Renaissance Man

Today was a fairly quiet day, busy enough at work to stop me getting bored, but not so busy that I was rushing the whole time. Plus, I had to go to the bank and the shops for work reasons, albeit in the rain, which is good.

Yesterday, however, was very busy, so busy that I didn’t have time to blog. So this is yesterday’s blog post today.

I started my proofreading job. I worry that I am too formal and pedantic for the professional blog posts I was proofreading. I feel my writing style is slightly formal (or stuffy, if you prefer). I know that a more informal style is considered acceptable even for some professional materials and try to adapt, but it’s hard sometimes. I let contractions go through, but struggle with “But” at the start of a sentence (twice). I know it’s done, it just seems wrong to me. I want to put “However” or “Nevertheless”. I can’t remember how I left it. I left “paycheck to paycheck” in as there isn’t really a British English equivalent without significantly re-writing the sentence. I think it probably makes sense to most English people, but I might add a note when I return it. I proofread two posts of about 500 words each and have one of 1,000 left to do, but one of the 500 word posts took twice as long as the other, so it’s hard to estimate how long it will take to finish.

In the evening we had a family Zoom call for my father’s seventieth birthday. This was a semi-surprise. We couldn’t think how to get Dad on the call without telling him it was happening, but he thought it would just be my parents, me and my uncle and aunt (Mum’s brother and sister-in-law; Dad is an only child). Instead, as well as all of us, there was E, Sister, Brother-in-law, Nephew and some of my first cousins (Cousins 1, 4 and 5). This was the first time Uncle, Aunt and Cousins had “met” E as well as the first time all of them bar Uncle had met Nephew. It was a good call, but E and I found it draining. My extended family are very boisterous.

In between these two things, I had therapy. It was a successful session. We spoke a lot about masking and trying to fit in to the frum world. I feel like I have two identities, a frum (religious Jewish) one and a worldly one. These don’t feel like they go together and I feel bifurcated. My therapist suggested I could see myself as a Renaissance man, one engaged with the world, but also deeply religious. This appeals to me as I studied the Renaissance at university. Figures like Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon and Johannes Kepler invented the scientific method while being deeply religious. Similarly Sir Thomas More was a courtier and writer (humanist in the sixteenth century sense of a student of the humanities) as well as devout Catholic, at least until it cost him his head for resisting Henry VIII’s break with Rome. My therapist said that even if the frum world doesn’t share my interests, I can still feel part of both the frum world and the wider world in this way.

This reminded me of a couple of things. One was a letter Rabbi Sacks  z”tzl referred to in one of his books. It was written by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner z”tzl, a prominent twentieth century thinker and halakhicist (jurist). A young man who had studied in yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) for several years and was about to go to medical school wrote to him saying that he worried he was living a double life, religious and secular (career). Rav Hutner wrote to him to say that to own an apartment, but live in a hotel is to live a double life, but to own an apartment with two rooms is not to live a double life, but a broad one. Similarly, to have a secular career, particularly a socially useful one like medicine, is not a contradiction to a religious life, but simply a broadening of it. This is a letter that I have taken some comfort from for a long time, even if it is not really about engaging with Western culture (I’ve never had any qualms about having a career).

I was also reminded of a story (I have no idea if it’s true) about a famous nineteenth century rabbi (I can’t remember who) who was quite cultured. One day he was walking around depressed, having heard that the poet Johann Goethe had died. Some people asked why he was depressed and he said “Goethe has died.” None of the people knew who Goethe was, but they guessed he must be a great rabbi if their rabbi was mourning his death, so the community went into mourning for “Rabbi Goethe.” The story suggests that frum people may not understand me, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily dislike me or oppose me; they might even support me, in their way.

We also spoke a bit about whether I underestimate other frum people and whether they might be more open to the outside world than I think. I remembered when a friend of mine from the more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul (synagogue) I used to go to asked if I liked music. I said I didn’t, because I was worried he would find my musical taste (a lot of rock and pop) too modern. However, he listed some of his favourite musicians, who turned out to be people I like listening to, like Sting and Billy Joel (I haven’t listened to Sting so much recently, but I still listen to Billy Joel quite a bit). I had definitely underestimated him (this is someone who doesn’t own a TV, by the way).

***

I have lost a little weight, despite having largely given up on even token dieting. I’ve seen a couple of blog posts in the last few days from people who say diets don’t work and are dangerous, although they are both in recovery from eating disorders. I think the weight loss is probably due to cold weather and using more “fuel” staying warm, so I don’t know if it will stay off. I also ate ice cream yesterday as I felt I needed a reward for my busy day.

***

Novel-writing is on hold for now, which is frustrating, but I have other priorities: work, proofreading work (including setting up profiles on more sites) and especially wedding preparation. We hope to confirm the date in the next week or so.

***

For reasons that I don’t want to go into now beyond saying “wedding preparation,” I am looking to buy two toy Daleks, preferably one black and one white. I have been looking on eBay. The problem is that E and I are trying to avoid buying from China if possible (because of ongoing genocides and slavery), but 90% of toys seem to come from there. We’re not sure what to do about this. We are not fully consistent on this, as both of us do sometimes buy from China or from other unethical sources (like cheap clothes from Primark which is made in Third World sweatshops – ignoring for now the question of whether it’s better to patronise these and let people earn some money or avoid them and probably force them out of business rather than raising wages). It is a very difficult question. But we don’t feel that toy Daleks are sufficiently necessary to justify buying them. E feels that buying second-hand isn’t the same as buying new and she may be right. I’m not sure what to do and am procrastinating, as I always do when confused. It’s hard to be an ethical shopper.

Fear and Loathing

I somehow got up at 10.15am, which isn’t early, but is early for me on a non-work day. I was feeling frustrated early on from seeing the conversation on the autism forum. I really need to psych myself up to write a post on the autism forum called, “Some of my Best Friends are Neurotypicals”. I feel there is a lot of prejudice or even hatred of neurotypicals on the forum and assumptions that their lives are perfect, which is obviously not true, and also that they are all shallow and inauthentic, which is also not true. There also sometimes seems to be a belief that neurotypical behaviours are inherently inferior to autistic ones. I’m not sure you can really argue that autism is a value-neutral difference to allism (non-autism) while also arguing that autism is better than allism.

I see the same thing in some Jews who have negative views of non-Jews. For example, some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews will insist that non-Jews are incapable of acting from true altruism, even towards their own children. It seems likely that any persecuted minority group is capable of turning around and hating the out-group, which is not necessarily completely synonymous with the persecutors.

People on the forum would probably say that I have internalised ableism, which may be true, although I think it’s more likely I don’t feel comfortable asserting myself or disappointing people.

I do feel that Judaism is a more important part of my identity than autism, which would probably also get me in trouble on the autism forum, where relationships with “neuro-kin” are seen as stronger than with society at large. I was born Jewish, but on some level I choose to be Jewish every day, whereas autism is something that has passively happened to me. Also, Judaism gives me a sense of purpose, whereas autism just is how I interact with the world automatically.

I’m wondering if I should step back from the autism forum and FB for a bit. Not completely, but a bit. Even aside from the neurotypical hate, I feel I can get sucked into too much. There was a thread on the autism forum about a teenager with delusions where I don’t know if I suggested the right thing; certainly other people suggested very different things. People sometimes ask things that strangers on the internet can’t really answer, although I suppose they’re desperate.

***

I spent fifteen minutes or so changing my LinkedIn profile from one primarily for an academic librarian to one primarily for a proofreader and copy editor. I feel a bit of a fraud about this, as I haven’t had any paid proofreading work yet and am not sure I can market myself aggressively enough to get any. I also quietly removed the university where I got my library MA (a not-very-good university) from high on the profile so that my BA from Oxford is more prominent, although the MA one is still there in case I look for more library work. Fortunately, my current employer doesn’t have a LinkedIn page and is unlikely to get one, so people can’t see that it’s unrelated to either of my “careers.”

The whole of this process made me feel like an incompetent fraud who hasn’t really achieved anything since finishing at Oxford, if not earlier. I think I probably peaked in my first year at university, where I was two marks off a first (first class result, the highest possible) in Mods (Honour Moderations, first year exams for historians when I was there). I honestly don’t know how I turn my work life around.

***

Similarly, I had more, “I don’t have enough ideas for my novel, I’m a terrible writer, I’m never going to get a novel finished to the standard I would like”-type angst. I try to tell myself I’m writing for myself, but then I hit the barrier of, “If I’m writing for myself, isn’t that selfish? Shouldn’t I do more of my religious obligations (learn more Torah, daven with a minyan more often, do more chesed (kindness)) or something that might bring in more income for E and myself when we marry?” There isn’t really an answer to this, except that it seems I need to write for my mental health (including research reading and novel reading to continually learn how to write), and that’s that.

I guess because I’m a perfectionist, it’s hard to write knowing not just that this won’t be the greatest novel ever written, but that it may not even be publishable, or that I might not even finish it.

***

There was plenty of aimless internet surfing, which I know is a product of loneliness as much as boredom. I miss E. I did manage to do some Torah study and cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow (lentil dal) and made some time to work on planning my novel, although in the last week or so, my computer, which is about eight years old (that’s about ninety in computer years) has slowly started dying, suddenly freezing periodically. The problem I’m having writing is that my autism wants to plan every detail before I start writing, so I know I won’t run out of inspiration, but my writing is better when semi-improvised, particularly for humour.

***

There seems to be a hole in my bedroom wall through which rainwater is coming…

***

I spoke to my sister about the baby blessing. I feel a bit better about it now. She said I didn’t have to come, as Brother-In-Law’s brother and his family aren’t coming. Paradoxically, this makes me feel better about going, as it feels less of an order now and more something I can choose to do. I guess I don’t like feeling I’m being taken for granted.

***

I’ve been listening to The Beach Boys a lot recently. I’ve never really liked them, and the topics of their songs (hedonistic teenagers in California in the 60s) don’t really resonate (unusual for me, as the lyrics are usually very important to me), but I like the actual music, which is mostly upbeat and cheers me up. I tend to listen mostly to music that can cheer me up.

Same Old Scene

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Leadership

I spent most of my time at work today stuffing about 300 invoices into envelopes, sealing them, putting stamps on them and posting them. I also processed six credit card payments over the phone and dealt calmly with a phone call from someone who was angry over some stuff that she really should not have been angry about. I did at least get to listen to some podcasts while stuffing envelopes. I had forgotten I would be stuffing envelopes, so hadn’t saved up podcasts, which meant I listened to some that had been sitting on my iPod for a while, unloved.

One podcast that was more interesting than I thought it would be was about Sarah Schenerer, who founded the Bais Yaakov network of Jewish girls’ schools in twentieth century Poland (it’s now a global network). I didn’t realise that she had so little support for her school initially or that she was a divorcee. It was mentioned in the podcast that Jewish men define themselves by the yeshivah they went to. This was not exactly news to me, but did make me feel an outcast again.

The podcast also said that we should all be trying to be leaders. Rabbi Sacks z”tzl used to say this a lot too. I’ve never felt like a leader and wouldn’t know how to be one. The podcast said that, if nothing else, we should be leaders in our families. I am not sure I know how to do that either, although if ‘leadership’ in this context means ‘encouraging others to have more of a Jewish identity and/or religious observance,’ then I suppose I’ve done that without really knowing how.

Interestingly, my rabbi mentor said something similar on Sunday, not about leadership, but about my writing being a “gift” and part of my mission in the world (I can’t remember if he used the word “mission,” but that was the idea). As I think I said the other day, he explicitly said I should take time from Torah study and other religious requirements to devote to my writing, although I’m not sure how much exactly to take. It is reassuring, and flattering to know that he feels that way about my writing, although naturally I feel that I’m not all that gifted and that my current writing is far from anything that might be considered Jewishly relevant.

I’m still thinking about what I can do for frum (religious Jewish autistics/neurodivergents/misfits in general). I’m still struggling to find anything that is both practical and within my capabilities. I also wonder if, beyond a certain age, these people either find a way of settling in the community or they leave (or get forced out) and that’s why I can’t find them.

***

Today was a fast day (the fast of Tevet). As I was at work, I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services). I had not been to a fast day Minchah for so long, from general shul avoidance and specific fast day avoidance (I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts for medical reasons, but I don’t want that to become obvious if they try to call me to the Torah and I have to turn it down), that I could not remember what extra prayers we say. This is not good.

***

When I got to the Tube station on the way home, the down escalator was broken, but I didn’t realise this until I was on it and there was a crowd behind me, so I had to walk down on it. The staircase might have been easier, especially as I got stuck behind someone walking slowly with a stick and someone else carrying a bulky case. About five years ago I nearly had a panic attack/meltdown on a very long staircase at Kings Cross Tube Station and ever since I’ve been nervous of walking down the long stairs on the Tube. I get fear of heights-type feelings if I look too far down or over-think things. I just try to look at my feet and keep going at a steady speed, neither too fast nor too slow, but it’s hard when stuck in a slow moving queue of descending people. I did manage it, but I’m wondering if I should start walking down the stairs even when the escalator is working as a kind of exposure therapy.

***

I didn’t have such a stressful day, but foolishly went into the charity shop on the way home, ostensibly because it would get me out of the rain for a few minutes. The result was buying one of Dominic Sandbrook’s history books, State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974. It was only £2 for a hardback that looks very interesting! The money is not an issue; time (to read) and space (to store it) are. Sigh. And this, when I’m intending to buy a load of books for novel research soon. I think I need to find some books to donate to the charity shop in return; I already have a couple of ideas.

***

I had some more ideas for my novel today. It’s strange that I can spend an hour trying to think up ideas and getting nowhere and then, when I’m working and not trying to think about writing, they just keep coming.

