The Purpose of Life

Today was not really a good day. I did remember, belatedly, the advice not to give a label which contains a narrative to something abstract, because it creates the thing it describes. In other words, a bad day is just a series of events until you label them “A Bad Day.” You can’t point to a “Bad Day” and see an object sitting there, rather you conceptualise it as a bad day. Still, a lot of stuff seemed to go wrong.

I thought I overslept. I hadn’t, but it meant I felt that I was on the back foot from the start of the day. I woke up out of what was probably on some level an anxiety dream about my shul (synagogue) and possibly about what would happen if I wanted to get married there (although the actual dream was about someone stealing the rabbi’s hat).

Much of the day at work was just boring, sorting through my predecessor’s emails and deleting those which are spammy or trivial. J told me that I had been consistently doing one task wrong, forgetting to record details on spreadsheets. I was recording on one or two, but there were another two to complete. There are so many spreadsheets in this job! It is hard to remember all of them even without autistic multitasking issues. Then I went to the bank, got a quarter of the way there and realised I’d filled in the paying-in slip wrongly as J had given me another cheque after I’d filled it in and I’d changed the spreadsheet, but not the physical slip (multitasking and spreadsheets again). I thought I would correct it in the bank and carried on, but when I got halfway there I realised they have taken all the pens away because of COVID. So I had to go back to the office and tell J what happened, correct the slip and then go out again. I felt like an idiot.

After that, the day went into terminal decline. J wanted some papers that I’d given him and wouldn’t believe that he didn’t already have them. Then he needed some other papers and I couldn’t find them. Eventually we discovered I’d filed them in the wrong folder. Then I photocopied them instead of scanning them, then scanned them as one document instead of two. Then it was leaving time, but I realised I’d forgotten to give J my invoice for July and I’d forgotten that he wants me to work on Tuesday next week instead of Monday (although at least I found out now and not on Monday).

***

Good things-wise, I wrote to my writer friend the other day about tips for finding an agent and she sent me some resources (and a warning to beware of fraudulent agents, which apparently are A Thing). That said, I think my first stop will be one agent E suggested who works with literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy with Jewish themes, so who might be sympathetic both to my desire to write specifically Jewish books and my desire to write literary fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy novels. I had been concerned an agent might want to force me down one path or the other.

The other good thing today was talking to E and hearing some good news, which I will not mention now as it’s still very up in the air. (Before you get too excited, no, we’re not engaged.)

Things did get better and I feel vaguely embarrassed about getting so upset about my work mishaps. I guess it shows that there isn’t such a thing as a Bad Day, merely a narrative about certain incidents in close temporal proximity to each other.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot today about The Black Iron Prison, Philip K. Dick’s gnostic/psychotic (in the literal, psychiatric sense) vision of the world and its politics as supernatural dungeon. And I was going to write about it, but after speaking to my parents and E I recovered from having a bad day and decided I didn’t want to write a melodramatic political post, so The Black Iron Prison will have to wait for another day when I’m feeling down and grumpy.

***

Reading an old blog post elsewhere on the internet, I came across this quote about Rabbi Chaim of Volozyn, nineteenth century Talmud scholar and mystic and founder of the first modern yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). The quote is from his son, Rabbi Itzele Volozyner: “He would routinely rebuke me because he saw that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.”

This is interesting because, more than almost anyone else (except his teacher, the Vilna Gaon), Reb Chaim embodies the attitude of total focus on Talmudic study as the primary religious practice (or primary practice full stop) of the religious Jewish man. Yet here the focus is on being good to others, in whatever way you can, or even just empathising with them. I suppose it makes me feel that my Jewish life can be worthwhile even if I am bad at Talmud study, if I can help others somehow. Admittedly I’m not great at helping others either, but it’s more achievable, and I do hope that writing and even blogging (and commenting on other people’s blogs) can help.

I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

My Name is Luftmentsch

Today was mostly dull, except for a time-consuming bit that made me realise my family history may be even murkier than I thought. That story also involves the awful way mental illness was treated by society in the not-too-distant past (things now are often also bad, but we tend to be somewhat more wary of institutionalising people for decades and just forgetting about them). I don’t really want to go into that story at this juncture, though. Otherwise it involved sitting in a car for about three hours in total, which is something I don’t like much at the moment, and losing work because of misunderstanding what I was cancelling. I am pretty tired now and didn’t do a lot of the things I wanted to do. What I did do was Skype E, which was good.

***

My non-Jewish readers will have been spared the many, many, many articles on Jewish social media and websites this week talking about My Unorthodox Life. I haven’t seen the programme. E told me that it was like The Kardashians, but with formerly-religious-but-now-very-not-religious Jews. I’m only vaguely aware of who the Kardashians are, but I have no real desire to find out more. I didn’t really intend to write about this, not least because writing about what you hate is a surefire way to tell people to watch/read it (Ayatollah Khomeni boosted The Satanic Verses‘ sales more than the publisher’s PR department did) and mostly because the discussion is really repetitive and tedious. However, this article is somewhat wider-ranging than most, looking beyond specific TV programmes or specific laws and attitudes to compare individualist-secular Western society with communitarian-religious Orthodox society, which is something I’ve often touched on here.

The author’s conclusion is similar to the one I have come to after years of feeling on the fringes of both societies: the strengths of each society are also its weaknesses. Orthodox society has a massive social support network that left-wing political parties can only dream of, but it functions by ensuring members signal their acceptance of the society’s values through a degree of social conformity that the secular West would never accept (Moshe Koppel (Judaism Straight Up) writes about this too). Conversely, the secular West offers more individual choice than any society in human history, but a society of extreme individuals is likely to be dysfunctional and uncaring. Without external communal bonds, many people feel little kinship with the needy and at best delegate their care to the impersonal state, and too many people find themselves socially isolated, free to do whatever they want, but without anyone to do it with or with any way of finding bonds of commonality with whoever they might happen to meet.

I feel a bit like a free-rider on both societies (Koppel talks about that too), not really conforming to either ideal, but trying to find the best of both worlds. I am quite individualistic, or at least idiosyncratic (high-functioning autistic people often are), but also I keep halakhah (Jewish law) and I desperately want to find an Orthodox Jewish community that will accept me for who I am, and which I can accept in return. If not a free rider, then I’m trying to find a Lagrange Point where I can be free to do (a lot of) what I want and still be (reasonably) accepted. That’s a bit of a simplification, as I do want to keep Jewish law, I just struggle to keep the social mores, as well as sometimes following minority opinions, particularly doctrinally.

It’s not really an abstract issue, but a practical one that appears time and time again as I navigate things like Yom Ha’atzma’ut observance, dating, or creationism vs. evolution. Above all, I want the intellectual freedom to write books dealing with Jewish subjects without feeling obliged to “prove” the “correctness” of Orthodoxy, and to be able to deal with difficult, shocking subjects, like pornography addiction in the frum (religious Jewish) community in my most recent writing idea. Although, forget my rabbi, I’m worried enough about my parents finding out about that one.

I guess the parallel for me isn’t My Unorthodox Life, but Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev, about a young Hasidic boy who is driven to be a serious artist in the Western tradition, including painting nudes and crucifixion scenes, and gets rejected by his community as a result (the sequel novel The Gift of Asher Lev sees him somewhat re-accepted into his community).

They Killed K9!

Today is my birthday according to the solar/Gregorian calendar. Although the tendency in the Orthodox Jewish world is to see the Jewish/lunar birthday as the real one (inasmuch as birthdays have any significance in traditional Judaism, which is not much), I keep the solar birthday, not least because a couple of Medieval authorities see birthdays as going by the solar calendar, plus I’m not sure how my family would cope with a switch to the lunar calendar (and when Tisha B’Av falls on a Saturday, the next day, my Hebrew birthday, becomes the saddest day of the year by default).

This is basically the first time I’ve ever been in a relationship on my birthday, albeit a long-distance one. Technically I had been dating my first girlfriend for two or three weeks when my birthday came around, but we weren’t ‘officially’ a couple and she was away leading a Jewish summer camp anyway.

I can’t find any particular significance in becoming thirty-eight, but according to tradition a number of Jewish figures had major life changes in their late thirties or early forties. According to one tradition, Moshe (Moses) spent forty years as an Egyptian prince, forty years as a Midianite shepherd and forty years as prophet and Jewish leader. Rabbi Akiva was an illiterate shepherd until he was forty, when he started to study Torah and the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, was thirty-six when he stopped being a humble worker and became a public tzaddik (righteous holy man and leader), at least according to tradition (I think recent scholarship has found a more public role for him earlier, although he still remains a fairly elusive figure in the historical sources).

***

I saw a library job going that I feel I ought to apply for, part-time at an mental health library. You may find some ambivalence in “I ought to apply”. I’m apprehensive about working three days a week rather than two and about having to deal with a more intense working environment. I feel I’m only just coping with my current, less intensive, job. I’m not even sure I really meet the criteria of the health library job: I have never worked in a health library and the job description seemed contradictory as to whether that was necessary. I don’t have much experience doing literature searches either, I haven’t really done any since my master’s. But I will apply if I get the time between now and the closing date, which is surprisingly close (the job was posted a few days ago, but expires on 28 July. My Mum wonders if they want to award the job to someone already in the organisation and are just posting it publicly to meet the legal requirements). I do feel that I’m applying from obligation as much as desire though.

At least I can use a previous application to the same organisation as a basis for the application. I’ve added some stuff on my new job to bring it up to date; the main thing I still have to do is the personal statement where I state why I want the job and would be a good fit for it. This is probably where I get into trouble these days, given that I’m so equivocal about my librarianship ability and have always been bad at selling myself. I also feel it’s not in my favour that I have so many gaps of unemployment, or employment in non-library jobs, something underlined by the insistence on the application that I provide a character reference to cover periods of unemployment. Presumably they worry that, if I wasn’t working, I must have been robbing banks to fund my crack habit and they want to talk to my rabbi to check that this was not the case.

My Mum was for many years in a secretarial job where there was less and less work to do and there were no real prospects for the future, but she stayed with it because it was local, because her bosses were friendly and let her take time off for Yom Tov, and especially because they would let her work flexible hours or miss time at short notice due to family emergencies. When we got to the point where I was very depressed, this became a bigger thing, as Mum would take me to psychiatrist appointments and the like. I wonder if my current job is becoming a bit like that: I stay with it because I know I can cope with it, because my boss is understanding and because it’s a Jewish organisation so I don’t need to worry about taking time off for festivals.

***

I didn’t want to apply for the job today, although I did fill in some basic parts of the form. I did some dusting, which was a dull birthday task, but needed doing. I hoover my room most weeks, but I don’t dust very often because it takes a while because of all the bric a brac I have (much of it not worth keeping out on display, I suspect, but I can’t let go) and the miniature models I’ve painted. Other than that I didn’t do much other than go to Zoom shiur (religious class); it was too hot for exercise and I decided we would celebrate my birthday en famille tomorrow because my shiur was this evening. I did have cake though, and a really nice birthday card from E (I got my cards today, but we are doing presents tomorrow).

Also, E really liked the novel I’m writing, which was a good present! Speaking of books, I think I recently had another payment for my self-published Doctor Who book, which I think is beyond the last sale I knew about, so I (probably) sold a copy to someone I don’t know! Like a real writer!

***

TV today was Doctor Who: School Reunion as part of my watching with E. The episode wasn’t as good as I remembered. These days I hesitate to criticise Doctor Who because (a) now I’m a writer, I realise how hard it is to write anything and regret how quick I was in the past to criticise (what I saw as) bad writing and (b) the Doctor Who format is flexible enough to be twisted into lots of different shapes, so I frame it more as “I don’t like this rather than “This is bad”, but even so, School Reunion hit a lot of my I don’t like this buttons that the programme regularly hit when Russell T Davies was showrunner, someone who I suspect has a very different opinion to me on what constitutes good Doctor Who (although the episode was actually written by Toby Whithouse, whose later writing on the show would sometimes be more to my liking). I did like Anthony Stewart Head as the villain, though. I wish we’d seen more of him.

***

It’s kind of depressing that trying to google a Talmudic quote by writing some relevant words and then “Talmud” leads to lots of results that are either hugely antisemitic or just proselytising for Jews for Jesus. Then I eventually found the quote offline and realised that I had misremembered it, and that I would have to write a completely different devar Torah

Creativity in the Frum Community

I went to bed late, unsurprisingly when the fast didn’t go out until after 10pm. I don’t know if it was the heat or the fact that I slept so much during the day or the fast disrupting my body’s natural rhythms or the fact that I hardly did anything all day or all of the above, but I did not sleep. Not one wink! About 4.00am, the neighbourhood dogs started a barking contest and I had to shut all the windows despite the heat (although I never leave my main windows open for fear of burglars). At 4.40am I finally decided that I might as well get up and start the day in the hope that I might get an early night this evening.

This was not the best start to my Hebrew birthday! My Hebrew birthday falls on the nineteenth of July this year. My secular/Gregorian birthday is the twentieth, although we’re really celebrating on Wednesday as I have shiur (religious class) tomorrow evening.

I managed to stay awake at work; coffee was drunk, more than usual. I stayed awake even though the tasks today were very boring: copying and pasting from a spreadsheet to a Word mail merge and deleting old emails from my predecessor. I was glad that in the afternoon I could listen to music again, as the Three Weeks of mourning are over, as I needed help getting through it.

