Hammond or Steven Moffat (not with all Moffat’s “battle of the sexes” stuff though).

More Damage Limitation

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, with some struggling. Shul (synagogue) was difficult on Friday night. It smelt of paint (it’s being renovated). I got there a minute late, and struggled to find a seat because it was so crowded — not that many people, but the renovations mean we have very little space, especially with it still set up somewhat socially distanced. Then the gabbai asked me to move so that a father and son could sit together, because there weren’t two seats available next to each other. I moved and I could sort of see why he asked me (I think I was just the nearest person where moving one person would leave two seats next to each other), but it did feed my fear that single people are seen as less important than families. I shot off as soon as the service finished, even faster than I usually do.

Dinner with my parents and cousin 4 (henceforth C4) was fine. There were a couple of problems, but nothing that turned into an argument as I feared. I had almost all my Israeli family down as very noisy, and most of them are, but a couple are very quiet. I had never really seen C4 without the rest of the family before, so I didn’t really realise how quiet she is. I do struggle to connect with my cousins as well as I would like, partly because of the cultural differences I mentioned the other day, partly because of the age difference (C4 is still a teenager, and basically a different generation to me), partly I guess because of my difficulty connecting with anyone (autism).

I did some more Torah study after dinner and went to bed rather late. I woke up intermittently during the morning, but didn’t get up. I guess that was a mixture of burnout and social anxiety about going to shul again. I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know how to work on the social anxiety about shul or my general struggles about getting up early. I can get up early for work, but when working from home last week I got up very late and had to work later than I intended, or split the work over two days. I wish I understood this dynamic better.

I forgot to take my morning medication and took it after lunch, which is unlike me.

I slept again after lunch. I think I fell asleep around 4.15pm; I was woken at 5.15pm by my pre-shiur (religious class) alarm, but I fell asleep again and/or just lay on the bed for another two hours, just too drained to do anything other than lie there and try to recover from a week of overload. It meant I didn’t really have much time today for Torah study or recreational reading (I did a bit of both last night, but not today).

I decided to skip Talmud shiur and shul so I could spend more time with C4. I wasn’t in much of a state to go anyway. Seudah (the third Shabbat meal) with my parents and C4 was fine and then suddenly Shabbat was over and C4 was going. I spent some time tidying up as Mum and Dad went to take C4 back to where she’s staying and then did some Torah study. I tried to get through what Talmud they would have done in shiur today, but it’s hard to judge (the rabbi tends to bring in a lot of comments from Tosafot, which I don’t have in translation) and I ran out of energy and brainpower. And I guess that was it. I hope I’m more alert tomorrow.

Now it’s gone midnight and I’m tired, but I don’t think I’ll sleep yet. I need to do something to unwind, probably watching TV as I don’t feel up to reading. Someone nearby is playing loud music again.

Damage Limitation

I feel burnt out again, unsurprisingly after yesterday. I feel like I’m in damage limitation mode at the moment and will be at least until J is back at work, if not until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) are over. I’m going to try to relax tonight and tomorrow. I had chores to do before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I tried not to do other things, although I did some Torah study. I would like to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but as my cousin is staying with us for Shabbat, I’m not sure if I’ll go for Talmud shiur (religious class) and Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) tomorrow so I can spend more time with her instead.

In other news, my rabbi (my shul rabbi, not my rabbi mentor) said we could speak and that I should message him next week to arrange time. This is to tell him about my autism/Asperger’s and speak about my place in the community, although he doesn’t know that yet. I feel pretty anxious about it. It doesn’t help that I don’t know exactly what I want from the meeting, I just feel the need to open up to someone in the community so that I feel less alone and misunderstood.

***

In other other news, E and I have been watching the earliest Doctor Who episodes, from 1963 and 1964, and E is becoming a total fangirl. She is mostly enjoying it, but complaining about continuity errors in later stories. Having a girlfriend who was into Doctor Who was not one of my ‘essential needs’ in relationships, but it’s very good that it’s turned out that way. Otherwise, E and I have both been catastrophising about our relationship — not the relationship part, but the external things keeping us apart, like COVID and immigration law. But we both think we will be together in the end, somehow, if we can just hang on.

***

I wrote yesterday about having wanted to make friends online in the past, and it occurred to me afterwards that I do now have what I wanted on my blog, inasmuch as there are half a dozen or a dozen people who read most of my posts and leave friendly and helpful comments, which is what I really wanted from online interactions. So, thank you.

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.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag, and, again, I find I need to break my rule, or at least aspiration, about not going online after Shabbat in the summer as I need to blog to get some of my thoughts out of my head.

On Friday night we davened (prayer) outside again. This seemed at odds with the shul‘s (synagogue’s) policy of no longer keeping COVID protocols in place, now that it is legal not to do so (unlike my parents’ shul, which still has a lot of safeguards in place, and is even apparently adding more). This was pleasant for me, as I would wear a mask inside, but felt no need to do so outside. The reason may have been that we do not own the building where we daven, which is usually a school. The hall where we daven is currently being significantly remodelled, which is going to make services difficult, particularly the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur festival services next month. I am not sure what the shul will do. We raised funds to buy our own premises earlier this year, but I think we do not have planning permission to build yet, and even when we do, the building project is estimated to take eighteen months.

I did not sleep particularly well last night and had some strange dreams, partly focused on some silly thing I did when I was ten. I don’t know why I carry around guilt from two decades ago, when I wasn’t even an adult. It did leave me in a negative state of mind, and I stayed in bed because I felt anxious and self-critical. When I did finally get up, I was carrying other guilt, which I don’t want to go into here, for various reasons, but which was equally irrational.

I slept for three hours after lunch, which was not sensible, as I will probably struggle to sleep tonight. Even then, I only woke up because I set an alarm before Shabbat. I’m not sure how long I would have slept if I had awakened naturally.

I nearly didn’t get back to shul, as I had a lot of social anxiety. I more or less forced myself out of the house and down to shul. The hall, now I saw it properly, looked very different as a result of the ongoing building works. About a third of the hall has already been partitioned off, and even in the area still accessible to us, some tables were missing. This was somewhat upsetting to my autistic mind.

After Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), the seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) was held in a classroom. I didn’t want to go and eat, but I did want to attend the Talmud shiur (religious class) that would be held partway through the seudah. I stayed in the hall and read for a bit, but then thought that they were about to start the shiur, so went and found the classroom. I felt awkward sitting there and not eating, but I did get to hear the shiur. I’m not sure how well I followed it, but I would have followed it even less had I not prepared in advance yesterday.

One thing I noticed was a couple of people addressing me by name and trying to make small talk with me. It always surprises me when people know me or want to talk to me. I suppose I’ve had so many bad social interactions, so many communities of one kind or another (shul, school, scouts, university, workplace) where I’ve felt I haven’t been accepted or didn’t fit in (or was even bullied) and just stood around “being autistic” and not really being able to talk to people that I’m still amazed when people know my name and want to talk to me. I don’t know how to progress this to make friends though.

I don’t know how rational my COVID fears are. I travel on public transport (with a mask) to get to work or volunteering, and shul is probably no less safe than that. Is it safe enough not to wear a mask, or to eat? I don’t know. According to the government, it’s fine, but I don’t feel safe. Is this sensible caution or the beginnings of health anxiety/OCD?

I feel a bit down now, and vaguely headachey. I probably need something to eat, and to shower (it’s got hot again) relax a bit before bed.

Worries

I feel very drained today, physically and emotionally. I woke up late, but then realised that my parents’ friend, who fixes their computers, was here doing something on my Dad’s computer. I didn’t want to be seen in pyjamas, but I didn’t have the energy to get dressed without breakfast and coffee, so I went back to bed. After a while he went, so I rushed to eat breakfast, get dressed and daven.

I’m worried about a few upcoming things. I’m working from home for the next fortnight as J is on holiday. The downside is that I may have to do the super-difficult and super-stressful job I occasionally have to do, as I can do it as easily from home as from the office, and J isn’t around to handle it. Whereas I would usually do it if it was necessary during office hours on Monday or Thursday, I’ve agreed with J that he can pass it on to me any day while he’s away except Shabbat (when the office is shut) or Wednesday (volunteering and therapy day). I am quite nervous about this.

