Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.

Season 3 - Episode 3: My Heart Is Not Blind Podcast featuring Michael Nye

March 31, 2023 Bold Blind Beauty
Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.
Season 3 - Episode 3: My Heart Is Not Blind Podcast featuring Michael Nye
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Episode title and number: My Heart Is Not Blind Podcast featuring Michael Nye Season 3 - #3

Brief summary of the show: In this special edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R., we are delighted to host Michael Nye, photographer, author, and podcaster. During the first half of the show, Steph chats with Michael about his newly launched podcast, My Heart Is Not Blind. In the second half, we re-air a lightly edited version of Season 1 Episode 2 highlighting Sylvia Stinson-Perez one of Michael's featured participants.

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Bullet points of key topics & timestamps:
0:00 | Welcome
2:10 | Getting To Know Michael Nye
7:20 | Michael's Approach To Storytelling
9:40 | The Creative Process
10:55 | What Discrimination Looks Like
13:46 | Finding The Podcast
17:04 | The Replay From 2021
17:28 | Sylvia Stinson-Perez Audio Clip
22:34 | What Prompted The Project
24:37 | Powerful Lesson Learned

My Heart Is Not Blind Podcast:

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Music Credit: “New Inspiration” by BasspartoutX

Thanks for listening!❤️

Steph: Welcome back to another edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Podcast, the show that's clearing the air for more A.I.R. (Access, Inclusion, and Representation). I'm Stephanae McCoy, and with me are my co-hosts: I'm Nasreen Bhutta, Sylvia Stinson-Perez, and I'm Dana Hinnant.

"Not all blind people are blind. Not all sighted people can see." Hi everyone, this is Steph in this special edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. we've invited Michael Nye to join us to talk about his new podcast, My Heart Is Not Blind. Former lawyer turned photographer, Michael, the author of the book by the same title, was a featured guest on the show back in 2021.

In fact, one of my favorite parts of the segment, which will be replayed after our conversation is this: "I do not think this project is about really, in some ways, not about blindness at all, but it's about our shared humanity and our shared fragility. And it's about incredible mystery of perception and about adaptation. And I think discrimination grows from the sighted community, not understanding or not willing to understand that anyone can adapt to new situations. They just see immediately what happens if they imagine themselves blind, but they don't realize you adapt by learning."

Michael, welcome back to Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. It's a real treat having you here to talk about your latest project. Before we get started, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Michael Nye: Well, thank you so much for asking me to come back, and visit and talk about these important stories and ideas. I live in San Antonio, Texas. My wife and I have an old, old house just three blocks from Alamo. And we have a cat and a turtle and we live on Main Avenue, which is a really nice street to live on.

I started out as an attorney, I did appellate work. Thought a lot about jurisprudence and just absolutely fell in love with photography and art and philosophy. Really thought about the kind of issues of what you do in your life. What can you know, what does it mean to be human, and what can we expect from the future?

And I liked practicing, but I just gradually started doing some consulting work and depositions and so forth with other law firms, and then transitioned to doing kind of these documentaries, but they weren't filmed. They were large portraits, and I use an eight by 10 view camera with large plates like Matthew Brady did during the Civil War. That's big cameras. You put a hood over your head and was just curious about wanting to know more about. The world outside my own surroundings.

And so, quite a while ago I was in Saudi Arabia of all places on an Arts America Tour and met some individuals that were blind, and had conversations that were very, very moving, and I really thought someday I'd like to really spend time listening. And I did when I came home from that trip, brought together artists and maybe four or five people that were blind.

And we just talked about perception. It wasn't a class, no one was teaching anyone anything, and we talked about metaphor and antithesis and ambiguity and echolocation and being present. That may be being mindful, the tapestry of sound, the fingerprint of sound. And everyone came away poets, sculptors, and the individuals that were invited came away with a different vocabulary.

It was really, really moving. And so I feel deeply fortunate to have worked on this project for seven years. And now the book is text, which is much longer, and the audio is each person's voice. And it was launched in February and there's 24 episodes right now on it. And I'm releasing two more of Natalie Watkins, part one and part two.

