Halfway There Day

Yesterday was my half-birthday, for those of you who take note of such things. I don’t really see any significance, but my oldest friend was born on 19 January and another friend on 20 January, so the date leaps out at me. I am now closer to my fortieth birthday than my thirty-ninth, which vaguely troubles me, although it shouldn’t.

I also worked out that if E and I get one of the two wedding dates we’re currently aiming at, both in the second half of May, we’re more or less halfway now between the civil wedding last August and the chuppah (religious wedding). We should have more of an idea this week if that’s a realistic date.

***

This week was the baby blessing week for Nephew. I couldn’t go in the end because of difficulty finding somewhere suitable to stay. I was OK home alone. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night because I felt too tired, which was a shame and vaguely troubling in terms of how frequently it seems to be happening. The house was cold and I have chapped hands again, but otherwise things were fine.

I did some Torah study: Talmud and The Guide to the Perplexed, which is currently full of stuff about the Aristotlean view of the universe as a series of living spheres, one inside the other, definitely not made of atoms and definitely not containing any vacuum. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but this bit is not really relevant to modern day theology. Hopefully it will get back to more relevant stuff (from a contemporary perspective) soon.

I finished reading Dune yesterday. I intend to go on to the second book, Dune Messiah. It was a good book, but hard to get into, and weirdly structured.

I slept too long as usual, about twelve or thirteen hours at night. I still went back to bed after lunch today, more because I was cold than tired. I think I drifted into that state of mind between sleeping and wakefulness and was late for seudah (the third Shabbat meal).

It was a struggle to do things after Shabbat. It always is, as I feel lethargic, even at 5.30pm. I did manage to tidy up and do a bit of Torah study. I did a little novel planning too. I would have done more, but I had a headache for a while.

***

I tried to friend someone on the autism forum a while back. We have some things in common (librarians, Doctor Who fans). He didn’t respond to the friending and accompanying message, but has chatted with me on threads since then. He’s got other friends. Friending doesn’t really do anything other than allow direct messaging, but I do feel weirdly unliked from only having two friends, both people who are not there any more and who didn’t stay on the forum long. But I’m nervous about friending people (in general and after this). I wonder if the friend request didn’t go through properly to this person and if I should send it again, or if that would make things worse if he was deliberately not responding to me.

I also wonder if it’s worth friending other people. I would be open to making friends on the site, which would realistically only happen if I friended people, but I don’t see it as essential. Still, I wonder what to do. I feel really self-conscious about being the only (open) Jew on the site, but can’t stop mentioning it. I don’t think anyone is antisemitic, but a lot of people have funny ideas about Jews, particularly if they haven’t met any (which is feasible as Jews make up about a half of per cent of the UK population, largely concentrated in just a couple of cities).

The Visa

The good news: E’s visa has arrived! So now we can plan the wedding in earnest. It will be a while before she can even come of the UK, as she needs to work out what she’s shipping here, what will stay with her parents and what will be sold/given away/thrown away. It’s a bit frustrating, as I was focused on this stage for so long that I almost forgot there was a long way to go afterwards and that she wouldn’t be able to get here for a while. At least now we can begin to move things on.

Otherwise, it’s not been a great couple of days. I was exhausted yesterday. I still made it to shul (synagogue), but felt really tired afterwards. I did more than an hour of Torah study after dinner, but, once I’d also included time thinking about the implications of what I was reading, I didn’t have long to read for fun before feeling too tired and having to go to bed.

I don’t think I slept well and I woke up exhausted again, after dreaming that the next episodes of Doctor Who were really amazing (which I do not currently expect it to be, given the return of David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Russell T Davies). I managed to avoid sleeping in the afternoon, but did lie down for forty minutes and felt like I struggled to do much Torah study, although I think I actually did a reasonable amount.

I struggled a lot with feeling religiously inadequate over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I won’t go into the whole train of thought. I realised a lot of it is related to how other people see me, which is probably due to autism and social anxiety as much as how religious I actually am. I know that it doesn’t matter what other people think, even if they are important rabbis, but I find it does still matter to me.

After Shabbat was over, I found the text E had sent me about the visa and sent out some texts and emails about that. I was feeling tired and surprisingly a bit low, which I think is primarily exhaustion, and I just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV. I ended up watching GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut James Bond adventure. It has a slightly uncertain tone as the film makers tried to work out where James Bond fitted in a post-Cold War, post-feminism world. Nice character parts for a young-looking Robbie Coltrane and Joe Don Baker (still being typecast as eccentric CIA agents a decade after classic BBC eco-thriller Edge of Darkness).

As for baby blessing news, it continues to get more and more complicated. Watch this space. The uncertainty is stressing me out, as are some health concerns my parents have (both have separate concerns). I don’t want to go into details, but it’s confusing and potentially worrying and I don’t know what to feel right now.

Same Old Scene

I struggled a bit with Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night despite feeling very tired. I found dinner with my parents exhausting. I know “selective mutism” is something a lot of autistics suffer from. I don’t really experience it, but I have noticed that when autistically exhausted from peopling (rather than just tired), I can become monosyllabic. By the end of dinner, I was communicating in gestures more than speech. It wasn’t conscious. It’s a bit frightening.

I fell asleep for an hour after dinner and then was too tired to move for an hour after that, so I didn’t do as much reading as I would have liked. I spent an hour reading The Guide for the Perplexed, but only managed a few pages as it was based on Medieval neo-Aristotlean philosophy which I didn’t really understand so I made slow progress. I’m not sure how much relevance those passages really have for contemporary Jewish thought. I also wonder how they were understood in Early Modern and Modern Eastern Europe, although not many people would have been reading it there – not many rabbis, let alone laymen. The Kotzker Rebbe is supposed to have said of the Guide that “If you are wise, it is a guide; if not, you will be perplexed,” which is probably true. I read a few pages of A Fire Burns in Kotsk and a couple of chapters of Dune, but not much else.

I slept late again this morning. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, so I ate by myself, reading the latest Doctor Who Magazine. I’m not at all optimistic about the return of Russell T Davies, David Tennant, Catherine Tate and others, or the deal with Disney. I worry it’s just a return to the worst aspects of Davies and Tennant’s first run, with added Big Business. As when Davies was showrunner previously, DWM is now full of coy preview articles that tease the new episodes without giving anything away, which I just find irritating. I don’t like spoilers, but just being told endlessly that the next series is going to be amazing when I’m not going to see it for a year or more is annoying, even if I wasn’t convinced that it won’t be amazing. I skim DWM more and more.

I dozed off for a bit after Minchah and ate seudah (the third Shabbat meal) after sunset, which is not ideal. I was too tired to do very much at all in the afternoon, although I did some Torah study (Shoftim/Judges in Hebrew and with a modern commentary) after Shabbat and also some work on the plan for my novel, but I mostly got distracted and procrastinated online. I think the beginning of my book is quite good, but after about chapter five, when the plot really kicks in, I run out of incident and jokes, which is not good for a satirical thriller. I’m not totally out of ideas, but there are definitely fewer as it goes on. I sort of want to just start writing (I feel like an athlete with muscles tensed to run, but unable to go yet), but I want to do more research to generate more ideas, both external research (reading relevant books) and internal research (thinking about my characters and how their world works). I’m feeling pessimistic about this actually resulting in a readable full-length novel, but I’m trying to tell myself I’m working for my own amusement. Then I read stuff online, as I did tonight, where people are saying, “We want more positive frum characters in books and TV” and I want to do something towards that, even though I think setting out to produce a “positive” image of the frum community would backfire badly (and this book is much lower than previous ones in frum content). I think/hope once I actually start that will generate more ideas. As I’ve said before, I’m a bit of a “pantser” in that some of my best ideas come up once I’ve begun writing, but it’s uncomfortable to bet on that.

***

I thought quite a bit about that post on the autism forum about connecting with people (where a lot of people said they connect with animals and soft toys more easily than they connect with neurotypicals) and also the lukewarm response to my post on the Facebook group about being autistic in the frum (religious Jewish) community. I feel it’s not really an option from me to cut myself off from other Jews or other people in general. I feel a specific religious commandment to try to love other Jews and people in general. Plus, I do feel connected to other Jews, whether I like it or not. I’ve been angry for days at the new Israeli government and I know that’s because I identify as an Orthodox Jew, and if other Orthodox Jews are corrupt, self-serving, racist or homophobic, I feel that my identity is attacked. If nothing else, people will assume I’m the same. So there is a connection there whether I like it or not.

I do wish I knew how to move forward with my life, whether that involves the frum community, the autistic community or both, or whether it involves my writing or proofreading or something else. I do know that, realistically, I should wait until I’m married before really doing anything new, but it’s so hard waiting without knowing when that will be or even when E’s visa will arrive. It feels SO HARD waiting and being separated.

I watched an episode of The Simpsons tonight where Homer complains he hasn’t done anything with his life at the grand old age of thirty-nine. That’s how old I am! At least he has a full-time job, three kids and a wife who he actually gets to live with! I am nowhere near as fat and I’m not bald (not even thinning) so that’s something.

Last Shabbat of 2022

I didn’t blog on Thursday night. I was tired and didn’t have much to say. Work was OK, but I ended up staying late, partly working, but mostly because we couldn’t get a minyan (prayer quorum) for Minchah (Afternoon Service) in the shul (synagogue), so after waiting quarter of an hour, the rabbi said we should daven (pray) privately, which we did, but then someone else turned up to complete the minyan and the rabbi made us do Minchah again, plus Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers). I’m not sure what the ratio of time spent hanging around to time spent davening was.

On Friday I was exhausted again and missed shul. I felt bad about that, but I’m not really sure what else I could have done. My parents were out for dinner and I enjoyed the time by myself, but felt a bit lonely. I also realised I had forgotten to take my medication on Thursday night and Friday morning. My parents assumed that’s why I was so tired, but I think it’s just autistic exhaustion.

I did forty-five minutes of Talmud study and read a bit of Dune. I couldn’t stop thinking about the post I want to write on the Orthodox Conundrum group about being autistic in the frum world. It was not appropriate to think about writing on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I couldn’t stop, which I guess is the autistic “monotropic focus” at work. I thought I had something worth writing by the end of the evening, but I either forgot some of it or I was overly optimistic about it, as when I tried to write it this evening, after Shabbat, it was just waffle. It doesn’t help that I don’t know what I want to say, beyond feeling a need to make excuses for my poor community involvement (which I should not do) or to express vague anger and resentment at the way my religious life has gone (again, not a good idea). And my comment discussion here with JYP a few days ago has shown that I have absolutely no idea of what practical steps anyone could take to make the community more welcoming to me, let alone anyone else, and I suspect different autistics would react in different ways anyway.

Today I did some more reading of The Guide to the Perplexed, but not much else. I only managed about half an hour of the Guide as I’m still tired and trying to do other things. I’m not sure how sensible it is for me to read the Guide with no formal training in philosophy or Medieval intellectual history. I’m not sure how much I understand, and I’m not sure how much of what I understand is still considered philosophically valid. However, I am enjoying it, but I feel I shouldn’t be spending Torah study time on something I enjoy, but don’t really understand. On the other hand, I persevered with Talmud study and now understand more of it, and enjoy it more too.

I was still tired and didn’t go with Dad to shul for Ma’ariv. He went as he has yortzeit (death anniversary) for his mother tonight and tomorrow, so he wanted to say Kaddish.

I spent an hour working on my novel plan this evening. It still feels like doing a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded in the dark, but I feel like I’m making slow progress. I do still worry about my proposed satirical science fiction thriller not being funny, original or thrilling, but I guess I won’t know until I actually start writing in earnest. It will be hard to keep it relevant if it takes years to write. I still have planning issues and I want to try to use some flow diagrams to map out how the novel should unfold. I’ve got the beginning and the end, it’s getting from one to the other that is the hard bit. I need to keep reminding myself that I’m doing this for fun and that I should enjoy it, as it’s not that likely that it will ever get published.

I probably shouldn’t write too much about my novel, but I have been meaning for a while to clarify what I’ve said about it being an anti-woke satire. When I say ‘woke,’ I don’t mean it as a synonym for ‘progressive.’ I don’t have a problem with progressives and even share some of the same worries albeit not always the same solutions. When I say ‘woke,’ I mean a type of progressivism combined with anger, self-righteousness and often hypocrisy of one kind or another. To me, that’s something else entirely from progressive politics, more a kind of virtue signalling ego trip, particularly when carried out by faceless corporations that try to appear woke while behaving appallingly (Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s). And, yes, I intend to satirise the similar tendency at the opposite end of the political spectrum, right-wing populism (which recently has been worrying me more, although I find it less funny). I want to satirise trends and maybe institutions, but not people. Even before writing, one character has gone from someone I wanted to satirise to someone I feel empathy for.

After that, I was going to watch Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the all-female Ghostbusters reboot from 2016, but decided I’d rather read Dune. I finished the first part of the novel, but I’m not sure I want to read more tonight, but I’m not sure what I’d rather do instead either.

***

Carol Anne commented on an old post where the rabbi of my shul (the one I’ve now stopped going to) offered to share the article I wrote on being autistic in the frum (religious Jewish) community on the shul WhatsApp group. I said I would think about it, but I actually forgot to get back to him. It was probably for the best, as I left that shul, but it does make me think what I could/should do about this (this = finding a place for me in the Orthodox Jewish world, but I suppose it could also be trying to make the frum community more accepting of autistics).

The post I posted on the autism forum about masking and code-switching didn’t get much of a response, and what it did get, I found confusing and hard to understand. Possibly I shouldn’t assume I can really let people see the world the way I do.