My more immediate worry is the changes to the shul schedule from this week. Instead of davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers) at 6.15pm followed by Talmud shiur (religious class), we are now davening Minchah some time before sunset followed by seudah shlishit (the Third Sabbath meal) including shiur and then Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers). The problem is that I won’t eat at the seudah at the moment because I’m still too scared of COVID, but I want to hear the shiur. This week I’m going to try to have my own seudah at home before Minchah, bring a book with to read while everyone else is having seudah, then sit with the seudah without eating during the shiur and stay on for Ma’ariv, but it will be awkward to sit (in a mask) and not eat. I’m also not sure I have the stamina to stay in shul for that long, although I guess it will be good practice for the coming Jewish festivals. I’m not going to push myself to go to shul for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) tomorrow, as one big, scary shul thing in a day is enough. To be honest, I feel so drained and down at the moment that it’s going to be an effort to go tonight, and the Friday night service is my favourite and definitely the least scary.

Speaking of the festivals, there’s the worry I get at this time of year with the Jewish autumn festival season around the corner, practical worries about coping with going to shul (synagogue) so much and so early, or oversleeping and missing services which makes me look to other shul-goers like I’m not very committed. There are also more spiritual worries about finding time and headspace for appropriate introspection and deciding where I can improve in the coming Jewish year, let alone how I manage that change. Then there’s the stress of the abbreviated work weeks in the festival time. I currently work at an Orthodox Jewish organisation, so I don’t have to worry about taking time off, but the other days in those weeks will be manic, trying to cram everything in.

I have other vague worries too, about my cousin coming over from Israel next week and how I fit in spending time with her, and whether E will be able to visit later in the year. It probably isn’t all too much if I break it down, but it seems like tidal wave of stuff is around the corner and just waiting to hit me (if a tidal wave can go around a corner). To be honest, lately I seem to get anxious about all kinds of things, even if there’s nothing specifically going on in my life. Yesterday, for example, I got hugely worried about the Arab-Israeli conflict with no obvious trigger and certainly nothing I can do to change that particular situation.

***

I tried to phone the secretary of the psychiatrist who assessed me for Asperger’s Syndrome to see if she has tried to refer me for autism-adapted CBT yet. There’s a whole procedure whereby the NHS has to assess whether I should get treatment or not. Realistically, I should get it now I have a diagnosis, but the psychiatrist and GP were arguing over who should actually write the letter to start the whole thing and I’m not sure if anything has happened yet, five months after my diagnosis. Unfortunately, the call went straight to voicemail both times I tried and I’m wondering if the secretary doesn’t work on Fridays.

***

My parents convinced me to withdraw from the job with the difficult commute. I think I was pushing myself to go through with it because I didn’t want to feel I was “chickening out” for the wrong reasons, because I didn’t think I could give the presentation they required. I am quite relieved to avoid the presentation though, not to mention the commute.

Noise

I’m writing after Shabbat (the Sabbath) again, to offload from a rather stressful (and ongoing) day. The ongoing bit is the people in the house behind us and to the left, who are having a party with loud music again. It’s currently 11.30pm and they haven’t turned it down. My Dad thinks they are students. I’m slightly sceptical, as we aren’t anywhere near a university or college let alone in a student area (it’s mostly families around here), but it would explain why they have loud parties regularly. I’m pretty angry with them, but have no real way of venting. I’ve got all the windows shut, which I don’t like to do even in the middle of winter, let alone August, but I can still hear the music through the double glazing.

***

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor on Friday. We spoke a bit about my current feeling of being overwhelmed and how to break my worries into smaller chunks, and also that, although I’m not doing much that’s particularly scary (except submitting my novel manuscript), a lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of months, and the cumulative effect is difficult, particularly with the autumn Yom Tov (festival) cycle starting in a month from tomorrow.

We also spoke a bit about how much Torah study I do. Although I haven’t been monitoring closely lately, I think I’m still averaging about fifty minutes a day, including some weekly Talmud study. My rabbi mentor said something to me about Talmud study that I don’t think I should repeat, but it did make me feel that maybe I am doing enough.

I woke up at 6.30am this morning and struggled with my conscience about getting up. It was far too early for shul (synagogue), but I wondered if I should try to stay awake so I could go. I fell asleep again, woke up when I thought I heard someone at the door, delivering my Twilight Zone box set, I guessed, although when I got downstairs, there was no one there. At some point I should have got up and stayed up, but I fell asleep again. It looks like social anxiety is taking over and stopping me getting to shul in the mornings again. I thought I’d made progress there, but the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance, and social anxiety exposure.

I don’t usually relate dreams unless I feel they are either very amusing or insightful. I think this is a bit of both: one of the occasions when I drifted back to sleep this morning, I dreamt I was back at school and rehearsing the lead in Hamlet. I’ve never really wanted to act, but I’ve long had an interest in Shakespeare’s great Dane, seeing parallels with myself (clever, moody, doesn’t have many real friends, messed up love life (OK that’s not relevant to me any more, but it was for a long time) and complicated relationships with his parents), although nowadays I don’t see him as a particularly positive figure. I’ve read Hamlet twice, once with notes, and I’ve seen two productions on TV/DVD, although never in the theatre. Anyway, I think dreaming of Hamlet was my unconscious’ way of chiding me for procrastinating about getting up for shul and falling asleep instead. I’m not sure why the dream seemed to focus on Hamlet’s death and my being stabbed, with a hidden pouch of fake blood to soak through my doublet, which would probably be excessively gory for a school production. Sherlock Holmes (another literary figure I identify with) was involved too, trying to solve the Elsinore murders. To be honest, Holmes would probably have made a better job of it than Hamlet did.

I did make it to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), although it was a struggle, given how wet and miserable it was outdoors and that I didn’t really want to be around people. I stayed for Talmud shiur too and followed some of it, although we covered more material than I had prepared, which is almost unprecedented.

My parents invited their friends who live down the road for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). They are friendly, but very loud and talkative. I mean, they talk a lot, and loudly. Even the son, who is also on the spectrum, was talkative and loud. They were already here when I got home from shul. They were looking at my birthday cards, which are still up downstairs; I was glad I had removed the card from E with a very personal message.

I ate seudah with them, but slipped away after dessert while everyone sat around talking. Conversation was about school experiences (the son on the spectrum had a very different experience to me), COVID and the Olympics, none of which interested me. I went upstairs and read a bit, although not for very long as Shabbat was nearly over, and there was a lot of noise from outside (see above).

My Dad wanted me to lead bentsching (grace after meals) which I did, and then to make havdalah (prayer at the end of Shabbat), which I also did, but found myself getting annoyed. I think I was just drained from so much peopling and so much noise. I know my Dad doesn’t read Hebrew well, so likes me to lead any prayers when his friends are around, but I guess I feel a bit taken for granted. I mean, I’m already struggling just to handle his friends being there when I don’t want to be around people, without feeling obliged to ‘perform.’

Now I feel somewhat down and headachey. I’d like to watch The Twilight Zone, but the noise from outside is not conducive to the right atmosphere, so I’ll probably watch The Simpsons, which doesn’t need atmosphere. I don’t feel tired as I slept so much (morning and napped again after lunch).

The Great Partnership

I have been trying not to go online after Shabbat (the Sabbath) goes out late in the summer (“goes out” is a metaphor for finishing, as Shabbat is anthropomorphised as a person, the Shabbat Queen or Shabbat Bride). However, I didn’t have a great Shabbat and feel the need to offload.

Shul (synagogue) last night was difficult. The previous rabbi, who took a position abroad some years ago, was visiting and the shul was packed with people who wanted to see him. I felt very uncomfortable, both for COVID reasons (even fewer people seemed to be wearing masks this week, as it’s no longer mandatory) and autism/social anxiety reasons. I just felt overwhelmed by the number of people, their proximity to me, and the noise from clapping and banging on tables when previous rabbi led a very noisy and enthusiastic Kabbalat Shabbat service. I felt uncomfortable and I left quickly once the service finished, hoping that previous rabbi didn’t recognise me with my mask on and no glasses, as I didn’t feel able to speak to him.

I spoke to my parents about some important stuff over dinner. The talk went well. I’ll elaborate on some of this below.

This morning I actually woke up early. I got up and said the Shema, perhaps the most important Jewish prayer, which is to be said early in the morning and again at night; I usually say the morning one far too late. But after I said it, I went back to bed. I’m not sure what my thought process was, but I’m pretty sure social anxiety and avoidance was part of it — I didn’t want to go to shul after what happened yesterday. I did think about getting up and just staying at home, but somehow drifted off to sleep again. This meant that I missed when a friend of mine who is visiting her parents in the area knocked on the door. I haven’t seen her since my sister’s wedding nearly four years ago (she is a close friend of my sister and a more casual friend of mine, but I rarely see her now she lives in Manchester).

I had lunch by myself, as my parents were at a friends’ house. I don’t mind that. I read a bit of the latest Doctor Who Magazine (which, despite its flaws, I’m probably going to keep subscribing to). I slept after lunch, which wasn’t particularly sensible, as I don’t feel tired now.

Shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) was still a bit distressing, but not as bad as last night. I mostly followed the Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I fell into a slight depression afterwards. I’m not sure why I feel down and slightly agitated. I probably need to do something relaxing, like watch TV before bed, as Shabbat was so stressful. The book I just started reading, We Need to Talk about Kevin, about a school shooter, is not exactly light reading either.

***

Of the things I spoke to my parents about last night, one is about changing my medication slightly. When I last saw my psychiatrist, she gave me a road map to reduce my olanzapine dose. This would hopefully help me be a bit more awake and lose some weight, without the rapid fall back into depression that happens when I try to come off it completely. However, the last few days I’ve felt somewhat stressed and overwhelmed, culminating in this not very good Shabbat, so I feel nervous of fiddling around with my meds, which often goes badly for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do now; maybe wait a week or so and see how I feel.

I also spoke to my parents about telling my community rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s in the run up to the autumn festival cycle (September this year), which is always extremely difficult. They agreed with me that it would be good to talk to him and suggested that I encourage him to read the article I had published online about being high functioning autistic in the Orthodox community, although I feel I need to make some kind of clear request of him rather than just dump all my negative thoughts on him and walk off. I’ve got some time to decide, as he’s going away on holiday this week.

***

A thought I’ve been wrestling with literally all Shabbat (it came to me in shul on Friday night):

Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl, in his book on science and religion, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, writes the following:

The story I am about to tell concerns the human mind’s ability to do two quite different things. One is to break things down into their constituent parts and see how they mesh and interact. The other is to join things together so that they tell a story, and to join people together so that they form relationships. The best example of the first is science; of the second, religion.

Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.

My first thought about this is, that while it’s probably true in general, halakhic study is a lot more like the first approach than the second. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in his classic work Halakhic Man, the scholar of Talmud and Halakhah (Jewish Law), which he dubs “Halakhic Man,” has as much in common with the secular scientist or philosopher (Cognitive Man) than with the mystical religious (Homo Religiosus). Halakhic study is very much about breaking things — laws, concepts, actions — into their parts and analysing them. It’s not really about telling stories or forming relationships, let alone spirituality or homiletics.

The Talmud does not just contain halakhah. A substantial minority of it is aggadah, non-legal material, much of it narrative. However, Orthodox society has come to focus on halakhah as the main topic of study for Jewish men. I believe in some yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries), students are advised to skip the aggadic passages.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, though, beyond noting that my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts are rarely halakhic and more about crafting, if not a narrative, then some kind of homiletic argument. Most divrei Torah are like that, but other people (communal rabbis, certainly) seem to be able to do that and still understand halakhic argument.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, and I’ve been on my computer for an hour (admittedly not writing the whole time) and it’s midnight, so I’ll leave things there for now. I guess it’s just about my feeling of not having a place in the Orthodox community. I wish I had asked Rabbi Sacks about this (somehow) while he was still alive.

Normalising Religious Struggle

Yesterday and today I listened to an episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast on Normalizing Religious Struggle. I thought it was a brave episode for opening up the whole idea of religious struggle, whereas usually in the Orthodox world people suppress any religious struggles they are having and don’t talk about them with others.

I did find it interesting that the podcast focused mainly on halakhic and sociological struggles, that is, practical struggles rooted in Jewish law or the Jewish community, rather than theological struggle. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of theological struggles over the years (a while back I listed about a dozen different potential philosophical or textual arguments against God and Judaism, and I’ve wrestled with most of them in my time) or maybe it’s because when I joined the blogosphere around 2005/2006, there was a lot of fierce discussion of theological challenges, particularly evolutionary science (the fallout from the Slifkin Affair[1] was still, well, falling out) and Biblical Criticism (Higher Criticism; Lower Criticism didn’t seem to bother people as much).

Either way, it did make me wonder if people were too scared to voice doubts about the existence of God or the divine origin of the Torah in public or if people simply care more about a practical issue (how women should dress or how to clean vegetables of insects) than anything more abstract. Certainly the “how should women dress?” issue is probably on some level a proxy for deeper, and perhaps partially philosophical, discontent about women’s role in the Orthodox world. This was actually voiced by one woman on the podcast, a lawyer, who felt more respected for her intelligence and professionalism in her non-Jewish workplace than in the Orthodox community.

Despite this, it was a very brave topic to broach, so I thought I would talk about some of my own struggles.

My big halakhic struggle was around 2016-17 (I think… to be honest, that period of my life is a mess of anxiety and despair when I look back it). At this time, my religious OCD was at its height and the whole issue of kashrut, the dietary laws, particularly regarding separating dairy and meat, and the special Pesach (Passover) dietary laws became almost unmanageable to me in the volume and intensity of anxiety they threw at me. It wasn’t until I did exposure therapy that I began to realise that most of the conflicts were imaginary, inasmuch as the halakhic (Jewish law) issues I saw simply weren’t there. Until then, I was consumed almost constantly with anxiety that we (my parents and I) had treifed up (made religiously inedible) our kitchen. I asked almost daily questions of rabbis and the London Bet Din Kashrut Division question service (which was probably not intended to be used that way). Almost everything was OK, but I was terrified of having done the wrong thing, particularly with regard to Pesach (where, to be fair, we had done some things wrong in the past).

I felt that God would punish me for doing wrong, but I was also terrified of having some major fall-out with my parents where I wouldn’t eat in their home. The fear of argument with my parents is telling, as it seems likely that the OCD was largely triggered by our moving house when I didn’t want to move, as well as the fact that I was conscious of still living with my parents in my thirties due to my history mental of illness. (I did in fact move out at one point to try to get things under control.) The OCD made my already existent depression worse and for a while I was deeply depressed and struggling to have any kind of joy in my religious life (or any other aspect of my life, for that matter) and I viewed kashrut and Pesach with a mixture of dread and anger. For a while I became very angry and resentful of God and the calmer religious lives other people seemed to lead. Fortunately, I’m a lot better these days, although I have to be vigilant against falling back into bad habits of checking and questioning; even this week I’ve felt myself slipping slightly and needing to be strong.

My main problem nowadays is sociological rather than halakhic. I still struggle desperately to fit in to an Orthodox world that seems geared up for neurotypical, confident, healthy married couples, not an autistic, socially anxious and sometimes depressed older unmarried person. I would of course suffer in any neurotypical social environment, but the Orthodox world has a lot of specific stressors, from an approach to prayer and religious study that is often louder and more vocal than in other religions to a culture of intricate ritual even in interpersonal interactions. This is compounded by consciousness of being a ba’al teshuva (someone not raised religious who became religious later in life) and my regret at not having gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), even though I doubt I would have been happy there.

Related to the last point is my consciousness of not being able to study Talmudic texts independently or even really to keep up in group discussion, even when I prepare in advance (which I do at least try to do). I do feel like there is something lacking almost in my masculinity, in Jewish terms, from my not being able to study Talmud, something which is only compounded by my failure (so far) to marry and procreate. The fact that I am (I think) reasonably good at understanding aggadic (non-legal) Jewish religious texts is a strange kind of consolation prize, as this skill is not rated highly in the Orthodox community, particularly among men. I used to be able to daven from the amud (lead services), but since moving communities, my social anxiety has kicked in there too and I try to avoid it, so that’s another area where I could have felt that I was fitting in, but don’t and instead seem passive and ‘useless’ (by the community’s standards).

The reality I have come to lately is that my problems are as much due to my faulty autistic brain wiring than the community itself. I struggled to feel accepted in online Doctor Who fandom too, a much more open and less rule-bound environment, so maybe it is too much to ask to feel accepted in the Orthodox Jewish world. As with my religious OCD, my fears are probably more imagined than real. I don’t know how other people at my shul (synagogue) view me, but lately I’ve become more open to the idea that they don’t hate me and think I’m an idiot, which I guess is progress.

A side-light on this comes from Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side, Jonathan Boyarin’s ethnographic study of yeshiva study (“learning”) in a New York yeshiva, which I’ve been reading the last few days. Part of the interest for me is the way Boyarin negotiates his situation being, on the one hand, an ethnographer doing a study project and, on the other, being a Jew wanting to study Torah for its own sake (albeit by his own admission a Jew less Orthodox and strictly observant than the other people he meets at the yeshiva). It’s a kind of hokey cokey of being an insider and an outsider successively or even at the same time. I find it interesting that I understand and relate to my own community better through the eyes of ethnographers like Boyarin or Sarah Bunin Benor (Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism) than I do in person. Maybe that’s the autism/Asperger’s again.