In fact, I interviewed Natalie when she had retinitis pigmentosa. She was visually impaired. And then I interviewed her six years later when she had no vision at all. And so you listen to both perspectives so that that will be released on Friday. But it's been an amazing privilege and I've learned so much working on this project.

Steph: I almost don't know where to begin. You said so many things that deeply resonate with me, the curiosity, the tapestry of sound, and all of those various things. Natalie Watkins, interestingly enough, we just featured her this month as our Woman On The Move. And she shared a video story of her condition and what she's doing and how she has adapted to her sight loss.

Michael Nye: Did she play the two audio narratives from the exhibit?

Steph: She did not.

Michael Nye: Okay.

Steph: She did not, but I will definitely take a listen to those.

Michael Nye: She's done so many different things in her life as well. She was a model and she worked as a stockbroker and she worked as a school teacher and she writes poetry, creative nonfiction, and children's literature, and I liked what she said about hope.

She said I think, for her when she was visually impaired. She said Hope was maintaining my eyesight. And after she lost that, she said, I realized hope is having connections with others. My hope was always right in front of me, but I just didn't know it at the time. I think that is such a powerful thought and realization and insight.

Steph: Yeah. She has a great deal of insight. It was such a joy being able to present her story to the world. As you may know, Bold Blind Beauty is about demystifying blindness through storytelling, and we do that by sharing the stories of the people that we feature. Can you talk about what it was like for you as you approached each of these individuals?

And how you were able to pull their stories out of them. Was that a difficult process or was it something that was very organic? Can you walk us through that?

Michael Nye: I did a project on hunger in America. I spent four and a half years traveling around the country interviewing people that had experienced hunger as a child or present, or at some point, it was a very challenging project, and I did a project too on mental health.

I spent four years interviewing people that had mental health. One of my law, my law partners committed suicide, not when we were practicing together, but later. And I just wanted to know more about some of those deep issues. But I think from all the projects I've worked on is a belief that everyone knows something important and valuable.

A wisdom born from experience that no one else knows. I'm always thinking what do they know about their own life experience and it surfaces. And so I think one of the things that I do is one of the only requirement on the project on My Heart Is Not Blind, is that they'd had to spend two to four days with me talking and having their portrait taken.

It takes time. It really takes time and it kind of evolves into something and also having a fidelity to each person's experience. I've left my voice out of all this project, so you don't hear me talking at all in any of the podcasts. Well, at the end I may, I may say a few words. But it's about their perspective.

It's about their experience. It's about what they know about their fragility, about their vulnerability, about, losing vision and finding a new way of having vision. We all have in our lives. We lose things and we find things. It's just part of the human condition at all. So I just see it as a great privilege to sit down and, and have that dialectical process where it just evolves.

And I think you can learn by just talking. Almost everyone said, God, I, I didn't even know these things I talked about because we talked so long. You know, just about daily life, not just about blindness as you said in your introduction, just about life and being human, those things.

Steph: As you're working to create these, fabulous stories and drawing people out, what is the creative process?

Michael Nye: Well, I like the slowness. I don't like rushing into making the project. I mean, I love doing the project and making new friends. And so I may have four or five hours of interview and I'll spend 40 to 50, sometimes 60 hours editing a five-minute narrative. On each one of the 50 in this project with their permission.

And so after I finish editing I'll make sure it's okay with them. Is there anything in there you don't like? Anything you ought didn't include that I should have? And no one said to change it, not one person. Not that I'm any have a talent, it just comes together. And so, but again, it's about a fidelity to their experience. It's not about me at all.

And so I think that's been, been my focus, is understanding and learning from others. You know, I think what's surfaced for me on this project, and I didn't realize the depth of the discrimination and the cruelty of what people say. You know, there was this case, I don't know if you've paid attention to it, it was a Alex Murdaugh, South Carolina case, I believe. A criminal case.

Steph: Yes, yes.

Michael Nye: And I didn't, I didn't pay too much attention to it, but I was, all the news stations, CNN, Fox, MSNBC followed it. One of the people that came on was the professor of jurisprudence at a law school, and I wrote this down. He said, even a blind person could determine that Alex Murdaugh was guilty.

