Despite the fact that I’ve been writing for over a decade and a half, I’m still relatively new to leveraging social media in the endeavor. Doing so involves understanding how to communicate with the human collective, rather than with a single person or small group like most of us are accustomed to. The good news is that, once I get people to the point of reading my articles, they have generally found them impactful or at least moderately entertaining. The bad news?
The bad news is what it takes to get them there.
My most successful article thus far (mind you that I’m still working on a relatively small scale) was entitled, “Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD.” Doesn’t that seem a bit…provocative? Well, that’s the crux of my position.
In our world of extremes, people expect to be offended (or to defend an idea that others would find offensive) before they are willing to engage in discourse.
It can be seen all around us, in every facet of life. An author can’t write about religion without either attacking it or accepting it wholeheartedly. You’re either defending atheism or attempting to prove that God absolutely exists. You can’t write about politics without incorporating images of dead fetuses (on the conservative side), or of young immigrants in tears (on the liberal side). In addressing generational gaps, it’s always either a “lazy millennial” or a “close-minded baby-boomer.”
What happened to the 80 percent of people in the middle – the ones capable of having a reasonable conversation without resorting to violent rhetoric and posturing? How have we let the outliers become our socially acceptable norm, and how to we return to a world of reason?
The challenge is this: authors make money when people read their work. They make more when people engage, comment, and share. Culturally, we now HAVE to use provocative language in order to coax complacent people to simply click the hyperlink.
So, how do we fix it?
As journalists, writers, and others who sort of “steer” human culture, we have to learn to use extreme language to coax people back toward reasonable thought. We have to provoke them toward acceptance, and anger them toward open-mindedness. It’s the ultimate challenge in persuasive writing.
“Terrorist Generosity Gave me PTSD” was really just an article about learning to accept the situation, culture, and beliefs of people who are different than we are, but the title stung enough to make a few people who didn’t give a shit about me feel the urge to click. And once they clicked, they were in my world. I could use powerful imagery and wordsmithing to coax them toward a thought they, perhaps, hadn’t considered before. I could weave a story that would lead them into considering the root of one of our world’s major problems.
Any thoughts from other “Guides of the Human Terrain” would be most appreciated.
People are still reasonable. We just have to remind them how to communicate reasonably, and that’s a multi-generational endeavor.
Do you ever get envious of some of the adventure pictures and stories you see on the web? I know I do. “What a life!” I always think. “Must be nice to do that for a living instead of being a slave to the establishment.” I can admittedly be a bit melo-transcendental at times (and yes, I did just make that word up). Oh, to travel – to experience and inspire!
“What if that was me?”
If you aren’t careful, seeing folks that have somehow managed to live that lifestyle can force you into a rut.
Don’t you let it.
Amanda and I have been hiking Tennessee trails since before we ever met. We’ve also been lucky enough to hike in some incredible places across the Southwest, and even across the world (though we haven’t been out of the country together, yet). We may not live in a van or a modified school bus featuring a composting commode or solar shower, but we do escape on occasion to sleep in a tent for a few months, as long as there’s a nearby bathhouse so we can still look presentable at work.
And even with all the time we’ve spent in the woods locally, we still come across treasures we couldn’t have imagined in this part of the country. We came across one such treasure yesterday, which this blog’s title eludes to.
Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon. Within an hour and a half of Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Harriman, and yet we (as avid outdoors enthusiasts) had never even heard of it. In one place, you get the largest canyon I’ve ever seen in this state, natural arches and bridges, caves, and even waterfalls. The difficulty of the trails ranges from super flat and relaxing to walk on, to challenging even for the most experienced. It was a place with so many options to explore that we’d have had to camp there for a week to even put a dent in them. We fully intend to.
Our first trail (below) led us to Hazard Cave.
The trail was pretty mild most of the way, with a few steps and stones to traverse during the final descent.
Of course we had to play with silhouettes and lighting once we’d arrived.
And I never miss an opportunity to kiss my perfect wife.
The cave is to the left of this photograph. I tried to run and climb to join Amanda for the picture, but couldn’t do it in the ten seconds my phone would allow before snapping the shot. …It would have taken me at least 14 seconds.
After the cave, we decided to head over to the park’s Natural Bridge. On the way, we saw the amazing root system below growing over a stone ledge.