Ultimately, as the podcast stated, Judaism is ultimately a relationship, involving trade-offs and compromises. I’ve never got to the point with Judaism where I’ve walked out — not a trial separation and certainly not a divorce. I suppose that must count for something. Past theological issues notwithstanding, I think I have a deep level of faith in God and Torah that transcends any particular doubts or social awkwardness. The thought of not being Jewish in an Orthodox sense seems barely imaginable, even as I acknowledge that the vast majority of Jews, let alone non-Jews, are happy with living their lives that way. This is my identity in a very deep-seated and secure way, even if I can’t articulate it to others. In some ways, the inarticulacy is the proof of how embedded it is in my psyche; it’s deeper than words.

I feel uncomfortable with much of the discussion around intersectionality, but I feel that the last five months, since my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, have led me to a re-examination of the “intersection” of my Jewish and autistic identities and a sense that, even if my behaviour and socialisation doesn’t meet the required standards of the community, it is at least the best I could do. Perhaps a better, if darker, image than ‘intersectionality’ is drawn from Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle, which he said would end with the main character, K, being told on his deathbed, that his legal claim to live in the village was not recognised, yet he was permitted to live and work there, an image that combines acceptance and isolation at once.

[1] Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, as he then was, wrote three books on Torah/science controversies, including, but not limited to, creationism and apparent scientific errors in the Talmud. He only quoted accepted mainstream rabbinical sources. He largely accepted modern science and reinterpreted problematic statements in the Torah as metaphorical, and saw those in the Talmud as simply errors coming from the rabbis relying on the science of day rather than being based on a religious tradition that had to be accepted as revelation. This approach is based on major Jewish thinkers like Rambam (Moses Maimonides) and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and initially gained cautious acceptance even in parts of the Haredi world (ultra-Orthodox), but eventually the books were banned by a number of prominent Haredi rabbis, causing a huge ruckus about both science and Torah and about the limits of rabbinic power that still thunders on in parts of the internet. In the early days of the Jewish blogosphere, where someone stood on the Slifkin controversy became an indicator of how Haredi or ‘modern’ they were.

***

As for today, the morning was taken up with volunteering for the food bank. We were short-staffed again (I guess some of the younger people are still leading summer camps and maybe others are on holiday), so I was glad I went. It was cooler this week and I didn’t get a migraine. I did have to shleppe a lot of stuff, especially as we didn’t seem to have the trolleys we usually use. The afternoon was mostly taken with writing this post, which may not have been the most productive use of my time, but helped me unwind a bit. I also spent an hour or so writing a glossary for the (nearly 100) Hebrew and Yiddish words and phrases used in my novel. I’m not sure how consistent and thorough I was. It’s really intended as a quick reference and not a detailed philological guide! Also, the word ‘Yiddishkeit‘ is really hard to define. But this means that my novel is pretty much ready to go out into the world and try to find an agent and a publisher!

I watched another episode of The Blue Planet and was struck by the penguins: ungainly and even comical on land; graceful and elegant in the water. There is probably a lesson in there about fitting in to your environment, although I’m not sure how it applies to me and shul.

I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper

I struggled to sleep again last night, although the temperature has dropped a bit. I’m not sure why I’m having trouble sleeping at the moment (trouble falling asleep; I have no trouble staying asleep, unfortunately!); maybe it’s connected with the slight uptick of anxiety and irrational (I think irrational) guilt I’ve had lately. Drinking hot chocolate seemed to help, and it’s far fewer calories than eating porridge, which I had been doing when insomniac. I think I’m adjusting to the sweetness, which may not be a good thing.

Work was pretty dull and I felt I was clock-watching even more than usual. I don’t know how people do dull office jobs 9.00am-5.00pm and five days a week. Part of the day was spent looking for invoices that we didn’t have, and which probably don’t exist, which is irrationally more frustrating than if I’d spent an identical amount of time and energy searching for invoices we do have.

I was surprisingly busy when I got home, doing some late research for my novel (see below), cooking dinner (plain pasta, I didn’t have that much energy) and trying to do more Torah study (I do some on the Tube into work), but being too tired to do much, and then feeling vaguely guilty about prioritising novel research over Torah, although I honestly thought there would be a period after dinner where I would feel more alert and less distracted for having eaten before the tiredness set in.

I told E yesterday that I’m vaguely anxious lately, and vaguely anxious about why I’m getting anxious, which I suppose is meta-anxiety (anxiety about anxiety).

***

I’m currently reading Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side, an ethnographic study of a yeshiva (“rabbinical seminary” although many of the students are not intending to become rabbis, and certainly not communal rabbis) in New York by Jonathan Boyarin. It was supposed to plant ideas of incidents or anecdotes for my novel, but it’s not really the same type of institution my protagonist (I can’t really think of him as a ‘hero’ despite/because he’s based on me) attended. It is interesting to read, though.

It did make me wonder whether I misunderstood what yeshiva study involves somewhere along the line, although the institution in the book isn’t the type of yeshiva that I could have studied at, not least because it isn’t residential (the thought of communal living and shared dorms is hugely off-putting). Boyarin spends some time looking at the intersection between the yeshiva and popular culture. He says there are more references to popular culture than would have been the case at a more “right-wing” (=fundamentalist) yeshiva, but at the same time I think references are mainly to popular culture that people grew up with (either before becoming religious or when a child and allowed more freedom), rather than contemporary popular culture they might experience as an adult. In other words, it’s OK to have had access to popular culture, but not necessarily to have access to it now. I’ve noticed this in my shul (synagogue) too (the rabbi referenced Space 1999 this week!). I saw something similar on a blog years ago, where the blogger said that even in very fundamentalist communities where university was forbidden, it was OK, even celebrated, to have gone to university in the past, particularly if you got a prestigious qualification like medicine, just as long as you weren’t currently at or planning to go to university.

Watching Boyarin navigate the multiple levels of meaning and depth (religious, political, social, humorous) in the conversations at the yeshiva, I realise that maybe it’s not surprising that I struggle in similar situations. After all, Boyarin struggles at times, and he isn’t (I assume) on the autism spectrum. And when I say conversations, I don’t just mean the study conversations; even the casual bantering can work on multiple levels and require effort to keep up with it. (I have seen this at shul too.)

Reading the book, I’m brought back to what I think I’ve wanted since university, even if I haven’t always been able to articulate it: a chevra, a group of friends who I really connect with and can feel comfortable talking to and joking around with, like I used to have at school, where there were only about five people I could talk to (out of a school of 1,500), but I was completely unselfconscious with them. This is possibly not something I should be looking to replicate (even aside from Asperger’s/autism).

***

At least E knows what to say to me. Her verdict on Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen (new series, 2006): “that episode just sort of seemed like an inferior reworking of Genesis of the Daleks” (original series, 1975).😍

Vague Anxieties

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. It was the first Shabbat without compulsory masks in shul (synagogue). I wore mine anyway, despite the discomfort. About ten or twenty per cent of the people there wore them. There didn’t seem to be any particular demographic (age, religious observance etc.) that wore them more than others.

I missed shul on Shabbat morning. I woke up about 8.45am and could have gone to shul an hour or so late, which I have done before, but I couldn’t face walking in so late and ended up staying in bed until I fell asleep again, which is social anxiety avoidance, I think. I told myself not to feel guilty, that I had a hard week, with last Shabbat being Erev Tisha B’Av and so not being as restorative as usual, then Sunday being Tisha B’Av (the saddest day of the Jewish year), not sleeping Sunday night, difficult phone calls at work on Monday, Zoom shiur (which was very draining) on Tuesday, my family birthday get-together on Wednesday, a lot of car travel and more difficulty sleeping on Thursday night and the shock of discovering more dark secrets from my family history the same day. That’s all true, I did have a tough week, but I did feel somewhat guilty. I wanted to go, and now I worry I’m back in the socially anxious, “out of the shul habit” mindset.

I’m having weird guilt thoughts or feelings about something else too at odd times, so I guess I’m in the guilt mindset more generally.

I was worried I would not sleep last night, as I slept so much during the day. I tried drinking hot chocolate before bed, which seemed to help me sleep. I had never drunk it before. I wanted to find a less calorific alternative to porridge, as I don’t like warm milk by itself. The hot chocolate was OK, but it’s very sweet to the point of making me feel somewhat sick.

***

My parents were going out to friends’ house at lunchtime today and I wished them a good time. “Not really, as we’re going because we couldn’t make it to [friend’s mother’s] stone-setting [tombstone consecration].” Ugh. I have a lousy memory for things that don’t directly concern me, and sometimes for those things too.

