Dr. Fauci Reads an Undergrad’s Entire Thesis, Then Follows Up with an Encouraging Letter

Pho­to via the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases 

What are some qual­i­ties to look for in a leader?

  • A thirst for knowl­edge
  • A sense of duty
  • The scru­ples to give cred­it where cred­it is due
  • A calm, clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion style
  • Humil­i­ty

Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci brings these qual­i­ties to bear as Direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases at the Nation­al Insti­tute of Health.

They’re also on dis­play in his mes­sage to then-under­grad Luke Mes­sac, now an emer­gency med­i­cine res­i­dent at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, whose research focus­es on the his­to­ries of health pol­i­cy in south­ern Africa and the US, and who recent­ly tweet­ed:

13 years ago, I emailed Dr. Fau­ci out of the blue to ask if I might inter­view him for my under­grad the­sis. He invit­ed me to his office, where he answered all my ques­tions. When I sent him the the­sis, HE READ THE WHOLE THING (see his over­ly effu­sive review below). Who does that?!

Here’s what Fau­ci had to say to the young sci­en­tist:

It cer­tain­ly reads like the work of a class act.

In addi­tion to serv­ing as one of the COVID-19 pandemic’s most rec­og­niz­able faces, Dr. Fau­ci has acquired anoth­er duty—that of scape­goat for Don­ald Trump, the 6th pres­i­dent he has answered to in his long career.

He seems to be tak­ing the administration’s pot­shots with a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly cool head, though com­pared to the furi­ous crit­i­cisms AIDS activists direct­ed his way in the 80s and 90s, he’s unlike­ly to find much of edu­ca­tion­al val­ue in them.

Last March, The Body Pro, a newslet­ter for work­ers on the front lines of HIV edu­ca­tion, pre­ven­tion, care, and ser­vices quot­ed ACT UP NY’s Jim Eigo on the doctor’s response to a let­ter demand­ing par­al­lel track­ing, a pol­i­cy revi­sion that would put poten­tial­ly life-sav­ing drugs in the hands of those who test­ed pos­i­tive far ear­li­er than the exist­ing clin­i­cal tri­al require­ments’ sched­ule would have allowed:

Lo and behold, he read the let­ter and liked it, and the fol­low­ing year he start­ed pro­mot­ing the idea of a par­al­lel track for AIDS drugs to the FDA. Had he not helped us push that through, we couldn’t have got­ten a lot of the cousin drugs to AZT, such as ddC and ddI, approved so fast. They were prob­lem­at­ic drugs, but with­out them, we couldn’t have kept so many peo­ple alive. 

Fau­ci, despite being straight and Catholic, was not only not homo­pho­bic, which much of med­ical prac­tice still was in the late 1980s, he also wouldn’t tol­er­ate homo­pho­bia among his col­leagues. He knew there was no place for that in a pub­lic-health cri­sis.

Speak­ing of cor­re­spon­dence, Dr Mes­sac seems to have tak­en the “per­pet­u­al stu­dent” con­cept Dr. Fau­ci impressed upon him back in 2007 to heart, as evi­denced by a recent tweet, regard­ing a les­son gleaned from Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger in Pump­ing Iron, a 1977 doc­u­men­tary about body­builders:

Schwarzeneg­ger explained how he would fig­ure out what to work out every day by look­ing in a mir­ror and find­ing his weak­est mus­cles. It’s pret­ty good advice for study­ing dur­ing res­i­den­cy. Every shift reveals a weak­ness, and greats nev­er stop look­ing for their own.

In writ­ing to Mes­sac, Dr. Fau­ci allud­ed to his com­mence­ment speech­es, so we thought it appro­pri­ate to leave you with one of his most recent ones, a vir­tu­al address to the grad­u­at­ing class of his alma mater, Col­lege of the Holy Cross:

“Now is the time, if ever there was one” he tells the Class of 2020, “to care self­less­ly about one anoth­er… Stay safe, and I look for­ward to the good work you will con­tribute in the years ahead.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Real Women Talk About Their Careers in Sci­ence

Richard Feynman’s Tech­nique for Learn­ing Some­thing New: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Nov­el­ist Cor­mac McCarthy Gives Writ­ing Advice to Sci­en­tists … and Any­one Who Wants to Write Clear, Com­pelling Prose

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

Neil Armstrong Sets Straight an Internet Truther Who Accused Him of Faking the Moon Landing (2000)

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Peo­ple have been grad­u­at­ing from col­lege this year who are as old as the role of inter­net truther. It is a ven­er­a­ble hob­by (some might call it a cult) lead­ing increas­ing num­bers of peo­ple to bizarre con­clu­sions drawn from dubi­ous evi­dence prof­fered by spu­ri­ous sources; peo­ple con­vinced that some wild alle­ga­tion or oth­er must be true because they saw it on the Inter­net, shared by peo­ple they knew and liked.