***

It’s been a difficult year in many ways. I spent so much of it waiting to get married to E and we’re still not fully married. However, we are at least civilly married, even if we’re still separated by the Atlantic. Also, Nephew was born. That makes two new family members for clan Luftmentsch! On the downside, Mum and Sister both spent time in hospital, Mum with her heart attack and Sister with pregnancy issues in the spring (as well as when she actually gave birth this December) and I’m still a bit worried that Mum will have another heart attack. Pesach time was very stressful, with Sister in hospital immediately beforehand and Mum in hospital soon afterwards. Even more tragically, my parents’ friends’ son died, as did Ashley. It’s probably not sensible to divide years into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years, as if every day was the same, but this does seem to have been a particularly varied one, so many good and bad things.

Autism (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) vs. Asperger’s Syndrome

I woke up late, feeling very tired again. I hope I get my sleep disorder diagnosis soon. I had a dream where I was listing missing Doctor Who episodes. My unconscious did pretty well (albeit only getting halfway through the list before going onto something else), but missed The Celestial Toymaker, possibly because it’s over-rated rubbish (one of my least favourite original series stories). Mind you, I think I also missed The Smugglers, which I’m quite fond of, so maybe it was just my unconscious not focusing.

I feel down today. Some of it is the winter, and knowing I’ve got another two months or more before the days start getting noticeably longer and the weather improves. But a lot of it is missing E and not even knowing when we will be together again. I think we would both find it easier if we knew when we will be in the same country, and when we will get married, but not knowing makes it harder.

I set up a profile on a particular freelance work site for work as a proofreader and copy editor. To set up a profile in the writing and translation area, I was presented with a load of tick boxes and told to tick a minimum of two boxes. The only relevant one was for proofreading and editing (one box). In the end I had to tick “Other” just to be allowed to move on, because I don’t want to do copywriting, write press releases and so on. I don’t know why they want you to tick at least two boxes.

It was getting dark, so I stopped in the middle of setting up my profile and went for a run. I had to stop after thirty minutes (I usually aim for forty-five) as I was feeling shaky and faint. I did a bit under 4k, which I guess isn’t awful, even if my pace was. I do need to run more than once a month, but it’s hard with UK winter weather and daylight hours, my inability to get up in mornings and my tendency to get exercise headaches, plus lately I’ve been busy on Sundays, which is my main day for running. When I got home I ate a load of salty food, which seemed to help with the shakiness, but I felt too shaky to do any cool down exercises for ten minutes or so, so I’ll probably ache all over tomorrow. The shakiness went a bit, but not completely, and I got a bit of a headache. I took some tablets and eventually felt well enough to cook dinner (pasta with sauce from a jar), but spent the evening watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife as I didn’t feel well enough to finish the proofreading profile or do any Torah study or anything productive.

I’m not sure what is wrong with me. It’s possibly some kind of autistic interoception issue (difficulty understanding the messages my body is sending me), which I didn’t think was a problem I have, but actually might be one. It would explain why I let myself get dehydrated a lot when I was a child, until I learnt to drink even if I didn’t feel thirsty, likewise for eating. Maybe interoception issues would explain why I often feel vaguely shaky or vaguely faint without really being able to identify clear symptoms or causes. Interoception issues might also explain why I also think I’m really hungry late at night when I’m probably not.

I haven’t done any Torah study today. I’d like to do some, but it’s late and I still don’t feel 100%. I might see if I can find a short article to read for five or ten minutes as I don’t really feel up to reading much else.

***

There’s a post on one of the Jewish autistic Facebook groups I’m on about an argument on a crafting FB group where someone used the term “Asperger’s” as in Asperger’s Syndrome. Apparently some autistic people on the group complained about the term as Hans Asperger was Nazi and things spiralled out of control from there with a lot of anger. I don’t know why the internet is so good at bringing out the anger in people. Some of it is the anonymity, but I feel there’s more to it than that. I feel people often say offensive things through ignorance rather than malice, but then other people respond in a way that makes them feel attacked in public and it escalates from there. Sometimes I think people would better respond in a tactful private message rather than posting a “You’re ABLEIST” public comment.

That said, I really have no idea why the person reporting this on the autism group spelt “Nazis” as “N4zis”, supposedly “to avoid triggering people”. Does substituting one letter make such a difference? And do people really get that triggered by seeing the word Nazi? I’m Jewish and easily upset and I don’t get triggered. Although I think the cases where trigger warnings are helpful are fairly limited.

Although the anger of this post turned me off, I thought it was a good prompt to explain why I still use “Asperger’s” as a tag, even though I know Asperger cooperated with the Nazi euthanasia plan for the mentally ill. Partly it’s that “Asperger’s” is on my diagnosis report from the NHS. I know DSM-5 (psychiatric diagnostic manual) has switched to “autism” for all autism spectrum disorders, but the NHS isn’t using DSM-5 (I can’t remember what they’re using). I thought it was strange when I got it, but that’s the NHS. From the autism forum (which is mostly UK-based), it seems that, depending where you live in the UK, you can actually get different diagnoses. Some places give “autistic spectrum disorder” with no further details, while others specify a level of severity, and some places are still using “Asperger’s”.

In addition, I felt that “Asperger’s” would be better for finding people searching for high-functioning autism blogs via WordPress, but that does not really appear to have been the case. Also, when I previously contemplated stopping using “Asperger’s,” I felt I wanted something to distinguish me from people with more severe autism. However, I no longer see such a big difference between myself and people with more severe autism. We all struggle to function in a noisy, busy, social world. It’s true that I can talk, and do (some) paid work and have a wife, but I still struggle a lot and I feel that at the moment. So I’m thinking of stopping using or even deleting the Asperger’s tag. I’d like to merge the Asperger’s tag with the autism one, but I don’t think WordPress will let me do that. I probably will stop using the tag, although I don’t know if I’ll delete it.

***

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was the Ghostbusters sequel released last year after being delayed by COVID. I didn’t see it in the cinema, as I was still nervous about going to the cinema for COVID reasons (I actually still haven’t been to the cinema since COVID although I was hardly a frequent cinema goer before then).

It’s a slightly strange film, reverent towards the original film, if anything excessively so, as it struggles to find its own voice, but, like Ghostbusters II, it somehow missing the fact that the original film was a comedy. There are a few jokes, but it’s really a fantasy/adventure story, and a somewhat slow one, particularly compared with the original.

I’m not sure who the audience was meant to be. The huge connection to the original film suggests it’s aimed at die-hard fans, but the adolescent main characters suggest a younger audience that wouldn’t be expected to know a film from 1984.This is further undermined by the 12 certificate, which would prevent pre-teens watching. The main character, Phoebe, is twelve; children and teenagers tend only to identify with characters their age or older, so that’s pretty much ruling out a teenage audience too. I did like Phoebe and wondered if she was supposed to be autistic, although geeky characters in fiction tend to read as autistic generally, or at least are open to that reading.

Overall it was a decent film and I probably will watch it again at some point, as I think some plot points, and probably some in-jokes, escaped me, but it’s not as good as the original film.

“There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.”

I don’t have much to say, but feel the urge to write something…

I had an OK Shabbat. I decided it was too icy to risk going to shul (synagogue). It was probably the right decision, but I feel bad. I’ve been completely out of the shul-going habit since COVID, and I’m very far from where I was seven or eight years ago, when I was going to shul two or three times every day. Days like this don’t help. I did some Torah study, including getting back into The Guide for the Perplexed and (after Shabbat) Shoftim (The Book of Judges). I did OK with the quite difficult Hebrew vocabulary of Devorah’s (Deborah’s) song. I did spend too long asleep and then spent another hour after lunch in bed with my eyes shut. I don’t know why I do this, except that I seem to need to, on some level. I suspect it’s an autistic recovery thing, although the only thing I can be recovering from is eating with my parents, unless it’s the week in general.

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately and feeling I don’t fit anywhere on the political spectrum. That wouldn’t bother me so much, except that I’m trying to write a satirical novel and can’t work out if it’s an advantage or disadvantage to be able to see both sides of an issue. Nowadays it seems that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer on anything political, you have to be totally unable to see anyone else’s viewpoint and, ideally, to insist that anyone who disagrees with you is a Fascist. Also to insist that everything is everyone’s fault, but your own. Well, maybe it really is someone else’s fault, but at some point you have to take responsibility for your own life regardless of your circumstances and try to make a difference by engaging constructively with other people. Or maybe I’m too self-critical to blame Society for everything wrong in my life.

I’m still struggling to know what to do with my writing. E says that she can see improvements in my fiction from my first novel to my second (the one on hold because it was upsetting me). It’s also hard to stop thinking about writing, even though I’m trying to pause for a fortnight or so until the end of the year as my thoughts were getting to intense. I guess I feel that if I’m going to be able to make money from writing (a very, very big if), I need to do it soon, so I can help support the family when E and I are fully married or at least by the time we have children. That’s pretty unlikely to happen at this stage. It looks like we’re going to be dependent on parent money for quite a while, which saddens me, not least because of my comments about taking responsibility.

I’ve only been on Facebook for a month or two, and I have few friends or groups I’ve joined, but my feed is already full of junk, mostly adverts and other groups FB is trying to get me to join. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a mistake. I am enjoying being on the Orthodox Conundrum group, but I’ve had no real interactions with people, so it seems unlikely I will make friends and I worry I’m just voicing my “issues” the way I did at Hevria.

I watched Ghostbusters again this evening. It’s my favourite film. I am actually revisiting the first two films because I’m hoping to watch the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife soon (which I missed in the cinema as I’ve been too scared to go since COVID), but it was probably a good choice as I was feeling down. I always find funny lines I’ve forgotten since my last viewing, although I could probably recite chunks of the film more or less off by heart. I enjoyed it, but seeing something written, acted, directed and even scored so perfectly made me despair of ever producing any good art. Aren’t films supposed to get worse when you’ve seen them ten times? Neil Gaiman says that we read so much more than we write that we’re super-critical of our own writing, which is probably true, and applies to all stories, not just books.

I should probably go to bed now. This post is short, but I kept procrastinating online, so I spent over an hour or so writing it. Unfortunately, I’ve now discovered that every Dilbert cartoon since it started in 1989 is online…

Excursions, No Alarms

I started reading Dune a few days ago and read it to relax before bed yesterday evening rather than watching Doctor Who. It’s good, but not an easy read. There is a glossary of fictional words at the back, but I don’t like to keep turning to it and disrupting the flow of the novel, instead using it just for what seem like key words and working out the rest from context or just letting them go. The world-building is extremely complex, more so than anything I could write. This is positive, but intimidating. The fact that the book (the first three Dune novels in one volume) is too big to take to read on public transport means that it will take twice as long to read as the average novel even without the complexity, as I usually do a lot of my reading on public transport.

I got up later than I intended this morning and was tired. I miss sleeping on E’s sofa, where my sleep seemed more refreshing than in my bed in London, although it was probably more proximity to E and the absence of work in New York that made the difference. On which note, I’m still waiting for my sleep study results.

This morning, instead of going to volunteering, I went for my appointment with the psychiatrist to speak about reducing my medications. Except when I got there, I was told there was no record of my parents changing the appointment date (from 9 January) while I was away. They said something about a doctor having left and I wondered if someone was going to see me out of hours from kindness. The receptionist said appointments for new referrals (which I am, having been discharged years ago) are at 9.30am and 1.00pm and never at 12.00pm which was when mine was supposed to be. It’s yet another awful NHS incident. I hope I never have to see a proctologist on the NHS, as I don’t think an NHS employee could find their backside with both hands. I do at least still have my 9 January appointment, but I’m annoyed to miss volunteering, especially as I will be missing two or three consecutive sessions in a few weeks as I’ll have to rearrange my work days around the winter bank holidays and then so that I can go to the 9 January appointment.

I came home for lunch and went out again as I had a blood test in the afternoon. That at least went OK, except that when the needle went in, I suddenly got a stabbing pain in my forearm, a couple of inches below where the needle was, which continued until after the blood had been taken. I’m not sure what caused this (psychosomatic?). By this stage, the snow had largely turned to ice and I slipped twice on the way to and from the hospital, but didn’t fall over. I went into some charity shops. I bought the complete BBC Chronicles of Narnia on DVD for £4 as I knew that E wants to watch it. I also picked up the DVD of Donnie Darko, as it’s a film I vaguely feel I should watch and there seems to be a copy in every single charity shop in the country, like the universe wants me to buy it. I nearly bought Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, which I sort of want to read, but I decided my reading list is long enough, and my mood low enough, as it is right now without adding a thousand page book about the Battle of Stalingrad.

My Torah study today was mostly listening to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast while walking to and from different appointments. It was on Rabbi Sacks’ Jewish philosophy, with Dr Tanya White and Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens, two of my favourite contemporary Jewish educators. They spoke about Rabbi Sacks’ communitarianism. This appeals to me, but I struggle to be community-minded with social anxiety and autism, which impair socialising. Then again, I do volunteer, and I do a job that is inherently socially worthwhile, even though my role is mostly paperwork. Is this enough? I don’t know. I do feel disconnected from shul (synagogue) and real world contact with other religious Jews, especially since COVID. Am I wholly or partially exempt because of my “issues”? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t an easy answer. It did occur to me that I study Torah from a Jewish perspective, through Jewish texts and commentaries rather than just from my own thoughts, so that’s a kind of communal connection, albeit more with dead people than living ones.