***

I’ve had some vague anxiety today, a bit like the anxiety that I used to get every Sunday evening as a teenager, when I would be anxious about the new school week, although I didn’t recognise it as anxiety at the time. (I think I was a lot more anxious and unhappy about school than I realised until years later.) I don’t know what is fuelling it today. I guess there’s the realisation that I’m at the stage with my book where lots of people are going to criticise it, even in the best-case scenario, and also realising the challenges that E and I are going to have moving our long-distance relationship on. To be honest, we’re both pretty sure that we want to get married to each other, but also that if we tell anyone that at this stage, when we’ve been actually together in the same country for about four days in total, they will think we’re completely mad. Even when it’s socially acceptable to get engaged, there will be a lot of practical and financial difficulties in getting married and finding somewhere to live. I even worry a bit about what if I suddenly die and E is left alone (yes, I’m a cheery person… listening to the song Moonlight Shadow probably didn’t help with this — it’s a song about a woman whose boyfriend is shot dead by a criminal on the run. Good song, though).

Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av (Mood Diary, Not Another Religious Post)

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, except that I did not manage to fall asleep until 3am on Friday night, possibly because of the heatwave, so I overslept and missed shul in the morning again.

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), then went again after seudah for a pre-Tisha B’Av drasha. It was good, but I felt self-conscious not just in a blue shirt, but no jacket or tie. I think I could have got away with no tie, but I should have worn a jacket. My parents said I would be too hot and I agreed, but deep down I knew that everyone in my shul would be wearing a jacket even if they took it off on reaching shul. Also, the rabbi had said something about my wearing a blue shirt during the Talmud shiur — not critical, but it made me feel self-conscious.

I didn’t have a low chair for Tisha B’Av and was planning on just sitting on the floor (Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; in Judaism, sitting low down or on the floor is a sign of mourning). Someone lent me a low chair, but I didn’t want to use it. I’m not sure why. I was a little worried it was higher than permitted, but I think mainly I just felt too self-conscious by that stage: was he being friendly or did he think I was a total am ha’aretz? And my non-leather trainers (not wearing leather shoes is another mourning custom) weren’t particularly comfortable either, although that could have been from sitting on the floor. I also got confused too about when to wear a COVID mask, and realised that I gave my mother mistaken instructions regarding end of Shabbat ceremonies when Tisha B’Av starts immediately afterwards.

Along with this, I couldn’t really follow Eichah (The Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av). I don’t know why I’ve found it so hard to engage with it the last few years. I just can’t follow or connect. To be fair, I find the Hebrew quite hard to translate in my head, but even following along seems to be hard. I just can’t concentrate that much at 10pm, especially in a heatwave and while sitting on the floor (and feeling socially awkward). Then in my shul we do kinot (laments) to ourselves, really quickly rather than slowly and communally as in my old shul. I read some kinot in Hebrew without really connecting with the poetic Hebrew, so I switched to English (really the only time of the year where I say set prayers in English), but still ran out of time. I did the last kinah at home, in Hebrew, but looking at some of the English, which felt a bit better.

As usual after Shabbat when I’m in shul I helped to fold up the tablecloths, but I’m so bad at that that I feel I would be better off not helping, except that it feels wrong to just walk out without helping. I was reminded of something I said on Ashley’s blog last week about autistic people wanting to help, but actually just getting in the way.

I struggled to sleep again last night, because of the heatwave, because of creative thoughts I kept having that I kept getting up to write down, and perhaps because shul had left me feeling disquieted. Perhaps consequently I overslept today, and when I woke up, I was not able to get up for a long time. I felt utterly drained again, and perhaps somewhat depressed, and aware that I didn’t want to break my fast until halakhic midday, a little after 1pm. I missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers. I think I finally got up about 2.30pm, made havdalah (on tea) and had something to eat. I felt a bit better after that, but I did feel that I wasn’t quite in the right mindset for Tisha B’Av, but also that I was scared to get into that dark mindset. I read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust for a bit (a book I’ve been reading only on Tisha B’Av; in about five years, I have not finished it yet, although I might try to finish the few remaining pages before next year) and listened to a Zoom talk on antisemitism via my shul. I also went to a Zoom shiur (religious class), again through my shul, but the organiser hit “Mute all” and forgot to unmute the speaker’s computer, so it was inaudible. Someone posted in the chat to say there was no sound, but it took a while for someone present at the shiur to notice and unmute it.

I feel like I don’t find Tisha B’Av as meaningful as I used to, and I don’t know why. Not fasting (because of the danger of fasting while taking lithium tablets) is probably a big part of it. Fasting used to make me ill (headache, nausea, sometimes vomiting), but not fasting feels like not really participating. I tended to avoid shul during the day even pre-COVID, because I don’t want to have to turn down a mitzvah because I’m not fasting. Plus, I often experience burnout after the night of Tisha B’Av from the shul experience (as much social anxiety as religious devotion this year, as I said above) and then crash on the morning and struggle to get up, especially as I try to fast until halakhic midday. Or maybe not being depressed means that Tisha B’Av is not the day that I most connect with emotionally any more, the one where I can easily get into the right state of mind. To be honest, I feel like as a general rule I’m not as connected to the festivals and fasts as I’d like to be, and I don’t know how to change that. I spend so much of holy days either worried about social interactions or sleeping and trying not to oversleep that religion struggles to get in there.

I did write a Tisha B’Av thought, on the suggestion of my rabbi mentor that it would make the day more meaningful for me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, though. In the end I posted it here, although it’s not really a good match for my blog, but I don’t want to send it to my devar Torah mailing list as it doesn’t seem right for there either — maybe not quite frum (religious) enough and a bit too daring.

Dig A Pony

I’ve been feeling really drained all over the weekend, really drained and burnt out rather than just fatigued. On Friday I was drained even before I went to shul (synagogue). I was a bit late, for various reasons, and someone was sitting in my usual seat, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Then there was a lot of noise, clapping, thumping tables and so on during Kabbalat Shabbat. I’m not sure if there was more than usual or if I’m just worse at coping with it mid-autistic burnout. I thought a bit about leaving in the middle of the service, which I haven’t done for a long time, but I stuck with it until the end. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.

I didn’t do much in the way of hitbodedut/spontaneous prayer at home in the evening, and I didn’t do any extra Torah study, I just read for a bit and went to bed about as early as is possible on a summer Friday, about midnight. Even so, I slept for thirteen hours, completely sleeping through the morning and missing shul. I slept for another hour and a half after lunch too, despite drinking coffee to try to stay awake as I was worried about not sleeping in the evening.

I did get to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I struggled with external things again. This time the table where I usually sit was simply not there; I’m not sure where it was moved to. Then I was given Peticha (opening the Ark and taking out/putting back the Torah scrolls), but there were no tallitot (prayer shawls) and there was some confusion over who should do what as we come out of COVID regulations (should I take out the Sefer Torah and put it back or should the chazan etc.). I know this doesn’t sound like much, but with autism this kind of confusion and uncertainty can be a great deal, particularly if I’m already burnt out. I did cope with it, but I was drained again by the evening and read in my room after seudah (the third Shabbat meal) instead of playing a game with my parents.

Perhaps inevitably, I had insomnia after all that sleeping during the day, although I felt too tired to do anything useful. I ended up watching The Twilight Zone, which may not have been the best thing to watch, although it was a good episode – ten episodes in, I feel I’ve reached the type of eerie stories with a twist that I was expecting. I do admire the economy of storytelling needed to create characters and tell a whole story in just over twenty minutes, usually including establishing a fantastical premise, even if it sometimes seems like it could have done with another five or ten minutes to breathe.

Today I woke up drained again, too drained to do very much, certainly too drained to go for my usual Sunday run. I went for a walk instead, primarily to buy coffee, so I got some exercise. I relied on the heter (permission) to listen to music in the Three Weeks of mourning if you’re depressed. My rabbi mentor said it applies to autistic burnout too, but I’m not sure how to distinguish burnout from ordinary fatigue any more. There seem to be different views among people on the spectrum and researchers on whether burnout is just a long-term phenomenon (months or years), or if it can apply over a day or a number of days. My instinct is that it can be over a number of days, and that I’ve burnt myself out doing too much last week, so I let myself listen to the music to try and get myself to a normal state of mind, but it didn’t really help.

If anything, my mood slipped over the afternoon and now I feel drained and also somewhat depressed and lonely. Loneliness is more apparent than real as my parents are here (albeit absorbed in the football) and E has been texting during the day. I do miss E, though, and it’s frustrating not knowing when we will be able to see each other in person. Perhaps it’s harder to bear the uncertainty on a day like today when I don’t feel well.