Midwinter Blues

Trigger warning: reality

“Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality” — T. S. Eliot Four Quartets

While it is, technically, the middle of winter, I actually always feel like the new year is less the turning point towards spring and more the start of the worst part of winter, January and February. The days still feel as short as ever, the weather (in the UK) is even worse and, unlike December, there are no festivals to look forward to and create a general atmosphere of cheer. And then I have the awareness that the end of winter (which I want) is marked by the two hardest Jewish festivals for me, from an autism and mental health point of view, Purim and Pesach, which makes the onset of spring more challenging than simply the advent of longer days and warmer weather.

***

I stayed up late. I can’t remember what I was doing. Probably looking at the responses to the Facebook group post I made or just trying to process the answers I got. I was too tired to watch the whole of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. It’s not really a good enough film to be split over three evenings, let alone four, as may still happen.

I slept a long time again (ten or eleven hours) and woke up feeling tired. When I woke up, I couldn’t move at all at first. This happens to me periodically. I used to think that I wasn’t fully awake, or I was dreaming I was awake, but wasn’t really, but I’m pretty sure I was at least somewhat awake this time and I’m wondering if it’s sleep paralysis. I did mention this in the questionnaire for the sleep study, as I’ve been aware of it for a while, but I can’t remember how much emphasis I placed on it, because I wasn’t sure if it was “real” or not. I recall that the questionnaire placed more emphasis on things like, does your “bed-partner” report snoring (I don’t have a bed-partner. I did have a room-mate (E) for a week who reported that I snore a little, but that was after I sent the questionnaire back).

I couldn’t get going once I got up either. I’m not sure why. I didn’t feel physically drained, but maybe emotionally drained. After a while, low mood set in, or maybe I only just noticed it. I struggled with low mood all day. I’m monitoring my mood at the moment to check that I’m not becoming clinically depressed. I don’t think I am, but I am having some monstrously bad days, like today. Being off work so long probably doesn’t help, as it’s too easy to get out of the habit of doing anything productive and to avoid contact with people other my parents. And missing E is so difficult.

I didn’t revise my proofreading profile as I wanted. I did do some work on planning my novel. It’s hard to see it as productive as the productive bits (ideas) were just a few moments out of an hour and a quarter of mostly procrastinating (plus another fifteen minutes or so typing up notes) BUT I probably need the procrastinating time to let my brain tick over and the ideas were, I think, reasonable. There’s such a long way to go, though.

I did a little Torah study, but not much else. I’m trying to be kind to myself and not beat myself up for not managing more than I did (and not for not reading any more of Dune either – I’m enjoying it, but feel frustrated that it’s a book that needs to be read slloooowllly, and it’s really not a good book to read when down), but it’s hard.

***

I think discussion has died out on the Orthodox Conundrum post I wrote about neurodiversity in the frum (religious Jewish) community. I got some supportive responses, and ‘care’ likes (or whatever they’re called; I’m not great at emoji), but no practical suggestions and I only found one other actual neurodiverse frum Jew (with ADHD). And someone said I shouldn’t call myself disabled and I decided to let it go rather than get into an argument. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do.

The hard thing about the response was that a couple of people said that the frum world isn’t going to change and one said I should consider finding a less frum community or less frum friends. This was painful to hear because, having seen them comment on other posts (and one is a well-known activist in the Anglo-Jewish community), I know these are the more tolerant, inclusive people in the group, the ones who advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and abuse survivors’ rights in the frum community. While I don’t think they were saying I should leave, they did seem pessimistic about any kind of change in the near future.

I am a member of a couple of Jewish autism FB groups, but they aren’t very active or very frum and some are pretty American-centric. Either way, there don’t seem to be many people specifically struggling with autism issues in the Orthodox community. Part of me wonders why I don’t just walk away. I guess I do sometimes, to some extent, but I always come back. I have some kind of loyalty that goes beyond just belief. And I guess I feel there must be other autistic Jews in the frum community, even if they’re masking, even if they don’t actually know they’re autistic. I would think in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in particular there it would be considered shameful and there would be the desire to hide it “for shidduchim” (marriage prospects), for those of siblings as well as the person with autism. I feel I should do something, but I don’t know what. I’m not really an activist-type person and autism by its nature makes it hard to know what to do in a social context like this.

***

Someone on the autism forum was asking about positive traits we have from autism. I find this kind of question hard to answer, but I tried anyway:

I really struggle with this question, as I find it so hard to tell what is because I’m autistic and what would be the same if I was allistic. Or is that even a valid question? I don’t know. It’s also hard to separate nature and nurture. I guess there’s part of me that is reluctant to ascribe positives to my autism as I still experience it primarily as a disability (which I know is not a popular opinion here).

Anyway, in the hope that this will make me feel more positive about my autism, I feel it at least contributes towards my being:

Intelligent;

Independent-minded;

Empathetic;

Honest;

Diligent;

And perhaps also resilient.

(Several of these factors helped me stay religious in a culture (Orthodox Judaism) that isn’t always accommodating to difference, neurodiversity or mental illness, so I’m grateful for that at least.)

***

I’m feeling depressed about the state of the world too. American and Israeli politics have both been like watching a car crash in slow motion for many years now. At least I’m saving E from America’s post-imperial self-destruction. I worry about Israel. There’s nothing I can do, but I care. It’s frustrating that I probably know people who voted for the crazies in both country. At least in the UK our politicians are “merely” incompetent, hypocritical and sometimes mildly corrupt. They aren’t racist, theocratic and seriously corrupt as a matter of course.

(This thought triggered by this Times of Israel blog. Compared with some things the new Israeli government has promised to do, allowing unlicensed therapists is pretty trivial, but it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.)

***

Is anyone else sick of “journey” being an all-purpose metaphor for everything? When I was working in further education, the college used to refer to the students’ “Learning journeys,” which used to drive my boss crazy. “They aren’t on a “learning journey,” they’ve gone to college!” She wasn’t always an easy person to work for, but I did think she was right there.

***

My Ghostbusters marathon has revived my one of my earliest career ambitions: to be a ghostbuster! The problem is that I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t really believe in anything supernatural other than a (rather Maimonidean) God (who I think isn’t supernatural in the way ghosts would be supernatural). Although maybe I could claim this as proof of my ghostbusting skills. “How many ghosts have you seen? None? Well, that just shows how good I am at catching them!”

Last Shabbat of 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

First Drafts

I had a dull day at work without J, who is on annual leave (I’d say holiday, but he’s at home, using up unused holiday days before they expire on 31 January). I had to make a phone call which I handled badly, or at least not as well as I would have liked. Other than that, it was mostly sorting old papers again, but at least I’m making some progress with it, however slight. Tomorrow I need to go to the bank before the end of the month, which is usually the highlight of my working month, except in January when I usually go multiple times as people send so many membership fee cheques in (some people still write cheques, particularly as our members tend towards the elderly and technophobe).

After waiting fifteen minutes and having the rabbi make some phone calls, we got a minyan (prayer quorum) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but someone had to leave at the end so we couldn’t daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and had to do that at home instead. It’s hardly the worst problem ever, but it was frustrating. The minyan is usually made up of people who work in offices locally, as there isn’t much of a local Jewish population, and at the moment many people are on holiday.

***

As usual, I read a Torah study book on the Tube in to work, but I skimmed How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by science fiction author Orson Scott Card at lunch and on the way home. A lot of it is intuitive, or related to types of science fiction I have no intention of writing (at the moment), and much of the rest I suspect I picked up from another book he wrote about writing technique. I’ve never been sure how much you can teach writing, or any art. I guess there’s a part which is technique, which can probably be taught as a craft, and another part that is raw talent that has to be honed by actually writing, if you’re lucky enough to have it.

One thing that did interest me was the idea that you might need to do a first draft to try out ideas and then rewrite it into something completely different. This was shocking to me, as my English teacher at school used to insist that a first draft was 99% of the final product. Talking of a “rough draft” was even worse, and anyone saying that to him would be told, “Rough is what the doggie says.” Similarly, Steven Moffat, the greatest of the Doctor Who new series writers and showrunners (in my humble, but controversial, opinion) says that a first draft is most of the work; the subsequent drafts are just polish. And who am I to argue with the author of Blink and Heaven Sent?

It’s a strange concept for me to get my head around: a draft that I go into knowing very little of it will survive into later drafts is just not how I have written up until now (although part of me wants to perform a drastic re-write on my first novel one day). I can see that it makes sense for science fiction or fantasy in a way that it might not with more realistic fiction. With these genres, as well as the usual plot and characterisation common to all fiction, there’s a lot of literal world-building to test, finding rules for an environment and for pseudo-science or magic that are consistent and don’t cheat the reader or make things too easy for the hero. I can see it might be easier doing that on paper than in your head, but it is a paradigm shift for me, even if I was already tentatively going down that path.

A related question is research. I want my book to involve virtual reality (like Meta), but realise I know very little about actual contemporary virtual reality to extrapolate from. My instinct is to search bookshops for non-fiction about it as well as famous science fiction books like Neuromancer and other classics from the cyberpunk sub-genre (I’ve read the seminar cyberpunk short story Johnny Mnemonic. But don’t mention The Matrix or I’ll scream. It’s an over-rated pile of Philip K. Dick fanfic). But maybe it’s better to just write at this stage and look at other people’s thoughts (real-world and fiction) after I’ve got something down on paper. That will also save my bank balance and give me more time to read the BIG PILE OF OTHER BOOKS I’ve acquired lately.

***

The baby blessing has come up again. This is the family event Sister and Brother-in-Law are planning for next month, with attendance at their shul (synagogue), at the communal refreshments afterwards and two big family meals, a week before another family/social event my parents are planning for Dad’s seventieth birthday. This has made me anxious on multiple levels, some religious, some autism- and mental health-related.

The latest issue is that the hotel where we would have to stay has electronic locks, which would be problematic on Shabbat (the Sabbath) when electricity can’t be used. When I was in New York, the staff at the hotel I stayed at were used to religious Jews asking (or more usually hinting, as it’s not really permitted to ask non-Jews to perform work on Shabbat) to have doors opened for them, but this might not be the case here and they might see it as suspicious behaviour.

Even beside that, I still feel deeply negative and anxious about the whole thing, doubly so as I feel I have no right to express my discomfort, whether from religious or autistic/socially anxious reasons, even though I worry what kind of state I will be in by the end of January if I go through all this, which I feel is a legitimate worry and not me being difficult.

Then there is the fact that, at the moment, it looks like I would have to go through these events without E, which just feels so painful now and I don’t know how much anyone in my family understands that.

***

I was thinking today about not achieving the level of halakhic (Jewish law)observance that I wanted or expected I would have by now. This is partly because E and I are now growing together and religious growth needs to be at a pace that both of us can bear, and I’m OK with that, but, even beyond that, I have been relying on leniencies in some areas or relaxing my standards for a while now, as I’ve mentioned before. As I said the other day, I think it’s hard being frum (Jewishly observant) with mental health issues, neurodiversity, less frum relatives and without feeling integrated into a supportive community, let alone juggling all of these. I hate to use ‘privilege’ language, but I increasingly feel that being fully halakhically observant is a privilege. It’s not something all Jews can attain, even if they want to, but as a community we are not accepting of that.

As I thought about it, I realised that I am disabled, but for twenty years I was trying to be frum without knowing I was disabled, not knowing that there were legitimate leniencies I could rely on (sometimes I knew I could rely on things because of depression or living with less frum parents, but I did not know about autism). It’s a strange situation to be in, to become retroactively aware that you were disabled all your life. I doubt it happens to many people; I would think usually disability announces itself very clearly! It’s something I haven’t really come to terms with.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, beyond my reiterated desire to say something to other frum people about this, but not knowing what I want to say or who I want to say it to or how I want to say it and being afraid of the reaction I would get for essentially justifying my non-observance of halakhah.

Bumper Last Night of Chanukah Post!!!!

My mood slumped last night and didn’t really rise all day, at least not until I Skyped E. I went to bed late last night as I was reading Quantum of Solace, a James Bond short story that isn’t really about James Bond. It’s a story told to him by someone else, a story that has nothing to do with spies or anything usually associated with James Bond. I thought it was still quite engaging; I think Ian Fleming is under-rated as a write, like many successful authors of “pulp” fiction.

Despite that, I got up early this morning (about 9.30am – early for me, anyway), mostly because I woke up early and felt hungry. I even stayed awake, although I went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast. It was a struggle to daven even an abbreviated Shacharit and Musaf (say Morning Prayers), as I felt so tired.

That said, I think I woke early because I woke struggling to breathe again. I’m still waiting for the results of my sleep study to see if I have sleep apnoea. I might have to wait another two months for the results! I believe the results can be downloaded as soon as the sensors are returned to the hospital; the huge delay is in getting the personnel to interpret said results. All E and I seem to be doing these days is waiting…

I went for a longish walk for an hour. This helped my mood a little, but not totally.

I didn’t do much else. I spent far too long messing about on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page (see below). I’m enjoying being on there, slightly more than my annoyance at how awful FB is nowadays, but I’m not sure that I’ll achieve any of my aims for joining the group, such as making frum (religious Jewish) friends, becoming more integrated to the frum community or starting a conversation about the place of the mentally ill and neurodivergent in the frum community (again, see below).

I did spend a little time working on my novel plan, even though I said I wouldn’t, because apparently I really can’t keep away from it (see below). It looked better than I thought it would, although there’s still a lot to do.

