Luftmentsch writes diary posts about his life, including searching for his place in his British Jewish community and challenges he faces with autism and certain mental health conditions. This piece starts with an account of a work task he faced for his job; it was first published on his site.
I slept late again. It didn’t surprise me, as I got to bed very late after the family dinner yesterday and I was quite exhausted and peopled out from the day. I left my phone on my bedside table (as opposed to on the other side of the room as I usually leave it) in case J phoned about the Very Scary Task and I hoped I would hear if a text came in (my phone has stopped pinging when texts come in and I can’t make it do it again). I dozed through the morning, part sleeping, part waiting for a message, but nothing came in. I texted J at lunch time and he told me where the holdup was. I was glad I hadn’t missed something (a call or a text) and caused the delay.
I was hanging on all day waiting for a call or text, being reluctant to start doing anything else in case I had to stop. Then, just when I thought it wasn’t happening today, about 4pm, I texted J to confirm and he said he had just received the form needed for the next stage, so I suddenly had to get myself into work mode. I had to make a number of phone calls, including some with poor reception. I played a lot of telephone tag and waited around for people to get back to me. I found it hugely stressful, and it was late in the day, when I had intended to cook dinner. By 6pm I felt physically tense, as if I’d triggered my flight-or-fight response. I wasn’t completely finished until nearly 7pm, by which stage I was pretty exhausted. I was too tired to cook and ate frozen pizza instead (which I think I didn’t cook properly — I was so tired and hungry that I didn’t notice until I was three quarters of the way through eating it, which probably was not healthy). I wasn’t working on this task continuously from 4 to 7pm, but I was working quite a lot (and it was hard to do other things when I was expecting to be called back), so I asked J if I can have an hour off tomorrow and he agreed.
I might have to do it all over again tomorrow or next week, as we do have to deal with this task a lot. It really is the core task of our organisation. J usually deals with it as he works more days than I do, or is at least on hand if I get into trouble, but as he is on holiday, I said I would deal with it.
I also think I talk too fast on the phone because I’m nervous and as a result people can’t hear or understand what I’m saying, which has led to some slightly awkward conversations.
Other than that, I didn’t do much. I finished my devar Torah, did some Torah study (finished reading Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage) and went for a walk as I hadn’t been out the house since Monday.
As well as feeling burnt out and hanging in suspense about the Very Scary Task, I’ve been pondering something about creativity and my place in the Orthodox Jewish community. I thought a bit about it yesterday, but didn’t really want to write about it, but I keep running into it online again. I guess I had two interactions that seemed to take place at opposite ends of a spectrum, and I don’t like either end.
One interaction was on a Jewish website where I said that telling more positive stories about the Orthodox community would depend on the community (a) placing more value on creativity in general and (b) being more accepting that good art is “warts and all”; you can’t create good art that is polemic or kiruv (outreach) with no awareness of nuance. The site administrator felt that (a) already happens (which in my experience is largely untrue) and that the role of Orthodox Jewish art should be to celebrate the Orthodox community, which makes me feel a bit annoyed.
The other extreme was finding an article by a former friend of mine who was a writer in the Orthodox community, but who has now left it. He left I think largely for political reasons, upset by how many Orthodox Jews supported Donald Trump, but also by the slow progress of social change in the community. It’s hard to focus on my feelings here, as he actually has upset me on a personal level a lot over the years and I don’t really feel that he’s a friend any more (and I probably held onto the friendship for longer than I should have done).
He wrote about leaving the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community because it wouldn’t change. I wondered, based not so much on this article, but his other writings, if he equates creativity with political radicalism, that making art is the same sort of process as fighting for socio-political change. Obviously a lot of art is political, but I’m not sure it’s inevitable or even positive. Certainly in the Orthodox world there seems to be a benefit for producing apolitical art, or at least less radical art, although I think my former friend would see this as the community suppressing dissident artists.
I saw this article yesterday and I wasn’t going to write about it, but then today I came across an article by his wife saying that Orthodox artists must produce art that attacks the status quo in their communities, and that art attacking the Orthodox community by those who have left is aimed at improving the community (I don’t think a lot of it is, which isn’t to say that it’s necessarily bad or invalid). But then, maybe even art that just mirrored the community would be deemed antagonistic by people who are in denial about the extent or even the existence of problems in it.
I guess both extremes make me wonder if there is no room for real art or literature in the Orthodox world and I have to choose either my religion or my craft/hobby/aspirational career/whatever-my-writing-is. I want that not to be the case, but I worry that it is. E says that she finds my attitude to religion more compelling than that that she has found elsewhere in the Jewish world, which is flattering, but makes me worry that I’m in a religion of one (or two).
I admit that I used to want to “shake up” the Orthodox community with my writing in some vague and probably narcissistic way, and certainly I’m aware that I’ve mostly chosen serious topics to write about, both until now and in my ideas for future writing, but I feel that more and more that I should focus my writing on just describing the world as it seems to me (even if it’s a fantasy/science fiction world) rather than celebrating it or attacking it. It reminded me a bit of an article I read recently by a textile artist who was ‘cancelled’ from an exhibition. She felt that art should be about looking closely at reality, but too many artists nowadays are just showing what their politics tells them reality is, or should be, rather than what is really there.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m over-thinking things, over-thinking my writing if not other people’s.
Related to this, one rabbi whose blog I read (it’s now been deleted) used to write about “fringe Jews,” Jews on the outskirts of the religious community, and how we can reach out to them. I guess there are a lot of them/us: neurodivergent, physically disabled or mentally ill; addicts; LGBT; doubting; shy; conflicted; abuse survivors; abandoned; older singles; divorcees; young widows; infertile couples… The people who, in some way, hang on to belief or observance, even just to a shred of it, despite all these obstacles.
I have this kind of fantasy about putting together some kind of informal network of fringe Jews or just being able to befriend them somehow, although I’m not really suited to anything involving social contact with strangers. To create a space for I-and-Thou encounters and dialogue, although I’m not sure what that would involve, exactly. I guess it comes to mind because my former friend set up an online space that functioned a bit like that, although it was mostly a creative space, but I think he saw it partially in political terms and I saw it more in terms of empathy. I don’t know if it’s still functioning.
Luftmentsch, visionofthenight.wordpress.com, Aug 18, 2021