Apr 102019
 

What do you see when I say “passive?” Hankie-totin’ Southern ladies on their fainting couches? Perhaps a heroine, reenacting The Perils of Pauline, tied to the railroad tracks, waiting for rescue? The endlessly complaining, hand-wringing, opinionated non-voter? Or is it the teenaged lump, tethered to this earth by those ever-present headphones? When one is passive, there is no active resistance or response. We can see “passive.”

For writers, there’s that pesky passive voice. When using tools to check my work, I sometimes encounter the software’s dreaded yellow squiggles, indicating a voice that’s not quite active enough. The yellow lines taunt me, demanding a re-write.

But, as the one who installed said pushy software? I actively ignore some of its error messages, tenderly x’ing out yellow squiggles here and there. What I really want to do is to yell at it. “Shut up, dammit.” Use of the passive voice is not always an error. Sometimes it’s a stylistic choice. It’s a choice I make when I don’t CARE how the action occurred or even whodunit. It just is. And, I actively — very actively — more actively than you can know… chose those words.

That, my friends, is an example of an active voice. It leaves no doubt as to the actor: c’est moi. Out here on the printed page or floating in some google-verse, thick with electrons. I still don’t understand how that happens, but I don’t care enough to investigate. Passive. Not the passive voice: just passive. On my virtual fainting couch.

But just what is a voice? I like to think of it as the fingerprint of an artistic endeavor. Actors, singers, and writers all spend time honing and developing a voice. And it can change from time to time. Stories are told, and songs are shared, over and over. 26 letters. Seven plots. Eight whole notes in a Western scale. Voice distinguishes Romeo and Juliet from West Side Story. Ronan Tynan’s Star Spangled Banner from Roseanne Barr’s. Voice is what gives an artist ownership; it makes a thing their own. Finding one’s voice is a trip along that Mobius strip called a learning curve. Age and maturity can conspire to facilitate discovery. It could be a luxurious exploration — like journaling or time shared with a gifted therapist or teacher.

And sometimes it’s as simple as a semi-automatic rifle and unspent, swastika-bearing magazines. Hundreds of lives lost: thousands of voices found.

Think about your own voice for a moment. Is it a song or a sound? A noise or a growl? I think about theirs as well: a cry, a whimper, a protest, a scream. Like so many others before them, their voices were muffled for hours as they hid in closets, whispering calls to 9-1-1. Texting ‘goodbyes’ to their loved ones. Urgent voices. Whispers. Cries. Warnings. And when the scene of the crime was deemed secure, they cried some more. And prayed and laughed and hugged with snot and tears running down their faces. And ever since we learned the term “bump stock,” we’ve seen it too many times.

Thoughts and prayers were offered. Their happily-ever-after was taken.

We use passive voice when the action is more important than the perpetrator or when one wishes to be formal, impersonal, or academic. It is accepted proper journalistic style. Do you ever worry about the blurring line between journalism and entertainment? Perhaps editors launch these neutral headlines to help us take a breath or to feel more objective. Distant. Dispassionate.

  • Responsibility was accepted by the victim.
  • Abusive relationships are often sustained by unemployment.

This time when they started asking ‘why’ it was loud. Why were their friends dead? They allowed their rage and fury to fuel their fierceness. The mass shooting generation: they have never known schools as safe havens. Eighteen years since Columbine. Seventeen-year-olds have grown up with active shooter drills. Barricading doors. Avoiding windows. Knowing how to signal law enforcement that they are the unarmed victims.

College first-years have grown up with active shooter drills. Barricading doors. Avoiding windows. Knowing how to signal law enforcement that they are the unarmed victims. Click To Tweet

But, suddenly, these are not victims. They thunder. Neither victims or survivors: they are warriors. Their voices are urgent. Embattled. Strident. Rulers of the electronic universe, they are beyond able to speak for themselves. Every day they connect with those of us who love them — elders and others standing by to amplify their message. Who will be the loudest voice? The clearest one? The silent one? What, if any, action will be taken? I suspect it will be piecemeal, don’t you? And when it doesn’t work, underfunding will be blamed. And, yes, there’s a lot of passive voice right here, right now: I’m trying to protect you from my fury.

  • The road was crossed by the chicken.
  • The other side was reached.
  • The woman was strangled by her husband.