***

It’s really hard being away from E, especially not knowing when we’ll be together, let alone when we’ll get married. I read an article on a Jewish site (that will go unlinked, as I’m going to criticise it) about the laws of taharat mishpachah in Judaism (essentially, not having sex when the woman is having her period and for a while afterwards). The author repeated the standard frum line about this preventing divorce. Which it may do, as I think the divorce rate in the frum community is still lower than in the secular world, but it’s clearly not a panacea, as divorce is still a very real thing in the frum world. The type of married people (not just Jewish ones) who write essays about relationship breakdown seem to think that there’s one simple mistake that all divorced couples make that dooms their relationship and other people can easily avoid it, and I really don’t think there is. That’s what makes it scary.

That said, the thing that really annoyed me was where the article stated that newlyweds are “young and carefree, with no grey hairs or wrinkles.” Although aimed at less frum people, the article seemed to be based on the idea that everyone marries young and no one has any life problems until they have children. Um, maybe you were, but E and I are in our late thirties and come with suitcase loads of “baggage”! But we love each other despite this (actually, E doesn’t have wrinkles, although I do).

In the wake of this, I did think of posting something about conformity in the Jewish community on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group, perhaps based on the thing I wrote here a few days ago about the difficulty of being frum if you’re mentally ill, neurodivergent, poor, etc., but I held back because it was too long, unfocused and ranty and because I didn’t know what response I even wanted (cf. my discussion with JYP in the comments to that post). The OC group does show care about some marginalised groups in the Orthodox world, such as abuse survivors, LGBT Jews and agunot, as well as about women’s rights in the Orthodox world in general, but I haven’t really found a way of starting a conversation about mental illness or neurodivergence there. I searched for older threads about mental illness and they tended to be focused on issues like rabbis answering mental illness-related questions badly rather than integrating the mentally ill or neurodivergent into the community.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing at the moment instead of actually writing, as I’m on a break to try to calm down about it. I felt a kind of urgency about writing as I wanted to get something published and try to build a career as a writer to help support E and our potential children. This is clearly not happening, as we will be married long before I get anything published, particularly as I’ve stopped sending out my first novel to agents, as I’m not sure whether I want to rewrite it. I do want to get set up as a freelance proofreader in the next few weeks, as that seems a more practical way to earn money.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I do still feel the need to prove myself with writing, to show I’m as good as all my school and university peers who went on to good jobs (or any jobs, really), not to mention the other writers and newspaper columnists who I read and think, “I could do better than that,” although I probably can’t. Spite and envy probably isn’t a good reason to do anything, let alone to make art.

I probably will keep writing as a hobby/psychological need. It’s hard to work out how to balance it with religious obligations and family obligations. E supports my writing more than I do and wants me to keep writing despite family obligations, but the frum world doesn’t really see writing or creativity generally as an important activity. I don’t think I can justify my writing on the grounds of supplying an important need to the frum/Jewish community or increasing Jewish visibility in the wider world, as I really don’t think I’ll get published. It’s just something I need to do.

I used to get annoyed with the Hevria people for prioritising writing and creativity over religious obligations, but maybe they were right. Maybe you need to be ruthless about family and community to get published. Then again, I think Mattue Roth was the only Hevrian who actually got any fiction published professionally.

 I’ve mentioned before that David Bowie said the worst thing God can do to you is make you an artist, but a mediocre artist. I feel that’s true of me. I have basic writing skills, but I lack imagination, unsurprisingly, as that seems to be common with alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions).

As I said above, I did do some work on the novel plan today, which was good, and I do feel very drawn to writing it, but I am struggling a bit with where the novel is going and what to write, while feeling that I need very much to write.

***

Books: if I’m not writing them, I’m reading them (which is not a bad thing).

I finished re-reading Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. It was a good 90s fandom nostalgia trip, but other books came out later and went further than it did. I also tried to put my pile of new Doctor Who novelisations away. These were the books I felt a little guilty about, as I was pleased to add them to my collection for free, but wasn’t likely to read/re-read them in the near future, and wasn’t sure if I should have accepted them.

My bedroom is hardly minimalist. It’s got four bookcases (three big and one not so big), one packed full with DVDs, most lying on their side, warehouse-style, so I can fit more on the shelves. The other three are full of books (and some CDs), many of them also lying on their side. (I also have books in a couple of cupboards and a bookcase full downstairs too.) There are also several piles of books on top of one of the bookcases, containing over 150 Doctor Who books (fiction, as the non-fiction is on another shelf) along with a couple of other TV/film tie-in books. I have about 1,300 books in total. Yes, E is right that I should get rid of some. It’s hard! I might donate some non-fiction books I’m never likely to read to the charity shop in a week or so, although I don’t know who will buy books on Medieval Scotland.

I went to add the new books to the pile on top of the bookcase. I hadn’t realised how far the case has come forward from the wall with the weight of all the books on it and one of the books fell down the back. It was Doctor Who – The Daleks, the novelisation of the first Dalek story, which I disliked as a child because it departed from the TV series in its depiction of the events of the first ever TV episode (which isn’t even part of the Dalek story on screen), but which now, in the age of DVD, seems significant for precisely that reason, for being an entirely new take on the events of the TV story.

I’m not sure how to get the book back from the black hole behind the bookcase. I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to take the hundreds of books off the bookcase (not to mention wargaming models) to move it out, especially as it’s the middle bookcase and I might have to move one or two others too to get to it! So the book will sit there in the black hole for now.

I noticed a while back the bookcases wobble a bit, and I am vaguely worried about them falling on me one day. I guess I just have to hope that when E and I move somewhere of our own, we have enough space that taking a reasonable chunk of my books is a good idea and that I can move the bookcase then. I think we’re unlikely to be able to afford a place big enough to hold all my books along with those E brings over from the US.

***

My parents bought me an extra Chanukah present, even though I said they didn’t need to: A Fire Burns in Kotsk: A Tale of Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland by Menashe Unger. Even though I own every English language book I can find about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk), I’ve put off buying this for years because (a) it’s expensive (about £30) and (b) it’s a weird book, sitting on the boundary between history and historical fiction, presenting itself as the true story of the Kotzker Rebbe and his Hasidim, but also written in novelistic style with (presumably) invented dialogue. I’m not quite sure what to make of it and probably won’t be until I’ve read it (if then). At least it’s something to read on the way home from work while I’m reading The Great Dune Trilogy, which is too big and heavy to take to work.

***

Contemplating all this stuff (low mood, not fitting into society, struggling to sell my writing, lack of imagination), I’m having one of my “I hate being autistic” days. I think I get fewer of these than I did a couple of months ago, but I’m still not at peace with myself, and I still see ASD as a bad hand I’ve been dealt, albeit one I want to play as well as I can, and admitting that it’s better than some other people’s cards. It frustrates me enormously that so-called “high functioning” autism means I can write literary fiction, read in a dead language, read and understand (at least partially) twelfth century Jewish rationalist philosophy… and still screw up basic stuff like editing  an invoice template at work (why? This is like proofreading; I should be good at it, unless it’s the pressure of masking in the office), speaking on the phone (or at all), doing tasks in the right order, promoting my writing, networking, etc., etc., etc.

It doesn’t help that I have a lack of mentors or guides to help me integrate into the frum world or for raising the profile of my writing. It’s sad, because I do feel I have stuff to say to the frum world and the wider world, but I don’t know how to say it because of my autism, while people who might know how to help me say it don’t know that I have anything to say.

I did just dig out an email from my parents’ friends’ son-in-law from an earlier attempt to set myself up as a proofreader. He is a freelance proofreader and said to persevere as work is out there. He also said YOU HAVE TO NETWORK!!!!!!!! (I put it in capitals because that’s how scary it is.) That email was pre-COVID, though, so I don’t know if it is still true.

***

I saw the Doctor Who trailer. I wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t expect to be. David Tennant + Catherine Tate + Russell T Davies = pretty much my least favourite Doctor/companion/showrunner combination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing: Just Do It or Pause?

Today was a stressful day. The snow has turned to ice. The pavement of my road was gritted, apparently for the benefit of the bin men, as the other roads were not gritted. My Mum suggested that if a bin man slipped and hurt himself, he could sue the council for not providing safe conditions, but mere taxpayers are not entitled to such consideration. (Gosh, I’m getting cynical and reactionary in my old age…) I slipped several times walking to the station, but managed to regain my balance without falling over. A car didn’t see me on the zebra crossing and nearly ran me over; luckily I saw it. When I got to the station, the departure board said the train was not supposed to leave for a minute, yet the doors suddenly started to shut. I jumped on, but my rucksack got caught, and I collided with someone who was standing near the door. Then there were Tube delays again, but this time I didn’t find out about them until I was actually on the train and had to improvise my way to work, just getting there on time.

And that was just up to 9.30am!

After that things settled down, but I made stupid mistakes, probably as a result of thinking about my novel when I should have been working. The afternoon was largely spent trying to reconcile differences between two different presentations of data from a database. I eventually solved it, but it was tiring, although I suppose tasks like that do make a change from my usual work, and it’s good to solve a problem completely, even if I’m not sure I always manage to explain what the problem wasto J.

I didn’t fancy walking on the ice in the dark on the way home from the station, so did what I rarely do and phoned my parents for a lift. I then spent far too long online responding to an article someone had posted to the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page. I didn’t really have much new to add to the discussion, I just wanted to make contact with other frum (religious) Jews, or maybe just other people. Like the Jewish joke about the never-ending conference, “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.”

***

I was thinking a lot about my satirical novel today, probably too much, especially when working, as I said. I feel like I want to write, but I also need to work, I want to widen my work to work from home proof-reading to increase my (low) income, E and I will be getting married soon and we want to have children, then there are my various daily religious obligations. All these things take time and energy. Writing seems like a luxury at best, a distraction at worst. Yet it’s the thing I most want to do, after marrying E (which isn’t an activity in the same sense). E indulges my novel writing, which is good, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a good idea.

I feel I should blog less and write fiction more, but they don’t really take up the same store of psychic energy. Fiction is about understanding the world and I have to be pretty alert to do it, blogging is about processing my emotions and I can do it when tired (like now). It would be easier if I slept less and was less exhausted when awake, but it’s hard to change those things with a suspected sleep disorder and autism. Autistic exhaustion seems to be commonly self-reported among autistics, even if the psychiatric world doesn’t really recognise it.

Like a baby, the novel will probably come when it comes, if it comes. An article in the Jewish Review of Books that I read today stated that writing success requires “talent, persistence, an almost naive self-belief, and courage.” I’m not sure how much I have any of those, except perhaps persistence. I think it also requires imagination, and I’m not sure how much I have of that either as people with alexithymia are not supposed to have much imagination. Part of me feels I should JUST DO IT; another part feels I should take a break for a couple of weeks, although my  mind will probably continue to think about the plot of the novel, as the monotropic (singularly-focused) autistic mind doesn’t let things go easily.

***

The Facebook article I commented on is political, and so is my novel, in some sense, and I’ve drifted back into a “My political thoughts are confused and contradictory and all too often I just mindlessly agree (or mindlessly disagree) with the last opinion I heard and I really should not be allowed to vote or have opinions” mood. There is nothing constructive I can say about this, so I will stop.

***

Someone on the autism forum started a thread about being autistic and Christian. I think my response sums up a lot of what I’ve been trying to say here for the last couple of years:

I’m Jewish, not Christian, but I definitely struggle with synagogue: too many people, too much noise, and sometimes we have a cantor who doesn’t sing so much as shout (very uncomfortable for me). The refreshments after the service are also difficult: being expected to make small talk, difficulty hearing what people say to me over the general noise, etc.

Religious study in the Jewish community is supposed to be in pairs, which I have not been good at. My brain just stops working when someone is sitting opposite me expecting me to say something insightful. I just study by myself.

Then there’s the social expectations to be married by age twenty-five and have a big family. Also the fact that Judaism expects people to have a lot of energy and focus to meet the requirements of prayer, religious study, ritual observance and family, alongside work, and that’s hard even without factoring in autistic exhaustion and being “out of spoons,” not to mention the issues I noted above.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

I woke up late, Dad getting me up to help me bring the Tesco grocery order in. I admit I did not rush myself getting dressed afterwards, or having lunch, so it was soon time for my Skype therapy call without my having done very much. Perhaps fortunately, my chatan (marriage) class was postponed by the teacher, although I vaguely worry about what would happen if E gets her visa soon and we want to have the wedding in February – would we do all the classes in time? Although I’m more worried about the visa not coming until March…

Therapy was good, but intense and took up a chunk of the day, as usual. Even having therapy on Skype, I feel I need a few minutes to mentally prepare beforehand, and more than a few minutes to come out of the therapy mindset afterwards.

I did about half an hour of Torah study, which wasn’t much, but I arguably did an hour and a half yesterday, if you count the Jewish podcast I listened to while walking to and from appointments, and I’m going to a virtual shiur (religious class) tomorrow, so hopefully it averages out.

I did spend a little time on my novel plan. I feel that the chunk I wrote needs to be re-written, but not until I’ve finished planning. I’m finding planning this novel is like doing a 1,000 piece jigsaw with no picture, while blindfolded, in the dark, with the pieces hidden around the house and no guarantee that I’ll find them, or that they even exist, and no way of telling if I’ve finished it, or if I’ve made such a mess that you should give up. It is interesting, though. Planning novels of character seemed much easier, which may suggest that I under-estimate how complicated actual people are compared to the understanding of science and the trends in contemporary society needed for a satirical dystopia.

Mary Harrington’s article today for UnHerd was really useful, though, and I’m thinking  of subscribing (despite the financial issues E and I are facing) because she writes so insightfully about things that matter to me (especially developing a communitarian conservatism instead of one focused entirely on low taxes and high growth) and what I want to write about. (Judging from the comments, it seems that many UnHerd readers think that Harrington is the best thing about the site, even though she only started writing political commentary three years ago and isn’t a “famous” journalist like some of the other writers there.)