I went home on the Tube today as J isn’t driving to work now lockdown is officially over. I was glad to be able to read on the journey home, which I couldn’t do in the car, and not to have to listen to talk radio. Mask compliance was very bad on the Tube today, unsurprising as there are no signs up saying that masks are actually still mandatory on it.

I shaved my Three Weeks beard off this afternoon, so I no longer look like a bohemian and/or religious extremist. I Skyped E and had dinner with my parents, watched Doctor Who and will shortly go to bed as I feel very tired and ill (headache, nausea).

***

E sent me a link to something on Instagram the other day. I could read the post, but not the comments, as I’m not on Instagram. It said something I’ve thought for a long time, that rather than complain about the misrepresentation of Orthodox Jews in the media (I mean in fiction here (novels, TV, films), not the news media, which is a whole other problem), the Orthodox community should produce writers, directors, producers and so on who can create stories of their own set in the frum (religious) world — but that these stories should be real i.e. show the frum world in its complexity and with its faults, not just the positives in “soft focus.” E said the comments showed a lot of support for this.

As I say, I’ve thought this for years, and I’ve thought it long enough and hard enough to try to become one of those writers (we’ll see how that goes…). I worry whether the Orthodox world puts enough value on fiction and creativity generally for a whole wave of Orthodox creators to take off. There has been some movement in this direction, but there’s a long way still to go.

I do feel that I want to move on with my novel. I feel I’ve done as much as I can do to it without outside help from an editor. I do really just want to get it published so I can see if writing for a living, or at least a meaningful addition to my income, is going to work. This then ties into wanting to earn more money so I can marry E (partly to pull my weight in the household, but also because immigration is going to be really hard on our combined income level).

I think I also finally feel in a state of ‘flow’ first time in a long time, perhaps in my whole life. Writing is hard work, but I feel that I’m thinking of ideas and finding the words to say them. Dating long-distance is hard, but our Skype dates and texts flow very naturally. Things feel “right” at the moment in a way that I’m not used to.

Fear of Normality

I had a stressful day at work today, but mostly tied up in the difficult task that I sometimes have to do that I don’t really want to talk about here for confidentiality reasons. So I’m a bit stuck with my usual strategy of blogging to offload stress. I told E and my parents, which seemed to help. The other problem at work was the water cooler leaking, which was quite a big thing, but isn’t really worth relating here.

***

I just emailed a friend and, without really thinking about it, said that I’m a bit nervous about elements of coming out of lockdown. That surprised me a bit, but when I thought about it, I realised that I am nervous, although I hadn’t really considered it before, and although part of me wants to be out of lockdown. I hate wearing a mask, but I think I’m now scared to be in crowded settings without one, and with other people not wearing one. Already people on the Tube are not wearing masks, even though Transport for London has made it clear that masks will be required for the indefinite future. And from next week I will (probably) be travelling home on the Tube at rush hour. Sooner or later I’ll have to start coming in during morning rush hour too.

I am also nervous of the return to socialising – or not socialising, in my case. The feeling of being left out when everyone else socialises and I’m too anxious (or friendless), and also the discomfort I feel generally in social situations that I might try to join in, like shul kiddush (refreshments after synagogue services). Then there’s the fear that COVID will return, or something like it, or something worse (there are viruses more infectious and deadly than COVID).

The good thing about coming out of lockdown is that it brings nearer the time when E will be able to come over here to visit! But that’s still not looking like it’s going to happen soon, given the restrictions on US-UK travel. So it feels a bit like all the scary social stuff I’ve avoided for nearly eighteen months is coming back, but the one thing I really want to happen seems as far away as ever, which doesn’t really seem fair.

Arguments from Design

I’m in two minds about blogging today. I feel the need to offload a bit, but I am aware that I can’t actually say that much here about my job, plus I feel tired and want to get away from computer screens (although I was barely on the computer at all at work today).

Suffice to say I had to go somewhere by myself this morning for work without preparation, somewhere vaguely eerie to be by yourself if you haven’t been there much. I dealt with it OK, I think. To be honest, I was more worried about missing my bus stop than anything once I actually got there.

In the afternoon J and I went over the valuables I inventoried some time ago. Unfortunately, it was some months since I worked on this and I had forgotten some of what I had done. J was also critical of the way things had been assigned reference numbers in the past. I had not done this, I had just used the reference numbers provided, but I worried irrationally that he was annoyed with me too.

I didn’t feel autistically burnt out today, but I was exhausted by the time I got home. I read a novel for a while as I didn’t want to sit at my computer, but reading was a bit of a struggle. I really just wanted to vegetate, but I didn’t want to watch TV until later in the evening when I was really tired.

***

Lately I feel as if I’ve had OCD-type thoughts and catastrophising thoughts lurking at the fringes of my consciousness. I try not to give in to them, but the more I think about not thinking about them, the more I think about them. I’ve also noticed that over the years I’ve had varying level of discomfort about some things, like wearing shoes and watches, something I now associate with autistic sensory issues. It’s got worse recently, to the point where I regularly take my watch off while at work and put it in my pocket (possibly rendering wearing it redundant, although it’s easier to look at it quickly on my journey to work than getting my phone out of my pocket). I don’t take my shoes off at work, although sometimes I wish I could, but I do take them off at home. I’m not sure why this would suddenly get more difficult and intense, but I wonder if it’s part of a general feeling of being overloaded recently.

Speaking of which, I’m not going to volunteering this week. I do get a lot out of it, but I feel exhausted and can’t really face the early morning. I feel like I need to take some recuperation time. I feel a little bad, as I know they probably have fewer volunteers this week, but I feel that I need to look after myself to avoid more burnout.

***

I’m still watching The Blue Planet wildlife documentary. The undersea photography is as awe-inspiring as the sundry whales, sharks and other marine life. Watching nature reminds me of something my rabbi mentor once said to me, that two people can look at the night sky and say diametrically opposite things. One can say, “How can you look at that and not believe there is a God?” and the other can say, “How can you look at that and believe there is a God?” I guess you can say the same about the wonders of the plant and animal kingdoms, that some people see in them God’s handiwork and others just see nature. And it’s not even a creationism/evolution issue. I can accept evolution as a proof of God’s prowess. There’s a quote I think from Rav Hirsch in the nineteenth century that evolution proves God’s creative power more than separate individual creations, as all He did was create one single-celled creature and the principle of evolution and from that millions of species evolved. I think the point is that nature can point to God, but you have to be leaning that way in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily point there of itself.

For myself, I have always tended to find God more in the apparent vicissitudes of history, particularly Jewish history as well as my own personal history, and also in the depth of the Jewish tradition, as well as in human dignity and moral fortitude, but I’m aware that these don’t necessarily point to God of themselves either.

(Not) Bad Day

My day got off to a bad start. I overslept and felt burnt out and struggled to get going. I just missed my train, then got on the wrong train (going on the wrong branch of the Northern Line), but didn’t realise until two stops after the lines diverged. Then I got lost in Euston Station trying to find the right branch and get to work. I was fifteen minutes late for work in the end, although fortunately J didn’t object (or say I was an idiot when I told him why I was late). Then I made a mistake writing a receipt.

At this stage I was ready to label today as a Bad Day, but I remembered something I heard a few days ago from Kayla Levin on the Normal Frum Women podcast (which I listen to sometimes despite not being a woman and possibly not being normal) about being wary of creating narratives that have no objective measure. In this case, I can’t objectively see a “Bad Day,” it’s just a label I put on a series of events that I could understand and narrate differently.

So I tried to see it just as an ordinary day with some bad things, and I think I did OK with that. It wasn’t a great day, it was a dull and boring day at work followed by a Doctor Who episode I’ve never liked (New Earth) and distractingly noisy neighbours when I Skyped E in the evening, but not necessarily a universally Bad Day. And I enjoyed Skyping E.

***

On my blog and other people’s blogs, I shy away from controversy, particularly politics. I keep quiet rather than voice opinions that I feel others may disagree with. Yet, when I think about the type of fiction I want to write, I think I’m increasingly drawn to things that might arouse controversy and even “cancellation.” I can’t work out if I’m actually a secret controversy-hound, or if everything nowadays is politicised and there are no “neutral” subjects any more. I guess I want to write about things that interest me, things that make me feel emotional (positive or negative emotions), and to deal with topics where I’m trying to work towards some kind of understanding of a complex situation. Often those things lead to things that are controversial.

Then this evening I read an article about diversity readers (people who read a manuscript to critique its portrayal of some kind of minority identity). I had already heard about this, but I can’t make up my mind if they’re positive or not. I can see the advantage of weeding out egregious errors and pointing out if someone has written something grossly offensive, but I worry about a drift towards banning writers from imagining what it’s like to be someone else, someone very different, which I think is an important part of being a writer, not to mention a reader of fiction. As Lionel Shriver said, this will end in the banning of all writing that isn’t autobiography, because we can never really know what other people think.

Looking at my own writing about a high-functioning autistic character, an autistic diversity reader might see my novel as not reflecting their experience… but it’s based on my unique experience of autism, mixed in with artistic licence and plot necessity. I haven’t captured all of my experiences, partly because I’m not a perfect writer, partly because it’s impossible to capture a complex life in 80,000 words. I’m sure my other characters are open to criticism from an identity politics point of view, and up to a point I would work with criticism, but beyond a certain point it’s my novel, my characters and my plot, not the diversity reader’s.

Just to show how difficult it is to present an “authorised” version of someone’s identity, when the film of Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience came out, set in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in the UK, a lot of online American Jewish commenters complained that the characters were constantly wishing mourners a “long life.” “Jews don’t do that,” they said. Except that wishing mourners a long life is a very established custom across the Anglo-Jewish community, from the frum (religious) to the very non-religious. It just wasn’t a Jewish custom they were aware of, because they were so focused on Judaism in America and maybe Israel representing the Jewish experience everywhere. An American Jewish diversity reader might have criticised Alderman for writing something that was true to her experience of Jewish life in the UK. I think this shows how difficult it is to judge whether a depiction of an individual or community is “acceptable.”

Packing, Watching, Reading

I went to volunteering at the food bank this morning, dragging myself somewhat unwillingly out of bed. I was glad I did go, as we were short-handed (a lot of teenagers/young adults who help are away on summer camp, I assume as camp leaders) and one of the organisers described me as an expert in sorting the large bags of non-perishable food. I’m not quite sure where expertise comes into it, as I just follow a list of what’s needed, but I was grateful for the compliment.

I also did a stock check, which made me rather nervous about miscounting, or rather mis-estimating, as I was often dealing with large quantities of food, counting packets in large plastic crates and then multiplying by the number of crates, something that would only work if all the crates had equal amounts of food in them, or if I noticed and took into account which crates had more or less than average. I think I did OK, though, and I don’t think it has to be hugely accurate, just to indicate what we need to stock up on before next week.

I did make the mistake of saying that a parking space was free when the area was supposed to be used later, which I felt bad about.

In the afternoon I spent a while working on my devar Torah. I’m not sure if my idea this week was any good, but I’m committed to it now. I also had therapy, so I didn’t have any time to work on my novel; as I said yesterday, I expected this and did some extra work yesterday to balance it. I did some ironing in the evening, so it was a pretty full day.

***

I mentioned yesterday that E and I are watching Doctor Who in sync. As she can’t watch every night, and sometimes I’m tired enough to watch more than forty-five minutes of TV, I recently bought a couple of DVDs to watch by myself. I bought somewhat on impulse some programmes I hadn’t seen before. I’m getting a little better at taking a chance on TV I haven’t seen.

When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of wildlife documentaries, but over the years I drifted away from them. I bought The Blue Planet to see if I could get back into them. I watched the first episode tonight. It was interesting, and breath-takingly filmed, but I think my attention-span was small when watching to unwind after a busy day and I didn’t take much of it in. Still, it was good to watch whales, even if they were attacking and eating other whales; I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that killer whales eat other whales (I thought they eat seals and the like), but I guess the clue is in the name.

The other DVD I bought was season one of The Twilight Zone. I thought if I’m into eerie vintage TV science fiction, then I should really give this a try, this being the urtext in many ways, at least for American television (the UK had the Quatermass serials before The Twilight Zone aired. I really like those too). So far I’ve watched the first four self-contained episodes. They held my attention, but weren’t especially eerie or scary, with the partial exception of the first episode, which might have been more mysterious if I hadn’t remembered a spoiler that I must have read years ago. To be fair, most of them weren’t trying to be scary, which makes me wonder when the programme started going down that route. I’ll probably watch at least one more episode tonight, as it’s too early for bed, but I’m too tired to read. To my surprise, the DVD came with a free book about the series which looks interesting, although it has mixed reviews on Goodreads. I’m more likely to read a physical book than to read production notes subtitles or watch a DVD special features documentary, so this seemed a nice bonus.

Speaking of reading, I started The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov at the weekend. A bit like The Twilight Zone, it’s holding my attention, but I’m not quite sure why. It feels like it’s supposed to be a comedy, but I feel I don’t quite get the author’s sense of humour, like watching Monty Python when you sort of get it, but not quite. I’ll persevere for a bit and see what happens.

***

Not that I would ever go for such a job, but I saw an advert for a “Gag Gift and Prank Product Developer”. I do wonder what you would get asked in an interview for that job! I mean, presumably you would want to seem irreverent and mischievous, but not to the extent that you would swindle the company or get them into trouble with some misconceived/offensive/dangerous idea.

