The Passive Sentence

I don’t know when exactly I noticed the passive sentence shivering out in the cold, or what prompted my decision to take it in. But shortly afterwards I noticed that it wasn’t quite so helpless as I’d imagined. Its teeth– why did it have teeth? –were much sharper than I expected, something I discovered while trying to bottle-feed it back to life. I think some of the bile on its tooth-edge found its way into my bloodstream, eventually taking up residence in a pronounced tumor just above my left elbow. For the past several weeks I’ve been trying to excise it, messily.

Hubris, man. I don’t know when I took the passive sentence in but I’m sure it was sometime between here and high school, most likely a period when I thought I was so clever (oh really, you too?) I didn’t have to play by the rules. I also implicate “the essay”: one of the few water marks for writing while in school, its taught style reliant on the bureaucratic passive sentence as a rule. Don’t forget my parents, teachers, and Mike Harris, all perfectly acceptable (and time-worn) scapegoats. Hey Mike! Why don’t you get off your high-horse and teach me some grammar, why don’t you?

You’d think my change in philosophy would be due to the critiques received in the writing program I am currently enrolled in. And you’d be right, but only vaguely. My appraiser has never actually stumbled on the root of the problem, only spouting such useful tidbits as “Sometimes your writing seems inexact…”

It definitely was! For all I know, it could still be. But I don’t think I’ve received any direct advice regarding language. What my mentor does note is dissatisfaction, which doesn’t exactly make my failures easy to pinpoint. I suddenly understand the travails of perpetual has-beens, such as Toronto Blue Jays minor-league pitcher Ricky Romero. Drafted in the first round, he was picked above so many future stars that his failure as a prospect is frequently noted by detractors of the Jays’ current general manager J.P. Ricciardi. His raw “stuff” described universally as “electric”, Ricky’s repeated failures have to do with his mental makeup, specifically his ability to “keep it together” during games. By all accounts he approaches the game sincerely and seriously. So how do you correct his breakdowns? I don’t think the Jays know. I imagine the pitching coach pulling him into his office after a particularly terrible game.

“Ricky, you’ve got a tendancy to fall apart.”


“You know, you really should work on that.”

“You got it, coach. I’ll make the majors, I will!”

“Attaboy, son.”

A single tear rolls down the coach’s face as Romero exits triumphantly.

Anyway, I’m working on it. My higher faculties (and my spell check) focus on the problem of the passive sentence like a shark trailing a straggler in a school of fish. I guess I could be neglecting a whole slew of other problems. I probably am. But one thing at a time, right?

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