Put Your ******* iPhone Down and Listen to Me

I overslept today. I think my clock radio alarms (plural) didn’t go off. Luckily, I set another alarm, on my phone on the other side of the room (in case I turn off the clock radio alarms in my sleep as often happens). I rushed to get ready, but was slightly late leaving, although I got to work at a reasonable time. I’m slightly concerned that this may change if Transport for London goes into administration soon, as may happen. I think there’s currently a game of chicken going on between the Mayor of London and central government, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is refusing to give any more money after having already given a lot. The computerised destination boards at the station weren’t working today and haven’t been for some weeks now and I wonder if they have been deliberately left unfixed as ‘leverage.’ The staff don’t announce which trains are leaving from which platform; you really have to take a train, hope it’s the next one leaving and then check when you get to the next station to see if it’s going on the right branch (the station is the end of the line, so all the trains are going south, but the line splits into two branches further down).

***

At work I was phoned by the autism hospital who said I’m on the list to be screened to see if I can have autism-approved CBT. The person who phoned me reassured me that, for people diagnosed by the hospital (as I was), screening is usually just a formality. Less reassuring was the next bit: being approved would lead to my case being sent to the CCG to get funding. If I get that, then I get on the waiting list — which is currently running with a thirty to thirty-six month wait! I’m sure this has been worsened by COVID, but it’s pretty horrific. I’m not 100% sure that the three years (or whatever) only starts at that late point. It’s possible that I misunderstood and have already started the three year wait. However, with the NHS it’s usually best to assume the worst-possible outcome (and lower expectations from there).

Between the NHS and the Tube, it’s tempting to say something about underfunded public corporations, and whether they could be fixed by spending sprees or privatisation or re-nationalisation of the already-privatised bits… I no longer know or care what the solution is, I just wish someone could SORT THINGS OUT.

***

I used my SAD light box at work. I felt a bit self-conscious with it, but I don’t really get time to use it at home on work days, and on non-work days I wake up late and am wary of using it late in case it stops me sleeping later. I’m still not sure it does much when I do use it. I didn’t feel depressed after using it today, but by evening I was utterly exhausted, the type of exhaustion I get from being autistically overloaded, and I struggled to really focus on things. I wanted to get away from the computer because computer stimulation doesn’t help when I feel like this, but also wanted to Skype E and to write this, both of which involve being on the computer.

I did skype E in the end, and it was good, despite some depressing topics of conversation (the likelihood of another COVID lockdown and the difficulty of raising children in an era of social media and online bullying). Speaking to E revives me rather than depleting me, which is good.

***

I’ve had a bit of reversal of my thoughts about the United Synagogue and potentially rejoining a US shul (synagogue) at some point in the future. I have nearly finished Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, which reprints some chapters from an (I think) out-of-print book by Rabbi Lord Sacks, where, to my surprise, the former head of the United Synagogue says that he never liked it growing up and only became a regular participant at a US shul when he became the rabbi of one. There are plenty of Haredi rabbis with communities in the US that would clearly never daven there if it wasn’t their job to do so, but I saw Rabbi Sacks as a solid US man. His reasons for disliking the US are similar to mine: US shuls are too large, too anonymous and too focused on the rabbi and the chazan (cantor) doing things and everyone else spectating. I’d add a lack of commitment to meaningful prayer and Torah study on behalf of many of the congregants and also chazanim who rush through the silent prayers and then drag out the prayers that they get to sing, even though the silent prayers are more important.

Rabbi Sacks’ change of mind came about when he realised that the US is essentially the only place in the whole world where shomer mitzvot Jews (Jews who keep the commandments) and non-shomer mitzvot Jews meet as equals in a religious context. He sees it as a fundamentally inclusive organisation (in a passage written long before “inclusive” became an over-used buzzword) that allows for growth through example as well as overt preaching.

So that made me wonder if maybe I have things to offer in such a situation, whereas I feel I don’t in an shomer mitzvot-Jews-only type of shul. A couple of blogs I follow have been writing about whether it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. I tried to be a small fish in a big pond in many situations from university onwards, and I’m not sure where it got me. My biggest triumphs were mostly when I was a big fish in a small pond. I know Pirkei Avot says to be the tail of a lion rather than the head of a fox, but Pirkei Avot is unique in Talmudic literature in that it is seen as good advice rather than strict law; it’s not such a problem to decide it doesn’t apply to a particular situation (and it has various internal contradictions that we don’t try to iron out the way we do with other volumes of Talmud).

***

The Jewish website I applied to write for has clarified that they do want to publish the article I sent them (the one that has already been published elsewhere), but that they won’t pay me for it as they don’t pay for reprints. This does not encourage me to exert myself to investigate the copyright/reprint situation, bearing in mind I felt burnt out this evening, even though they want to post it next week. They did say I could pitch articles to them in the future and that they pay for articles, all of which is positive, although I’m not quite sure why they didn’t pay for my first article. Was it simply because I didn’t ask?

***

I should say something about COVID, but I don’t have anything to say except that I think we’re headed for another lockdown, I worry that we’re going to vaccinate enough people to get herd immunity without mandatory vaccinations (which make me uncomfortable even though I’m pro-vaccine) and that, unless we have a frank and taboo-busting discussion about exactly how many additional deaths we’re willing to accept per year in return for not living like prisoners and not letting our children grow up traumatised and uneducated, we’re going to be stuck here forever. Deaths per day in the UK are much lower than in the early days of the pandemic and in the peak earlier this year (after the bungled lockdowns around last Christmas). I feel there is a point where the costs of further lockdowns outweigh the benefits, but I’m not an epidemiologist or a medical statistician and feel inadequate to having an informed discussion without some help from government and media figures who don’t seem to want to have the conversation. At some point COVID is going to have to be treated like flu or pneumonia, a hazard of life that we take some precautions against, treat and take seriously, but don’t bend our society out of shape to avoid. I’m not sure what that point is, but we need to start discussing it rationally without people saying that one COVID death is too many or alternatively that the pandemic is a hoax.

***

Listening to A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, an album by Sparks from 2020 that I got for Chanukah the other day. It’s very good. I’m not sure what it means that the song that resonated most with me so far is iPhone with its refrain, “Put your ******* iPhone down and listen to me.” So true, sadly. Although maybe I’m just fixated on iPhones to avoid thinking about all the various awful things I’ve mentioned in this post that I can do nothing about.

“You remind me today of a small Mexican chihuahua”

Today was another day when I felt that things got on top of me and I didn’t really do what I wanted to do, or only some of it.

J asked me to go with him to one of our other sites today, so I ended up doing a morning of work even though I don’t usually work on Wednesdays. I will get paid for it, but, given that I’m already feeling overloaded, it felt like just another thing to do. I didn’t get much time to relax last night (partly Chanukah taking up time, partly my own fault for procrastinating) and woke up still tired and unrefreshed. When I got home from work at lunch today, I made some coffee to try to wake myself up, but I fell asleep just the same.

My parents were encouraging me to go to the local pharmacy that is offering a walk-in COVID vaccine booster service. I did want to go, but it was raining heavily and then I ran out of time before therapy. It was perhaps for the best, as I didn’t really want to be suffering vaccine side-effects during therapy or work tomorrow. I tried to book an appointment at the doctor’s surgery instead, but was on hold for five minutes and didn’t advance in the queue, so I decided I didn’t have the time to deal with this today. I’ll try to go to the walk-in centre next week.

I struggled to do much else. Between work (which was only a couple of hours, but involved an early start, a bit of peopling, being out in the cold, and being jumped on twice by a dog), being tired and napping, and then having therapy and Chanukah it was hard to do much. We ate dinner as a family again in front of the Chanukah lights; then I spent the rest of the evening ironing, and writing an email to the website I pitched to write for after they sent me an email that seemed to miss the point of my previous email.

I am struggling to get my head around working tomorrow; working on consecutive days seems wrong now somehow. I also wonder how I’m going to get through the next three months of winter if I feel like this on 1 December…

***

I got an email from the job agency that wanted to update my details. I’m a bit annoyed with them. They had asked me for two references, which seemed slightly odd (I would expect references once they had got me an interview). Now they don’t like one of my references, as it was for a job I got via them, so apparently they (the agency) supply the reference for that rather than my former line manager (?!) and so they need another reference. They also want recent proof of residence and proof of my librarianship MA, even though neither of these have changed since I first signed up with them. And they want all this “urgently,” although there’s no sign that they have a job lined up for me. I feel disinclined to panic myself about this when I have so much else going on, bearing in mind the last job they got for me was in getting on for two years ago, and that they are asking for details they already have on record that they’ve decided they have to update for their own reasons.

Thoughts on Work and Other Things

I had my phone meeting with the person from the neurodiverse work-support organisation (also called E). The organisation does offer interview practise, at £10 for half an hour, either a hypothetical interview with general questions or one where they ask specific questions based on the job description of a job I’m actually applying for. I might go down that route if I start finding lots more jobs to apply for, although I think I could get interview practise at a more local Jewish into work scheme, possibly for free (although I would probably make a donation if I got the job).

We spoke a bit about autism-suitable jobs. I mentioned my career path so far and that librarianship hasn’t turned out the way I hoped, either in terms of job availability, working part-time and the environment not always being autism-suitable. She felt that, if I’m looking for part-time work, then administration, particularly in the charity and non-profit sector, is a good place to look, so I said that that’s where I am at the moment. We spoke a bit about writing. I got a bit shy about talking about my writing experience and ambitions, I’m not sure why, but we did talk about trying to find voluntary work for one day a week at a local newspaper or similar publication just to get some experience to put on my CV, which sounds like a good idea. She said the organisation has contacts with a magazine about health and disability and she would look into finding work experience for me there, which would be a good thing, particularly if it’s remote, as she thinks it would be at the moment.

The call only lasted fifteen minutes, and I think the woman speaking to me felt a bit like she was short-changing me, as she apologised and asked if I had other questions, but I feel like I got some useful answer to get to the next step in my attempts to get more work life improved.

Afterwards I went for a walk while it was still light, or a bit light, as it was overcast and the sun was setting. I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner until I realised it was contributing to making me feel depressed (along with the weather) and switched to The Beatles. When I got home I drafted my devar Torah and cooked dinner, but found it hard to focus or get motivated. Winter evenings are always bad for motivation, and I find that, while I enjoy Chanukah a lot, lighting candles takes up a huge chunk of time in the early evening (setting up the lights, waiting for Mum and Dad to be ready, eating dinner together in front of the lights instead of eating while watching dinner…). Unfortunately, the early evening is a time when I am often trying to cram activities in before bed, or trying to relax; it’s also currently when I Skype E, because of the time-difference, so it was hard to cram things in.

***

I just came across the following factoid from an Office of National Statistics article about religion in the UK census data for 2011:

Volunteering was higher among those who identified as Jewish (44%), Buddhist (31%), “‘any other religion” (30%) or Christian (23%) than remaining religious groupings in England and Wales in 2016 to 2018.

I feel ridiculously proud of the Jewish community apparently volunteering significantly more than any other religious group in the country. (The groups counted in the census were ‘no religion’, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and ‘any other religion’.)

***

The Omicron Variant should be the title of a horror film from the fifties or sixties. Delta Variant is more of an action film, I feel.

***

E asked for a list of my favourite and least favourite Doctor Who stories.  As I don’t have a Doctor Who blog any more, I thought I would stick it here. Feel free to skip the rest of the post.

I’m putting the favourites on one list, because good new series Doctor Who episodes are broadly as good as original series ones to me, but I’m splitting the bad ones into two lists, as the original series ones are mostly boring and badly-made, whereas the new ones have a whole load of other fan embarrassment buttons to press, from overt stupidity to an overly-sexualised Doctor to (sadly) unconscious antisemitism (at least I hope it’s unconscious).

Also, I’m hugely indecisive and find that repeated viewings can reveal new sides to disliked stories, so the lists could change.

Favourites

  • The Mind Robber
  • The War Games
  • City of Death
  • Warriors’ Gate
  • The Caves of Androzani
  • Ghost Light
  • Human Nature/The Family of Blood
  • Heaven Sent

Least Favourites (Original Series)

  • The Celestial Toymaker
  • The Invisible Enemy (? I think I enjoyed this a bit more last time I saw it)
  • Underworld
  • Meglos
  • Arc of Infinity
  • Planet of Fire
  • The Twin Dilemma
  • Timelash

Least Favourites (New Series)

  • The Runaway Bride
  • Voyage of the Damned
  • The Doctor’s Daughter
  • The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
  • The End of Time
  • Into the Dalek
  • Kill the Moon
  • The Husbands of River Song
  • Twice Upon a Time
  • The Witchfinders
  • Orphan  55

To honest, if I was rigorously consistent, I would add or remove various stories, but this is more intuitive than scientific.

Other observations: I really don’t like Christmas specials (four on the least favourite list).  I do apparently like stories with a reputation for being confusing (Warriors Gate, Ghost Light), and also stories set in some kind of void and/or bizarre realm outside the normal universe (The Mind Robber, Warriors’ Gate, Heaven Sent).  My choice of favourites is pretty catholic in terms of Doctors and styles, but surprisingly nothing from the years 1975-77, generally seen by fans as the programme’s Golden Age, although there were several stories from that era that narrowly missed a place on the favourites list, and it is an era I view positively on the whole. Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker are the only Doctors to get more than one story in the best list.