And I'm just thinking, you know, that just bleeds, seeps, permeates, flows into the consciousness of, of the perspective that the public thinks of people with vision loss. It is so cruel and mean. It's just thoughtless.

Steph: It is.

Michael Nye: In fact, I may have said this when we talked last time, maybe it's on the recorded interview, but when I was doing the book with Trinity University Press, which is a great press, and this has nothing to do with the director of the press, but when they have a book, they're required to send it out to readers.

They read the manuscript and make comments for the press. College graduates, professionals, teachers, and one of the readers. I mean, here's a professional, educated professional who read the manuscript of all the stories in the book, and I'm gonna read what this person said. "I found these narratives from the blind and visually impaired to be so articulate. I question whether these stories are really the sentences spoken by the blind participants." Oh my God.

Steph: Oh my God.

Michael Nye: You believe that there's that kind of ignorance? And you know, even Michael Hingson, who's, I haven't released his yet. He was the one on 9/11.

Steph: Yeah, I'm familiar.

Michael Nye: You know, you, you may have interviewed him too, but he's in the project too. He says he lectures like a hundred times around the country and he said, as many times as I tell people, they still don't get it. I don't know how to tell people that when you lose your sight, you don't lose your insight. You don't lose yourself. You're still a whole person. You, just understand and perceive in different ways through change.

But that's a burden. I mean, that is a tough thing to overcome. This kind of deep discrimination, and it just seeps into the public. If you don't see, you're not aware. I mean, it's just, it's. Yeah. I don't know. It just.

Steph: It really is awful. We, have to stop and learn to accept that being different is not wrong, is just different. And that's

Michael Nye: Absolutely

Steph: For everything. Yes. Yeah. Blindness, disabilities, race, religion, anything in the world that might separate us are things that can be appreciated.

Michael Nye: Well, I hope your listeners will tune into the podcast and they can find it. I think you said Audible, but it's on Spotify or Apple. These stories will change you. They've changed me.

One other thing, we, I may have talked about this before, but I'm not sure. I was interviewed on a podcast by a woman. Do you know her, Hannah Fairbaum? She doesn't.

Steph: No, I do not. Yeah, I do not.

Michael Nye: She interviewed me about the book and it was a little while back and I don't think she would mind me talking about this, but at the end of the interview I started asking her some questions about her childhood in her life, and she had a very challenging childhood, and I asked her, where did your will to move forward, come from? And it wasn't about her visual impairment, but it was about maybe a dysfunction of her childhood. And she said, when I think what she said was so powerful and so correct and I think it's about all the things in your podcast, mine, and about understanding.

She said I did have a will to live and to make something possible at a young age. It's difficult to describe. I felt a vastness, a potential. I was aware of something beyond me, something nonverbal, something deep was there beyond speech. Oh, I can't say it right. Speaking of it now even makes it, it's smaller and I think what she's talking about is the, is the mystery of language.

That language can't really articulate all of our experiences. I mean, we try, it's what we have to talk. You and I are talking using language, but it's really difficult always to articulate the way you feel. Maybe you don't even understand the way you feel or what's happened, and language is what we have, but it's still very ambiguous and mysterious.

Steph: It definitely is. But then again, so is life. Yes. Life is mysterious. Humans are mysterious. Michael, it has been such an honor to talk with you today.

Michael Nye: I feel the same. I feel the same. And thank you for paying attention to the podcast, and I really hope your listeners will listen. I think they'll, once they listen to some, they'll, they'll keep listening.

And there's two new ones each week. I think there's 25 right now that are already live on the podcast. There'll be 50, close to 50 at the end.

Steph: So Michael, what I'm going to do is put where people can find the podcast in the show notes, and I'll make sure that we share that on all of our socials because I myself can't wait to begin listening to all of these stories.

I listen to the audio recordings from the book, some of the recordings, but I can't wait to listen to the podcast. So I just wanna thank you again for spending time with us and just keep up the great work. You're amazing.

Michael Nye: You're amazing. Thanks again. Great to visit with you.

Steph: You too, Michael.

And now for your listening, pleasure, the replay from 2021.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: I am so thrilled to welcome Michael to this podcast. And Michael is going to share an audio clip.