And then we saw actual arches! In Tennessee! There are several throughout the park which we are intent on returning to find. Some of our favorite memories are at Arches National Park in Utah, where we cowboy camped and listened to a Native American man play a flute during a melancholic sunset. Arches are much more rare in our neck of the woods, and especially ones of this magnitude!
There was a staircase to the top of the bridge, which seemed to condone crossing it. In the Southwest, this is often a no-no.
Amanda wanted to blend in with all the trees, so she pulled this one out of her yoga-repertoire.
If you want to see us in our element, you’ll never get closer than the picture below. We walk our own individual trail in a lot of ways (I’m the idealist, she’s the rationalist; I’m emotional and empathetic and she’s a walking calculator who only shows her truest soul to yours truly).
Hiking together is a great metaphor. Sometimes the trail is easy, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s literally impossible to do alone. But you still hike the damned thing, no matter what. And more often than not, you’ll find us with honest smiles like the ones beneath this text.
As we continued our hike, I was so happy to see (but mostly to smell) so much pine, which is very nostalgic for me as a South GA native in my childhood years. If you want, Amanda has managed to capture the fragrance astoundingly with her Pine or Cedar scented candles, which you can learn more about at The Gypsy’s Store.
Pickett State Park featured super nice bathhouses and campsites, some of which were right on the water.
There was a bouncy bridge that, while well constructed, made me feel a bit odd.
Both Pickett and Pogue are participants in the International Dark-Sky Association, which you can read more about in the photographs below.
To help support the many efforts of the State Park, we purchased a couple of t-shirts from the clearance rack in the visitor’s center. I’m especially fond of mine, which features John Muir. If you haven’t heard of him, you should definitely do some research on the guy. He’s right up there with John Wesley Powell as an inspiration and a hero, but to be honest I need to do a lot more research myself as well. Essentially, all I know is that he had an amazing journey, advocated for the outdoors, and had one hell of a beard.
It was funny how it happened; While we were at Hazard Cave with no cell signal, our mutual best friend and hiking pal messaged us about an amazing place he’d found that he needed to show us. He sent a picture of one of the rock faces he was looking at, and Amanda and I had only seen one place like it in TN. The one we were at! No prior discussion, no planning at all, and we both selected the same park to hike on the same day, coming from different directions that were over an hour from Pickett. Once we returned to cell service, we managed to link up (it took all of five minutes – we actually found his car before any of the texts went through).
He then took us to Pogue, where I got the shot below.
She’s so stunning.
Background isn’t bad either.
Our buddy (Steven) said that the view paled in comparison to the final overlook, but we were sadly losing light and had a long drive home.
The point, though, is this. If you can find places like that on short day trips (which you always can), it makes returning to work the next week a lot easier. I still get disillusioned, no doubt. All we want is a few acres to ourselves. A log home, some chickens, and a garden. Rain water and solar power and a German Shepherd. Space. Peace and quiet, to truly focus on the things I need to write and the messages I need to leave the world. To just focus on each other.
Those things will all happen in time though, and being inspired by places like Pickett and Pogue will ensure that it does.
You know what’s funny? Sometimes, when I point people toward the blog they didn’t know we had, they ask me if hiking is my job. When I tell them it isn’t, they ask “How do you do it, with work and all?”
I typed in the name of my new website just now, so that I could begin sharing its intent.
As I did so, I felt a bit burnt out. More than that though, I felt the weight of conviction and a rebellious sense of purpose in a world that tells me I don’t have one, or that I can’t have one, or that I’m not qualified to achieve it. That I’m not qualified to achieve my purpose.
You see, I already know what my purpose is. Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt the strong urge to help others. To advocate for the broken, mistreated, or misunderstood. To heal them, show them how they should be treated, and to understand them. It’s all been inspired by my journey to to heal myself, to find those who treat me with kindness, or to find the people I can be understood by.
And they’re out there. You’re out there. It’s just such a complex problem to digest and address with a tone of victory.
The Quiet Visionary. Maybe I’m being too quiet – I’ve never been one to self promote, and I always feel like advocating for my own skills and purpose is too proud a thing to do. I think that a lot of people who can heal our world feel the same. But I couldn’t just start typing after I entered my web-address – there was another step before I got to my present screen. I had to click one more link.
And that’s what this is, right? My site. My blog. My space. My voice.
Mental health awareness is such a huge issue that almost everyone from almost every walk has to at least acknowledge it. Which one of you doesn’t know a person who has ended their life early, or tried to? Which one of you hasn’t thought about doing it yourself at some point, but refused because of faith, honor, love, or fear? How many more could be reading this if they hadn’t already lost that battle?