I worked on plotting my novel. However, I feel frustrated by having to do so much planning, and that so much of it is so difficult. I do feel that my satirical dystopian thriller is likely to be a failure as a satire, as science fiction and as a thriller, but I do want to persevere with it for myself, if only to see how it turns out. I do feel at the moment that I will probably never be a published fiction writer, but I’m trying to accept that. It’s frustrating as I feel the things I want to say exceed my ability to say them. I’ve been told I’m a good writer on more than one occasion, but there’s good writers and there’s good writers. My sister used to be a talented amateur artist, and my parents have three of her paintings on the wall, but I don’t know if she could sell any of them, certainly not for enough to justify the time spent on them, which was probably a lot less than the time I would spend writing a novel. I do feel a little envious that my parents’ friends can see and admire the paintings whereas my writing is harder to casually show off (although one of my parents’ friends did buy and apparently read and enjoy my non-fiction Doctor Who book).

That said, I do feel a sort of general pessimism at the moment, some worry and frustration about when E’s visa will come and general feelings of inadequacy. A couple of conversations, in blogs and the real world, lately have hinged on the idea of how one copes with feeling inadequate compared with other people’s achievements, which in my sake would include people with children, successful careers and comfort and respect in where they stand in the Jewish community. I try not to be bitter or envious, but it is hard sometimes knowing that to some extent I’ve been set up to fail by my autistic genes and my childhood and adolescent experiences. However, there really is very little I can do about it at the moment, so I try not to think about it too much. I also wish I knew why I was here on Earth so I could get some sense of whether I’m doing what I’m supposed to do or not, but there’s no real way of knowing.

I also feel vaguely nervous about chatan (marriage) class tomorrow without really being sure why except for it being a late night before a work day, and the embarrassment if the teacher offers me a lift home again – not driving is another thing to feel inadequate about. I suppose a lot of it comes from feeling I know a lot of what I’m being taught, but I’m too shy to make that clear, and also that I struggle to contribute to the class, in both cases because of social anxiety and autistic communication issues.

Exhaustion and Leaving Home

On Thursday evening E was out for Thanksgiving, so we Skyped early, as soon as I got home from work, and for less time than usual. This did at least allow me more time for writing in the evening. I had a fairly unhurried evening and finished reading Accidental Presidents.

This didn’t stop me being completely exhausted again on Friday. I dreamt I was running late for Shabbat (the Sabbath), and when I woke up, I was. Tintin was in the dream too for some reason.

I dealt with an annoying NHS issue (yet another one). I had to phone to confirm that I would take the psychiatrist appointment they offered me, which would mean changing work days and probably missing volunteering that week, all because I was worried that if I didn’t take it, I would have to wait until February or later for another appointment. I also told them that I had noticed that both the letters they sent me recently had a letter for someone else at the bottom. It was actually another letter on another sheet, but I assume it was at the bottom of the file if it ended up on two different letters. At first they thought I was saying the letter was addressed to the wrong person and asked how I ended up with it, but I hope I clarified that my address was correct, they just added someone else’s details at the bottom, a breach of data protection. It’s like they haven’t got enough ways to mess stuff up in the natural order of things, so they have to invite new things to mess up. (They also spelt my very common first name wrong on both letters too, but I’ll graciously let that slide.) Now I’m worried they’re going to hold on to the words “mistake” and “address” and assume my address is wrong and send the letters somewhere else, probably to the person whose letter was sent with mine. That letter was about an appointment over a year ago, so goodness knows if that person heard in time. I’m imagining that letter and confidential information being sent out to random people for over a year now.

I did my pre-Shabbat chores in time and went to shul (synagogue). I was pretty exhausted by the time shul ended, but I waited for Dad and then walked home slowly with him and his friend, when I should have just gone home immediately. I was exhausted enough when I got home that I lay down for half an hour before dinner, which wasn’t particularly good. I did about an hour of heavy Torah study (Talmud and The Guide for the Perplexed), but it took more than an hour to do it, as I kept having to stop for breaks. Because of this, I had little time for recreational reading.

I started reading Science Fiction: The Best of 2001, an anthology I picked up in a second-hand bookshop last time I was in New York (that’s 2001 the year, not the Stanley Kubrick film/Arthur C. Clarke novel), but the first story was one of those stories that starts in mitten drinnen (that’s Yiddish for in medias res) with no indication of where or when the story is set, what all the technology mentioned does, who the protagonist is and so on. That’s not a problem per se, but I was too tired to cope with it, so I stopped after a couple of pages and had an earlyish night (with disturbing dreams).

Recent events have made me feel that I am (finally) ready to leave home. It’s just too much masking and coping with my parents’ conversation being so different to mine as some other things I won’t go into here. It occurred to me that some of my thoughts about being different and no one being interested in what I have to say come from growing up with my family as much as from school experiences. I seem to be able to talk to E and my friends OK.

I nearly fell asleep after lunch as I lay down for forty minutes or so. I probably would have fallen asleep had I not known that I had limited time to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) and eat seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, which is very much a token thing at this time of year as it’s so soon after lunch). I did a little Torah study, but tried not to push myself too hard. That said, after Shabbat was over, I spent hours doing various chores, so I didn’t get time to relax again (or to write), although I do have less to worry about doing tomorrow now other than packing. I probably do prioritise doing chores and important-seeming things over relaxing, which is probably bad for autistic exhaustion. I do wonder what will happen if I can’t improve my energy levels after marriage.

I was going to write some reflections here on the medical and social models of disability and why I think they break down with autism, but I’m too tired now. It’s pretty much midnight, so I ought to go to bed.

Survival of the Normalest

I woke up in a self-critical mood, remembering how much I messed things up in my further education job (although it was four years ago) and being critical of my blog writing (I wonder why anyone at all reads it) and my fiction writing. At the risk of name-dropping, Matthue Roth (My First Kafka) told me off once years ago for calling my own writing “bilge” on Hevria, saying I was insulting myself, my history and my thoughts. I feel like I don’t care about insulting them.

At lunchtime I managed to locate the Hevria post where we had this discussion. Interestingly, nearly five years ago, I was already agonising over the fact that I have ideas for stories, but am unable to empathise with my characters and write them well, getting inside their inner lives, because I’m “somewhat autistic [I was undiagnosed at that stage and nervous of staking claim to autism under false pretences] and alexithymic (unable to feel or describe emotions)”. I asked Matthue whether he thought someone who can’t get in touch with their emotions could write good fiction or poetry, but I don’t think he understood the question (maybe he couldn’t understand that some people don’t understand or feel their own emotions) and spoke more about characters who don’t have emotions, which wasn’t really what I meant.

I do wonder about that still, whether I can get inside anyone’s head enough to write well. I quoted to Matthue something George Orwell wrote, that Tolsoy’s characters are so detailed that you can imagine having a conversation with them, and that I can’t really imagine a conversation with any fictional character. I mean, I struggle to imagine conversations with real people let alone those that only live in my head!

E suggested leaving my novels for now and writing a short story. She’s probably right. I had an idea for a short story recently, but I neglected to write it down and now I can’t remember it.

***

Work was dull. I spent the morning looking for missing invoices and the afternoon struggling with a mail merge. It doesn’t get much more fun than that. I felt depressed and self-loathing all day and unsure why: my job? The thoughts about my writing? Winter sunlight issues (our office is particularly gloomy and badly-lit)? Everything? Who knows.

On the Tube home, half a carriage was filled with young boys, all “manspreading” and some with their feet on the seats. I contrasted their unthinking possession of the world around them with myself, constantly apologising for getting in the way and squeezing myself into corners.

LinkedIn tells me someone I was at university with is now a “Publisher, writer and researcher”. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing something like that? I see parents of autistic children writing on the autism forum and think, “Those children are struggling much more than I ever did as a child, why can’t I just get my life together? Surely it should be easier as an adult?” But I don’t think my functionality, such as it is, is down to my efforts, just to the grace of God.

***

The Aviva Gottleib Zornberg essay I’m reading on this week’s sedra (Torah portion) notes talks about “Isaac – in whom any obliteration of limits and distinctions rouses profound anxiety”. I’m not sure I see that in the Torah, but I do see it in myself, which is interesting, as I identify with Yitzchak (Isaac) more than any other Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) character, for reasons that are not completely clear to me. Later on in the essay she quotes the Zohar, that Yitzchak’s love for Esav (Esau) is not based on opposites attracting, but on similarities. She sees Esav as a proto-existentialist searching for meaning in a meaningless world, which also resonates with me, although I don’t identify with Esav much. (There were a lot of Hamlet quotations in the essay, actually.)

***

A blogger I respect who married in her early thirties (ancient, in her Yeshivish community) said that she only had a couple of criteria for a husband, but that she took “normality” as a given before those criteria came into effect. It made me wonder how many other frum (religious) women feel the same, and how many autistic people could pass the “normality” test, even with masking.

Given how much of the energy of the frum community is focused on finding a spouse, and how other interests and goals are postponed until after marriage, not least for fear they might scare off prospective partners, I wonder if the frum world is a sort of Darwinian “survival of the normalest” contest, where the people who can appear most normal find the best partners and bring up their children to be even more normal (conformist), breeding out more individuality with each generation. I am glad I am out of the dating game now (not that I was ever really in it in the frum world – the few women who were ever serious about me were not typical frum women themselves), but I worry about other autistic people stuck in it, and about what happens to a community that tries to breed all individuality and eccentricity out of itself.

More Disrupted Sleep, LinkedIn, and Ashley

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. I felt ill on Friday evening and didn’t go to shul (synagogue). I was light-headed again and had a bit of a headache, but I think it was side-effects from the flu jab I had on Thursday rather than work stress.

Mum and Dad’s conversation at dinner exhausted me again. Their conversation is usually small talk, generally about work, shul, their friends or football. I don’t have much to say about most of that, but Dad was trying to bring me into the conversation again. I’m not sure why he’s started doing that recently. He doesn’t really get that I struggle to engage with this conversation and I don’t like being asked questions to which he already knows the answers to just to bring me in. I prefer just to tune out, but I probably shouldn’t say that. I don’t know why I’m struggling with this more now than in the past. It’s probably partly Dad trying to engage me, but also because I’m impatient to live with E and have conversations about things that interest both of us.

I guess dinner at the moment reminds me on some level of my childhood, when I was called an “intellectual elitist” for trying to have deeper conversations and using words no one else understood (I didn’t know they didn’t understand). It’s partly the familiar syndrome of university-educated children from families that have not had access to higher education ending up on a different level to their parents and struggling to communicate, but also the issue of children with autism communicating differently to their neurotypical families and also being intensely interested in certain subjects and boring people with constant talk about them as well as being less interested in, and able to engage in, small talk.

After this I was tired, but did some Torah study. I managed some Talmud study, which I was pleased with, especially as it was a new page (I study each page three times: the first is really to get myself familiar with the subject and vocabulary, on the second I begin to understand better and by the third I usually have a reasonable understanding, at least on a basic level). I re-read bits of Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, but it didn’t elaborate on the things I had heard about on a podcast last week.

After this, about 11pm, I fell asleep, fully dressed and on top of the bed. I slept until about 3.30am. This is a bad habit I seem to be getting into, as if my sleep wasn’t disrupted enough as it is. I got into my pyjamas, but decided I needed some relaxation time and read more of Flowers for Algernon before going to sleep again.

I slept through most of the morning, then fell asleep again after lunch. I got up in time for Minchah (Afternoon prayers) (at home, I didn’t go to shul). I probably won’t be able to sleep on Shabbat afternoons after the clocks go back tonight. I read The Guide for the Perplexed for a bit – the translator’s introduction; I still haven’t got to the actual text. After half an hour, this got too heavy-going, and the print was too small, so I switched to Judges: The Perils of Possession by Rabbi Michael Hattin, from the Maggid Koren Tanakh series.

After dinner I checked my blog list and heard that Ashley Peterson, frequent commenter here, had died (see below). This brought my mood down. When I had dinner, I tried to finish reading Flowers for Algernon, which was a bad choice for my mood, but I just wanted to finish it; I was saving some comedy for later in the evening which I will definitely watch before bed, as I feel very depressed now. Unfortunately, Mum had the TV on, which made it hard to read (alternating between Strictly Come Dancing and The Chase, which were about the most distracting things it could have been, but anything would have distracted me really). I did finish the book after dinner.

I saw a post on the autism forum this evening from someone who says he’s suicidal because he’s lonely and still a virgin and has (in his opinion) no chance of changing any of this. I don’t think he gave his age, but I guessed twenties from a few things he wrote. I wanted to write something sympathetic, because I’ve been there, but also I’m nearly forty and kind of married and still a virgin, so it was hard to be fully sympathetic, especially as I’ve been missing E a lot recently, and I really wanted to say that thinking you have no hope for anything good in your life because you’re a twenty-something virgin is not clear thinking. In the end, I didn’t write anything; I decided the post was just triggering me because of missing E and thinking about Ashley’s death. I don’t think I can really help; not tonight, anyway. Then I found another post on the same forum by a twenty-five year old threatening suicide because he’s still a virgin. I feel I should be able to say something, but anything I say would be coming from a particular religious context and personal history context and probably won’t be helpful. I do think Western society places too much emphasis on sex and being sexually attractive. I’m glad the forum is moderated and the moderator posted links to crisis lines and the like.