Good News/Bad News (Again)

The good news: the autism hospital called me back. It sounds like I’m the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT, but don’t have funding yet. I’m not sure what that means practically. What do I need to do to get therapy? The woman I spoke to, who doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, is going to email the woman who does deal with it and ask her to phone me back, which I hope she does. I’m just really pleased to finally have a moderately good NHS story!

***

On the downside, I realised I’ve made some mistakes with my novel submissions. I knew agents like novels to be double spaced, and my manuscript is double spaced. However, agents also like novels/sample chapters pasted into the body of the text, not sent as attachments. I didn’t realise until yesterday that the cutting and pasting was undoing the double spacing, due to the not-very-good webmail system I use for email (which I use now mainly because of the hassle of telling everyone I’ve changed my email, not that I really know that many people to tell). When I realised this, I sent the second submission yesterday from my secondary, gmail, account, which seemed to keep the double spacing when I pasted, but I forgot to change the email address in my personal details, so it refers to my primary email, not the one the document is coming from. I have to hope that this will be OK, or that now I’ve sorted it, it will be better moving forward. I guess it’s a learning curve, and that I will be using the gmail for professional purposes from now on.

***

My blood test results from the other week are all fine, but I’m conscious again that I’m a bit overweight. I know it’s largely due to tablets, but I’m going to have to try harder to lose some of it…

Running to Stand Still

I am still looking for agent for my novel. I submitted to two today. They are only the third and fourth agent I’ve sent to in last four weeks. I’m not sure why I’ve been going slowly; some of it is feeling that there are still a lot of things in my life that I need to deal with NOW (the treading water feeling that I am not progressing, just running to setand still). I have to prioritise, and it is easy to say that submitting my manuscript is not a high priority, which might not be correct.

Finding an agent and then a publisher is definitely a marathon, or a series of marathons, and not a sprint, but it is easy to get disheartened particularly when (a) I don’t have great self-esteem in general or belief in my writing ability, (b) I’m also looking for writing and other paid work and not getting anywhere and (c) I’m in a job where I frequently end up feeling incompetent and inadequate, which just undermines my self-esteem further.

***

Reading Orlando, there is a lot about Orlando struggling to fit in with the spirit of the literature of her age. Reading between the lines, I assume this is about author Virginia Woolf and her lover Vita Sackville-West (the model for Orlando) struggling to fit into the still-pervading atmosphere of Victorian conservatism and patriarchy in literature and society in the 1920s. Ironically, Orlando‘s gender-fluid and feminist themes mean that Orlando is very much in tune with twenty-first century Western literary mores, probably more so than Woolf could ever have dreamed. I am still hoping that the ‘diversity’ agenda that dominates contemporary publishing will work to my advantage, but so far as I can tell from the books that get the praise and the prizes, ‘diversity’ is primarily about being black, gay or trans (or all of the above), not disabled (autistic or depressed) and definitely not Orthodox Jewish. Which is a shame, as I feel that many people know rather less about Jews than they think they do, and that this ignorance leads to a lot of avoidable antisemitism.

(Don’t get me started on viewpoint diversity in publishing or elsewhere.)

***

I did a few other things today. I wrote my devar Torah in an hour. I felt like I was winging it. Sometimes reading the sedra (Torah portion) early in the week prompts an idea to talk about or sends me doing research in other books. Sometimes I already have an idea that I want to impart and look for a link in a sedra (Torah portion) where I can relate it. But today I was stumped for ideas and just thought about things I’d already heard about the sedra until I found one I felt I could write about for about 600 words. I think it’s OK, and I did try to write in a slightly different style to my usual one, with more of an arresting opening and a bit more inspirational than usual. This was partly to make my writing more attention-grabbing and purposeful, largely to nudge my style a bit closer towards that of the Jewish website I applied to write, to see if I can actually write in their style.

***

I phoned the autism hospital to try to get a number I can phone to find out if I’m on the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT. I phoned the person I spoke to last week who says she doesn’t deal with it any more. At the time I didn’t think to ask her for the details of whoever does deal with it and now I’m struggling to find out. I feel stupid about not doing this at the time, but I know autism + on-the-spot interpersonal interactions + telephones is not a good combination and I do end up thinking of things I should have said when I look back on these types of calls.

***

Overall, I did quite a bit today (I skyped E too, and went for a walk and did some shopping), but my ‘to do’ list is still so long, and I might have to submit to so many agents, that it can all seem very dispiriting at times.

Meet the Parents

***

I felt so drained today. It was hard to get up or do anything. I did eventually cook dinner (vegetarian red bean chilli). By the time I finished that, I had only a little over an hour until my Zoom call with E’s parents. The call was nerve wracking, and longer than I expected (nearly an hour and a half), but it went well, I think. I didn’t get much else done today, between being drained and then anxious about meeting E’s parents. I guess that’s understandable. I wish I didn’t have work tomorrow, but I do, unfortunately (J has a meeting so rearranged his in-office days and I had to follow suit).

***

A job I was vaguely thinking of applying for, even though it was full-time, has closed. I’m not sure if they found someone early or if I’ve been so busy with other things that I ran out of time. I’m not greatly upset, as I think my parents’ idea of applying for full-time jobs and then asking to do it as a job share is not the most realistic. Nevertheless, I would be happier if I heard from the places I’ve written or pitched to recently about articles and my novel. I wish I could feel I was moving forward a little with my career(s).

***

I feel like I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in my post yesterday. I was trying to say that I should not argue back with culture warriors, but to write the truth of my own personal life instead, what I know experientially to be true, rather than what I think is true on a political, economic, cultural or religious level. I don’t think arguing on a political (etc.) level really works. I think that didn’t come across (despite the title), maybe because I was too tired. So I just want to clarify that.

***

I dreamt about turkeys last night. I’m obviously hanging around with too many Americans, or reading American-Jewish websites.

On and On and On

Today I’ve been up and down. I’m fine, I’m low, I’m fine, I want to cry, I’m fine… It’s hard to tell what triggered this, or maybe there are too many possible causes. Possible causes:

1) I haven’t had any response for my pitches to the Jewish newspaper, Jewish website or from the last couple of novel agents I submitted to. I haven’t had any time to submit to more agents. I don’t know what other websites or publications I might pitch to at the moment. This probably isn’t unusual and might not even mean that those publications/agents aren’t interested at this stage, but I’m finding the total radio silence unnerving. I’d like to hear something, even if it’s to say that I’m pitching the wrong way or to the wrong people.

2) I’m a bit upset that social anxiety seems to be winning in my life, at least at shul (see yesterday’s post) and a bit at work, inasmuch as I hope to avoid the Very Scary Task, although to be fair I’m not actively avoiding it. I would like to do autism-adapted CBT to work on this, but who knows when I will be able to do so?

3) I’m frustrated at not having much time for writing either, although I did spend some time on novel research last night. To be fair, part of my frustration is about being stuck in research and not writing mode.

Not everything is in limbo: I have E, and I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week. Being long-distance with E is hard now we’ve been in person, but it’s better than nothing. I also feel like I only get things when I’m at my wits’ end about them, and I’m not there yet with work and writing (or writing for work). I’m somewhat nervous about meeting E’s parents on Zoom later this week, but I have to do it sooner or later, and it’s better to do it sooner.

Otherwise it was a dull day: I got up a little earlier than usual, did some Torah study, went for a run, and Mum cut my hair. C’est tout.

***

Doctor Who was good (Village of the Angels), surprisingly so, although perhaps not so surprising given that it basically rehashed tried and tested set-pieces from other Weeping Angels stories. I feel there is only so much you can do with the Weeping Angels. I suspect it will turn out to be the best episode of the six part season story, as I’m expecting the concluding episodes to drift into technobabble and incoherence; already I feel I’m vague on anything to do with the ongoing storyline about the Flux and the villainous Swarm and Azure (good costumes, though) and more focused on the plotlines of individual episodes like the Sontarans in the Crimean War in episode two or the Village of the Angels tonight.

Then and Now

I feel that sometimes bad things happen and I write about them, but when they get resolved, I forget to mention it. I think I forgot to mention that the ringing I had in my ears a while back stopped after a few days of steam inhalation. Similarly, I had a couple of recent days of emotional lowness and worried I was drifting into depression, but I mostly seem to have been OK since then, albeit with the caveat that my ‘normal’ mood is generally somewhat lower in the winter than the summer, and that I can dip into low mood for a while during a day in response to external events, or just being hungry or tired.

***

Yesterday I applied for the writing job I wrote about recently. That took much of my Sunday afternoon. I didn’t do much else. I went for a walk, skyped E, did some Torah study. That was about it.

Today at work I had to go to one of our other sites, which at least got me out of the office. I was absolutely exhausted when I got home (then had to make supper as Mum wasn’t feeling well). I couldn’t do the things I was hoping to do tonight, although planning to do anything after work is always risky. I worry how I will cope if I work more hours.

J pointed out that I’d made a fairly big mistake last week. It’s possible I just misheard what someone said to me over the phone. The more worrying interpretation is that my brain simply wasn’t working properly as I was trying to listen, write and think (and ‘people’ a bit, which is harder over the phone) all at the same time, while also trying not to give in to social anxiety. I guess Explanation 2 is just an elaborated version of Explanation 1. All of which makes me worry about my future in the workplace (any workplace). It’s hard to tell how annoyed/concerned J is about this, as he’s pretty laid back about everything and I can’t work out if that means this is OK or he’s angry, but chooses not to show it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, a nicely put together (and surprisingly long) tribute book to Rabbi Lord Sacks published by the United Synagogue for his first yortzeit (death anniversary). The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of Rabbi Sacks taken at various events during his Chief Rabbinate. The Anglo-Jewish community is very small and I’ve already spotted a number of people I know in the photos with him.

Today I spotted my first girlfriend in one of the group photos. According to the caption, it was almost certainly taken while we were together. It was a bit of a shock, being reminded of my previous life. I was a different person back then. It did make me reflect, not for the first time, that E is really the best person for me. None of my other girlfriends/dates/crushes (not that there were many of the first two) came close to connecting with me, understanding me or caring for me as well as she does.

The downside of reminiscing is that part of me still struggles in the way I did back then with a lot of day-to-day tasks, and with sleep and energy levels, and I am not sure how to deal with that, because finding True Love apparently doesn’t magically stop you being autistic and socially anxious.

***

This week’s new Doctor Who episode was pretty much typical new Doctor Who. I was going to say something about the fact that I could barely understand it and none of it really resonated with me, but I keep coming back to the idea that the programme isn’t made for people like me (resolutely non-fashionable middle aged fans), it’s being made for a family audience and especially children of the twenty-first century. If it didn’t have the name Doctor Who I probably wouldn’t watch it and I probably wouldn’t care, but because it has the name on it, and because I’m emotionally invested in ‘Doctor Who‘ (whatever that means), I care.

It’s funny how much of my fan life has been spent trying to define the difference between the Doctor Who I like most and the Doctor Who I don’t like as much (or at all). There’s a fan joke that goes, “What’s the definition of a Doctor Who fan? Someone who hates Doctor Who” and, while I don’t think that’s entirely true, it does define a certain type of person, and certain part of most fans. We (i.e. fans) try to maintain that there’s just one big thing called Doctor Who, but really it’s made up of lots and lots of little bits and it’s OK to like some of it and not other parts without needing to explain yourself (he said, explaining himself).

***

I posted this on Margaret’s blog and thought it was probably better here than in a comment thread. It was responding to a meme about books being more lavish, detailed and beautiful than the films that are based on them. I wrote:

I don’t think that meme about the book vs. the movie/film is always true. I can think of a number of stories where the film is as good or better than the book, although to be fair, in some cases the book was written primarily as the first stage in writing the screenplay (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Third Man). I think the meme discounts the artistry present in good direction, acting, cinematography and even design e.g. Blade Runner, which purely in plot terms is worse than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, cutting out the subplots as well as over-simplifying plot and character, but the direction and design work add a whole level resulting in a film that feels like an immersive environment.

As a librarian, bibliophile and aspiring novelist, I feel vaguely treacherous for saying that the film can be better than the book, but I am a Dispassionate Truth-Speaker and will not lie!

The Fire Sermon

I felt exhausted all day on Friday. Shul (synagogue) in the evening was OK. It seemed quieter than usual. I’m not sure why, possibly there were fewer people. There was a devar Torah that I didn’t like that much. It was based on a very mystical worldview that I didn’t really buy into, and an approach towards Midrash that I don’t really accept, taken to some very strange conclusions. The person who gave it (it’s a slot open to the community) asked if I understood it. I said yes, which is true, I understood it, I just didn’t agree with it. I still struggle to disagree with people, and I feel a more Maimonidean religious rationalist understanding wouldn’t go down well in my community.

I had dinner with some friends, which was nice. It was just four of us, so I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I feared I might be. When I got home I had a long chat with my parents about their holiday. I also had a treat: I read Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I hadn’t read for years. I suspect Eliot’s worldview and understanding of literature is about as far from fashionable as is possible at the moment, and I have never really been able to analyse and understand the poem, but I’ve always found it beautifully written. There are lines embedded in my memory.

