Am I a writer? Part Three

An awkward working class adolescent boy from nowhere who wanted to be a famous writer. (That “famous” was part of the problem.) Anyone sensible looking at my life couldn’t have found more unlikely circumstances for a future writer. Few books, adoptive parents who lacked not just formal education but emotional and political education. Ulster was a repressive society. At that time (probably still) Catholics and Protestants lived segregated lives in different schools and churches, rarely socializing, sharing an uneasy peace and keeping their mouths shut about religious and economic differences except on drunken or rare occasions like the Twelfth of July, when the Orangemen banged their big drums. Repression leaked into my family and into me: it wasn’t until I was gone away twenty or thirty years that it occurred to me to come up with a convincing reason why my parents barely spoke to each other when I was growing up. One spectacular repression was the fact of my adoption. Anyone who knew our family knew I was adopted, but all were sworn to secrecy. Amazingly they kept their mouths shut, even my best friend growing up, though his mother speculated juicily about who my father was.
Apart from the English classes that I lived for, my education hardly fitted me with the tools that are useful for a writer to have. Without supervision, in grammar school I drifted, dreaming through classes or lusting after some teachers. Except for my English homework, I spent a few careless minutes on homework, guessing answers that I could easily have researched if I hadn’t been sunk in torpor. Depression, I’d label it now.
It really does help a writer to have knowledge of the world: geography, history, math, foreign language and cultures, all the things I paid no attention to. (I don’t know how I squeaked through my school leaving exams.) I felt the lack of knowledge and discipline later, writing both fiction and nonfiction. As a journalist I was good at short bursts of sustained effort, but I usually had enough sense to avoid committing to the books editors offered me: an appraisal of the British unions, a paperback expansion of a piece I wrote on a Glasgow gang. Rash as my behavior often was, I had enough sense to know I didn’t have sustained effort in me. As a fiction writer I stopped being explicit: my trees remained trees, not what kind of tree, the details of its leaves. My characters’ clothes went undescribed. How much did they cost? How often were they cleaned? Later in life the kind of writing I admired seemed beyond me. Walking down the street, I thought I didn’t have words to name or describe the buildings, the clouds, the features of people’s faces, the characteristics of their body language. Am I walking on asphalt or cement? (Growing up I didn’t know how to pronounce asphalt, as in the movie The Asphalt Jungle. Maybe we called it tar.) When I read now I check for specificity. Is the writer able to name things? If not, what do they do to make up for what I see as that flaw?
Reading these last few paragraphs, I realized that they can’t be entirely true. MORE TO COME

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