There are plenty of stereotypes about old age, many of them not too enticing, but longtime New Yorker editor and contributor Roger Angell offers a bright contrast. Earlier this year he won the American Society of Magazine Editors Best Essay Award for “This Old Man.” This essay is the centerpiece and title of his latest book, a collection which includes reflections, jokes, letters and New Yorker pieces. He offers his perspective on living with loss and the unexpected happiness of old age. Please join us for a conversation with Roger Angell about life in the 10th decade.

Guests

  • Roger Angell Senior fiction editor, longtime contributor, The New Yorker

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In his long career at "The New Yorker" magazine, senior fiction editor and contributor, Roger Angell, covered just about everything under the sun. He is also of many bestselling books on baseball, but his latest book delves into a topic not too many could write about, what life is like in the tenth decade. It's a collection that includes essays, letters, poetry, jokes and other glimpses into a long life well lived.

  • 11:07:32

    MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled "This Old Man." Roger Angell joins me from a studio at NPR in New York City. You are, as always, invited to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And Roger Angell, it's good to see you.

  • 11:08:02

    MR. ROGER ANGELLGood morning, Diane. How nice to be here.

  • 11:08:04

    REHMThank you. Roger Angell, in "This Old Man," you have, as a subtitle, "All In Pieces." Tell me what you meant by that subtitle.

  • 11:08:23

    ANGELLWell, these are New Yorker pieces mostly. They're pieces I wrote over quite a period of time. Most of them are fairly recent. But it's a joke title and I'm beginning to think that's not a great idea. If you say it over and over again, the joke dims, but Roger Angell "All In Pieces" is also maybe a description of my mind in my mid-90s. So it'll stand up.

  • 11:08:49

    REHMThat's extraordinary, isn't it, that your mind is just so right there. And part of what you say is...

  • 11:08:57

    ANGELLSometime, sometimes.

  • 11:09:00

    REHMWell, part of what you say you do to keep that mind sharp is to memorize poetry.

  • 11:09:09

    ANGELLWell, that's true. But this is sort of a private thing. I don't do it for recital, but it gives me a lot of pleasure. It does make your mind work because you have to repeat someone over -- that you like and repeat it over and over again until it's pretty firmly in mind. And I say this to myself when I'm falling asleep or when I'm walking my dog or at different times and different poems come back to me. And it's a lot of fun. I recommend it for old people because you are adding something instead of losing something.

  • 11:09:39

    REHMTell me what kind of dog you have.

  • 11:09:42

    ANGELLI have a smooth fox terrier with a long nose and a lot of eye contact. A lot of eye contact, high energy dog.

  • 11:09:54

    REHMIn fact...

  • 11:09:55

    ANGELLThe old circus dogs. If you remember circus dogs, those were all smooth fox terriers.

  • 11:09:58

    REHMSure, sure.

  • 11:09:59

    ANGELLAnd the dog in the old RCA victor label that his master's voice, that was a smooth fox terrier. I write about that in the book, yeah.

  • 11:10:08

    REHMExactly. Is yours a brown and white spotted?

  • 11:10:13

    ANGELLHe's white with a black overlay, sort of an archipelago of black objects all over him.

  • 11:10:18

    REHMAnd I have an all black long-haired Chihuahua.

  • 11:10:26

    ANGELLI'm envisioning that.

  • 11:10:27

    REHMYes. He is absolutely beautiful. He's 12 and as half years old.

  • 11:10:35

    ANGELLLong-haired Chihuahua is a little hard for me, but I get it.

  • 11:10:38

    REHMAnd that beautiful apple head, I assure you, they're absolutely gorgeous.

  • 11:10:43

    ANGELLYes, I know the apple head look.

  • 11:10:45

    REHMBut, you know, you talk about this book as kind of a dog's breakfast so I was wondering about your dog.

  • 11:10:54

    ANGELLWell, the dog's breakfast is an old expression. I remember, my stepfather he'd be using it now and then 'cause dogs didn't used to eat a prefab meal. They ate whatever was handy in the kitchen, which would be some leftover ham hocks and some dry bread and a couple of desiccated carrots and maybe a splash of milk. And they always looked into the bowl before they ate because it was different every day. But dog's breakfast means a little of everything.

  • 11:11:22

    REHMA little of everything. But the title "This Old Man" is a New Yorker piece that got you so much attention. Tell me what you were thinking when you wrote that piece.

  • 11:11:42

    ANGELLWell, Diane, it's hard to say because it was a strange piece to write. I wrote it over a period of time, over a period of months and I didn't know quite what I was doing and I wrote parts about the way I look physically, the decayed look of being -- my gnarled fingers from arthritis and all of that and I wasn't quite sure where I was going. And I'd had a whole section about loss, about the loss of friends, the loss of my wife, the loss of a dog, the loss of a daughter and I said that, well, I think that the poet Ed Hirsch said it better than I did in a recent wonderful book of his about the loss of his son.