I did a bit of Torah study in the early afternoon, but I didn’t feel up to doing any work on my novel. I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or just read a novel (I stopped awkwardly in the middle of a chapter of The Master and Margarita at lunchtime), but I was too drained to concentrate. I did go on a virtual tour of Jewish Rome (as in ancient Rome) which was booked for the afternoon, and I did enjoy it although my attention wandered by the end. E was supposed to come on the tour with me, but she had to duck out as she’s going to look after a friend who had surgery. She tried going at an earlier timeslot, but it didn’t work out; hopefully she’ll be able to watch a recording. After that I was exhausted and watched TV, The Twilight Zone and The Blue Planet, where, bizarrely, David Attenborough kept talking about “The twilight zone,” by which he meant the deep part of the ocean where there is almost no sunlight light.

It feels like I didn’t do as much as I wanted, but also that I probably did more than was wise, which just makes me feel that coping with autism is like navigating a maze in the dark while blindfolded. Just trying to feel myself along and often falling over. I’m just glad I have my parents and E to help me.

***

While I was listening to music this afternoon, The Beatles’ song Dig A Pony came on. It’s one of John Lennon’s “nonsense poetry” songs where the words don’t really mean anything and are just there for the sounds and rhythms. This lack of coherence seemed appropriate to how I feel today, or rather, how I am (or am not) thinking, hence it became this post’s title.

***

I’ve been thinking about my life again and trusting in God. For a long time trust in God seemed impossible. My life seemed dominated by bad decisions that I had made that had ruined everything. Now I feel that even if I had changed small things in my life (choice of school, not going to yeshiva), I probably would not have changed the outcome that much. It was determined too much by the big things. And if I had changed any of those big things, I would have been a totally different person. Maybe a better or happier person, but not me. And these days I have a degree of peace of mind in the thought of being me, certainly enough not to want to be someone else, at least not as much as I might have wanted to be in the past. So now I have some peace when I look back on my life and feel that it probably was for the best, and that it’s harder to totally derail my life than I thought it was.

Busy Weekend

The last few days have been busy. I went to shul (synagogue). I felt thrown, and I don’t know why. Our rabbi was away, which I knew, although had forgotten, but another rabbi was there, a rather prestigious one who I thought had moved out of the area. I don’t know if it was an autistic thing, being thrown by a small change in plan, or my usual self-esteem issues, feeling that he could sense that I wasn’t frum (religious) “enough” somehow (from my non-white shirt?), even though he had his back to me for most of the service, but I felt awkward the whole time I was there. When I got home, I found myself sniping at my parents over dinner even though there was no good reason for that. Plus, I found myself overly-focused on an ongoing argument in the Anglo-Jewish community and wanting to write an angry letter to the Jewish Chronicle (which so far I have not done).

I woke up about 7.30am on Saturday morning. I should really have got up so I could go to shul, even though it was a little early, but I stayed in bed and wanted to fall asleep again and miss shul, which is what happened. I’m not sure why I felt like that, if it was a reaction to the previous evening. I did go to shul later, for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class), which I followed a bit better than usual.

Today I overslept a bit and had to rush to get ready for dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with them, my parents, my brother-in-law’s parents and his sister. It was inside, and technically an illegal number of people, which I felt bad about, but I also felt that I really had to go, particularly as they had got vegetarian food for me. I enjoyed it, but by 4.00pm, I was completely peopled out and spent the last hour or so catching up with blogs on my phone (I hadn’t really been online since Friday afternoon), even though I would normally consider it rude to sit at the table engrossed in my phone when everyone else is talking.

Other than that, I’ve just been depressed by reading about the Batley and Spen by-election, which seems to have had a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, alongside anti-Indian and anti-LGBT sentiment. Any election with George Galloway’s name on the ballot is going to involve a lot of excrement-throwing, but this seems particularly bad. Lots of traditional Labour voters were abstaining and I can’t say I blame them. Politics is too depressing for words at the moment.

I did manage to read most (although not quite all) of this week’s super-long double Torah portion today and still went for a run (I had a slight headache afterwards), so I guess it’s been a reasonably good and certainly very busy weekend. It’s not surprising I’m a little exhausted and in need of Doctor Who!

Busy and Fast Day

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty good. I went to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat morning as well as Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, which was good. People were shaking hands. This seems to be permitted now, although I didn’t think it was and shied away from it. I mostly didn’t get too upset about someone I was at school with having his daughter’s bat mitzvah on Shabbat. It’s hard to get my head around someone my age having a twelve year old daughter. In the past this would have made me very envious and depressed, but I was mostly (if not quite completely) OK about it this time. I skipped the kiddush (refreshments) after the service. The shul had been doing this in a socially-distanced way, but, perhaps because of the hand shaking, I got it in my head that they didn’t need to do that any more and I didn’t feel comfortable going back to a less distanced form of kiddush. In retrospect I may have got that wrong, perhaps influenced by general social anxiety and repressed negative feelings about my peer’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.

I followed quite a bit of the Talmud shiur (religious class) in the afternoon, which was good. I was pretty exhausted by the evening, though, and read instead of playing a game with my parents after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).

I still feel “crashed” today. After having “only” slept nine hours over Shabbat (less than usual, seven at night and a two hour doze in the afternoon), I slept for twelve hours last night and got up in the afternoon. Even that was a struggle, as I felt so drained I think I could have happily slept for a few more hours.

Today is a Jewish fast day. I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts for health reasons, as fasting is dangerous while taking lithium, which makes fast days feel a bit weird to me. I guess they’re weird anyway. With this fast (17 Tammuz), there’s the knowledge that we’re three weeks away from a much more serious fast (albeit not a lot longer). In between is a period of mourning, with no weddings, celebrations, music, haircuts or shaving. I find it an awkward time. I use music a lot to motivate myself, and while there are exemptions for workouts, depression and autistic burnout, I find it hard to work out when I “qualify” for these things, and sometimes clearly do not qualify, particularly now I’m mostly not depressed. And not shaving for three weeks itches like crazy.

I worked on my novel for an hour or so. It was OK. I didn’t procrastinate as much as usual, but I definitely lost momentum after my sister interrupted by phoning me, after I’d been working for twenty minutes. It doesn’t help that I’m in the most difficult part of the novel for me, drawing on painful experiences from years ago.

I somehow managed to fit in about half an hour of work on my devar Torah for this week, my usual Torah study pattern being somewhat disrupted by the fast and adding in some extra shiurim (two today for the fast; one an ongoing thing for the next few Tuesdays that I haven’t adapted to yet). By the afternoon I was feeling subdued and vaguely blood-sugar deprived and not sure why, given that I had been eating. I think some of this might be psychosomatic; I seem to feel weak and even ill on fast days even though I don’t fast. But I think some might be from cutting down a bit on snacking during the day, even though I only snack on fruit and nuts. Caffeine deprivation might be another issue, even though I go without caffeine fine on Shabbat.

As it was a fast day, my shul was running some Zoom shiurim (religious classes). One was a mixture of religious and historical ideas about Jerusalem, the other was purely religious. I went to both in the end, which was quite a lot, with all the other things I did today.

The other thing in a very busy day (or afternoon) was Skyping E. I think we’re both frustrated at the way we can’t move our relationship on because of COVID and being long-distance, especially knowing that even after COVID we’re going to face problems with finances and immigration and who knows what in trying to be together. And we’re both aware that we want to have children, but that that’s something that will depend on a lot of practical issues currently outside of our control. However, by this stage in my life I feel ready to tentatively accept that God has some kind of plan for us, having got this far in our very complicated relationship history, not to mention my life as a whole. I know that’s kind of a puny declaration of faith for someone who is supposedly frum (religious), but it’s taken me nearly thirty-eight years to get to a point where I can accept that maybe things in my life happen for a reason and might turn out OK in the end.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

…which is what I have been trying to do, not terribly successfully, for the last three days.

I slept through most of the weekend. I slept through Saturday morning and missed shul (synagogue). I think I woke up for a few seconds around when I was supposed to get up, but not for long enough to actually get up. Then I woke around and 10.30am and went to the loo, but was too tired to stay up, especially as there was no chance of getting to shul before it would be over. Then I fell asleep again in the afternoon, for more than two hours. I did make it to shul on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and to Talmud shiur (religious class), which was an effort. I didn’t manage much in the way of other Torah study. Unlike the last few weeks, I didn’t play a game with my parents after seudah (the third Sabbath meal) as I wanted to read, although really I think I would happily have fallen asleep again; it was an effort to stay awake. I went to bed late (as inevitably happens in the summer when Shabbat finishes after 10pm) and took about an hour to fall asleep. To be honest, I slept so much that I thought I would be awake much later.

The weather is pretty grim, which doesn’t help. From an uncomfortable heatwave the week or two, we have suddenly plunged into autumn: cold and wet with no sunlight.