I woke up about 7am and thought about getting up. I knew I wasn’t going to go to shul in the morning, as I thought I needed to recuperate after socialising yesterday, but I thought I should get up to try to sort out my sleep pattern, but I just couldn’t face it, and ended up sleeping again. I napped twice in the afternoon too, once briefly, but once for an hour (my parents were also asleep, and we all slept through the end of Shabbat). I had wanted to go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), but didn’t make it. It’s hard to unpick why; I think the napping is avoidance, driven by social anxiety and feelings of disconnection with the community. I had these before COVID, but the prolonged periods without shul, or with uncomfortable regulations, has just made them worse. I’m not sure what to do now. It presumably is something I could work on in autism-adjusted CBT, but I’m not even on the waiting list for that yet, with the GP currently refusing to apply to the CCG for funding. I need to phone the hospital to ask what I should tell the GP, but I feel (a) like I’m playing Piggy in the Middle, (b) that the GP should know and (c) that the hospital won’t be any more cooperative than the GP. I will try to phone the hospital during the week, if I have the time.

I might not have the time because I’m juggling several possibly job opportunities. I need to prepare for my meeting with the autism job agency; fill in various forms for the job agency that got me work in the past; apply for a job that I’m not helpful about (it’s full-time. I don’t think I can work full-time, but my parents tell me to apply and see if they’ll let me have a job-share. I am sceptical about this); and, most excitingly, the Jewish website that published my article a few months ago is advertising for staff writers. This seems about the most promising job opportunity I’ve had for a long time, so I’m applying there as my first priority. In the past I would have been either thinking I can’t write inspirational posts or link Jewish concepts to pop culture and the news (as is their style), or I would be thinking that, as my Jewish worldview doesn’t match the sites 100%, I shouldn’t write for them, but I’m mostly feeling positive,so I guess that’s good.

I’ve got Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned on as I write. I wouldn’t usually watch TV and write (I can’t multitask), but it’s long and dull, but it’s the next episode on E and my new Who watch. It’s one of those episodes where I wonder how I can have such different views of Doctor Who, and storytelling, than Russell T Davies (although “You couldn’t even sink the Titanic!” was quite a good line). I hope there are people out there who like my type of stories (or writing).

The One with all the Writing Pitching and Job Hunting

I had a bad start to the day. I decided to let myself sleep in, which was probably a bad idea. I got woken up at 11.30am by the phone. It was someone phoning from a job agency. I thought it was a cold call and asked them to phone back this afternoon. It was only later that I remembered that I had made the appointment to speak to them and forgotten to put it in my diary. Then I fell asleep again for a couple more hours and the afternoon was a rush to fit things in. The call, when I had it, was OK, just confirming that I am looking for more work, either one day a week, to fit with my current job, or up to three days a week, which would involve leaving my current job, something I have mixed feelings about based on my current sense of my ability to function with the workplace, but probably a nettle that needs to be grasped at some point. This job agency has managed to get me one or two jobs in the past, one that was very good and I think another that was awful, albeit for reasons none of us could really have guessed (just how badly working in an open-plan office 9am-5pm would affect me given my autism, which had not been diagnosed back then). On the downside, I’m already registered with one agent at this agency, so I’m not expecting many more possible jobs, and I don’t think this agency has got me an interview for a year or more.

After that, I hurriedly sent my article pitch to a Jewish newspaper while I was feeling vaguely confident (or just efficient) about my ability to cope with work. Now I’m terrified of either a positive or a negative response. I think I just want to be forgotten. I also pitched my novel to another agent in the evening.

Dinner was a bit of a mess. I got back from my walk to realise that I didn’t have the courgettes I needed for vegetable couscous. I feel like my brain just isn’t working today. I didn’t feel up to going out again in the dark, and I thought the recipe would be OK without them.It tasted OK in the end, but it would have benefitted from the added colour and taste of the courgettes.

I did some other things. As my parents are away, I did some laundry (Dad usually does that). I spent half an hour writing a devar Torah. I wasn’t hugely happy with it, but I guess if I want to be a writer it’s good that I can spin out 500 words of something vaguely meaningful on the sedra easily. Not that I necessarily want to write Jewish stuff (or only Jewish stuff), but as a measure of my ability to write at length with time pressure.

I booked an initial meeting with Enna, an organisation that offers employment mentoring to neurodivergent people (help with CVs and interviews, help finding relevant jobs, help asking for adjustments in the workplace etc.). I have a half-hour meeting with them in a couple of weeks to see how they can help me. That meeting is free, but meetings after that have to be paid for (it’s not a charity), so I’ll need to get an idea of how much they might be able to help me and whether it’s likely to be value for money. I’ve had help with CVs before, but some interview practise might help. To be honest, I’ve had interview help too. It’s not that I don’t know what to do and more that I can’t do it in the moment. In particular, I struggle to know what to do when my mind goes totally blank in response to a question and I freeze up. In theory notes would help, but I’ve never really had sufficient brainpower to look at them in that situation.

***

I’m watching the Doctor Who story The Green Death with E. I’d forgotten how slow the first two episodes are. Fan Wisdom states that the ideal length for a Doctor Who story is four episodes, each twenty-five minutes long (or rather it stated that, until single episode, forty-five minute stories became the norm with the new series) and that all six part stories have two episodes of padding. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it is in the case of The Green Death. Then, at the end of episode two, as the real story starts, the giant maggots turn up. I’d forgotten how gross they look too. Anyone who thought that BBC special effects in the 1970s weren’t up to much should watch them. They even have functional mouths (and teeth, weirdly). For a generation of children, this is known as The One with the Maggots. Then just in case they hadn’t traumatised a nation of children enough, the next year they did it all over again, but with giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders). The giant spiders weren’t anywhere near as effective as the maggots, though. Apparently they had to make the spiders less scary because the BBC had an internal policy on spiders not being too scary on TV. I’m amused (and vaguely jealous) that the BBC in the 1970s had enough horror/science fiction/fantasy output to need a policy on spider-scariness.

First World Problems

(If I had a band, First World Problems could be my first album.)

My parents have gone for a few days in sunny (probably not that sunny) Bournemouth, so I’m home alone. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Aside from when they went to Ipswich for a few days earlier in the year, I haven’t been home alone since before COVID, so it still feels strange.

I wanted to go for a run today, but because I got up late, and because I prefer to do various tasks before I go for a run, knowing that I have a strong likelihood of getting an exercise headache afterwards, it was dark before I was able to go. I had a weird intuition that I shouldn’t run in the dark today. My parents never like me running in the dark, and, while I’ve done it before, running in the dark while the streets are full of piles of potentially slippery fallen leaves didn’t seem a good idea, especially when there was no one around to come looking for me. I do wonder how much I’ll be able to run in the winter if I stick to this plan. As it happens, I went for a walk instead, and it was drier and better-lit than I thought/expected (why did I think it had rained over the weekend when it hadn’t?), but I think I probably made the right decision regardless.

I didn’t do much else today aside from that walk. I cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, with enough pasta to go with a bought sauce tomorrow) and did some Torah study. I have no real ideas for my devar Torah at this stage; the story of Yaakov (Jacob), his wives and children in the household of Lavan is always one that seems bizarre and hard to understand, even understanding some of the history behind it (using maidservants to bear children for their barren mistresses who would then adopt the children by having them born while the maidservant sat on the mistress’ lap was a real practice in the ancient Middle East, strange though it seems to us now).

I’m thinking of stopping volunteering for a while. I feel very overwhelmed with my life at the moment. I’m not sure how much time it would free up, as I’m unlikely to get up that early without a reason, but it does leave me drained all day, from physical exertion and probably also from ‘peopling,’ so it might leave me with more of an afternoon, particularly on weeks where I don’t have therapy.

I feel that lately I’ve disagreed with people here and in real life about what my next move should be in life. Not big arguments, but I always doubt myself when people see things differently to me. Part of me says, “I’m the subject matter expert on my life, and I’ve researched what I want to do more than they have,” but part of me says, “I catastrophise from anxiety and I get stuck on particular ideas from autistic rigidity, so I should listen to other people.” Probably there is a medium to be struck somewhere.

***

Doctor Who was better than last week. Still a lot that didn’t seem to make much sense, and a lot I would have done differently, but it was broadly entertaining, although it was too long and I got fidgety.

I finished reading People of the Book:A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy too. It was pretty good overall, but the author biographies at the back are basically just lists of all the awards the writers have won, which I found intimidating when thinking of my own writing.

Opportunities, Missed and Otherwise

I am OK today. I am quite a bit down, but I’ve been used to that over the years. It’s a rush today because Shabbat starts at 4.10pm, but I wanted to note a few things briefly.

I’m hoping for a restful Shabbat (the Sabbath). My parents are out for dinner tonight, so I should have some time for recreational reading. E says I should read more for fun on Shabbat even if that means doing less Torah study and she may be right. Tomorrow Talmud shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) returns and I’d like to go, even though that means staying on for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and then staying afterwards to help, where I feel I usually just get in the way, however hard I try to be helpful. But I’ll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon. It’s eighteen months since we’ve had this format for the shiur, because of COVID and because the timetable is different in the summer when Shabbat afternoons are very long compared with the winter when they’re very short.

There is an oneg being hosted by someone from my shul tonight. An oneg is a kind of Shabbat party where you sit around a table and there are snacks and soft drinks and alcohol, and people talk and sing religious songs and share divrei Torah. I used to try to force myself to these things to make friends. Usually I just sat there terrified, not speaking. Sometimes I stood outside crying at my social anxiety and social impairments and my inability to face my fears. I can’t really be bothered with that now, but I do wonder how else to make friends.

***

I found, lurking in my email inbox, an email from over a year ago from a job agency that helps people on the autism spectrum into work. I think I didn’t go down that path a year ago because I wasn’t diagnosed then, and because my current job appeared soon afterward. I might contact them again soon.

***

There’s a woman who keeps writing for Chabad.org about her fertility issues and the fact that she might never have children, and I want to read her articles, but I can’t, perhaps because they’re too close to home. Not that I have fertility issues per se, but that E and I worry that with all the mental health, neurological and financial issues that we have between us that we’ll never be able to support children, practically and financially. I guess that’s my main worry at the moment. I think E and I will be together, but I worry how we’ll cope, even without children.

***

I keep being drawn back to this interview with the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl where the interviewer lists Rabbi Sacks’ achievements and asks if he ever failed anything and Rabbi Sacks bursts into laughter and says, “I nearly failed my first year in university. I nearly failed my second year in university. I was turned down for virtually every job that I applied for. Since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book. I started when I was 20 and I gave it every minute of spare time that I had. Even when Elaine and I went to a concert I would be writing notes during intervals or between movements during a symphony. Yet, I failed for 20 years! From 20 to 40 I had a whole huge file cabinet of books I started and never finished.” I heard another interview where he said that being a rabbi was his fourth career choice, after he failed at becoming an economist, an academic philosopher and a barrister (lawyer). So that gives me a little hope, because I’m nearly forty and I haven’t done anything with my life.

He also says, “I think all that goes with the affective dimension of Judaism, the emotional life, is being neglected…  I think we haven’t done enough with the affective dimension, and music is probably the most important… Cinema, too, isn’t used enough in this regard. I think we haven’t done enough with that to tell people what the life of faith does for you. I have so many stories that I think ought to be made into film. Stories of ordinary people I know who have done extraordinary things.”

He doesn’t talk about prose fiction, but I think it applies there too, particularly in terms of telling stories. Although the stories I want to tell are not necessarily ones he would want to tell. But I think/hope there is an audience out there, although not necessarily or purely a frum one or even Jewish one. I just hope I can convince the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, reviewers) of that.

I know I say things like this a lot, but, honestly, I have to keep saying it or otherwise I stop believing in it myself.

***

The reason the interview was posted is that it’s just over a year since Rabbi Sacks died. I still feel his loss acutely, even though I never really met him (although I was in the same room as him a few times). I wish I had had the opportunity, or made the opportunity, to speak to him — really to speak to him about my Jewish life, my creative life and my aspirations to unite them both. I struggle to understand my place in the world in general and Jewish world in particular. I don’t understand why God made me autistic, or what He wants from me. I feel he would have understood, and would have had good advice. It’s too late now.

Falls the Shadow

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Don’t think you knew you were in this song”

I woke up late again, and drained/fatigued. I feel that I need to make more money so E and I can get married, but I don’t know how. I feel I have so little confidence on my abilities in the workplace in general, and librarianship (the career I’m actually trained for) in particular. My attempts to sell magazine articles have not succeeded up until now, although I find it hard to think of ideas and worry that I don’t pitch them properly. I have a vague idea of writing something about being high-functioning on the autism spectrum and frum for one of the Jewish newspapers (my Mum has been saying for ages that I should write this), but I feel that professional magazines and newspapers publish from a small group of regular journalists they know they can trust. As with anything, I feel I don’t know how to get accepted in the first place. It’s hard even to find submissions guides and find out what word count or format they want.

I guess it’s come to a head partly from having a serious conversation about finances with E yesterday, and also because I keep coming across things written by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is a very successful frum (religious Jewish) journalist (and community rebbetzin!) and I wonder how other people can juggle creative (or non-typically-frum) careers and frumkeit and I can’t — is it just because I’m neurodivergent? How do I get around that? I really hope I’m not just congenitally useless. I know other people who juggle creativity and frumkeit. I guess they are not autistic, but then they have families and other responsibilities too.

I know, it’s hard to get established as a creative. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. Stephen King was rejected by thirty publishers and gave up on writing completely until his wife secretly saved his manuscript and sent it to another publisher. The Beatles were told that “Guitar bands are on the way out.” And so on. It’s hard to stay positive sometimes. At least I’m trying to think of ideas. Autism and low self-esteem tend to shut me straight into “I can’t do this, it won’t work” catastrophising mode.