***

LinkedIn keeps sending me emails to “connect” (equivalent of friend, follow, etc.) with my first girlfriend. Apparently we have a mutual connection, although I’m not sure who. I have no desire to connect with her. She does not work in any field that I am likely to work in. We parted on reasonably good terms, but I have not seen or heard from her for nine years and have no desire to do so. But there is no button for “Do not ask me again,” or “Block,” just one for “Connect.”

Seeing her photo or even her name sparks a load of strange and difficult feelings whenever LinkedIn sends me an email trying to connect me with her. It reminds me that she trampled over my boundaries about physical contact in our relationship and refused to support me with my mental health struggles the way I supported her in hers. There is more to say, but don’t think I should in public.

I don’t use LinkedIn much (at all, really – I only have twenty-three contacts, which is why I’m surprised I can’t work out who is the link with first girlfriend), but will probably have to if I try to set up as a freelance proof-reader, so I want to get it sorted.

***

This evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ashley Peterson. I knew her online for several years; I’m not sure how many, exactly, but quite a long time. She was one of the most frequent commenters on my blog.

I noticed recently that she hadn’t commented on my blog for a while, or anywhere else that I had seen, and certainly she hadn’t posted on her own blog for a while. I thought about emailing her, but she had said in the past that she gets got annoyed when people chase up on her when she’s depressed, as she doesn’t didn’t like the attention. So I didn’t do anything. Then a few days ago, two other bloggers emailed me in the space of about half-an-hour to ask if I’d heard from her. I said I hadn’t. We were all worried by that stage, and I think we guessed what happened (she’d been open about her depression worsening and having suicidal ideation), but didn’t want to say what we were thinking. None of us knew what to do.

Then after Shabbat, I saw that her family had posted on her blog that she had died. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t sure what I did feel. Sad. Maybe numb. Then, quite a lot later, anger, not at her, but at other things, particularly those commenters on the autism forum.

I haven’t told my parents, I’m not sure why. They don’t know Ashley, but I should tell them I’ll be sad for a while. I should tell them before I go to bed. I can’t tell E for a bit, as it’s still Shabbat in New York. I feel like I want to cry writing this, and part of my brain says that’s crazy, as I didn’t know her that well (she was very private and I wouldn’t claim to be one of her closest blogging friends), but I feel I miss her already.

I don’t think a friend of mine has died before. I’ve lost friends to arguments or (more usually) drifting apart, but not through death.

I was thinking about what Ashley meant to me and I remembered a quote from the theologian and civil rights and anti-war protestor Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that “Spiritual freedom means: flattering no one, neither oneself nor the world; not being subservient to anyone, neither to the self nor to society.”

I had actually posted that on my blog once, and she liked it. That’s how I think of her: independent, honest and vocal in speaking her mind, especially in the cause of justice.

No Man’s Land

The last two days were the end of the Jewish autumn festival season. I went to shul (synagogue) for Shmini Atzeret evening, but not subsequently. I felt stuck in No Man’s Land. I wasn’t doing weekday things, but I wasn’t going to shul, so it didn’t feel fully like Yom Tov (festival). I didn’t feel great, emotionally. I had some anxiety and guilt, not to a huge extent, but some. I missed E a lot and had a lot of thoughts and feelings that I guess are related to loneliness, about wanting to be part of a friendship group and not really knowing how to do it. I had a headache last night which didn’t help; I went to bed late, but then the headache started and got worse lying down, so I stayed up even later reading until the paracetamol I took kicked in.

Since Yom Tov finished a couple of hours ago my mood has got worse. There may be some anxiety about work tomorrow. I helped Dad started to take down the sukkah (although there’s still a lot to do). I had a lot of self-critical thoughts doing that and I’m not really sure where they came from, although I have a few ideas.

Because I wasn’t doing much else, I read a lot over the last two days, both religious and secular. I started The Guide for the Perplexed by Rambam (Maimonides), but haven’t finished the translator’s introduction yet. The translation is by Michael Friedländer and was made in 1881. The introduction is more critical of Rambam than a contemporary Orthodox translation would be, which is interesting (Friedländer was the Principal of Jews’ College, the Orthodox rabbinical college in the UK that eventually became the London School of Jewish Studies), but the print is tiny! I don’t think I could read it for long periods without a break. I also started the new annual Torah cycle, which always seems more exciting than when we’re stuck in the middle of Vayikra (Leviticus). Reading Bereshit (the first reading of the Torah, from the start of Genesis), I had an idea that is potentially worth expanding into a devar Torah (Torah thought), but I doubt I’ll get the time or energy this week. In terms of secular reading, I finished You Only Live Twice and read a lot of the latest Doctor Who Magazine.

Going back to religious reading, I also read more of the book of thoughts from the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) on Pirkei Avot (the volume of Talmud dealing with ethics). This book and its companion volume on the festivals are very “fire and brimstone,” which surprised me a bit. The Chofetz Chaim died less than a hundred years ago and it seems a little strange for his writing to seem so dated. To be fair he was very old when he died and was born in the 1838, which must have influenced his worldview. Even so, it feels like somewhere in the last generation or two there’s been a big change in the focus of “inspirational” religious material in the Orthodox world from, “You’re going to die and be punished, or even be punished before you die, so make sure you do what God wants” to “God loves you and just wants to do good things for you, so just make an effort to build a connection with Him so He can reward you.” It’s strange.

E and I have discussed it a lot. Is it the effect of the Holocaust, of the ba’al teshuvah (return to Orthodoxy) movement, of pop psychology and self-help culture, of the mainstreaming of 60s counter-culture? I don’t know. But when we do our parashah (weekly Torah reading) discussion each week, we often feel that the Torah is a “hard sell” to modern audiences. Obviously the Torah is 3,000 years old and we probably shouldn’t expect a text originally understood by Bronze Age tribes to resonate in a straightforward way with Millennials (not that either E or I are Millenials…), but for someone who lived just about within living memory to seem so dated is more surprising. For comparison, other authors who published in the year the Chofetz Chaim died include George Orwell, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, C.S. Lewis, W. B. Yeats, James Thurber, P. G. Wodehouse and H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair, the Chofetz Chaim lived in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe, which was a world which doesn’t really exist any more, and which was not directly comparable to the Western Europe or American East Coast of the same era, but it’s a mistake to think that that world was so different to ours. There were plenty of non-religious Jews there too.

Guilt, and Being

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a battle with exhaustion and guilt. I was too exhausted for shul (synagogue) last night. I felt a bit better after dinner and did some Torah study, but went to bed late as a result (juggling pros and cons of doing things vs. relaxing is hard). I woke up about 7.40am, decided I wasn’t going to shul, felt guilty for not going to shul because I felt it was basically social anxiety keeping me away, decided to say a few of the morning prayers (Birkat HaShachar and the Shema), then felt totally exhausted by that five minutes of praying and wondered if it was exhaustion keeping me away from shul after all. Slept for a while longer, hurried to get dressed and eat breakfast in the sukkah (the hut in the garden that we eat in during the festival of Sukkot) before my parents’ friends came for Kiddush. Alternated praying and stopping to recuperate, because I was that exhausted. Felt guilty for not answering the door while praying when one of my parents’ friends was late. I really was praying, but if I hadn’t had social anxiety, I probably would have interrupted one of the less important prayers. I was just scared of having to speak to someone I didn’t know well. No one heard her and by the time I got the courage to go downstairs, she had gone. We had lunch in the sukkah, but it started raining, so we went in after the soup. Then it stopped raining and we stayed inside and I felt slightly guilty, although halakhically there is no need to go back out. I did have seudah (the third Shabbat meal, more of a snack at this time of year) in the sukkah, and dinner after Shabbat. I dozed in the afternoon, which is bad because (a) it will mess up my sleep further, (b) it reduced the Torah study and recreational reading I could do and (c) arguably I should have slept in the sukkah, but I think it was too cold even at 3.30 in the afternoon. So, more guilt.

I know that wasn’t terribly readable, but I wrote it as it seems to me, just one thing after another, most of them bringing guilt with them. Not relaxing at all. Although the nap in the afternoon was quite refreshing.

***

Lately, when I’ve been experiencing (what I think is) autistic exhaustion, I feel light-headed. It seems to have been getting worse, or maybe I just notice it more. I am not sure if this is a normal symptom, or if it is related to low blood pressure (which I think I also have). So little is known about autistic exhaustion. There is also the feeling that my brain is being squished, which I’m pretty sure is autistic exhaustion, although goodness knows what actually causes it (I’m assuming my brain isn’t actually being squished, and I’m doubtful that there are nerves inside it that would experience a sensation if it was being squished).

***

In other news, I miss E and winter is approaching with all that entails, and there are still another three days of Chol HaMoed and Yom Tov (semi-festival and festival days)!!!!!! And then straight into two consecutive days of work again afterwards. I don’t want to sound sacrilegious, but I am ready for a return to normal weeks with normal schedules I can cope with and where I know what to expect.

 ***

On Friday night, I read a short devar Torah from a blog that I had printed out before Shabbat. Written by Tanya White, an English Orthodox Jewish educator living in Israel, it presents Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) through the lens of the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel), via a wordplay that doesn’t really work in translation (Hevel is the same word-root as “Hevel hahevelim” “Vanity of vanities” at the start of Kohelet).

The devar Torah drew on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchiks’ The Lonely Man of Faith. This looks at the different creation narratives in the first and second chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) and posits two different modes of human nature, the “Majestic” (creating, controlling, dominating) and the “Covenantal” (contemplative, spiritual, being). White’s argument is that Kayin was Majestic and Hevel Covenantal. To Kayin, focused on having things, the experience of not-having (not having God’s approval for his sacrifice) was too much to bear and he killed his brother to destroy the feelings of finitude, inadequacy and “nothingness” provoked inside him by Hevel’s sacrifice being accepted while his was not.

Reading Kohelet and living in the sukkah is, according to White, a chance to contemplate and accept the “nothingness” in our lives. By this, I think she means that Sukkot reminds us that we really own nothing, that our lives are fragile and transient, even our houses and possessions are really shacks that could blow down and this is OK because God is in control, not us.

The reason I thought about this so much over Shabbat was it resonated with a discussion I’d been having with Angela (Best/Worst of Times blog and Letting Go of Me podcast)  about disability and not being able to do things we once could do or want to do (although we have different disabilities) and about living a life of meaning rather than doing. The devar Torah reminded me of the concept of covenantal living, just experiencing being, and the importance of living life in this way (although Rabbi Soloveitchik’s point was that we need to live both majestically and covenantally, not one or the other).

This in turn made me think of Eichah (Lamentations) 3.28: “Let him sit alone and be silent, for He has laid it upon him.” The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 3.2) sees this as proof that, although Torah is ideally studied in pairs, even if a person studies alone, God will reward him. In a religion focused on doing, this is a support for just being and contemplating.

***

From another blog: “The Torah has no commandment ‘Be normal.’”

Family, Friends and Idols

My sister was here for Shabbat, without her husband. He’s in the USA for a family wedding, but her pregnancy is too advanced for her to fly, so she came to spend Shabbat with us instead of spending it alone. I worry that I kept staring at her bump; part of my mind doesn’t accept that it’s real and half-expects her to pull a football out from under her jumper. Shabbat was strangely like a Shabbat of years ago, with just the four of us (parents, sister, me). We had a very long dinner which mostly consisted of my Mum and my sister telling us about the very difficult days they had that day. It was fun, though, and I didn’t get too drained.

I ended up doing nearly an hour of Torah study afterwards, which I didn’t intend. I’m currently studying Sefer HaMadah, the first volume of the Mishnah Torah, the Jewish law code of Rambam (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, generally known to the Western world as Maimonides). I’m studying it largely because I got it free from a pile of books that were going to be buried which I plundered (with permission) at volunteering. The book deals with the metaphysical foundations of the Torah, the laws of improving character, Torah study, idol worship and repentance.

I’m currently on the idol worship treatise and I’m wondering if it was a mistake as it’s triggering some religious OCD thoughts about idolatry. I think I worry more about idolatry, and am simply a lot more conscious of it, than most Orthodox Jews seem to be. Even in a post-Christian culture that hasn’t been pagan for a thousand years, there is idolatry in lots of places, from Beatles songs to Asterix books to all kinds of segulah nonsense in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, let alone more metaphorical idolatry (technically, putting any value ahead of God is idolatry, so the ultra-nationalism of parts of the Religious Zionist world or the “gadolatry” (veneration of elderly scholars) in the Haredi world could count).

It’s more literal idolatry that triggers the OCD, but I get interested in non-Jewish religion sometimes and want to learn about it, mainly as part of my interest in history, but I guess also from my tendency to want to ‘test’ my Jewish beliefs. I go to the British Museum a lot. Possibly I am a strange, conflicted person (browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community I just joined makes me think that this is probably true, and some things E has said, although she put it more politely). However, I don’t like leaving books half-read, and I only have a few more pages of this section, so I will probably stick with it.

I went to bed rather late because of this. I woke up about 7.20am, got up to go to the toilet, said the Shema prayer (as I guessed, correctly, I would sleep through the time to say it) and went back to bed. I probably should have stayed up, but I wanted more than six hours sleep after a stressful week with several early starts.

After lunch I managed to stay awake and did some Talmud study, doing it more seriously than I have for a while, looking up Aramaic words I don’t know in the dictionary and quotations from Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the original source rather than relying on the translation and commentary. I did get quite tired after that, and haven’t done a lot else with the day except read A Wrinkle in Time and browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community after Shabbat.

