Confronting Passivity

One of the weaknesses I have as a writer is that my characters tend to be passive. A lot of times, my protagonist will avoid answering a question, or something will happen and get in the way of his/her chance to respond. My professors are often annoyed with this. During workshops, I’m often asked by both professors and students why my characters are so passive. Why they can’t just speak up, answer difficult questions, get angry at others, etc. So, lately, as I’m writing, I’ve been trying to force my characters to be more assertive. I don’t want them to be afraid of standing up for themselves and speaking up, defending themselves. One of my professors told me that through the years, she has learned that some writers create passive characters because they are passive in their own lives. This really hit me square in the eyes. She told me this in her office, during a private meeting, and I literally laughed allowed. Even at that moment I was ready to change the subject, and I realized that even then I was automatically going to “pass over” her comment and move on. But I decided to pause, let myself digest what she had just told me, and respond to it. I told her that she was so right! I am really bad with confrontation.

This past week, I was scheduled to undergo an endoscopy. I was nervous about it for a whole week. So nervous that if I stopped to think about it, I would literally have an anxiety attack. Trouble breathing. Sweating. Heart racing. Room spinning. You get the picture. So you can only imagine how I was feeling on the day of the procedure. My poor husband had to sit next to a very unhappy woman in the waiting room. I didn’t want to talk about it. I snapped at him. I didn’t want to hear it when he tried to console me. Oh, let me tell you, I was a mess.

When I was finally called in, I regretfully changed into the hospital gown and lay on the bed. I waited for the nurse and greeted her with a scowl. I was so nervous that I had trouble answering simple questions and following simple directions.
When the nurse was putting my I.V. in, she said, “Are you Armenian?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I married an Armenian,” she said.
“Really?”
“Yup. And I had two Armenian kids.”
“That’s cool,” I said, grimacing as she poked me with a needle for the third time.
“Yeah, and then I divorced my Armenian husband.”
I don’t know why she felt the need to tell me that story as she had trouble finding my vein. I was beginning to think she was preparing my arm to play “Connect the Dots” on my arm during the procedure.

Anyway, I really wanted the nurses to know how terrified I was. I was not looking forward to having a long tube stuck down my throat into my stomach. I wasn’t thrilled about the doctor clipping different parts of my stomach for biopsies either. I was literally shaking in the bed. The grumpy divorcee couldn’t get the I.V. in and didn’t pay much attention to my complaints. So, when another nurse came in to stick the needle into my hand, I tried again. I spoke up. I told her how nervous I was, and she said that I would be fine. When the same nurse came back and wheeled me into the procedure room, I could hear the bed shaking.

The nurse came to me and told me that I needed to relax.
“I am absolutely terrified,” I said.
“Yes, I can both see and hear that,” she said. “I’m going to give you something to get you started, to calm you down.”
She gave me some Versed and narcotics, and I even told her I was afraid of what the sedatives would feel like. I kept telling her that I was very scared.
Finally, she held my hand tightly, and came down close to my face with a smile.
“Honey, I will give you as much medicine as I can without being illegal.”

As soon as she said this, the room started spinning, they turned me on my left side, and then I woke up in the recovery room. Mgo told me that I kept asking him the same questions over and over again, going in and out of consciousness. Supposedly the doctor came in and talked to me about how the procedure went, etc. The only thing I remember is seeing a man in a green outfit smile at me. I don’t recall any of what he told me.

LONG story short… I made a conscious choice to be assertive that day. I wanted to see what would happen. Yes, in the midst of my intense fear and anxiety, I was testing myself. I was testing the world around me. And it sure made a difference. If I hadn’t told them how afraid I was, I don’t know if they would’ve given me enough sedatives for me to actually fall asleep. I might’ve had a really bad experience. I spoke up, and it was such a breeze, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I had the best sleep of my life.

And if I hadn’t spoken up, if I hadn’t pushed passed my usual passivity, I don’t know if I would’ve had this story to tell.

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3 thoughts on “Confronting Passivity

  1. Atta girl!! Maybe the East Coast is rubbing off on you a bit? I hope you're feeling okay and the results will be what you are hoping. I don't find it surprising that characters are often a reflection of their creator – we write about what we know, right?

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  2. We write first and foremost, what we know. I have just recently come to see that in my own writing – death, abandonment, cancer – it's all there! I think the real test for both of us is to create a character in a situation that is so unlike anything in our own lives – and make it work. I am really struggling on some of the stories I have on the back burner… I just can't judge my own writing and I am getting fits of anxiety over turning in something that could potentially be shot down. Two of my thesis contenders have been nixed completely, not by me. Maybe someday we will look back over this experience and laugh… if only to stop ourselves from crying at the struggle.

    I may have little faith in myself, but I have faith in you! You may think yourself 'passive' but you have this fire inside that is just waiting to flare up… and I can't wait to see how that plays out in your writing because I know it is coming!

    Have a fantastic Thanksgiving!!! :o)

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