Twen­ty years ago, one pio­neer­ing truther wrote Mr. Neil Arm­strong to put him in his place about that bug­bear, the faked moon land­ing. The author of the let­ter, a Mr. Whit­man, iden­ti­fies him­self as a “teacher of young chil­dren” charged with “a duty to tell them his­to­ry as it tru­ly hap­pened, and not a pack of lies and deceit.” His let­ter shows some dif­fi­cul­ty with gram­mar, and even more with crit­i­cal think­ing and stan­dards of evi­dence.

Mr. Whit­man makes his accu­sa­tions with cer­tain­ty and smug­ness. “Per­haps you are total­ly unaware,” he writes, “of all the evi­dence cir­cu­lat­ing the globe via the Inter­net,” which he then sum­ma­rizes.

He also sends Neil Armstrong—an astro­naut who either walked on the Moon or engaged in per­haps the great­est con­spir­a­cy in history—a URL, “to see for your­self how ridicu­lous the Moon land­ing claim looks 30 years on.” Whit­man sent Arm­strong the let­ter on the astro­naut’s 70th birth­day.

Armstrong’s response, via Let­ters of Note, can be read in full above. Per­haps Mr. Whit­man learned some­thing from the exchange—or had a moment of clar­i­ty about his meth­ods of inves­ti­ga­tion. One can hope. In any case, Armstrong’s unspar­ing reply serves as a tem­plate for responding—should some­one be so inclined—to inter­net truthers armed with wild con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries 20 years lat­er. These let­ters have been col­lect­ed in A Reluc­tant Icon: Let­ters to Neil Arm­strong.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Stan­ley Kubrick Faked the Apol­lo 11 Moon Land­ing in 1969, Or So the Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Goes

Watch the Orig­i­nal TV Cov­er­age of the His­toric Apol­lo 11 Moon Land­ing: Record­ed on July 20, 1969

Every Har­row­ing Sec­ond of the Apol­lo 11 Land­ing Revis­it­ed in a New NASA Video: It Took Place 50 Years Ago Today (July 20, 1969)

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

Benedict Cumberbatch, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Fry & Others Read Letters of Hope, Love & Support During COVID-19

Though the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has put a stop to many for­mer­ly nor­mal activ­i­ties around the world, it’s hard­ly put a stop to glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In fact, it’s almost cer­tain­ly inten­si­fied glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, what with all the atten­tion the strug­gle against COVID-19 com­mands from 24-hour media pro­fes­sion­als — and all the time and ener­gy the rest of us have put into social media as a sub­sti­tute for social­iza­tion. But how would we have com­mu­ni­cat­ed amid a pan­dem­ic of this kind in an age before the inter­net? Assum­ing postal ser­vices remained in good work­ing order, we would, of course, have writ­ten let­ters to each oth­er.

We can still write let­ters to each oth­er in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but now we can also read them to each oth­er, wher­ev­er in the world we may be. This is the basis for the #ReadALet­ter cam­paign, which actor Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch intro­duces in the video at the top of the post. “I real­ly hope this let­ter finds you in good spir­its as we nav­i­gate our way through this tru­ly sur­re­al cri­sis, where upheaval and uncer­tain­ty are dai­ly real­i­ties,” he says, read­ing aloud a mis­sive com­posed at his home and meant for the world at large.

“But so, thank­ful­ly, is the total­ly inspir­ing self-sac­ri­fice, togeth­er­ness, courage, gen­eros­i­ty, and cama­raderie the peo­ple are exhibit­ing.” It is those hon­or­able qual­i­ties, Cum­ber­batch con­tin­ues, that “we at Let­ters Live are look­ing for a way to cel­e­brate through our favorite medi­um of the let­ter.”