***

The FB group has inspired some thoughts in me, some of which probably are a bit OCD. I’ll need to watch that and check it doesn’t get out of control. I’m not sure that I made the right decision joining that FB group and am already wondering if I should leave. Now I’m inside the group and can read posts, I think it’s going to be triggering. I assumed it would be roughly equal numbers of frum and ex-frum people, but perhaps inevitably it’s most ex-frum. Most are polite, but I feel I don’t have to scroll far down the page for people being unnecessarily snarky about Judaism and assuming everyone has the beliefs and attitudes of the most Haredi (which presumably is what they grew up with).

I also find it strange reading people’s accounts of their doubts with Judaism growing as they researched various areas, leading ultimately to disbelief and leaving the community (or sometimes being stuck in it because of family ties). This prompts strange feelings in me, as I feel I had all those doubts at times, and sometimes still do have them, but that I was never convinced enough by them to leave. To borrow a phrase from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl, I sometimes feel that I am a “lapsed atheist.” So many of my character traits, interests, experiences, friends, thoughts would seem to push me to atheism, but ultimately I still believe and live as a Jew, and think I have good reason to do so, and I think, peering through the alexithymia, on some level I find believing and living Jewishly to be true and meaningful for me. (I don’t know how to ‘sell’ this belief to others though.)

***

Speaking of the FB group, there was some discussion there about frum people often only having friends within the frum community and who cut off ties to friends or family who stop being religious. I find I’m the reverse: I seem to find it easier to make friends outside the frum community (including people who aren’t Jewish at all). I don’t know why this is the case, although I can think of several reasons:

Although as an autistic, I’m always ‘masking,’ I mask less with non-frum people because I’m not worried about being judged as ‘not frum enough.’

I find it easier to connect with people with a shared interest like Doctor Who, literature and writing or mental health blogging. Judaism could be a shared interest, but, again, I get scared to speak about it from impostor syndrome (or whatever you want to call it).

I have few friends, but that makes me value them more despite any differences of opinion.

I don’t try to force my beliefs down other people’s throats, so non-frum/non-Jewish people don’t feel threatened/bored/annoyed by me.

Living with less-frum family members has meant I had to learn how to navigate differences of practice from a young age (although my family tend to believe the same things I do. If anything, they’re probably more ‘fundamentalist’ as I have a fairly rationalistic approach to issues like Torah/science conflicts, Midrash, miracles, kabbalah and so on these days that they don’t necessarily share).

***

I have a lot to do tomorrow, getting ready for Sukkot (Jewish festival starting in the evening), so I should probably get to bed soon, although I don’t feel particularly tired.

Yom Ki-Migraine

Yom Kippur was a mixture of good and bad. I had a very moving Kol Nidrei service at shul (synagogue) last night. I was on the brink of tears a lot. It took me a while to realise that there were a lot of different emotions inside of me, some good, some bad, or rather, some positive, some negative (I don’t think negative emotions are ‘bad’ as such). I worked out what some of them were and just sat with the other ones. It’s strange having emotions and not knowing what they are (alexithymia), but I’m trying at least to become attuned to when I’m having the emotions, even if I can’t understand them.

When I got home, I wanted to do some Torah study, but after a little over ten minutes, I felt too tired. I switched to reading A Wrinkle in Time (one of those books I should have read as a child, but didn’t), but soon was too tired to read that and went to bed.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache. I think it was a migraine. In the past, my migraine headaches tended to be incredibly painful over a wide area, like someone had hit me on forehead or crown with a metal bar or axe, a really all-consuming form of pain to the extent that I can’t focus on anything else. Lately, I’ve been getting headaches in a small point, about an inch or two above my right eyeball, like someone was drilling into that point. The pain is very strong there, but not anywhere else. Sometimes after a while the pain spreads to the eye itself, which I don’t usually get. I wasn’t going to take medication for a non-life-threatening condition on Yom Kippur and tried to sleep it off. I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the night, but the headache/migraine stayed. Once we got to morning, I wanted to try to get up, thinking that, with localised pain, I could make it back to shul, but I didn’t manage it. It hurt too much, and soon I was feeling the exhaustion I can get with or after migraines.

The migraine went of its own accord around 3pm, but I was still exhausted and by this stage, I was beginning to feel faint and light-headed from fasting, as happens to me every year. I usually spend more of the afternoon of Yom Kippur outside the shul, trying to get some fresh air and feel less headachey and nauseous than in shul davening (praying). I went for a walk for a few minutes to see if that would clear my head, but I just felt dizzy and worried about going back to shul in that state. Even then, I might have made it, but I couldn’t catch up to where they were, so I just davened at home at my own pace.

I feel a bit bad about spending yet another year when I wasn’t in shul much for Yom Kippur. Between migraine (not to mention fasting headaches), COVID, sleep disruption (whatever causes it) and social anxiety and/or depression, I’ve rarely been in shul much on the holiest day of the Jewish year for many years.

When not catching up on davening at home, I read some of a book of the Chofetz Chaim’s (pseudonym for Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) teachings on Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud dealing with ethics. It seemed appropriate reading matter. But I was only really awake, up and even vaguely functional for about four hours today (excluding last night).

I still found myself thinking a lot while davening about child abuse in the Jewish community and wondering how we (collectively) can be forgiven if so many people are still abusing or covering up abuse. I’m not sure what I can do about this. I also don’t know why this has become such a big obsession for me.

I drank three energy drinks yesterday, to try to boost my sodium level before the fast and avoid getting a headache. Despite the migraine, it might have worked: I think the migraine was triggered by stress, or was just one of those things (I have had a couple of migraines like this (the ‘drilling above my eye’ type) in recent months, always after I’ve gone to bed, if not to sleep). I did feel light-headed and faint in the afternoon, but I don’t think I got a dehydration headache. On the other hand, as when I tried drinking the energy drinks last year, I didn’t actually do very much during the day. So it’s unclear whether they helped.

Alexithymia

It was another difficult Shabbat (Sabbath). I miss E. This seems to be worse on Shabbat, for various reasons. It’s hard being “half-married.” I felt too burnt out and exhausted to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, with physical symptoms (light-headedness as well as exhaustion). I’m worried how often this has been happening lately. Otherwise, it was the usual type of Shabbat I have now: eating with my parents, reading a bit (I finally finished The Third Reich in Power; I’m hoping to read lighter things now, or once I finish the latest Jewish Review of Books), Torah study. I did some Talmud study for the first time in some weeks, which was positive. I napped in the afternoon, which was not good, but I didn’t sleep for as long as I have been doing recently, and I did at least feel refreshed on waking.

***

Frum (religious Jewish) therapist Elisheva Liss wrote on her blog:

But the essential purpose of life according to many Torah philosophers is to achieve spiritual pleasure through a connection to G-d and the world and our own sense of purpose. Pleasure, joy, love, connection- not exclusively, but predominantly.

I guess I find it hard to read that, when I struggle with alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my own emotions). I often don’t know what I’m feeling, or only vaguely. Big emotions are easier to be aware of than small ones, and negative emotions are easier to identify than positive ones, sadly.

I think I get so confused about my attitude to Judaism because so often I don’t know what I feel about it, or only vaguely. I know I enjoy Shabbat; that when I went to shul on Rosh Hashanah, I experienced something positive; that studying Torah is easier some times than others (not just for external reasons like tiredness), indicating I like it more sometimes. But it’s often hard to notice these emotions, to really feel and understand them. Sometimes these feelings are more abstract, more thoughts in my head than emotions I experience.

It is especially hard to feel that God loves me, or that I love Him. It is hard to know that I love anyone sometimes. I worry sometimes that I don’t love my parents, or not “enough.” I still wonder if I really loved my grandparents, if I really grieved for them or if I really miss them the way other people feel these emotions. I once told E that I didn’t think I loved her as much as she loved me and that this was a failure on my part. She said she wasn’t interested in comparisons like that because love can’t be measured and what mattered was that she felt loved by me. This helped our relationship a lot, although I haven’t told her this before.

I feel that I might have more to say about this deep down, but I can’t access it now, because it’s late and because I’m feeling some kind of big negative emotion that I can’t identify or really understand (coincidentally; it’s not why I started writing this post). I’m going to do something relaxing and go to bed, I think.

Quotidian Piety

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

I was very exhausted yesterday, and had suddenly realised it was closer to Shabbat than I thought, but I managed to speak to E briefly before Shabbat started in the UK. We’re hoping to have a longer conversation tomorrow, but I’m worried about how I’ll manage it if there’s a lot to do for Yom Tov (festival). But if I can’t, we’ll have barely spoken for a week, from our last long call on Wednesday evening until this coming Wednesday evening, because of Yom Tov. And this pattern will repeat for three out of the next four weeks. Being long-distance is hard, at Yom Tov doubly so, and that’s not even counting the stress of doing Yom Tov without each other.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) after this. I was just too wiped out and feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I did daven (pray) at home, without much energy or enthusiasm. I did some Torah study after dinner, which may have been a mistake, I’m not sure. I just want to finish some of the books I’m reading (see below).

I had weird dreams last night, including my least-favourite ex-boss (the one who basically told me that I wasn’t as good at my job as she expected and that she didn’t really have confidence in me) refusing to acknowledge my existence. Also something I can’t really remember about crocodiles. I ended up sleeping after lunch, too. I didn’t really want to, as I knew it would just mess my sleep pattern up even more, but I struggled through lunch with my parents and then basically went to autistic shutdown mode, curled up in the foetal position in bed with my eyes shut. Inevitably, I eventually fell asleep, but I think it was more about trying to reboot myself after a couple of hours of listening to my parents talk than actually needing sleep. Then I went back to bed briefly in the early evening, but didn’t sleep. I didn’t go to the shiva (house of mourning) for my parents’ friends’ son. I felt too burnt out. It was probably just as well, as it was very busy. I will try to email them tomorrow.

It’s hard to unpick the autism, social anxiety and sleep disorder from each other to work out what is really keeping me away from shul. There may also be an element of SAD now to make things even more difficult, which hopefully won’t turn into full depression. It’s hard to know where to start. So many people on the autism forum also struggle with exhaustion and fatigue. None of us really know how to cope. The medical community seems baffled or perhaps uninterested.

(By coincidence, someone just shared this story about autistic fatigue on the autism group.)

I worry what it will be like when E and I are married. Will it be easier living with someone more on my wavelength and autism-friendly? Will I be able to work more? Will that make me more tired? (I assume so.) Will we be able to have kids? How will I cope with that? Kids are not autism-friendly, even/especially autistic kids (autistic kids are a possibility given how much neurodiversity (diagnosed and undiagnosed) that there seems to be in both E and my families).

Somewhat related, I feel that this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, I should work on forgiving myself. It just feels wrong even writing this, but I have beaten myself up so much over the years for things that were not within my control to change completely, or at all: depression, social anxiety, OCD, autism, alexithymia, exhaustion and sleep-disruption. (Also: being a heterosexual male with a normal sex drive, trying to be celibate, but that’s a whole other post.)

I don’t know how much I’m going to get to shul over the coming Yom Tovim (festivals), if I’m going to hear the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah, and it’s tempting to beat myself up about it in advance. I don’t think that will achieve much, but it’s easy to feel I don’t deserve forgiveness, that if I just pressure myself harder to have more energy, better sleep, a more positive mindset (etc.) that I need to study more Torah and fulfil more mitzvot (commandments), that will somehow happen. Even though it hasn’t worked for decades.

I feel someone should write a Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent, to try to set out ways of living Jewishly with these issues and how they affect halakhic (Jewish legal) observance (the Shulchan Aruch is the primary Jewish code of law). In Israel, a rabbi has set up some kind of institute to teach more rabbis how to handle halakhic questions regarding people with mental illness. This is positive, but I would like someone to do it for the neurodivergent too. Unfortunately, Orthodox Judaism tends to lag ten years or so behind the secular West regarding social issues and we are only just beginning to deal with mental health, so we probably won’t catch up to neurodivergence for another ten years.

***

On the subject of beating myself up, I felt recently that I hadn’t finished any books for a while and was upset about that. Actually, it’s not that long since I finished A Guide for the Perplexed and Faith Without Fear (is it really less than a month since I was in New York and getting married?), but even setting them aside, I realised that I’ve been reading really big books lately. I’m on page 623 (of 712 pages of main text) of The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, page 427 (of 712 or so pages) of The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who and page 491 (of 528) of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World. These are mostly heavy-going books (not the Doctor Who one, except inasmuch as I get annoyed with some of the views expressed in it, particularly hatred for late seventies Who) and I’m finally getting near the end of most of them. It’s been a long journey through them, but I would have read several novels or shorter religious works in the same time (I did read some, actually), so I should probably beat myself up less about that. I do definitely want to tear through some light novels soon, though.

***

Shana tova tikatev vetichatem! May you be written and sealed for a good new year!

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

Good things that happened today:

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal Shabbat. In other words, I’m still struggling with sleep and social anxiety around shul (synagogue). I did go to shul on Friday night. I’ve decided the chazzan (cantor), who is notorious for SHOUTING when he sings during the service, is not terribly autism-friendly. I don’t like being shouted out, particularly not in what is supposed to be music. It’s unlikely that I will be going to this shul after E and I get married, except when we stay with my parents, so it’s not a huge problem, but it’s irritating for now.

On the way home, one of my father’s acquaintances (I’ll call him Fred) saw us and waited for us to catch up with him. He wished me mazal tov on my civil wedding and said his daughter lives in New York. After we got home, Dad said to me, “Did you not want to talk to Fred?” I had no idea what he meant. Apparently, Fred had been standing on my Dad’s right and after he spoke to me, I moved away from him and walked on my Dad’s left. I should also have known that his comment about his daughter was an opening conversational gambit inviting discussion of New York. I realised none of this until it was pointed out to me, and I doubt I would really notice in the future. This is what happens operating on a mixture of autism and social anxiety. I hope Fred was not offended.