What are the causes of gun violence? The professional politicians tell us it’s a mental health issue, caused, in part by bullying, and a lack of armed teachers in the classroom. Suddenly there are lots of answers, none of them completely correct. Correct answers don’t make good headlines.

Are you ready for the secret hiding in plain sight? They one no one wants to voice? More than half of all mass shooters have a history of domestic violence: they are victims, perpetrators or both. For most, it hasn’t been a secret — at least until after they kill. The Sandy Hook shooter’s mother feared him. The one in Parkland had threatened a girlfriend and, apparently, the folks who took him in after the death of his Mom. The man who shot up the church in Texas had been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and 2-year-old child. The D.C. sniper terrorized his wife before he branched out to a community. The Boston Marathon bomber. The Pulse nightclub shooter.

  • Mistakes were made.
  • The teen was shot at school.
  • The young woman lost her life.

Let’s stop using words to hide the truth: she did not lose her life. It is not misplaced like so many mismatched socks in the dryer lint: she was murdered. Murdered by a madman with a gun, described by some as a ‘lovesick teen.’

Domestic violence is a women-only problem. A husband has the right. She made him angry. It’s a private family matter. Our current legislators are willing to regulate women’s bodies but not assault rifles. There are still schools in this country legally administering corporal punishment to students. Where women and children are property, domestic violence continues unabated. Unaddressed. It took years to stop publishing the names of the domestic violence victims and even longer to stop making school shooters more famous than those whose lives they stole.

  • Threatening calls were made.
  • The other cheek was turned.
  • Woman injured.

By whom? What was injured? All of her? Or just a little bit? Her dignity, her pride, her self- respect. When was she injured? Was it a single, distinct episode or a daily occurrence? Where? Where on her body? Where in her home? Where in her town?

The Latin origin of the word passive comes from the root 'passe-' meaning ‘suffered.’ But where did the political knee-jerk 'thoughts and prayers' originate? Click To Tweet

The Latin origin of the word passive comes from the root ‘passe-‘ meaning ‘suffered.’ But where did the often-unwanted political knee-jerk thoughts and prayers originate? While not inherently bad, their proffer seems to have become as empty as the ceremonial balloons sometimes released by survivors. Political hot air stands in for courageous action. Passive.
No wonder so many of the online grammar checkers slap my wrist. Passive voice. Perhaps instead of highlights and little yellow squiggles, I should find a different program. I want a program that responds to my passive voice like this: Stop it. Own it. Take responsibility or assign blame.

What action will you put to this?

Mar 232019
 

 

How would you like to tour Ireland with a small group of history lovers? And what if that group was made up of folks who love to read?

 

How would you like to tour Ireland with a small group of history-lovers? Click To Tweet

 

And how much better would that be if such a tour was led by Irish historical fiction author and all around awesome human Nancy Blanton?

 

And what if such a tour was led by Irish historical fiction author Nancy Blanton? Click To Tweet

 

I realize this is an unusual post for me but I’m excited about this wonderful opportunity for folks to explore Ireland with my friend and business partner, author Nancy Blanton. Virtuoso Tours has teamed with Nancy to explore the Emerald Isle, visiting many of the sites described in Blanton’s luscious 17th-century historical fiction. Pubs? Castles? Ruins? It’s all there — and brought to life by a premiere story-teller.

We all know that an epic trip of a lifetime takes a little advance planning so please share the opportunity with your friends.

Virtuoso has created a spectacular itinerary . Click here BLANTON Ireland TOUR for full details. And, to prepare, you can start to get to know Nancy and her spectacular 17th-century Irish historical fiction.

 

Jan 072019
 

grounded swallow

Want to fly?  Really soar?  First, you’ve gotta get unstuck.  Think about it, before you can fly you’ve gotta _______________.

How are we going to fill in that blank for you???? And what’s up with the ugly little bird?

I took this picture at my former home in New Hampshire.  I’d been watching a mother bird feed her little ones.  Suddenly, it was time for them to fly.  Only this little baby wasn’t convinced.  I’ll never know whether he didn’t WANT to fly or he wasn’t physically ready.  It probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is that somebody else set a goal for him and he didn’t achieve it.

Well… that’s not 100% accurate.  He and his siblings “flew” to the ground.  The others eventually made it to the top of the garden fences.  And then higher up in a tree.  And on to the roof of the barn.