You may remem­ber Let­ters Live, a series of events inspired by Let­ters of Note, from when we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Cum­ber­batch’s appear­ances there inter­pret­ing cor­re­spon­dence by the likes of Kurt Von­negut, Albert Camus, and Alan Tur­ing. The stars of Let­ters Live have hereto­fore been his­tor­i­cal­ly impor­tant let­ter-writ­ers and the skilled pro­fes­sion­al per­form­ers who read their words. But now, Cum­ber­batch says, “we want to hear you read let­ters. They can be let­ters to the heroes on the front line. They could be let­ters to rel­a­tives in need. They could be let­ters to strangers who have stepped up and made a dif­fer­ence. They could be let­ters to neigh­bor­ing fam­i­lies or streets or towns or coun­tries.” To par­tic­i­pate, you need only use a cam­era phone to record your­self read­ing a let­ter aloud, then post that video on Twit­ter or Insta­gram and send it to read@letterslive.com.

What you read on cam­era (or off it, if you pre­fer) could be “an impor­tant let­ter you have always want­ed to send, or a cher­ished let­ter you once received. It could be a favorite let­ter of yours that offers hope in our cur­rent cri­sis or a pre­scient warn­ing too impor­tant to be ignored.” Here we’ve includ­ed the #ReadALet­ter videos so far con­tributed by oth­er nota­bles includ­ing Mar­garet Atwood, Stephen Fry, and Grif­fin Dunne, who reads a let­ter his father Dominick Dunne wrote when he put him­self into iso­la­tion for cre­ative pur­pos­es in 1980. Oth­er par­tic­i­pants from all walks of life include a rab­bi, a col­lege stu­dent, an emer­gency depart­ment doc­tor, and even a cou­ple of nona­ge­nar­i­ans. If you need more inspi­ra­tion to #ReadALet­ter your­self, revis­it Cum­ber­batch’s Let­ters of Live per­for­mance of Sol Lewit­t’s 1965 let­ter to Eva Hesse, the one in which he deliv­ers invalu­able words of advice: “Stop It and Just DO.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Albert Camus’ Touch­ing Thank You Let­ter to His Ele­men­tary School Teacher

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads a Let­ter Alan Tur­ing Wrote in “Dis­tress” Before His Con­vic­tion For “Gross Inde­cen­cy”

“Stop It and Just DO”: Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Advice on Over­com­ing Cre­ative Blocks, Writ­ten by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)

An Ani­mat­ed Mar­garet Atwood Explains How Sto­ries Change with Tech­nol­o­gy

Stephen Fry Reads Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Sto­ry “The Hap­py Prince”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Marilyn Monroe Recounts Her Harrowing Experience in a Psychiatric Ward (1961)

By the end of 1960, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe was com­ing apart.

She spent much of that year shoot­ing what would be her final com­plet­ed movie – The Mis­fits (see a still from the trail­er above). Arthur Miller penned the film, which is about a beau­ti­ful, frag­ile woman who falls in love with a much old­er man. The script was pret­ty clear­ly based on his own trou­bled mar­riage with Mon­roe. The pro­duc­tion was by all accounts spec­tac­u­lar­ly pun­ish­ing. Shot in the deserts of Neva­da, the tem­per­a­ture on set would reg­u­lar­ly climb north of 100 degrees. Direc­tor John Hus­ton spent much of the shoot rag­ing­ly drunk. Star Clark Gable dropped dead from a heart attack less than a week after pro­duc­tion wrapped. And Mon­roe watched as her hus­band, who was on set, fell in love with pho­tog­ra­ph­er Inge Morath. Nev­er one blessed with con­fi­dence or a thick skin, Mon­roe retreat­ed into a daze of pre­scrip­tion drugs. Mon­roe and Miller announced their divorce on Novem­ber 11, 1960.

A few months lat­er, the emo­tion­al­ly exhaust­ed movie star was com­mit­ted by her psy­cho­an­a­lyst Dr. Mar­i­anne Kris to the Payne Whit­ney Psy­chi­atric Clin­ic in New York. Mon­roe thought she was going in for a rest cure. Instead, she was escort­ed to a padded cell. The four days she spent in the psych ward proved to be among the most dis­tress­ing of her life.

In a riv­et­ing 6‑page let­ter to her oth­er shrink, Dr. Ralph Green­son, writ­ten soon after her release, she detailed her ter­ri­fy­ing expe­ri­ence.

