On why I don’t think it’s helpful to say: ‘the world should be atheist’. Despite, being one.

I am, as I’ve previously talked about, an atheist. However, just because I am an atheist, doesn’t mean I think that everyone in the world should be.

I know many would disagree with this point, and I mean no offence, however the way I see it is that religion is something that emerged from society, rather than something that was handed down to earth from a Divine plane. Although, majority of religions began an incredibly long time ago, I don’t think they are a relic of the past. If the dominant religions and ideas of God that exist today had never been formed, I think we would re-create similar philosophies and organisations to fulfil a relevant need that religion offers.

Religion holds a very important function in many of our lives. It offers a sense of purpose, place, identity, direction and helps manage the fears of chaos and mortality. Of course, pointing out the emotional benefits of religion, is not my way of invalidating it. I always feel reluctant to voice my ideas on religion, because, judging by how some people react, there is the implicit assumption that because this is the way I see it, I am saying: ‘those who are religious are wrong, or stupid.’

However, this isn’t the case. I really don’t mind what another’s theological belief is. I don’t think we have as much control over how we see the world than we tell ourselves. I think our views are dictated as much, if not more, by emotion, than ‘controllable’ thought. In the same way that I don’t feel it is a choice to be an atheist, I doubt that for others, their religious belief feels like a choice either.

In my opinion, an argument over religious belief will not lead anywhere, because these are emotional standpoints. Telling a person what they should believe, is as pointless as trying to convince a person whom they should be romantically attracted to.

I know there are many people who separate a belief in God from organised religion. However, I am referring to a belief in a divine Being within a religious movement, the same as or similar to one I was raised in as an orthodox Jew.

Although not everyone will agree on whether or not God, in whatever manifestation, exists, one thing everyone can agree on is that a belief in God exists. And I think this is a far more relevant point.

Billions of people in the world are religious. Religion is an important part of so many people’s lives. Religion has been a relevant part of society for thousands of years. It is irrational to think it will just disappear, because a few atheists are shouting about it on the internet.

Therefore, when someone may talk about how everyone should be atheist, because, for instance, they’re of the opinion that it will lead to a more tolerant society, they are talking about something that will never actually happen. Therefore, it is just talk – just another hollow vision of utopia that leans all its weight on an ideological stand point.

Any vision of society which has a single philosophy and belief system is an oppressive society for those who don’t share that view. And this very idea of a society with a single, dominant ideology, may be the very thing they are accusing religion of propagating.

I know this isn’t a new point, but I think that for those who have difficulties with some aspects of religion, it is far more valuable to discuss and work on a changing face of religion, to work with what we have, rather than pushing the adolescent notion of rubbing out the blackboard and starting again.

I know of many religious people who are doing just that. And I personally think it is admirable.

 

 

[Thanks for reading :) I just did a couple of radio interviews on Joy FM Spirit Lounge and J-AIR, if you care to listen.]

Discussing the reactions of the religious community to my writing.

This post original appeared on the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival  website, where I’ll be on two panels August 24th 2pm ‘Coming out the 21st century – Who Cares?’  and 4:30pm – ‘Getting published is really heard, but…’

I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish family in the suburb of Caulfield. I was religious throughout my childhood and early teens. However, at seventeen I found that the religious life wasn’t for me.

The sect of Judaism I was part was Lubavitch, who are quite integrated into main stream society, so the change wasn’t too much of a culture shock for me. There were little things – such as not wearing a yamulka for the first time in public, and eating non-kosher. I remember the first few times I didn’t wear a yamulka, I was acutely aware of the air on my naked hair and it made me feel uneasy. And it was a while until I could eat non-Kosher without feeling slightly guilty.

However, everyone around me, including religious friends and family, were accepting and respectful. Even if they may not have agreed with my choices, they were still inclusive and loving.

I really don’t hold any resentment about my upbringing. And I certainly didn’t when I started writing my novel. I guess, since it’s about a homosexual boy in the orthodox Jewish community, when I spoke to many people about it there was the automatic assumption that I would be bitter and the book would be an attack on the community.

Yet, I was very careful as I wrote my book. I ensured that I took a measured approach, that I researched and had discussions with people to get a fair perspective on the issue. The intention was that the main character, Yossi, would learn to find a place for himself, as homosexual, within his faith. So, to show Yossi’s love of Judaism and his community were crucial to showing why he would want to remain religious.