Except for this one.  He was on the ground and going nowhere fast.  And not happy about it.  Can you relate? I know I can. I have (at least once in my life) managed to make myself miserable by ‘comparing my insides’ to what I saw others doing. Or, worse still, trying to reach goals I hadn’t chosen.  I can’t think of a better way to stay grounded.

I can't think of a better way to stay grounded than to go for a goal you didn't choose. Click To Tweet

I think “flight” combines both science and art.  

Some critters don’t do it because they lack the necessary equipment.  Others haven’t yet developed the required strength and coordination or mastered the timing. It’s not all that different from the way humans grow into the various roles we take on in our lives.

Whether writer, visual artist, salesperson or parent… living up to our potential requires a combination of science (skills and information) and art (choosing the right combination and making them part of what you do).  And as much as we’d sometimes like to pretend otherwise, there’s no magic bullet: when it comes to getting unstuck there’s no “one size fits all.”

Your particular version of “stuck” may be showing up in your monthly sales figures.  Or in that manuscript you can’t quite finish.  Or calls that don’t get made.  So you do what you’ve always done.  You read. Go to seminars.  Buy packages. Hire a coach. YOU FEEL GREAT!  You’re motivated like crazy… and then…

Nothing happens.

Can you relate?  It’s probably not your fault.  The tools you used were probably fine:  just not the right ones for this particular “job.”  It’s like trying to drive a nail with a bag of birdseed.

It's like trying to drive a nail with a bag of birdseed. Not quite the right tool, is it? Click To Tweet

Motivation is great… but not when it’s the only tool in the toolbox.  I’m sure you’ve had times you’ve been both stuck and motivated:  ready and willing to take action but unsure where to start. Remember, whether your learning to fly, to use social media, or to build your business there are predictable stages:

  • we don’t know that we don’t know
  • we know that we don’t know
  • we know…. but our skills are a bit shaky

And eventually, with support and practice, we get to “Woo-HOO!  I feel like I’ve ALWAYS known how to do this.”

Are you stuck? Or have you mastered something that used to have you that way? Tell us about it in the comments.

##

 

 

 

Dec 112018
 

It’s election day again. Already. A run-off for what really looks like a relatively inconsequential local race. It’s also about twenty-five degrees colder than it was a few days ago and I’m layered up in one of my extremely unfashionable stay-inside-and-write-all-day outfits. And all of this is a roundabout way of saying: I didn’t want to go.

That’s unusual for me. Normally, elections are in my calendar. I remind other people who already know. I get nervous that I might forget or be late. That the line might be too long. That I’ll forget my reading glasses. Voting is important to me. I don’t think I’ve ever missed an election in which I was eligible to vote. But I still didn’t want to go.

The affection I feel for such volunteer poll workers remains unchanged. Click To Tweet

Yet, if the news of the last few months has taught us anything it is that elections are decided by those who show up. There’s the guy who didn’t get back from a business trip in time to vote for himself in a contest that ended in a tie. A decision via coin toss. Absentee ballots that arrived on time but, for some unknown reason, didn’t make the count.

Arriving at our polling place we were greeted by a familiar sight: people from each campaign, holding signs with their candidate’s name and waving to passersby. There was a new volunteer at the door. Thin. Nervous. Twitchy. It hadn’t occurred to her that most of us had been voting at this location for years, but, regardless of the micromanagement about which line to get into and where to stand until we got there, we were grateful for her contribution.

The “usual suspects” sat long tables, checking IDs and handing out ballots. The chatter was warm and friendly while we commiserated about the cold; I noticed red, white and blue sweaters and vests under open winter jackets. One sported a knitted American flag on the front. The affection I feel for such volunteer poll workers remains unchanged, regardless of where I live.

Moments later, we were back in the car to go home when I witnessed something that brought a lump to my throat. When we arrived at the polling place, there were several people holding signs for “Candidate A” on one side of the drive, and one representing “Candidate B” on the other. As we pulled out, the folks from Candidate A’s side of the aisle (or, in this case, driveway) were crossing to stand with the lone representative from Candidate B’s campaign.

Maybe no election is inconsequential. And maybe all aisle-crossing counts Click To Tweet

Maybe no election is inconsequential. And maybe all aisle-crossing counts. Maybe we’re all on the same side.

 

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