There was no empa­thy at Payne-Whit­ney — it had a very bad effect — they asked me after putting me in a “cell” (I mean cement blocks and all) for very dis­turbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I had­n’t com­mit­ted. The inhu­man­i­ty there I found archa­ic. They asked me why I was­n’t hap­py there (every­thing was under lock and key; things like elec­tric lights, dress­er draw­ers, bath­rooms, clos­ets, bars con­cealed on the win­dows — the doors have win­dows so patients can be vis­i­ble all the time, also, the vio­lence and mark­ings still remain on the walls from for­mer patients). I answered: “Well, I’d have to be nuts if I like it here.”

Mon­roe quick­ly became des­per­ate.

I sat on the bed try­ing to fig­ure if I was giv­en this sit­u­a­tion in an act­ing impro­vi­sa­tion what would I do. So I fig­ured, it’s a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called “Don’t Both­er to Knock”. I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had nev­er bro­ken any­thing in my life — against the glass inten­tion­al­ly. It took a lot of bang­ing to get even a small piece of glass — so I went over with the glass con­cealed in my hand and sat qui­et­ly on the bed wait­ing for them to come in. They did, and I said to them “If you are going to treat me like a nut I’ll act like a nut”. I admit the next thing is corny but I real­ly did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. I indi­cat­ed if they did­n’t let me out I would harm myself — the fur­thest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr. Green­son I’m an actress and would nev­er inten­tion­al­ly mark or mar myself. I’m just that vain.

Dur­ing her four days there, she was sub­ject­ed to forced baths and a com­plete loss of pri­va­cy and per­son­al free­dom. The more she sobbed and resist­ed, the more the doc­tors there thought she might actu­al­ly be psy­chot­ic. Monroe’s sec­ond hus­band, Joe DiMag­gio, res­cued her by get­ting her released ear­ly, over the objec­tions of the staff.

You can read the full let­ter (where she also talks about read­ing the let­ters of Sig­mund Freud) over at Let­ters of Note. And while there, make sure you pick up a copy of the very ele­gant Let­ters of Note book.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in August 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 430 Books in Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Play­ground (1955)

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1952)

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Explains Rel­a­tiv­i­ty to Albert Ein­stein (in a Nico­las Roeg Movie)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

Sir Ian McKellen Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter to High School Students: Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

Author Kurt Von­negut was pos­sessed of a droll, unsen­ti­men­tal pub­lic speak­ing style. A son of Indi­anapo­lis, he nev­er lost his Hoosier accent, despite lengthy stints in Cape Cod and New York City.

Actor Ian McK­ellen, on the oth­er hand, exudes warmth. He’s a charmer who tells a sto­ry with a twin­kle in his eye, alter­ing his voice and facial expres­sions to height­en the effect. (Check out his Mag­gie Smith.) Vocal train­ing has only enhanced his beau­ti­ful instru­ment. (He can make a tire repair man­u­al sound like Shake­speare.)

These two lions may have come at their respec­tive crafts from dif­fer­ent angles, but Sir Ian did Von­negut proud, above, as part of Let­ters Live, an ongo­ing cel­e­bra­tion of the endur­ing pow­er of lit­er­ary cor­re­spon­dence.

The let­ter in ques­tion was penned the year before Vonnegut’s death, in reply to five stu­dents at a Jesuit high school in New York City, regret­ful­ly declin­ing their invi­ta­tion to vis­it.

Instead, he gave them two assign­ments.

One was fair­ly uni­ver­sal, the sort of thing one might encounter in a com­mence­ment address: make art and in so doing, learn about life, and your­self.

The oth­er was more con­crete:

Write a 6 line rhyming poem

Don’t show it or recite it to any­one.

Tear it up into lit­tle pieces

Dis­card the pieces in wide­ly sep­a­rat­ed trash recep­ta­cles


A chance for Xavier High School’s all male stu­dent body to air roman­tic feel­ings with­out fear of  dis­cov­ery or rejec­tion?

May­haps, but the true pur­pose of the sec­ond assign­ment is encap­su­lat­ed in the first—to “expe­ri­ence becom­ing” through a cre­ative act.

This notion clear­ly strikes a chord with Sir Ian, 17 years younger than Von­negut but by the time of the  2016 per­for­mance, clos­ing in on the igua­na-like age Von­negut had been when he wrote the let­ter.