Otherwise Shabbat was the usual mix of eating, davening (praying) and Torah study. Because Mum and Dad were away this week and didn’t want to cook on Friday, we ordered food from a kosher restaurant. It was delivered on Friday morning and we just heated it on our hot plate for Shabbat. It was very nice, but the portions were incredibly large. We had intended to eat it on Friday night only, but it lasted for Shabbat lunch too.

Despite being ‘leftovers,’ lunch was large enough that I didn’t even try not to sleep it off afterwards. I slept for about three hours, with disturbing dreams (I had different disturbing dreams last night too). Part of the problem was waking with bright light in my eyes from the window as I didn’t draw the curtains, which just makes me scrunch up my eyes and eventually fall asleep again. (It also gives me dreams where I experience uncomfortably bright light in my eyes.) But when I finally woke up properly, it felt like I had been buried alive and was climbing out of a grave, soil in my throat choking me and felt like I was panting for breath when I finally awoke, which I suppose may be more evidence of sleep/breathing issues.

***

I read more of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, the commentary on Eichah (Lamentations), which I’ve been reading since around the Fast of Av nearly two months ago. For a short book of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), it’s a very long commentary. I just passed page 400, but I still have more than a hundred pages to go. To be honest, part of me is tempted to stop for a break, and I probably will a bit this week, as I will want to listen to the shiurim (religious classes) at the London School of Jewish Studies’ study day tomorrow, listening to some live tomorrow and to the recording of others during the next week or two.  However, I worry that if I stop for too long, it will be impossible to start again, as it’s pretty bleak and heavy-going, although thorough and enlightening. I know Eichah better than many books of Nakh (the post-Mosaic Bible books) because it’s read every year on the  Fast of Av, but the book has made me appreciate it as a much more complex and literary text than I thought.

***

Other book-related news: after my post here the other week about the book Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide from the 1990s, I found a copy going for £1.99 on eBay. On a whim, I bid for it, not really expecting to get it, as I don’t think I’ve ever won an eBay auction before, or, if I have, only once. However, no one else even bid, so I got it for £5.34 including postage, which was pretty good when other copies on the site seem to be asking for something in the region of £40 (although this may be why those copies aren’t selling). Of course, it will probably disappoint my memories, but it’s good nostalgia. I really must stop buying books though, even ones I want that are going cheap.

***

I watched some of the Queen’s lying-in-state on TV on BBC Parliament after Shabbat. My parents put it on after Shabbat. I think they’ve been watching it for days. I haven’t, and I only really watched because I was in the room, but I did stick around for the changing of the guard, which was interesting to watch. My Dad is right that no one does this kind of ceremonial better than the British. Even though I’m not a terribly enthusiastic royalist, I kind of wish I could go there, but I’m not spending twenty-four hours queuing.

A lot of people were crossing themselves in front of the Queen’s coffin too. I know I got negative commentary about this when I said it before, but I find that religion has been routed from the public sphere so completely in this country that any kind of display of religion [1] seems counter-cultural, and reassuring to members of other religious minorities too small even to gain this level of recognition (e.g. Orthodox Jews like me). I remember Rabbi Lord Sacks discussing this on a podcast with Anglican priest Giles Fraser, that as a Jew he was grateful for the Church of England for keeping some kind of religion vaguely on the public radar in an otherwise very secular country. (I suspect some of my American readers, even the non-religious ones, don’t realise just how secular the UK generally is, established church notwithstanding.)

There probably is a lot to say about the intersection of religion and culture in ceremonial like this, the way this would feel inherently religious even without the large crucifix at the Queen’s head and other religious iconography, the way that the secular world simply does not seem to be able to handle something as weighty as the finality of death in this way. This is paradoxical, as atheists and agnostics ought to see death as more final than religious believers who believe in an afterlife, but somehow that belief adds to the finality for the religious, while the atheists avoid it with “celebrations of life.” But celebrating inherently subverts the seriousness of death, which is not celebratory.

Even beyond death, religion has a sense of the serious that is lacking in our constantly-moving, consumerist world. In Westminster Hall, people stand still or move slowly, which seems bizarre. I think of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going (Larkin was not at all religious), “A serious house on serious earth it is”.

Moreover, the guards in uniforms with faces averted display the kind of selfless (or self-less) absorption in ritual, process and community that the Western world has abandoned in its constant quest for individual self-expression and independence. It’s a kind of selflessness and communal identification that I want so much to attain in my own religious practise and life, but which I self-sabotage and pull away from at the same time, too independent, too afraid of losing myself, to fully throw myself in, or perhaps just too autistic, socially inept and socially anxious to actually achieve it.

[1] Actual religion not quasi-religious secular displays of emotion like clapping for the NHS during the lockdown or kneeling during the national anthem at sports matches to express inchoate anti-racism.

Existential Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Why D W Stdy Tlmd Wtht Vwls r Pncttn

I’ve been listening to a number of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts about Talmud study lately. On one of them Rabbi Kahn said something along the lines of, “If you don’t know what Talmud study involves, it’s tort law, in a dead language, with no punctuation.” In fact, there are no vowels either, although it’s not all tort law; it actually covers all aspects of life, or at least all aspects of Jewish life in Israel and Babylon a thousand years ago. Tort law is what yeshivahs generally focus on, though, as it’s very hard and is supposed to be good for intellectual development.

I was thinking about the “no punctuation and no vowels” thing. Nowadays you can get editions of the Talmud like the Steinsaltz and the Artscroll that do have the vowels and punctuation added, but these are definitely viewed by most people as lesser and a crutch for poor students, particularly those who did not have a traditional yeshivah education. All these editions with vowels and punctuation include the “classic” page layout too, with the implication being that you should “graduate” to the traditional page at some point. When I study Talmud (which I haven’t been doing so much lately), I do try to study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, even though I have to use the translation, but these days I study on the page with vowels and punctuation, not the “Vilna Shas” page without them.

I wonder why this is. Torah scrolls are traditionally written without vowels and punctuation too. However, the Masoretes, a group of scribes in the land of Israel from the fifth to tenth centuries, established the authoritative text of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) including vowels and punctuation. Nowadays, Hebrew Bibles are generally printed with vowels and punctuation. If you want to learn how to read from the unpunctuated, unvocalised Torah scroll, you have to use a special book called a Tikkun which recreates the look of a scroll. I have never encountered anyone who says that this is a crutch and that ideally we should read the Torah unvocalised and unpunctuated.

There may be a few reasons for this. The one that seems most important to me is that the idea of mass Talmud study only goes back seventy years or so. Before then, only the intellectual elite were taught it. However, all boys were taught the Torah (at least in theory), but it would be too much to expect five year olds not just to read an ancient text in a dead language (which is quite a big thing to ask in itself), but to read it without vowels or punctuation too. So everyone was taught with those and it just became accepted as normal.

Another possibility is that some difficult passages in the Talmud can be read multiple ways without vowels and punctuation and that can have halakhic (Jewish legal) impact. Bear in mind that the Talmud is structured as a series of debates, not a law code. Without punctuation, it’s not always easy to tell if it is making a statement, asking a question, asking a rhetorical question or just being sarcastic (yes, the Talmud uses sarcasm). So that might be why we aspire to study in a way that makes those ambiguities more visible, so we are aware of the multiple readings possible and not tied to one specific reading. I’m not 100% convinced by this, though, as the same ambiguities can be found in the Torah. The Torah tells us three times not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk, which is seen as the source for the prohibition on eating meat and dairy together, a major part of the kosher (dietary) laws. Yet in the unvocalised text it can be read just as legitimately as “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s fat,” which would obviously be a very different reading. We rely on oral tradition that it should read ‘milk’ and I think the people who see only unvocalised Talmud study as legitimate would be resistant to making “the masses” aware of an ambiguity like this in such a key halakhic area.

I just think it’s very, very strange and I wonder if on some level it’s about creating artificial boundaries and setting a high entrance bar, initially to ensure only the best students could study, but now to force a high standard on all men (perhaps to separate them from women?).

***

Last night I had a very slight headache before I skyped E. I took some tablets anyway, in case it got worse. Over the course of our conversation, it got a lot worse and I had to leave a bit abruptly when it got too much, although it was probably time to end the call anyway, as it was getting late. I don’t know why it got so much worse after taking meds. It did eventually go after I started using a “kool ‘n’ soothe” strip, but, as is often the case after bad headaches, when it went, I was not feeling at all sleepy — even though by this stage it was 1am! I went to bed very late, although I did fall asleep quickly once I got to bed despite the heat.

I ate some ice cream late at night which seems to be becoming a regular Thursday treat, at least while the heatwaves last. I feel like I can go through the week without junk a bit easier knowing I can have this at the end (I also eat less healthily on Shabbat, although better than in the past). The overall trend for me at the moment is to lose weight, though, which is good. It is a struggle to cut back, even though I actually wasn’t eating that much junk objectively, but clomipramine made all the calories go straight to my belly. It is hard sometimes to get to the end of a hard day and not even allow myself one biscuit.

I woke up again struggling to breathe this morning, lying on my stomach. I go to sleep on my side, but apparently turned over in my sleep. Lying flat is worse for sleep apnoea. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for signs of sleep apnoea, as I would have thought I just woke with a start from a dream and that was why I was gasping. This explains to me why I never noticed signs of breathing issues before the doctor suggested it as a reason for disturbed and unrefreshing sleep.

Otherwise it’s the usual end of the week exhaustion/autistic exhaustion/poor sleep exhaustion/whatever exhaustion, worsened by heatwave exhaustion. I did do some novel writing, although I’m a bit ashamed that I had to disconnect the internet to focus. Putting some music on very quietly helped too. Loud music stops me concentrating, but quiet music was neutral or even beneficial for concentrating, which is interesting. I will have to experiment some more with it. I’ve written over 26,000 words now, which is basically a quarter of a novel. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think most authors do.

I’m a bit daunted by the thought of sorting out the wedding paperwork (partly worried I’m going to forget something or leave something out and delay the wedding further), but it’s exciting that E and I will hopefully be married before Pesach (Passover), albeit that that timeline really depends on the Home Office.

Honest Jewish Experience and Novel Submission

I’ve mentioned before that I read therapist Elisheva Liss’ weekly “schmoozeletter,” which combines thoughts on the weekly sedra (Torah reading) with insights from modern psychology and psychotherapy. This week she spoke about people in struggling (but not abusive or clearly not working) marriages. She tries to get them to label their interactions and other aspects of the marriage with marks out of ten, with one for the worst possible experience and ten for the best. Then she tries to get people to accept that a set of perfect tens is unrealistic and that a wider range of values can result in a marriage that, while imperfect, is still rewarding and enjoyable. “Maybe getting to a range of 5-7 would be transformative and beautiful in its own imperfect way, if we stopped fixating on the elusive, unrealistic 10?”

I wondered if I should apply this to my religious life. Maybe I’m looking for perfect tens for my davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, middot (character traits), emunah (faith) and so on. Perhaps I can accept a religious life that is good enough rather than perfect. I haven’t, as yet, assessed the different parts of my religious life and I’m not sure that giving them an exact score is a good idea, but instead I should try to feel that I don’t have to have perfect concentration and connection when davening, I don’t have to have amazing insights every time I study Torah and so on in order to have a meaningful religious life. I just have to be having a better than average experience regularly.

Part of the problem is knowing what I actually FEEL when davening/studying Torah/etc.? I don’t have an official diagnosis of alexithymia (difficulty recognising and distinguishing my own emotions), but one therapist was very sure that I have that difficulty and that is my own experience too. When I feel that my davening or my Torah study lacks a feeling of connection or joy, perhaps the issue is recognising and distinguishing the emotions rather than actually feeling them. This is supported by the fact that I continued with davening and Torah study during the years when I was severely depressed, often at a reduced level, but it was important for me to do something and that probably indicates more than fear and certainly more than just habit.

Likewise, I believe that God exists, and I can tell that I hold this belief much more strongly than I have in the past, so the fact that I don’t feel a strong connection to Him may be a product of unrecognised emotions rather than absent emotions. That said, thinking about connection with God is an inherently subjective and emotional subject, so maybe I shouldn’t see that as the be all and end all of my religious life.

***

Another thought was prompted by an Orthodox Conundrum podcast featuring Rabbi Pesach Sommer talking about whether it is possible to educate for faith (not indoctrinate). He spoke about Orthodox thinkers that teenagers should be introduced to (I had read most of them, pleasingly) and one was Hillel Zeitlin. Zeitlin is a fairly obscure figure who was raised in a strict Hasidic family in late nineteenth century Poland, stopped being frum as a teenager, getting into secular philosophy and Russian literature, then later became frum again, but combined his passion for philosophy and literature with Judaism, writing about religion in Dostoyevski and Tolstoy from a Jewish perspective alongside articles on Jewish figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Rav Kook and, if I remember correctly, trying to compare Judaism with Eastern religions. He was eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

I was familiar with Zeitlin from a volume of his writings that Jewish Renewal rabbi Arthur Green published a number of years ago and he did inspire me, albeit more by his example than by the writings themselves (as with Franz Rosenzweig). The relevance of this here is that Rabbi Sommer saw Zeitlin as a useful writer because he was not a rabbi and was therefore freer to write about his religious doubts and growth than ordained rabbis. He can therefore be a model of the religious quest, rather than a static view of Judaism and Jewish belief and practice.

