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 202019

Sanctuary — a place of peace and safety. Deeply valued by most. It is a holy place, whether in a house of worship or another locale. Homes can provide sanctuary as can prayer, meditation, relationships, and books.

I’ve spent many years wading through ‘spirituality’ vs. ‘religion.’ When I was in practice, twelve-step recovery programs were about the only option for affordable, long-term support for my clients. Because of that, they often needed a sounding board to help sort through personal histories and arrive at a concept of a higher power that worked for them. Some were comfortable with their existing religious definitions but many felt far too angry, guilty, or ashamed to even want to think about their religious upbringing. I am someone who gave witness to a great number of priest abuse stories long before that scandal arrived in the headlines.

Many felt far too angry, guilty, or ashamed to even want to think about their religious upbringing Click To Tweet

Two ideas worked for many of my addicted clients. First was that many of their shameful behaviors were a direct result of rational thought being warped or eliminated by the use of alcohol or other drugs and that ongoing recovery was an important way to atone. The second was that they didn’t need to worry about finding an “official” god —  that groups of people who had felt the same way and achieved recovery wanted nothing more than to provide them the power needed to recover. For hope-filled and fearful folk leaving the safety of inpatient treatment, those groups became a form of sanctuary. Perhaps it is in the form of feeling immunity from the remorse and self-loathing that don’t immediately disappear.

I no longer participate in organized religion but the idea of sanctuary remains deeply rooted. So is some sort of faith that the world is a fundamentally good place. And a belief that everyone deserves a place of peace and safety: even those Canada geese who were targeted for death.

I’m not someone who can sit with overwhelming emotion. However insignificant it may be, I need to take action. So after consulting with Favorite Husband, I decided to give the geese a place to go. Our place, with the high grass, at the edge of the pond. But how would we attract them at a time their trust in humans was justifiably non-existant?

Favorite Husband and I decided to give the geese a place to go. Our place, with the high grass, at the edge of the pond. Click To Tweet

Thinking about various grandmothers and homes that had provided personal refuge the answer became clear. We needed to find a way to feed them and that meant learning about their favorite foods.

Do you have a person, place, or practice of sanctuary? What makes it feel safe? What draws you to return?








Mar 192019

Of late, much of my reading and writing has circled back to the process of grieving. Perhaps it is the change of seasons, leading me to focus on the seasons that humans pass through. Or, perhaps, it is that my friends who are steeped in organized religion have been talking and writing about Lent. Whatever the reason, here are some thoughts about grief.

Grief is a process, not a state. Anne Grant

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. ~ Robert Fulghum


I believe that love is stronger than death. Click To Tweet

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


There is no grief like the grief that does not speak Click To Tweet

The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief… For a time I rest in the grace of the world and am free. ~ Wendell Berry


Grief can't be shared. Everyone carries it alone. Click To Tweet

Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden in his own way. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh



Mar 122019

I lived in a beautiful, rural location on a dirt road next to a pond on top of a mountain, far more idyllic than isolating. It was a great place to live and to write. The pond itself provided plenty to watch — its various stages of liquid and solid and back again. Mirror-like reflections. Textures of the ice. Although spread quite far out, neighbors came together in late winter for an annual  “penguin plunge” and cookout. I’ll admit I was one of the people who waited for our spring-fed water feature to warm up — a lot — before going in.

Like any large, healthy body of water this one was home to some wonderful wildlife: fish, turtles, ducks, loons and, of course, the Canada geese. They came and went, announcing their arrival and departure with what I consider a beautiful song. From time to time they slowed our dirt road’s twice-a-day “traffic” with the strutting and waddling it took to migrate from their nesting area to the water’s edge.

The Canada geese came and went, announcing their arrival and departure with a beautiful song. Click To Tweet

I spent a lot of time on that dirt road. Whenever it was time to take a break — or sometimes just for fun — I took time to walk that dirt road. Sometimes aimlessly, sometimes purposefully, with dogs and without. I took photographs. I enjoyed the sites and sounds. It smelled of balsams and of forest must. I found it both inspiring and peaceful. For a long time, it was a place I thought was free of violence.

I'm sure I'll be accused of anthropomorphizing if I call it grieving, but that's exactly what it was. Click To Tweet

That image was shattered the day I found one of these magnificent geese, flattened beside the road. Given the location of the body, it was clear that someone had quite deliberately driven off the road, specifically to kill it. I was heartsick and couldn’t get the situation out of my head — especially when for days after I could see its partner hovering and pacing nearby. I’m sure I’ll be accused of anthropomorphizing if I call it grieving but that’s exactly what it was. I spent days wrestling with the need to take some sort of action. But how does one memorialize a goose?

Part of my outrage was the idea that geese had been nesting here long before there were humans. Rational humans who lived around the pond knew that we were on the flight path. But what kind of irrationality, ignorance,  or rage would provoke someone to drive onto the grassy shoulder in order to murder an innocent animal? And although directed at an animal, that violence shattered something in me… something about our peaceful place. Something about safety.

Although directed at an animal, that violence shattered something in me... something about our peaceful place. Something about safety. Click To Tweet

Eventually, it came to me that perhaps it was not a memorial that was needed but sanctuary: a place of refuge. But how would we accomplish that? There was a will — a will to find a way.

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