Other things bringing me down: it’s less than a week since E went back to the States, but it feels like longer, especially as we don’t know when we’ll be together again. And now the clocks have gone back, it feels like winter is suddenly here. The nights have been getting longer, but suddenly they feel a lot longer, an effect that is probably at least in part psychological, as the clocks only go back one hour, but it still feels grim, especially with gloomy weather. I’m aware that this is exactly the time of year when I usually relapse into depression, even if I’ve been in recovery since spring. I hope this is just a bad day and not the start of a relapse.

I feel like both my chosen careers are very woke and focused with inclusion, diversity and minority voices — but not for Jews. Today I was looking at a supplement produced by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) on children’s books, very focused on racial and gender minorities; no Jews. Although judging by what I’ve read, including the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthology I’m currently reading, most Jewish writers have little interest in or knowledge of most of Jewish history and culture, particularly the traditional and religious parts (which is most of it, historically).

E suggested I have a rest day, but I wanted to try to do something productive. Possibly this attitude just stores up trouble for me. Maybe I should listen when my body/mind tells me it’s tired. I seem to be caught in a no-win situation sometimes of feeling exhausted and needing rest, but also feeling like time is running out on me and I need to sort out my career ASAP, and that taking a day off (other than Shabbat) will just leave me feeling lazy and useless. So I push myself to do things and feel exhausted again the next day.

I sent my updated CV to a recruitment agent. She is supposed to specialise in library jobs and did actually get me one or two short-term jobs (I can’t remember exactly which ones, I think the really awful one outside the library sector and the surprisingly good one at a university library). I just wish looking at my CV didn’t make me feel like I totally failed at building a CV.

I also wrote a pitch email to a major Anglo-Jewish newspaper, pitching that article on high-functioning autism in the frum community. I do feel it’s problematic that most of the stuff I’ve had published in professional or semi-professional websites isn’t stuff I really want to show to prospective editors, given the subject matter, often depression, suicide or sexuality (but not in a good way, rather about loneliness and celibacy). I probably spent two hours or more in pitching mode today, whether talking about it with E and my parents; sketching a plan; and writing a pitch email (that took nearly an hour and a half by itself). I should probably apologise to E and my parents for being negative; I feel I have to vent a load of negativity before I can actually start a scary task. It’s generally just best to let me vent and then quietly wait for me to start regardless.

All this meant I didn’t get a chance to pitch my novel to another agent or to research the second novel. I wish I could do more in a day, but there it is. I probably won’t send the pitch email until Tuesday, as one site I read advised not to pitch on Thursday night or Fridays (no one wants to deal with a new project at the end of the week), over the weekend or on Mondays (editors are dealing with the weekend email backlog on Mondays and will delete pitch emails unread).

Other than that I went for a walk and spent some time on my devar Torah, but most of the stuff on my To Do list is still there.

Twice Exceptional

Yesterday was fairly ordinary. I submitted my manuscript to another agent, went for a run and Skyped E. I got an exercise headache again. I didn’t blog because there didn’t seem much need for it.

Today was more difficult. I had some OCD-type anxiety in the morning and again this evening. I had vague anxiety and intermittent vaguely low mood across the day. It’s hard for me to understand my feelings sometimes (often), but I felt some gloom and lethargy, albeit that that’s probably usual for me when I’m at work. Work was OK, though, not too many mistakes.

I came home determined to work on my novel(s). I did manage about half an hour of work on them, doing some research for my second novel and also trying to track down the publisher and agent of someone who has written an award-winning Young Adult novel that is Jewish-themed (frum), but aimed at a general audience. I am tempted to submit my first novel to the agency, and maybe the publisher, although I’ve been warned to be wary of approaching publishers directly even when they permit it.

I would have liked to have done more, but it wasn’t really possible for reasons I can’t go into here. I did some Torah study too and ate dinner with my parents (we try to eat together on Mondays) so it was pretty productive. I’m too tired to read now, so will probably vegetate in front of the TV. I guess there is always a price (although I did read quite a bit on my commute and during my lunch break).

***

There was Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) where my workplace is housed this afternoon and I went, my first weekday prayer service in quite a while. The rabbi asked if I wanted to lead Minchah and I turned him down pretty much instinctively from social anxiety. I wish I had had the confidence to lead the service, as I’d like to find that talent again. Also, the people who did lead the service were too fast. I like Goldilocks davening (praying): not too fast and not too slow. Unfortunately, davening at this shul is, as J says, “Nusach Einstein: davening at the speed of light.”

***

I’m in the middle of a Norman Frum Women podcast episode where they are talking to a psychiatrist about parenting neurodivergent children. I’m finding it interesting, not least from hearing the parents’ perspective, although my neurodivergence was undiagnosed when I was a child, so my parents didn’t deal with it in the same way. (I was walking while listening to this and so could not take detailed notes, so any mistakes are mine not theirs.)

There was an interesting functional definition of neurodivergence as being about having a brain that accumulates excess stress in everyday situations. There was a stress on the idea of neurodivergent disability being environmental (I think ‘situational’ might be a slightly better word), in that it manifests in a particular set of circumstances, but not others. I can cope with noise and people being in my space sometimes, but then throw in a day of work stress or my HALT triggers (being Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired) and suddenly I’m not coping (that’s my example, not theirs, again in case of errors).

I was particularly interested to hear about “twice exceptional” children: children who are exceptional in being neurodivergent, but also exceptional in terms of being clever and often also well-behaved (which sounded like it could be a bad thing if they’re avoiding testing boundaries for the wrong reasons). These twice exceptional children can find it hard to get support in school, because everyone assumes they’re doing well. This definitely resonated with my school experiences, although realistically I’m not sure what help was actually available for me twenty-plus years ago when high-functioning autism was even less well-understood than it is now.

There was a positive note about adult neurodivergents often finding a “better fit” for their lives once they no longer have the artificial and stressful environment of school. I think there is some survivorship bias here, as the psychiatrist seemed to be judging based on some of her academic mentors/supervisors who she thinks are on the spectrum. I would suggest there are a lot more people on the spectrum who aren’t in high-powered academic jobs. Certainly I feel that the kind of life that would work for me is not one that is really on the table at the moment, if ever. I’m really only functioning with any kind of independence because a lot of people (my parents, E, J) are not making the demands of me at home or in the workplace that would perhaps normally be expected of a thirty-something with two degrees. I would like to build some kind of career of a writer, either full-time or with a small amount of part-time office work, but I have no idea if I’m going to be able to do so; my steps so far have been extremely faltering and rarely successful. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just my viewpoint.

I would be interested in a follow-up episode on adult neurodivergence in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Although maybe Normal Frum Women isn’t the best place for that, as there is a lot to say about men. The frum community makes considerable demands on both men and women. Men are more forced to do particular things at particular times (especially communal prayer) and are forced into noisy, crowded communal spaces like shuls and batei midrash (study halls). Women are encouraged/expected to support large and often noisy and messy families, so I can see there would be problems for neurodivergent women too. It would be interesting to hear how other autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people, male or female, manage it. I’ve struggled to find a place for myself communally, in shul and “learning” (adult education) and lately I feel as if I’m detaching myself from my current community. If anything, COVID has only accelerated this trend, by adding health anxiety to already existent social anxiety and showing me that I can survive well enough without communal prayer or Torah study. I’m not sure if our shul has got louder in recent since we got a more Hasidish rabbi about a year before COVID, but I am definitely struggling with the noise more since lockdown. By noise I mean clapping and thumping tables during Kabbalat Shabbat, rather than talking (there is very little of that at least). There is also occasional dancing, which I can’t cope with at all.

***

Yesterday saw the start of the new series of Doctor Who, structured as one big, six episode story. It was vaguely diverting, but I think twenty-first century Doctor Who isn’t really for me. I used to think it was due to things like pop cultural references, sexualising the Doctor/companion relationship, and hyper-sexual characters like Captain Jack and River Song, but even without all these things, I struggled to get involved. I just find it fast, loud, melodramatic, self-important and portentous in a way the twentieth century version was not (OK, the twentieth century version was melodramatic, I’ll give you that). I think it’s a charge you can level at a lot of popular culture e.g. superhero films, the Daniel Craig Bond films and so on.

I wouldn’t say it’s bad, just that it’s not for me. But I watch, perhaps out of loyalty or nostalgia, and I’ll probably give it a second viewing at some point, because re-watching when I know where the bad bits are helps me to find more good bits. Possibly I’m the epitome of the obsessive self-hating (or insane) fan. Even so, I’m glad the second-hand back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine from 1996 that I ordered arrived today. The issue is a tribute to third Doctor actor Jon Pertwee, tying in with the fact that I’m about to introduce E to him via one of his most memorable stories, The Green Death.

The Hive Switch

I’m still reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. I had a bit of a paradigm shift reading it, which I think ties in to one I had a while back reading Rabbi Shagar. Haidt talks about people being 90% chimpanzee, 10% bee — not in a literal, biological sense, but that most of the time we are individuals who compete against each other (chimpanzee), but occasionally we can form a group that cooperates to compete against other groups (a bee hive). The competition doesn’t have to be violent, just in the evolutionary sense that we compete for resources.

Haidt talks about “The Hive Switch,” a metaphorical switch in our brains that can shift us rapidly from individual mode to group mode. Examples of things that can flick that switch include: ecstatic religious dancing (once common in every society except the individualist West); raves (the contemporary Western substitute); being in nature (I think similar what Freud termed the Oceanic Emotion, the awe on seeing nature); group singing; marching in formation with others; going to a political rally or protest; and taking hallucinogenic drugs. These things promote group identification, enhanced empathy for group insiders[1], improved morale, improved cooperation and increased willingness to die for comrades [2]. They are also connected with a religious sense of connection to the Infinite and intense love for everything.

(Incidentally, you can see here that the only contemporary Jewish movement really plugging into this is Hasidism, which has very much been about group singing, ecstatic dancing and alcohol (no hallucinogenic mushrooms in Poland or the Ukraine) since its origins in the eighteenth century, very much the return of the Jewish repressed, although even Yeshivish or Modern Orthodox weddings can get a bit like this.)

Reading this argument, I was struck by seeing two of my major struggles, as recorded in this blog, connected: my struggles to connect emotionally with God and my struggles to connect with other people. You can even locate the two at once in the ecstatic dancing in shul (synagogue) on Simchat Torah. I assumed that both problems were unrelated. My social struggles and anxiety often occur within the Jewish community, but I assumed that was simply because that is my main social environment. But Haidt suggests (although he doesn’t explicitly state it, so I could be wrong) that having experiential encounters with God/the Divine/the Infinite/whatever you want to call it is the same sort of thing as feeling accepted as part a group of people.

Now, I have had that Hive Switch flipped at times, but generally in ways that are hard to replicate. Paradoxically, I had it sometimes when in a period of suicidal depression, where I sort of got overwhelmed with how awful the world seemed and emotionally exhausted by my thoughts and feelings (and sometimes physically exhausted by anxious pacing or walking) then felt an intense feeling of God’s presence. One year I managed to get into Simchat Torah and really enjoyed the dancing (I’ve never worked out how I did that or how to replicate it). I have had it a bit with being in nature and maybe a tiny bit at pro-Israel rallies, although I usually feel out of place at any kind of political event, even if I agree with the platform. So it is possible to flip my Hive Switch, just very difficult. Incidentally, Haidt says the switch is an analogue slide switch rather than a binary on/off switch, meaning it’s possible to be a bit groupish and a bit individual; it’s not one or the other at a given time.

So this makes me wonder if autistic people, the mentally ill or maybe even all introverts have difficulty moving this switch along. I know that when my switch gets pushed, it sometimes encounters resistance. When I’m somewhere where people are bonding over shared political, religious or cultural views, a voice starts up in my head with opposing views (an extreme version of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ idea that the Jews are the question mark in the margin of the record of the conversation of mankind). I probably have some resistance to God too, which is probably a strange thing for a religious person to say, inasmuch as I’m resistant to miracle stories and proofs of God’s existence; for me, God has to exist alongside the Abyss, at least in this world.

The focus on awe in nature and very ‘real’ emotions reminded me of the essay My Faith: Faith in a Postmodern World by Rabbi Shagar (Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg), which I read over Sukkot and which had a powerful affect on me. I want to re-read it before I feel I fully understand it, but the main thing I took away from it was the idea of faith being experienced in what Rabbi Shagar terms ‘the Real.’ This is a term from Lacanian psychology, referring to the early stages of infancy, where the baby can not distinguish between different people and objects, but experiences the world as a sense of wholeness, not as separate objects. Not only that, but he doesn’t experience himself as a body or identity, but as “an amalgam of organs, energies, and urges.” Faith is rooted in experiencing the world as the Real and is about acceptance of the self, which is not narcissistic if accompanied by unity with God; or, alternatively, a creative search for meaning of one’s own. (I would have liked greater detail here.)[3]

I had been trying to live more in the moment, without really knowing how to do it. Then, when I read Rabbi Shagar’s essay, I started trying to note down if I felt myself to be living in the moment and experiencing absorption in the Real when doing anything, or if I feel any connection to God (my hypothesis being that if I experience God, then I’m in the Real even if I don’t know it). This is obviously hard to notice, because as soon as I notice it, I am coming out of it. I find it hard to experience it for more than a few moments and it is impossible for me to go into it deliberately. It’s also hard to tell if I’m really in the Real, so to speak, or if I feel I should be in there, or I want to be there, or I expect to be there. The easiest way to get there seems to be prayer or hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation, but the connection only comes intermittently, maybe every few days, and often for no more than a few seconds. It doesn’t come so often with formal Torah study, but does happen sometimes (often on Shabbat evenings), when a creative interpretation of a passage of Torah, Midrash or Talmud suddenly comes to me even without formally studying the texts.

