Frida Kahlo’s Passionate Love Letters to Diego Rivera

The truth young idealistic lovers learn: relationships are messy and complicated—filled with disappointments, misunderstandings, betrayals great and small. They fall apart and sometimes cannot be put back together. It’s easy to grow cynical and bitter. Yet, as James Baldwin famously wrote, “you think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” You read, that is, the life stories and letters of writers and artists who have experienced outsized romantic bliss and torment, and who somehow became more passionately alive the more they suffered.

When it comes to personal suffering, Frida Kahlo’s biography offers more than one person could seem to bear. Already disabled by polio at a young age, she found her life forever changed at 18 when a bus accident sent an iron rod through her body, fracturing multiple bones, including three vertebrae, piercing her stomach and uterus. Recalling the old Gregorian hymn, Kahlo’s friend Mexican writer Andrés Henestrosa remarked that she “lived dying”—in near constant pain, enduring surgery after surgery and frequent hospitalizations.




In the midst of this pain, she found love with her mentor and husband Diego Rivera—and, it must be said, with many others. Kahlo, writes Alexxa Gotthardt at Artsy, “was a prolific lover: Her list of romances stretched across decades, continents, and sexes. She was said to have been intimately involved with, among others, Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky, dancer Josephine Baker, and photographer Nickolas Muray. However, it was her obsessive, abiding relationship with fellow painter Diego Rivera—for whom she’d harbored a passionate crush since she laid eyes on him at age 15—that affected Kahlo most powerfully.”

Her letters to Rivera—himself a prolific extra-marital lover—stretch “across the twenty-seven-year span of their relationship,” writes Maria Popova; they “bespeak the profound and abiding connection the two shared, brimming with the seething cauldron of emotion with which all fully inhabited love is filled: elation, anguish, devotion, desire, longing, joy.”

Diego.
Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart. All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.

So begins the letter pictured at the top. In another, equally passionate and poetic letter, pictured further up, she writes:

Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightning. the dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. my fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.

Kahlo and Rivera fell in love in 1928, when she asked him to look at her paintings. Over her mother’s objections, they married the following year. After ten tumultuous years, they divorced in 1939, then remarried in 1940 and stayed partnered until her death in 1954. Over these years, she poured out her emotions in letters, many, like those above, first written in her illustrated diary. Letters to and from her many lovers have also just emerged in a trove of personal artifacts, recently liberated from a bathroom at Casa Azul where they had been kept under lock and key at Rivera's behest.

Both artists’ many affairs caused tremendous pain and “created rifts between them personally,” notes Katy Fallon at Broadly, although “their relationship has been mythologized past recognition,” in the way of so many other famous couples. In the most egregious betrayal, Rivera even slept with Kahlo’s younger sister Cristina, his favorite model, an act that inspired Frida’s 1937 painting Memory, the Heart, a self-portrait in which she stands with a metal rod piercing her chest, her hands seemingly amputated, face expressionless. We learn the wrong lessons from romanticizing “everything” about Frida and Diego’s life, Patti Smith suggests in her tribute to Kahlo’s love letters. But there is also danger in passing judgment.

“I don’t look at these two as models of behavior,” Smith says, but “the most important lesson… isn’t their indiscretions and love affairs but their devotion. Their identities were magnified by the other. They went through their ups and downs, parted, came back together, to the end of their lives.” In a 1935 letter to Rivera, read by pianist Mona Golabek above, Kahlo forgives his affairs, calling them “only flirtations…. At bottom, you and I love each other dearly, and thus go through adventures without numbers, beatings on doors, imprecations, insults, international claims. Yet, we will always love each other…. All the ranges I have gone through have served only to make me understand in the end that I love you more than my own skin.”

Read many more excerpts from Frida's letters to Diego at Brain Pickings.