***

I tried to work on my novel today, but my brain wasn’t really working. I looked over some of what I wrote last week and tried to read through the first chapter and rewrite where necessary, but I didn’t get terribly far. My brain just was not functioning and I procrastinated too much. I also think I’m reaching the point of diminishing returns with redrafting. I’m struggling to imagine it being ‘different’ to how it is now. Maybe that’s the brain fog, or maybe not. It’s hard to get excited about a fourth draft.

I managed a little Torah study, reading over this coming week’s sedra (Torah portion), but struggled to think of anything to write my devar Torah about. I did some ironing too, not terribly well, but I got it done as I think my parents wanted it done.

E and I had a Skype call. Our calls are going well, but it’s really frustrating that we can’t just “hang out” together when I’m having bad days like these. Not that I’ve ever been good at just “hanging out,” by myself, let alone with anyone else (hence all this activity today even though I felt bad).

I have a busy few days ahead of me: work tomorrow and Wednesday (rather than Thursday) because J moved his work day and I had to follow. That has led to therapy moving to Tuesday, the same day E and I start a Zoom class at the London School of Jewish Studies. Then my sister and brother-in-law are coming here for dinner with me and my parents on Wednesday. I hope I’m a bit less burnt out and can get through everything OK.

***

My father’s day card arrived on time, fortunately. Not much else to say about that, though. My sister and I didn’t have any ideas for presents. Dad asked for some aftershave, so I’ll have to see if I can go to Boots sometime this week. I’ve only been inside the shop a couple of times in the last year and a bit.

***

I’m letting the paid for domain name on my Doctor Who blog lapse when it comes up for renewal in a month. It was one of my attempts to manoeuvre myself into paid writing work and it didn’t work out, sadly. The Doctor Who writing world seems a bit of a closed shop. But it does make me think how badly I’ve done at getting paid writing work, and how risky it is to try to build a career as a writer. I’m lucky that I have my part-time admin job, and that my parents are supporting me, and that E isn’t pushing me to work more. It’s hard to see how I could do much more work at all, counting what writing I already do as work. I’m just tired so much of the time.

“Don’t get me wrong/If I come and go like fashion/I might be great tomorrow/But hopeless yesterday”

…or OK yesterday, but hopeless and burnt out today (quote from Don’t Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders). I probably did too much yesterday. I didn’t want to write a long, not to mention political, post, but I just had stuff in my head to let out. I stayed up too late writing it when I should really have been taking time out (or doing the ironing). The result is that today I feel drained and somewhat unwell. I didn’t pressure myself to work on my novel today, but I feel upset that I’ve lost valuable writing time. I also will at least try not to pressure myself to do a lot of Torah study. I’ve booked for shul (synagogue) tonight, tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon, but I think it’s likely that I’ll miss the morning service at least. I am still hoping to make it tonight.

I guess days like today are why it’s never been easy for me (and possibly mental health workers) to tell burnout from depression. I just feel drained physically with low mood. Whenever I think about the wider world, it just seems relentlessly negative.

I didn’t do very much other than my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores, as well as twenty-five minutes of Torah study (all I could manage, and perhaps more than I should have done). I really just wanted to go to bed and wrap myself in my weighted blanket. I avoided doing this for most of the day, but eventually decided it would help, so I went back to bed for twenty minutes in the afternoon with no screens, music, etc., which helped a bit. I would have liked to do so much more (walk, ironing, work on my novel, more Torah study…), but I’m just trying to do what I can and try to get to shul later.

I watched an episode of Doctor Who to cheer myself up as well. I thought that now we’ve watched the first season of the new series, E might like to see a couple of older stories “together.” Plus, I admit, I couldn’t really face watching twelve seasons of the new series uninterrupted! We’ve started with City of Death from 1979, which is a very popular story with fans and one of my favourites, but I feel incredibly self-conscious, wondering what E makes of it and how it looks through modern eyes and compared with the modern version. She enjoyed the first two episodes at least, even though she enjoyed the 2005 season more, which is fair enough.

I Blog Therefore I am

I haven’t blogged for a few days. There’s nothing wrong. Quite the reverse, really. Nothing really happened. When I was very depressed and had a lot of emotional stuff to offload, it was easy to blog every day — hard not to blog, in fact, as I wanted to process and off-load a lot of thoughts and feelings. But at the moment not a lot is happening, and I didn’t feel like writing very trivial stuff. I’m wondering if I should blog less, or maybe blog differently. I toyed again with the idea of writing more analytical posts about Judaism or antisemitism, but I think I’d rather use extra writing time on my novel (sorry). But we’ll see; previous attempts to blog less haven’t really worked. And whenever I say my life is dull and good, something goes wrong, so we’ll see what happens.

As for what happened, Thursday was dull. There were some negative things, but nothing really bad or worth going into. The highlight was Skyping E from the garden (I wasn’t sure the wifi would work out there). On Friday I did some chores, worked on my novel and went to shul (synagogue). I missed shul on Saturday morning, probably because I was up late reading Tanakh (Daniel, which is really hard to understand!), having earlier spent quite a while studying Talmud to prepare for the class on Shabbat (the Sabbath) — there seems to be a trade-off between studying Torah on Fridays and getting up in time for shul.

On Shabbat, I did the usual Shabbat things: spent time with my parents, went for a walk, slept too much, went to Talmud shiur (class) and found I’d prepared much more material than we got through, as we spent ages on a long Tosafot (Medieval commentary on the Talmud written over about 200 years by a group of rabbis in what’s now Northern France and Germany, plus one or two in England) — I don’t prepare Tosafot as I don’t have a translation and my Hebrew isn’t good enough. Plus, I mostly don’t understand Tosafot anyway. I played Scrabble in the evening and came second despite getting (I thought) some good words, “nodules” probably being the best of them. Unfortunately, a good word is not necessarily a high-scoring word, which depends on which letters you use. By largely staying off-line after Shabbat, I went to bed early for a summer Saturday evening i.e. 1am (bear in mind that Shabbat didn’t finish until after 10.30pm!), but couldn’t sleep, whether because I slept too much during the day or because I took my meds late.

As for today, I got up quite late after falling asleep so late (after 3am) . I spent a bit over an hour working on my novel, writing five or six hundred words, which is probably the most I’ve written in one session for some time, although I’m a bit uncertain of where this current passage is headed and whether it justifies it’s existence as a late addition to the end of the novel. Is it deepening the resolution or just padding out the end? It is hard to tell at this stage. It’s said that writers divide into two groups, planners (who plan out their stories in detail) and pants-ers who don’t and instead write by the seat of their pants (I assume that’s the etymology). I haven’t fitted easily into either category on this novel, planning the general flow, but improvising a lot of the details, but this bit is very much pants-ing, if that’s a word, which it isn’t.

Other than that, I Skyped E and did some Torah study and thought a bit about my devar Torah for the week. I didn’t do any exercise (run or walk) as it was too hot and I didn’t want to get an exercise migraine, as I was going to a Zoom talk/shiur in the evening. This was Rabbi Dr Sam Lebens talking about his new book on Jewish philosophy from an analytical philosophical perspective of examining the fundamental principles and axioms of Judaism i.e. given Judaism exists, what things are necessary to make these practices meaningful (not proving that God exists or that Judaism is true). It was very interesting. I’m in two minds about buying the book though. It sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure if I will understand it (I have a mixed record with philosophy), and it costs £75. We (people on the Zoom call) were given a 33% discount code, but that’s still £50, which is a lot of money to spend on a book I might not understand.

A couple of things I picked up from the talk that tempt me to buy the book: (1) this is very much a book about believing in a personal God and not an abstract “God of the philosophers”/Deism — I think sometimes my understanding of God becomes too abstract; (2) he mentioned in passing an idea from Chief Rabbi Jakobovits z”tl that God tells a different story through each individual’s life and through each community/group of people and that multiple communities can be “chosen” — something I’ve thought, and seen suggested in Rabbi Sacks z”tl and Rav Kook z”tl, but would like to see spelt out in more detail (Rabbi Sacks got in very hot water over a milder version of this in The Dignity of Difference); (3) the idea that the universe exists in mind of God, which I had heard, but not really advanced in a very serious philosophical way — I guess it appeals to me as a solipsism/Philip K. Dick fan, and also because it suggests that negative parts of my life might not be ‘real,’ which is probably a strange thing to think, but strangely reassuring, and I guess it ties in with Rabbi Lebens’ view (which he admitted was “wacky”) that not only can God redeem the future, He can redeem the past by changing history and will do so at some point.

Noise Pollution

Well, I made it to shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), for Friday evening, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon. I was there for the start of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) on Saturday morning and even helped set up (we were praying outside as the weather was good so that we didn’t have to wear masks). In the afternoon I followed parts of the shiur (Talmud class), although we covered more ground than I expected and went on to material I hadn’t prepared for, not that preparation always helps me follow any better. Also, even though I haven’t made many close friends at shul, I feel that quite a lot of people there know my name and will say “Good Shabbos” (typical Shabbat greeting) to me and seem pleased to see me, so I think on some level I’m accepted there.