Being in the Real and flipping the Hive Switch seem to go together, although I’m not sure what is cause and what is effect yet. I would like to know how to trigger them both in myself, and whether I’m always going to struggle with that from autism, introversion, mental illness, personality or anything else.

[1] I think Haidt thinks that, contrary to what is often stated, groupishness doesn’t automatically lead to reduced empathy for outsiders, but I haven’t checked.

[2] Haidt’s argument is that soldiers in battle are willing to die primarily for the fellow soldiers in their unit, rather than nebulous ideas about nationalism or political ideology.

[3] Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said something similar about the Talmudic statement about babies in the womb learning the whole Torah, which he understands as referring to experiencing God as a nurturing, undifferentiated whole.

***

Other than that, it’s been a fairly quiet couple of days. I somehow got up early yesterday and today. I went to bed early yesterday too, but I was very tired at work this morning. I submitted my manuscript (or the first ten pages of it) to another literary agent. It took me two hours to fill in the online submission form, but I guess it’s good experience even if I don’t get accepted. I do worry that the early parts of my novel (the bits agents ask to see) aren’t interesting enough to capture the attention of anyone not predisposed to like it.

I did various bits of chores and Torah study yesterday and today and I had work today. We had an audit of various valuables the organisation owns. If ever I wanted to see a demonstration that autism is not the same as introversion, it was this. J is typically quiet and introverted like me, but he had a long ‘small talk’ conversation with the external auditor, while I hardly said anything to her that wasn’t an answer to a direct question.

Overwhelmed, and Overwhelmed Friend

I woke up drained again today. I had gone to bed early (for me) last night, but I’d done a lot during the day and I overslept and woke up late. I felt overwhelmed for much of day. I feel bad about this, even though I know I wouldn’t if I had a physical illness (actually, given how I behave when I have a migraine, I possibly would feel bad about the effects of physical illness). I just feel I could/should do more despite autistic fatigue or the remnants of depressive fatigue or whatever it is.

I had my flu jab today. I don’t usually get one, but the NHS still seems to consider my Mum as vulnerable and I was offered one as I live with her. It seemed sensible to take it. I shook a bit when I was injected. That happens a lot when I am injected or have a blood test. It’s anxiety, not about needles, but about shaking; fear of shaking ironically triggers shaking. In the past I would breathe deeply to calm myself, but with a mask on that makes things worse if anything. The nurse got a bit worried about me and insisted that I sit in the waiting room for a few minutes. I think she was worried I would faint.

I cooked dinner while trying to listen to a podcast E had been on for her job, but I struggled to multitask and abandoned the podcast after twenty minutes. I struggled during the afternoon and evening with intrusive thoughts about antisemitism (not helped by watching an episode of The Twilight Zone about a former SS officer being put on trial by the ghosts of the people he killed). I don’t know why I sometimes get focused on this and can’t stop thinking about it.

My other main achievement, aside from planning E’s trip here with her over Skype, was writing my devar Torah (Torah thought). I wanted to write something about the balance of universalism and particularism in Judaism, but I couldn’t work out what to say, so I wrote about Sarah’s handmaid Hagar, mostly taken from Erica Brown’s Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. It was one of those divrei Torah that I’m less proud of, where I’m taking my ideas from one (credited) source, rather than mixing sources or adding my own ideas.

I decided not to go to volunteering tomorrow, as I feel like I’m still recovering from the Yom Tovim (festivals) and have not made any progress on finding an agent for my novel, which is my main task for tomorrow. I did spend a bit of time planning the second novel, so I guess that’s another achievement. I do still feel a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to focus on the positives, namely that E will be here next week (God-willing, COVID-permitting) and also on my excitement at writing my second novel, although with all the planning and research I want to do, it will probably be a long time before I sit down to write it.

***

I’ve been emailing a friend who is also on the spectrum who I hadn’t communicated with for a while. She is struggling with her job. She has been working at home because of COVID, but her employers want her to return to the office. She feels that public transport during rush hour is more than she can bear and would have left the job earlier if COVID had not allowed her to work from home. She sounds very overwhelmed in many aspects of her life.

I don’t know what to do about this. I feel I should do something to help, but I don’t know what. Although she is working full-time and I am not, her autism is worse than mine in many ways. She is much more sensitive to noise and crowding and perhaps more rigid in her needs and her ability to find solutions. Also, English is not her first language and I struggle to understand her sometimes. She has already contacted AS Mentoring. I don’t know how I could help her and I’m wary of taking on her troubles and overwhelmed feelings in addition to my own, especially as she is not a close friend. I suppose if I had some idea of what might help her I could see if I could take on some of it, but I’m wary of giving her a blank cheque. But I feel really bad at not helping someone else on the spectrum.

***

If I go into the artists section of iTunes and click on the label for George Harrison, iTunes shows me a photo of John Lennon. I guess, it’s understandable that in 2021 someone working for a massive music related company can’t tell the difference between Harrison and Lennon; it’s not the like The Beatles are the most successful band in history or anything. I like to think it’s the ghost of Lennon trolling from beyond the grave.

Anticlimaxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ego Depletion

I woke up about 8.40am today, got up to go to the toilet and then tried to stay up, but gave in too easily to tiredness and went back to bed. I finally got up around 12.00pm. I could have done with using an extra two or three hours time today, so I really regretted going back to bed. The problem is that my will power when tired first thing in the morning makes me behave uncharacteristically. Normally I am the type of person who will defer pleasure to focus on necessary, unpleasant tasks, sometimes to the point of discomfort or worse, but when I wake up, I mostly just want to sleep until the last possible moment. If I could work out how to make my sleep more refreshing, maybe this would change, but I am not sure how to do that.

I would have liked to have had more time to write a query letter to an agent, for example. However, the one I found on Friday, who dealt with Jewish-themed fiction, turned out to have retired from agenting to become a school teacher. I’m going to look for agents who deal with general literature, but if I can find one who deals with minority characters or settings, that might be helpful. Although diversity-orientated people tend to see Jews as “white” and not in anyway different to white Christian/atheist people, which is not helpful or realistic (just read my blog), but there you go.

As it is, I did a few chores today, including writing to my GP about my autism-adapted CBT referral. The surgery seems to have no email address, or not one they publicise, so I will have to physically post it through the door. I went for a run and came back with a headache, which further limited what I was able to do. I did about an hour of Torah study, with head aching too much to find much of interest for my devar Torah, and that was about it.

***

My parents both have what we all hope are heavy colds, but they went for COVID tests all the same, just in case. Mum works with vulnerable people, so it’s a reasonable precaution. I couldn’t have a free test, as I don’t have any symptoms, but I’m worried that if my parents do have COVID, I will have to have a test and will test positive despite being asymptomatic, which will disrupt E and my plans for her trip here soon. I guess I should hope that my parents just have colds.

“It’s all about telling stories. Nothing else matters.”

“Move fast and break things” was Mark Zuckerberg’s motto. Today I tried to move slowly and not mess stuff up. I went slowly over my work and checked it all slowly when I finished it. Even so, I made mistakes. One might have been because J didn’t tell me what to do properly, or I didn’t take it all in. The other was just absent-mindedness. Or perhaps concentrating too hard: I was so focused on getting one thing right, that I got something else wrong. I find there is so much to keep in mind at once when flipping between different spreadsheets and databases. It didn’t help that I struggled to sleep again last night. I can’t get by on four hours and several cups of coffee. I don’t have that ability to survive on low sleep the way some people do. It doesn’t help that I don’t know why I can’t sleep, although my Mum has been saying for a while that I should switch my mattress with one that, while as old as mine, hasn’t been used nearly as much. (My mattress is something like twenty years old.)

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the wrong job, although I don’t know what the right one would look like and I don’t want to give up the working hours that allow me time to write and the supportive, easy-going boss. J hasn’t said much in the way of rebuke for my mistakes, but he hasn’t made my contract permanent either, so I feel stuck in limbo.

Recently there has also been some office politics of the “X hates Y and comes to Z to complain about her”-type, which brings me down further. I don’t thrive on conflict.

I had a recruitment agent contact me to ask if I’m looking for a job. I am, inasmuch as I still glance at adverts every day. And I’m not, inasmuch as I have totally lost confidence in my ability to successfully do things in return for money. I feel that I mess stuff up so much that I have to do things for free, either because they’re voluntary or because they’re not monetary transactions (being a son and a boyfriend).

Reading The Righteous Mind made me feel I’m not “autistic enough” today too. Apparently if I like reading fiction over non-fiction, that makes me empathetic and less likely to be autistic. I just like the stories. I don’t think Jonathan Haidt meant it as an either/or thing, just to show tendencies on the spectrum, but reading it probably didn’t help my mood today. Haidt seems to be basing himself on Simon Baron-Cohen’s research, and Baron-Cohen is somewhat notorious in the autistic community for having a view of autism that many autistic people feel is limited and overly-focused on the idea of autistic people having “extreme male brains.” Many high functioning autistic people feel that they are more able to feel empathy than is presumed. We can feel emotional empathy, sharing other people’s moods; we struggle with cognitive empathy, predicting other people’s thoughts.

Looking back over the last paragraph, “I just like the stories” reminds me of something late 1970s Doctor Who producer Graham Williams said in an interview about, “It’s all about telling stories. Nothing else matters.” That’s really what is keeping me going (in terms of work thoughts, rather than knowing that E and my family care about me), the thought that I might one day write stories professionally. As to whether I have the skill to do it, or the skill to get published [1] — I go back and forth on that. It seems so daunting, just thinking about sending out more query letters, and somehow it drifts down the priority list.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to volunteer to help set up before Shabbat (the Sabbath) and tidy up afterwards. The teenage boys who usually do it can’t do it this week. I feel torn. I used to help with things like this, but on days like today I feel like I’m struggling just to keep my head above water. I also feel like I have ‘autistic help disorder’ — with the best will in the world, unless someone gives me a specific task, I just sort of mill around not being sure what to do and getting in the way (Amanda Harrington described this as typical Asperger’s behaviour, although the name is my own). I don’t feel comfortable enough in shul to say, “Please give me a specific task.” I wouldn’t even know who to ask.

***

Looking at birthday cards on the Card Factory website, it astonishes me how unfunny most of the “funny” ones are. The best ones are feeble puns; the worst just insult the recipient. And that’s without the sexual “humour” cards available in their high street shops. There’s a lot of cards about getting blind drunk, as if that’s the only way people celebrate. Who buys these things? No wonder the trend seems to be to make your own card from photos pasted onto a template.

***

[1] The skill to get published is definitely different to the skill to write. I suspect some good writers do not know how to get published, while some mediocre ones do. At the moment, I’m not sure if I have either skill.

“Real” Results

I went to bed early and slept for about fourteen hours (this was after only sleeping for about four hours the previous night). I woke feeling really refreshed in a way that I rarely am, but I had lost half the day. Granted, I was catching up from having abnormally low sleep the night before, but it does seem to suggest I need a lot more sleep than most people. I’m not sure how to get that sleep in a healthy way. Going to bed earlier would be a good start, of course, but when I sleep late, the temptation is to stay up late catching up with things I should have done in the day (as today).

I phoned the doctor’s surgery, to try to get an appointment about the ringing in my ears and my autism-adapted CBT referral. I had a phone appointment with a doctor (not one I’ve seen previously and I think new to the practice) a while later. She wants to see my ears, so I’m going for an in-person appointment tomorrow, which seems weird now as it’s so long since I’ve had a medical appointment in person. The doctor wasn’t sure what to do about my autism CBT referral and said she would talk to her colleagues. I hope she manages to do that before my appointment tomorrow morning. I have worries about the NHS bureaucracy doing its stuff and the GPs and the hospital each insisting that the other should write the referral and nothing happening while I run between them, trying to get one of them to do something.

I spent some time reading Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. It tried too hard to be funny and didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know about agents and query letters. I was hoping for help on writing the latter to attract the attention of the former. However, the book is mostly a list of literary agents, so might prove its worth yet, if I write to some of those and one takes my manuscript. ‘If’ is a big word. Anyway, I didn’t actually submit to any agents because I used my writing-related time reading this book. I feel a bit disappointed, as I wanted to send query letters to five agents today. Jeff Herman’s suggested sending to ten agents a month, so I feel I can catch up later in October.

I went for a walk. It was already getting dark at 6pm; a part of my brain thinks it is still August and not getting dark until closer to 9pm. It didn’t register that the nights were getting longer when I spent a month focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals). It didn’t help that I had got up very late so the world went into night mode before my brain was ready to do so.

Other than that I did a few other things: wrote most of my devar Torah (which went in a somewhat different direction to where I intended), cooked dinner and Skyped E. I did do quite a bit today, but I feel a little frustrated as (a) I could have done more if I had got up earlier and (b) the doctor’s appointment was left unresolved, I didn’t make much tangible progress with sending out more novel query letters, and my devar Torah isn’t quite finished, so it feels like nothing I did today led to a real result (yet), except, I suppose, for Skyping E, which doesn’t really have an ‘outcome’ as such, and cooking dinner, which did have a good result (macaroni cheese), but which only took twenty minutes or so, as if I feel it would only be worthwhile if I spent longer doing it. I guess I do pressure myself not just to do things, but to get very particular results from doing them.

