Here is one of my prized possessions: a letter from the late, great writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks. He sent it to me in 2014, after seeing my drawing of his book, Musicophilia:
I was thinking this weekend about how much he would’ve liked the documentary My Octopus Teacher. (Note his letterhead above. He loved cephalopods and considered them kindred spirits — they’re smart and they surround themselves with ink! “They called me Inky as a boy,” he wrote in his memoir, On The Move, “and I still seem to get as ink stained as I did seventy years ago.”)
I also rewatched this wonderful video of him showing off his writing desk:
I want company, even if it’s inorganic…I think some of the happiest years of my life were between 10 and 14 when I had a passion for chemistry in general, and metals, in particular. And now, I’ve left my hometown, and my parents are dead, and my brothers are dead, and so much of the past is gone…this rather childlike, chemical bench-like desk appeals to me, gives me some comfort, and makes me feel at home.
I count myself extremely fortunate to possess a letter in his hand. His obituary noted that he received over 10,000 letters a year. He called it an “intercourse with the world,” and said, “I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison.” I fit none of those criteria, and I still had the honor.
To my shame, I never wrote back. I had just moved studios and I couldn’t find the drawing and I didn’t want to write back to him until I found it. By the time I did find the drawing I read that he had terminal cancer and I didn’t want to bother him. Just one of my regrets…
Now all I can do is celebrate him by sharing his work and writing back as much as I can. (I look forward to the forthcoming documentary.)
Filed under: Oliver Sacks