  • 11:12:23

    ANGELLAnd he says that everybody -- I think everybody over 65 walks around with 100 pound of cement on their shoulders, a bag of loss. And we all have that. And so that's in here in some form. And some of that piece is sad and maybe hard to take for readers, but it shifts around and I shift into jokes sometimes because that's me. I mean, I love good jokes and I tell jokes and I try to make jokes. So there's a lot of changes of mood in the piece and it seemed to strike home. And I wonder why because I think that old people are probably, in different ways, are patronized by even a loving way by people around them. And this is sort of picking up for our side.

  • 11:13:20

    REHMYou're saying in the book that sometimes older people are simply ignored.

  • 11:13:29

    ANGELLIn conversation, it's very strange. I've noticed this and I've talked with other people my age and they all say, oh, yes, that's true. And you're sitting around maybe at a dinner party and everybody's talking intently about this and that and you get a moment and you say something and everybody looks at you with this sort of wonderful glowing approval. And then, nobody says anything. They don't pick up on what you said because you're already had your say in life and they're not paying attention to what you're saying.

  • 11:13:58

    ANGELLAnd you think, didn't I just something? But it's so strange. It's a common phenomenon old people, I think, recognize.

  • 11:14:06

    REHMRoger Angell, his new book is titled, "This Old Man" and subtitled "All In Pieces." Did you expect to live this long?

  • 11:14:21

    ANGELLOf course not. No, nobody does. I mean, I can remember in my 70s wondering if I would make it to 80. But I don't think about being old very often. I'm reminded all the time, but I don't think about it much. And it's just luck. It's partly genes, some time at the gym and modern medicine. There was a piece in the times about a year ago where somebody was -- I think it was in The Times and somebody who was in their 60s said they didn't want to live beyond 70 or 75 because they didn't believe in modern medicine.

  • 11:14:57

    ANGELLAnd my first thought is, wait till he gets to be 75. And but we're all here because of modern medicine. I mean, our blood pressure, our cholesterol, everything is -- the doctors and pharmacists have done a wonderful job for us and I'm very grateful.

  • 11:15:15

    REHMYou know, my mother-in-law who lived to 92 said the 80s were the best years of her life. How do you feel about that?

  • 11:15:28

    ANGELLWell, I don't know. I don't try to rate them. I forget what it was like to be 40 or 50, but I'm sure it was different. But what I do say and I'm surrounded with young people at The New Yorker and a lot of them in their upper 20s and they're quite anxious about getting into their 30s and I say, wait and see, the 30s are better than the 20s and they are. I'm sure of that. And people come back later and say, you were right.

  • 11:15:58

    REHMSo maybe the 90s are even better than the 80s? You're still here.

  • 11:16:05

    ANGELLWell, I'm not here to do a rating. I think I'm -- in sports parlance, I'm day to day or maybe week to week. And that's pretty good. And I am really, on the whole, quite happy and this is a surprise. I think that psychologists and gerontologists have noticed that older people are happier and I think it's true.

  • 11:16:33

    REHMWhy do you think that is?

  • 11:16:36

    ANGELLWell, I think that the idea of our careers, of how well we're doing, making money, where we stand sort of falls away because we know where we stand. It almost becomes part of who you are. And that's a big weight to put aside. I remember going to my 25th reunion at college and everybody was talking about business. How are you doing? What are you doing? There was always a business question, meaning how much money are you making, basically.

  • 11:17:09

    ANGELLAnd then, I went again, the next time I went was for my 50th and all that had stopped and people were glad to see each other and that had disappeared. And I think that's a wonderful thing to be rid of.

  • 11:17:20

    REHMIt really is. I remember going with my husband, both to his 25th and to his 50th and had the same feeling. The 50th was recollections and sweetness as opposed to...

  • 11:17:39

    ANGELLYes, there you are. There you are.

  • 11:17:42

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:17:42

    ANGELLAnd it was like looking at an old face through a slightly smudged window.

  • 11:17:46

    REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. We'll take your calls when we come back for Roger Angell. His new book is titled "This Old Man." Stay with us.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. My guest this hour is Roger Angell, longtime editor and continuing contributor to The New Yorker magazine. He has a new book out. It's a collection of many of his essays, poems, things to make you laugh, things that make you cry. But a wonderful mélange, as he calls it, a plate of hors d'oeuvres, a grab bag, a teenager's closet. That's what he calls this book.