Hanging on the Telephone

I wasn’t going to blog today, despite things not being great, but they got worse in the last hour of work, although not hugely bad (trying not to catastrophise).

I woke up early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, then fell asleep and overslept. I had a weird dream, which I won’t go into here, which left me a bit unsure of what, if anything, my unconscious was trying to tell me — possibly something negative about myself, but probably just that I have mixed feelings about my religious community, and that I know someone in a position of religious influence who makes jokes that someone in his position should not make, both things I’ve known for a long time. Or maybe it was just a crazy dream that didn’t mean anything.

Work was slow today. It took three cups of coffee, a sandwich and two cups of tea for me to feel alert, by which time it was afternoon. But things were going OK until the last hour.

J has a habit of asking me to do something and then piling on more and more things. This can be a task (“Do X. And Y. And Z.”), but in this case was a phone call with more and more things to say. When he does this, I often don’t realise a long list is coming, so I’m not ready to write things down, then there’s a rush to try to catch up with him or to try to remember everything. I do need to feel more comfortable writing things down, as my memory and processing are not always good. This is undoubtedly an autistic executive function issue. Usually it’s not a huge problem as we’re in the same office so I can ask for clarification, but in this case it was a phone call and I couldn’t ask him for help. I got so flustered on the call, partly from the long list of things to say, and partly because I’m not good on the phone (autism again and social anxiety), that I was not sure if I had told the other person what they needed to do correctly. I also panicked and somehow convinced myself that I didn’t need to say the last thing on the list when it might have been helpful, not the first time I’ve done something like that.

My job isn’t hugely interesting, but I can do most of it after having been there for eight or nine months now (even given that my mind sometimes blanks and I suddenly can’t remember basic things). But I struggle with phone calls and don’t know what to do about them. J is trying to give me more experience with them, particularly this type of call, which I can’t explain here as it will make my job too obvious, but it’s something important that involves government bureaucracy and dealing with stressed, emotional people — not a good mix. But I worry that if the problem is autism, practise isn’t going to make the problem go away. It doesn’t help that there’s a key part of the journey of paperwork between government bureaucracy, our office and various other people that I just can’t get my head around properly, no matter how many times J explains it to me or I re-read my notes. I guess it’s because I haven’t been through it myself and it’s just too abstract for me at the moment. I suppose practise might help here.

I don’t know whether to say anything to J, or, if so, what. I don’t want to sound like I’m not suitable for the job, but I don’t want to monumentally mess something up down the line when I’m in the office without J.

***

On the way home, J had talk radio on as usual. It seemed a 50:50 split among those phoning or texting in between those who thought it insane and irresponsible that we are coming out of lockdown in just two weeks time (so soon!) and those who thought it insane and irresponsible that we were in lockdown for so many months in the first place (so long!). That’s democracy for you, I suppose. Like most issues nowadays, I have no real idea of what the right answer is and don’t feel myself knowledgeable enough to voice an opinion, but I will be glad if we can safely leave behind some aspects of lockdown, although public transport operators are already hinting at masks remaining compulsory regardless of the advice of central government.

***

I was pretty drained by the time I got home because of work, the phone call and the journey. I went for a walk in the hope that fresh air and time away from screens would help revive me. It didn’t, but it was worth exercising a bit. I did some Torah study and ate dinner with my parents. I had a long Skype call with E; apparently some screen time isn’t so draining!

***

A conversation on another platform (Livejournal) makes me wonder whether I left Doctor Who fandom as much because I don’t have time for it as because other fans seem to respond to the programme in very different ways to me these days, not to mention the politics I found on Twitter. I feel like time is a commodity I don’t have much of at the moment and I need to make room for more activities that are being crowded out, particularly fiction reading. I’m thinking of imposing – or trying to impose – some kind of time limit on my blogging and blog reading. I don’t want to give up on it completely, but I definitely need to get more time somehow and to stop idle procrastination. I’ve already become more selective in what posts I read. In the past I used to read all the posts by everyone I follow, whereas now I’m more willing to skip posts on busy days or if people are posting a lot. I enjoy encountering people online, but I enjoy encountering people in books too.

“Je suis Marxiste, tendence Groucho”

I had a feeling today of not fitting in anywhere. It’s a feeling I often get, but today I was pulled in a lot of different directions: by the high street (increasingly woke, but still consumerist, somehow), by blogs, by The Jewish Review of Books. Pulled in different directions by different visions of politics and lifestyles and Judaisms most of which I am unable to assent to. Experiencing so many so rapidly was uncomfortable.

I distinctly remember years ago a discussion on Hevria.com where a former ba’al teshuva (person raised secular who became religious — in this case before returning to secularism) argued that ba’alei teshuva (plural of ba’al teshuva) are “sold a bill of goods” by kiruv rabbis (“outreach” rabbis who try to get secular Jews to become religious). If I understand the American idiom correctly, this may well be true, at least in some cases, but it avoids looking at the bill of goods sold to all of us by mainstream society — and, indeed, by its more usual counter-cultures (Orthodox Judaism is a counter-culture, just not a very popular or highly regarded one).

I try not to get upset by people’s political, religious and “lifestyle” choices. We all have blind spots and biases in our worldviews and we all have to get along together somehow. I was a bit shocked today to see someone I regard as level-headed and a critical thinker acting in a less than critical way to assent to a political proposition I regarded as question-begging (not necessarily untrue, just in need of more serious examination). I didn’t say anything, and I don’t know if that was the right decision. I doubtless have my own biases and blind spots, and I worry sometimes about the things I’m unaware that I’m wrong about, as well as my “unknown unknowns.” Ultimately, the mystics and rationalists agree that the only thing that we know is that we do not know.

Possibly, like Groucho Marx, I refuse to belong to a club that will have me as a member. At least with E I can be a misfit club of two now instead of one. It is strange and surprisingly comfortable to find someone who agrees with me on a lot of stuff, big as well as small.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner in the garden with me and my parents. It was good, but I tend to drift in and out of the conversation, and also to feel inadequate that my sister and BIL have their own careers and house and other things I work part-time and live with my parents. I think about this every time I see them, which isn’t healthy. I realised after everyone had gone that I forgot to share my news, such as it is, that things are still looking hopeful (although not certain) for my job being made permanent and my friend reviewing my Doctor Who book in a fanzine that may lead to a few more sales.

I also had one of my occasional “can not get filled up” evenings and ended up eating kosher pot noodle in addition to real food, and then eating too much Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with dessert.

***

I feel pretty shattered now after work and socialising (plus shopping and Torah study), and possibly coming down from an ice cream sugar high (curse you “Ben and Jerry” (OK, Unilever) with your facile politics and your addictive flavours!). I’m going to watch Babylon 5 and then Doctor Who “with” E. To be honest, if “fitting in to a community” means watching Doctor Who with E, then for the first time in my life, I think I can manage it.

Show Me the Way to Go Home

I don’t really want to write tonight, but I feel compelled. I’m exhausted, but I need to vent because my mind is running. Or part of it.

Work was OK. I did a bit of phoning people and messed up one phone call when I misunderstood something and may have to go back and sort it out later in the week. In the afternoon, I was just doing a lot of slow data entry.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted. I felt almost physically ill. This has happened to me a few times on work days lately and I’m not sure why. I associate it with the open-plan office job I had that left me in a state and made me sure that I was on the spectrum. I don’t know why this job is suddenly making me feel like that, with no obvious reasons. On days when I did a lot of phoning, I could understand it, but I only made a few calls today. I also don’t know if this is burnout or fatigue or what. It doesn’t feel like “just” being tired. It feels painful and dysfunctional.

My parents were out when I got home and I think that annoyed me on some level, because they hadn’t told me they would still be out, and then I felt bad for feeling annoyed, as I’m an adult and they don’t have to tell me. Even though I’m a socially anxious, introverted autistic, I guess I’ve just got used to there always being someone around when I want to vent over the last year and a half.

I was too exhausted to do very much other than eat and watch TV. Just feeling completely drained and ill. I decided I was not well enough to spend a couple of hours on Zoom for depression group. After dinner (with my parents — we’re getting back in the habit of eating dinner together on Mondays), I wanted to do more Torah study (ideally another chapter of Ezra in Hebrew, but at least a a bit more of To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in Bible Study), having done about forty minutes on the Tube in to work in the morning, but my head hurt just thinking about it, so I watched more Babylon 5.

Babylon 5 is perhaps not the best thing to watch at the moment because (a) season five isn’t very good[1] and (b) Babylon 5 is largely structured around a series of wars, and at the moment wars are… not exactly triggering, but upsetting. I’m still processing a lot of thoughts about the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and antisemitism, and part of me wants to run away from that sort of thing and part of me thinks I shouldn’t run away. (Although the confluence of the two gives me a vague writing idea to think about, if I really don’t want to run away…) Nevertheless, I want to finish Babylon 5 so I can concentrate on my Doctor Who watching with E, and there’s not much left now.

It’s nearly 10.30pm now. Over five hours of not doing much has not improved how I feel. I’m just writing this quickly and posting. I will probably watch TV (something lighter, probably The Simpsons) to fill the time between Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and bed, as I don’t feel up to reading even something as light as James Bond. Strangely, I don’t think I would sleep if I went to bed at the moment. I’m too tense. I need to watch something to relax me.

***

A friend has reviewed my Doctor Who non-fiction book in a forthcoming fanzine (fan-produced magazine). I had drifted out of fandom, but I feel curious to know what he said, even though it will cost me £7 to find out. I just hope it’s positive…

***

OK, brain is just not working any more tonight…

***

[1]I have a lot I could say about season five and why it doesn’t work, which I won’t say here as it’s not a Babylon 5 blog, but I’ve never liked Byron and I could never work out why, but it struck me on this re-watch that he comes across as a cult leader rather than a revolutionary. It just makes me uncomfortable.

Reading Lists

Work was OK today. I was very tired and could hardly do any Torah study on the train in, but I was OK once I got to work and drank a second cup of coffee. The morning was mostly spent sorting out paperwork. I don’t mind doing this, although it’s fairly routine. I’d say it’s not challenging, except I seem to find almost everything challenging these days. Anyway, it left part of my brain free to be miserable (see below).

The afternoon was mostly spent trying to phone people to get them to pay their membership fees. It was not always easy. To my secret relief, a lot of phones weren’t answered, or went to number not available.

***

I feel that I haven’t done much reading this year. This is not true, although arguably I have not done much recreational reading. I’ve been doing quite a bit of Torah study/reading. I tend to do Torah study on the way to work or volunteering. I would normally do recreational reading on the way home, but J gives me a lift home from work, which becomes dead time in the car, as these days I can’t read in the car without getting motion sick, plus it would be rude to read and, anyway, J has the radio on so I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.

A while back I decided to alternate fiction reading with non-fiction, not least because I had accumulated a big pile of non-fiction books from charity shops and library withdrawals. Worse, these were books I was often not that fussed about, but owning them meant I wasn’t buying or reading non-fiction I might like more. So I started adding in more non-fiction to get through the backlog and maybe buy books I might like more, but now I worry that my writing will not be so good if I read less fiction, especially as, on a page-by-page basis, I read fiction faster than non-fiction, both because it’s easier and because I’m more likely to pick up a fiction book than a non-fiction one. So one non-fiction book probably displaces more than one novel. Then again, having a wide general knowledge is also good for a writer.

I also have some classics to read or re-read (on the grounds now I’m older and will understand them better) which I never get around to reading either. In the last few years (decades, if I’m honest, since I was depressed), they have often seemed too daunting. I’m not sure why. When I was very depressed it was understandable that I didn’t want to read “heavy” books, whether fiction or non-fiction (although periodically I did read them, and sometimes enjoyed them), but now I’m just tired so much of the time, it’s still hard to read heavy-going things.

Lately I’ve come to realise that although the book I’m working on is mainstream and somewhat literary fiction, I’m never going to be a “serious” author. I want to write science fiction, fantasy and maybe horror hybrids with Jewish themes and characters, partly for my own amusement and hopefully to amuse others, partly to get Jewish ideas out there, to Jews who don’t know their own heritage and non-Jews who see Judaism as weird, or more likely just don’t see it at all.

So I feel I need to be reading quality popular fiction. This isn’t such a problem, as I already read a lot of it. My problem is more that I tend to read particular authors in great depth rather than read around particular genres. There are quite a lot of authors on my bookshelves where I have all, or at least a significant amount, of their work, often piled up vertically to save space. I also re-read books I’ve already read. On the other hand, while I’ve always been a fan of what I once pompously referred to as “non-mimetic fiction” (science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, horror… anything that doesn’t aim at reflecting the world just as it is), I often feel like I’ve never explored any genre in great depth. I’ve always been quite a small-c conservative reader, afraid of trying new things in case I don’t like them, or simply because I’m autistic and love to turn to the same things again and again to explore them in depth. I feel this is not ideal for an aspiring author. I want to write a Jewish fantasy/horror/time-travel book, and I feel I need to do a lot of research reading fantasy and horror (and Jewish books, I guess) as well as the more obvious research on the relevant time period.

