Sunday, March 28, 2021

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 3: Asking for a favor

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 3: Asking for a favor

I'm going to ask a favor. A really big favor. I don't know if anyone will respond and I don't know, ultimately it might not matter one way or the other. But for the next few minutes I'm going to get personal with you, as personal as you ever have and  probably as personal as you will ever see me again in this show.

I have found it hard to do the past few of these shows. I've had to make myself do them, push myself through them. To be clear: It's not the being on camera part, it's not that, it's the prep work, the background, the following the news, the assembling of sources, the editing different bits into a coherent story, the gathering of the graphics, the laying out what goes where when and for how long, all the prep work that goes on before we get to camera.

It's not that I don't want to do it, it's that, well, I don't want to do it. It feels overwhelming, too much. I know it's only every two weeks, but it still feels overwhelming.

I have two reasons, better yet two explanations for this. One is that I am approaching the one-year anniversary of the sudden death of my wife, who went from complaining about an upset stomach to, well, dead in about 11 hours. And this being a year ago it was of course during the first surge of the pandemic, a time when I couldn't be with her in the ambulance, I couldn't even be with her in the ER.

Donna was, as the song says, the wind beneath my wings. She bore me up. And I've realized in the time since that I lost not only my heart that night but my spirit. I've dropped out of things that I was involved for the sake of focusing on making my way through the days.

This was the thing I didn't give up, didn't drop. I did for a while - which I think was natural - but the thing is I almost didn't come back at all. But I did. And I keep trying.

But there's another thing, a second thing, now. It's related to a phrase I made up to describe a feeling. Well, sort of made up. I’ve heard others use it but I know I used it before I heard it from anyone else, so even if I didn’t originate it, I still made it up for myself.

Anyway, the phrase is “The world is too much with me.”

The world is too much with me. It describes those times when I become aware. Truly aware. Emotionally, viscerally, consciously aware of the level of pain in the world around me, aware of the suffering, the loss, the despair, the desperation, the bloodshed, bigotry, the mindless hatreds persisting for generations over differences that in the long run of history don’t even rise to the level of petty. Aware that somewhere in the world, right at this very moment, someone in Yemen is dying of malnutrition with US acquiescence, someone is being brutalized by the Myanmar military, someone is being dragged to a "re-education" prison in China for the crime of being Uyghur, some Asian-American in the US is hoping to finish their grocery shopping without being sneered at, spit on, or attacked; that at this very moment, someone, somewhere, is being tortured, that 21 million people around the world are suffering with COVID, that despite the gains that have been made, nearly 10% of the entire population of the world lives in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 a day and over two-fifths survive on no more than $5.50 a day - and everywhere, everywhere, there are the tears of the suffering and the tears of the mourners except for the dry empty eyes that have no tears left to cry.

Most of the time I intellectualize. I know the numbers, the policies, and the politics; I rant and rave and denounce and decry. But I intellectualize. The rants are based in morality, the denunciations drawn from logic, but still there is an emotional distance, an emotional insulation if you will, between that and the rawness of the physical reality, and both the anger and the hope that lies behind it are driven less by passion than by principle.

And yes, the anger is driven by hope. As I wrote some years ago,
[e]ven many professional grouches (like me) are actually unregenerate romantics whose sharp words are honed on the inexplicable, indefensible, yet utterly unshakable conviction that things not only can be but must be better than they are.
The wind beneath my wings
But sometimes, just sometimes, I am aware and that "unshakable" conviction gets shaken. The experience is something like the almost-cliché one of looking at a clear night sky and feeling how small you are compared to the universe. Except without the panache and without the awe. Just with the overwhelming. The feeling is not inspiring. It’s debilitating.

I hope I offend no one by relating it to a description of, a hypothesis about, autism. I have heard it suggested that autism can be understood as a breakdown of the brain’s ability to filter sensory input, so the child is overwhelmed with information, unable to determine what information reaching the brain is more worthy of attention than any another information.