Michael Nye: I'm gonna play Sylvia's audio narrative, which is about five minutes. And it's one of 46 individuals in the book and also the traveling audio and photography exhibition. So I will start it now.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: I am blind, but I am also very visual. I have images in my mind that are saved from when I could see, and I create images by the information that I gather. Even when I travel or I go to the beach, I create an image of what a wave looks like coming in because I remember what it looks like.

So based on the sound of it, I create that image. I don't think of myself as a blind woman. I am a woman who is a mother, who is a wife, who is a leader of an organization, who's a daughter, a sister, a friend. I'm all of those things. Blindness just happens to be one of those characteristics.

I would not be telling the truth if I did not say that. It's a huge part of who I am. However, I don't really feel like it identifies me. When I was growing up, my classmates ostracized me. They treated me as if I was almost contagious. And I remember feeling, and I'm gonna use this word, and it's the word, I mean, to use like an alien on this planet. You're blind, you can't do anything. You're stupid. You're retarded. No one likes you, you're ugly. And that was all the way from the day I started school through the day I graduated from high school.

I have had to adapt to going from really being a visually impaired person, to being a person with really no functional, usable vision. I remember when I was probably in my late, late Twentie. And it was about time I probably needed to use a cane. An orientation and mobility instructor said to me one day, look, you have the choice. You can either look blind and carry a cane, or you can look drunk and not carry one. It probably took me a good 10 years to become really comfortable using that cane.

Adjusting to blindness emotionally is way more challenging than adjusting to blindness physically. There is this perception that people who are blind, that there's something wrong with us. We are not whole beings that we're imperfect. Every single person is imperfect. We all have challenges. Mine just happens to be that I can't see.

It doesn't make me less intelligent, less capable, less competent. What it does is make me more courageous, more determined, and more interdependent.

It takes a lot of energy to be blind. Every single day, you're gonna encounter something, some challenge that you are going to have to figure out. It's a lot of learning to think differently, and it means being aware of all of your environment. What's under your feet when you're walking along a sidewalk. Where people are when you can't see them, you can feel when there's a presence next to you, walls and poles, the space around you changes a little bit.

There is a lot that people who are sighted could learn about fully experiencing the world around them from people who are blind. Being aware that there's more than one way to get information. You can even gather information about people's attitudes just by listening, and you can hear it in how their breathing is even silences and pauses. And too often information is based on completely what people see, and they're not paying attention to all of those other things that are happening.

I can tell when someone's rolling their eyes or looking another direction or texting, even though I can't see that. I can tell completely by listening.

Michael Nye: Sylvia, I admire you so much for your advocacy and your voice. And I love what you said about when you lose your sight, you don't lose your insight. You don't lose your intelligence, memory, your personal history, but you can become more determined and more courageous and more independent. So thank you so much for your voice.

This exhibit, My Heart Is Not Blind, opened at the Witte Museum, and during the three months, over 25,000 people in the community came, put on headphones, listened to the 46 individuals in this exhibit.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: What made you want to do this project?

Michael Nye: Oh, I've done a lot of projects in my life. I went over to Siberia in the middle of winter through a bush plane and lived with Chukchi natives for a month. Went into a war by myself refugee camps in the Middle East. Lots of issues in the United States, but I think all of my photographic projects has been about wanting to know more. A desire to understand communities, places, situations, unlike my own.

And I think everyone, all of us here, listening from an early age has a hunger to have bigger lives than the ones we were given. So it's about wanting to know more and learn more from others. I like to be invisible. I'm not blind. I don't know what it's like to be blind. But I do like to learn from others.

But to answer your question, 30 years ago I had an exhibit in Saudi Arabia and the curator of the gallery said, Michael, or Mikey, would you talk to a group of international blind students? And I said, sure. Yeah. And they all could speak English, thank goodness. And I, I just remember their intense listening and their attention. Their curiosity. It's almost like a whisper could travel far.

And I talked to them about black and white photography and white and on and on. But soon they started asking me questions. Michael, why are you a photographer? What color is black and white? What is something that's beautiful that's non-visual.