This was taken six years ago, in our old house, on my old bookshelves, but it gives you some idea both of space issues and variety of content

***

I’m nervous of writing the next bit, because I can see myself being attacked from two sides, but I have been thinking about it and feeling miserable about it all day. There’s a video going around on social media showing Israeli youth on a march shouting “Death to Arabs!” I’m not sure why this upset me so much. And I think it was shame, sadness and maybe even anxiety I felt, not righteous indignation and superiority (which seems to be the main thing people feel when they criticise Israel). I wasn’t naive enough to think that there’s no racism in Israel before this, so it wasn’t shock per se. I’m aware of the internal “Jew vs. Arab” violence inside Israel during the war a few weeks ago, which had not really happened in previous conflicts. I’m also aware of a Kahanist (Jewish Fascist) party getting a member elected to the Knesset in the most recent elections. I suppose I should say that I was worried about the chillul hashem (desecration of God’s name — making it look like God supports violence) or about pushing off the coming of the Messiah again (and with the Three Weeks around the corner), but I wasn’t thinking it through that much, I just felt emotionally sick and fixated on returning to it again and again all morning (and never has Mishlei’s/Proverbs‘ simile of the dog returning to its vomit seemed more apposite).

It fed into something I’ve been feeling for a while, but haven’t spoken aloud, the feeling that Israel was manipulated into the last war by Hamas. To clarify, Hamas started and was morally responsible for the war, but Israeli politics created the situation where Hamas thought it was worth firing at Israel and where it thought it could get away with it. Once the rockets started flying, Israel had a right and duty to defend its citizens; my — not anger, but astonishment and fear — is how a civil court case about occupancy that didn’t even involve the government and that had been drifting through the courts for years led suddenly to war. It is hard to avoid blaming Binyamin Netanyahu, if not directly, then at least indirectly for causing the constitutional crisis that led to politicians desperately scrabbling around trying to put together some kind of government to avoid the fifth election in two years, because of Netanyahu’s refusal to accept defeat and step down. Because I can’t see Hamas chancing their luck in this way without that context, thinking things were confused enough in Israel that they might get away without much in the way of reprisals.

As an editorial in The Times of Israel said towards the end of the war, in Hamas has been thinking strategically, while Israel has merely been thinking tactically, not just now, but for years. The war enabled Hamas to position itself (and not Fatah) as the leader of the Palestinians, and of “resistance” to Israel generally. It let Hamas show its value as a proxy army to its funders in Iran. It won a propaganda war in the Islamic world and in the West (actually two propaganda wars, with very different messages: to the West they presented themselves as passive victims, but to the Islamic world even the dead were martyrs and mujahideen — warriors on jihad). It may well have sabotaged a potential Israeli-Saudi peace deal, which could have improved Israel’s strategic position. All Israel managed to do was destroy some of Hamas’ arms, which will doubtless be restocked soon by the Iranian government.

Contrary to most people who berate Israel’s position, I don’t have a magic solution. Years ago, the political scientist Shlomo Avineri suggested that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble and the focus should be on de-escalation, not solution, as per other long-running conflicts. Some problems are insoluble, at least within the terms available. Hamas is not interested in compromise, but is not powerful enough to destroy Israel. Israel is neither willing nor interested in genocide (contrary to what its enemies say). This being the case, neither side can win, and all that can be done is kick the can down the road a bit further with sporadic outbursts of violence until something game-changing happens (like an Iranian nuclear weapon, God forbid).

I guess I sound depressed. Well, lately I am depressed, not clinically, but when I look at the world. There is an idea in Judaism that the Messiah (if you don’t believe in a Messiah, think of utopia) will come when everyone is absolutely good, or when everyone is absolutely terrible. In the first instance he comes not so much as a reward as the culmination of the individual narratives of redemption. In the latter, God gets so fed up with mankind’s misbehaviour that He intervenes to pull the plug on history before we wipe ourselves out. I feel that we are not absolutely good (obviously!), but the world isn’t absolutely terrible either. Despite excitable media coverage, I can’t see the world today, or the position of the Jews in it, as anything like as bad as the 30s and the 40s. Or even later (think of Cold War flashpoints like the Berlin Airlift or the Cuban Missile Crisis where a nuclear war seemed likely). I wonder how long the world can go on being awful, but not absolutely awful.

Ugh. I feel I’m just rambling, and I’m afraid what the comments will say, so I’ll wrap this up. Genetic testing shows that the ethnic group most closely related to the Jews is (you guessed it) the Palestinians. Some people think the Palestinians are the descendants of Jews who weren’t exiled from the land of Israel by the Romans, but hung around and, when the Arabs invaded a number of centuries later, converted to Islam and forgot their Jewish past. The similarities between Judaism and Islam are manifold, much more so than the more well-known similarities between Judaism and Christianity. The conflict seems just pointless. I can’t do very much about that, but since the war I’ve been reading Islam by Alfred Guillaume (tying this back to my reading) to try to understand more. To be honest, I probably already knew a lot more about Islam than most Jews, having studied some Islamic history at university. I want to read the Qu’ran (I do actually have a copy), although I think a person can misunderstand a lot by reading ancient religious texts without context and interpretation. But I want to understand more, even if I can’t actually do anything. I’ve said before htat, contrary to the “You can change the world!” message endlessly repeated in the media, I don’t think individuals can do very much at all to change the world, but I think we can aim to improve our understanding and empathy and gain some kind of personal redemption for ourselves and those around us.

Hanging on the Telephone

Work was difficult today. I spent an hour on an unusual task, which I can’t really talk about here, but most of the day was spent phoning people to chase fees. A lot of them had simply forgotten to pay and a few actually paid by credit card immediately, which was good, and others promised to send a cheque soon. Someone claimed to have posted a cheque two and a half weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived, which I will have to follow up on Thursday. Some people have financial difficulties, which we try to be sympathetic to, but it’s obviously easier to do that if people are upfront about it, instead of just not paying and hoping we will go away.

Unfortunately, when I called the first person on my list I remembered too late that I had phoned her a few weeks ago and that she is immobile and with poor eyesight and has to wait until a relative can help her to pay. I was very apologetic about phoning her again, but I wish I had remembered in time and not phoned. Then I had one call where the person sounded… well, to be honest, she sounded like she had dementia (many of our members are elderly). I was trying to politely get off the call and ask J what to do, when suddenly she sounded more ‘with it’ and asked if she could pay by debit card. I said yes and she read all the right card details to me. So I’m not sure what happened there, but I do feel somewhat uneasy without knowing why.

I still have a lot more calls to make. I guess it’s good exposure therapy, as I struggle with phone calls both from social anxiety and autism/Asperger’s, but it is very draining.

I was exhausted after all of this, but I had arranged to meet my sister and brother-in-law for dinner, as my parents are away for a few days. I wanted to do some more Torah study before then (I’d done forty minutes on the Tube to work, but was aiming towards an hour), but, even after a shower, was still exhausted, so watched The Simpsons instead until it was time to go.

Dinner was good. We went to a new pizza restaurant near where we live (OK, fifteen minutes walk away. I consider that near). I was nervous, as I planned to tell my sister and BIL about me and E being back together and was nervous about how my sister might react. She was pleased for us, but I was nervous enough that I got indigestion. Also, the restaurant is literally opposite the place where my shul (synagogue) davens (prays) during the week. We don’t have our own premises and rent a small room in a shul above a shop during the week and a part of a primary school on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). Because of this, I saw half a dozen or more people I know walking past, which was a bit distracting (I also saw the Head of Informal Jewish Education from my secondary school days, looking greyer but otherwise unchanged a quarter of a century on).

Also, perhaps because of the exhaustion from work, I did not cope well with autistic sensory overload. I originally sat opposite a screen on which a football match on TV was being projected, but found it too distracting and had to sit on the other side of the table so I couldn’t see it (unlike the two young boys standing outside watching through the glass door until the manager chased them away). I found the loud “background” music uncomfortable as well. It is interesting/strange/frustrating how my tolerance for things like this can vary so dramatically depending on other factors like tiredness and anxiety.

Now I’m pretty exhausted. I would like to have another attempt at more Torah, but I can’t face it. It’s hard enough to face ten minutes of Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and another ten minutes of Hitbodedut (unstructured, spontaneous prayer) in my very hot bedroom. Technically, as I have the house to myself, I could try to find somewhere cooler, but (a) there is an idea about praying in the same place every day and (b) I am an autistic creature of habit.

I’m glad I have the house to myself tomorrow, as it will be nice to have space to myself for the first time in over a year, but I’m also vaguely worried, as I don’t always do that well by myself (I’m an autistic introvert, but the last few years have shown that I’m often better if there are one or two people around, as long as I don’t have to talk to them much). I’m tempted to eat ice cream. I’m trying to eat less junk (not that I ate much before except on Shabbat) and in particular to limit myself to ice cream no more than once a week, but it is hot and uncomfortable and I had a very stressful day, so I might reward myself with Ben and Jerry’s.

Unplugged

I had a crazy start to the day. I woke up at 5.30am and thought it was time to get up. It was with some difficulty that I realised that I could sleep for another hour and a half. Then I fell asleep and overslept, having some crazy dystopian dream. Then, after I got up, when I was davening (praying), a magpie sat on my window sill and looked like he (or she) was trying to come in. Fortunately, the window was shut, but I could not shoo him away, he just sat there staring at me. It was a bit disquieting.

The doctor phoned me at work (as arranged). I asked him to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but he says the psychiatrist at the hospital where I was assessed is supposed to write to the CCG (funding body) to start the process. He said he will write to her to say she can do that. I worry about this bouncing around the NHS bureaucracy indefinitely.

I spent much of the day at work poring over spreadsheets, trying to track down payments that were listed as outstanding to see if they really were outstanding or if they had been paid and not been recorded properly. If they hadn’t been paid, I needed to write them off or phone to see if the debtor would pay. Fortunately I only had to phone once, as that was quite an awkward call.

I was pretty exhausted by the end, and my eyes felt strained from staring at spreadsheets. There wasn’t much traffic on the way home, but the conversation on the radio annoyed me. I don’t like to ask J to change it as he’s doing me a favour by giving me a lift. When I got home I sat and read in the garden for half an hour, which was wonderful. I really should try to be online less. It makes me much happier. I’m not really on social media much and don’t follow many political blogs, but even regular news sites are full of silly stories about “X is AWFUL and you should be REALLY ANGRY about it.”

I didn’t make it to Zoom depression group, as dinner was late and I was exhausted. I ate dinner outside with my parents. Afterwards, I went for a walk. I was still tired, but it was good to go out in the cool evening air and listen to the birds. It’s probably too late now for a really early night (I was watching Doctor Who followed by The Simpsons), but I hope to get to bed earlyish, as I’m pretty tired, albeit aware that a shower is likely to wake me up, but I won’t be able to sleep if I feel sweaty.

Hidden Joy

I had some somewhat confusing task at work today, looking over bank statements and papers related to investments. I don’t really know about shares or serious financial investment stuff. I found it somewhat confusing. I had a couple of social mishaps too, which I’m deliberately not going to relate, as I suspect that rehashing things like that here as I usually do just encourages my social anxiety rather than discouraging it.

I also went to the bank, which got me out of the office on a nice sunny day, but also took me into parts of London that are becoming very busy again, which perhaps left me more drained than normal by the end of the day (although I get pretty drained even on a normal day).

***

I was thinking about my religious life and whether I find joy in it. I’ve worried in the past that I don’t, which makes me wonder if I really am just being frum (religious Jewish) out of habit or fear. I don’t think that’s the case, but it was only today that I realised why. I think it all gets mixed in with the remnants of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and autistic alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand one’s own emotions).

I think I do get joy and/or meaning out of at least some davening (prayer), Torah study and other Jewish activities. I can’t necessarily feel or understand it directly, but I know some prayers feel less fulfilling than others, some Torah study sessions are harder going than others and so on, so by comparison at least some of the time I must be more engaged or it would all seem the same. I can see a difference, even if I can’t always put that difference into words. Even with Talmud study, which I do find hard and a bit of a chore, there are times when it clicks and it doesn’t seem a chore, and times when I find it interesting even if not necessarily for the reasons I’m supposed to feel it (for historical reasons as much as because I’m “thinking God’s thoughts”).

I do get a lot of pleasure from sitting and thinking about Jewish concepts, playing with ideas and putting them, and disparate texts, together to try to generate new ideas (chiddushim). Even though I’m not sure how many rabbis would list “sitting and thinking” as a legitimate or productive religious activity, even if some of the ideas do end up going into my divrei Torah.* Certainly my parents find it a little weird when I’m just sitting staring into space, or pacing up and down rapidly (I tend to pace when thinking).

Similarly, although not religious, I used to worry that I didn’t love my family enough. However, lately I’ve been having some morbid thoughts about death and I realise that losing my parents would be devastating for me, beyond any practical or selfish thoughts about the change that would necessitate in my life. I can, so to speak, see the hole it would leave and infer the love that must surround it unseen.

Less morbidly, socialising often leaves me feeling awkward, anxious and miserable, but the times when I have socialised and not been left feeling awkward, anxious and miserable were presumably the times I enjoyed myself (as with the Shabbat lunch I went to a few weeks ago), even if I wasn’t sure that that was what I was feeling. So I must enjoy some social events.

Possibly I was living a life of (at least some) joy and love all along and I never realised…

*This is a digression, but I think contemporary society in general and frum society in particular has a real problem prioritising busy-ness over idleness. I mean real idleness, not staring at your phone. Sometimes idleness can be very productive. It’s no surprise most of these “sitting and thinking idly about Torah” sessions happen on Shabbat when there is no phone, computer or TV.

