When my mother died, it was just as the dot com bubble was bursting. I was between jobs. Tech was pivoting to spyware and I felt burned out by Silicon Valley. I decided to move to music full time. I applied for Masters programmes and started playing in a flute-fronted rock band.

My dad died in June and I’ve realised how burned out I feel from my teaching job. Years of Tory cuts are hitting British higher education hard. Kent decided to stop offering music and I decided not to participate in the teach out. My other university Goldsmiths, is also doing major cuts. I haven’t asked if my job there will exist next year, but I’d bet that it won’t. I saw an advert for a band and answered it. They’re a flute-fronted rock band.

(Honestly not sure how I feel about that.)

What’s next? I don’t know. I went back to uni to get better at writing music and instead I threw all my energy at teaching. I want to write music.

A friend of mine, only a few years older than me, just died of cancer. Her funeral is the day after tomorrow.

And I keep thinking of the composer of my favourite string quartet. Ruth Crawford Seeger got diverted into musicology for several years, due to her association with Charles Seeger. And at some point, she had enough of it and decided to return to composing. She felt her best music was still ahead of her. Then she got cancer and died. No music was ahead of her.

I feel like I’m stepping off a cliff into an unknown, with death nipping at my heels. Will I survive this change? Probably. Probably. Probably.

Book me for a gig. I need to stay busy.

Teen Idols

Once upon a time, 33 years ago, I was clearly a troubled youth. I was 14. My parents wanted to help. Could I just tell them what was going on?

In a terrible miscalculation, I told them. I came out as questioning.

My mum panicked and sought out advice. She turned to her mother’s Catholic friends who suggested a hard line approach. My mum could push me towards heterosexuality by the strategic use of homophobic harassment. Her contacts further urged her to use “tough love” and throw me out of the house.

She tended to agree with the bigots, but she balked at making me homeless. I look back and know now that it’s possible to love and hate at the same time, in the same breath, as the same gesture. I spent four years in a perfect synthesis of maternal Catholic love and hate.

Things improved dramatically after I left home. My mother eventually, mostly came around. And then, with little warning, in 2002, she died.

My dad, who had virtually no speaking part in this drama, never talked about this. I don’t even know if he knew what was going on. I’ll never know. He died in June.

According to Kiddushin 17b, there is a Rabbinic law that allows a Jewish convert to inherit from his gentile father. He splits the inheritance with his brother so that the gentile gets the religious items and the convert gets money.

We delayed my dad’s funeral for a few weeks due to travel difficulties. My brother proposed stretching this out to at least five months. Instead, I took over planning. I booked a Catholic church, a priest, an organist, a florist, and a caterer and made arrangements with the cemetery. The priest asked which readings to use. The organist asked what hymns to play. My brother did not respond to these questions, so I did. I listened to hymns on YouTube and read gospel verses, searching for something at least inoffensive.

My dad was Catholic. His friends were Catholic. I stayed close to the community norms of what he would have expected and presumably wanted.

The sages say, in the case of ‘a convert and a gentile who inherited the property of their father, a gentile: the convert can say to his gentile brother: “You take the idols and I will take the money.”’ But I took the idols and placed them for the funeral. I wrote a check to the Catholic church, whose schools educated but harmed me. Whose followers tormented me and loved me. Whose hospitals are allegedly right now gambling that they can safely but illegally deny every kind of healthcare to trans people, because they have deep pockets and trans people don’t.

I didn’t want the idols, but I couldn’t escape them while also doing right by my dad. I tried to pass them off to my brother, but didn’t. Kiddushin says, ‘Once idols have come into the convert’s possession, it is prohibited for him to exchange these objects with his brother, as he would thereby be benefiting from idolatry.’ They’re mine now, but any benefit is counterbalanced by harm. I could atone for this on Yom Kippur, but I feel I shouldn’t have to. This is the opposite of what I felt when actually doing the planning. It had to be done, so I did it.

The end of a difficult relationship brings intense focus to the difficulty. Here is a murky not-knowing. But the missed conversation about my teen years feels like a relief. It’s better not to know. There were no good answers. I took only those idols that I had to take.


So this is the time of (the Jewish) year when one is meant to apologise for one’s misdeeds.

As someone raised Catholic, I just have a fee-floating sense of guilt that I’ve probably wronged or at least annoyed everyone in my proximity at least once over the year.

Obviously, one apologises as things arise, so the point of this season is trying to perhaps become aware of ongoing or systemic things I might be doing? I’m not sure. This is why I’m reading so many books, trying to get a sense of the milieu and philosophical underpinnings of Jewish thought.

I feel like teshuvah is an especially good thing for addressing issues in relationships (or in tight-knit communities, which is where many practises arose). Often, my spouse hasn’t told me about weekend plans and I get annoyed, but also I didn’t ask. Forgetting to ask is very much an ongoing thing for me. It’s not just manners, but it also risks creating the impression that I’m not interested. I am interested and I could communicate that better.

So in the coming year, I think I should be a more active listener. Most of my friends just volunteer what they’re up to instead of waiting for the polite question that never comes and I appreciate that, but I could be better on this.