Should we attribute the quiver on the clos­ing line to act­ing or gen­uine emo­tion on Sir Ian’s part?

Either way, it’s a love­ly ren­di­tion.

Novem­ber 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lock­wood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Bat­ten, Mau­r­er and Con­gius­ta:

I thank you for your friend­ly let­ters. You sure know how to cheer up a real­ly old geezer (84) in his sun­set years. I don’t make pub­lic appear­ances any more because I now resem­ble noth­ing so much as an igua­na. 

What I had to say to you, more­over, would not take long, to wit: Prac­tice any art, music, singing, danc­ing, act­ing, draw­ing, paint­ing, sculpt­ing, poet­ry, fic­tion, essays, reportage, no mat­ter how well or bad­ly, not to get mon­ey and fame, but to expe­ri­ence becom­ing, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seri­ous­ly! I mean start­ing right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a fun­ny or nice pic­ture of Ms. Lock­wood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the show­er and on and on. Make a face in your mashed pota­toes. Pre­tend you’re Count Drac­u­la.

Here’s an assign­ment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lock­wood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about any­thing, but rhymed. No fair ten­nis with­out a net. Make it as good as you pos­si­bly can. But don’t tell any­body what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to any­body, not even your girl­friend or par­ents or what­ev­er, or Ms. Lock­wood. OK?

Tear it up into tee­ny-wee­ny pieces, and dis­card them into wide­ly sep­a­rat­ed trash recep­ti­cals. You will find that you have already been glo­ri­ous­ly reward­ed for your poem. You have expe­ri­enced becom­ing, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Von­negut

(Ian McKellen’s oth­er Let­ters Live per­for­mance is a fic­tion­al com­ing out let­ter from Armis­tead Maupin’s Tales of the City, from a gay char­ac­ter to his Ani­ta Bryant-sup­port­ing par­ents.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1988, Kurt Von­negut Writes a Let­ter to Peo­ple Liv­ing in 2088, Giv­ing 7 Pieces of Advice

Why Should We Read Kurt Von­negut? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 9 for anoth­er sea­son of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

There may be as many doors into Alco­holics Anony­mous in the 21st cen­tu­ry as there are peo­ple who walk through them—from every world reli­gion to no reli­gion. The “inter­na­tion­al mutu­al-aid fel­low­ship” has had “a sig­nif­i­cant and long-term effect on the cul­ture of the Unit­ed States,” writes Worces­ter State Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy Charles Fox at Aeon. Indeed, its influ­ence is glob­al. From its incep­tion in 1935, A.A. has rep­re­sent­ed an “enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar ther­a­py, and a tes­ta­ment to the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary nature of health and well­ness.”

A.A. has also rep­re­sent­ed, at least cul­tur­al­ly, a remark­able syn­the­sis of behav­ioral sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty that trans­lates into scores of dif­fer­ent lan­guages, beliefs, and prac­tices. Or at least that’s the way it can appear from brows­ing the scores of books on A.A.’s 12-Steps and Bud­dhism, Yoga, Catholi­cism, Judaism, Indige­nous faith tra­di­tions, shaman­ist prac­tices, Sto­icism, sec­u­lar human­ism, and, of course, psy­chol­o­gy.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, and often in prac­tice, how­ev­er, the (non)organization of world­wide fel­low­ships has rep­re­sent­ed a much nar­row­er tra­di­tion, inher­it­ed from the evan­gel­i­cal (small “e”) Chris­t­ian Oxford Group, or as A.A. founder Bill Wil­son called them, “the ‘O.G.’” Wil­son cred­its the Oxford Group for the method­ol­o­gy of A.A.: “their large empha­sis upon the prin­ci­ples of self-sur­vey, con­fes­sion, resti­tu­tion, and the giv­ing of one­self in ser­vice to oth­ers.”

The Oxford Group’s the­ol­o­gy, though qual­i­fied and tem­pered, also made its way into many of A.A.’s basic prin­ci­ples. But for the recov­ery group’s gen­e­sis, Wil­son cites a more sec­u­lar author­i­ty, Carl Jung. The famous Swiss psy­chi­a­trist took a keen inter­est in alco­holism in the 1920s. Wil­son wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appre­ci­a­tion” for his efforts. “A cer­tain con­ver­sa­tion you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Row­land H. back in the ear­ly 1930’s,” Wil­son explains, “did play a crit­i­cal role in the found­ing of our Fel­low­ship.”