  • 11:20:45

    REHMRoger Angell, I wonder, we are on the eve of the eve of Christmas. So I wonder if you would read for us your poem "The Night After Christmas."

  • 11:20:59

    ANGELLI'll be glad to, Diane. This was written for my mother, I think maybe in the late '40s or early '50s. She was in Harkness Pavilion at Presbyterian Hospital in New York for something or other and had to be there over Christmas, and I was sorry for her and trying to cheer her up. So I wrote this rip-off the old Clement, the Clement Moore, which is a little bit different, and it goes like this.

  • 11:21:28

    ANGELL'Twas the night after Christmas in the pavilion called Harkness. The patients were laying in pain and in darkness. The interns were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of catheters danced through their heads. And my ma in her traction and I with my piles had just settled our heads for a night of brave smiles. When down through the air shaft there came such a whining from an ungrateful patient they were trephining. Away to the window I flew like a gull, tripped over the bedpan and fractured my skull. And what should appear in response to my curses but a miniature quack and six surly nurses.

  • 11:22:08

    ANGELLMiss Frowner, Miss Jaunty, Miss Middle-Aged Pixie, Miss Cold Hands, Miss Sphincter, Miss You-All From Dixie, their smiles were so starchy, so plain their frigidity that I almost smiled back despite my rigidity. They said not a word but went straight to their task, took sputum and urine and blood in a flask. Any record of madness, TB, croup or others? Give names and birthdates of both your grandmothers. The doc checked my Blue Cross, the girls checked reflexes by chanting a mantra to my solar plexus.

  • 11:22:51

    ANGELLMore happy surprises, more cries a capella when they tapped out some mambas upside my patella. The doctor then sighed and gave his diagnosis. This poor fellow is suffering mild acidosis. I foresee some ccs of antibiotic. Let's try this free sample. It looks quite exotic. He bade me farewell as he smoothed my pajamas. You'll fax me your look-see to the Bahamas. And ignoring the blood on the back of my head, the nightingales bundled me back into bed.

  • 11:23:28

    ANGELLThey turned out the light with a cheery last warning. Be ready for bed baths at five in the morning.

  • 11:23:38

    REHMShe must truly have enjoyed that.

  • 11:23:40

    ANGELLWell, my mother loved it, and she kept saying, but I'm not supposed to laugh.

  • 11:23:46

    REHMTell me about your mother, Katharine White.

  • 11:23:51

    ANGELLWell, she was one of the very early members of the New Yorker. She joined a few months after it started in 1925, and she became the first fiction editor and poetry editor and had her hand in every part of the magazine for 40, 50 years, a major force and a wonderful job for a woman anywhere in the country. And the surprising thing about this, when I think back on it, is that Harold Ross, the founder of the New Yorker, was a wonderfully complicated and easily parodied man. He'd never gone to college. He came from Aspen, Colorado. He'd been a newspaperman all over the world, then he was the editor of the Stars and Stripes, the GI newspaper of World War I.

  • 11:24:40

    ANGELLHe became a cosmopolite in New York and knew everybody and started up the New Yorker in 1925. And what was surprising was his total openness to women. He was in awe of women that he had found and who worked for him, Katharine White, Janet Flanner, the famous woman correspondent, a wonderful writer named Emily Hahn, Rebecca West, Janet Flanner I think I said, Molly Pannerdown (PH) in London. Those were the people covering the war for him.

  • 11:25:15

    ANGELLAnd all this, he was very polite around women. He was rather foul-mouthed but always polite around women. You would think an old-fashioned woman -- man afraid of women, but he gloried in them and did well by them.

  • 11:25:31

    REHMAnd your mother really succeeded throughout those years.

  • 11:25:37

    ANGELLYeah, yeah, well, she -- the New Yorker, I grew up with the New Yorker, and I was -- my parents were separated. And I saw my mother on weekends and vacations. And I remember her, when she was -- E.B. White was there, of course, but I remember her surrounded with galley proofs and pencil, eraser rubbings and galleys and talking about the magazine, talking about Thurber and all the other people that they were close to and this exciting venture. And then the product would appear every week, and I would read it and, as best I could, and memorize all the cartoons. And it was a strange but thrilling place to be.

  • 11:26:14

    REHMSo your mother and father separated when you were how old, and you went...

  • 11:26:20

    ANGELLI was eight years old, yeah.

  • 11:26:22

    REHMEight years old, and you went to live with your father.

  • 11:26:25

    ANGELLI went to live with my father, which was a bad arrangement.

  • 11:26:27

    REHMHow come?

  • 11:26:28

    ANGELLWell, my father insisted. He was -- my mother was getting -- was divorcing him and would very quickly marry E.B. White, and he was bitter about it and insisted on custody. It was not a good idea for anyone, but we survived. And my visit to my mother had a little air of excitement, and I'm sure this is why I ended up at the New Yorker. Actually I ended up, years later, in my mother's old office, the same, exact same office that she had occupied.

