Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am visually impaired in my left eye, and have been since I was a toddler after an unfortunate accident. I was so young when it happened that I don’t remember it happening; my “memory” of the incident is one I constructed after hearing the story over the years–it is entirely imagined. And because of that, I’ve never missed the vision in that eye. My issues over the years have been cruel kids who gave me crap about it; a lack of depth perception that manifests in an inability to catch things (though I do surprisingly well in a batting cage; I have no idea why) and the very rare too-close entry that leaves a scrape of garage paint on the side of a car; the fact that it tends to wander, especially when I’m tired; and it tends to make putting makeup on my one good eye or plucking my eyebrow on the left a little tricky. That is to say, it IS a handicap, but not one I think about all that much.
But as I’ve grown older, and tried more things, I’ve realized that it’s more of a handicap than I’ve ever given it credit for. I noticed it when I started doing inlay and had to see around curves and corners while I was sawing, and couldn’t do it so well when I had my magnifying goggles on.
Another place it showed up is in my music, specifically playing guitar, though it took awhile for me to realize it. The delay was because for the first 9 months I played the guitar, I just played–totally unplugged, no microphone. Even my first public performance, at guitar camp, was like this. No problem. Until I decided I was ready to do an open mic, got up to play, and suddenly I couldn’t see the fretboard as I played.
Why? Because now I had a mic in front of my face which, in conjunction with my nose, blocked my right eye’s ability to see the fretboard, and the left couldn’t do it. I never saw it coming. (Ha!) It wasn’t until I started singing with a microphone that it became an issue.
I’m coming up on 10 years of playing guitar this summer (holy cow!), and since that first episode of microphone-induced fretboard blindness, I’ve been working around it the best I can. Sometimes the songs are easy enough that muscle memory takes care of everything, and it’s a non-issue–I don’t have to see what my left hand is doing. Sometimes that means adjusting where I stand and taking a quick peek for a single difficult chord. And sometimes it means passing songs I’d really like to sing off to my bandmate because the guitar is complicated enough that I have to see my left hand and the fretboard. And that last one really bugs me.
Now, I’ve known for a long time, thanks to my good buddy Garth Brooks (who doesn’t actually know yet that we’re good buddies) that there are ways around this problem.
But the truth is, I’ve been loath to go that route, because it’s different from what most of the other kids are doing, and therefore calls attention to itself, and my inner 12-year-old doesn’t want to be different, probably because my actual outer 12-year-old was on the receiving end of so much adolescent assholery for being different. It seems pretentious, somehow, considering that on the scale of musical importance where zero is “complete unknown” and 10 is “Cher,” I’m about a .25. It seems like an affectation, and while I have never judged Garth for using a headset mic, it’s because he’s Garth Fucking Brooks. He’s kind of a big deal. I am not a big deal. Not even kind of. So it seems a bit much for me to be rocking a headset mic.
Except that I recently was invited to play at the local zoo’s Safari Night, and I had my choice of several dates, so I chose bird night, because, for some reason, I happen to have a fair number of bird-related songs in my repertoire. But one of them is the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which is, guitaristically speaking, a complicated song and I have to see the fretboard to play it, because it makes use of the whole damn thing. Which is why Jerry sings it when we play it at gigs. And, you know, if I can’t play “Blackbird” on bird night, well, to me that’s just unacceptable.
So I’ve had to reckon with the fact that I do indeed have a disability, and I can either accommodate it with a useful assistive device, or I can let it limit the things I want to do musically because I’m too vain or weird to do what I need to do. Which is ridiculous, because if someone else needed a headset mic, or a cane, or crutches, or a hearing aid, or an oxygen tank, I wouldn’t give it a moment’s thought. Of course they need those things, and they should use them! And of course everyone who needs those things holds out against them as long as possible, because they’re somehow different than people who really need them (not). This is why my grandmother’s hearing aids spent more time in her purse than in her ears.
So I told my conformist-minded inner 12-year-old to shut up, and broke down and ordered this rig from Amazon this week, so I could play AND sing “Blackbird” at my gig Friday night.
It’s taken some getting used to, and I went through my entire two setlists with it during practice tonight with it, because the time to test out new gear for the first time is NOT during the show. And I’m still a little self-conscious about it, but the truth is, I really liked playing with it. I liked being able to see my guitar. I liked not being tied to the mic stand in the middle of the stage. I like not having to futz with the mic stand if I want to switch between standing and sitting and back again. If my head moves, the mic goes with it. I liked not having a big pole between me and the audience. And it felt more like playing at home, which should go a ways towards lessening the gig pressure of a totally different environment. So I’m taking it out in public tomorrow night, and hoping the sound will be adequate. It’s a little hard to tell myself; I’ll have to check with the audience.
In any case, I feel very mature and practical about finally doing something I should’ve done 10 years ago. *cue eyeroll at self* Even if it does make me look like I’m waiting to take your telethon pledge or sell you insurance.