As I was writing, I realised (possibly being a little arrogant), that the book was likely to get published. And, to be honest, I did become slightly afraid about how it would be received.

I guess I was scared I would be ‘attacked’. As soon as I stepped into the public eye, I would be told off regularly and people would bad mouth me on the internet. I knew none of my friends or family would, but there’s something scary about putting yourself out there to complete strangers.

What I’ve learnt though, in my very minor and probably short lived stint in the public eye, is that as long as I’m careful about what I say, I edit what I write based on the input of others and I’m always open to discussion, most reasonable people will not ‘attack’ me. How a person reacts to something they don’t agree has more to do with their personality type than anything. Some are able to acknowledge the differences in others and are genuinely loving and kind, so that no matter what I might think, even if they don’t agree, they will still be lovely people. And those who do attack me are – to put it bluntly – just jerks.

Everyone in the community, even those I’ve those I’ve never met, have been truly lovely. I’ve had some early readers say that they felt I was too kind on the religious community in my book. There were a wide variety of reactions from the characters when Yossi finally comes out of the closet and they advised me that they felt that some of religious characters whom I’d depicted responding well to Yossi coming out, wouldn’t have responded as well in real life. But, I’d written warm characters who responded to Yossi with love, because that has been my experience of the community.

Perhaps I had romanticized my upbringing. But, as I wrote it, I felt as I was simply being honest.

 

 

On the benefits of no longer believing my own delusions.

[Quick pre-post note: My novel's now available in all ebook versions, including Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Apple :) the Sleepers Publishing Website has all the ebook links as well as options to purchase the softcover copy from within Australia and overseas.]

I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression when I was seventeen. After a month or two of therapy my shrink started me on antidepressants, which I found stunted me a bit too much emotionally. However, following this, he began me on a different medication, which worked well.

I didn’t magically feel better, but rather my anxiety levels were lowered to a point that I could face up to certain truths about my life that before I found too terrifying to acknowledge. In being able to acknowledge them, I could then do something about them and make decisions and take risks that would allow me to build a life I would be happy to live.

In having the new found capacity to acknowledge certain fears, I quickly realised, while off the medication, just how much I had been taking refuge in delusions in order to shield myself from the negative emotions associated with certain fears of life.

The big one being what I would ‘do’ with myself as an adult. If I ever had asked myself that in the past I would say: ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ This would help dampen the immediate feelings of fear that arose, however I was too afraid to take any practical steps towards this goal.

I’d be afraid to read because I felt jealous of other authors, I was scared to talk to anyone who’d had any publications, because it challenged the fact that I hadn’t had any. Yet still, I was convinced it would happen.

I see this type of fear as living with a dog cone around my neck, not allowing myself to face up to some of the scarier aspects of life and narrowing my perspective on things. Then I seek out those who will affirm my delusions, saying I’ll be a writer, they just know it, while avoiding those who challenge me, whether explicitly, by asking how practical I was being about this ambition, or implicitly, by having simply made clear life decisions in which they had embraced uncertainty and taken some actual risks, whether they were ‘paying off’ or not, that I noticed and felt challenged by.

I remember when I started this new medication, I’d also just had an operation to have a stoma. This operation gave me a lot more energy and all of a sudden I had all this time to fill and all this time to think. And these fears, which I’d been able to push from my mind before, by simply lying to myself, wouldn’t go away. I found that I no longer believed my own bullshit.

I went straight to my therapist and asked if I could have a higher dose of medication. He said no. The dose I was on was fine. The medication isn’t mean to stunt me like the first ones we’d tried had. These fears and concerns I’m facing are very real and need to be acknowledged. The mind’s ‘angst’ is important.

So, I went home and had a mild panic attack. I’d have to practically try something. I’d have to acknowledge the quality of my writing, research places to send stories to, start reading as widely as I could and put myself out there. And if I worked really hard and stuck with it for my whole life, I might still end up without any achievements I’d be proud of.

Of course, in practise, this path to publication has been far less dramatic, as I’ve mentioned in several other posts. And honestly, I roll my eyes a little at how dramatic I’d been. But, this is probably because I’ve already done everything I’d set out to do. I’m sure if someone took my book, my degree and all my experiences away from me and said: ‘now start again,’ I’d feel as terrified now as I did then.

On How Getting a Novel Published Isn’t Just About Persistence

{A quick pre-post P.S – my novel is now available on Kindle, Kobo and Nook ebook. Apple versions to come very soon. The Sleepers Publishing website have all the links to grab the Kindle, Kobo and Nook, as well as the option to purchase the soft cover within Australia and overseas. It’s also available in Australian bookstores.