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Rare Photos of Frida Kahlo, Age 13-23

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A New Massive Helen Keller Archive Gets Launched: Take a Digital Look at Her Photos, Letters, Speeches, Political Writings & More

Take an innocuous statement like, “we should teach children about the life of Helen Keller.” What reasonable, compassionate person would disagree? Hers is a story of triumph over incredible adversity, of perseverance and friendship and love. Now, take a statement like, “we should teach children the political writing of Helen Keller,” and you might see brawls in town halls and school board meetings. This is because Helen Keller was a committed socialist and serious political thinker, who wrote extensively to advocate for economic cooperation over competition and to support the causes of working people. She was an activist for peace and justice who opposed war, imperialism, racism, and poverty, conditions that huge numbers of people seem devoted to maintaining—both in her lifetime and today.

Keller’s moving, persuasive writing is eloquent and uncompromising and should be taught alongside that of other great American rhetoricians. Consider, for example, the passage below from a letter she wrote in 1916 to Oswald Villard, then Vice-President of the NAACP:

Ashamed in my very soul I behold in my own beloved south-land the tears of those who are oppressed, those who must bring up their sons and daughters in bondage to be servants, because others have their fields and vineyards, and on the side of the oppressor is power. I feel with those suffering, toiling millions, I am thwarted with them. Every attempt to keep them down and crush their spirit is a betrayal of my faith that good is stronger than evil, and light stronger than darkness…. My spirit groans with all the deaf and blind of the world, I feel their chains chafing my limbs. I am disenfranchised with every wage-slave. I am overthrown, hurt, oppressed, beaten to the earth by the strong, ruthless ones who have taken away their inheritance. The wrongs of the poor endure ring fiercely in my soul, and I shall never rest until they are lifted into the light, and given their fair share in the blessings of life that God meant for us all alike.

It is difficult to choose any one passage from the letter because the whole is written with such expressive feeling. This is but one document among many hundreds in the new Helen Keller archive at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), which has digitized letters, essays, speeches, photographs, and much more from Keller’s long, tireless career as a writer and public speaker. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the archive includes over 250,000 digital images of her work from the late 19th century to well into the 20th. There are many films of Keller, photos like that of her and her dog Sieglinde at the top, a collection of her correspondence with Mark Twain, and much more.

In addition to Keller’s own published and unpublished work, the archive contains many letters to and about her, press clippings, informative AFB blog posts, and resources for students and teachers. The site aims to be "fully accessible to audiences who are blind, deaf, hard-of-hearing, low vision, or deafblind." On the whole, this project “presents an opportunity to encounter this renowned historical figure in a new, dynamic, and exciting way," as AFB writes in a press release. "For example, despite her fame, relatively few people know that Helen Keller wrote 14 books as well as hundreds of essays and articles on a broad array of subjects ranging from animals and atomic energy to Mahatma Gandhi.”

And, of course, she was a lifelong advocate for the blind and deaf, writing and speaking out on disability rights issues for decades. Indeed, it’s difficult to find a subject in which she did not take an interest. The archive’s subject index shows her writing about games, sports, reading, shopping, swimming, travel, architecture and the arts, education, law, government, world religions, royalty, women’s suffrage, and more. There were many in her time who dismissed Keller’s unpopular views, calling her naïve and claiming that she had been duped by nefarious actors. The charge is insulting and false. Her body of work shows her to have been an extraordinarily well-read, wise, cosmopolitan, sensitive, self-aware, and honest critical thinker.

Two years after the NAACP letter, Keller wrote an essay called “Competition,” in which she made the case for “a better social order” against a central conceit of capitalism: that “life would not be worth while without the keen edge of competition,” and that without it “men would lose ambition, and the race would sink into dull sameness.” Keller advances her counterargument with vigorous and incisive reasoning.

This whole argument is a fallacy. Whatever is worth while in our civilization has survived in spite of competition. Under the competitive system the work of the world is badly done. The result is waste and ruin [….] Profit is the aim, and the public good is a secondary consideration. Competition sins against its own pet god efficiency. In spite of all the struggle, toil and fierce effort the result is a depressing state of destitution for the majority of mankind. Competition diverts man's energies into useless channels and degrades his character. It is immoral as well as inefficient, since its commandment is "Thou shalt compete against thy neighbor." Such a rule does not foster Truthfulness, honesty, consideration for others. [….] Competitors are indifferent to each other's welfare. Indeed, they are glad of each other's failure because they find their advantage in it. Compassion is deadened in them by the necessity they are under of nullifying the efforts of their fellow-competitors.

