I have been a slave to the passive voice.* (Wait, I was a slave to it in the past? I still am? I always will be? Present perfect progressive verb tense here, so- yeah I’m hoping it will come to an end at some point.) My artist statement writing was made of attempt after attempt to remove it. (<– see that! passive again!) With assistance, I made peace with it. But when I dodge the chance to make a direct point (in writing, conversation, or in studio) is it purposeful or accidental?
In my writing, a thing will have something happen to it, but (often!) no one actually does it. The agent is in the subject position. Who knows when things start & end? The setting is always the inner world, and I dance around direct observations. I have an addiction to writing in a way that leaves options open for the reader to make her own conclusions. When writing, I am exploring, and I don’t land on definite rights and wrongs. It’s as if I’m more Thesaurus than Dictionary. Judgment calls are for when all information is gathered, and even then, who has the final say? Still, lately the more I write, I pester myself with questions: Who did that thing? What happened? Stop talking about what happened to the thing, and tell who did that to the thing. I’ve been examining how I remove myself from the action: “I’m not there, it just happens!” I tell myself I don’t want to force anything, and I write in a way that says I am not that kind of person, I do not Commandeer, I am not Imperious, I’m better than that. Or so I like to think.
In conversation, I avoid making judgment calls, and I have reserve in internal evaluations. They are fluid as they develop and clarify. I find that slowness to come to certain decisions is a way of allowing things to have their own place, to accept things/people/ideas on their own terms. Yet, I have respect for those who vocally define their world. Would we have a Thesaurus without a Dictionary? I’ve known for a long time I needed those people & their valuable critique. They are so sure of themselves, whether they are right or wrong. (And I end up looking like the squirrely one!) I try to see all the options. Am I disingenuous? Duplicitous? I’m certain that I am comfortable with uncertainty; conversely I find certainty in my faith. I kind of love the way the puzzle fits together: the certainty of those who define, refine, pronounce, dictate, analyze, and find what’s lacking, along with openness, exploration, and the expansive view that comes with inclusive understanding. I value the obvious authority of the decision makers, but find myself quickly dismissed for hesitation.
Finally, there’s the studio, and the way I wash my hands of what I do. As if there’s some kind of anthropomorphic experience where the materials act independently of myself, the artist. And so I ask questions. Am I just there? Watching it happen? It’s my mind & hands that are making it, why do I shrug off the power role? What is this naiveté, this innocence, this distancing myself from the role of Maker? Has it been acts of humility so that the focus is on the “living/breathing” work, is it a vilification of the Doer, or is it a reluctance to take responsibility for my work? Am I refusing the role, with this being about removing myself as provocateur, keeping the action neutral? Or is this respect for the ways the work is independent of self?
I keep wanting to forget the ways that I take an authoritative stand in the studio. I am the Maker, but then I want to step back behind the curtain. I say I observe. But I effect. I connect. I make. I control my materials. I push and cut, burn and hammer. I will not let the work do this, I will make it do that. Then something happens again. The comfortable authority I have when I’m alone dissolves into a deferent posture when I’m with others. I distance myself from what I know, from how I did what I did, until it becomes something that just happened. I observe others & I observe myself. I say I was hardly there. I look away.
“The wind howls, but the mountain remains still.” – Japanese proverb
* Ever since last October, I have wanted to take a closer look at my addiction to the passive voice. This is as long as I was afraid it would be.