Strings Attached

I went to bed late and got up early for volunteering at the Jewish food bank, yet somehow seemed to function better this morning than on many later ones. Do I need a reason to get up, as volunteering provided today? Then again, I had a reason to get up early last Saturday (shul/synagogue) and I overslept. I feel I need to think carefully about my sleep pattern and maybe my sleep hygiene. I know I often turn my clock radio alarm off in my sleep; I wonder if I should put it across the room, although it’s not a tactic that has worked well for me in the past. I also have a problem on Shabbat, as I won’t use the clock radio alarm (a) in case I turn it off and (b) because if I don’t turn it off, as per Shabbat, it will sound all day and drive us all insane. I use my phone’s timer, but the alarm sound is pretty puny and easy to sleep through.

I got to volunteering a bit early, so I hung around outside and tried to make an appointment to see the doctor, as I am supposed to do regarding my Asperger’s diagnosis. I phoned at 8.28am and was told the surgery was not open for appointments. I tried again at 8.30am and was told I was behind more than thirty people in the phone queue. I appreciate there is a pandemic, but it does seem more difficult than it should be. Dad suggested to try again on my way to work tomorrow. It is possible to set the system to let you hang up and it will phone you back when you get near the front of the queue. I didn’t do that today as I knew the garage at volunteering has poor reception and I doubted I would be able to hear the call, but I could try doing it tomorrow, assuming I’m not underground on the way to work when they call.

Volunteering was good, but pretty exhausting. I do still feel that I end up looking stupid or annoying the organisers with too many “What should I do now? We’ve run out of crackers, what should I do?”-type questions that the other volunteers don’t ask. But I guess I’m doing it for free, so they can’t expect too much of me.

Afterwards I took my tallit to be repaired, but they wanted to charge me £13 for the new tzitzit strings and £20 for having them tied, which is about half the price of a new tallit in total. I bought the strings and had another go at tying them myself, hoping the new, and hence non-twisted, strings would be better than the reused ones. It seemed to go OK, although it took two attempts and I always worry with something like this that I’m doing something wrong. (Incidentally, there’s a video on how to tie tzitzit here.)

While I was in the Judaica bookshop, I used the £15 I had from having a completed loyalty card (literally a physical piece of cardboard with stamps on it, very Old School) to buy Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age by Rabbi Shagar. I have heard good things about Rav Shagar seriously addressing postmodern thought and applying it to Orthodox Judaism. I just hope I can understand it. Philosophy doesn’t always come easy to me. Rabbi Shagar (actually an acronym for his name, Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) was supposed to be one of few Orthodox Jewish thinkers addressing postmodern thought until his death in 2007.

I spent some time in the afternoon working on my novel and was pleased to make progress, even if it only amounted to a few hundred words. Just getting back in the habit of writing it is good. I did some Torah study too, not so much in terms of time, but difficult Mishnah and Gemarah. I spoke to E too, so it was quite a busy day overall.

***

I’ve seen a part-time assistant school librarian job advertised. I don’t really want to apply for it, but I vaguely feel that I should. I think I need to speak to my parents about what type of jobs they are expecting me to apply for at the moment, if any (given that I am working).

***

I’ve been thinking about antisemitism all day again. When Rabbi Lord Sacks died last year, one of his daughters reflected that he would throw weighty questions at her while waiting for the kettle to boil and the example she gave was about how to end antisemitism. Part of me seems to think that I can succeed where Rabbi Sacks did not, even if I have to boil the kettle a few times. I think endlessly about antisemitism and have done for years, as if I can somehow succeed where generations of Jews have failed and end antisemitism, and bring peace to the Middle East as an encore.

I don’t really have the bravery to write about my thoughts. I doubt that they are particularly profound anyway. Judging by Tablet Magazine and The Times of Israel blogs, if they are in any way representative, lots of Jews, in Israel and the diaspora, are feeling “unsafe” right now and have been feeling that for quite a while, from before the latest round of Middle East violence. I don’t know how we change anything though. As Rabbi Sacks said elsewhere, Jews can’t end antisemitism. Only non-Jews can do that. But it feels like we can’t even communicate our fears without being mocked and attacked.

Burnt Out, MARCed and Geek Girls

I had a lot of anxiety this morning, including at one point worrying seriously that there was a suicide bomber at the Tube station. The fire alarm went at work and I was worried about some kind of antisemitic incident (antisemitic incidents have gone up 500% since the flare up in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict). Sometime around midday the anxiety switched over to depression and lethargy, although I tried to do a reasonable amount of work. I texted E more than I normally would at work. When I said I feel useless, she said I have a lot to share with the world, but my abilities don’t translate to being good at typical jobs, which I guess is good, although frustrating (and impoverishing). I do struggle to hold on to a sense of my own worth and abilities though. E thinks that one day I’ll see my autism as the source of my good traits as well as bad ones. I hope so.

The journey home was pretty awful. J’s satnav suggested a really roundabout way home. We went the usual way instead, and hit really bad traffic. The journey took an hour and a half where it usually takes an hour or less. I read articles on my phone out of boredom and ended up feeling carsick. Then I had to do some shopping and walked home, so I got home much later than usual.

By that time, I felt pretty burnt out. There was quite a lot I wanted to do (writing important emails, Torah study, Skyping E), but I couldn’t do anything before dinner. Then as I was finishing dinner my sister phoned. I think I sounded a bit vague, but even at the best of times I get thrown by last minute disruptions like sudden phone calls, and I’m still feel burnt out a lot, not having had enough alone time lately to really recover. Plus, I haven’t told my sister or my parents that I’m back together with E, which lends an air of furtiveness to things when I should really say, “Oh, I can’t talk for long, I’m speaking to E soon.”

In the end I spoke to E, did a tiny bit more Torah study and wrote some important emails, but I wish I could have done more, as usual.

I’m still daunted by the things I’ve got to do before I can really have a day off to recuperate properly. I’ve just cancelled an interview I was having with a psychology student to talk about my experience of autism as it affects me at job interviews for her PhD. That was supposed to be on Sunday, but Shabbat is turning into an anxiety-inducing peopling event and not recovery, and if I had the interview on Sunday, the burnout would run on to work on Monday, dinner at a restaurant (I vaguely remember those…) for Mum’s birthday on Tuesday, therapy on Wednesday, work on Thursday…

I also ran out of time for writing a devar Torah this week, which I feel a bit bad about.

***

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for yesterday, but I got some positive feedback from the interviewers, which is good (assuming they weren’t just being polite). However, I feel bad, as I may have cheated in the cataloguing test. I was required to include the MARC21 numbers and indicators indicating different descriptive categories (title, author’s name etc.). Usually a cataloguer would look these up. It’s not something we’re expected to just know. In the past, when I’ve had cataloguing tests, I’ve been allowed to look them up online or in a book. The test didn’t say I could do this, but it also didn’t say it couldn’t. To cut a long story short, I was in such an anxious state when I sat the test that I couldn’t think how to ask about this and I was so convinced I was going to fail, and that I would turn down the job even if it was somehow offered to me because it’s too much for me, that I just looked up the MARC21 numbers online so that I didn’t look a complete idiot. Now I wonder how much of the positive feedback was really for me and how much for my false MARC-memory skills.

Related to this, on yesterday’s post, Ashley suggested I’m applying for too many interviews for jobs that I feel I couldn’t get and wouldn’t manage to do if I did get them. I do this to please my parents and the recruitment agency; the latter in particular I treat as if they are doing me a big favour by trying to get me jobs and not like they are going to receive commission if I get one (hence they try to get me to apply for unsuitable jobs like library assistant, even while asking me what my precise requirements are). I had pretty much come to the same conclusion myself, but I’m not sure how to have the conversation with my parents, let alone the agency. I’m not sure which conversation I’m dreading more, this one or the one about E.

***

My uncle sent me an article on the author Holly Smale who was diagnosed with autism in her late thirties (I would link to the article, but it’s behind The Times‘ paywall, which I was somehow able to bypass on my phone before, but can’t now). A lot of it resonated with me, particularly the quote that “high functioning” regarding autism is just a euphemism for “good at faking it.” I feel like that’s how I went undiagnosed for so long. Although I disagree that Smale would have been diagnosed younger if she was a boy. I know under-diagnosis of autistic women is a genuine issue, but being male is no guarantee of correct diagnosis. I’m the proud owner of a Y-chromosome, and I got missed too, mostly because, like the author, I was good at faking being reasonably normal (or as normal as a geeky child/teenager gets). I feel that being high functioning just set me up for failure later in life, when work and social tasks got harder, there was less support and I was burnt out from excessive masking.

It Never Stops

Nothing like going away from the internet for a few days to come back to a huge pile of stuff. I’m only reading selected posts that appeared while I was away or I would be here forever, sorry.

***

I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) on Sunday night. I just felt so burnt out, I literally could not go. I felt a bit bad, but I honestly don’t think I could have made it. I did manage to go on Monday and Tuesday night, and for some of the shiurim (religious classes) bookending the prayer services. I slept too much, including over three hours on Monday afternoon and I had a headache on Monday evening, but I was basically OK. Aside from shul and shiurim, I did some private Torah study and read a novel (a sort of spin-off from Doctor Who spin-offs, not very good, but I’m vaguely invested to see how it ends).

I thought the NHS had sent me my revised Asperger’s diagnosis report and leaflet of resources, yet when I opened the envelope after Yom Tov, I found no report and a leaflet of resources on ADHD rather than ASD (autism spectrum disorder). By this stage, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the NHS is deliberately trolling me. I haven’t written or phoned back to complain yet (see below for why I ran out of “spoons” today).

***

Today I had my cataloguing test and interview. I floundered as usual in the interview, using the wrong words (which the interviewers then seized on to get me to elaborate on) and generally struggling to focus and say very much that was coherent. The cataloguing test was even worse. I haven’t been doing regular cataloguing for nearly four years and I really struggled with the test, especially as it seemed to require my remembering MARC21 numbers that I had never had to memorise before. The stupid thing is that the job sounded more attractive than it had in the job description in some ways, although it is also more client-facing than I thought, so it may be for the best that I did badly.

Mum says it was “one of those things,” that I didn’t get time to prepare. This is only partly true. I did get a little bit of time to prepare, but I was burnt out. Despite this, even if I had had more time, I’m pretty sure I would have flunked the cataloguing test.

We had workmen in today, which didn’t make things any easier. The house now smells of builder’s putty (I think), so I have to hold my breath when I go out of my room.

I didn’t mean to be bad-tempered after this, but I just wanted to be alone in my room to relax and was grumpy that I had things to do. When speaking to people, everything came out wrong, angry and sulky, even if I didn’t mean it to. Plus, little things went wrong, like the Tesco food delivery arriving twenty minutes early when I wasn’t ready. Being on the spectrum, quite small changes of plan on a good day can be frustrating; on a bad day they can trigger meltdowns. I don’t get full-fledged meltdowns the way some people on the spectrum do, but it can send me into a negative thought spiral of despair and anger. That didn’t quite happen, but it took a lot of mental energy to stay calm.

I went for a forty minute walk, which at least burned out some of the bad temper, or made me too tired to show it. I do feel pretty awful now though, but still unable to unpack the vague “badness” that I feel. Is it sadness, depression, guilt, self-criticism, frustration, anger (against who?) or something else?

I didn’t get much else done. It looks like I probably won’t write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which is a shame, but I’m trying to avoid crashing. I have stuff to do every day from now until Monday inclusive, multiple things on most days, and most of them draining things. I may need to call off some things at the last minute, and I’m tempted to say no to something on Sunday to get some downtime.

I started watching Spectre (James Bond) over dinner because I needed mindless entertainment. I’ve stopped even though I’m not yet halfway through because I feel overwhelmed, without being able to define what I’m “overwhelmed” by. I’m not doing emotional self-awareness today. I will probably watch the rest before bed, at least with half an eye.

***

Every cloud has a silver lining. E has been super-supportive. I have my first social invitation of the post-COVID era, namely an invitation to friends for lunch on Shabbat (admittedly one of the busy, draining things). I plan to go, assuming I don’t have terrible side-effects from my second vaccination on Friday. And I managed to buy a second-hand omnibus edition of six James Bond novels for barely £5! Even accepting that I’ve already read one of them (Dr No), that still works out at £1 a book!

Pre-Yom Tov Burnout

I woke up still feeling burnt out and exhausted, but my mood was better on waking. It’s gone downhill as we get towards Yom Tov, I don’t know why. I don’t think Shabbat and Yom Tov are good for curing burnout, even though they are supposed to be relaxing. I spend too much time “peopling,” whether at shul (synagogue) or family meals and much of what time I do have alone (and not sleeping!) is spent on Torah study or prayer, which are not usually restoring for me, regardless of what other merits they may have.

I did sleep very late today, although that was probably inevitable given how late I went to bed, due to a late shiur (religious class) after Shabbat and a headache that wouldn’t shift. I’m resigned to not doing well on the interview and blaming it on burnout and Yom Tov (festival) even if the interviewers will probably think I’m useless.

I looked over some old interview notes with suggestions of how to answer frequently-asked questions, but I’m not sure how much it will help. I think the only way to practise at the moment is to do a practise interview, but this interview was at such short-notice that I haven’t had time for that.

I did half an hour or so of Torah study, so that I didn’t have to leave reading all of this week’s sedra (Torah) reading until later in the week, that being the one thing I absolutely always keep up with (even though I do it once rather than twice a week as required). I still have to do the end of the sedra, which is one of the most repetitive parts of the Torah (Bamidbar/Numbers chapter 7).

