The Start of Something New: Revealed.
Everyday, I woke up sad. Every. Single. Day. This is not me. I am not sad. I am never depressed. Even during the hardest times in my life, there was never an overwhelming cloud of doom descending every morning when my conscious brain would start to revive. But every morning, as wake glimmered, pushing sleep aside like the sun pushes the moon, one word would worm it’s way into my dawning consciousness:
This was my foe. The little demon that threatened — out of the blue (or at least out of China) — everything. My business. I could handle that. I’m adaptable. I’ll do something else. It would be hard, but not impossible. Change is good. I can deal with change. But it wasn’t change of business I was afraid of. It was change of everything. Would Matthew and I be able to stay healthy? How about my mom, or my Aunt Jean, or my sister (who just retired as a school teacher)? What about our neighbor, Bunny, who lives next door? She’s a great grandmother. When could I see my friends? Not on Zoom — see them. In person.
What about all those people I see at different times during the year? There’s Sally, an RNG leader for Carpet One. I don’t really know Sally, I’ve just photographed her for years. But I like her. She’s funny, and zestful, and like a humming bird darting from thing to thing to thing to thing.
Or when could I see Jamie, from Arizona Office of Tourism? She has become a close friend over the years. She is one of those people I talked to after I had surgery. I missed her. Literally hundreds of people I travel with, work with, or know intimately from behind my camera. It’s weird who I thought of during those dark spring days. The guy who was the videographer at a couple of the conventions I shoot. How was he? I can never remember his name. But he’s nice, I’ve known him for years.
I think it’s all those people who I know, who I’m friendly with, who I admire, who give a spark to my day — but who I don’t know well enough to have their email, phone, or even as a friend on Facebook that I missed most. The people I’m closest to, like Jamie, I could text or call. But the random contacts from all those events? They were gone. In my dark mind they might already be dead. Worse, I’d never know.
One of my favorite ads right now is for Viking River Cruises. An accented voice comes up: “This year has been like a long, dark, cold Norwegian winter. But eventually, with spring, comes rebirth.”
And the spring did come. First the darkness started to recede when I began my podcast. That contact — even through
Zoom — with other creative people did wonders to spark my joy. Then as summer wore on in 2020 — and the podcast episodes began to mount — more light. I expanded the podcast from covering just my immediate East Baltimore neighborhood, to being focused on Baltimore.
With the success of the podcast came calls for help. Other Baltimore entrepreneurs, activists and artists started to contact me, asking for advice with their own marketing efforts. On a call with one business manager of a local law firm she said this:
“You don’t understand, Michael. You are better at this than the big New York firms.”
“Better at what?” I asked.
“Producing content and messaging. You know, content marketing.”
Wait, what? Was THAT what I was doing. Who knew? I just did this to fill in those long COVID days. It wasn’t, I don’t know, serious. It made sense to me to build an audience from our neighborhood. An enthusiastic audience wanting news about the off-beat personalities surrounding us.
When I started to podcast, none of that was a goal. I just started it because I knew I needed a daily dose of creativity. To spark joy I had to interact with people like Sally. People like Shelley Brown. Aaron Hill. Cheryl Lawson. My Aunt Jean, the folk artist. Miles Immler, who is one of the bravest people I know, and went through some of the worst shit you can imagine. He journeyed through hell, even while I knew him in high school, and I had no idea any of it was going on. His story grabbed me, and I made it a three part series on the podcast.
I didn’t realize the podcast would open a door in my brain. That it would bring me the solution to the COVID shit show. That simple funky podcast would lead my brain to the next big thing. And here it is. Staring me right in the face. Calling me, right on my cell phone. The next big thing came to me. Through that little crack of an open door called the podcast.
The next big thing? Content marketing. Specifically, local content marketing for Baltimore’s artists, entrepreneurs and activists. I’m not sure how far I’ll take this next big idea. If the pandemic recedes and corporate events re-ignite, then maybe it’ll be my community project. However, if the pandemic continues, masks go back on, scheduled events get cancelled, then perhaps I’ll take everything I’ve learned over the last two decades of experiential photo marketing and apply it to Baltimore content marketing. Wouldn’t that be strange?
To travel the world for work — literally — only to end up at home.