To be honest, I probably needed the slower day, but it’s hard to see it that way and not blame myself for being “lazy.” This is part of the problem I have with “energy accounting” (trying to balance the energy I use with the energy I take on): I am constantly pushing myself to do more, even when I need to rest. As I said to Paula in the comments of yesterday’s post I need to remind myself that I’m dealing with a lot at the moment, especially as so much feels up in the air right now. I have to remember that even if I’m not doing so much practically at this stage, things are still on my mind and stressing me out.

***

I weighed myself this morning. I don’t often remember to do this. My weight seems to be more or less stable, which is good, as I haven’t been eating as healthily as I was, but also bad, because I need to lose some weight, and because failure to lose weight discourages me and makes me feel weight loss is hopeless while I’m on the current dose of clomipramine, which will continue until 9 January at the earliest.

***

On the plane last week I listened to Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys, which I hadn’t heard for years. Looking at the lyrics now, it does seem appropriate, or overly-appropriate for where E and I are now. It’s about teenagers who want to be older so they can get married. E and I are definitely not teenagers, but we’re still stuck living separately. “And wouldn’t it be nice to live together/In the kind of world where we belong” probably isn’t about neurodivergence or finding a suitable religious community when you can fit in even though you aren’t “normal,” but it might as well be.

I’m glad that E and I are engaged and getting married, which I thought would never happen, and I’m glad that we hope to improve our careers and communal lives, but it is still frustrating having to be separated for so long.

Excursions, No Alarms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fears

I’m feeling down today. I got up more or less on time to discover that, because of snow, virtually every Tube (London Underground) line was running with delays and/or part suspended. I ended up going to work on the bus, which was OK, but I was nearly half an hour late and had to take a shorter lunch break to make up the time. Coming home on the bus was actually OK and I might consider doing it regularly, if the travel times are similar and there isn’t suddenly more traffic on a non-snowy day.

The office was cold (the boiler is still broken) and I had to do the Very Scary Task. I still struggle with that, no matter how much I do it. Some of it is lack of practice, as I don’t do it very often, but I’m sure my brain refuses to memorise some of it out of panic/spite, and having to deal with social interactions over the phone at a high-stress time is not good for autism and social anxiety.

I had intended to work on my novel plan at lunch, but because I got to work late, I didn’t have time to do more than eat lunch and go back to work. When I got home, I spent too long reading blog posts, dealing with emails and comments and writing this to do anything useful on my novel. Now after an evening looking at clichéd, alarmist writing by supposed public intellectuals and leading journalists as well as Facebook fights full of self-importance, passive aggression and fake apologies (“I’m sorry you twisted my words and were offended by them”), not to mention woke buzzwords, I wonder if I can accurately mimic a world gone mad, let alone parody something already beyond parody.

E said I just need to write for myself and not worry about anyone else reading it until I’ve finished a first draft. This is true. It’s hard not knowing if I’m wasting my time, but if I’m enjoying it, I guess I’m not wasting my time, even if no one else ever reads it.

The buzzwords and the clichés do annoy me. I’ve read a lot of Orwell, not just Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, but a lot of his non-fiction, and tired language indicates a lack of original thought. It’s scary to go on social media and see how little thought seems to go into so much writing, including by people who should know much better.

***

I thought a bit on the way home about my feelings about going to my sister’s baby blessing. Although there are some halakahic fears, I think most of my discomfort is about (a) being in an unfamiliar environment and especially (b) having yet another public example of how adult and competent my little sister is compared with me. I am not proud of this (and it’s not true that my sister has had things easy), but there you go. The fact that E is almost certain not to be in the country doesn’t help.

Anyway, I spoke to Mum and it turns out the nearest hotel has no rooms and the next-nearest one seems to be further from the shul than my parents feel comfortable walking, so we may not go anyway.

***

I was going to write some political stuff, but I really can’t be bothered. The world is too awful right now. I also wonder if I should be allowed to vote, given how changeable my thoughts are. I wonder at what point “open-minded” gives way to “indecisive” or just “gullible”? Or mindlessly following (or mindlessly contradicting) the last person who spoke? Walt Whitman said “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.” I might contain many multitudes and great artistic potential.

***

There is a widely-accepted idea in Judaism that Avraham (Abraham) epitomised kindness, Yitzchak (Isaac) strength/justice and Yaakov (Jacob) truth. This is challenging, as Avraham seems to be motivated by justice as much as kindness (in Judaism, love and justice are to some extent in opposition), Yitzchak seems to have very little strength and Yaakov seems outright deceitful much of the time. This article I printed out and read over Shabbat suggests that it’s more likely that these were traits they struggled with rather than embodied.

I find this reassuring. I feel very much that the interpersonal should be the focus of my religious awareness, but I find that difficult because of autism. Now I can see it as an area of focus and struggle rather than an area where I should expect to achieve perfection.

***

Chana Marguiles writes movingly for Chabad.org about her infertility. She’s brave to do so in a community where typically people have families as large as Chabadniks typically have (nine or ten children in a family is common).

This post is about asking people to change the subject when they are focused on speaking about their children so that she does not feel left out. She says, “The belief that asking for what I need is pathetic because I shouldn’t need it leads to undignified speech that remains muffled within.”

I wonder if I can learn from this. I used to feel alone when all the talk was of marriage, careers, babies. Marriage is less of an issue now, but still a bit, while we’re waiting for E’s visa. And I’m obviously not going to go to my sister’s house and tell her not to talk about her new baby. But I wonder if I could challenge the assumptions of the frum dinner table and say, “Actually, X is not my experience”? I remember a difficult conversation at shiur (religious class) years ago, when the rabbi and one of the other people there had new babies (it was a young rabbi, my age) and they were talking a lot about babies, and someone asked how old my children were and I had to say I wasn’t married (and then got told I should be married…).

I guess the problem is that so many different topics of conversations, or so many parts of “normal” life, seem to be areas of struggle and lack for me, and I don’t have the confidence to ask for “adjustments,” even just to change the subject. Although my lack of connection to the frum world means that I have probably experienced this less than some other people with “issues.”

New York and Back Again

I’m not going to give a day by day account of my trip to New York as I did for the two previous trips this year, partly as I don’t have time, but also because much of it felt to personal and intimate to share. It was effectively E and my civil honeymoon, as I had to go back to the UK twenty-four hours after our civil wedding ceremony in August, and a lot of those twenty-four hours were taken up with paperwork and a really good, but far from intimate, dinner celebration with E’s family and friends. This trip was our first real time to be together as husband and wife (in the eyes of the US and UK governments, but not the eyes of God and the Jewish community, yet). So, I don’t really want to write much about it.

I will say that E and I got on really well even sharing a studio apartment that was not really built for two people. We had no arguments and my religious OCD was under control. We had a lot of fun and both feel even closer than before and REALLY ready for marriage now. I also spent some time with E’s mother and E and I had dinner with my rabbi mentor, who was also in New York.

My hidden disabilities lanyard seemed to get me positive attention at the airports and on the plane, so I will wear it again in the future.

One place I will briefly talk about was Torah Animal World, a museum in a converted house in Boro Park. It’s a strange, but fascinating place, more like a seventeenth century Cabinet of Curiosities than a modern museum, full of taxidermied animals and ancient artifacts (coins, pots, etc.) mentioned in ancient Jewish texts. You can even touch many of the objects, which was fascinating and slightly troubling (from the perspective of someone more aware of how modern museums function and why).

The rabbi who founded it, who gave us the tour, told us that he was always being told off at school for asking questions about the Torah, such as, “How much water would Rivka (Rebecca) have to draw to water ten camels?” or “How did they sew gold into the High Priest’s vestments?” He decided that he would find the answers and make them available to other people. I’m inspired that he took an experience that could have turned many people off religion totally and made something positive out of it, and that he has found a way to be himself while staying in the frum (religious) community.

The other notable thing about the trip was the staggering number of books I acquired. I came back with about fifteen books that I hadn’t had in my possession when I went out (versus one I left behind, a siddur (prayerbook) I gave to E). I did not buy all of these and I bought few at anything approaching full price. Two are Chanukah presents to me from different people, one was a book E wanted to lend me and several are cheap or free from second-hand bookshop The Book Cellar (free advertising for them as it’s a great bookshop). The Book Cellar haul came to seven books plus a further one for E for under $10 total! Finding time to read them all is another question. The books were a mixture of Jewish religious non-fiction, history, thrillers and mysteries, humour and an autism-themed rom com (the book E lent me). My attempt to run a “one in, one out” policy for books (only buy/acquire one book when I donate another one to a charity shop or free book shelf) seems to be in ruins already (like my diet, something else that slipped and then totally went to pieces in New York).

I did spend some time thinking about my novel on the flight out and had some ideas while in New York, but as yet I haven’t actually written down my emerging story plan.

***

The other big news is that my sister’s waters broke two nights before I left. She didn’t go into labour, so the hospital induced labour while I was away. I am now the uncle of a little nephew! I haven’t met him yet. I was still travelling when he had his brit and, given that I have been in recent contact with someone who now has COVID (E’s mother), I am not sure when I will.

***

Today was a back to reality day. I overslept and got to work late, so I stayed late this afternoon to catch up. The office was very cold as the boiler is broken and noisy as the carpets were being cleaned. I dodged a bullet on phoning people to ask for unpaid payments (I suggested writing to some of them), but probably not for long. When I got home, I learnt that I had missed out on the job I had an interview for. They must have given it to someone else while I was away.

Not having slept on Tuesday night, having spent most of Tuesday and night and Wednesday morning travelling, then having spent Wednesday evening unpacking and not relaxing, then having a stressful day at work today, I decided to watch a James Bond film to try to unwind. I opted for perhaps the most low-key Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, but having watched the first eighteen minutes over dinner, I then got distracted writing an angry comment on a Jewish website. I am very concerned about rising antisemitism too, but saying that the USA today is literally the same as Nazi Germany isn’t helping anyone. Some people seem to have a psychological need to believe that they live in the worst period of history ever or to feel like the biggest victim ever (I’m not saying that I haven’t thought those things myself at some time). I then Skyped E and now I’m writing this and about to put my books on Goodreads, so I hope I still get time to watch the rest of the film, otherwise I suspect I will crash tomorrow (which I may well do anyway).

***

Someone on the autism forum apparently likes Jeremy Corbyn enough to have Corbyn’s surname and the year he became Labour Party leader as his username, yet he seems unaware of how Corbyn actually spells his surname. I find this oddly hilarious, although I hope I never have any interactions with him.

More Shoulds

I woke up feeling depressed and self-critical again, although perhaps not as much as yesterday. E wants to try to help me feel less exhausted and depressed from activity, and I want to too, but I wonder if it’s possible. It depends if it’s from a sleep disorder (potentially treatable, although I’m not sure to what extent) or autistic exhaustion (not really treatable except through energy accounting, and I’ve mentioned my problems with that) or SAD (light therapy didn’t work so well in the past, but I’m trying again). It’s worrying. Reducing my meds might give me more energy, but might make my mood worse. Although I’m not sure how much I trust a psychiatrist regarding this, I plan to take the appointment offered to me in January (J let me switch work days) and I probably will ask to reduce clomipramine, but not to come off it completely.

On the Tube this morning I was sat opposite someone with a persistent, horrible cough. I changed carriage at the next station, but ended up in a carriage full of sniffers and coughers. I guess it’s winter. Did this worry me before COVID? I think so, but not so much. I was sat next to someone who sniffed the whole way this morning. It was probably just the warm air in the carriage after the colder air outside. I was less worried about catching something and more irritated by the noise.

My brain was not working well today. I missed out bits of very familiar tasks at work and found it hard to do any work. I did at least have various tasks in the morning, but I was just sorting old papers again in the afternoon, a job with no clear end in sight, and I’m not entirely sure I’m tackling it the best way.

I do wonder if changing job, if I pass the interview, would lead to renewed energy and motivation or if I would be just as miserable in a new places with new procedures to learn just as I was getting used to this job and its procedures.

I used my light box in the morning. It seemed to help a bit, although the effect disappeared soon after I switched it off.

I felt more self-criticism about writing. I think I need to JUST WRITE. I have written for four consecutive days this week, writing over 2,000 words in four hours or less. I have no idea how good it is and I feel guilty about leaving the other novel and writing this without a clear plan, like I’m cheating on my other, worthier, novel with a more fun, less serious one.

It’s hard to know if I “should” be writing or what I “should” be writing. I always feel obliged to try to do what God wants beyond what I want or what I think is right. This adds another layer of complexity to decision-making. I say “always”; that’s not quite true any more. Over the last five years or so, I’ve started to feel that some halakhahs are beyond me and that I can’t keep them now, or maybe ever, so I’m not trying. Then again, there probably aren’t many of these (listening to recorded women’s singing and hugging E are the ones that spring to mind). I should probably just not think about what God wants me to write and just write. At least I’m finding writing reviving rather than draining at the moment.

I miss E. At least I can see her in five days! However, we are worried that the government are going to crack down on immigration and arbitrarily refuse her visa request. I don’t think the migration crackdown will take effect that quickly, although E got scared by a Guardian headline that was probably just another attempt to make Suella Braverman look like a Fascist. Still, it’s a worry.

Calling Into the Void

After a good day yesterday, I’ve crashed again today, feeling exhausted, depressed and lacking in motivation. I feel really awful, probably a result of doing too much over the last couple of days (not that it felt like much), missing E, SAD, personal life news (see below) and real news (also see below). I’m not sure when I last felt this bad.

 I wish this wouldn’t happen. I guess it’s something you should just learn to live with, with an ongoing health condition, but I find it hard, even after all these years. I guess it doesn’t help that it isn’t clear whether it’s more down to autism or a sleep disorder.