Keller refused to become cynical in the face of seemingly indefatigable greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy. Though not a member of a mainstream church (she belonged to the obscure Christian sect of Swedenborgianism), she exhorted American Christians to live up to their professions—to follow the example of their founder and the commandments of their sacred text. In an essay written after World War I, she argued movingly for disarmament and “the vital issue of world peace.” While making a number of logical arguments, Keller principally appeals to the common ethos of the nation’s dominant faith.

This is precisely where we have failed, calling ourselves Christians we have fundamentally broken, and taught others to break most patriotically, the commandment of the Lord, “Thou shalt not kill” [….] Let us then try out Christianity upon earth—not lip-service, but the teaching of Him who came upon earth that “all men might have life, and have it more abundantly.” War strikes at the very heart of this teaching.

We can hear Helen Keller’s voice speaking directly to us from the past, diagnosing the ills of her age that look so much like those of our own. “The mythological Helen Keller,” writes Keith Rosenthal, “has aptly been described as a sort of ‘plaster saint;’ a hollow, empty vessel who is little more than an apolitical symbol for perseverance and personal triumph.” Though she embodied those qualities, she also dedicated her entire life to careful observation of the world around her, to writing and speaking out on issues that mattered, and to caring deeply about the welfare of others. Get to know the real Helen Keller, in all her complexity, fierce intelligence, and ferocious compassion, at the American Foundation for the Blind’s exhaustive digital archive of her life and work.

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Watch Helen Keller & Teacher Annie Sullivan Demonstrate How Helen Learned to Speak (1930)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Lennon Extols the Virtues of Transcendental Meditation in a Spirited Letter Written to a Beatles Fan (1968)

An Indian guru travels to the West with teachings of enlightenment, world peace, and liberation from the soul-killing materialist grind. He attracts thousands of followers, some of them wealthy celebrities, and founds a commercial empire with his teachings. No, this isn’t the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the head of the religious movement in Wild Wild Country. There was no miraculous city in the Oregon wilds or fleet of Learjets and Rolls Royces. No stockpile of automatic weapons, planned assassinations, or mass poisonings. Decades before those strange events, another teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi inspired mass devotion among students around the world with the peaceful practice of Transcendental Meditation.

Rolling Stone’s Claire Hoffman—who grew up in a TM community—writes of the movement with ambivalence. For most of his disciples, he was a “Wizard of Oz-type character,” she says, distant and mysterious. But much of what we popularly know about TM comes from its most famous adherents, including Jerry Seinfeld, Katy Perry, David Lynch, the Beach Boys, and, of course, The Beatles, who famously traveled to India in 1968, meditated with Mia Farrow, Donovan, and Mike Love, and wrote some of their wildest, most inventive music after a creative slump following the huge success of Sgt. Pepper’s.




“They stayed in Rishikesh,” writes Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, “a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas, considered the capital of yoga. Immersed in this peaceful community and nurtured by an intensive daily meditation practice, the Fab Four underwent a creative growth spurt—the weeks at Rishikesh were among their most fertile songwriting and composing periods, producing many of the songs on The White Album and Abbey Road.” Unlike most of the Maharishi’s followers, The Beatles got a personal audience. The Indian spiritual teacher “helped them through the shock” of their manager Brian Epstein’s death, and helped them tap into cosmic consciousness without LSD.

They left on a sour note—there were allegations of impropriety, and Lennon, being Lennon, got a bit nasty, originally writing The White Album's “Sexy Sadie” with the lyrics “Maharishi—what have you done? You made a fool of everyone.” But before their falling out with TM’s founder, before even the trip to India, all four Beatles became devoted meditators, sitting for two twenty-minute sessions a day and finding genuine peace and happiness—or “energy,” as Lennon and Harrison describe it in a 1967 interview with David Frost. The next year, happily practicing, and feverishly writing, in India, Lennon received letters from fans, and responded with enthusiasm.