Alexander the Great and Me

I’m still feeling overwhelmed. I had hoped for a quiet Shabbat (Sabbath) and one where I wouldn’t need/want to blog much afterwards, so I could use the Saturday evening for chores, writing or relaxation. I did have a fairly quiet Shabbat, but it brought up a lot of thoughts, not all of which I’m recording here.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not today. I felt in shul that I’m drifting away from the community. I stopped going to shul so much when I moved from my old community in 2016, partly because of social anxiety about attending a new shul and then because I changed jobs in 2017 and was working longer hours. By the time that job finished in 2018, I was back in depression for a while. COVID has pushed me further from regular attendance. I’m out of the habit, and I no longer feel the connection to my community that I once felt.

In a way this is good, as I can’t see E feeling comfortable in my current community. I think E would prefer a United Synagogue community. The problem is, I would not feel fully comfortable. Nothing like the US (United Synagogue) really exists in the USA or Israel. It’s a type of community where the official hashkafah (worldview) is Modern Orthodox, but many of the rabbis are Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), while most congregants are not particularly religious and don’t keep Shabbat or kashrut (the dietary laws), to the extent that I would not feel comfortable eating at their houses. It leads to a weird type of community where a core of congregants can be very religiously knowledgeable and involved, while most aren’t interested at all and see shul as a social or traditional thing more than a religious one. In the past, I’ve been one of those very knowledgeable and involved people. I guess it gave me a role, but I didn’t have many friends, although that was at least partly because there were so few people my age in that community. I wanted to be in a frummer (more religious) community, one where people cared about davening (prayer) and Torah study as my previous shul struggled to get a weekday minyan (prayer quorum) and had few shiurim (religious classes). In reality I feel (perhaps not accurately) that I’ve struggled to be accepted in a frummer community, so maybe I would be better in a US shul. However, the local US shul (my parents’ one) is not right for me, too large and impersonal and too many people who know my parents and think of me as my parents’ son rather than a person in my own right.

After shul was dinner. I spent some time after dinner doing Torah study (quite a lot, about an hour and a half, I think) and also reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion — very interesting so far, with the caveat that social psychology as a discipline has a replication problem (i.e. famous experiments have not yielded the same results when repeated by other researchers).

I went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep. Eventually I read a Doctor Who graphic novel for a bit as I didn’t have a head for more Righteous Mind. While I was lying in bed, I had the following thought. I only recently heard the term “rainbow baby” for a child born after a miscarriage or stillbirth. I don’t know if it’s a new term or American English or if I just hadn’t heard it. It occurred to me that my Dad is a “rainbow baby.” His mother had five miscarriages before he was born, which is a lot. Then he was three weeks late and a breech birth; he had to be delivered by emergency caesarean at a time when this was still somewhat dangerous. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he was basically a miracle child, his parents doted on him. They were kind and gentle people anyway, but I think that made it impossible for him to do wrong in their eyes. He was very close to both his parents, but especially his father. It occurred to me that I am wary of having positive self-regard in case I become “narcissistic” or “selfish.” Yet my father has a strong positive self-regard from his stable and loving childhood, but he’s a very generous and caring person and not at all narcissistic. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this, exactly, but it made me think.

Today was a pretty normal Shabbat. It feels like an autumn/winter Shabbat both with bad weather and Shabbat finishing earlier. I did some Torah study and reading. I wanted to stay awake after lunch and drank coffee to help, but I still dozed for a while. Eating a heavy lunch just makes me tired these days and maybe I have to accept that. I just hope I don’t have insomnia again tonight.

I struggled all day with wanting to work on my novel, which obviously I could not do on Shabbat, but even after Shabbat, I’m not sure where to make my first move, so to speak. I really want to start writing it, for reasons that are probably wrong. I think it’s a story worth telling, but I think I also want to use it to help understand and process my emotions and personal history, which may or may not be a good idea. I think I have a lot of research and planning to do before I write, but I’m burning up inside; just the idea of this novel has triggered so many thoughts connected with parts of my life that I’ve repressed as well as childhood — I don’t want to say “trauma,” as it wasn’t the type of trauma other people I’ve met have carried, but therapists have presented it to me as traumatic, at least in the colloquial sense. Maybe I need to take this to therapy first, before I do anything with it.

With my previous novel (which I have to keep reminding myself is not yet published and I need to make sure I don’t forget to keep looking for an agent and a publisher just because that bit involves too much rejection), I had some support in building on my own experiences, which I have a bit here, but nowhere near as much. I guess I feel excited and nervous about this project at the same time, like Alexander the Great when he woke up one morning and said to himself, “You know what might be a good idea? Conquering THE ENTIRE KNOWN WORLD!”[1] And then I think what that will entail, and how long it will take, and that no one will pay me until after it’s all finished, and that writing about sex and porn addiction in the frum community might lead to people making all kinds of assumptions about me, and I think, “Do I really want to do this?” Yes, I do, but it’s still scary.

I bought some books I want for research tonight. One was for research, but also touches on the area of “trauma,” or pseudo-trauma, in my own history that I wanted to confront. I also cleared out my email inbox, which wasn’t directly relevant to my writing project, but was something I needed to do, and I set some goals for this week, which may need refining, but hopefully will get me doing chores AND looking for agents AND doing research without overloading me. I won’t be going to volunteering this week, though, as I need time to focus on myself after Yom Tov. So I think I’ve made a good start on things, but it’s gone midnight now and I ought to be thinking about winding down for the night.

[1] Or, if you prefer The Pinky and the Brain: “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky: try to take over the world!!!!!”

Choosing Other Challenges

The Talmud says that all beginnings are difficult. I’m feeling that today: beginnings of days, beginnings of the Jewish year, beginnings of my novel.

I went to bed early last night (before midnight) as I was shattered, unsurprisingly, as I had only had about four hours of sleep the night before due to insomnia. This morning I kept waking up, having terrible thoughts that overwhelmed me and stopped me getting up, and then falling asleep again. The thoughts were about the Sarah Everard murder case, which has been in the news yesterday and today. For non-UK residents, Sarah Everard was a young woman who was abducted by an off-duty police officer who staged a fake arrest, then raped and murdered her. The police officer was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday. I was thinking about this on and off all evening yesterday and I’m not sure why; when there are murder stories in the news, I have to struggle to stop the “Could I murder someone?” fears get out of control and turn into moral scrupulosity OCD. I kept thinking about this case whenever I woke up and I had a nightmare about police officers who were actually murderous drug dealers.

Because of this, I was not in the best place when the phone rang. Unbelievably, it was someone from the Very Scary Task from last week. This was supposed to be done and dusted by now. I think he just found an old voicemail from me from last week and wanted to check it wasn’t new, but then he was asking me about something else and I said he should phone next week when I was in the office and it was only after I rang off that I realised that he didn’t know that I wasn’t in the office and that I only work part-time. So I hope he doesn’t think I was being rude, but I couldn’t really claim to have only just woken up at 11.30am even though it was true.

Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish year, is always crazy too. It’s Yom Tov, Yom Tov, Yom Tov, Yom Tov (Jewish festivals), then suddenly it’s nearly Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) and the end of the month and one-twelfth of the year is gone (actually one-thirteenth this year, as it’s a leap year and Jewish leap years get a whole extra month). The Yom Tov cycle is over, but it’s nearly Shabbat (the Sabbath), which feels the same, no work when I desperately need some time that is not paid work, but also not religious sacred time so that I can catch up on various chores and on my writing, as well as making plans for E’s visit later this month (later this secular month rather than religious month this time).

There were little things as well: the milk was off and my Mum told me what I already knew deep down, that I need a load more formal shirts and polo shirts as the ones I have are wearing out. I dislike clothes shopping and the thought of restocking half my wardrobe does not fill me with joy. It’s not much in itself, but combined with all the other things I’m worried about at the moment (finding an agent for my novel, starting work on my next novel, planning for E coming, work and other routine things), I just feel overwhelmed again. ‘Overwhelmed’ seems to be my default setting at the moment, which is better than when it was ‘depressed’ or ‘anxious,’ but still not great to live with. I need to take a deep breath, break things down and make some plans, but with Shabbat starting in a few hours, I won’t get a chance to do that until Saturday night or Sunday.

Not only was I feeling overwhelmed, but it got to nearly the end of the time for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) and I hadn’t davened (prayed) yet, even though really I should have done so hours ago. I felt that people in the frum (religious Jewish) community would look down on me for just not coping with life.

Then I had a weird thought. There’s a Jewish folk belief (as far as I know not something in a written source text) that, if God let us choose our challenges, we would end up just picking the ones we already have. I’ve always been sceptical of this idea. While there is some truth to the idea that we get used to our challenges and develop coping strategies, I think there are people who would choose different ones. There are some challenges that no one realistically wants. But this time I flipped it around and thought, “No one else would choose my challenges. Therefore they can’t lecture me on how well or badly I’m coping with them.” I think that helped a bit.

After lunch I had to get on with my usual pre-Shabbat chores, plus I had to do some ironing. I watched the Doctor Who episode 42 while ironing. I used to hate it (the episode, not the ironing), but this time it seemed OK. It had many of the things I dislike about that era of Doctor Who: it’s too interested in the companion’s family and not particularly interested in the science fiction aspect of the story; it’s illogical; it has overly-loud and dramatic incidental music; and David Tennant does his SHOUTY EMOTING!!!! But it was diverting enough once I silenced my inner critic and it was directed well by Graeme Harper (the only director to have directed episodes of both the original and new series). It also raises the curtain on perhaps the best run of episodes in Russell T Davies’ time as showrunner, which I’m looking forward to watching with E (Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Blink, Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords).

I did a little tinkering with the plot for my second novel, but I think for now I need to wait until I’ve done some proper research for it. The new novel is probably going to have to take second or third place behind spending time with E and finding an agent for my first novel for the next month or two. I want to write, but it’s just not the main priority right now.

The Stories in my Head

I don’t have much to say about today. I only managed to sleep for a couple of hours last night. I felt overwhelmed on the way to work, thinking about the things to do in the coming days and weeks: read about how to get my novel published, send query letters to agents, plan my second novel, research it, maybe start writing (I have an intuition writing and researching will be in tandem, but I’m not sure what that would mean when I don’t have the whole story planned out and need to do research to get to that stage), spend time with E when she comes over, move our relationship on, all against a backdrop of work, chores and religious obligations. It all seems overwhelming. Good, but overwhelming. I need to plan and order things, even if only vaguely e.g. “I will spend six months researching my novel” or “I will send five query letters to agents a week”. I did actually find vague targets useful when writing the first novel.

However, I am too tired to do this today, as work was extremely draining. It was draining partly because it was my first day in the office for a couple of weeks and perhaps also partly because I went to the bank which entailed walking down busy London streets, which can be autistically draining. I read heavy non-fiction things on the way home too, which was probably a mistake. I was really too tired.

I spent much of the evening struggling with tiredness. I Skyped E, which was restorative, at least while we were talking. We are trying to do a weekly Torah study session together for the new Torah reading cycle that began today. It seemed to work pretty well today. E had a bunch of questions for me; I need to find more things to discuss next time.

***

Margaret commented yesterday about changing interests. This was in regard to my comments about Doctor Who fandom. I’ve always preferred the original run of Doctor Who (1963-1989) to the current version (2005-present)*; I suspect I may drift further from the new in coming years. Lately I find that I’m more interested in my own stories than those of other people, including Doctor Who. Fandom is very creative and I don’t want to imply it’s not, but I find I want to tell my own stories, from scratch, rather than play with someone else’s toys. My own stories have taken up residence in my head.

*The 1996 American co-production TV Movie is usually lumped in with the original series, but it shares a lot of traits with the new series and I see it as a transitional phase in the programme’s evolution.

The World is Not Enough

Not much happened over Yom Tov (Jewish festival), but I need to write quickly to clear my head before getting into work mode for tomorrow (yikes!). I went to shul on Monday night, but not subsequently. The last two days were a mixture of praying at home, Torah study, recreational reading, and sleeping, sometimes too much and at the wrong times (oversleeping, insomnia etc.). I had a headache last night, just as I did on Simchat Torah night last year. I hope this isn’t turning into a regular thing. (The headache last year was worse, a full-blown migraine that made me throw up.)

There is a pervasive sound of sukkahs being taken down tonight. I’m not quite sure how to get into the mindset for work tomorrow. I feel like I need neutral time between holy time and work time. Not for the first time, I wonder how frum Israelis cope without Sundays. It feels strange, not having another Yom Tov in sight after a month of them, although it’s Shabbat again in two days. It will feel stranger having a full week next week, and I’m sure it will take some time to get up to full-strength. I would like to make some progress on finding an agent for my novel and starting work (at least research if not writing) on my second novel, but it will probably take a couple of weeks to get to that point.