I woke up at 10am and wanted to stay awake, but I must have fallen asleep again as the next thing I knew it was 11am and Dad wanted me to get up to help take in the Tesco order. I did that, and prayed a bit even though I was still in pyjamas as I didn’t have the energy to get dressed and knew it would be too late for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) if I waited until after breakfast. I had breakfast and messed about online, getting annoyed by how much of the internet is about hate. Even if it’s not actual hate speech, it’s people complaining about other people’s hate speech. At the moment I’m becoming more impressed with Chabad.org than with the other Jewish sites I follow, because, although it is too mystical for my tastes and has fewer articles that interest me, it rarely does an “Antisemites said X, how awful is that?”-type article of the kind that are common elsewhere, preferring to focus on meaningful Jewish content. I think this is a better response to antisemitism most of the time than “calling out” into the void.

At 12.30pm I got phoned by the job agency that sent me the job last week. Embarrassingly, I was still in my pyjamas, but I took the call anyway. I’ve got the interview, although I’m not sure when it will be, given that I’m away soon and that I work two days a week. I will go to the interview, although I’m not sure when I will prepare or if I even want the job. As I’ve said, it’s slightly less money for somewhat longer hours, but it would potentially be a job I enjoy and restart my library career, so I need to think carefully about it. It also just occurred to me that in my current job, because it’s for a Jewish organisation and is shut on Jewish festivals, I don’t need to take them out of my holiday time, which I would have to do in this job. So there’s a lot to consider, if I even get the job. Possibly this pushed my mood further down, although I was depressed before it.

I did eventually get up and manage to get dressed. I went for a walk and spent an hour or so writing. I’m not sure if this project is going well, and I’m trying not to think about it for now, or if I’m going about it the right way. Basically, I started my satirical novel without finishing the planning a few days ago, because I needed to write, but didn’t have a head for just sitting and planning with nothing to show for it. I’m not usually a “pantser” (a writer who writes by the seat of their pants i.e. without planning), so I’m not sure if this will be organic and natural or just a mess. It’s hard to judge comedy anyway.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) as I vaguely hoped to do and only managed about five minutes of Torah study, as I really am stuck in a black hole of despair today.

***

I phoned the psychiatric appointments line to try to change my psychiatrist appointment, which is supposed to be when I’m away. This is to replace the appointment that was supposed to be a few weeks ago, but was cancelled at the last minute with no explanation. I discovered I have a new appointment for 9 January, which I wanted to move, as I’m at work then, but the person on the phone said to change an appointment I had to phone back on a morning as “I don’t keep the diary, I’m just covering the phones.” Really efficient. My parents and E said it will be easier to change my work days that week rather than the appointment, which really shouldn’t be the case, but sadly is true. Moreover, if I try to move the appointment, I’m likely to get one in February and I would like to be seen by then, although if recent depressed days continue, I won’t be changing my medication anyway (the reason for the appointment).

***

On a theme of getting annoyed with public monopolies that other people seem to love, I wrote an angry email to the BBC complaining about their minimisation of violence against Israelis in their description of today’s twin bombings in Jerusalem as “rare” bomb attacks. My point was that this minimises the attacks and primes readers to see them as freak events, downplaying the two fatalities and pre-emptively implying that any Israeli response is an over-reaction. The reality is that over 2,000 attacks of varying kinds on Israelis have occurred so far this year, of which the BBC reported just thirteen (figures from CAMERA UK, who also stated “the BBC News website did not provide stand-alone or timely coverage of any of the 401 terror attacks – including three fatal ones – which took place during October. In contrast, a counter-terrorism operation in Schem (Nablus) was reported just hours after it concluded.”)

I doubt I’ll get a response. The Jewish Chronicle, which is running a major campaign against BBC bias in both domestic and foreign reporting of antisemitism and Israel, reports that complaints about Israel coverage can take up to a year to be answered by the BBC and are sometimes completely ignored, even though BBC guidelines say that all complaints should to responded to within ten days. I actually felt worse afterwards, like that calling into the void I mentioned earlier. The BBC have had enough criticism of their Israel/Jewish coverage for me to know that they won’t take my complaint seriously, and will remain entrenched in their narrative that Jews don’t belong in the Middle East and that the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a clear-cut case of alien colonists persecuting non-violent natives, rather than a complex, long-running conflict between two different indigenous peoples that has seen violence on both sides.

I’m worried about posting this publicly, as I don’t want to be drawn into arid arguments about Israel’s right to exist, but I’m too depressed and exhausted to start editing or posting privately.

Survival of the Normalest

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Bits and Pieces

I think I’ve put on all the weight I lost over the last few months, perhaps even some more. I really don’t eat that much junk! I do get hungry late at night (when I should really be in bed) and eat cereal and sometimes I eat too much when I get home from work as dinner is almost always late in our house. It is hard to make myself go to bed hungry, or deny myself one biscuit or small piece of chocolate after a stressful day. I’m not sure what else I could do to reward myself. If we’re talking empty calories, I also eat a lot of prunes (which I’m sure have a lot of natural sugar), because it’s the only way I’ve found to combat the constipation caused by taking clomipramine (sorry if that’s TMI), another reason I’m anxious to reduce my meds.

***

I did the second night of the sleep study. I slept a lot more first night than the second because of work. That shouldn’t make any difference, as they’re just checking whether I stop breathing in my sleep, but I am vaguely nervous, especially given the problems I had with the questionnaire, which asked a lot of questions that I could not answer, either because they required a “bed-partner” who knew if I snore or referred to my experience of fatigue while driving, which I don’t do. I wrote a whole long covering email when I returned the questionnaire explaining the situation. I just hope someone takes note of it. I would really like an accurate to answer to the question of whether my disrupted sleep and constant tiredness is at least in part due to a sleep disorder.

***

Some thoughts about chatan (bridegroom) class from last night: I knew a lot of the material that I was being taught, and even spotted the teacher’s mistakes on a couple of occasions. I am generally too polite to point out other people’s mistakes, but maybe I should have done so here to show that I was pretty au fait with the material.

The topic was mostly standard Jewish texts on love and marriage. I felt that I was told that I should love E as much as I love self, which I already knew (it’s from the Talmud), but that I didn’t get much advice on how to do this. (If I was teaching the class, I would have referred to Rav Dessler’s idea that giving rather than receiving generates love.)

The teacher gave me a lift home. I felt embarrassed that I don’t drive. I don’t think he realised how old I am (forty next birthday), particularly as discussion of my university background and efforts to move into proofreading work made me sound as if I have joined the labour market relatively recently (and not because of years of depression and burnout). It’s not uncommon for Modern Orthodox Jews to meet their future spouse at university and get married soon after graduation and, as I mentioned the other day, I look a lot younger than I actually am. I also hid my MA, as I’m embarrassed about that too (the fact that it was not at a good university, that I had to struggle to get the degree and took three and a half years to do a degree that should have taken one year, and that my library career did not go anywhere afterwards).

On the plus side, the teacher is somewhat geeky and likes Doctor Who. Unlike me, he prefers the new series to the old. Like me, he thinks it has gone downhill lately. Unlike me, but like many other people, he thinks it’s too woke. I don’t really think it is that much more woke than it has been at other points in the past, and I don’t think being woke is necessarily a problem here. The problem is a lack of original, interesting, fun competently-written stories.

***

Today I’ve been struggling with having negative thoughts about other people and then obsessing over my thoughts and thinking I’m a bad person for not only thinking positive things about other people. I’m not sure where this has come from.

***

Work was a bit stressful. I had trouble with the very user unfriendly website we use for stationery orders. I also made some mistakes that were at least in part because J fired too much at me at once and I tried to multitask, which is something I do badly (autism).

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul  (Afternoon and Evening Prayers in the synagogue).I got pretty overwhelmed by the noise and the people, and by thinking that not only does autism stop me functioning in the frum (religious) community, but no one even understands my problems because there are so few frum autistics (who I have come across, at least). I did think of posting something on the autism forum, but I’m not sure who would understand and it would just come across as bad mouthing my own community to people who know nothing about it and perhaps just reinforcing anti-Jewish/anti-religious sentiments.

I managed to do some shopping after work, but I’ve been pretty exhausted since I got home.

***

E and my therapist both said I should stop writing my novel for now, and, as a good Jewish boy, I know not to argue with my wife or my therapist (or my mother, but she doesn’t know what I’m writing). E encouraged me to work on the satirical novel I want to write in the meantime. I feel I should do research, but also that I don’t have the head for that with everything going on in my life right and now and that I should just jump in. How much can you research comedy anyway, even if it is satire? Unfortunately, while I feel confused and angry about much in the world, it’s hard to frame my confused and angry thoughts coherently in my head, let alone in a dystopian satirical novel. I also worry about the attitude (on the part of readers) of “If you disagree with X, then you must want Y instead” which isn’t necessarily true. I might satirise the extremes of X, but be absolutely in favour of it in moderation, but satire isn’t so good at reflecting that level of nuance, or the concept of moderation at all.

Therapy, A Cat, and Growing Up in the 1980s

I started my sleep study last night. I had to wear a sensor on my finger and stick another one to my neck (it was wireless). The instructions for the neck sensor were on the phone that came with it and not on paper (I thought they had forgotten to send it to me). I didn’t sleep so well and I think I woke up a few times in the night, probably because I was worried I would knock the sensor off, although it stayed in place all night.

I did spend some time working on a profile for myself as a freelance proofreader and researched what fees I could charge. I still feel nervous about this, but I’m getting closer to it.

In therapy, I spoke about the negative feelings that I think working on my novel is prompting inside me (inchoate feelings of guilt and anxiety, mostly around sex). E thought I should put my novel on hold until we’re married. My therapist agreed, suggesting I put it in a box for now (metaphorically) as engaging with ideas around sex is just “re-traumatising” me and triggering feelings of guilt and anxiety when I work on novel. (I’m not sure I would have described these feelings as “trauma,” but I’ll put that aside for now.)

My therapist also suggested that I label as “undermining” my thoughts of guilt and anxiety rather than paying attention to them. We spoke about focusing on “empowering” voices about the love, good communication and so on that E and I have in our relationship instead.

In the evening I had chatan (bridegroom) religious class. I’m not sure it was a good idea to agree to do this in person the night before work. I’m not going to write about the class itself, as I’m still processing thoughts from it. I will say I found it hard to concentrate at times, at first from the heavy rain falling on the skylight ceiling, then from tiredness, and also from the cat that was walking in and out all the time. At one point she jumped on the table, stood in front of me and stared into my eyes as if she was trying to work out who I was and what I was doing in her house.

***

This was a comment I posted on the autism forum in a discussion about whether it is better to live as an autistic person now or in 1980 that I thought might be of interest:

As someone a bit younger (I think) than other commenters here, I’m finding this interesting.

I was born in the early eighties, so not born online, but computers, and then the internet, slowly crept into my life in my teens.

Things are mostly better now, certainly in my personal life, but partly because of technological change. I wouldn’t have met my wife without the internet, or managed a long-distance relationship without Skype or Zoom. And, while I’ve never really felt I “found my tribe,” I have made good friends online and am a lot less isolated than I would be without it. Blogging has been good for me to process my emotions, but private journaling never worked for me; it’s the interactions with readers that help me to write. Plus, like Shardovan [another commenter on the thread] said [of himself], I was probably “born old” and wouldn’t have fitted in whenever I was born (most of the music and TV I like are from the 60s and 70s, and the books I read tend to be even older!).

Also, although it came too late for me, it’s good that high-functioning autism is picked up now whereas there was really no awareness of it when I was at school (hence I didn’t get diagnosed until years later).

The downsides are the total sensory overload from omnipresent “devices” nowadays not to mention video adverts in shop windows and on the streets and even more noise. I find this makes me very uncomfortable, more so as I get older, and I’m not sure how much is my resistance to it declining and how much is that there are just more noises and moving pictures now. Sometimes I would like to live in a quieter era. As an Orthodox Jew, I don’t use computers, TV, phones etc. on the Sabbath and it’s very calming, but I still end up back on them straight afterwards (the downside of having most of my social life online, and of my wife being stuck in the US until her visa arrives).

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like being a teenager in the era of social media. Would I have made friends online more easily than I managed at school? Or would the kids who bullied me at school just bully me at home via Facebook? It’s scary to think about. The secondary school I attended has had three student suicides in the last five years or so, which terrifies me.

Exhaustion and Annoying Social Media

I was listening to a shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg from before Yom Kippur that I hadn’t had time to hear yet. It made me think, not for the first time, that it’s strange that the religious approach that resonates most with me (Jewish religious existentialism) is one of other-awareness and relationship (between God and myself and between other people and myself), yet I have a disability that makes forming relationships and perspective-taking difficult. Or maybe that’s the point: I have to do it consciously, because I can’t do it automatically.

Other than that, I was pretty wiped out today. I slept in late and didn’t do much other than listen to that shiur (it was pretty long, nearly an hour and a half) and go for a walk. I wanted to submit the religious thoughts I wrote a couple of months ago about the death of the Queen to a Jewish magazine, but on reading what I wrote again, it was very closely tied to that time, not just the Queen’s death (which they might potentially write about in their next issue, as it’s quarterly, so probably hasn’t been published since her death), but also to the time of the year, right before the Jewish High Holidays. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to see events in the world and suddenly get an idea of what to write about them and then quickly produce usable copy. I need time to think and plan and then I need to get time and energy to write, fitting around work and other obligations. It is difficult when so many Jewish publications seem to like very timely material. I don’t know how I can get inspiration faster.

I also wanted to work on getting together a profile to try to set myself up as a proof-reader, but ran out of time and energy, although doing this a couple of weeks before I go to America may not be a great idea anyway. I did have a Zoom chat with my parents and E about some things related to E and my future finances that was helpful and reassuring and E and I had our daily Skype call afterwards. I feel pretty video-ed out now.