What's the meaning of these photographs? Do photographs represent reality? How can anyone, blind are sighted, understand the world outside themselves? And at that very moment I felt like we changed places. They were given the gallery talk and I was listening and learning from them.

And so it took me quite a while to start, but I knew I wanted to have these conversations. And it took me seven years to, to work on this project because it takes time to listen and it takes time to tell a story.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: Michael, what would you say is the most powerful lesson you learned during this project?

Michael Nye: Oh my goodness gracious. I'll have to make this short because I could surely go on. I think, what it means really to see or to have vision. It means, with your whole body, with everything about being present, mindful, listening, like these students did with intensity.

A hunger to know more, do more, have deeper compassion and understanding. I do think this project is about really in some ways, not about blindness at all, but it's about our shared humanity. And our shared fragility, and it's about incredible mystery of perception and about adaptation. And I think discrimination grows from the sighted community not understanding or not willing to understand that anyone can adapt to new situations. They just see immediately what happens if they imagine themselves blind, but they don't realize you adapt by learning. But you also, the brain adapts, it rewires itself to favor a non-visual thinking and orientation.

And so basically, it's just about understanding and an openness to others. I could definitely go on from there.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: Well, you are certainly one of the most aware, generous, kind people I have encountered in my life. And I thank you for doing this project because it's been so meaningful and powerful for so many, including myself as a participant.

Michael Nye: Well, thank you.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: So what is next? What's next for My Heart Is Not Blind. Your project, your exhibit, the book?

Michael Nye: Well, right now, right? I'm, I'm doing a new project, I'm writing essays right now on old photographic projects, and I'm almost through with that. I've been writing 26 different essays, but on My Heart Is Not Blind, I was lucky, wasn't me. It was really all of. People, participants received the Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind with a, with a really generous sum of money. And I swore at that moment to myself, I would use every penny of this money to promote awareness and understanding and so forth.

And so, because the exhibit only traveled to six cities and then we had Covid. So I'm setting up a podcast where I'm going to play all 46 stories and interview some of the people that I can and talk about each story. And they are, I tell you, they're dripping in wisdom and insight. Every single one is profoundly different, original and profound.

And so I would love for you to, pass the word around. It's their stories, it's not about me at all. It's only about people's voices and insights and experiences. All of us have a vulnerability and I think the people in this exhibit are very brave to speak out and use their own voice.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: Well, I can't wait to hear all of the stories. I've heard some, but that's gonna be an amazing podcast. So everyone be on the lookout for the My Heart Is Not Blind Podcast coming soon. And Michael, if people wanted to order your book, where do they find that?

Michael Nye: They can find it. Just, you know, go online. There's, there's numerous places that sell the book, Trinity University Press, Amazon, so forth. I just found out last week, I didn't even think of this until you brought it up, but it, it was the fourth best. Let me see here real quick. A non-visual book ever. It was rated the fourth-ever any book about non-visual stories or so forth which

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: congratulations

Michael Nye: to me, that really talks about the people in this exhibit and the power of their voices. And so I hope people will order. You'll learn, you'll find strategies, you will think slightly different. These stories are profoundly honest and authentic. And they're not all about, they're not all success stories. What stories are? They're about, all of us, about just about life.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: Thank you Michael, so much for doing this project, and I encourage everyone to go out and get the book. Look for Michael online because it truly is an amazing project and I was really honored to be a part of it.

Michael Nye: Sylvia, thank you for this podcast and thanks for inviting me on.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez: You're welcome.

Nasreen Bhutta: Thanks for listening to Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. with your hosts, Stephanae McCoy, Nasreen Bhutta, Sylvia Stinson-Perez, and Dana Hinnant. If you enjoyed this episode and you would like to help support the podcast, please share it with others. Post it out on your socials or leave a rating and review.

To catch all the latest for Bold Blind Beauty you can follow us on Instagram, Facebook. Check out our YouTube channel at Bold Blind Beauty. Thanks again for listening, and we will see you next time on another edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.

Getting To Know Michael Nye
Michael's Approach To Storytelling
The Creative Process
What Discrimination Looks Like
Finding The Podcast
he Replay From 2021
Sylvia Stinson-Perez Audio Clip
What Prompted The Project
Powerful Lesson Learned