I also went for a walk, did some extra Torah study, played (and lost) two games of Rummikub with my parents and did a little bit of recreational reading (still the James Bond novel Moonraker). I’ve kind of accepted that the way I live my Shabbatot, there isn’t much time for recreational reading. I don’t seem to have much time for recreational reading in general at the moment, because I’m prioritising Torah study, because I don’t travel home from work on the Tube (which used to be a reading time) and because I find I’m often exhausted in the evening and watch TV instead of reading. I grab brief moments to read a few pages over lunch or before bed.

I got to bed at 1.00am, which is late, but not so surprising when Shabbat didn’t finish until about 10.30pm. I avoided turning on my computer after Shabbat, which is what can keep me up until stupid o’clock in the morning, that and watching TV (I watched an episode of The Simpsons, but nothing longer).

I woke up late today (11.00am), but didn’t feel fatigued or burnt out, so I’m counting this as a success.

***

Today was good. I did some Torah study, went for a run (not brilliant stamina, but it was hot), did a little over half an hour of work on my novel despite an exercise headache and the distraction of loud music from outside (see below). Then I had a virtual lecture/tour about the Medieval Bible/Talmud commentator Rashi. It was interesting, but I had to shut all the windows to shut out the noise so that I could hear, which made me feel ill from the heat (or more ill, as I already had an exercise headache). Afterwards I wrote some emails. I worry that frustration from the noise made me somewhat abrupt in the emails. That and the fact that I felt I was running out of time this evening and just needed to stop procrastinating and write the emails. In particular, there was one to a friend who seems to be drifting towards divorce judging from her recent emails and I don’t really know what to say to her, or how serious her concerns are — is she just telling me to let off steam or is it a “near the end of her tether” situation? I’m not good at reading these things.

I did a lot, but felt like I was running out of time, and felt ill from the exercise headache and noise. I’m pretty exhausted now, and frustrated and ill from various factors (including the continuing noise) and in a weird way, I feel I did both too much and too little today, being hampered by the noise and the virtual tour being at a slightly awkward time, as well as my propensity for getting exercise headaches. I had a Skype call with E too, but felt that I wasn’t fully engaged, partly from the late hour and the noise outside.

***

I realised that a disproportionate amount of my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) deal with the question of individuality and the relationship between the individual and society. It seems a fundamental question to me in a religion which believes in the sanctity of the individual as the image of God, but also in the collective as the source of religious authority and locus of religious life. I had an idea over Shabbat of a triangular map of Jewish (or general?) religious life with God at the top and the individual and the community in the bottom corners. Sometimes the community tries to absorb the individual, or the individual tries to leave the community, or to leave God, resulting in the triangle getting bent out of shape. But I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

***

We had a neighbour who was playing really loud music today, either in the garden or with the windows open. They had some kind of party going on, with a lot of crowd noise too by the late afternoon. I could hear it with the windows shut (through double glazing), and I don’t want to shut the windows in this weather. During the afternoon I had to have the windows shut, fan going and still could hear the bass loud enough to stop me thinking clearly. It’s not an immediate neighbour, but someone down the street and in the street behind us, so it’s hard to work out who it is to complain, not that I would have the confidence to complain (just as we never complained about our Haredi neighbours’ illegal minyan in the lockdown). I tend to be sensitive to noise at the best of times. In our old house, we had a neighbour who would hold a charity concert in his garden once a year and would always warn us in advance, so I’m a bit annoyed. Things seem to have stopped now, but I worry it will happen again. I think we’ve had excessive noise in the past. We say we’ll complain, but we never do. I guess that’s very English.

Drained Again (Fragment)

I don’t have much to say today, which is good, because I don’t have much time to say it. I slept very late (after 1pm) and have been drained all day, whether that’s burn out or fatigue. I did my Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, but not a lot else. I didn’t have the time or brainpower for working on my novel. I went to the post office and did some shopping, but Dad gave me a lift as it was raining too much to walk and I wouldn’t have had the time for a long walk anyway.

I struggled through a very difficult chapter of the biblical book of Daniel for half an hour; “chapter” is not a precise measurement, but it took two or three times longer than it usually would for a passage that long. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of my exhaustion, the difficulty of the passage (in terms of both language and concepts) or both. Daniel is definitely one of the harder biblical books to understand, even at a basic level, not least because half the book is written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, although not the chapter I was studying.

I have booked to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, tomorrow morning and afternoon for prayers and Talmud class. I’m still reasonably confident about getting to the afternoon services, but I’m not sure that I’m going to manage to go tomorrow morning.

I feel that I’m doing as much as I can today (and, I hope, tomorrow), but it feels like that isn’t really very much.

Also, a glance at the Jewish Chronicle website has left me feeling anxious and unsafe, so I’m not in the best mindset for shul, but I have to go in a few minutes.

Weekend Thoughts

I’m catching up on the last few days here, as I decided not to post after Shabbat (the Sabbath) last night.

Over Friday night dinner, I told my parents that I’m back together with E. Fortunately, they were supportive, although I think Mum is a little more cautious than Dad, who is very enthusiastic. But they both said they look forward to meeting E when she comes to the UK to see me, which will hopefully be soon, but is COVID-dependent, obviously.

I went to bed at 12.30, which was reasonably early considering how late we eat dinner on Friday nights in the summer, when Shabbat and shul (synagogue) both start late, but I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if I was still tense from my conversation with my parents (which was rather nerve-wracking, as I was scared they would not approve) or if my room was just too hot. I thought a bit about a plan for a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this coming week and eventually I got up and read. I think I finally fell asleep some time between 2.00 and 3.00am. Unsurprisingly, I overslept and missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even though I had been hoping to go to shul again after last week.

I went for a walk after lunch, but still ended up napping in the afternoon. I woke up in time for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and my weekly Talmud shiur, which was focused on a difficult grammar-based passage of biblical analysis. It was a good Shabbat overall, insomnia and missing Shacharit notwithstanding.

This morning I had an interview with a PhD researcher doing research into how people on the autism spectrum cope with job interviews and how they can be made better for them. As this is an area where I’ve really struggled, I was happy to take part for free, but at the end I was told I would be paid by the university (£15), which is even better. One thing I found myself mentioning at the end of the interview which I hadn’t really thought of before was how social anxiety (which is often found with high functioning autism/Asperger’s) can feed into sensory or executive function/processing issues and make them worse than normal in an interview. For example, I do sometimes miss things people say because I don’t process it properly and have to ask them to repeat, but it seems to happen much more often in job interviews precisely because I’m so nervous.

I wasn’t up particularly early this morning, but I fell asleep for ninety minutes in the afternoon. I felt a lot better afterwards, but I worry I won’t sleep this evening. I also missed the chance to phone the Judaica shop again to see if they can repair my tallit (prayer shawl) although I’m not sure if they’re open because of COVID. Their opening hours have always seemed a bit arbitrary and prone to being shut at odd times even before COVID.

I went for a run, which was my main achievement of the day. It’s weird that, even though I run the same route, the distance recorded by my iPod varies a bit and I don’t always hit my 5km target. I’m not sure if some days I deviate more from the shortest route to avoid people on the pavement or if the distance calculation on my iPod isn’t accurate. I came back with a headache, unfortunately.

I still haven’t picked up work on my novel again. JewishYoungProfessional very kindly read the third draft, liked it and gave me some very useful constructive criticism, which is encouraging, and makes up for PIMOJ feeling so uncomfortable with it (something I’ve mostly erased from my memory, to the extent of thinking that JYP was the first person to read the whole manuscript). Because I fell asleep in the afternoon and because I had an exercise headache, I didn’t manage to make any progress on rewrites today.

Having a headache, I sat and vegetated in front of Doctor Who along with E (on different continents, but watching the same episodes). We are still watching the 2005 season, the first of the twenty-first century series, and we were watching the two part Aliens of London/World War III. It’s probably the most vulgar Doctor Who story ever, and, as E said, a story aimed very much at pre-pubescent boys (Doctor Who is usually pitched more at a family audience), but it’s a story I’ve learnt to accept on its own terms. It’s not the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers chiller or Yes Minister satire that I hoped it would be on transmission, but it is quite fun with a few genuinely scary moments, even if writer Russell T Davies is more interested in the characters than the mechanics of the plot (which is my probably biggest criticism of his writing across the five years he was showrunner/lead writer for the programme — he takes narrative short-cuts and hopes that we’re primarily invested in the characters and won’t care).