This is how to cross the street.

If you’re standing on the right side of an intersection, wait until a car on your left has passed fully through that intersection, which confirms a green light, rather than just a left turn only signal for cars coming towards you.  If you’re on the left side of an intersection, wait until an oncoming car passes through that intersection, again confirming a green light, but in this case signifying that cars on your right won’t turn into your path, which would happen if there was just a left turn signal rather than a green light. As far as bicycles and the occasional Prius are concerned, do the best you can.  Never assume you have a green light just because another pedestrian is walking into traffic

I should mention this is how to cross the street when you can’t see where you’re going.

Hi. My name is Michael. I’m visually impaired, and there’s a good chance that someday I’ll be completely blind.

That’s the truth and I can’t change it.

Ah, the blog. I think we all know that one of the most pressing issues of our time, other than the almost criminal apathy about the decades long absence of beloved 1970’s General Mills monster cereal underdog (underrmonster?) Yummy Mummy, is the critical blog shortage in America. I mean, have you seen what’s coming out of China lately? We simply have to step up our output. I finally came to the conclusion I need to do my part. For America, you see.

Although I’m a storyteller by trade, I have to admit the extended navel gazing that seems to be part and parcel of the blogging gig hasn’t been part of my nature. “You’re the storyteller, not the story.” That was the mantra of one of my favorite news directors, so I tend to get antsy when I see too many capital I’s in a blog, mine included. Still, I think I have something to say, so there will have to be a balancing act. Hopefully, I’ll err on the side of information over indulgence. Bear with me.

The story so far:

I’ve been a storyteller for the entirety of my adult life. My medium of choice has been the camera. For ten years, I scratched that itch by working in television news, both in front of and behind the lens. First as a reporter and a photographer (plus one, just one, night as an anchor… let us never speak of it again), then as just the reporter half of a reporter/photographer twosome. I left television news in 2003 and started a video production company – a fancy pants way of saying I became a freelance videographer/editor. I’ve worked mostly with nonprofits, with the occasional foray into documentary editing.

I’ve also been visually impaired, to one degree or another, since I was a teenager. The details are, methinks, a longer story for another post, but the basics are easy enough to relate. I lost the sight in my right eye when I was thirteen. I lost a large part of the sight in my left eye twelve years ago – enough to trade in my driver’s license for a bus pass, but not so much that I couldn’t figure out a way to shoot and edit. Frustrating but doable. You’d be surprised what you can do with 20/400 eyesight. This year… six weeks ago, in fact, I lost most of what was remaining. And losing what very little of my sight that’s left is… if not inevitable, very much a possibility.

So… that happened.

It can be a tad… let’s say disheartening to sit, as I am now, in my studio full of cameras and editing equipment, and not be able to use any of it. I’ve used stronger words, too. I like shooting. I love editing. I miss both very much. There’s a line in the movie “Singles” (the 1992 Cameron Crowe classic which, I am convinced, nobody but me either likes or remembers) when Campbell Scott’s character, describing his cubicle based work crafting designs for a new rail transit system as “making music with my fingers.” He was being facetious, but I’ve always been serious about that sentiment. Whether I’m behind the wheel of a tricked out HP workstation, trying to make NewsCutter do what the Avid sales rep promised it could do, or hunched over the keyboard of a Macbook Air on the redeye from San Francisco to Chicago, proofing scripts and sending out call sheets. Making music with my fingers. That’s when I’ve felt most like me.

So of course my thoughts these past several weeks have centered on how I could possibly keep doing what has been the defining aspect of my life in this new world of… well, if not sightlessness, extremely limited sight.  I’m not totally blind.  At least, not yet, whispers my subconscious from the back row. He whispers, but I can hear him just fine. Fogs and blurs, distortions and warps. This is the lens through which I see the world. The words “creative vision” sure take on a cruel irony. Doesn’t this turn of events make the last twenty-five years completely pointless? This is the shout from the front row.