The point of all this is that it made me wonder if there is benefit to my recording my thoughts about Judaism and my religious growth, including false starts and wrong turns, after all, precisely because I’m not a rabbi and I don’t need to pretend to be living a perfect religious life. I can be honest and authentic without needing to pretend I have all the answers. I can, in fact, try out different answers without having to be sure that they are “correct.”

***

I struggled to sleep again last night. I got four or five hours sleep and I got up alright this morning, but I made a lot of mistakes at work, perhaps due to tiredness, or to sensory overload from the noise of the air conditioner — or autistic executive function issues, or incompetence, or, or, or…

A small victory: doing mundane tasks while listening to podcasts at work, I listened to a therapist critique the shidduch system of arranged dates in the Orthodox world. She said single young people should enjoy the best years of their lives and not worry about being on the shelf in their early twenties. The “best years of their lives” bit would have depressed me in the past as my teens and twenties were mostly spent unemployed, clinically depressed and very lonely, not doing very much at all, and desperately needing the autism/Asperger’s diagnosis I wouldn’t get for years. I did wince a bit, but I just went on with what I was doing. Yes, I had a miserable time. Yes, lots of people had more fun. Probably the net amount of fun they have over their lifetimes will be greater than mine. But there isn’t much point in going over that all over again. I guess things can only get better? (And, yes, we’ve discussed here before whether teens and twenties really are the best years of your life.)

I got the marriage paperwork I was trying to get hold of yesterday, so we’ve got that to look forward to…

***

I submitted my novel to another agent. I wanted to submit to two, but this one wanted so much stuff that I had didn’t have to hand (elevator pitch, one page synopsis) that I ran out of time. It took well over an hour to submit. It’s frustrating that agents all want different things. One wants a one page synopsis, another wants a two page synopsis and it’s harder than you might think to turn one into the other. When what they want is straightforward, I can submit in twenty minutes or so, but this took nearly four times as long.

The agent that I submitted to was the one who found Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I can’t pretend that this didn’t leap out to me because I’m currently reading it, but I guess there are some similarities, although I didn’t list it as a published novel similar to my own (I thought that would be gauche; if there are similarities, she can spot them for herself). I broke my informal rule of not submitting to the CEO of an agency (unless it’s a very small one) because she genuinely seemed like the best fit at this agency. I just hope she has the time to deal with the books she represents.

To be honest, I feel my first novel is a mess, an attempt at writing autobiographical fiction that mutated into more imaginative fiction, but not enough. Some of the autobiographical bits are OK, but the strongest part is the non-autobiographical plot thread about a frum woman being abused by abused by her husband. If I wasn’t involved in other writing (and wasn’t afraid of charges of appropriation?), I’d be tempted to try to expand that to a whole novel on its own. Of the three people (other than me) who have read it, two liked it (and the third arguably was not the target audience), which I guess counts for something. I feel that my current novel is better, but also significantly flawed (I just realised a major flaw in it so far). I guess it’s a learning process.

As is often the case when I submit my manuscript, I was left feeling that I am a bad writer and reader for not reading modern fiction. In a weird way, this is probably due to autism/Asperger’s. Like many people on the spectrum, I like to stick with things I know I will like and can understand deeply rather than trying to understand something new. I read the same authors and sometimes I re-read the same books multiple times, although I’m trying to do that less. I’ve read all the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (most of them multiple times), all the surviving fiction of Franz Kafka (ditto), all of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, much of the prodigious outputs of Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (all the Professor Challenger stories as well as the more famous Sherlock Holmes ones), Agatha Christie, John le Carre and various other writers. I haven’t read anything from contemporary writers who have only written one or two books. Reading broadly is more of a problem than reading deeply, and reading modern is more of a problem than reading classics.

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insomnia B’Av

I didn’t go to the dentist on Friday. About an hour before the appointment, the surgery rang to say the dentist had gone home ill. I’ve got another appointment booked for Tuesday. My wisdom tooth is not really painful, more uncomfortable at times, at least if I can avoid prodding it with my tongue (harder than you might think).

***

I didn’t intend to post tonight, but I had a difficult day and now I can’t sleep. The two may not be connected, but I thought it would be worth trying to get my thoughts in order.

Lunch was difficult. Angela wrote recently about the “identified patient” in a family and the way that can change and the different family members can affect one another. In my family, I’m pretty sure everyone thinks of me as the identified patient. I’ve been… let’s say not functioning as expected for about twenty years now, I have a neurological diagnosis that is never going to change (Asperger’s/autism) and mental health issues that have come and gone (or come and stayed in some cases). I’ve been in different types of talking therapy a lot. But I think other family members have their own issues, issues that they aren’t necessarily aware of or addressing. I guess owning up to a mental health issue is hard and counselling or therapy can be quite intense and painful, in terms of confronting the negative sides of your history and personality. But it’s hard when this impacts everyone else in the family.

I don’t really want to go into more detail about this. Part of me would like to in a password-protected post, but part of me is overwhelmed at the thought of writing so much of my life history and how it intertwines with those of my parents and sister, and I’m not sure it’s very ethical to tell people about the skeletons in my family’s closets. I’ve spoken to therapists about it in the past, but while I feel I understand the family dynamic, now and in the past, well, I don’t always feel able to move on from it. For now, suffice to say I left lunch feeling very overwhelmed and had what I think must be an autistic shutdown (it’s not always clear to me). I just lay on the bed for two hours. I don’t think I fell asleep, or not for long. I just lay still until I felt well enough to move again.

After that I tried to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but the description of loneliness was overwhelming too, and reminded me of how I used to be before E. I suppose I still am somewhat lonely; I don’t think E can/should be my only social contact, but I struggle to make friends I really connect with. My thoughts about starting online groups for autistic Jews or Jews on the fringes of the Orthodox community are as much for me as anyone else. I couldn’t face reading The Third Reich in Power, so I read The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy for a bit before shul (synagogue). I finished it, finally (it’s very short, but I was reading slowly). I still feel a bit that nearly forty is too old for me to learn to have sex, but I’m trying not to let that bother me. There was some stuff about dealing with guilt about previous sexual experiences (masturbation, not having kept the rules of shomer negiah (not touching before marriage)) that was somewhat helpful to me. But it does just remind me that we’re a long way from even knowing when our wedding will be.

***

After that I went to shul and ate seudah (the Shabbat third meal, which today was the last meal before the fast started — see below). I read Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, which is also heavy-going. Most of the other books in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series have been organised on chunks of text, but this goes through Eichah (Lamentations) line by line, which is interesting in some ways, but very detailed. It gets quite draining quite quickly, and it’s a big book too (even though Eichah is one of the shorter books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

***

Tisha B’Av (the Fast of Av) started at 8.39pm. This is the saddest day of Jewish year, when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem and many, many, many bad things in Jewish history. It actually fell on Shabbat, but the holiness of Shabbat displaces it to Sunday, so to speak. Which means that it falls on 10 Av this year, which is my Hebrew birthday. I don’t make much of birthdays, and I celebrate my Gregorian calendar birthday anyway, but this is vaguely depressing.

I went to shul in the evening and found the service quite moving, which was good as I thought I was going to be too fed up from the day to get anything out of it. I came home and there wasn’t a lot to do, as we’re supposed to avoid anything fun on the fast, including Torah study (except sad bits like Eichah). I read the Lamentations book for a bit, then The Third Reich in Power, but decided to go to bed soon after. I couldn’t sleep though. I tried to sleep on one pillow rather than two, which is another mourning custom for the fast, but I couldn’t fall sleep. Then I tried with two pillows and still couldn’t sleep, so I’m now sitting on the floor (we sit on low chairs or the floor until midday tomorrow, another mourning custom) typing this and not feeling very tired.

Insomnia for me is often from not relaxing enough before bed. I didn’t really relax at all tonight. Normally I would read or watch something to relax myself, but I can’t really do that. Or I would drink hot chocolate, but I can’t do that either. I’m not supposed to fast given that I’m taking lithium, but I try to fast until midday as the afternoon is somewhat less sad. Technically the fast is an all or nothing thing and if I’m going to break it at lunchtime tomorrow (which I am going to do), I can break it now, but I like to keep at least some of the spirit of the day.

***

This was an interesting article about finding meaning on Tisha B’Av. I think a lot of it applies to Judaism in general for me. It can be hard to find the meaning in each specific mitzvah (commandment) or event; the meaning emerges from being part of the collective experience of a whole nation over three thousand years (how many people other than Jews have even the vaguest idea what their ancestors were doing three thousand years ago? Some, but not many). I probably do find more meaning in being Jewish as a totality across my whole life rather than in any particular mitzvah.

The Sense of an Ending

I had insomnia again last night, then overslept today and was a bit drained all day. I’m not sure if that’s the result of heat or exhaustion, as it has been quite hot again (although not as hot as during the heatwave), but I also spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) mostly focusing on religious things (prayer, shul (synagogue), Torah study) and not relaxing. I did manage to do a few things today despite this.

E and I filled out the online application form for a wedding licence. We hope to book an appointment to get that licence tomorrow, when the licenses for the week we want are released. It’s a slow, bureaucratic process, filling in a form to get an appointment to get a licence, but at least if feels like we’re moving forward.

I’m also making slow, but steady progress with my novel. I don’t have much to say about that. I went for my first run in a couple of weeks too. Again, not great pace, and I did get a headache, but it was good to be exercising. I did experience some dizziness intermittently in the evening afterwards and I’m not sure what caused that. The headache did stop me doing much in the evening. I really just watched episodes of The Simpsons and listened to a religious podcast as I didn’t feel up to reading to study Torah (some episodes of the Orthodox Conundrum, like the one I listened to today, are strongly religious or even halakhic (based on Jewish law), whereas others are more cultural or political (in broad terms) with little directly religious content).

***

I have a couple of wisdom teeth that have been partially erupted for some years now. Dentists have never bothered to remove them, as they weren’t causing any pain. The gum over one of them has suddenly started become raw and sensitive over the last few days, and I can see the gum where the tooth is coming through is white, indicating the tooth is pressing on it from beneath. I really hope I don’t have to have the teeth removed right before I go to the US. For the moment it’s irritating, but not too painful, but I’ll have to see if it gets better or worse.

***

JYP commented on my previous post to say that there is a tendency in frum (religious Jewish) personal stories to “wrap [the story] up neatly and relatively quickly”. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure it’s unique to frum journalism.

Today I was reading an article on a Jewish website about a frum influencer’s struggle with alcoholism. It again had the narrative of descending to a low point, then steadily improving. This is unlikely to be the whole story, as addicts usually relapse at least once before achieving sobriety.

I think narratives are partly determined by the technical requirements of genre and medium, which is a fancy way of saying that in a personal story of one to two thousand words (which seems to be the average for personal stories like this on Jewish websites), you don’t get a lot of time to detail long and perhaps somewhat cyclical processes of change and relapse. There is also an expectation of closure at the end of a story in the Western tradition. In People Love Dead Jews, Dara Horn identifies this as primarily a Christian or post-Christian trope, saying that Yiddish and Hebrew prose fiction from the last couple of centuries often just ends abruptly with nothing resolved[1], but these religious sites are largely aimed at Westernised, secular readers.

In a wider sense, it’s common (cliched, even) nowadays for people to refer to life as a “story” or a “journey” [2], suggesting (at least in the Western tradition, according to Horn) a process with a clear beginning and ending with a linear path between them. Reality is more meandering and unfocused. Perhaps we need more stories, fiction and non-fiction, that meander and end inconclusively. For what it’s worth, my current novel is structured around the protagonist’s repeated falls from attempted sobriety and I am toying with the idea of an open, inconclusive ending. How to maintain interest despite the repetition is going to be hard, as will making the novel seem finished and not abandoned at the end.

[1] I’m not an expert on Hebrew and Yiddish literature, but from what I have read, Mendele Mocher-Seforim’s The Travels of Benjamin the Third ends very abruptly (it feels like the author lost interest) and a couple of Shalom Aleichem’s stories about Jewish rail passengers telling tales to each other stop suddenly when the storyteller’s station appears and he gets off. As for the kind of non-Jewish literature that Yiddish readers might have encountered, I’m not an expert on Russian literature either, but Crime and Punishment has quite a rushed ending (the ‘crime’ takes up most of the novel, the ‘punishment’ only a few pages) and The Brothers Karamazov ends very abruptly and with a lot left hanging, to the extent that, after 1,300 pages, I wasn’t sure it was actually the end. War and Peace meanders a lot through very different situations with no clear plot thread, but I can’t remember how it finishes, beyond the huge non-fiction appendix with Tolstoy’s weird ideas about history.

[2] When I was working in further education, whenever the institution would refer to the students’ “learning journeys,” my boss would comment derisively, “They’re not on a ‘learning journey!’ They’ve gone to college!”

The Tribe of Dan and Not Being Left Behind

It’s the bit of summer when we get a heatwave in the UK and I feel too hot to go to bed, so I’m blogging, even though it’s nearly midnight (when I started. It’s nearly 1am now I’ve finished). It was a normal Shabbat (Sabbath) in terms of shul (synagogue) attendance, Torah study, walk and so on. I came back from Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) to find my parents in the garden with their friends. Their friends are very talkative and very loud, and the windows were all open because of the heat, so wherever I went in the house I had to listen to their conversation on health and the supposed inadequacies of the criminal justice system. (I wonder how expensive the penal system would be if we incarcerated every serious criminal literally for life as they seemed to want?) I tried to tune them out and read The Third Reich in Power, which isn’t the most cheerful read, but is interesting and engaging.