The post first appeared on www.aerogrammestudio.com.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was seventeen and was unwell for a number of years. I had an operation when I was twenty-four, which finally awarded me some control over the illness.

With my new found health, I felt like I wanted to ‘start my life’ and decided to start sending my writing off for publication. I had been writing since I was eight years old and had an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from Melbourne University. But, at this point I’d had no publications.

Things moved fairly quickly for me and within a year, I had three short stories published and was speaking to a publisher about my novel. Although, that specific book wasn’t accepted, the attention from the publisher gave me the confidence to write another one, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, which was accepted by Sleepers Publishing and was released on July 1st.

I’m not mentioning this to show off – seriously. I’m just hoping to show that, at least the way I see it, I had a pretty easy run in terms publication. I didn’t have to push through challenges and keep going despite all odds. I didn’t play out some filmic success story. I just did what I loved and the publishers have done the rest.

I honestly don’t think I have the resilience to handle years of rejection. The only thing that would have gotten me through being constantly rejected would have been a ‘dream’, in that when I get published I wouldn’t have to worry about making friends, or gaining respect, or earning money.

Often when I hear others speak about what the dream of being a writer is – it’s that they get to stay at home, tap away at whatever they’re writing whenever they feel like it, and do whatever they want for the rest of the day.

This isn’t what it’s like to be a writer, it’s what it’s like to not have to work. When I was a younger, I did see being a writer in this way – as an escape from a life of office work. I guess I thought I’d be rich from my writing and receive a lot of validation, so, even if I didn’t ‘do’ anything all day, I could still feel productive and valued.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a large part of the reason I pursued writing was to feel like I’d ‘done’ something with my life. I certainly did and still do feel the pressure to achieve.

Social pressures are very real. So much of our sense of self is built through socializing, to think of ourselves as complete, unattached individuals is a little far fetched.

Personally, I don’t think I would have been okay without addressing these pressures – without pursuing what I love, without trying, without ‘doing something’ with my life.

I’ve met people who don’t seemed fussed about what they do. And I’ve met some who feel uncomfortable being single, while for me, I have no problem with it.

There is never a blanket way we need to live, but I think it’s important we address our personal anxieties and wants in life, even if we can acknowledge that these pressures and wants are social constructions.

Being a writer was something I really wanted and I felt it was crucial I accept that, rather than pretending it’s not something I cared about and growing up to regret never making an effort to build this career.

But, there’s a nasty flip side to this train of thought. In following ‘dreams’, we can become demoralized if we don’t ‘achieve’ them. It also belittles ‘regular’ jobs. To strive for a dream as a writer and then work in an office is considered a failure.

I work in an office and have for a while and will for probably all my life – despite the fact that I’ve published a novel. And I see no shame in it. Yet, every time I got to a literary event, it’s like an unspoken shame to admit that you don’t make any money off your writing. There’s a feeling of embarrassment about it – at least the way I sense it. But, you know, maybe I’m projecting and I’m not as comfortable with my office job as I tell myself.

Anyway, back to it – honestly, if I’d continuously had my stories knocked back, I wouldn’t have kept on trying. I would have stopped sending work for publication, written for myself and become a teacher – something I still think of doing, alongside being a writer.

Sometimes, ‘giving up’ isn’t failing, it’s getting on with our lives and realizing we don’t need the affirmation of the world to feel worthy, we might just need the love of a few. I sometimes think that never giving up is a sign of confidence, while, at least the way I’ve experienced it, whenever I’ve locked myself into a goal with blind determination it’s because I’ve been so desperate to feel accepted.

As I’ve mention previously on this blog that a lot of the emotional needs I was seeking through writing, such as affirmation, acceptance and love, I was far better off seeking from the people close to me.

It seems on the surface that to quash someone’s dream and tell them to be practical, is mean. It’s as if I’m standing on some elevated platform where I’ve ‘made it’, and I’m gloating while telling others not to try. I understand why others would go for it. It really is fun and rewarding being a writer. It isn’t necessarily overrated and, sure, it’s worth a crack. And, yes, some may get published and make a lot of money and earn a lot of respect.

But, to trap ourselves in an endless loop of rejection seems unfair. I know to stop trying when we don’t succeed with something can seem like ‘conformist’ thinking, while pursuing our ‘dream’ against all odds is some sort of liberation and true freedom, a show of strength and confidence in being who we are. But this ‘dream’ business is just a marketing technique, it’s an ideology like any other.