I came back to the blogosphere to find not much had changed. There was a post from the Oxford University Doctor Who Society about the news that Russell T Davies is returning as showrunner. I skimmed it, but felt too disheartened to read properly. On the one hand, lots of enthusiastic comments from younger members, particularly those who apparently judge the quality of a story primarily by how many LGBT/non-white characters there are and how loudly the programme signals its virtue (but who have zero interest in the show finally having an explicitly Jewish character after fifty-eight years, presumably because “Jews are white”). On the other, older members who just seem generally reactionary and pining for the 1970s. I don’t fit in to either category — I’m happy to have minority representation, if it’s part of a good story and not an end in itself (but, yes, it would be nice to see a Jew, a real, full-blooded one) — but it’s things like this that make me feel that I could never get back into fandom, which is sad. The culture shock, or culture shocks plural are too great. This saddens me somewhat, but I guess it’s life. Nothing stands still; everything moves on. When I was a teenager, Doctor Who was this weird, half-forgotten thing that only appealed to a very select type of person, but now it has a much broader base and the people like me have been subsumed by a new generation, or generations. Which is as it should be, but sometimes I wish there was a way to find people like me again. I might console myself by buying an old issue of mid-90s Doctor Who Magazine that I don’t have to relive the time when fandom was for people like me.

I guess I feel down, mostly regarding Yom Tov, but also a bit Doctor Who fandom, a feeling that the party is over, but also that I wasn’t enjoying it all that much anyway, feeling I didn’t quite connect with Yom Tov and shul as I should and that I haven’t really connected with Doctor Who fandom for a long time.

Oh, well, I should get something to eat, watch Twin Peaks, and try to read the last five pages of Goldfinger before bed. Back to work in twelve hours…

Overthinking

I struggled with insomnia again last night. I still managed to get up reasonably early to do the Very Scary Task for work. At first it seemed to be becoming a bit more manageable with experience, although it still is quite scary as I have to balance the needs of lots of stakeholders alongside important halakhot (Jewish laws), as well as making phone calls, which socially anxious and/or autistic people tend to see as one of the hardest social tasks. I feel that I’m not good at reading people, particularly on the phone, and I lack the experience of doing the task to make judgement calls and see how things are going, especially judging timescales, which is important. I feel J can judge these things, but I can’t, and he was not checking his texts all the time today. Hopefully I will gain experience with time, but reading people is hard, although it’s an issue in any work situation. It’s still a struggle to do something involving so many people, so little time, and which is a very serious and important thing in itself.

As time went on, the task became harder. As is often the case when I have the VST, I found myself hanging around waiting for phone calls, not willing to start anything in case I suddenly have to stop. I wish I understood this process and the time it takes better, but I guess I will only learn by doing it. I had time to think and overthink what I had done, which was not good, especially as there was no one around to talk it over with. Mum was at work, Dad with his friend, E asleep and J out with his family. This left me too much time to overthink and catastrophise. I wrote essentially the same work ‘to do’ list twice in the space of a few minutes without realising what I was doing, trying to get my thoughts out of my head. I don’t like being left by myself to brood on things, as well as feeling as if I’ve dropped off the planet when people don’t answer phones or texts. I shouldn’t be so insecure in my work and emotional needs to require constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but given that I do feel like that I don’t know what to do about it, especially as the consequences of making a mistake are potentially quite serious.

I feel like I spent all day working on this and it’s still not completed, so I need to get up early to work on it tomorrow too. I actually only spent an hour or two in terms of actual activity, but I’ve been on edge all day waiting for phone calls, and planning phone calls, and I haven’t been able to do anything else. By the mid-afternoon, I felt really tense and uncomfortable. I also don’t know many hours I can justifiably bill J for. In the end I texted some people instead of phoning, as it was 7pm and I was totally out of energy spoons. I think if this becomes a regular part of my job, I need to think seriously about how I manage the stress and if I can claim any adjustments. And I’ve still got to deal with it again tomorrow, because we’re waiting on some bureaucrat to get off their backside and send the paperwork so people can do their actual jobs. I would be quite worried about what will happen tomorrow and how I will cope, except that I’m now too tired to care, which I guess is good. Isn’t it?

“Let go and let God” is a term from addiction treatment. I’d seen it before, but today I saw it right when I was struggling with things. It seems to apply to me. Unfortunately, I’m not good at letting go, particularly when I feel I’m letting other people or God down, or both, in the case of the VST.

***

In terms of other scary things, I survived a prolonged social interaction with my Dad’s best friend (despite having eaten lunch quickly to avoid him). He seemed a lot older than when I last saw him and more subdued than he used to be. I think he’s been through a lot. I shouldn’t have mentioned his criminal conviction yesterday, as it makes him sound like a career criminal, rather than someone who made some bad decisions. I’d also forgotten that he has mental health issues that influenced those bad decisions. So, I feel a bit guilty. He asked me a lot of questions about work, which is good in that it makes me seem normal, but bad in that sometimes I’m unsure of the answers. Despite having been there for ten months, I feel there’s a lot I don’t know.

Then I had to have dinner with my parents’ other friends in the sukkah, with no spoons (of the energy kind, but it was pizza so no literal spoons either). I didn’t want to “people,” I just wanted to watch TV, but it’s Sukkot, so I had to eat in the sukkah, which meant people and no TV (and no spoons). It wasn’t as bad as I feared, mostly because I tuned out of the conversation and just ate my food and went. Then I skyped E, which is strange for me, as it seems to be a social interaction that doesn’t drain me and maybe even restores me, which obviously bodes well for our future.

***

I decided I didn’t have the wherewithal to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, especially as there is no regular Torah reading because of Sukkot. I missed last week too, which makes me feel a bit bad. Next week is back to the beginning of the Torah, so hopefully I’ll be able to write one there. I tried to do some Torah study, but first was too on edge waiting for phone calls, then too tired and stressed, and worried about tomorrow. Sigh. I did a little, but not much.

I did at least spend a little time on my short story. I got it to a point where I was happy enough with it to be able to let E see it (she liked it). I’ll probably post the short story in a day or two in a locked post. Please let me know if you want me to email you the password so you can read it.

I did realise recently that the novel I’ve written is about the demons and mistakes of my adolescence and early adulthood, whereas the one I want to write next is about the demons of my childhood and also the present day, at least in some sense. I’m not a rabbi who is secretly a porn addict, but in other ways it is about me. I’m very drawn to the idea that a novel about addiction is really a novel about teshuvah (repentance/return to God/return to the true self/soul), at least in a Jewish context, an idea that is hard to explore in the secular Western setting, which has become a lot more about public shame than private guilt.

***

I went for a walk to try to destress (it didn’t entirely work, I got two work-related calls). I went to the book box and re-donated IT, along with Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas, a big history book that I bought at a charity shop years ago and instantly regretted because the cover was such a mess (coffee stains) that I could never bring myself to read it. It is now easily the most intellectual thing in the box. I hope someone else can see past its cover.

***

E booked her tickets to the UK for later this year, which is exciting, although because of COVID there is a layer of uncertainty and the worrying feeling that everything could get called off at the last minute because of a bad test or an escalation of infection in the US or UK. It seems strange to think there was a time when you could book a plane ticket and, aside from extreme unforeseen incidents, you would know that you would definitely be in that country on that date. We seem to have drifted back to a pre-twentieth century idea of travel.

Work Anxiety and Reading

Sukkot (the Jewish festival that started on Monday night and goes on until — well, that’s actually hard to say, but basically until next Wednesday evening (nine days)) is supposed to be the most joyous of festivals. So far my Sukkot has not been bad as such, but it has been stressful, and doesn’t look set to let up for a while yet.

On Monday morning I woke feeling depressed and self-critical. Reading JYP’s anti-self-deprecation post just made me feel worse, as I couldn’t think of five things I am good at. Perhaps fortunately, I didn’t get a chance to post about it, as J texted to me to get me to do the Very Scary Task for work. As it was technically a work day for me, I didn’t think I could get out of it. It did at least distract me from my incipient depression with some anxiety instead.

I spent the day doing what I could on the VST (it will have to be continued tomorrow and maybe on Friday). It involved a lot of phone calls and texts back and forward, as it usually does. We (my father and I) also had to dash out to replace the willows in our arbah minim (branches waved during prayer on Sukkot) as they had sold us dead willows, and inevitably someone I was trying to get hold of decided to phone me back when I was about to go into the shop. The day was a rush to get everything done in time for Yom Tov (the festival). I did not go into Yom Tov in a very positive state of mind. I won’t say I spent the whole of Yom Tov worrying, but I did worry a bit.

I went to shul (synagogue) and afterwards we (my parents and I) ate in the sukkah (temporary home in the garden) as we are supposed to and I felt a bit better. I stayed up late reading The Sisters of the Winter Wood to try to relax, as I didn’t expect to make it to shul in the morning anyway.

Day one of Sukkot (Tuesday) was mostly spent reading. In terms of religious books, I read bits of Divrei HaYamim/The Book of Chronicles in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen and Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age by Rav Shagar. In terms of secular reading, I finished The Sisters of the Winter Wood. I didn’t really connect with it and stayed up late to finish it as I wanted to get it over with. Rena Rossner, who wrote it, was the literary agent who turned down my novel, so I can see why we don’t connect. I think her writing is ethereal and mythic whereas mine is somehow concrete and grounded. Or maybe that’s just over-rationalising it.

I went to shul for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers). There was a shiur (religious class) in between. It was about halakhah (Jewish law). I didn’t understand much of it and what I did understand made me worry about whether our sukkah was kosher. It probably is, as this is not the first time a Sukkot shiur has made me worry about such things, but I worry about triggering my OCD. I think some speakers can be irresponsible in the way they present topics, or maybe I’m just vulnerable to self-doubt.

Today I got up very late as my parents went out for lunch. I ate my own lunch by myself in the sukkah and started reading the James Bond novel Goldfinger. I hadn’t planned to read it yet, but I wanted to read something that was as unlike The Sisters of the Winter Wood as possible and I couldn’t think of anything further from it. I did a load of religious reading as well, as I knew I wouldn’t go to shul for the shiur in case it did trigger my OCD. I made a last-minute decision to at least go to shul for Minchah, as I feared I was giving in to social anxiety and laziness in skipping shul, especially as I know I won’t be going much next week, as Simchat Torah is a nightmare with autism and social anxiety and I have no intention of putting myself through that whole experience any more (unless E and I are able to have children, I guess).

I need to be up early tomorrow, as I could start getting calls about the VST at 9.00am – hopefully not earlier, although J has been known to text earlier (I think he assumes I get up at 6.00am for Shacharit). As well as work, I would like to write a devar Torah as I didn’t write one last week, but I’m not sure I will have the time or energy. I’d like to work on my short story too, but the same applies. Just in case things weren’t difficult enough, my father’s best friend (a man I have always found hugely intimidating even before he got sent to prison for four years for smuggling drugs) is coming for lunch and my parents have some other friends coming in the evening. This is all in order to eat in the sukkah and do festival socialising. Unfortunately, as I will need to eat in the sukkah too, I will more or less have to see them, make small talk with them and be prevented from sticking my head in a book or watching TV as I would normally do at mealtimes, particularly if stressed from VSTing. The only alternative is to eat at weird times, which wouldn’t really work for practical reasons.

I don’t feel particularly tired (I haven’t done much for the last two days), but I should be trying to unwind and sleep before VSTing tomorrow. I feel the urge to avoid going to bed, as if that will avoid finishing the VST. I’m nervous about tomorrow, so many social anxiety-triggering things. I should watch TV or something and try not to think about things.

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

At this time of year, no sooner is one festival finished than we start preparing for the next one. The last few days have seen Dad and me building our sukkah, the portable ‘home’ (shack sort of thing, with tent like walls, but a bamboo-thatched roof) for the next festival, Sukkot. Timewise, we’re halfway through the festival season, but Sukkot, and the semi-independent, semi-connected festival of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah that follows it, go on for nine days. On about half of those (Chol HaMoed), many types of work are permitted, so it’s not a massive enforced break from the norm, but the flipside of that is that I may have to do the Very Scary Task again to cover for J’s Chol HaMoed daytrip with his family on Thursday. Sukkot isn’t as emotionally intense as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as it’s a time of great joy, but it’s also more time in shul (synagogue) and with guests for meals — my parents’ friends rather than mine (my parents would let me invite friends over, but I won’t do it right now for a variety of reasons). And no TV to help me switch off; immersing in Doctor Who or whatever is more restorative for me than reading, important though books are to me, but while I can do it on Chol HaMoed, I can’t on the other days.

Shul was quite difficult over Shabbat (the Sabbath), which is one reason I’m apprehensive of the approaching festival. I found the clapping in Kabbalat Shabbat really loud and almost physically painful; at one point I wanted to run out the room, which was a strong reaction for me. There was dancing after Lecha Dodi (well, holding hands and shuffling around in a circle — there isn’t really room for real dancing). Someone tried to get me to join in; I just shook my head. I feel bad staying out, but I would feel bad if I joined in too. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes. I missed prayers on Shabbat morning as usual, but I did go back to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), as I didn’t want the social anxiety to grow. I need to work out how to beat it back a bit. I did manage to cope OK, although not brilliantly, with some jealousy-provoking thoughts. I was OK with seeing someone I was at school with in shul with his young daughter, but struggled more with him leading Kabbalat Shabbat (I used to be able to lead prayer services, but haven’t done it much in the last six years through social anxiety).

Today, aside from helping Dad with the sukkah for a while, I made a few small, but hopefully significant, changes to my novel before submitting it. Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. Typed up some notes to (hopefully) help me stop making mistakes at work, went for a walk, managed a few (very few) minutes of Torah study, did some ironing and Skyped E. My mood was rather down and I’m not sure if I was down because I didn’t do much or if I didn’t do much because I was down. I suspect a bit of both, but I think some of the “down” was exhaustion from shul recently and awareness that there’s a lot more to come (plus sukkah guests and possibly the Very Scary Task).

