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?

Dec 242018
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was probably a high school reading assignment that introduced me to John Steinbeck’s novels. My guess is that we started with The Grapes of Wrath and, while I may have grumbled about the assignments as much as anyone else, guess who dominated my independent reading for some time after? I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and Travels With Charley. I loved each and every character and was hooked on feeling transported to a completely different place and culture.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m fascinated by thinking. And brains. Click To Tweet

If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I’m fascinated by thinking. And brains. I’ve noticed that, as I think about various books and authors, they show up as a category. For example, when I was a single Mom with a young child, we were fortunate to leave New England in early spring and visit relatives in the sunny South. At the time, the release of John Grisham’s novels coincided neatly with those trips and became a bit of a tradition for me.  Runaway Jury comes to mind.

That leads to my love of series. Andrew Vachss’ Burke series is full of honest, gripping stories and compelling characters. It’s dark. And accurate. And has been described as “prose as forceful as a hollow-point slug.” When recommending a starting place, I can’t choose between FloodBlossom, or Hard Candy.  They all fit the bill as novels that tell the truth. Hard truth.

Every novel in Andrew Vachss' Burke series fits the bill as fiction that tells the truth. Hard truth. Click To Tweet

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (One for the Money,   Two for the Dough) is as silly as Vachss is revealing. They’re a lot of fun.

And of course, there are my friends who write. I love them — no only for the feedback and encouragement they share but for the work they produce. They keep me traveling to genres that I might now always choose for myself. I enjoy David-Matthew Barnes’ short plays and romances. (Ambrosia is pretty funny.)

I turn to my sometimes-neighbor Barbara Bond for mature chick-lit that takes place on my island home… although I’m going to a launch party for her new release Everyday Enemies next week. And I can’t thank Nancy Blanton enough. Sharavogue — the first book in her series of 17th-century Irish historical fiction — boasts well-drawn characters and enough “action” to make me a fan of a previously untasted genre! There’s something wonderful (and a little naughty) about knowing The Prince of Glencurragh is waiting for me on the bedside table.

Do you read fiction? Please make a recommendation or two in the comments.

Nov 082018
 

Lots of writers I know have a soundtrack for their work — a playlist that keeps them focused during the long hours of writing, editing and rewriting that goes into producing quality work. Others of us use different tricks to keep our minds from wandering. I’ve talked to several who, like me, are happy with some tried and true, old favorite movie or TV show on in the background. There are even those authors who crave silence but, since my freelance work took off back when I had a kid in elementary, I have no idea how I could make that adjustment.

There are even those authors who crave silence... Click To Tweet

 

Not long ago I chatted with another writer about the power of smells and songs to evoke powerful memories. It’s something editors often harp on, reminding us to “show don’t tell.” They know that the right snippet of sound can bring the reader into a time and place more quickly than any lengthy description.

 

 

The other day, just for fun, I checked in with readers on my Facebook page, asking which album they played over and over when they were younger. In honor of the day my 5th-grader came home, excited to tell me about the “amazing new group” he had heard, I posted the Sargeant Pepper album cover.

The response was fun. And interesting. And most of their postings came with a snippet of story: the first album bought with her own money, singing in front of the mirror with her sisters, making sure to own an LP in every single available format, and even taking pleasure in her parents’ music.

I heard from readers I know around town, some I only know online, and even a friend from high school. Most who responded were female and most around the same age. Their musical choices and the comments they shared painted a picture for me as well. Of the things we cared about. The things we worried about. And the music that made us feel less alone.

Their musical choices painted a picture of the things we cared about, our worries... Click To Tweet

And maybe that’s why so many writers thrive on a personal soundtrack — it’s a connection that makes them less alone.  Does your life have a soundtrack?

 

 

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Oct 102018
 

Those who did not grow up in the northeast might think that we native New Englanders eventually develop sort of a blasé attitude about the change of seasons. Personally, that could not be further from the truth: for as far back as I can remember the process has inspired awe.

When we lived on a dirt road in rural New Hampshire, there were lots of walks. I walked alone, with my husband, and with my dogs with their blaze orange tags. Despite the fact that we were too close for hunting, we all had our orange blaze. To the uninitiated, we may have looked like part of the changing landscape but it was a form of communication that made us all comfortable in our wandering. At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, not all who wander are lost. Our wandering rarely had a destination, it was all about the journey.

Our wandering rarely had a destination, it was always about the journey. Click To Tweet

As someone who has always loved photography, one would think I’d have — at the very least — hundreds of pictures of New England fall foliage. I don’t. I’ve tried, but quite honestly? They’re never good enough. I’m a decent photographer but those shots don’t even come close to capturing the surrounding beauty. I think it feels like living in a painting.

New Englanders are known for a certain hard-headed independence, captured in another masterpiece — one that is part of our psychic DNA. I don’t know if it’s as powerful in other parts of the country but for some of us, it’s a core experience.

This masterpiece is part of our psychic DNA. Click To Tweet

 

 

The Road Less Traveled
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I think that the last stanza can be an anthem for entrepreneurs and creatives everywhere. My sisters. (And the occasional brother.) And, as I sit and write this, my heart tells me that, wherever you are, you are imbued with at least a little bit of that independent Yankee hard-headedness.

 

Do you have at least a little bit of that independent Yankee hard-headedness? Click To Tweet

 

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