We filter all the time, we couldn’t get by if we didn’t. For example, and this is a question I've used in talking to people about meditation, what is your left little toe feeling right now? If you pay attention, you can sense it, feel it in your sock or your slipper or against the rug or whatever- but until you paid attention to it, you were unaware of it. But that sensory input, those nerve impulses, were reaching your brain the whole time. Your brain just knew they were unimportant and so you ignored them at the level of awareness.

It's the same as the experience I imagine almost every one of us has had of being startled by a noise - only to realize that it was actually because the furnace or the refrigerator turned off, had stopped making a noise. The sound had reached our ears which alerted our brain to it the entire time but we dismissed it from conscious awareness until a sudden change indicated something that might require our attention.

How would you, how would any of us, function if we were trying to consciously deal with every bit of sensory input our brain is receiving at any given moment - everything seen, everything heard, everything felt, smelled, tasted? We couldn’t. We'd be overwhelmed. And we well might, as autistic children often do, focus almost obsessively on some object or some simple activity in a desperate attempt to establish some order, some sense of control.

It’s something - a little something - like that for me. And please understand, I am not equating my dark times with autism, I'm only using that hypothesis about it to illustrate what I'm trying to explain. Which is that at times like this I tend to withdraw to, to retreat to, and focus on, computer games, crossword puzzles, sci-fi reruns, and books on science history. That is, to things that don’t involve dealing with the “real,” the present, on-going, events-unfolding, world.

Understand, this is not a feeling that there is only suffering, pain, and death in this life. It is not some sort of hip existential angst about the dark hand of fate. Even at such times I know there is beauty, happiness, even joy; that people fall in love, make love, are loved; that children play and laugh; that friends embrace; that there is learning, growth, discovery; that at this very instant, someone, somewhere, is being amazed by a leaf or a star or the antics of an animal or what they see through a microscope.

So it is not despair in the usually understood sense of the term. It is, rather and again, an overwhelming, a debilitating, sense of, awareness of, the totality of the pain that others are suffering, a sense of the sheer enormity of the task before us. The sheer weight of "so much needs to be done." It just doesn’t seem possible to do it. It’s not despair in the sense that it seems there is nothing good but it is a sort of hopelessness in the sense of it seeming impossible to have an adequate response to what there is that is bad. And from that bad emerge the cries for help, the calls for justice, the demands to do something, and every cry, every call, every demand, seems as worthy of respect and response as every other. Every issue seems as worthy of being addressed as any other. Every bit of related news seems as worthy of being covered as any other. The result is that I feel paralyzed, exhausted, and doing things like doing this show seem so irrelevantly small in the face of what there is to do, so idiotically pointless, that I struggle to find the energy to do it.

Which is doubly unfortunate because it can become a reinforcing cycle: It seems pointless so it doesn't get done and that just emphasizes the pointlessness so it's even less likely to get done and so on - which just undermines my ability to do here what I want to do, what I want to contribute.

During another low period, just about three years ago, I quoted something from the very first issue of the print version of "Lotus," which was a newsletter I published for a couple of years in the 1990s.

Some [folks] are good at petitioning. I'm not. Some are good at fundraising. I'm not. I lack both the focused concentration necessary for large-scale organizing and the patience for phone-banking. The list of my inadequacies is embarrassingly long.

My strength happens to be words. Advocacy. Writing. Giving speeches. And like that. So doing this is, simply, something I think I can contribute.

My dream for "Lotus" is that it can be a voice of conscience and a tool in an on-going movement, something of use to the many who keep on keepin' on, something of value to those whose skills in other areas so greatly exceeds mine. Something that helps.
That also was and is the idea of this show. To be something that helps. And when I hit a low like this, I truly can't help but wonder if it does and it seems to small and insignificant as to wonder what is the point of doing it.

So this is the favor. If you think what is done here is worth doing, if you find it helps in some way, if it informs or inspires or just keeps your spirits up, drop me a line at

Even as I say that, I feel that I shouldn't, that it will seem like I'm just fishing for compliments and that in any event there's no reason for you to have to deal with my moods.

But if you do, thank you.

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