***

Ugh, social media is awful. I’ve backed off from my tentative idea of friending more individuals on Facebook. I’d say it’s because of politics, but I’d be OK with calm and rational discussion of politics. It’s more because people online are over-excitable and looking for reasons to be offended. It’s like they regress to toddlers on a sugar high, complete with tantrums. I’m sticking as a member of some (fairly quiet) FB groups, but I was dismayed by how many people answering the “inspirational twentieth or twenty-first century Jewish book” question I posted about yesterday have listed books by Meir Kahane, the far-right, racist, anti-democratic, theocratic, pro-violence religious leader and politician who was for a long time beyond the pale in Orthodox Jewish circles, but who is now being posthumously rehabilitated in Israel.

It also seems that a lot of Doctor Who fandom is on video/YouTube now, which isn’t a format that I like or easily find the time to watch. I prefer fan thoughts in text form. So it seems unlikely I will be getting much further back into Doctor Who fandom. Even aside from a stupidly political fan blog post I saw today (there was a lot wrong with it, but I’ll just mention that it tried to argue that Doctor Who should only be produced directly by the state-funded BBC because capitalism is evil, then ended with a request to tip the author via his Patreon account, which seems a tad hypocritical).

“The red-eyed scavengers are creeping”

I kept waking up this morning and not getting up. I don’t know why. This left me feeling bad when I finally did get up around midday. I don’t know how much is habit, tiredness, autistic comfort or something else. I did get woken up about 7am and kept awake for a while by the rain – not by the rain itself, but by something (I guess a gutter or something similar) that was dripping loudly and regularly and was driving my autistic brain crazy. But eventually I did get back to sleep.

I feel pretty bad today, very depressed. I felt like I was fighting back tears a lot of the day. I know it’s too early to say if I’m having a few bad days or relapsing into depression, SAD or autistic burnout, but I worry that I am, and how that will make things so hard for E. I’m trying to stay focused and in the present, but it’s hard when I just want to curl up and sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing a psychiatrist on the 15th of November to discuss cutting my meds, but it looks horribly like I may have to stay on them, and who knows when I’ll get to see a psychiatrist again on the NHS?

I went for a run, just to do something. I hadn’t been for a run in nearly two months. It was a poor run, but I knew it would be; I’m just glad I managed forty-five minutes and nearly 5.5km (far from continuous running, though). There was very loud music playing, I think Jewish rock. Then, suddenly, about five o’clock, the music stopped and a lot of frum (religious Jewish) parents appeared with children. I guess there was a big birthday party nearby. Seeing the children made me feel vaguely bad that if E and I manage to have children, we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff for them. I know loving your children is more important than giving them toys or expensive holidays, but it’s sad for the children, who won’t appreciate that at a young age, and who will have to deal with the school bullies for not having the fashionable toys.

Now the noise is all Guy Fawkes Night fireworks. I guess I should be glad people are still celebrating it, as I thought everyone had switched to celebrating Halloween (not a major event in the UK when I was growing up), but it’s not necessarily good with an exercise headache and autistic reactions to loud noises. I tried to do some Torah study, but it just made my head hurt more. I will try to do a little before bed, if I can.

I still felt depressed after the run. While running, the line came into my head, “The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green” from T.S. Eliot’s A Cooking Egg (I got the quote a bit wrong, but corrected it here). I probably shouldn’t quote it, as it’s antisemitic. The “red-eyed scavengers” are almost certainly Jews (or “jews” as Eliot would have written it; as Rodger Kamenetz pointed out, Eliot repeatedly denied the Jews the dignity of a capital letter), as Kentish Town and Golders Green were (and Golders Green still is) very Jewish parts of London. Strangely, the material I’ve found about the poem online doesn’t mention this (you can be sure they would have pointed it out if he’d used a slur against various other minority groups). Even so, the line is powerful and I feel comfortable repurposing it to refer to the scavengers of depression, anxiety and OCD trying to creep in to my consciousness (or unconscious) when I’m exhausted. It’s an effort to keep them out, but if I make that effort, where will I get the energy needed to work, do household chores, fulfil religious obligations, write, exercise and so on? In short, how can I have a life if all my energy and brainpower goes on staying mentally healthy and vaguely functional?

***

It’s also harder and harder every day to function without E.

***

Responding to a comment from Adventuresofagradgirl (is this how you would like to be referred to here? Please let me know!) on my last post that God wants us to be good and to be happy and whether I write or not is secondary, I wrote:

I want to be good, but I feel I would find it easier to be good if I wasn’t on the spectrum. But presumably God dismissed that thought for some reason. I don’t know if God wants me to be happy, or how to achieve that. I worry that God wants me to write for some purpose, and if I don’t achieve it, that will be consider sinful or at least negative. But if I’m not supposed to write and devote time to it that should be spent on Torah study, volunteering, family, etc., that will also be considered sinful. It’s hard to know what to do or how other people navigate thoughts like this.

***

I want to post the following on the autism forum, at least the first point if not the second, but I lack the courage:

It’s over eighteen months since I was diagnosed autistic and I feel that I’m still processing what that means to me.

I still feel that autism is a disability to me rather than a difference and definitely not a “superpower.” My autistic traits are mild enough to be irritating and somewhat disabling, but don’t come with any benefits I’ve found yet. The only partial exception is my ability to spot errors of spelling and grammar. I would like to use this to work as freelance proof-reader, but I worry that that will involve a lot of skills I don’t have for networking and self-promotion. Autism is a drawback for those things. (My proof-reading skill doesn’t work so well in the office either, for some reason, and I make mistakes there.)

I want more than anything to write serious literary fiction, but I struggle with creating and motivating characters as well as using metaphorical language (I can understand non-literal language, but I seem to struggle to write it). I also think my writing tends to be overly-formal.

Also, unlike many people on this forum, I don’t feel that I’ve found my “tribe.” Autistic people seem to be too heterogeneous a group, and many of them too different from me, to be a group I can fully identify with. I dislike the term “intersectionality,” but my struggles seem to be primarily located at the intersection between autistic identity and Orthodox Jewish identity. I struggle with my autism particularly because I’m trying to live in Orthodox Jewish spaces, resulting in issues other autistics don’t have and I struggle with my Judaism because I’m practising it while struggling with autism, resulting in issues other Orthodox Jews don’t have.

Orthodox Jewish identity is fundamentally communal, whether regarding prayer (private, individual prayer is definitely considered inferior to communal prayer), religious study (which is ideally done in pairs and often in noisy, crowded rooms full of people arguing) and acts of kindness. As the title of an anthropological study of the shtetl (semi-autonomous Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) notes, “Life is with People”. It is not clear what can be done in the community for people who struggle to be around other people. This is before taking into account that Jews are, culturally, often loud and social, sometimes intrusively so (a generalisation, obviously, but rooted in reality, I think).

Orthodox Judaism lags some years behind the trends in the secular Western world. It is still catching up on awareness of mental illness; it will probably be some years before people begin talking about provisions or adjustments and leniencies for the neurodivergent. I’m not sure where I go in the meantime.

***

Facebook has been good and bad today, with some angry spost I didn’t really understand and a question on the Orthodox Conundrum group about non-Jewish books that have spiritual value. I probably over-thought this, and also realised that while I think Hamlet and The Brothers Karamazov have spiritual worth, I don’t remember enough detail about either to really justify recommending them, which is sad (especially as I’ve read Hamlet twice, once without notes and once with, and seen it (on TV) twice). In the end I went  for The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (on the dangers of playing God) and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. One plot thread is proto-Zionist, but it’s actually the other one, about a not-very-good person who’s made big mistakes trying to live a better life that is more spiritual (and more engaging, I thought).

There was political stuff (actually economic stuff) I wanted to disagree with on a blog, but I just didn’t feel up to getting in an argument. As I’ve said before, I think people rarely change their minds based on internet debate. I don’t like feeling people think I’m cruel or callous for decisions that are taken for pragmatic reasons when they know nothing about my thoughts, feelings or wider life (volunteering, charity, etc.). I do wish economics was a compulsory school subject, though.

It occurs to me that by avoiding discussion, I am perpetuating the problem, as well as potentially avoiding views that contradict my own and that may be true (although, to be fair, I do read some opposing views, I just don’t vocalise my responses. I think I’m probably better than most people about listening to the other side of the debate and being open to criticism of my own views). But I don’t really have the stamina to get into fights and there are not many places that I feel are safe for this kind of discussion.

***

I finished reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who over Shabbat. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there could have been a more balanced presentation of late seventies Doctor Who.

On to Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. In the introduction, the authors (Paul Cornell, who would go on to write for the revived TV series, plus Keith Topping and Martin Day) state, “We only mock Doctor Who because we are here to celebrate the fan way of watching television, a close attention to detail matched by a total willingness to take the mickey.” I feel that this doesn’t exist any more, or at least that I can’t find it. It’s possible that character limits on social media prevent such a complex way of engaging with a text.

Then a few lines later they state that calling stories with no name on screen by their official name on BBC paperwork rather than by the names common in fandom, “might be a mark of strict accuracy, but it could also be a sign of elitism” which, aside from referring to a now largely subsided fan argument of the nineties, shows that making something completely non-political into a angry and self-righteous political point for no good reason was happening even twenty-seven years ago.

Always Winter and Never —

I’ve mentioned before about not being in touch with my emotions. Today I’m not even that sure how the day went. Either a good day in which quite a few stressful things happened, or a stressful day in which nothing really bad happened.

J wasn’t in the office today. He’d picked today to drive to one of our other sites, but it turned out there were floods from the heavy rain and he couldn’t get in, so he went home and worked from there. I go in on the Tube, so it didn’t affect me. There wasn’t a lot to do, so I ended up phoning people who hadn’t paid their membership fees yet. It led to some awkward calls, although no one got angry with me (which has happened once or twice) and I did get two credit card payments and a couple of other people promising to pay soon, including someone who didn’t realise she’d cancelled the standing order to us, thinking it was going to somewhere else.

It got a bit lonely in the office by myself. I felt overwhelmed by the afternoon, which might have been the phoning or the several cups of tea I’d drunk. I probably drink too much caffeine at work, given I have low-level anxiety much of the time there. I have a cup of coffee at home over breakfast, a second when I get to the office, and sometimes a third if I feel really tired. Then a cup of tea for lunch and three or four more during the afternoon to keep myself going. I could drink decaf tea, but I sometimes find it tastes funny to me, plus part of me feels I need the caffeine, even if it makes me anxious.

I usually struggle with winter, but I feel much worse than I usually do at this stage. We’re still in the midst of autumn, let alone actual winter (in my head, winter starts in December) and already I feel I can’t cope. I miss E a lot. We’re not likely to get married before spring, which makes it (spring) seem impossibly distant. Winter usually feels like it won’t ever end, especially once we get past Chanukah and the bank holiday season and it feels like endless January followed by interminable February. Starting chatan and kallah (groom and bride) classes yesterday should be a step forward, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. I guess I still can’t believe I found someone who wants to marry me, with all that entails and feel it will somehow go wrong, because “obviously” I can’t be happy.

At the moment we’re waiting nervously for E’s visa. There shouldn’t be any issues, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any, especially given the Home Office is not the most efficient (or compassionate) organisation, and it’s under stress with Ukrainian refugees and the stuff in the news about over-crowding in refugee centres. At least I have my trip to New York at the end of the month to look forward to, even if there may be a very long wait until we can see each other again afterwards (I couldn’t go later in the year for fear I would miss my sister’s baby being born).

***

Yesterday in therapy I somehow got on to the subject of wanting to share controversial political views with people online. I say I don’t want to do it, then I seem to seek out people who don’t share my views and read what they post online as if I’m daring myself to disagree. (I didn’t say this in therapy, but another view comes to mind, which is that I’m trying to “collect” online friends with all sorts of different views to my own to prove to myself how tolerant and broadminded I am. I hope this isn’t true, because it’s basically using people for my own ends.)

I mentioned that earlier this year, I got annoyed about an antisemitic news story and wrote a two or three page satirical squib, a dystopian satire, to let off steam. It started connected strongly to the news story, but grew to take in a lot of other stuff I don’t like. E loved it and said I should expand it to a novel and for a while I did think about it, but I was already working on my current novel and decided to leave it for now. I am collecting ideas for it, though, and I would like to have a go at it at some point.

The fact that I was working on a different novel (although not far enough to absolutely have to stick with it) was a good reason to leave it for now, but I was also scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep being funny for 80,000 words. I’m learning tricks to jump-start narrative and character development in my writing when I get blocked, but I don’t know how to do it for humour. I guess I feel there is no way of doing it for humour: you’re either funny or you’re not. And I worry I’m not. I know this is the voice of the school bullies, and, as my therapist said, a bunch of teenage boys are probably not the best arbiters of whether something is really funny. But it’s hard to turn that voice off.

A bigger worry is offending people or upsetting people. I would really like to write a Swiftian satire parodying everything I hate about the modern world and that’s bound to upset people in our intolerant and cancelling age.

My therapist asked if there was an image that summed up my thoughts about creativity and putting controversial or satirical ideas out there and immediately I thought of the traditional sign for the theatre, with two masks, one smiling for comedy and one miserable for tragedy. It’s like I’m only allowed to use the tragic one (actually, tragedy can be comic e.g. Hamlet). The therapist suggested satire as a bridge between tragedy and other forms of comedy. It’s an interesting idea to play with, but I’m not sure where it will take me.

 ***

Doctor Who time: E and I are watching The Invasion (1968). It’s ahead of its time in that it’s about an evil Big Tech genius who wants to take over the world – so far, so 2022 – but it’s of its time in that the focus is on innovative hardware, not software (as it would have been in the eighties or nineties) or algorithms (as it would be now).