Jung may not have known his influ­ence on the recov­ery move­ment, Wil­son says, although alco­holics had account­ed for “about 13 per­cent of all admis­sions” in his prac­tice, notes Fox. One of his patients, Row­land H.—or Row­land Haz­ard, “invest­ment banker and for­mer state sen­a­tor from Rhode Island”—came to Jung in des­per­a­tion, saw him dai­ly for a peri­od of sev­er­al months, stopped drink­ing, then relapsed. Brought back to Jung by his cousin, Haz­ard was told that his case was hope­less short of a reli­gious con­ver­sion. As Wil­son puts it in his let­ter:

[Y]ou frankly told him of his hope­less­ness, so far as any fur­ther med­ical or psy­chi­atric treat­ment might be con­cerned. This can­did and hum­ble state­ment of yours was beyond doubt the first foun­da­tion stone upon which our Soci­ety has since been built.

Jung also told Haz­ard that con­ver­sion expe­ri­ences were incred­i­bly rare and rec­om­mend­ed that he “place him­self in a reli­gious atmos­phere and hope for the best,” as Wil­son remem­bers. But he did not spec­i­fy any par­tic­u­lar reli­gion. Haz­ard dis­cov­ered the Oxford Group. He might, as far as Jung was con­cerned, have met God as he under­stood it any­where. “His crav­ing for alco­hol was the equiv­a­lent,” wrote the psy­chi­a­trist in a reply to Wil­son, “on a low lev­el, of the spir­i­tu­al thirst of our being for whole­ness, expressed in medieval lan­guage: the union with God.”

In his reply let­ter to Wil­son, Jung uses reli­gious lan­guage alle­gor­i­cal­ly. AA took the idea of con­ver­sion more lit­er­al­ly. Though it wres­tled with the plight of the agnos­tic, the Big Book con­clud­ed that such peo­ple must even­tu­al­ly see the light. Jung, on the oth­er hand, seems very care­ful to avoid a strict­ly reli­gious inter­pre­ta­tion of his advice to Haz­ard, who start­ed the first small group that would con­vert Wil­son to sobri­ety and to Oxford Group meth­ods.

“How could one for­mu­late such an insight that is not mis­un­der­stood in our days?” Jung asks. “The only right and legit­i­mate way to such an expe­ri­ence is that it hap­pens to you in real­i­ty and it can only hap­pen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a high­er under­stand­ing.” Sobri­ety could be achieved through “a high­er edu­ca­tion of the mind beyond the con­fines of mere rationalism”—through an enlight­en­ment or con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence, that is. It might also occur through “an act of grace or through a per­son­al and hon­est con­tact with friends.”

Though most found­ing mem­bers of AA fought for the stricter inter­pre­ta­tion of Jung’s pre­scrip­tion, Wil­son always enter­tained the idea that mul­ti­ple paths might bring alco­holics to the same goal, even includ­ing mod­ern med­i­cine. He drew on the med­ical opin­ions of Dr. William D. Silk­worth, who the­o­rized that alco­holism was in part a phys­i­cal dis­ease, “a sort of metab­o­lism dif­fi­cul­ty which he then called an aller­gy.” Even after his own con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence, which Silk­worth, like Jung, rec­om­mend­ed he pur­sue, Wil­son exper­i­ment­ed with vit­a­min ther­a­pies, through the influ­ence of Aldous Hux­ley.

His search to under­stand his mys­ti­cal “white light” moment in a New York detox room also led Wil­son to William James’ Vari­eties of Reli­gious Expe­ri­ence. The book “gave me the real­iza­tion,” he wrote to Jung, “that most con­ver­sion expe­ri­ences, what­ev­er their vari­ety, do have a com­mon denom­i­na­tor of ego col­lapse at depth.” He even thought that LSD could act as such a “tem­po­rary ego-reduc­er” after he took the drug under super­vi­sion of British psy­chi­a­trist Humphrey Osmond. (Jung like­ly would have opposed what he called “short cuts” like psy­che­del­ic drugs.)