I intended to stay for the shiur between Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Ma’ariv (Evening Service), because it’s silly to go and come back again almost straight away, but I’m not going for the cheesecake (yuk) and alcoholic drinks and shiur before Minchah because I’m pushing myself up to and probably beyond the limit of “peopling” this Yom Tov as it is, even without going straight into a job interview the day afterwards. Indeed, I’m going in to Yom Tov already peopled out from Shabbat, and the closer I get to time for shul, the less I feel able to actually go.

My shul has relaxed the laws around mask wearing and food on the premises in accordance with the government’s new guidelines. This means that the things keeping me away from Tikkun Leil (all night Torah study on the first night of Shavuot) don’t actually apply any more. However, I feel disinclined to see if there are any spaces left. I guess I don’t feel up to that long and intensive a shul session, particularly for Tikkun Leil, which is a relatively recent custom and not a law (Tikkun Leil was introduced by kabbalists (mystics) in the sixteenth century and seems to correlate with the arrival of coffee in the land of Israel i.e. only after the introduction of coffee did anyone manage to stay up all night studying).

I do wonder how much other people get out of all the Torah study sessions scheduled over Shavuot (even excluding Tikkun Leil). As I mentioned yesterday, my shul seems to have scheduled an hour and a half to two hours of shiurim (religious classes) around afternoon and evening prayer services over the coming festival. These are often strongly halakhic, which isn’t my favourite type of study (although arguably I neglect it too much), but even the format of one speaker speaking for an hour or so isn’t going to be right for everyone, whether those who prefer something more interactive or those, like me, who prefer to study from books with time to re-read or pause and digest.

I watched some Babylon 5 to kill time before Minchah, which may not have been the best choice, as season four is pretty grim. I feel I should be helping my parents, but I genuinely do not have the energy. It’s going to be a struggle even to go to shul, particularly in the torrential rain. Plus, there have already been warnings of an increase in antisemitic incidents over the last few days so my shul is getting everyone to do security duty and that’s just another ball for me to juggle. Actually, I feel less like I’m juggling balls at the moment and more like flaming clubs, and like I’ve been juggling them for a week with no break.

Just in case things were getting too easy, I’ve felt for the last day or so that I’ve been just about keeping the lid on some pure O OCD thoughts and that it wouldn’t take much for them to suddenly become more anxiety-provoking.

I’m genuinely not sure if I’m going to make it to shul tonight, or at all over Yom Tov.

Still Burnt Out

I still feel burnt out, although not as much as yesterday. If I had taken yesterday as a mental health day, maybe I would feel better today. Or maybe not. Nevertheless, my mood is a bit better (despite the news not being any better).

I looked at my cataloguing notes. Some of it looks easy, so I wonder why I keep messing up cataloging tests. And some of it (more classification than cataloguing, but they are related) is too confusing this far down the line from my librarianship degree (over a decade since the classes). The only real way to get better is to practise, and I don’t have the time or headspace for that today and probably not on Sunday, and after that it’s too late, at least for this job.

I looked at my answers to frequently asked interview questions too, and nothing is sticking in my head at the moment. I just feel too burnt out. I’m going to leave it for today. I only managed about half an hour of practice overall (cataloguing and interview). I’m just too drained today.

I’m telling myself that I’m just using the interview for practice, and to show willing to the job agency. I’m also telling myself that if I end up not writing a devar Torah (Torah thought) next week, or if I end up skipping preparation before Talmud class or revision after it, that, again, I will accept it as something outside of my control. How much I manage to actually do that if it happens is another question.

To be honest, the thing I’m most worried about concerning the interview is the interviewers thinking I’m useless if I perform badly in the interview or cataloguing test. If I was being assessed by emotionless robots who wouldn’t judge me, I’d feel a lot better. But, as I’ve said before, I’ve done badly at interviews and tests before and probably will again. I know it’s my “issues” even if the interviewers don’t.

Right now I’m just focusing on getting through Shabbat (the Sabbath). I went for a walk and I’m going to shul (synagogue) later, despite feeling drained. For the moment, having done most of my pre-Shabbat chores, I’m watching TV, trying to get into a better mindset for shul.

Interview Preparation and Burnout

I felt utterly burnt out and exhausted today. I guess I did go through quite a bit yesterday, more emotionally than in practical terms. I didn’t get up until something like 1pm today, and it was an effort to stay up. It was still two hours or more before I was dressed (admittedly I did have a long text conversation with E in there). My brain feels switched off. If it was running on Windows, it would be blue screened. Somehow I have three working days — three days curtailed by burnout and Shabbat and Yom Tov preparation — to prepare for my cataloguing test and interview on Wednesday.

I found a discrepancy between what the job agency are telling me about the job I’m applying for and what the job specification says. The latter says the job is full-time and permanent; the former says it is four days a week for four months. That’s a big difference. I guess it’s something to ask about at the interview, but it does have ramifications for whether I would take the job, although not in a clear cut way. I don’t think I could do full-time work (I’m not sure I can manage four days a week, let alone five); on the other hand, I’m not sure I want to walk away from my current job if I’m going to be job-hunting again in four months’ time, even if it would get me back into the library sector.

The job description is massive, and I worry how I could keep up with it, particularly open-ended professional development, including attending and presenting at conferences and seminars (that would assume this is permanent, of course). I still feel my cataloguing skills are very rusty. I haven’t really used them since 2018.

I tried to prepare for the interview, but didn’t manage much more than re-reading the job description, looking at the organisation’s (large) website and jotting down a couple of questions to ask. I procrastinated, and make myself depressed looking at the Jewish news sites.

I just felt physically ill today, so burnt out that I can’t go on. I just felt overwhelmed, by my life and by the world (and, yes, I know that there are far worse things going on in the world than in my body and my head, but I feel what I feel and knowing cognitively that other people are struggling much more does not change that or make me feel any better).

I was going to look over my notes of prepared answers for frequently-asked interview questions, but there seems no point as it won’t sink in. I really needed a mental health day, but the next week is going to be a crazy mix of interview stuff and religious stuff. My parents said to relax, that the job isn’t really right for me at this time, either as a four month stopgap or a year at full-time. I’m glad they realise that. It does take some of the pressure off.

I do worry that the job agency will say something at some point about how few jobs I’ve got with them (two short-term contracts, I think, in nearly three years) and see me as some kind of bad “investment” (bearing in mind that to the agency, I’m a product they’re selling, not a paying customer). But I guess I could feel just as justified in criticising them for the same reasons. Of course, I don’t want to turn up for an interview or a test and totally make a fool of myself because of my mental health and autism. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done either of those things either.

In the end I did a tiny bit of preparation, but didn’t relax the way I wanted to (if it’s even possible for me to relax at the moment, the news being what it is).

Other than interview preparation, I went for a half-hour walk and proof-read and sent my devar Torah. I wanted to start on my devar Torah for next week, as I won’t have much time for it next week and I know roughly what I want to talk about, but I just wasn’t able to do so. I just felt awful.

I did Skype with E in the evening. We had a long chat, over an hour, and that really helped. We spoke a bit about my interview, but also about a lot of other things. Our conversations tend to range from the serious to the jokey. I feel so comfortable talking to her, it seems so special. There aren’t many people I can connect with like that. I feel really lucky that we’re trying to make this work again. Hopefully we can get it right this time.

Fraught Day

I was expecting today to be a normal, dull work day, but it turned out to be fraught. Running in the background all day was my worries for the escalating violence in Israel. I’m not going to write a political post because I think everyone already knows what they think, I just feel anxious about family in Israel (literal family and metaphorical family) and want it to be over. I checked the news a couple of times while at work, something I wouldn’t normally do. I hope and pray the violence doesn’t escalate further, but I worry that it’s reached the point of self-perpetuation.

Then, on the way home I texted my parents to say that J and I were going home by a different route and I was going through the suburb where my maternal grandparents lived (I think I saw their house, which was some way away from the road, behind some trees, but if I did, the front has been massively remodelled). Mum then told me she had spent the afternoon at the hospital, having had a bad reaction to new medication. (She has to take bone-strengthening medication because chemotherapy weakens the bones.) Mum is home and OK now, just very tired.

I was in work today, as you may have gathered. J asked me to change work days this week, which is why I moved therapy to yesterday. While at work, I was called by a job agency about a job I applied for a few weeks ago. I didn’t think they would look twice at my CV, as I didn’t have the specialist subject knowledge they wanted, but they want to interview me next week. They wanted to do Monday, but that’s the festival of Shavuot, so they’ve agreed to do it on Wednesday. I have to do a cataloguing test first. I’ve had a few cataloguing tests in recent years and have generally done badly at them. I feel I’m very rusty, but we’ll see how I do. I am terrified at the prospect of getting the job though, silly though that sounds. I worry I can’t do the cataloguing (although, if I pass the test, I guess that will prove I can), I worry about what it will involve, that I’ll have to work four days a week (twice as much as I’m currently doing), that I’ll have to work on Fridays in the winter when Shabbat starts early, that I won’t have time to write fiction… A lot of worries. I’m trying to stick to what I said with my therapist about staying in the present, but it’s not easy.

Also at work, I had a difficult phone call related to the new task J was training me to do. This involves talking to people who are in a difficult emotional situation and talking them through various tasks and getting personal details from them while not overwhelming them. (I don’t want to go into more detail as it will make where I work too obvious.) I had to do this suddenly and thinking on my feet, as the situation wasn’t exactly the type J trained me for. J was listening and said I handled it well, which is good.

So all in all it was a fairly nerve-wracking day. I’m trying to stay in the present, as I discussed with my therapist. I don’t think I’ve been doing too badly about that, all in all, but I am pretty exhausted now.

***

I’m rather apprehensive of the week ahead too. I have tomorrow, Friday and Sunday to prepare for my cataloguing test, prepare for my interview, sit my test (unless I have to sit it on Wednesday morning, immediately before the interview) and get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festival), as well as trying to exercise and do Torah study (including Talmud preparation and maybe writing my devar Torah for next week as I will lose so much time to Yom Tov and interview stuff). Then there are Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are time off, but not always relaxing as they tend to involve a lot of shul (synagogue), Torah study and sleeping rather than recreational reading. I suppose I shall get through it somehow. Or I’ll flunk the test and the interview and that will be that. I could have done some preparation tonight, but I felt pretty punch drunk and not suited for anything more than TV.

***

My former landlady texted me to compliment me on my Asperger’s article and J initiated a long discussion about Asperger’s and related issues on the way home. I’m surprised about the positive feedback I’ve had. It’s strange, I’ve written things that have been published professionally or semi-professionally before, but I never really felt of my writing ability as a gift. But hearing how people have responded to my article makes me think that it is one, pretentious though that sounds. I used to think that literature couldn’t reach people the way the visual arts of music can. Art and music can cross the boundaries of language, unlike writing, but writing can explain things and share specific thoughts and thought processes in a way that more abstract arts can not.

***

This has been a fairly heavy post (albeit that some of it is positive even if it is scary), so time for something lighter: how I got back together with E!

E and I met via my blog back in 2018. We had two goes at long-distance dating which didn’t work out. When we broke up the second time, I decided that I wouldn’t date her again, as I was worried about ending up in an on/off relationship that never got resolved.

A few weeks ago, I started reading the anonymous blog of a Jewish woman who was becoming more religious. We had some comment conversations and seemed to connect and have similar outlooks and values as well as similar struggles. I did wonder vaguely (or not so vaguely) if one day we might date. She reminded me of E, but more spiritual and trying to be a better person. I actually wondered if it was E, but decided that coincidences like that only happen in romantic literature.

Then out of the blue I got an email from E saying that she was that anonymous blogger!

She was very apologetic about how things had been between us before and wanted to try again. I decided, based on her long email and her blog posts, that she seemed to have grown a lot and that dating her now would be different to dating the E that I dated in the past, to the extent that I felt my “No dating again” decision didn’t apply here. She is pursuing Orthodox Judaism for its own sake now, not just to fit in with me, and she’s done a lot of work on herself. I have also undergone changes, particularly my Asperger’s diagnosis and its positive knock-on effect on my self-esteem and understanding.

I think we are both nervous that this might not work, but the potential benefits seem to drastically outweigh the potential costs. We both have our difficulties and issues, but there seems to be tremendous potential for us to build something positive together.

I discussed this with my rabbi mentor and my therapist. The former felt that E and I have both matured a lot over the last nine months, while my therapist found it interesting that I liked E’s blog even without knowing it was her, which she felt showed a strong personality connection between us. So, we (E and I) are cautiously optimistic.

However, I have not told my family yet as I’m nervous of how they might respond. I guess I feel I want to have a bit more to tell them before I open up to them. I keep nearly letting it slip though — wanting to say, “I’m Skyping E in a minute” or “That reminds me of something E said…” I really am terrible at keeping secrets, let alone lying.

Reasons to be Cheerful

My main focus today was therapy. I didn’t have a lot to say, as things seem to be going well. The last week or so I have been fairly focused on the present rather than worrying about the future. I also seem to have coping strategies that help me to deal with things better than in the past, and my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis has made it easier for me to forgive myself for mistakes and quirks that would have upset me in the past. The two (coping mechanisms and forgiveness) go together, as a key coping mechanism is to know my limits and not force myself to go beyond them, even if part of me says I “should” be able to do so.