***

As well as reading about Nazis, I read a bit more of The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy. I can’t read more than a few pages at a time, as it inspires a whole mixture of emotions: excitement at marrying E; frustration that immigration delays mean we probably won’t be under the chuppah until March; perhaps some sadness that I’m coming to my sexuality so much later than most people; and especially anxiety that this is going to be another thing I’m not good at (these days, I basically feel that I’m good at writing and nothing else, although E says I do have other skills). It sounds so complicated and scary! I am reliably informed that birds do it, bees do and even educated fleas do it. No information about uneducated fleas, but uneducated humans seem to manage OK, but I wonder how sometimes. I think the authors are trying to be realistic and even somewhat reassuring that “It’s not like movies and TV,” but it seems to make it worse for me.

***

I probably shouldn’t have written recently about “anxiety” as it’s mostly apprehension rather than real anxiety. I guess I still haven’t really come to terms with the fact that I lost most of my life between the ages of about nineteen and thirty-seven to depression and/or autistic burnout, and that social anxiety has been an issue since a very young age. I still feel that if anything can go wrong in my life, it will, and that God wants to make me suffer as some kind of test of faith or behaviour. I have to remind myself of many things I have successfully achieved, even if some of them went wrong in the long run (nothing lasts forever), so that I feel that I will be able to achieve more things in the future. I have to try to tell myself that God wants more for me than simply enduring suffering. There’s no way to be sure that that’s true, of course, but if I tell myself I’m going to suffer forever, I probably will.

***

A thought I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks (which I’m not going to source properly as I normally would do, because it’s nearly half past midnight. Anyway, I’ve seen most of this in the secondary literature, not the primary sources): the Torah in Beha’alotechah (the third Torah reading from Bamidbar (Numbers)) states that the Israelites were divided into four camps in the wilderness, and moved through the desert in strict order. The fourth camp was led by the Tribe of Dan, who are described as the “me’asef” of all the camps. Modern translations render me’asef as something like ‘rear guard,’ but the literal meaning is more like ‘gatherer’. This led to the interpretation of Rashi that the Tribe of Dan gathered any property left behind after the other camps moved on and restored it to its owners (I assume Rashi is basing himself on a Midrash; he usually does. EDIT: I just checked Sefaria and it’s from a comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) Eruvin). The Bekhor Shor goes further and says that Dan gathered in the people who were late and missed travelling with their own tribal camps.

Elsewhere there’s an idea that Dan was the lowest of the twelve tribes of Israel and the most prone to idolatry, probably based on the fact that they were the only tribe that never conquered their allotted land in Israel (on the coastal plain) and a chunk of the tribe went off north towards what’s now Lebanon to find other land. On the way they ended up finding and essentially stealing an idolatrous sanctuary (Shoftim/Judges). There is also Shimshon (Samson), virtually the only significant Danite in Tanakh, who feels more like a Greek hero than a Jewish one.

Putting these two ideas together, maybe there’s a sense that, to reach the people on the margins, the people who are in danger of getting left behind (literally and metaphorically), you have to be halfway towards getting left behind yourself. I won’t deny that this is a further attempt to think myself into a more positive view of my life story, my religiosity and my place in the Jewish community, to try make something good out of years of depression/burnout and religious and community engagement that is perhaps a lot less than might have been expected from someone like me (maybe. Sometimes I think I do a lot more than someone dealt this hand could really be expected to do. It’s hard to tell what is right). I would like to reach Jews who are in danger of being ‘left behind’ with my writing, although I only have the vaguest ideas of how, or what would happen afterwards.

Materialism, Ego and Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rain It Raineth Every Day

It’s not actually raining. It might rain later, but it might not. The title is a quote from Shakespeare (Twelfth Night. I was props manager on a production when I was in the sixth form, in one of the few non-academic things I ever did as a teenager). It just sums up how I feel when I get sucked back into exhaustion and burnout, like I can never escape from feelings of exhaustion, low mood and general non-functionality.

I had a busy week and a very busy day yesterday. Yesterday I had work. The morning was spent on the usual paperwork and similar jobs, I spent my lunch break looking at pictures of wedding venues and spent much of the afternoon doing a boring cut-and-paste task, but was able to listen to podcasts while doing it. Surprisingly, I felt OK after work so I did Torah study on the commute home (usually I just do it on the commute to work in the morning), went shopping, went for a slightly longer walk home from the station, listened to Mum’s description of her awful day at length, and did some novel writing when I got home. Then I had dinner with my Mum and sister (Dad and brother-in-law being at cricket together), heard about Mum’s awful day at length again, and skyped E. Realistically, this was far too much for one day. In my defence, no one actually told me my sister was coming for dinner until I got home, otherwise I might have not done all these things. I could still have skipped writing, but by that stage, I had my mind set on it and it’s hard for autistic people to change plans.

(I also broke my diet by eating ice cream last night, as I needed some kind of treat.)

The result was massive exhaustion today. I slept too long, couldn’t get up, couldn’t get dressed once I did get up, missed the time for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and basically couldn’t start my day until the early afternoon. My main task for the day was to phone the United Synagogue again about E and my wedding issues, to find out if Rabbi B is away or how to get hold of him, but by the time I did it, I just got the answer phone. They probably leave early on Fridays. I intend to email Rabbi B again on Sunday so that, if he’s been away, my email is on the top of his pile on Monday morning. I think I need to be the squeaky wheel on this, which is not something that comes easily to me.

After lunch (and Doctor Who) I had a little more energy, so I did some of my usual Shabbat chores, then tried to write, as I had by this time brainpower, but not much physical energy for hoovering, the main task left to do for Shabbat. I figured that being drained, fed up and frustrated probably wasn’t a bad mood to be in for the book I’m writing. Even so, it was very difficult. I did manage to write for nearly an hour, and to write about 700 words, but it was difficult and I suspect many of those words will vanish in the editing.

I’m struggling with the idea of the “male gaze”. The novel is very “male gaze-y” — which is rather the point, as the protagonist is a pornography addict, and one of the themes of the book is the way pornography can rewire a person’s brain in that way, and another theme is the way religious sexual restrictions can make people more aware of sex rather than less [1], but I worry readers will see it as reflecting my viewpoint and not the character’s and mark me down accordingly. E says you can’t write a book without offending some people, which is probably true, and I probably underestimate readers, but I just worry about not getting published or read.

It’s weird to write it though. It’s getting in touch with a part of myself that I have always repressed and been ashamed of, the part that notices women, and it’s been strange to try to channel that deliberately. I would never normally write (of a man in a supermarket queue) that he was “trying to avoid staring at the slim hips and wider backside of the attractive twenty-something in a tight miniskirt in front of him.” So it feels strange and more than a little wrong (from a feminist point of view as much as a religious one) to write it.

After writing, I hoovered, but ended up feeling rather ill, faint, headachey and generally bad. I may have done too much. The weather, hot and humid, doesn’t help. I do feel somewhat better now, but not really ready for Shabbat: no writing or blogging or DVDs and lots of peopling albeit probably just with Mum and Dad (that can still be draining, though, especially when I feel like this). I do have to go now, though.

[1] I understand that there is indeed evidence from psychological studies that people from religious backgrounds that forbid or restrict sexual thoughts have noticeably more sexual thoughts than other people, probably from the same effect that makes it impossible not to think of a pink elephant as soon as someone tells you not to think of one.

(Not) Make or Break

I didn’t blog much this week. There was stuff I wanted to write about, but didn’t have the time, or decided I didn’t want to make a big thing about it (to myself as much as to anyone else) by writing on the blog, particularly if I could vent by speaking to E. I got angry and confused with someone who used to be a friend, but decided life is too short to focus on things like that.

I didn’t really stop all week between Yom Tov (Jewish festival), work, an ECG at the hospital (it was fine), novel-writing and work again. I’m back to making a lot of mistakes at work, which makes me feel bad. E thinks I’m bored there, which may be right. I stayed up late last night writing my first devar Torah (Torah thought) in two months or more. Then, when I was about to go to bed, E texted me with an update about how we can prove her Jewish status so we can get married. It’s left us feeling a bit worried and uncertain; I’m glad we’re speaking to Rabbi L on Sunday so we can discuss what we have to do about it, but the next forty-eight hours or so will be anxious. I texted my rabbi mentor about it today and he feels confident it will work out, which is positive.

(I should probably explain that in the Orthodox Jewish world, Jewish identity is passed on matrilineally, or through conversion through a recognised Orthodox Beth Din (rabbinical court), so to get married in an Orthodox shul, you need to prove that you are Jewish by showing an Orthodox conversion certificate for yourself or an Orthodox marriage certificate for your parents. E, like many American Jews, has gone several generations without an Orthodox marriage among her direct ancestors, so it’s going to be a bit harder to prove, but hopefully not impossible. I’m sure this is something that Rabbi L, and certainly the London Beth Din, has come across before.)

I slept badly because of the marriage issue, having nightmares about trying to write some kind of Twitter (?) messages to my blog friends and rabbi mentor about the situation and having all kinds of technical problems (it was weirder than that, but I can’t remember all the details). It’s pretty clear that my unconscious was worried about getting stuck in limbo with this too. Inevitably, after all of this (this week as much as last night), I slept very late and woke up feeling very drained. My parents got a bit annoyed with me too.

I did write a little of my novel this week, including today. Because of my late start, lack of energy and extra pre-Shabbat chores (because we didn’t have a cleaner this week), I had to choose between going for a walk or working on my novel. Really I needed to do both, for both my physical and mental health, but I chose to write for an hour or (with a little procrastination time), writing 600 words, which was pretty good considering I was struggling a bit.

***

The next six weeks or so have a bit of a “make or break” feeling that I mustn’t let get to me: E and I will get a clearer idea if there are any significant legal or religious obstacles to our marriage, I’m up for a Jewish journalism award for an article I wrote, and I’ll find out if I’m accepted on a new writers’ programme I applied to. My parents are away for a few days next week too. I need to make sure I don’t let the pressure get to me and to assume that any setbacks in these few weeks will determine the rest of my (with E or as a writer, or anything else) and that there can be second (and third, and fourth, etc.) chances to sort things out.

The other thing I’m trying to do at the moment is to feel that it’s OK to be me. That it’s OK that I’m not a super-successful writer, lawyer, doctor, rabbi or anything else like so many of my peers seem to be. It would be easier if I felt I knew more about what I should be doing with my life and could feel that I was doing that correctly even if I wasn’t managing other things, but I am trying. I guess this ties to the previous paragraph, as winning awards or getting on writing programmes is how I hope I can further (read: start) my writing career, but I have to try to tell myself I’m good enough as a person even if I don’t get those things.

***

I finished The Odyssey. About to start Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, because I need a light read instead!

Tremor and Procrastination

I felt low on waking and exhausted from yesterday, which I guess was not surprising (work, online shiur and long call with E late at night). I had a dental check-up, which did at least get me up and out the house. I had some tremor, not very bad and the dentist didn’t say anything, but I felt self-conscious. I think it’s mostly psychological now, I get so worried about shaking that I sort of overthink it and shake. It happens whenever I need to hold still: doctors check-ups, dentists, opticians. I’m OK when my Mum cuts my hair, perhaps because I’m relaxed. I don’t know what I would be like going back to a professional barber; I haven’t done that since lockdown. I shake sometimes when taking photos too and especially when my photo is taken. I’m not sure what I can do about it at this stage. I distracted myself thinking up a whole silly joke about Boris Johnson in the wake of the “Partygate” report: during lockdown, the Prime Minister was ambushed by a cake, surprised by a leaving party, confused by a works-drinks event, and misled by a small bar mitzvah. Boris Johnson denied having an aliyah at the later, but later ITV published photos of him doing petichah. The Prime Minister denied having deceived the public, claiming that, “Everyone knows that a weekday petichah isn’t a proper aliyah.” (Sorry, no time to explain all of this if you don’t get it!)

When I got back, I spent a while procrastinating about phoning the Jewish mental health charity to see if they can help with my disrupted sleep, which may or may not be mental health-related. I eventually found the courage to phone, only to discover their referrals process is automated, so I just had to speak to a non-scary answerphone. I also emailed a contact at a charity that deals with autism support to see if they can help. I don’t know if I will qualify for help from either. I feel I fall a bit between two (or more) stools on this; it may be autistic exhaustion; it may be social anxiety and avoidance; it may be medication side-effects; or it may be something else entirely. It is hard to know who to ask for help. I got an email back from the second charity and I think the person was a bit confused as to why I was writing to her. Maybe I didn’t stress that it might be autistic exhaustion enough.

I spent some time working on my novel, finishing the first draft of the first chapter. I probably shouldn’t show my work to anyone at this stage, but I was worried that my plans for this novel just won’t work (in terms of what I said the other day about wanting to be honest and not prudish, but also not pornographic), so I sent it to E, who fortunately liked it and felt it worked.

I did a little bit of Torah study. I would have liked to have done more, but I procrastinated too much and ran out of time. In the evening, my parents and I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s for dinner. I tried to do some more Torah study in the car, but started to feel travel sick. I used to be able to read in cars without a problem, but don’t seem to be able to do it any more. I can still read on trains, but buses can go either way, I’m not sure why.

I wanted to write about my anxiety about getting married — not the decision to get married, but my fear that something will go wrong and prevent us getting married at all. However, it’s very late and I have work tomorrow, so that will have to wait for another time.