In answer to a letter from a fan named Beth, evidently a devout Christian and apparently threatened by TM and concerned for the bands' immortal souls, Lennon wrote the following (see his handwritten reply at the top):

Dear Beth:

Thank you for your letter and your kind thoughts. When you read that we are in India searching for peace, etc, it is not that we need faith in God or Jesus — we have full faith in them; it is only as if you went to stay with Billy Graham for a short time — it just so happens that our guru (teacher) is Indian — and what is more natural for us to come to India — his home. He also holds courses in Europe and America — and we will probably go to some of these as well — to learn — and to be near him.

Transcendental meditation is not opposed to any religion — it is based on the basic truths of all religions — the common denominator. Jesus said: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” — and he meant just that — “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” — not in some far distant time — or after death — but now.

Meditation takes the mind down to that level of consciousness which is Absolute Bliss (Heaven) and through constant contact with that state — “the peace that surpasses all understanding” — one gradually becomes established in that state even when one is not meditating. All this gives one actual experience of God — not by detachment or renunciation — when Jesus was fasting etc in the desert 40 days & nights he would have been doing some form of meditation — not just sitting in the sand and praying — although me it will be a true Christian — which I try to be with all sincerity — it does not prevent me from acknowledging Buddha — Mohammed — and all the great men of God. God bless you — jai guru dev.

With love,
John Lennon

This hardly sounds like the man who imagined no religion. A fan in India wrote Lennon less to inquire and more to acquire, namely money for a trip around the world so that he could “discover the ‘huge treasure’ necessary for achieving inner peace.” Lennon responded with a brief rebuke of the man’s material aspirations, then recommended TM, “through which all things are possible.” (He signs both letters with “jai guru dev,” or “I give thanks to the Guru Dev,” the Maharishi’s teacher. The phrase also appears as the refrain in his “Across the Universe.”)

The letters come from an excellent collection of his correspondence, The John Lennon Letters, which includes other missives extolling the virtues of transcendental meditation. We might take his word for it based on the strength of the creative work he produced during the period. We could also take the word of David Lynch, who describes meditation as the way he catches the creative “big fish.” Or we could go out and find our own methods for expanding our minds and tapping into creative potential.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Gustave Flaubert Tells His Mother Why Serious Writers Shouldn’t Bother with Day Jobs (1850)

We are what we do — or in other words, we are what we choose to spend our time doing. By this logic, a "musician" who spends one quarter of his time with his instruments and three quarters with Excel, though he counts as no less a human being for it, should by rights call himself a maker of spreadsheets rather than a maker of music. This view may sound stark, but it has its adherents, some of them successful and respected artists. We can rest assured that no less a creator than Gustave Flaubert, for instance, would surely have accepted it, if we take seriously the words of a letter he wrote to his mother in February of 1850.

Though he'd completed several books at the time, the then 28-year-old Flaubert had yet to make it as a man of letters. He did, however, do a fair bit of traveling at that time in his life, composing this particular piece of correspondence during a sojourn in the Middle East. It seems that even halfway across the world, he couldn't escape his mother's entreaties to find proper employment, if only "un petite place" that would grant him slightly more social respectability and financial stability. Finally fed up, he clarified his position on the matter of day jobs once and for all:

Now I come to something that you seem to enjoy reverting to and that I utterly fail to understand. You are never at a loss of things to torment yourself about. What is the sense of this: that I must have a job — "a small job," you say. First of all, what job? I defy you to find me one, to specify in what field, or what it would be like. Frankly, and without deluding yourself, is there a single one that I am capable of filling? You add: "One that wouldn't take up much of your time and wouldn't prevent you from doing other things." There's the delusion! That's what Bouilhet told himself when he took up medicine, what I told myself when I began law, which nearly brought about my death from suppressed rage. When one does something, one must do it wholly and well. Those bastard existences where you sell suet all day and write poetry at night are made for mediocre minds — like those horses equally good for saddle and carriage — the worst kind, that can neither jump a ditch nor pull a plow.

