Waiting for DeLillo

April 20, 2007 at 3:09 am (Uncategorized)

Back in August 2006, I stopped having anxiety/insecurity attacks about doing it, and sent Don DeLillo a bound copy of my PhD thesis. This took me a while. I sat on it for about nine months. That’s how terrified I was of Don DeLillo thinking my thesis was a piece of shit. Anyway, I conquered my fear just long enough to hand it over to registered post. I sent it via his publisher, Nan Graham, after confirming via a direct email that she would kindly pass it on to the author.

For the first couple of months, there was a part of me that waited for a response, an acknowledgement of some kind. I had already assured Graham that I did not expect to establish any kind of correspondence with DeLillo – no, I just wanted him to have a copy, and to know that it existed. I had written a note to accompany the text, and I had inscribed the thesis as well. I had expressed all that I wanted to express. It was merely a gesture, from me to him.

But then, if I’m to be completely frank, I hadn’t banked on never hearing anything at all, nor did I anticipate how that would make me feel. Over time, I started to realise I did want a correspondence, just of the most basic rather than ongoing variety. I wanted to express something, and I wanted DeLillo to respond. That was all.

The anxiety/insecurity attacks soon saw their opportunity to mount a stunning resurrection. Why hasn’t he acknowledged my 86,000 word ode to his fiction? Why, it must be because it’s such a lousy thesis, scarcely worth the paper it’s printed on. Maybe it was the note. Maybe I said something wrong in the note. Maybe he didn’t like my tone. Maybe he thought it was arrogant of me to inscribe the copy I sent to him – who the hell do I think I am anyway? Maybe he read the abstract and chucked the whole thing in the bin. Maybe he doesn’t like the colour orange, which I chose for the binding of the extra copies because it is such a vibrant colour, and one that for me reflects the liveliness and colour of DeLillo’s language much better than the generally fairly staid offerings on show at a binder near you. Once I shrugged off the crushing weight of actually writing the thesis, I started to feel alive again, too, and the colour I chose for binding was also part of that. Orange is such a celebratory colour, and I wanted to share the love.

But there’s no love in return. In fact, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing. No, here it is so many months later, so many acutely humiliating months later I can’t even bear to count them anymore, and I haven’t even received a typed form letter thanking me for my interest. A couple of months ago, I sent an apologetic email enquiry (“So sorry to bother you again, but…”), again to Nan Graham, looking for at least an acknowledgement of receipt, and that went unanswered too.

What to make of it? Did DeLillo receive it? I don’t know. And I don’t really know how to find out now I’ve evidently exhausted the good will of my (no doubt extremely important and busy) direct source. If DeLillo received it, why hasn’t he acknowledged it? Again, I don’t know. I keep wondering what I would do if someone from the other side of the world spent four and a half years analysing my work, and I know I’d send a note. I’d think it was pretty cool, and I’d be flattered, even if I was a famous literary giant. I’d think of that person waiting in another time zone, hopefully checking the mail box off and on, waiting to see if their hero would say ‘Hey, thanks, I got it,’ and I’d make it my business to put their mind at ease.

As it is, it’s like someone releasing the hounds, just in my mind. This is almost entirely self-inflicted, I see that, but there’s also a bit of the ravaging self-doubt and disappointment that is coming from an external source. It’s a rejection of sorts, isn’t it, to send something so huge, that was so, so, so hard, and that I worked on with all my heart and grey matter, with everything I had emotionally and intellectually, halfway around the world and have it go unacknowledged. And I can tell you that as rejections go, this one stings.

I know he’s a big, important author. Jesus, why the hell do you think I thought his work merited a PhD thesis? Knowing how great his work is was one of the only things that got me through my darkest days wrestling with this project. I get it. Believe me. But there just can’t be that many people writing PhD dissertations almost exclusively about DeLillo’s fiction, and I know for a fact there aren’t many who are doing it in Australia. So even if he is the busiest man alive and even if he is wholly disinterested in academic responses to his work, I find it amazing that he hasn’t at least (assuming he did receive it) been curious or gracious or irritated or flattered enough to let me know he got it.

It’s a bummer, and it makes me feel bad. Things like this eat away at me because it took so much for me to get up the courage to send it to him in the first place. Oh, if you could only see the drooling, growling, fang baring hounds of hell closing in on me whenever I catch myself, like the fool who never learns, opening the mail box wondering if today’s the day. It’s not, and the beasts draw ever nearer.

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