I mentioned in therapy that I have been reflecting recently that my life seems to be suddenly going a lot better. I’ve finally got my Asperger’s diagnosis (which seems to be the key turning point); I have a job I can manage which leaves me time to write; I have a core of online friends who read my blog and leave helpful comments (I’ve written blogs with no readers before, and writing does serve a purpose for me even without readers, but writing without an audience can be lonely); I am beginning to wonder if I am more accepted at shul (synagogue) than I thought previously; I have greater kavannah (concentration or mindfulness) in davening (prayer) than previously; I’m somewhat happier with the amount and content of Torah study I’m doing (an average of fifty to sixty minutes daily, with some Talmud study); and I’ve restarted volunteering. Best of all, E and I have got back together and think that this time we might be able to make the relationship work permanently.

The latter point is the thing I’ve been hinting at for the last week or so without explicitly stating, as I was curious to see what my therapist said before saying anything here. At the moment I haven’t told my parents or my sister, which I feel a little bad about, but I want to give the relationship a few weeks so that I can say it’s working before I tell them. This is because my Mum in particular was worried about E and I getting into an endless on/off relationship. To be fair, I worried about that too, but I think this time both of us have undergone significant changes and growth that make me feel a lot more positive about our future together now. There is much more to say about this (it’s quite a story), but I’m too drained from therapy tonight to write it, so you’ll just have to wait a little longer.

I’m always scared to say that things are going well, as it seems almost inevitable that they go wrong afterwards, but as my therapist and I discussed, the difference this time is that it’s as much about coping strategies and being able to stay in the present as about external things boosting my mood, which will hopefully enable me to stay well even when things go wrong, as something will eventually.

***

My boss, J, texted me to say that by chance, he had come across my article online. He liked it. I felt a little awkward, but it’s probably good that he saw it, although I’m glad I told him about my autism a couple of weeks ago so he wasn’t learning about it entirely from the article. The big question I’m wondering is whether anyone else from my shul has seen it and whether they will say anything when they see me on Shabbat. The site it was on is very well-known and read by a lot of people, so it’s entirely possible that some other people I know have seen it.

Cope/Not Cope/Cope?

Today felt stressful, although objectively not a lot happened. Actually, “objectively” is a bit of a weasel word there, as not a lot happened for a “normal” person. “Normal” in scare quotes because no one is “normal”; I mean that some people would have coped OK, but others, including, but not limited to people on the spectrum, would not, and I am one that did not.

The Tube is definitely more crowded in the mornings now, which is good inasmuch as it means things are opening up again, bad inasmuch as I’m afraid of infection. The person sitting next to me for several stops had a persistent (albeit mild-seeming) cough which worried me a bit. I did consider changing carriages, but I wasn’t sure of finding anywhere better to sit. He was at least wearing a mask correctly.

Work this morning was routine. In the afternoon, J asked me to phone some people who hadn’t paid their membership fees to remind them. Most of the calls were not answered, or had “number not available” messages. One was answered by someone who said she is seriously ill, immobile and has poor eyesight. I wasn’t sure how to respond and J was out of the office. I didn’t want to pressure her to pay, and thought that J wouldn’t want that either, but I didn’t want to leave the payment hanging indefinitely. She said she would pay over the phone, but struggled to read her credit card number. In the end I said she could leave paying until she can get a relative to help her make the payment, whether by cheque in the post or credit card over the phone. J was fine with that, but the call (which went on for ten or fifteen minutes) left me drained. I’m OK when I have a “script” to follow, but a call like that where I had to make a number of on the spot decisions, is extremely draining.

This was worsened by another call, where the person I called said they had already sent a cheque. On inspection, I had processed it this morning. I checked the database, and the payment had not been processed. I thought I had made a mistake and not processed it correctly (I have done this by mistake in the past) until I realised that none of the mornings’ payments had been processed. I didn’t think I could have forgotten to process all of the cheques. Fortunately, I then remembered that J and I had accidentally been logged into the database at the same time, which can mess up saving data, so I saved myself from unnecessary self-criticism.

Curiously enough, I feel I’m more confident using the phone at work. I have a role, so to speak, and it’s easier to write a script for myself. I was able to do that when I was doing library work too, although the number of scripts I had to have to hand was not always easy to manage. I certainly didn’t have the gnawing anxiety in the pit of the stomach that I would get if I had to make a phone call at home.

My final task for the day wasn’t emotionally/socially draining like the phone calls, but was difficult and I came home exhausted. The heavy traffic on the roads didn’t help, especially as J had a very political talk radio programme on in the car, and news of violence in Israel. When I got home, I just crashed and watched Babylon 5. I tried to do more Torah study, but felt ill and stopped, focusing on getting in a good state of mind for depression group later.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel less exhausted as time went on. In fact, I started to feel light-headed, even after dinner, so I ended up missing depression group and vegetating in front of James Bond (Skyfall). I did eventually feel better. I don’t know what made me feel ill, if it was just a response to the emotions of the day, or if I’m coming down with something, but I did at least accept that it was OK to feel drained after the phone calls and that it wasn’t my “fault” or that I should have done “better,” which is progress.

I realise that I started this post saying that I didn’t cope, whereas the reality, now I read the post back, is that I did cope, even though I had to deal with stress and possibly psychosomatic light-headedness. It’s good that I can realise that I can actually cope.

***

Today was the second and final day of my shul’s (synagogue’s) fundraising campaign to raise money for new premises. I feel a bit bad as I couldn’t afford to contribute much (particularly compared to the millions of pounds needed, or even the tens of thousands being raised in this part of the campaign) and haven’t been trying to get friends and family to pay. Some of my friends are from shul so don’t need me to prompt them to give; the others are mostly non-religious and non-Jewish and I don’t feel comfortable asking for them to donate, although I’m not sure how much I would feel comfortable asking even if they were Orthodox and frum (religious Jewish). It’s not easy to ask people to donate money. I think most of the money has come from a very small number of presumably super-wealthy congregants and philanthropists/philanthropic trusts, which makes me feel like I can’t contribute much.

I do feel generally that I don’t contribute much to my shul. I don’t mean just or even primarily financially. I know I’m not in a position to donate much money anywhere right now. However, before I moved to this area, I was a regular shul-goer (two or even three times a day) and service-leader in my old shul, but now shul-going is hard because of social anxiety, more draining work and living further from the shul, and while I have led services a couple of times in this shul, I don’t feel at all comfortable doing it in this community which is more frum (religious) and which I still don’t feel completely comfortable in even after having attended for five years or so. It probably is true that my anxiety of not being “good enough” or “frum enough” for the shul means that I am discouraged from doing even what I could manage to do.

***

I had a lot of feedback about my article on Asperger’s/high functioning autism for the Jewish website. It’s all been positive, although I haven’t looked at the comments on the site yet. My friends and family have been very positive (my aunt said it showed “guts and integrity” while my Mum’s cousin said it moved her to tears). My sister’s sister-in-law was also very positive (her son just got diagnosed with Asperger’s) and I’ve only met her a couple of times, so that feels like a “real” person, not just someone close to me.

I’m doing what I always do when I’m praised, which is run away and hide. OK, in this instance there isn’t anywhere physically to run away to, but when I think about it, I feel embarrassed about the positive attention I’ve been getting. However, the main reason I haven’t responded to most of the comments and emails about this is simply that I didn’t feel well enough to do so earlier and now I’m tired and it’s late. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and reply then, but thank you everyone who left positive comments about the article (and my smile).

***

I’m getting annoyed by the anthropomorphism of COVID. Today I heard that it is “retreating,” but also that it might “bite back.” Perhaps people can’t cope with the idea of an abstract, indifferent problem and prefer some kind of sentient “enemy.”

Planning

Surprisingly, I woke up about 7.00am today. I felt refreshed and alert, which is very rare for me, so I got up soon after. I think things seem to have been going well for me the last few days, which gave me the boost. I davened Shacharit before checking my emails and blogs too, which is also rare for a non-work, non-Shabbat (Sabbath) day.

I spent an hour or so preparing for tomorrow’s Talmud shiur (religious class). While I struggle to follow the legal arguments of the Talmud, I admit I do find it interesting as a social history document. The Talmud, and Judaism generally, sees religion/Torah as something that reaches into every aspect of human life, not just the conventionally “religious.” As a result, the Talmud goes into civil and criminal law, recipes, medicine, folk sayings and the work and family habits of Jews in Judea and Babylon in late antiquity, which I find interesting. Today’s passage spoke about kutakh, a Babylonian dish made of sour milk, mouldy bread and salt. I have to say that I’m not desperate to try that recipe out…

I spent some time working on a plan for a potential second novel. It’s slow going, and I procrastinated quite a bit, but some bits are slowly coming together. At the moment I’m just plotting out the main incidents for each chapter, then I hope to write a longer synopsis. It’s hard to create a plot from nothing (the nucleus of my first novel is my own experience, although the sub-plot was created from scratch, with help from research), but the problem-solving aspect is interesting. Doctor Who fans tend to be very writer-focused and fan discourse often looks at plotting, where it works and where it goes wrong. I tend to view a lot of books and TV in this way these days, looking at how the writing solves problems. It’s a struggle, but also an interesting quest to go from “I want to do a Jewish fantasy story” to a fully worked out plot with characters with realistic motivations and moments of drama that are properly integrated and not just random incident.

I have a long way to go with it still though (with the plan, let alone researching and writing the novel). It’s a bit disheartening how far I have to go with it and how crude it seems, but, again, as a Doctor Who fan, I know that many polished stories began as vague ideas and thin storylines (Doctor Who is genuinely the most researched TV programme in the world, thanks to a fandom obsessed with production as much as narrative).

I had another job rejection, although I hadn’t really expected to get anything from it. Then they sent the rejection twice more, just to drive the point home (I guess an email blip).

One of my parents’ friends has apparently bought my self-published Doctor Who book for her son, who is a fan. It makes me wish I had known how to promote it better, but it also makes me think again about making a second edition, at least with a better cover, if not a revised final chapter to cover the most recent series. I’m not sure what to do about that. I actually thought about it a while back, because for some reason Lulu.com (the self-publishing site) wouldn’t let me alter the cover price without fiddling with the design work, and I wanted to drop the price, but then life got in the way and I never did anything about it.

Exciting News

I woke up to really good news this morning: my article about being on the autism spectrum in the frum community is going to be published! Although I’m not sure whether to link from here when it goes up. It is related to what I write about here, but it will also be published under my real name, with my photo. So, I might publish a link in a password-protected post for those who might be interested and who I feel comfortable letting see that. (I do realise that I’ve written where I was submitting it in a previous post, so I might make that private.)

They edited the article a bit. I think they felt it was too long. I’m OK with the edits. I haven’t done a comparison with my draft, but the main thing that seems different is a paragraph they cut on my special interests, which I didn’t explain very well anyway and really put in partially as a dare to myself to mention Doctor Who to frum people to see what happened (answer: they cut it, but the sky didn’t fall in, and they still took the article). I think they’ve written a couple of summary quotes to use as sub-headings, which is also fine.

They asked for some photos of me and some of me with my family to illustrate the article. This was quite hard. I don’t generally think I photography well and there were some photographs that were good, but which I didn’t think would be deemed appropriate (either me wearing t-shirts with pictures from Doctor Who or the like, or with members of my family probably not meeting this site’s dress code). I found a few suitable ones in the end. I guess the lesson is, be careful what you wear, because you never know when your photo might end up on a religious website.

I didn’t have work today as J was working from home, and I’m not going in at the moment without him. I think it’s difficult for him to prepare my work in advance. As work comes in and he deals with it, it generates admin tasks for me like filing papers and processing cheques. It’s hard to prepare it in advance. I worked a little bit on my plan for a future novel and went for a run, which wasn’t particularly good as I had a bit of a stomach ache. I also had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor that went well.

I went to a virtual shiur (religious class) this evening. It was a fairly spontaneous thing, unusual for me; I just decided to go this morning. It turned out not to be the greatest shiur ever, although I don’t really want to go into why at the moment. On a more practical level, it was hard, as a delayed exercise headache started shortly before the shiur started. I took paracetamol in time to stop it turning into a severe migraine, but I was a bit uncomfortable for most of the shiur.

I feel quite tired now, which is quite common for me after a headache, so I’m winding down and hope to go to bed soon.

Gunslinger Librarian

I have noted before that, like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I’m not always good at understanding or even noticing my own moods, known technically as alexithymia. My mood all day yesterday was different. After the big thing that I’m not going to speak about directly yet happened, I felt what I thought was anxiety all day. It was only when I was getting ready for bed that I realised that it wasn’t anxiety. I’m not 100% sure what it was. I think excitement is the most likely, but maybe happiness as well or instead. It’s good either way. I don’t usually experience either of those things.

I went to bed early last night as I knew I had to be up early today for volunteering, but I struggled to sleep. I’m not sure if that’s related to the excitement; I don’t think so, but who knows? Despite that, I woke up early today (a little earlier than I needed). I was still a few minutes late leaving, and there was bad traffic so I was twenty minutes late for volunteering. No one seemed worried. I guess if you’re a volunteer, they’re just grateful for the help.

This volunteering is at the Jewish food bank where I was volunteering last year, until they tightened their COVID precautions in the third lockdown and only allowed people to volunteer in their “bubbles.” They’ve lifted that regulation now, so I went back today. We now have high vis jackets to wear, which I guess makes sense as we’re working in the car park and garage of the organisation, and there are some cars going in and out.