There’s a weirdness about some Doctor Who stories of the late sixties, in that the Doctor (a time-traveller from a super-advanced civilisation) doesn’t like computers. It’s never made entirely clear why, but it seems to be on the spurious (to us) grounds that they’re inhuman and inauthentic, stifling true creativity and humanity. The Ice Warriors is the story where this really comes to the fore, but it appears in others too, including this one. It’s where the programme shows its roots as primarily Romantic and concerned with emotional authenticity rather than scientific progress per se. This is why the Cybermen are the most frequently-appearing foe in this era, as they represent technology without humanity.

Although my main takeaway so far is that the music and sound effects in this story are really good. Sixties Doctor Who was more about the sound effects than the visual effects, with the late sixties stories blurring the lines between incidental music, sound effects and ambient atmospheres. This story has a score that sounds like a Western and sound effects that sound unearthly.

Social Media and Politics

Moodwise, today was somewhat better than the last few days. I didn’t think about Ashley so much, although I’m glad I still have therapy booked for tomorrow, as I think I will still have things to say. There is still grief when I think about her, but grief is the price we pay for caring about people.

I went to volunteering. I overslept a little, but got there on time. I felt a bit faint when we were having coffee at the end and ate a biscuit, even though I usually don’t. The diet still hasn’t recovered from Yom Tov: I ate chocolate last night and cheese for lunch today. I did finally take my blood pressure with my parents’ gauge (? Whatever it’s called). My pulse was OK, but my blood pressure was “high normal” (according to the NHS website), which surprised me a bit as it’s usually a bit low. Possibly the process of taking it was stressing me out. I should exercise more, I know, and probably drink less caffeine.

Aside from that, I did some work on my novel, re-formatting it in line with the submission guidelines I got a while back, re-reading the last chapter I wrote (this all took about an hour) and writing new material for half an hour or so. However, I do feel torn between writing this novel; researching this novel; re-formatting and pitching my first novel (probably not a priority, as I think it really needs a drastic rewrite, but it seems wrong to just leave it sitting there for now); and, on a completely different track, moving forward with setting myself up as a freelance proof-reader. On the other hand, because of all this, I did not have time to cook dinner or help Dad with something he wanted help with, so I felt a bit bad about that.

***

I’m in “social media anxiety” mode again (or AGAIN). I won’t go into the whole thing, but between feeling obliged to help people in distress on the autism forum, but not knowing how; people having a bizarre and rapidly personal argument about Halloween (of all things) on a Jewish FB group; and  trying to work out whether to follow a person who posts some Jewish, autistic and Doctor Who stuff that is potentially interesting, but also has rather different politics and just seems to use social media in a way that doesn’t really work for me.

I feel like I’ve never got the hang of social media, that I would like to connect with people, but struggle with the aggression social media brings out in some people and also struggle to connect with all aspects of some people when I only connect with a part of them. There are people who I probably would get on with in real life who seem overwhelming on social media, either because of the volume of posts or the stridency of their views in writing, probably more so than in person. I find this frustrating, as usually I think of text and online communication as being easier for me than in person.

I also probably over-think political differences. The reality is that, over the years, I’ve been friendly with people with different political views to me, but I fear being stigmatised for my views, which pushes me to be silent, which does not always work out well. I don’t identify with any conservative political party (far from it, I hate most of the ones I’m aware of), but my temperament (not exactly what I mean, but I don’t know a better word) is somewhat conservative, at the very least with a small ‘c’. Still, I am used to hearing (from family, friends, acquaintances, the media, social media, etc.) that conservatives are rich, privileged, cruel, uncaring, even evil… I feel uncomfortable with this, but because I am conflict-averse, I just keep quiet. But this probably does not do my mental health any good.

These days I do pretty much assume that anyone with strong progressive views would hate me if they “really” knew me, so I say nothing. The irony is that, as I said, I dislike all the conservative political parties I know; I refuse to vote according to a party line and always try to think critically about parties and issues before coming to a decision about anything; I try to be open-minded and think for myself; and I think it’s a bad idea for any party to be in power for more than two terms, that sometimes we need more conservative policies and sometimes more progressive ones and that it’s bad to be too doctrinaire about parties and policies, but that we need to be willing to be pragmatic and flexible.

I also feel that when people present their political views in a very dogmatic way, they can become incredibly pompous and it’s hard not to laugh, which isn’t polite. Watching a lot of Monty Python lately has given me heightened awareness of how silly so much of life is and how ridiculous it is that so many people take themselves so seriously when they are so silly. I guess I find a lot of what I think of as “performative wokeness” very funny and that makes it hard for me to take people seriously sometimes, even if I agree with what they’re saying. I actually agree with people with very different political views more often than you might think, but the “packaging” can get in the way.

Decompression Time

I weighed myself the other day. The good news is that I didn’t put on any significant weight over the Yom Tov (Jewish festival) period, despite eating lots of the wrong foods. The bad news is that if I didn’t put on any weight, it makes me feel that my weight is determined primarily by my medication and not by my diet. This makes it hard to really get the motivation to resume my diet, or quasi-diet. It just feels like my weight has only vague relation to what I eat. Ditto for my cholesterol, which has been slightly too high for ages despite cutting down (not totally) on high cholesterol foods.

***

Work was not particularly noteworthy today, but I finished in a better state than most work days recently, perhaps because I spent the last hour testing keys in the display cabinets to see which, if any, were duplicates, as J wants to make sure we have two keys for each cabinet in case we lose one. This at least got me away from my desk, my computer and my ruminations.

I got a flu jab on the way home. I’m not entirely sure why the NHS thinks I was eligible. I suppose they have Mum down as immuno-suppressed still. My attitude to government and NHS stuff these days is, if they offer it, take it, because I know how hard it is to get anything from them when you try to get it. I haven’t had any serious side-effects yet, but my arm is rather sore.

When I got home, I spent some time reading the Jewish newspapers and watching Doctor Who rather than going online. This was in line with my discussion with my therapist yesterday about taking time to decompress when I get home from work before going online, which is too stimulating, primarily in terms of the screen, but also in terms of engaging my brain to read blogs and news sites and to blog myself. I did feel a little faint, but that passed once I ate and drank, which makes me think dehydration and low blood sugar are distinct from whatever causes the lightheadness that doesn’t pass with food and water. I do keep forgetting to take my blood pressure.

My therapist said I should see decompression time as being distinct from relaxation time. I’m not sure that I fully understood this. I think she meant I should just take time to potter about, talk to my parents about my day (although I guess this could be stressful peopling), sort out odd things that need sorting out in my room and so on rather than setting aside time for a constructive relaxation activity (if that’s not a contradiction) like reading a novel or watching TV. However, I’m not really sure that I’ve understood this right.

Thinking about the distinction (if there is one) made me realise that I see relaxation time and creative time (writing) as the same because Judaism has no real concept of either. Both relaxation and creativity are really valued as means to other ends rather than ends in themselves. Neither are easily ‘justified,’ so it’s hard to say I need to devote time to relaxation and writing fiction as well work and religious obligations like prayer and Torah study. Relaxation and writing feel like things I do for me and should be kept in proportion when compared to religious things. Blogging is probably something else in this category. Relaxation, blogging and fiction writing are all things I need to do emotionally and things I think have value, but I feel guilty for doing one, let alone all three, when part of me thinks I should be praying or studying Torah. I am not sure what to do about this.

***

My favourite Doctor (Doctor Who Doctor, not GP) was always Tom Baker, perhaps the most eccentric of the Doctors, with his thick curly hair, long multicoloured scarf and general air of counter-cultural craziness. In recent years, however, I’ve felt it shifting to Patrick Troughton, whose more subtle performance evokes a quieter form of individualism and non-conformity.

At the risk of over-thinking this, I find myself wondering if this indicates a shift in the way I view the world, from thinking that the only alternative to drab conformity is a wilful, extrovert weirdness that I could never manage to thinking that it is possible to have a quieter, more thoughtful form of individuality that is willing to stand quietly at the back until it has something to say, but can still dominate when it needs to.

Or I maybe it’s just down to a shift in what I find funny and clever.

Overthinking Character Traits and Novel Research

This is another post salvaged from being eaten by WordPress by copying and pasting into a Word document and then back into WP. This sometimes ruins the formatting; I’m sorry if it does that, but I don’t have the time/energy to sort it. I got up early for volunteering. I really wanted to stay in bed, but I needed to go to health and safety training for volunteering. I struggled to work out if I was feeling well enough after yesterday, but decided I did. When I got to the bus stop, I received a text from the person who coordinates volunteering (I’ll call her N) saying that we should bring photo ID to get into the building for the health and safety talk (usually we’re in the garage and don’t need to go past security). In addition, it quickly became apparent that there were bus delays. Other people at volunteering who get the same bus think that they quietly run fewer buses during half-term week; I don’t know if that’s true, but we had the same trouble last time it was half-term too. I phoned my Mum to ask what she thought I should do and she suggested I walk back home and she would give me a lift (I was already going to be late at this stage). As I walked back, I felt lightheaded again. It did seem to be linked strongly to the ID/bus stress. In the end, I got to the training half an hour late, but once I was there, the lightheadedness stopped. Training and volunteering itself were fine (although I did wonder a bit if we really needed a whole hour to tell us how to pick boxes up from the floor safely), but I left before coffee. I thought there would be no coffee this week because people had had it during the health and safety training and decided I would just go home after finishing my usual tasks. The coordinator said there was going to be coffee, but autistic rigidity took over and I “couldn’t compute” the change of plan and went home without really understanding why. This behaviour is frustrating. Even when I do it, I can see myself doing it and know why I’m doing it, and still can’t change it. I felt lightheaded again on the way home, but on this occasion it may have been travel sickness from reading on the bus. *** I sorted the business with the fine for the late submission of my tax return. It turns out that my tax return was late. I feel stupid about this, although I know it’s not exactly my fault; people I thought I could trust told me the deadline was different to what it was. I do still feel like I’m The Autistic Person Who Can’t Cope With Life though. I guess the lesson is: don’t trust people, look everything up yourself. To be fair to myself, there was a whole complicated question about whether I even needed to submit a tax return for that tax year, owing to a complicated work situation, so I should forgive myself a bit. *** Afterwards, I worked on my novel for an hour or so for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t write anything, just worked on my plan, as since I last worked on it, I’ve decided I need to make some big changes to parts of it (the plan). This took longer than expected and I haven’t finished it yet. This was partly due to procrastination, but also due to lightheadedness, possibly triggered by the stress of feeling that changing the plan is a bigger task than I anticipated. *** Lately I’ve been catching myself with a lot of negative self-talk and inner criticism. I can’t work out if I’m criticising myself more or if I am just more aware of it. Is it good or bad? Bad that I’m doing it more or good that I’m catching it and trying to stop the thoughts. I think I’ve been avoiding getting stuck in those thoughts, even with things like the tax return today. *** I’ve said that I feel I have disadvantages and problems from being autistic, but that I don’t have the positive traits that other autistics say they have. I still think this is mostly true, but I’m not sure if it’s completely true. I certainly do blame autism for some of my shortcomings. But I wonder if I’m reluctant to attribute my positive traits to autism for fear that that would mean they are no longer my achievements, but just flukes. My character trait that I value most strongly is my integrity. During years of burnout/depression where I didn’t have a job or a relationship or many friends, I did at least value my integrity and think that God would value it too. Some would say that that kind of integrity comes from an autistic rigidity and unwillingness to break rules. That may be true. Does that mean that my integrity is not my own achievement, or that God will not value it? There is a Jewish idea that God determines everything about a person except whether they will be good or bad. That would seem to indicate that my integrity is my own achievement, yet it does seem influenced (at least) by my autism. Is this just another element of the problem of free will? After all, everyone’s morality is influenced by their environment to some extent. How guilty is a kleptomaniac? Conversely, it’s much easier not to steal if you are not homeless and hungry. Does being autistic mean I’m a less good person because integrity comes more naturally to me or not? It’s tricky. *** One thing I’m dealing with, in the context of my novel about a pornography addict, is wondering whether, or how much, I need to engage with the academic discussion around whether pornography addiction is real, or if behavioural addictions in general are really addictions in the sense that substance addictions like alcoholism are. I feel like if I don’t do some research and put something into the novel that shows I’m aware of the controversy for and against, I will get called out, but I’m not sure how relevant it really is to the narrative. From my point of view, the fact that I’m writing about a pornography addict pretty much shows that I’m at least open to the idea that it’s an addiction. I also don’t know how much research is “enough.” I don’t want to do a psychology PhD just to write my story! But I also don’t want to be accused of pushing particular views or treatment modalities when that isn’t really my intention. This has come to my attention again since seeing a post on Facebook a while back shared by someone I respect, a couples therapist. The post she shared was written by different couples therapist and argued that pornography addiction isn’t a true addiction. Unfortunately, the author seemed to have his own axe to grind, essentially blaming wives of addicts for not being sexy enough for their husbands or nagging too much and so on. That’s not quite what they said, but they did basically say that sex addiction is rooted in relationship problems, which are usually two-way. This does not really fit with the blogs I’ve read from addicts and their partners, where root causes in childhood trauma and other negative experiences of the addict are taken for granted by both addicts and partners. It did seem a bit like the author is a couples therapist, so argued for a couples therapy intervention, whereas an addiction therapist would argue for an addiction intervention. I’m just scared that if I send my protagonist down the route of treatment modality X (probably an addiction/Sexaholics Anonymous modality, as from my research so far that seems to be where the recovering addicts I’ve encountered have come from), then I’ll be told that this is wrong and I should have opted for modality Y (e.g. couples therapy). But if I combine them (e.g. the protagonist wants one modality, his wife another), that could just seem incoherent. In a world where everything is politicised and books are judged for the negative emotions they “trigger” as much as their artistic content (“By writing about treatment X, I felt erased for following treatment Y”), it is hard to know what to do. Possibly I’m over-thinking this.