In the let­ters between Wil­son and Jung, as Ian McCabe argues in Carl Jung and Alco­holics Anony­mous, we see mutu­al admi­ra­tion between the two, as well as mutu­al influ­ence. “Bill Wil­son,” writes McCabe’s pub­lish­er, “was encour­aged by Jung’s writ­ings to pro­mote the spir­i­tu­al aspect of recov­ery,” an aspect that took on a par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious char­ac­ter in Alco­holics Anony­mous. For his part, Jung, “influ­enced by A.A.’s suc­cess… gave ‘com­plete and detailed instruc­tions’ on how the A.A. group for­mat could be devel­oped fur­ther and used by ‘gen­er­al neu­rotics.’” And so it has, though more on the Oxford Group mod­el than the more mys­ti­cal Jun­gian. It might well have been oth­er­wise.

Read more about Jung’s influ­ence on AA over at Aeon.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Zen Mas­ter Alan Watts Explains What Made Carl Jung Such an Influ­en­tial Thinker

How James Joyce’s Daugh­ter, Lucia, Was Treat­ed for Schiz­o­phre­nia by Carl Jung

Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Pro­vide Door­ways to the Uncon­scious, and Maybe a Way to Pre­dict the Future

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

When Dracula Author Bram Stoker Wrote a Gushing Fan Letter to Walt Whitman (1870)

Every artist starts out as a fan, and in gen­er­al we see the marks of ear­ly fan­dom on their mature work. The best, after all—as fig­ures from Igor Stravin­sky to William Faulkn­er have remarked—steal with­out com­punc­tion, tak­ing what they like from their heroes and mak­ing it their own. But what exact­ly, we might won­der, did Drac­u­la author Bram Stok­er steal from his lit­er­ary hero, Walt Whit­man? I leave it to you to read the 1897 Goth­ic nov­el that spawned innu­mer­able undead fran­chis­es and fan­doms next to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the book that most inspired Stok­er when it made its British debut in 1868.

First pub­lished in 1855, then rewrit­ten over the rest of Whitman’s life, the book of poet­ry bold­ly cel­e­brat­ed the same plea­sure and sen­su­al­i­ty that Stoker’s nov­el made so dan­ger­ous. But Drac­u­la was the work of a 50-year old writer. When Stok­er first read Whit­man, he was only 22, wide-eyed and roman­tic, and “grown from a sick­ly boy into a brawny ath­lete,” writes Mered­ith Hind­ley at the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Human­i­ties mag­a­zine.

Whitman—himself a cham­pi­on of robust mas­cu­line health (he once penned a man­u­al called “Man­ly Health & Train­ing”)—so appealed to the young Irish writer’s deep sen­si­bil­i­ties that he wrote the old­er poet a gush­ing let­ter two years lat­er in 1870.

Stoker’s fan let­ter cer­tain­ly shows the Whit­man­ian influ­ence, “a long stream of sen­ti­ment cas­cad­ing through var­i­ous emo­tions,” as Brain Pick­ings’ Maria Popo­va describes it, includ­ing “surg­ing con­fi­dence bor­der­ing on hubris, del­i­cate self-doubt, absolute artist-to-artist ado­ra­tion.” Whit­man, flat­tered and charmed, wrote a reply, but only after four years, dur­ing which Stok­er sat on his let­ter, ashamed to mail it. “For four years, it haunt­ed his desk, part muse and part gob­lin.” When he final­ly gath­ered the courage in 1876 to rewrite the emo­tion­al let­ter and put it in the mail, he was reward­ed with the kind of praise that must have absolute­ly thrilled him.

“You did so well to write to me,” Whit­man replied, “so uncon­ven­tion­al­ly, so fresh, so man­ly, and affec­tion­ate­ly too.” Thus began a lit­er­ary friend­ship that last­ed until Whitman’s death in 1892 and seems to have been as wel­come to Whit­man as to his biggest fan. A stroke had near­ly inca­pac­i­tat­ed the poet in 1873 and sapped his health and strength for the last two decades of his life, leav­ing him, as he wrote, with a physique “entire­ly shatter’d—doubtless permanently—from paral­y­sis and oth­er ail­ments.” But “I am up and dress’d,” he added, “and get out every day a lit­tle, live here quite lone­some, but hearty, and good spir­its.”