I was mostly putting frozen meals into crates, and sticking labels onto boxes of food. It was repetitive work, but I can do that kind of repetitive task mechanically while thinking about other things without feeling bored. I was working primarily with only one other person and we were in the garage and round the corner from the other volunteers, so I hardly saw the other staff and volunteers. I’m OK with that too. A few people seemed pleased to see me again, which was nice. I always think it’s strange when people are pleased to see me, or remember me at all. It was rather cold, though — underground, unheated, with a concrete floor that seems to suck the heat out of my feet. I was glad I had wore my anorak.

I was there for over two hours, excluding travel time. Also excluding worry about not being able to socially distance on the bus for fifteen minutes or so when a bunch of schoolchildren got on for a number of stops. This happens every time, so I guess I just have to live with it. I didn’t see if they were wearing masks today, but often some don’t. It’s sad that COVID has made sitting next to someone on the bus feel as dangerous as sharing a syringe.

I was pretty tired after I got home and had lunch. I did some more work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I’m happier with it now. I didn’t do much else. I wrote an email about some potential jobs (see below) and planned what I want to say when I speak to my rabbi mentor tomorrow morning. I procrastinated over this, because I’m nervous of how it will go and what might follow from it. I don’t want to go into more details for now, sorry.

***

I was contacted by a job agency with two potential jobs for me. Both were for more hours a week than I think myself capable of at the moment and both require specialist knowledge or experience that I don’t have (of art and health librarianship). I asked the recruiter to put my name forward for both, on the grounds I don’t have to fill in an application and that it’s good to show willing to the agency. I doubt I’ll be called for interview for either. The job specs are daunting, though. One admittedly was for a more senior position than I’ve had before, although perhaps where my career would/”should” have been, had my issues not intervened.

I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do the type of job I was trained for. If I was in a Western, I would be the gunslinger who has lost his nerve and can not sling his guns any more. Only I’m a librarian gunslinger (whatever that is).

There’s a Dilbert cartoon where Wally (the lazy one) is saying to the Pointy Haired Boss, “I’m pleased to report that I had no problems this week. I only had issues, opportunities, challenges and valuable learning experiences.” Then when the Pointy Haired Boss asks if he actually did any work, he replies that, “It didn’t seem necessary.” I feel like this has been my life for years, but since COVID, it’s been everyone’s life.

***

I don’t often post links, but given that I tend to feel insecure about rabbis being “better” than me, I was intrigued to read an Orthodox rabbi write about his own experiences of social media-driven insecurity.

Weirdness Vibes

I woke up drained as usual. The news didn’t help; it’s full of bad news today. The news is always full of bad news, but today it hits a little closer to home: more than forty killed in a crush at the Meron Lag B’Omer celebrations in Israel, and a Doctor Who actor accused of sexual harassment and bullying. I did feel better once I got going and I’m glad it’s Lag B’Omer and I can listen to music when I want and not just when I’m struggling with depression, and that I’ve shaved. I used the hair clippers we bought for COVID haircuts rather than the beard-trimmer on my razor. It was not painful at all (usually it pulls at the hairs) and took less than ten minutes (it usually takes twenty or more). So some good has come out of lockdown.

***

I’m wondering if the Intimate Judaism sex therapist is going to be able to find a shachan (matchmaker) willing to work with me. I also wonder whether I will go to that shadchan if she finds one, at least in the near future. I feel I shouldn’t be dating so soon after PIMOJ (fair enough) and that I shouldn’t be dating until I build a career and “sort out” what my autism diagnosis means for me. But a career may (probably will) take years to build, and “sorting out” my diagnosis, whatever that means, is an ongoing process with no obvious end point. So I could end up postponing dating indefinitely, which looks a lot like procrastination and avoidance. I do need to work out if I can cope with a wife and children, being on the spectrum, but I have no idea how I test that out. It’s not like I can borrow some children for a few days. For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has mostly encouraged me to look for love despite work and mental health issues, even though this seems to go against the usual frum (religious Jewish) approach of sorting out your own issues before dating.

***

I went through a phase a few years ago of looking for stories of miracles people had experienced on websites like Hevria.com and Aish.com (setting aside for the moment the question of when a mere coincidence becomes a “miracle” — these were not things that subverted the laws of nature, but were just somewhat improbable coincidences). They are usually framed as, “I wasn’t religious, and I didn’t think I could become religious, but God did something amazing for me, so I became religious.” I think I used to read these things to get angry. (I think reading or watching things purely to get angry is more common than you might think, whether it’s conservative “clean up TV” campaigners or woke cancel culture.) I used to wonder why God wouldn’t help me. Was it because I became religious without miracles so He didn’t need to get my attention (which seemed unfair on me, like I should have held out for a better offer)? Was I particularly sinful? Did He hate me?

It comes to mind a bit when I read this article: ” I recently met a woman who went to a school with heavy amount of fear [of God] and guilt, and she confided in me that several years ago she and her friends would have so much fun mocking me and my positivity [about Judaism], but what she realized is that they were all actually jealous of my relationship to Hashem as it was so pure and sincere and not sullied with all the garbage theirs was.” I think this is partly why I used to get angry, not because I wanted miracles per se, but because I wanted a closer relationship with God, one that these people had achieved, even if it was jump started by a miracle/coincidence. Maybe this was why I didn’t connect with PIMOJ, because I couldn’t understand her close relationship with God and her constant positivity, to the extent that I didn’t feel able to share the more negative aspects of my life in our relationship, which resulted in it being a lie.

***

I find myself wondering if I’m trying to be miserable and negative at the moment, about my position in the frum world and about marriage. No one (parents, rabbi mentor) else seems to feel as negatively about my life as I do. I think I fret about the future to try to get other people to reassure me that it will be OK, but they never manage it. How could they? They can’t prove everything will turn out OK, and I’m still dealing with the ramifications of something going very wrong for my entire life up to this point (not being diagnosed as autistic), so my experience of life this far is that something fundamental will always be wrong that affects every aspect of my life negatively. Maybe I can try to feel positive that, now I’ve got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, I can (somehow) sort my life out. That said, I would want to have some kind of road map for “soring my life out” before I get my hopes up.

***

I did a few things today, Shabbat chores, Torah study, tried to begin to piece together a plan for my second/fall-back novel, went for a walk and picked up my prescription… just after I left the pharmacist, some kids on bikes passed me and shouted stuff at me. I didn’t really hear as I had music on my headphones, so I can’t be 100% sure they were shouting at me, but it wouldn’t be the first time if they were. It’s brought my mood down, whether they were shouting at me or not, because I do get shouted at even if it wasn’t happening this time. Sometimes it’s stuff because I’m Jewish, but sometimes people (usually kids) can intuit that I’m “different.” I give off weirdness vibes. It used to happen a lot at school. I went to Jewish schools, so there was no antisemitism (although I did get pushback from others kids as I became more religious, because most of the kids were not religious and probably felt threatened by my religiosity), but there was bullying for being clever and, I guess, for being different and vulnerable, because not all the clever kids were bullied, or not as much. And it wasn’t just kids in my class, even younger kids would sometimes shout stuff at me in the corridors.

It makes me feel negative about my ability to interact effectively meaningfully with people even now. They’re restarting the volunteering I was doing last year at the Jewish food bank. No one is rude to me there, but I worry I’m ineffectual and mess stuff up there and just generally seem weird and unapproachable. Ditto at shul (synagogue), although that’s less of an issue now the social side of it has been reduced. But random people shout stuff at me in the street periodically. It’s probably not coincidental that the three relationships I’ve had have been with people who ‘met’ me through writing (via a dating site or my blog) before we met in person. They had a chance to meet the competent Writing Me before the Weird In Person Me.

***

J is hosting a kiddush (refreshments after the service) at shul tomorrow for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. I’m not going, because of social anxiety. I haven’t told my parents, because I know they’ll say I should go. I feel bad, but I just don’t feel I can cope with it right now. This (social anxiety) is another reason not to date right now.

Dating to the Right and Left

I should say that “right” and “left” here refer to more or less traditionalist Jewish rather than politically right and left.

Yesterday my therapist encouraged me to stay in the present, to think about being able to succeed in my current job rather than worrying about my future career and to try to build a connection with someone rather than worrying about marriage. This is easier said than done. She suggested I “check in” with myself every few hours (I decided on every four hours) to see if I am staying in the present. I am not doing very well. Worries about marriage kept surfacing.

Early this morning I was thinking about a Jewish idea — possibly a popular spirituality idea rather than something in major primary sources; certainly I don’t think I’ve seen it there, but I’ve seen it on popular sites like Aish.com — that you have everything you need for your mission on earth. This is problematic when you think about people who lack the basics of life (historically, many important rabbis lived in extreme poverty at one point in their lives e.g. Hillel, Rabbi Akiva and others). Fortunately, my parents are supporting me financially, but, if I have everything I need, why do I feel such a need to give and receive love? It is a basic human need and I can’t pretend I don’t feel it. Maybe I need the need, but still, I don’t know what to do with it.

On the way to work, I was overtaken by hordes of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) primary school-aged girls on scooters, going to school. I see them every time I go to work. I found myself wondering where they would be in ten years time, how many would still be in the Haredi community and how many would be married. Statistically speaking, the answer to both questions is “Most of them.” The retention rate is much higher in the Haredi world than the Modern Orthodox one, and early marriage is the norm.

Thinking about the Haredi community and its higher retention rate, I found myself wondering if I should be looking for a moderate Haredi spouse. After all, I go to a moderate Haredi shul (synagogue) and have some friends there. I can, apparently, “pass” on a basic level, even if I’m not a complete match for the ideology, and even if I worry a lot about being caught out. I feel a bit like I may not get the choice, as there are not many frum (religious) young people in the Modern Orthodox (United Synagogue) community in the UK, while the Haredi community is booming, and is younger (thanks to a high birth rate and high retention rate). There is also a tendency in my family for the men to marry “up” religiously and the women to marry “down” i.e. more religious women marrying less religious men. My previous girlfriends have mostly been less religious. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong?

That would involve being set up on dates with Haredi women. The sex therapist from Intimate Judaism who responded to my email the other day offered to try to find a shadchan (matchmaker) specialising in people with “issues” for me. I’m not sure that she’s going to be able to do so, as I tried to find one myself some years ago, without success. But if she does manage it, I would imagine they would be more to the Haredi end of the spectrum, as shidduch dating (arranged dating) is more common there. So, again, that might push me in that direction.

Nevertheless, there is an issue here, which is my reliance on Doctor Who and other British TV science fiction as a coping mechanism as an autistic special interest and a coping mechanism for life stress. This is a bit weird even in the Modern Orthodox world (my Modern Orthodox rabbi mentor doesn’t even have a TV) and in the Haredi world TV is viewed with suspicion and even people who have one tend to keep it hidden. Being so into a TV programme (bear in mind I have even written and self-published a book on Doctor Who, for love rather than money) — well, it’s weird and geeky even in the secular world, let alone the Haredi world. I fear it would be a deal-breaker for many Haredi women and maybe even some Modern Orthodox ones.

I thought about the other obstacle I have to frum marriage, the fact I haven’t been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Realistically, not going was probably the right decision for me, although if I hadn’t been in the depths of despair, a gap year after university instead of before might have worked. I worry about not being attractive to frum women by not being able to study Talmud, and potentially teach it to my children.

My parents think that I’m a good person and should therefore find a good wife, sooner or later. I’m not strongly convinced that I’m a good person (I think it’s more that lots of other people are subpar, and society is OK with that), but I worry that the type of woman I’m looking for will be looking for a good Jew rather than a good person, and that I’m not a good Jew because of my problems studying Talmud. I don’t think a frum woman would be faced with a choice between me and a bad person, but between me and an equally good person who can also study Talmud. This pushes me to date more non-frum women who wouldn’t care about Talmud studying ability, despite the problems I’ve had there. Then again, I could also say that a woman (frum or otherwise) would be faced with a choice between me and an equally good person who doesn’t have a shedload of other “issues.”

Which brings me back to the “special needs” shadchan. I haven’t tried this, but I worry that I would not be set up with the right sort of women. My one brief attempt at dating with a shadchan ended badly when, possibly because I had mentioned my depression and autism, she set me up with someone with learning disabilities who simply was not on my intellectual level. Admittedly, it didn’t help that there was zero chemistry between us, but I do wonder what would happen if I go down this route. Asperger’s is frustrating as it can involve being extremely intelligent and functional in academic areas, but absolutely not functional in basic social skills, which doesn’t make finding a compatible partner any easier.

So, for a day when I was supposed to be in the present and not worrying about my future, I was worrying a lot about my future. It didn’t help that work was quite slow. The morning was OK, but the afternoon was largely spent on fairly mindless work that left my brain free to worry about things. Being at work probably didn’t help, as I couldn’t really write things down to get them out of my brain until I got home. I’m going to post now, rather than before I get ready for bed as I usually do, to see if that helps me get rid of the thoughts and lets me sit in the present more this evening.

Also, the Talmud thing is a big issue for me (you may have noticed…), not just with dating, but with self-esteem and social conformity generally, and I don’t know what to do about it. Actually studying Talmud (the obvious solution) doesn’t work as I struggle so much with it. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways: different types of classes, chevruta (one-to-one) study, private study, all without success (actually, I did have some success with the LSJS class, but that was years ago and it hasn’t run since). I’ve been told it’s not an issue and I shouldn’t worry about it, but it seems like a big thing to me. I don’t know how to fit in comfortably to the frum community, whether looking for friends, community or a wife, without it. But my brain seems not to have been designed for Talmud study and now lacks the plasticity to learn.