My fears can be summed up in one word: useless. Yes, other people with other problems (and who are, let’s be clear, in far worse shape than I), worry about other words. Words like helpless. pitied. Or the big one: death. For me, number one on the hit parade is not being useful.

My tools don’t work. They’re old and worn out. Now what?

Here’s where I landed on this. Of course, there’s a story.

My first reporting job was in Sioux Falls. It was cold. I was broke. It was also the best job I ever had, not counting the summer of 1986 at Little Caesar’s.  So… much… free pizza. Wednesday through Friday, I got to work with a photographer. Weekends I worked solo. My gear was… unwieldy. All but unrecognizable to photogs shooting today, except perhaps from an evolutionary perspective, the way Homo Erectus kinda sorta looks like us, but if one showed up at your office, you’d know it wasn’t the FedEx guy. To the twenty-two year old me, the camera sitting in my gear locker, or even my less sophisticated but perfectly serviceable B-cam, would seem almost otherwordly in their power, quality… and seeming weightlessness. My iPhone, which has done yeoman’s work in emergencies would of course be regarded as nothing short of science fiction. My gear back then was heavy, old and so worn out that I had to carry a portable hair dryer with me, because thanks to a hairline crack in the sealant of the lens housing, the lens would fog up on the inside of the camera whenever I brought it inside after shooting in South Dakota’s sub-zero temperatures. Defogging the insides with a hair dryer was the only alternative to waiting for hours for it to clear up on its own.

I complained about my gear once. To paraphrase a line from another classic movie I wonder if anyone else remembers, I complained once. Only once. Returning from a shoot fifty miles away, driving in almost pure whiteout conditions for a story which I was convinced, with my grand total of thirteen whole weeks of experience to back me up, was not a story and hauling close to seven thousand pounds of equipment around (I may be exaggerating), I was in no mood to hear the editor tell me I hadn’t shot enough video for him to work with. I blamed the weather. I blamed the gear. I blamed the story. For good measure, I blamed the gear again. From the hallway alongside the edit booth, my chief photographer overheard my tirade. What he said next is something I’ve never forgotten.

“You don’t like the gear?  Listen, fucko.  If I send you out there with a box of crayons, you’d still better come back with a story.  Got it?”

I got it, and I never forgot it. It’s advice I’ve tried to pass on to others (I attempt not to use the word “fucko,” though, and I often succeed). Through decades of bad gear, trying conditions and questionable assignments, the sentiment stuck. Your tools are the least important part of your storytelling. They come in a distant second, compared to your ability to tell the story itself.

So that’s what this inaugural post has led me to say. The tools I’m used to using aren’t working very well. They’re worn out and not nearly as good as everyone else’s, but I have to believe that rather than conclude that everything I’ve done so far has been pointless in the face of this new reality, it’s years worth of proof that stories, good stories, come to life no matter what tools you have at your disposal… if you have the ability to tell a story. I honestly don’t know if I have the ability to tell the stories I want to tell next, but I do know what those stories are, and I also know the moment I’ve stopped defining myself as a storyteller is the moment I’ve started defining myself as beaten.

So this is me: I can’t see your face, but I know you have a story to tell. I have some trouble finding the door, but I know there’s a story behind it. Tell me there’s a bone in the yard and I’ll dig it up. Finding the story, telling the story and maybe doing a bit of good along the way. That’s me.

Hi. My name is Michael. I’m visually impaired, and there’s a good chance that someday I’ll be completely blind.

I’m a storyteller.

Those are two truths, and I can’t change either of them.

So, thank you for stopping by. I’d appreciate it if you’d consider sticking around. I’m going to show you what it’s like to come up for air after losing your breath, and build new skills with new tools. It’ll be a bit me-centric at first, but don’t worry, I promise we’ll get to the good stuff. I can almost guarantee twists and turns. In the words of the ancient mapmakers describing uncharted territory – here be dragons.

My box of crayons is open.

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