***

E and I both feel frustrated that we haven’t got where we expected to be in life by this point (our thirties), and that other people seem to manage it so effortlessly. We aren’t really sure how we catch up or get to where we want to be. Maybe other people don’t really manage it, or not so effortlessly, or maybe they do manage it, but it’s not our fault that we haven’t managed it too because we have our own challenges, but it’s easy to fall into self-blame and negativity (neither E nor I could ever be mistaken for an optimist).

***

Do I enjoy being scared? I always think of myself as a nervous child who avoided anything scary. I was too scared to watch Doctor Who for years after I first came across it, and I remember running from the room at the opening minutes of the James Bond film Live and Let Die. I also remember being terrified by the cover of a murder mystery novel my mother borrowed from the library; it showed nothing more frightening than a blood-stained shirt, although the black skull icon on the spine that indicated it came from the library mystery and thriller section was just as scary. Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel were programmes that were intended to be somewhat scary, but they were also aimed at a family audience, not an 18-rated one, and by the time I watched most of them, I was too old to be really scared. Then again, I was probably in my twenties when I watched Invasion of the Body-Snatchers (the 1950s version) and found it mesmerising and chilling, even though it was probably a PG by modern standards.

Yet as a teenager or even a pre-teen, I read a lot of Victorian pot-boilers that laid the foundations of the horror genre: Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (I’ve read that so many times I’ve lost count, probably half a dozen; the image clearly resonates with me), The Island of Doctor Moreau. I missed The Invisible Man, but picked it up later. None of these particularly scared me and most of them didn’t gross me out (Dracula a little bit, but Doctor Moreau was the only one I found really uncomfortable). Even before then, when I was seven or eight, I was always reading “non-fiction” children’s books about UFOs and ghosts (I don’t believe in either now, but was more agnostic then and wanted to find the yeti and the Loch Ness Monster when I grew up) and not-quite scaring myself.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Jewish fantasy series I’d like to write and how it is somewhat on the boundaries between fantasy and horror: vampires, dybbuks etc. I wonder if I should read some horror novels to get a sense for the genre. Aside from those Victorian classics, I’ve only really read a couple of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula alternative history/horror novels (“What if Dracula hadn’t been defeated?”). I did watch Twin Peaks, which I mostly put off watching in the past because I worried it would be too scary or gory. The original series turned out not to be much scarier than Doctor Who, but the 2017 series had some gory moments. Yet I seem to be able to put up with some scares or gore if the essential story is good enough (Twin Peaks, the Blade Runner films). Similarly, I’m watching The Twilight Zone and I definitely prefer the eerie stories to the fantasy or funny ones, but there isn’t anything gory about them and the scares are mostly psychological.

This came to a head a few days ago. Someone has set up one of those free book-swap boxes in a nearby road. I look inside periodically, but hadn’t found anything I wanted to take. Then the other day they had IT by Stephen King and I picked it up impulsively. I have never read it, even what I’ve heard about it scared me (although I’m not coulrophobic). It was almost like I was daring myself to read it. (It’s also flipping enormous, over 1,100 pages, longer than The Lord of the Rings and not much behind War and Peace.) It’s been sitting on my shelf since then. I’ve flicked through a couple of times, but can’t decide what to do with it. Should I read it or send it back to the book-swap box? I haven’t entered it on my Goodreads account yet, because I know once I’ve done that it will be hard to return it. The logical thing to do would be to start it and see what it’s like, but I don’t really do logical. Maybe that’s why I scare easily, because I can’t see how illogical most of my phobias and fears are. Or maybe I worry that I would be the impulsive kid who goes down to the cellar alone in the middle of a storm.

I guess the bottom line is that I like eerie atmosphere a lot, but I don’t like gore or sadism and I certainly don’t like jump-scares (which aren’t really an issue in prose as opposed to TV or film). And I’m not at all sure about how this fits in to my writing ambitions.

Spiritual Experiences, Conformity, and Autism in the Workplace

I couldn’t sleep last night, which perhaps was inevitable after sleeping so much during the day (even if it was Yom Kippur) and having an evening that was not-brilliant from a sleep hygiene point of view. I just have to deal with it now. I lay in bed resting for a while and got up around 5.45am to eat breakfast. I had therapy at 10.30am, so trying to sleep through the morning wasn’t an option. I napped for an hour and a half before therapy, which was probably a good thing even if it meant I wasn’t fully present in therapy.

Therapy was good. We spoke a bit about my frustration at not having intense religious experiences on festivals. I mentioned that my rabbi mentor said that probably most people were not having them, whatever the Jewish websites say. I also reflected that I do have some religious experiences, sometimes, as I think happened on Wednesday evening at shul (synagogue) and I shouldn’t discount them just because they are fleeting and/or inchoate and hard to put into words afterwards. I also feel that Shabbat is a time when I’m less distracted by social anxiety in shul and anxiety over ritual than on festivals and that I do have spiritual experiences on Shabbat more frequently as a result, and that I could be more accepting of them, but also unconsciously discounting them. One of the things I want to work on about myself this Jewish year is being more “present in the moment” and not worrying about the future or focusing on abstract thoughts. I think this openness to fleeting, inchoate spiritual experiences is something I can work on in this area too.

***

When I couldn’t sleep, I finished skim-reading the autism memoir I’ve been reading. The main thing I take away from it is that it’s important to ask for adjustments if you want to get them, as people aren’t psychic and often don’t know much about autism. I can see that it will be hard for me to learn this lesson, as I was diagnosed relatively late in life (thirty-seven) and have spent most of my life being told to “force myself” to do things that I don’t feel I can’t do because “everyone else can do them.” My mentality (probably for psychological and religious reasons as well as experiential ones) is indeed to try to force myself to do things and hope they will become easier with practice. Some of the things the author got adjustments to avoid doing (such as making phone calls) are things I struggle with, but “force myself” to do with a lot of anxiety and internal resistance.

Also, in my current office set-up it’s just me and J, so if I can’t do something, I’m putting it all on him, which is uncomfortable. I’m mostly OK with what I have to do (my occasional absent-minded incompetence aside), aside from the Very Scary Task and one or two other things. J usually handles the Very Scary Task that unless he really can’t. It’s basically our core task, and it has to be dealt with quickly for halakhic (Jewish law) and other reasons and it is basically a mitzvah (religious commandment), all of which make it hard for me to back out of it. On which note, I may have to do it next Thursday, when J will be at a theme park with his family on Chol HaMoed (the semi-festive middle days of the festival of Sukkot, when the work restrictions are looser than on the other days). The unpredictability of when I have to do the VST is another issue, and, again, unchangeable given the nature of the task (which I don’t want to go into here).

The author of the book is also a lot more obviously autistic and in many ways less functional than me, although sometimes I feel that I’ve spent so long masking, I’m not sure I can do it much longer. It makes me feel that I “should” be able to cope better. If she can hold down a full-time job, I should be able to too, if I’m not so autistic. But it doesn’t really work that way, especially if you don’t have the fortunate autistic ‘good at numbers’ gift as she does.

***

I helped Dad put up more of the sukkah. Dad and I putting up the sukkah, or doing any DIY really, is worryingly like Laurel and Hardy (or the Chuckle Brothers, depending on what your comedy frame of reference is). I worry how I could put up a sukkah by myself, even a (supposedly) easy-to-assemble one like ours. More worries for the future.

Aside from that, I spent forty-five minutes or so finishing the first draft of the short story I was writing. I’m glad to have made progress on it.

***

Reading Ashley’s post on conformity, I commented:

I find it hard to tell how influenced by conformity I am. I pretty much always feel ‘different’ in a social group, but I’m not sure how much I am different or how much it’s just my perception. Maybe on some level I want to feel like a non-conformist.

I certainly have beliefs and practices that are different to my religious community, but I’m not sure whether there’s any pluralistic ignorance going on (thanks for the term!).

Politically, I’ve shifted quite a bit from where I was brought up. I have friends across the political spectrum, but my more political friends are the ones most different to me. But mostly I keep quiet about politics, even more so than religion, to avoid that kind of trouble.
I do feel that in politics, like religion, I don’t really fit in one ‘box’, but, again, that could be more my self-perception.

I do find it very hard to disagree with people to their face, though, even if I disagree strongly in my head, even on trivial things like whether I enjoyed a particular film or book. I don’t often leave disagreeing blog comments; I would more likely walk away from a situation like that unless I felt extremely strongly or felt very secure in my relationship with that person.

Thinking about this after posting, I can see that not being authentic in my social interactions and fearing rejection would be stressful, particularly as authenticity is an important value for me that I am often not observing. However, I also feel that hiding my opinions has let me have a wider friendship network than many people have, in the era of social media echo chambers, not in terms of absolute numbers, but in terms of the diversity of the views they hold.

Fred Karno’s Army

We are Fred Karno’s Army, the ragtime infantry./We can not fight, we can not shoot;/No bleedin’ use are we./And when we get to Berlin, the Kaiser he will say:/Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott! What a bloody awful lot/Are the British infantryBritish World War I trench song

***

Today felt pretty bad. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t. I only got about four hours of sleep, which was partly my fault and partly not, but it probably didn’t set me up for a good day. I experienced some anxiety on waking. There’s an idea I came across a few years ago about the acronym HALT: don’t do anything you might regret if you’re Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired. When my religious OCD was bad around that time, I found that the times when my OCD anxiety felt worst were also the times when I was HALTed. So, I guess that lies underneath everything that happened today.

On the way to work, I decided it was probably a mistake to catalogue my every work mistake here, as it makes me focus on the negatives too much. I resolved not to do it today. But then at work I thought I’d made a couple of big mistakes. In the event, they probably weren’t such a big mistakes, and I possibly over-compensated. Still, I feel frustrated that I keep making mistakes, including repeating some mistakes multiple times, which indicates I’m not learning properly. My Dad is worried about this although my Mum thinks I’m just overwhelmed. I guess the problem is I find the work environment inherently overwhelming at the moment. I try to make lists of what to do when doing different tasks, but then I don’t consult them as I think it looks unprofessional. In any case, when I’m dealing with many cells in multiple spreadsheets at once, it can be easy to miss something.

I was pretty exhausted when I got home. I haven’t done much other than write this, watch TV, daven (pray) and eat dinner (with my parents, so I guess I get points for peopling while exhausted). I wanted to do more Torah study, but my brain is just switched off. After I’ve posted this I’ll probably give up for the evening and watch TV until bedtime. I don’t feel able to do anything else.

***

At lunch I started reading a memoir about autism in the workplace that I thought might give me some ideas for ways I can function better in my own workplace. I rapidly switched from reading to scanning, as it’s not very well-written. This surprised me a bit. It is self-published, but I read the author’s blog and she can write well-enough there. Maybe she struggled to move from focused blog posts to carrying narrative over a long period. Or maybe she wrote the memoir before she started blogging in earnest. The book is also lacking in explicit advice or suggestions about coping in the workplace, which is what I really wanted, although so far it’s mostly been dealing with the author’s university experience.

The other thing that annoyed me is that repeatedly the author thinks she’s going to be thrown off her college or university course due to some requirement for group work or group presentation that she doesn’t think she can cope with because of her autism and anxiety. Then the situation resolves because she gets adjustments from staff that allow her to stay on the course and she is relieved, but she never seems particularly grateful. She could have been grateful and just not recorded it in the memoir, but it rankled with me. Yes, disabled people are entitled to reasonable adjustments by law, but I feel that if someone goes out of their way to help you, you should be grateful, even if they were obliged to do it by law or institutional policy.

I skim-read it on the way home and I’m about a third of the way through now. I probably will stick with it, at least skimming it, just in case it’s helpful. It’s not terribly long or heavy-going, I just hoped it could help me more.

***

The other thing that annoyed me today was mask compliance. On the Tube, where mask wearing is compulsory, a majority wore masks, but a substantial minority, perhaps a third of passengers, did not. For comparison, in the shopping centre I went into on the way home, mask compliance was almost as good even though it was entirely voluntary there. When I got on the train this morning, one man was berating the woman opposite him for not wearing a mask (“This is my choice,” she insisted, although technically it wasn’t), but there were so many maskless people in the carriage, it seemed pointless to protest.

I wish that COVID would just go away or at least drop to an ‘acceptable’ level, like flu, but it won’t, and I take it too seriously to disregard precautions. Already the government is talking about possible future restrictions in case of a (likely) winter surge. Based on my experience today, I think if there’s another lockdown, people just won’t obey, American-style.

It can’t go on forever, can it? The Black Death, the Great Plague, Spanish Flu, all ended eventually, right? Right?

***

I’m thinking about purpose again, and writing, and whether my purpose is writing… I’m feeling vaguely more positive about my novel (my first one, the one I’m currently trying to find an agent for). I think it could benefit from a few changes and additions, but not another full redraft. It probably won’t take long, but only once I get down to it, which will probably not be until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals).

I came across this video clip today. I think I’ve seen it before. Certainly I’d heard Rabbi Sacks z”tl say similar things previously and had been thinking about them recently. It makes me hopeful that I can find a place in the world with my writing, but I still worry that it’s illusory and that I have nothing to offer the world and I won’t ever find my place in it (combined with worries about what type of Jewish community E and I could end up in, which is a whole other type of place to worry about finding).