In Search of Unicorns

John McManamy Health Guide
  • There oughtta be a law against all the fun I'm having. Let me backtrack:

    A little while ago, I discovered the concept of motion pictures. I don't take credit for this. I'm sure someone came up with the idea before me. Anyway, I figured out that if I point my new Apple desktop at me and click a button and make a face, and then click another button, I end up with what amounts to a delayed moving image of me making a face.

    I was thinking of using this application for shaving, but opted instead to stick with my trusted bathroom mirror, which has a decided real-time advantage.

    Then I hit upon motion pictures. In the space of 10 or 12 days, I produced three short videos and uploaded them to YouTube. The first dealt with intercepting a mood swing, the second with our destructive tendency to isolate. The third comprised still-frame images of five famous people that I titled, "Brilliant Lives Cut Short."

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    All of them are predictably rough around the edges, but I did detect a steady improvement with each one. Should I upgrade to a camcorder?

    Keep in mind that videos offer the possibility of a new outreach. They can also drive home messages that are impossible to drive home in print. Also, with shifting markets and web technologies nudging independents like me to the endangered species list, evolving a new skill could be a decided adaptive advantage.

    Now or later? Better wait till I have 10 videos under my belt, I decided.

    Then a new thought hit me. The American Psychiatric Association's six-day annual meeting was coming up in less than a month.  I've been attending the APA as a journalist since 2002. What if this time I brought a camcorder with me?

    The spectacle itself would make great footage. And what if I could do some quickie interviews? You know, just grab some random director of the NIMH from the mob and back him into a wall and point and shoot.

    But it would take me at least three weeks just to learn to find the "On" button. It was now or never.

    So I researched camcorders, figured out what I needed, found an on-line vendor, then hit the button that says, "Pay Way More Than You Ever Intended." One nano-second later I was the proud owner of a piece of equipment that could well wind up permanently in my closet, right alongside the 20 airline pillows I always forget to pack.

    To appreciate the significance of the purchase, until my daughter's wedding last month I never owned a camera. Anytime I've ever taken photos, they've always been artsy shots of people with their heads chopped off. They don't call me "The Executioner" for nothing.

    Late last week, my camcorder arrived. The instruction manual was as thick as the Manhattan white pages. If I wanted to finesse the APA, I knew, I needed to start practicing right now.

    I live way out in the country, so finding actual people to practice on was going to be a bit problematic. Instead, I decided to be John McManamy, nature photographer. Let's see, zoom in on that purple wildflower. Dang! I hit the "Stop" button.

    Then I spotted some neighbors snacking out on the front lawn. So I started up a conversation. One of them whinnied back, which I interpreted as permission to start filming. The interview went really well. Thus encouraged, I pointed my camcorder at some trees.

  • Actually, I had a story to tell. A lot of oaks are dying in my neighborhood. Cycle of nature or environmental tipping point? Also, there is evidence of the deadly forest fires that terrorized millions of Southern Californians in 2003. The fire tightened its noose around our town from three directions, and came within one mile of burning it to a crisp. There were the blackened husks of trees. But there was also ample evidence of regrowth and regeneration.

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    I was providing my own running narrative as I was shooting. Good practice for the APA.

    Then I positioned myself on a narrow bridge, tried to ignore the traffic, and pointed my camera at the stream below. Suddenly, an unmistakable shadow flitted across my viewfinder.


    Suddenly, I was pointing my camera at the sky. Where did he go? A quick black flicker across my display, then - nothing. I kept the camera rolling. There he is! Just over the trees.

    Yes! I had him. Then, just like that, he was gone.

    I put my camera down and soaked in the view. Cobalt blue sky, distant peaks, mountain valley. Was that shot actually in my camera? With the hawk? I didn't dare do a quick playback. Knowing me, I would erase everything on the hard drive.

    With great trepidation, I hooked up my camcorder to my desktop, praying the camera wouldn't explode. The clips started loading. Then after completion of the load, my iMovie program froze. I had no choice but to hit "Force Quit."

    I restarted iMovie, then held my breath as the application completed the load. The clips were all there. I opened my hawk clip and ...

    Now I know how Hemingway felt after landing his first marlin.

    Everything was there. The tell-tale shadow against the sunlit grass, the frame suddenly shifting to blue sky in hot pursuit, the bird against the tree tops, the bird against the mountains, then a black speck against a spectacular mountain-valley panorama.

    I did it!

    A little bit of editing and I had 16 seconds of amazing hawk footage.

    Me! John McManamy! The Executioner!

    Okay, there is a lesson in all of this. Something about never being too old to take on new challenges in life, to push the envelope, to get out in front of your illness and keeping moving rather than staying still and letting your illness overtake you.

    Maybe someday, I'll get my thoughts together and write about that lesson. But not now. It's a beautiful day outside. The sun is bright. The birds are chirping. I'm going to grab my camcorder and find me a unicorn.

Published On: April 17, 2008