In short, it seems to me that one takes a job for money, for honors, or as an escape from idleness. Now you'll grant me, darling, (1) that I keep busy enough not to have to go out looking for something to do; and (2) if it's a question of honors, my vanity is such that I'm incapable of feeling myself honored by anything: a position, however high it might be (and that isn't the kind you speak of) will never give me the satisfaction that I derive from my self-respect when I have accomplished something well in my own way; and finally, if it's for money, any jobs or job that I could have would bring in too little to make much difference to my income. Weigh all these considerations: don't knock your head against a hollow idea. Is there any position in which I'd be closer to you, more yours? And isn't not to be bored one of the principal goals of life?

The letter may well have convinced her: according to a footnote included in The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857, "there seem to have been no further suggestions" that he secure a steady paycheck. Could Flaubert's mother have had an inkling that her son would become, well, Flaubert? At that point he hadn't even begun writing Madame Bovary, a project that would begin upon his return to France. Its inspiration came in part from the early version of The Temptation of Saint Anthony he'd completed before embarking on his travels, which his friends Maxime Du Camp and Louis Bouilhet (the reluctant medical student mentioned in the letter) suggested he toss in the fire, telling him to write about the stuff of everyday life instead.

Not all of us, of course, can work the same way Flaubert did, with his days spent in revision of each page and his obsessive lifelong hunt for le mot juste: not for nothing do we call him "the martyr of style." But whatever we create and however we create it, we ignore the words Flaubert wrote to his mother at our peril. The earning of money has its place, but the idea that any old day job can be easily held down without damage to our real life's work shades all too easily into self-delusion. We must remember that "when one does something, one must do it wholly and well," a sentiment made infinitely more powerful by the fact that Flaubert didn't just articulate it, he lived it — and now occupies one of the highest places in the pantheon of the novel as a result.

h/t Tom H.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Read the Poignant Letter Sent to Anne Frank by George Whitman, Owner of Paris’ Famed Shakespeare & Co Bookshop (1960): “If I Sent This Letter to the Post Office It Would No Longer Reach You”

Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.

More than a few visitors to Paris’ fabled Shakespeare & Company bookshop assume that the quote they see painted over an archway is attributable to Yeats or Shakespeare.

In fact, its author was George Whitman, the store’s late owner, a grand "hobo adventurer" in his 20s who made such an impression that he spent the rest of his life welcoming travelers and encouraging young writers, who flocked to the shop. A great many became Tumbleweeds, the nickname given to those who traded a few hours of volunteer work and a pledge to read a book a day in return for spartan accommodation in the store itself.




In light of this generosity, Whitman’s 1960 letter to Anne Frank (1929-1945) is all the more moving.

One wonders what inspired him to write it. It's a not an uncommon impulse, but usually the authors are students close to the same age as Anne was at the time of her death.

Perhaps it was an interaction with a Tumbleweed.

Had she survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps that exterminated all but one inhabitant of the Secret Annex in which she penned her famous diary, she would have made a great one.

He refrained from mentioning his own service in World War II, possibly because he was posted to a remote weather station in Greenland. Unlike other American veterans, he hadn't witnessed with his own eyes the sort of hell she endured. If he had, he might not have been able to address her with such initial lightness of tone.

One can’t help but think how delighted the rambunctious young teen would have been by his sense of humor, his descriptions of his bohemian booklovers’ paradise—then called Le Mistral—and references to his dog, François Villon, and cat, Kitty, named in honor of Anne’s pet name for her diary.

His profound observations on the impermanence of life and the politics of war continue to resonate deeply with those who read the letter as its intended recipients’ proxies:

Le Mistral

37 rue de la Bûcherie

Dear Anne Frank,

If I sent this letter to the post office it would no longer reach you because you have been blotted out from the universe. So I am writing an open letter to those who have read your diary and found a little sister they have never seen who will never entirely disappear from earth as long as we who are living remember her.

You wanted to come to Paris for a year to study the history of art and if you had, perhaps you might have wandered down the quai Notre-Dame and discovered a little bookstore beside the garden of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. You know enough French to read the notice on the door—Chien aimable, Priere d'entrer. The dog is not really a dog at all but a poet called Francois Villon who has returned to the city he loved after many years of exile. He is sitting by the fire next to a kitten with a very unusual name. You will be pleased to know she is called Kitty after the imaginary friend to whom you wrote the letters in your journal.