Writing is such a beautiful and inspiring activity. I only feel truly awake when I’m in the midst of a story. Going about my everyday business with constant company of beloved characters, is – not to be too romantic – euphoric. I love the craft of writing – the structure of a story, syntax, character development, metaphor, pacing – it’s all so enveloping and rewarding.

But, the ‘dream’ promise that comes with getting a story published is a whole other thing from the craft. It isn’t real.

Personally, I think we should keep trying to get published for as long as we are enjoying it, remind ourselves that it’s fun and not something that we have to do, take long breaks from it, pursue other interests, pursue relationships and face up to and accept many of the anxieties we may be trying to suppress by focusing blindly on ‘succeeding’, such as, the fact that most of us will need to have a job for the majority of our lives.

I think if I’d kept on trying to get published while being constantly knocked back, I would have become bitter, jaded, reclusive and resentful. And saddest of all, I probably would have learned to hate writing. And, knowing myself, it’s just something I wouldn’t have put myself through.

 

 

{Thanks for reading -I just wanted to mention that I was lucky enough to be a guest on ABC Radio National’s program Books and Arts daily last week where I discussed my book and blog. It was an out of studio interview where we went around Caulfield to places I mention in my novel and that have sentimental value to me. Naturally, we started at Glick’s. If you want to listen, here’s the podcast . http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandartsdaily/eli-glasman/5562824

 

Invitation to the launch of The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

I know some of you reading this will be overseas, however if you’re in Melbourne, I would like to invite you to the launch of my debut The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew (Sleepers Publishing), which is about a homosexual boy in the Melbourne orthodox Jewish community. It will be at Readings bookstore in St Kilda, 112 Acland St, at 6pm on July 24th. The book will be launched by the esteemed Arnold Zable.

If you’re a fellow blogger, please come over and introduce yourself. I’ve found my blogging experience to be the most encouraging, wonderful experience and I’d really like to meet you in person.

The book officially went on sale July 1st. If you can’t make it to the launch, but would still like to read the book, you can get a hardcopy from Australian bookstores or the usual places online. The Sleepers Publishing website is a great place to grab it, as it has options to purchase overseas. The Ebook is available worldwide on Nook, Epub, Kindle and Kobo through places such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

I’d really, really love to hear what you think. if you’re the book reviewing type, and you choose to write a review of the novel, it’d be great if you could put the link to the review in the comments of this post. It’d be nice to have a reference of blog reviews in one spot. Also, I’d obviously be keen to read it (who wouldn’t) and I want to ensure I don’t miss any.

Please write me with any feedback you have on the novel and pass this invitation on to anyone whom you think may be interested.

Thanks so much

Eli Glasman.

On the importance of coming forth about feeling sick.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was seventeen, however I was secretly unwell for about two years before that. After several years of operations and different forms of medication, my doctors finally managed to help me gain some control over the illness by giving me an ileostomy, which is where you have a stoma fashioned and wear a colostomy bag.

Often this operation is short term and is used to give the large bowel time to heal. However, for myself it would be permanent. With the colostomy bag came my health, so I was in no way bitter to have the operation. However, as I began to reflect on my illness, one thing I was curious to know was whether, if I hadn’t have kept the illness secret for so long, I would have had to have such an extreme operation. I know, though, things could very likely have turned out the way they did no matter when I’d come forth about my illness. It was just something I wondered.

Crohn’s Disease is an embarrassing illness. The frequent need to go to the bathroom and pass gas made it hard to admit to. I was also scared of what would happen when I admitted to being unwell – doctor visits, procedures, medications, operations.

Being young too, or perhaps this is with any age, I was reluctant to admit to showing physical vulnerability.

Eventually the illness became too disruptive to ignore. After I went to the doctor, had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I remember thinking, quite melodramatically, that I had this illness that would dictate so much of my life and it had someone else’s name attached to it. I saw this as symbolic of the alienation from my body – doctors could tell me why I felt why I did, but I couldn’t. It didn’t feel like my body was mine anymore.

I got over myself pretty quickly and soon started to feel much better as we continued treatment for the illness. Despite all the medications and operations I had, it was still better than the period when I was lying about being sick.

Although I still had cramps, the odd threat of incontinence and some side effects to medications – I now had, (queue eye-roll), hope. At least I knew I was doing something to get better. And now that I’m finally well, I wish I’d owned up to how sick I was feeling much, much sooner.