Fuck mental health awareness. We’re already aware of it.
The problem is that so many people who could honestly contribute to the healing of our country are held back from doing so by misconceptions that have existed for FAR too long. I’m held back from doing so. And that’s not a complaint or a pity party, it’s a challenge. So many people survive adversity and come out on the other side with a story to tell, only to be warned that they shouldn’t tell it.
It’s too private. It’s too shameful. It’s too real. You’re not educated enough. It’s too late to become educated enough – you have a family now. You have responsibilities and bills and all you can do is keep working your life away in a desperate grind to stay afloat.
Nah, man. It’s time to challenge that.
Every single day people are literally choosing to blow their brains out or hang themselves in their own “living” rooms because the way we are treating mental illness is NOT working. NARCAN is now available over the counter, because people choose to run to drugs where a more obvious solution is absent. Almost every veteran I meet has been diagnosed with PTSD, because our nation would rather throw money and mind-numbing drugs at problems than to see them properly addressed. Many within my own circle will judge the stance I’m taking because people should just “turn to God.” I believe that God gave us the tools to overcome adversity together, and it’s not always enough to just project the things that pain us into the sky and be freed of them.
Most of the people you engage with beyond the surface level are proud to share with you conditions which replace their own names in illustrating the adversity they’ve overcome. You’re not a person – you’re a person battling depression. You’re a person battling bulimia, anxiety, PTSD, or anorexia. You’re a person battling. As if anyone out there is not battling.
You’re so thankful when you finally find someone else who is battling the same disease that you are…perhaps they can understand you. Disease, when written regarding mental health, is a word created by other people to monetize issues that have been faced since the dawn of humanity. The truth? The truth is that mental diseases and spiritual brokenness are the same damned thing. Honestly, at this point – with suicide rates skyrocketed and diagnosis at an all-time high – what’s the harm in trying a different approach?
I may not have a master’s degree, or a doctorate (though I hope to find the means to add those tools to my kit), but I think I have an even more valuable tool. MY story. I can help the broken to heal, because I’ve healed from being broken.
Anyone who scoffs at this post or the language in it hasn’t been in the place I’m talking about. But SO many have. And SO many are still there, and hiding it. Military leaders. CEO’s. Waitresses and strippers and whores and soldiers and children and happily married men and women and preachers and teachers and cooks and druggies and the homeless population that we try SO hard not to see. None of them is more important to me than the rest, and none of them has less potential than another. They all just need an advocate. Someone to give them the time of day, an open ear that won’t judge and can offer advice based off of practical experience, not some text book.
That’s the crux of what America’s mental health issue is, and it’s also the key mission of The Quiet Visionary. People don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to a therapist who tells them only that they’re “intellectualizing their emotions” and lacks any hint of empathy or compassion. If that sounds like a story based on experience it’s because it IS. The one time I sought professional help, I found someone who was professionally disconnected from the world’s problems. Someone who lacked the experience to relate to the world’s darkness. People bound by a code of ethics that prevents true connection or understanding, people who seek to drag the broken into the light without understanding why they haven’t been there in the first place.
Humanity is not a shameful experience. Real answers do exist. Cut yourself some slack. Pain is not something to be hidden. It’s something to be shared that others might better avoid it.
I may not have a degree like they say I should. And now, well into adulthood with a wife and child of my own, I’ve found myself thus far incapable of dropping everything to return to school. Sure, education is a great enhancement for tools forged by hard experience. By what use is a tool adorned with jewels if it’s never been forged in fire and quenched into its most durable form?
Better a plain and humble sword that was made properly than a jeweled one made of softest metal.
I can help you climb out of the pit. I know the path. I’ve been there before. And I’m working so hard for you, behind the scenes. Processing my story into something digestible. Not something to cling to, but something to learn from. And not because I’m better than you or because I’ve been through more, but because it is simply my purpose to do so. To change the broken stigma of mental health “awareness,” and give folks who are in pain actual solutions to their problems.
But every advocate needs an advocate. Help me build my platform so I can help those who are in the dark to understand the darkness, and thus overcome it.
You will hear more from me. If you need help, reach out to me anytime. It doesn’t matter who you are or how we’re related. I see the world’s hidden pains. The only real solution is unconditional love. Whatever happened to unconditional love?