the first drafted piece I handed in of my dissertation had a response consisting of five words(and five punctuation marks) at the bottom:
Plot? Psychological insight? Social insight?
The characters were based on various Warringtonians (mostly bar-room philosophers) and teachers I'd had in my life. They tended to involve imagined relationships between people from entirely different compartments of my life.
I had to go back almost a year to a response to a novel I'd begun to find the key as to how to turn things around. I must have written 2000 words (of 6000) in one sitting, and in the middle of this was a paragraph that wasn't revised or particularly thought about, was highly elliptic but was apparently bursting with yearning and pathos.
Then, a short story called Drizzle was my first wholly successful piece in writing about vacuousness and banality in a way that wasn't vacuous and banal. It had three main characters, an alcoholic, living in his brother's house in Suburbia and struggling to find inspiration for his poetry; a young piano teacher, teaching the daughter of the man who was her favourite school teacher, and an eleven year-old boy playing football on his own, and what's going on in their, in various ways, limited imaginations is infinitely more vivid than the outer world: the lazy canal that the ball nearly rolls into; the garage door that it thunders into; the Grade 1 piece that the girl is teaching.
In the two and a half years since I wrote 'Drizzle', I have gained immeasurable insight into this vacuousness. About eighteen months before I wrote it I was having a conversation in somebody's basement and after about half an hour of being there he started to giggle and tell me that a mutual acquaintance of ours had jumped off a bridge and died. I've learned since that, while this guy is an extreme example, he is a mere microcosm of an indifference and an arbitrary cruelty that is very common in the world.
In an atmosphere that generally resists scholarly thought, whose idea of 'making conversation' is actually the opposite of mutual communication, and resists imaginative activities that aren't passive, I feel as if I'm making progress.