Why I’m against recreational drugs.

When I first went to university, I was lonely, as many of my friends from school had gone to a Yeshivah, which is a live-in school where you learn Jewish studies. I was eager to make new friends and find a place outside of the orthodox Jewish community.

I remember, in my first year of university, one young man asked me whether I smoked pot and invited me to have some with him. It wasn’t the first time someone had asked me this. There was marijuana around in school, as it probably is everywhere.

I remember thinking at the time, that this was possibly a turning point. As comforted as I was about the idea of always having a constant friendship group, I felt slightly suffocated by the idea that we would always need to be connected by marijuana. And, at least in the way I experienced it, there was often harder drugs very near the use of marijuana.

I felt panicked that if I fell into a crowd like this, if I based my friendships on drugs, I’d become sluggish. I was scared that if all I did was sit around getting high each weekend, I’d never have the motivation to pursue what I loved to do – write fiction.

As is often the case with creative expression, there are many ideas floating around, which I’ve found to be misconceptions. One of these is that drugs are conducive to creative expression.

They’re not. I can be a puritanical about the passion to write, but I honestly believe that anyone who has felt how exhilarating it is to build a story in your mind, to find and engage and grow with characters would know that you need to have all your wits about you to make it happen. You need to be thinking clearly, with the full potential of your mind, to bring a work of fiction alive.

Drugs do not enhance the capacity of our minds. From my understanding, what many drugs do is tap into the reward centers of our brains and release chemicals that our mind would normally reserve for when we achieve something we hold to be important. When we bypass the acts of achievement and reward ourselves for doing nothing more than taking a pill, we belittle ourselves to nothing but a bag of chemicals. We dampen our ability to feel something so passionately, just because it means so much to us.

This is why I find it surprising when recreational drugs are seen as some sort of act against conformity. I can think of nothing more restrictive to a person’s individuality and autonomy over how we feel and think than being addicted to recreational drugs.

I’ve heard some say that drugs open our minds and give us access to our unconscious. The term ‘unconscious’ is quite a complex and loaded one. Understanding of the mind has moved on a lot since this term was created. From my understanding, it’s arguable about whether we can even have access to our unconscious. To say that recreational drugs gives us that ‘access’ is over-simplistic. I think the use of the word ‘unconscious’ in that way stems from the drip down effect of psychoanalytic terms into everyday conversation, in that sometimes we can use terms we don’t fully understand to romanticise very simple things.

Despite the obvious risks to our mental and physical health, recreational drugs are also often used as a dangerous and clumsy form of self medication for mental illnesses. In doing this, we can exaggerate existing mental illnesses and not seek proper medical attention. And what we need to do when we’re unwell, is seek help, not go out and pretend that we’re okay and mask our pain with the use of drugs.

I know there are those who can use drugs in their younger years and then stop and go on to live full and healthy lives. But, there are also those who can’t. There are those who can’t get off drugs, who become addicted, who lose all their friends, their families and lose so much of their lives – who become victims of a drug culture.

Many of us are often conscious of the exploitation of workers in the products that we consume. I don’t see how recreational drugs should be exempt from a similar consumer discretion. Whenever we purchase recreational drugs, even if we know that we’ll be okay, we are still contributing to an industry that causes people’s lives to be torn apart.

Even if we were to say that it doesn’t always happen, nobody can deny that it still does happen, that it’s still a risk that somebody, somebody we may even know and love, will become addicted. All I keep wondering is, what is so important about taking drugs that we’re willing to take this risk?

For me, when I was younger, any interest I may have had to try drugs stemmed from wanting to fit in with a crowd, curiosity in how it felt and the desire to have fun. For me, all of those desires have been satisfied with writing fiction. This craft has connected me with the most interesting people I’ve ever met. And, as for the curiosity and sense of fun, every emotion that may have been waiting for me with drugs, I know I’ve found in writing fiction, as I know others have found in other aspects of life, such as in the person they love, in their children, in meditation, in sport, in art, in music, in work, in religion, in travel, in nature, or even in the simple knowledge that they’re alive.

 

{Thanks for reading. Quick P.S. – There’s a new Events and Interviews page, which shows a few of my upcoming talks. And here’s a You Tube video a young bookseller made of reading the advance reader’s copy of my novel on the plane to LA and leaving it in the LAX airport. I thought the video was quite sweet and the music’s really nice. He also wrote a wonderful review on Goodreads.}