Here in our bookstore it is like a family where your Chinese sisters and your brothers from all lands sit in the reading rooms and meet the Parisians or have tea with the writers from abroad who are invited to live in our Guest House.

Remember how you worried about your inconsistencies, about your two selves—the gay flirtatious superficial Anne that hid the quiet serene Anne who tried to love and understand the world. We all of us have dual natures. We all wish for peace, yet in the name of self-defense we are working toward self-obliteration. We have built armaments more powerful than the total of all those used in all the wars in history. And if the militarists who dislike negotiating the minor differences that separate nations are not under the wise civilian authority they have the power to write man's testament on a dead planet where radioactive cities are surrounded by jungles of dying plants and poisonous weeds.

Since a nuclear could destroy half the world's population as well as the material basis of civilization, the Soviet General Nikolai Talensky concludes that war is no longer conceivable for the solution of political differences.

A young girl's dreams recorded in her diary from her thirteenth to her fifteenth birthday means more to us today than the labors of millions of soldiers and thousands of factories striving for a thousand-year Reich that lasted hardly more than ten years. The journal you hid so that no one would read it was left on the floor when the German police took you to the concentration camp and has now been read by millions of people in 32 languages. When most people die they disappear without a trace, their thoughts forgotten, their aspirations unknown, but you have simply left your own family and become part of the family of man.

George Whitman

via Letters of Note

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this Thursday for Necromancers  of the Public Domain, in which a long neglected book is reframed as a low budget variety show. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ian McKellen Chokes Up While Reading a Poignant Coming-Out Letter

"In 1977, Armistead Maupin wrote a letter to his parents that he had been composing for half his life," writes the Guardian's Tim Adams. "He addressed it directly to his mother, but rather than send it to her, he published it in the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper in which he had made his name with his loosely fictionalised Tales of the City, the daily serial written from the alternative, gay world in which he lived." The late 1970s saw a final flowering of newspaper-serialized novels, the same form in which Charles Dickens had grown famous nearly a century and a half before. But of all the zeitgeisty stories then told a day at a time in urban centers across America, none has had anything like the lasting impact of San Francisco as envisioned by Maupin.

Much of Tales of the City's now-acknowledged importance comes from the manner in which Maupin populated that San Francisco with a sexually diverse cast of characters — gay, straight, and everything in between — and presented their lives without moral judgment.




He saved his condemnation for the likes of Anita Bryant, the singer and Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman who inspired Maupin to write that veiled letter to his own parents when she headed up the anti-homosexual "Save Our Children" political campaign. When Michael Tolliver, one of the series' main gay characters, discovers that his folks back in Florida have thrown in their lot with Bryant, he responds with an eloquent and long-delayed coming-out that begins thus:

Dear Mama,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write you and Papa I realize I'm not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.

I have friends who think I'm foolish to write this letter. I hope they're wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who love and trust them less than mine do. I hope especially that you'll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn't have written, I guess, if you hadn't told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.

I'm sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief — rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.

You can hear Michael's, and Maupin's, full letter read aloud by Sir Ian McKellen in the Letters Live video above. In response to its initial publication, Adams writes, "Maupin had received hundreds of other letters, nearly all of them from readers who had cut out the column, substituted their own names for Michael’s and sent it verbatim to their own parents. Maupin’s Letter to Mama has since been set to music three times and become 'a standard for gay men’s choruses around the world.'"

Those words come from a piece on Maupin's autobiography Logical Family, published just last year, in which the Tales of the City author tells of his own coming out as well as his friendships with other non-straight cultural icons, one such icon being McKellen himself. "I have many regrets about not having come out earlier," McKellen told BOMB magazine in 1998, "but one of them might be that I didn't engage myself in the politicking." He'd come out ten years before, as a stand in opposition to Section 28 of the Local Government Bill, then under consideration in the British Parliament, which prohibited local authorities from depicting homosexuality "as a kind of pretended family relationship."