Fred Karno’s Army (Super-Long Autism Post)

The last two days were pretty tough. We’re currently in Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival, where work is permitted if necessary, but advised against. J is taking the days off, but I went in to work yesterday and today because I want to save my holiday days so that I can go to New York to visit E in a few weeks. As with the first days of Sukkot, we are still eating meals in the sukkah, a booth representing the booths the Israelites dwelt in in the wilderness, and, by extension, trust in God.

On Wednesday, I got up extra early, said extra Shacharit (Morning Service) prayers (although still skipped a lot), ate breakfast in the sukkah, went to work, ate lunch in the work sukkah, felt lonely, down and exhausted (I think it was just myself and the security guard in the building; I might have heard one more person around, but I’m not sure) and came home not feeling well. I had dinner with my parents in our sukkah, felt overwhelmed by Dad’s attempts to get me to join in the conversation (I don’t have selective mutism, but I do go quiet and communicate mostly in monosyllables, grunts and nods sometimes…), eventually watched Doctor Who, Skyped E and went to bed.

Today was worse. I woke up feeling exhausted. I’m not used to working two days running, pathetic though that sounds (especially as I don’t quite work full days either). I got dressed, but decided I was too exhausted to daven (pray) before eating breakfast and struggled with the removable roof over the sukkah, realising too late that I wasn’t opening it properly. I had breakfast, davened, left for work a bit late, somehow did a little Torah study on the train and got to work not-too-late, but glad that J wasn’t in today to see it. I worked slowly, feeling numb and sluggish. The security guard wouldn’t take off the roof of the sukkah, as he thought it was going to rain again (it didn’t), so I ate part of my lunch (raw vegetables and an apple), but not my sandwich, thus at least observing the letter of the law of not eating bread outside a sukkah during Sukkot, but becoming very hungry (and somewhat sick from drinking tea on an emptyish stomach).

I had a boring afternoon enlivened by self-loathing after someone phoned to pay membership fees. Phone calls automatically come in on the phone extension on J’s desk. First I couldn’t transfer the call to my own desk as I was using the wrong extension number, so I ended up taking the call at J’s desk. Then I panicked and couldn’t find the account of the person who phoned on J’s computer to tell him how much he owed or work out where anything was on there, even though it should have been easy. I just went into autistic-and-socially-anxious brain freeze. He said he’d phone back next week, so J is bound to hear about it.

The incident left me feeling useless. If I wanted to forgive myself, there were reasons I struggled, but I should really have been able to cope by now (nearly two years in the job, albeit at only two days a week). A few minutes later, I did successfully transfer a call to my desk and take a credit card payment, but I still felt that I took too long and sounded like an idiot.

The plus side was not having had to do the Very Scary Task this week when it seemed likely that I would.

I ate my sandwich in our sukkah after I got home, read James Bond and felt better. I thought I would blog and wrote most of this post, hoping I could relax afterwards, but it was a mistake. Dinner was late, and I had to eat with my parents and their friends if I wanted to sit in the sukkah. I knew this and still made the bad decision to blog instead of watching Doctor Who. Honestly, it’s like I have some kind of neurological issue that makes me make bad decisions…

So then I had to “people” and mask and generally act like a neurotypical human being with four other people (that’s a lot!), three of whom don’t understand me at all and one who sort of gets it, but not always and only from the outside. I don’t mean that in a critical way, but it’s true. Anyway, my pizza was good, but I ate too fast, partly from hunger (it was half an hour later than the agreed start time, which I thought was late already), partly from autistic exhaustion and partly just because I didn’t want to be there. I think I was communicating with “Leave me alone” autistic body language and speech as they didn’t really try to talk to me. But it was OK. I ate quickly and went in, watched Doctor Who and Skyped E.

 ***

Sometimes I doubt whether I have autism. I thought my diagnosis would at least mean the end of those doubts, but apparently not, as so many people on the autism forum sound “more” autistic, whatever that means, even the ones who seem to be doing better than me. I wonder if there was some mistake, if I’m just a useless person, not a neurodivergent one. Today should have refuted these doubts, but didn’t, or not entirely, not the phone issues or the sound of the cleaner hoovering being painful to me. Normally I would cope with the hoover, but if I’m already struggling with autistic exhaustion, my tolerance level is much lower. I know you can’t become “more autistic,” but that’s how I feel when suffering autistic exhaustion. That’s what they don’t tell you about autism, how changeable, even arbitrary, it can be.

The other day I saw something on the National Autistic Society website about autistic exhaustion being caused partly by having to meet other people’s expectations. I can believe it. That’s why work is so stressful for me. There are specific tasks I struggle with, like phone calls and the Very Scary Task, but most of the work is routine, if boring, paperwork and spreadsheet work. But it’s having to be masked all the time, trying to ‘pass’ as ‘normal,’ even though I’m probably not even that weird a lot of the time (I don’t know. Ask E) and even though the number of people in the building is small. On the plus side, maybe this is a positive sign regarding E and I having children. I was worried about the extra exhaustion, but I don’t think I bother masking with young children (why bother? They don’t), so maybe it would be OK. I mean, the childcare would be exhausting, I know, but I wouldn’t have to factor in extra masking issues (I don’t mask with E, that’s why she’s so special).

***

I mentioned recently about so many people on the autism forum, myself included, wanting help, and no one actually saying what help would be useful. I feel that my ideal form of help would be for someone to follow me around for a few weeks and suggest workarounds for things I struggle with. (After I realised this, someone suggested I apply to Access for Work for a work coach. I’m not sure if that would be exactly this thing I want, or something enormously different and probably useless and annoying.)

I have spoken to some autism workplace advisors in the past. I can’t really remember much of what they said, although I have notes somewhere, but I struggled to apply what they said to my specific work environment (classic autistic issue) and often they didn’t know my own training and skills (how many people have suggested to me that I move from librarianship into archival work when they have totally different methodologies and rules? They just both happen to involve preserving bits of paper).

Suzanne recently differentiated between “people who can get things done” and “people who can make things happen.” In her words:

I think I can best explain the difference by considering various tasks in the operation of a warehouse that distributes donated food to food banks.

List A. Things I would be very good at:

  • Checking in a delivery against the pack list and noting shortages, overages, incorrect items, and damages
  • Updating inventory in the database and running reports
  • Picking and packing orders

List B. What I would be hopeless at:

  • Finding sources of funding
  • Negotiating deals and agreements
  • Recruiting and managing staff and volunteers

List A is about getting things done. List B is about making things happen.

Although she didn’t say it explicitly, List A/getting things done is autism-friendly. List B/making things happen, isn’t. I thought librarianship would be mostly List A/getting things done and maybe it was and maybe some of it still is (cataloguing), but I struggled to keep the job that was more List A, ended up in a super-autism-unfriendly job (albeit mainly for sensory/social reasons) that was still broadly List A and in the end felt out of my depth when they tried to change it to a List A/B hybrid and I left it. I hoped I would find something similar, but quieter, but it seems like so much library work is List B/making things happen.

This feeling was reinforced by the magazine I used to get from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals), which, aside from going super-woke, seemed to be all about library management and soft skills stuff for dealing with other librarians and library users, not for maintaining collections of books. Not that it shouldn’t be like that, necessarily, just that it doesn’t fit my skill-set. It was only reading Suzanne’s list that this really clicked with me. Also, I had hoped librarianship would offer lots of opportunities for part-time work or job shares, but, sadly, I was wrong about that too, and as this week has shown, I simply can’t work full-time, or anything approaching it.

I’ve had some job interviews, but rarely got further. Job interviews are terrible ordeals for autistics anyway, and irrelevant to my skill-set, like making a blind man go over an obstacle course just to get a job that involves sitting at a desk, answering the phone. Then I stopped getting interviews. Now my library career is on hold, but I think it’s basically over. My skills must be pretty atrophied, which is probably why the interviews dried up. My CV looks awful anyway, massive gaps between jobs and almost as many jobs out of my sector as in it.

(Incidentally, my voluntary work at the food bank is very List A.)

***

The other thing I would really like help with is energy accounting. This is supposed to involve working out what gives you energy and what drains your energy, then making sure that the latter does not exceed the former. All well and good, but it’s hard to quantify energy gain and use, particularly as so many factors can affect them. I have more energy in the summer than the winter. I come home from work with energy in the summer; I just want to drop in the winter, even though it’s the same time of day and I’ve done the same work. If I’m dealing with tiredness, hunger or strong emotions (the latter of which I often can’t interpret or even notice properly), energy is lost faster, which means that energy loss can be exponential: the more tired I am, the faster I get tired. Some things drain and energise in different ways: writing drains mental energy, but energises through allowing creativity. Being around people usually drains (except E), but how much it drains depends on who it is and how the conversation goes. Sometimes it can energise a bit too. Shul can provide spiritual invigoration and social energy drain. And so on. It just seems so complicated, and arbitrary.

Surroundings can drain energy too. The world is increasingly busy and full of moving images and noise. There are video screens everywhere: shop windows, bus stops, phone screens out of the corner of my eye on the Tube. And so much noise, admittedly worse in town. And everything is so fast. I know people have been complaining about life being too loud, too bright and too fast for two hundred years, but it feels worse even than when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties (just pre-computers/internet – we eventually got both, but were late adopters).

I spend too much time on my own phone and laptop. I say it’s because the internet is my social pipeline, and it is, but much of it is procrastination with no meaningful social connection. I know I can’t stop it, but I want to at least try to be more mindful of what I’m doing. Even so, it probably contributes to my energy drain and discomfort. Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), when I don’t use my phone or computer, feels so much better and more natural. I wish I had the will-power to bring some of that into the week.

***

It’s not just autistic self-doubt: lately I’ve been having writerly self-doubt too. I wonder how I will write characters when I have autism and alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand my own emotions). Until now I’ve been working on a mixture of my own experiences, things I’ve read about (real people or fictional characters), and sort of “reasoning out” what someone might logically feel in a situation (as if feelings are logical!), but this seems inadequate.

Further, while, unlike some autistics, I can understand metaphor and idiom, I struggle to deploy them in my writing. I have also read (on Wikipedia, so it must be true) that people with alexithymia lack imagination (and have boring dreams). Both of these things (imagination and dreams) seem to be true for me. I read science fiction and fantasy, but struggle to imagine my own non-realistic scenarios, instead turning to stories from the newspapers and blogosphere and wondering what I or people I know would do in such a situation. This seems ‘wrong,’ although logically there is no such thing (logic again – as the Doctor said (The Wheel in Space), “Logic… merely enables one to be wrong with authority”).

I wonder again if I want to write for the wrong reason? I enjoy the process of writing, of nurturing ideas and finding words, or at least sometimes I do (I don’t think any writer enjoys it all the time). But I feel I want – not fame, exactly, but to be taken seriously. I know I’ve written about this before. I want to prove myself to people in my past who have probably forgotten all about me. And I want to prove myself to myself. Relatedly, I also want to somehow use my writing as a magic vehicle to ask for forgiveness from various people I’ve hurt (hurt mostly through being autistic, so if I write about autism, they might read it and intuit that I’m writing about myself, and about them, and that I’m apologising. There’s a lot of maybes here).

Beyond this, I think the “being taken seriously” thing is partly because not only did I vaguely think I would be an academic, but I spent the happier parts of my adult life among clever people, probably not that much cleverer than me, but who were allowed to develop themselves intellectually in a healthy way without breakdown or burnout. They were in academia or other intellectual roles that were interesting and meaningful to them.

Is intelligence or wisdom any more praiseworthy or less arbitrary than physical attractiveness? Yirmiyah (Jeremiah) says otherwise (9.22-23). I don’t feel the need to prove my attractiveness, so why my intelligence, knowledge or wisdom? It’s mostly a product of genes, upbringing and schooling and while I played a part in that, a lot of it was out of my control. Yet somehow I feel the need to prove myself, and that it would somehow be good for me if I did prove my worth to my satisfaction.

***

I’m watching Doctor Who to de-stress. The Androids of Tara is one of those late seventies stories so hated by fandom on original transmission for largely spurious reasons. I really like it. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun. Meanwhile, one of my few remaining fan friends posted a lengthy analysis today of the trailer for the next episode of contemporary Doctor Who, the final episode for Jodie Whittaker and a part of the BBC centenary celebrations.

I watched the trailer. It seemed like most twenty-first century Doctor Who: fast, flashy and over-stuffed, but it was twenty-three seconds long, I’m not going to voice an opinion of the ninety minute special it was taken from based on it. I’m not particularly excited about contemporary Doctor Who, or, indeed 100 years of the BBC. I prefer twentieth century Doctor Who, even if I know what’s coming next. Or maybe that’s the point. Maybe, with autism encouraging a love of routine and a fear of uncertainty, knowing in advance what all the bad bits are is reassuring (“bad bits” as in upsetting plot developments and “bad bits” as in badly written/made). I know what to expect and can prepare. That would explain why twenty-first century Doctor Who seems to improve with age for me. I hated the 2007 season (David Tennant’s second) at the time, but now I see it as a high point of the new series, if not of all time (even though I still dislike certain elements. Especially The Lazarus Experiment).

***

I was going to explain about Fred Karno’s Army, but this is nearly 3,000 words and I’m too tired. I just mean that I feel like a ramshackle amateur under fire. Google it for the historical context.

Quotidian Piety

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

Good things that happened today:

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

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

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

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

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