(or "Being a Loathed Maverick Without Running for Political Office...")
For most of my life, I have felt like a casual observer of humanity on the outside of an aquarium looking in at the inner workings of social interaction and human behavior. I guess it comes as no surprise that I still often feel like an outsider on the fringe. Some of my beliefs aren't in line with majority views. I march to my own drummer, even when it meets with resistance.
This is certainly true in the paranormal community. I don't try to pass off every round photographic anomaly as an orb. I'm not an avid "Ghost Hunters" viewer and I don't offer ghost housekeeping services or magical cleansings, which may or may not work. I hold myself to the same level of scrutiny as I find from both believers and skeptics alike. And often I clash with both peers and critics.
But that's part of the job. They say that if you can't handle a rejection letter, you have no business being a writer. On the same token, if you can't weather harsh criticism with the paranormal, it might not be your best choice of career or hobby.
I remember sitting in the waiting area at Cleveland Scene Magazine years ago, waiting to have my picture taken to accompany an article being published. As I read a newspaper (Tip: if you want to appear ignorant of your surroundings, pretend to be reading or watching television), the secretary began discussing the latest news with a colleague.
"So, what happened with this ghost hunting article Chris was writing about?"
"He said it was stupid. A bunch of weird people wandering in the dark talking about seeing spirits. The head guy was okay but some of the others were crazy."
Just then, the journalist and photographer came over to whisk me away to an empty room to snap a photo of me holding a flashlight and "acting" like I was looking for something. I flashed a polite smile to the secretary as I passed; a look of embarrassed dread crossed her face. Minutes later, I returned to the waiting room to head out.
"I'm so sorry about what I said," she pleaded.
I brushed it off. "Don't worry about it. I've been called worse. And I know it seems a bit strange to most people, but I still find it interesting."
I showed her my website, explained my own skepticism, and let her glance at my few photos. She played a few EVP's before shutting down her browser.
"Okay, I'm creeped out. I can't listen to any more!"
I left feeling content that she now knew I wasn't some lunatic with a flashlight.
The desire for fame can be blinding to beginners. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a Kennedy but doesn't want to face possible bullets. And they do come flying in the form of quiet remarks or swift attacks. It can be as subtle as offhand comments behind your back or patronizing statements passed off as fake surprise or enthusiasm (and many fail to detect it). At other times, comments are directly thrust in your face, defiantly declaring you a fraud or psychopath.
This is an extremely controversial topic. The more exposure you gain, the more open to attacks we all become. Just looking at the latest TAPS jacket-pulling debate is proof of that. Is it fake? I don't have an opinion. It could be or couldn't be. But I'm not here to judge and burn bridges. I will say this much: the truth will come out eventually. If it end up being fraudulent, I'd focus my blame on pressures from behind-the-scenes. People fail to realize the level of control producers and management exert on television and film. Once you're a celebrity, you no longer have the final say in anything. You're just a pawn. Every word is monitored while contracts are dangled over your head like blackmail letters. It's a tough, cruel world.
Even if you haven't achieved ultimate fame, people smile at you with concealed daggers waiting for a chance to plunge it into your back. Paranormal investigators scratch and claw at each other to prove themselves worthier of positive press. Instead of teamwork, it's a dog-eat-dog world. Belittling others becomes the norm. Dramas become more frequent than any found in booze-soaked gay bars. Ultimately, most investigators lead a nomadic existence after years of battling these petty forces.
And so, here I am: the black sheep. Not much has changed in over a decade. The same battles and nitpicking surrounds me. Newbies still become overnight experts. Seasoned researchers fight bitterness and apathy. The world keeps spinning yet some feel the need to make themselves the axis. Every day feels like going into battle, and the comrades are few and far between.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot why we're in this. The paranormal takes a backseat to popularity and oneupmanship. It takes a tough skin and strong sense of humor to survive. But no one ever said it was easy to be different. Unpaved roads are never without a few bumps. But the view from afar—the view from the outside—is so much better.