One also won­ders if Stok­er would have received such a warm response if he had mailed his orig­i­nal let­ter unchanged. The “pre­vi­ous­ly unsent effu­sion,” notes Popo­va, “opens with an abrupt direct­ness unguard­ed even by a form of address.” Put anoth­er way, it’s blunt, melo­dra­mat­ic, and over­ly famil­iar to the point of rude­ness: “If you are the man I take you to be,” he begins, “you will like to get this let­ter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it in to the fire with­out read­ing any far­ther.” Con­trast this with the revised com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which begins with the respect­ful salu­ta­tion, “My dear Mr. Whit­man,” and con­tin­ues in rel­a­tive­ly for­mal, though still high­ly spir­it­ed, vein.

Stok­er had mel­lowed and matured, but he nev­er left behind his ado­ra­tion for Whit­man and Leaves of Grass. When he elo­quent­ly sums up the effect read­ing the book and its orig­i­nal 1855 pref­ace had on him—he echoes the feel­ings of mil­lions of fans through­out the ages who have found a voice that speaks to them from far away of feel­ings they know inti­mate­ly but can­not express at home:

Be assured of this Walt Whitman—that a man of less than half your own age, reared a con­ser­v­a­tive in a con­ser­v­a­tive coun­try, and who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of peo­ple who men­tion it, here felt his heat leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts.

Read Stoker’s orig­i­nal and revised let­ters and Whitman’s brief, touch­ing response at Brain Pick­ings.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Walt Whitman’s Unearthed Health Man­u­al, “Man­ly Health & Train­ing,” Urges Read­ers to Stand (Don’t Sit!) and Eat Plen­ty of Meat (1858)

Mark Twain Writes a Rap­tur­ous Let­ter to Walt Whit­man on the Poet’s 70th Birth­day (1889)

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Drac­u­la

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

Here’s John Steinbeck Asking Marilyn Monroe for Her Autograph (1955)

When ask­ing a celebri­ty for a spe­cial favor, it helps to be a bit of a celebri­ty your­self.

As Kei­th Fer­rell details in his biog­ra­phy, John Stein­beck: The Voice of the Land, the Nobel lau­re­ate had lit­tle patience for auto­graph seek­ers, pushy young writ­ers seek­ing help get­ting pub­lished, and “peo­ple who nev­er read books but enjoyed meet­ing authors.”

The shoe went on the oth­er foot when Mrs. Stein­beck let slip to her nephew that Uncle John had met the boy’s movie star crush, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

Sud­den­ly, an auto­graphed pho­to seemed in order.

And not just some stan­dard issue pub­lic­i­ty shot, but ide­al­ly one show­ing the star of The Sev­en Year Itch and Gen­tle­men Pre­fer Blondes in a “pen­sive girl­ish mood.”

Also, could she please inscribe it by name to nephew Jon, a young man with, his uncle con­fid­ed, “one foot in the door of puber­ty”?

The star-to-star tone Stein­beck adopts for the above let­ter seems designed to ward off sus­pi­cion that this nephew could be a con­ve­nient inven­tion on the part of some­one desir­ing such a prize for him­self.

Six­ty years after a sec­re­tary typed it up, Stein­beck­’s mes­sage fetched $3,520 at Julien’s Auc­tions, one of a wide range of items culled from hard­core Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe col­lec­tor, David Gains­bor­ough-Roberts as well as the estate of Mon­roe’s act­ing teacher, Lee Stras­berg.

In addi­tion to oth­er cor­re­spon­dence, the Mar­i­lyn auc­tion includ­ed anno­tat­ed scripts, an emp­ty pre­scrip­tion bot­tle, a bal­le­ri­na paper­weight, stock­ings and gowns, some pin­up-type mem­o­ra­bil­ia, and a pro­gram from John F Kennedy’s 1962 birth­day cel­e­bra­tion at Madi­son Square Gar­den.

One lot that is con­spic­u­ous for its absence is Steinbeck’s promised “guest key to the ladies’ entrance of Fort Knox.”

Could it be that the boy nev­er got his cus­tomized auto­graph?

We’d like to think that he did. Per­haps he’s still savor­ing it in pri­vate.

H/T Alan Gold­wass­er/Let­ters of Note/Flash­bak

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Noth­ing Good Gets Away”: John Stein­beck Offers Love Advice in a Let­ter to His Son (1958)

The 430 Books in Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe & Elvis Pres­ley Star in an Action-Packed Pop Art Japan­ese Mon­ster Movie

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain, this Mon­day, March 11. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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