The World and Me
July 28, 2011
In attempts to reach out to the world, you’ll get a response about ten percent of the time. I have learned this through long, and sometimes bitter, experience. This used to discourage me but, gradually, I’ve learned not to worry much about whether the people to whom I write answer me in any way. I’m pleased, of course, when they do, yet a failure to respond affects me very little. Nor does it discourage me in the reaching out.
Let’s say I send a free copy of my novel to a bookshop in Decatur, Georgia, where the novel is set. I could, if I were unrealistic, expect the proprietors to write back, and maybe even say they had enjoyed looking at the book. But when they don’t, as they didn’t, it doesn’t make me regret the sending. I can think of a dozen possibilities, some of them positive. They might, of course, have simply tossed the book into the trash can as soon as they opened the package. That could be seen as bad. But even then somebody could have pulled it out of the trash with the thought of taking it home to use as a doorstop, and then years from now, after it has stopped a thousand door-swingings, somebody else might pick it up and wonder, after all those years, what it says. You never know, and in not knowing you can let your imagination run rampant.
I write quite a few letters to people, on all sorts of subjects, that never get any response. But that doesn’t dishearten me. I know how people are about letters. They intend, when they get them to answer. Yet days pass, the letter gets shoved to the corner of a table, it get’s covered up with magazines, and when it’s discovered again, if it ever is, too much time seems to have passed to make an answer worthwhile. That doesn’t mean, though, that the letter wasn’t read. It doesn’t even mean that a thought wasn’t deposited in somebody’s head that never would have got there without the letter. Letters produce all sorts of consequences, some of them fairly important, which the writer never knows.
There’s also this: many people are terrified by the thought of sitting down and cranking out even the simplest answer. They tell themselves they don’t have anything to say, and that they can’t think of anything, even if they try. This is a delusion, of course, but it’s one that affects a great many people. I have sympathy for people who fall into that mode of self-deprecation, and I have no desire to exclude them from my attention even if they never show the slightest signs of it. You can never know what it might be causing.
Yesterday, reading an essay by Henry Giroux, I noticed his judgment that we are besieged by “incessant cheerleading for a market-driven society where all that matters is winning and making money.” I’m afraid that too often we allow that sentiment to control even our simplest and most private actions. We get in the habit of not bothering to make any gesture towards anyone unless we think it will result in a payoff. That’s how smart, successful people behave, we say.
I don’t want to live in that kind of world. Though I might not be able to avoid it, I think I’ll keep on doing what I can. After all, what else have I got to do?
I sent Jean Hanff Korelitz a copy of the review I wrote of her novel, Admission. It was basically favorable, I think, although it did raise some questions. I know this: I would love to receive a review of Adair Street as detailed and favorable as the one I wrote of Admission. Ms. Korelitz hasn’t written back, but then she hasn’t had much time. I have no idea whether she will. If I were wagering, I would say the chances are about 40%.
Years ago, I sent Charles Taylor a copy of the chapter about him I included in my book on higher education. I confess, I was a little disappointed that he never wrote back. I respect his thought a great deal and I was curious what he might say about my chapter. But much time has passed since then and my disappointment has faded. I can imagine he read it, was pleased, but thought himself too busy to answer. That’s okay. Even if he wasn’t pleased, that’s okay too. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone considering himself so elevated he doesn’t care, in the least, what a reader -- any reader -- thinks of his work.
Anyway, I expect to keep on making these reach-outs. If nothing else, they please me. I can concoct imaginary consequences of their occurrence. At times I even dream up possible events four centuries hence which flowed from an old letter, stacked in musty piles, which I sent someone and that was never answered. That’s far-fetched, I know. But I don’t care. It could happen, and as long as it could that’s good enough for me.
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