Angry Passive Voice

4 March 2001

I'm back.

Gonna be at least a two-post day. Maybe I'll be like Columbine (pre-space problems) and post a bunch of times in the same day. Yeah. Wouldn't that be fun.

So did I sound kind of mad before? Good, because I am. I'll bet that the family and non-writer friends who read this are now fairly taken aback.

Here's the thing: writing is a pretty solitary thing. It's you and the pen and paper, or you and the computer. Or, if you're really eccentric, you and the typewriter. Whatever. Anyway, when it comes down to the actual writing, nobody gets to hold your hand. Even a collaboration is just not going to be the same as, say, a lab partner experience.

There are various things that make it seem less lonely, less like we're shouting down wells. Collaboration can be lovely. Talking things out with other writers or with non-writers even helps. And in science fiction, we have an easier time pretending that we're not fundamentally alone, because everyone is so darn nice. There are actual on-line and in-person communities, writing groups and conventions and all these things, and (unlike in li-fi circles) 'most everybody recognizes that we're not competing with each other. We're competing with TV and video games and random other hobbies.

We're the kind of people who have been freaks and outcasts, for the most part. And all of a sudden, there's a whole bunch of other freaks and outcasts. Some of them are your heroes, and some of your heroes are cool people as well as being really good at what they do. (I know there's no chance whatsoever that you're reading this, but Joe and Gay, Rick -- thanks. It probably looks like you haven't done much for this particular young writer -- a few conversations, some e-mail, a little help here and there on a synopsis. But from here, it means a lot. More than you can know -- except that you were here once, so you can know.)

So you end up with a bunch of people with similar interests, and they're geeks, too, and they treat you well, and you try to do the same, and pretty soon it feels like you've got yourself a community. And in some ways you do. Only it doesn't always look like everybody else in it thinks that way. Or else they do, and you're not part of it. And that's pretty rough. Have you ever overheard someone you thought was a friend say, "well, I never really liked her [or him, you know which one works] much," and realized with a sinking feeling that the person in question is you? That's kind of what it's like when you think you have a community and other folks in it don't think so.

And sometimes they don't behave like it, either. It becomes easy for young writers to rant about the Stupid Publishing Industry (I feel like that needs a copyright symbol), because parts of it are stupid. But that doesn't mean I stop trying to improve what I do. Because nobody is forcing me to do this. I don't have to send out stories anywhere I don't want to. I don't have to deal with people I don't respect. The pickier I get, the harder it may be to sell stuff, but I always have that choice.

You know, if I could tell my younger self one thing, it would probably be, "Get mad! Why don't you get mad? Stop putting up with all of that. What ever made you think you had to? What are you afraid of?" And the real truth of what I was afraid of is that if I got mad, nobody would listen to me. They have all sorts of adages for this, the most famous being the whole flies and honey/vinegar thing. Angry people are told to calm down. Told to stop stressing. Told not to be shrill or irrational. Rational anger is something that's almost totally unknown in our society. It's just a missing concept. That it could be right to be angry is inconceivable. Anger is negative; negativity is bad. No matter what.

Ironic that all of this was brought on by Harlan Ellison, a man I habitually ignore because he is so perpetually angry. When I read his articles, I pay attention to what he's saying, but mostly I avoid them, because he is too angry, in too off-putting a manner, over all the wrong things.

I've always been good at getting mad at generalities. The American Educational System is one of my favorites and has been for much of my life. There are others. Of course. But in that particular case, it would be good if I could get angry at specific people. My old principal and superintendent. The history teacher who told us that the Pentagon was on the Acropolis in Greece (and no, it wasn't a verbal slip). Even a well-beloved math teacher who tried to get me to stick around for a fourth year of high school because "we could find something for you to do." There's still plenty of room for stuff to despise about the good old public school system. But sometimes it's better to be able to be mad at the real people who have done real things. And to let that anger be proportional to what they have actually done -- not to make it into an abstract grouping, a symbol of something. Just to be plain damn mad, and deal with it.

Writing teachers invariably counsel avoidance of the passive voice in our prose. I think we need less of it in our lives. We have too much "society is...." "This community is...." Things don't tend to just happen to "society" or "communities" (at least, in the ideological sense of "communities"). People do things. Or don't do them. With consequences either way.

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