McKellen entered the realm of activism in earnest after choosing that moment to reveal his sexual orientation on the BBC, which he did on the advice of Maupin and other friends. A few years later he appeared in the television miniseries adaptation of Tales of the City as Archibald Anson-Gidde, a wealthy real-estate and cultural impresario (one, as Maupin puts it, of the city's "A-gays"). In the novels, Archibald Anson-Gidde dies closeted, of AIDS, provoking the ire of certain other characters for not having done enough for the cause in life — a charge, thanks in part to the words of Michael Tolliver, that neither Maupin nor McKellen will surely never face.

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Eudora Welty’s Handwritten Eggnog Recipe, and Charles Dickens’ Recipe for Holiday Punch

’Tis the season to break out the family recipes of beloved relatives, though often their provenance is not quite what we think.

(Imagine the cognitive dissonance upon discovering that Mother swiped “her” Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie from Pillsbury Bake-Off winner, Millicent Nathan of Boca Raton, Florida…)

When it came to crediting the eggnog she dubbed “the taste of Christmas Day," above, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty shared it out equally between her mother and author Charles Dickens:

In our house while I was growing up, I don't remember that hard liquor was served at all except on one day in the year. Early on Christmas morning, we woke up to the sound of the eggbeater: Mother in the kitchen was whipping up eggnog. All in our bathrobes, we began our Christmas before breakfast. Throughout the day Mother made batches afresh. All our callers expected her eggnog.

It was ladled from the punch bowl into punch cups and silver goblets, and had to be eaten with a spoon. It stood up in peaks. It was rich, creamy and strong. Mother gave full credit for the recipe to Charles Dickens.

Nice, but perhaps Dickens is undeserving of this honor? The contents of his punchbowl bore little resemblance to Mother Welty’s, as evidenced by an 1847 letter to his childhood friend, Amelia Filloneau, in which he shared a recipe he promised would make her “a beautiful Punchmaker in more senses than one”:

Peel into a very strong common basin (which may be broken, in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin, and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double-handfull of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass full of brandy — if it not be a large claret-glass, say two. Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn for three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to Time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again.

This sounds very like the “seething bowls of punch” the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present shows Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, dimming the chamber with their delicious steam.

It’s also vegan, in contrast to what you might have been served in the Welty ladies’ home.

Why not serve both? In the words of Tiny Tim, "Here's to us all!"

Eudora Welty’s Mother’s Eggnog (Attributed, Perhaps Erroneously, to Charles Dickens)

6 egg yolks, well beaten

Add 3 tbsp. powdered sugar

Add 1 cup whiskey, added slowly, beating all the while

Fold in 1 pint whipped cream

Whip 6 whipped egg whites and add to the mixture above.

 

Charles Dickens’ Holiday Punch (adapted from Punch by David Wondrich)

3/4 cup sugar

3 lemons

2 cups rum

1 1/4 cups cognac

5 cups black tea (or hot water)

Garnish: lemon and orange wheels, freshly grated nutmeg

In the basin of an enameled cast-iron pot or heatproof bowl, add sugar and the peels of three lemons.

Rub lemons and sugar together to release citrus oils. For more greater infusion, let sit for 30 minutes.

Add rum and cognac to the sugar and citrus.

Light a match, and, using a heatproof spoon (stainless steel is best), pick up a spoonful of the spirit mix.

Carefully bring the match to the spoon to light.

Carefully bring the lit spoon to the spirits in the bowl.

Let the spirits burn for about three minutes. The fire will melt the sugar and extract the oil from the lemon peels.

Extinguish the bowl by covering it with a heatproof pan or tray.

Skim off the lemon peels (leaving them too long in may impart a bitter flavor).

Squeeze in the juice of the three peeled lemons, and add hot tea or water.

If serving the punch hot, skip to the next step. If serving cold, cool punch in the refrigerator and, when cooled, add ice.

Garnish with citrus wheels and grated nutmeg.

Ladle into individual glasses.

Learn more about these and other festive holiday drinks in Master of Wine Elizabeth Gabay’s essay “Celebrating Christmas and New Year With Punch.”

Image above via Garden and Gun

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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