  • 11:27:04

    ANGELLAnd I told this to a therapist I was seeing, and he or she said the greatest single act of sublimation in my experience.

  • 11:27:12

    REHMYou had another quote in the book about your mother that said, if you had known what that person had written about your mother, it would have saved you.

  • 11:27:28

    ANGELLLet me read that letter. I've got it right here. Can I read it?

  • 11:27:30

    REHMPlease, please.

  • 11:27:32

    ANGELLIt's a letter to a colleague of mine, Nancy Franklin, a wonderful writer, who wrote a posthumous profile of my mother, a fabulous, fabulously, wonderful piece. I never met her. And this is a letter I wrote to her in 1999, when that piece was put into an anthology of great profiles, a New Yorker anthology of great profiles, and here it is.

  • 11:27:58

    ANGELLDear Nancy, I suppose you know that your great piece about my mother is in the forthcoming New Yorker profiles collection. And I suppose further that you've already seen the book. I was looking at a copy the other day and read your KSW, stands for Katharine S. White, my mother, and read your KSW profile all over again, front to back, and was struck again by its great reporting and thoroughness, its elegant concision, its daring perceptiveness, its fairness and, well, its love.

  • 11:28:31

    ANGELLI think I wrote you a note when it first came out, but I wanted to say again how much it means to me that you wrote it in the first place and how happy I am that it's in the book now for keeps. The piece is also a big, fat relief for me because I'll never have to write one of my own about my mother or at least not a major, all-points effort like yours. I have no need to correct or amplify what you've done because you've got so much of KSW in a way -- KSW into yours in a way that feels both level and intimate.

  • 11:29:09

    ANGELLI'm also pleased in a wise, satisfied way, because of your quote, as an editor she was maternal, and as a mother, she was editorial. If I'd heard that in 1965, let's say, I would have saved about $20,000 in psychiatrist bills. Make that $25,000. I would've invested that sum in Xerox, then Microsoft, and I'd be telling you all this right now, this minute, while driving to the Villa Angelino in Cape Ferrate in my mauve Jaguar XV16 two-seater. Pity. Love again.

  • 11:29:55

    REHMThat therapy...

  • 11:29:58

    ANGELLWell, I have to say this -- I mean, I don't want to go out over the airwaves and say that my mother was editorial. I mean, she was, in a way. She was also full of love and maternal, and so I don't want to malign her posthumously.

  • 11:30:13

    REHMBut nevertheless, therapy does...

  • 11:30:18

    ANGELLThere is some truth in this, but like all great aphorisms, it's not entirely true.

  • 11:30:24

    REHMThinking back to your boyhood, what was the relationship between you and her back then?

  • 11:30:32

    ANGELLWell, she was -- she loved me, and she was encouraging and every -- both my parents were encouraging in everything I did, including my father. I was a boy naturalist back then, and I filled up our place where I lived with him, (unintelligible) I filled it up with snakes and toads and all kinds of reptiles, and I also had a monkey. At one point I had a macaw, who was a wonderful creature from Burma, I think, that a New Yorker writer Emily Hahn had brought for me. And whatever I wanted to do, my father said, fine, we'll make room for it. And he encouraged my interests.

  • 11:31:18

    ANGELLHe was a lawyer and a great lawyer. He was the chairman of the board of the ACLU for about 25 years. But when I leaned more toward becoming a writer and became a writer and an editor eventually, he did nothing but support me. He did not want me to be a lawyer because he was one.

  • 11:31:34

    REHMTell me about your relationship with E.B. White.

  • 11:31:40

    ANGELLWell, he was a perfect stepfather, in a way, because he didn't try to be a father, he was quite young, he was younger than my mother, nervous, graceful, the most graceful man in his movements I ever saw, and I can still see him walking down his -- the dirt road on his pasture in Maine. And of course a major influence, I hope, in my writing. I used to, when I was in my teens, I used to listen to him every Tuesday writing the weekly comment, the first page, the editorial page, of the New Yorker, which he did for a decade and a half.

  • 11:32:19

    ANGELLAnd he'd be in his office in his house in Maine, and you'd hear very sporadic thrashings of his typewriter, long silences, and he'd come out and eat lunch, and he'd look pale and silent. Then he'd resume and then mail it off in the mail pouch around 2:00 in the afternoon and say it isn't good, it's no good, it's not good enough. And of course it was wonderful. I mean, the (unintelligible) would come back later in the next -- early the next week, and he'd say, well, it's all right.

  • 11:32:45

    ANGELLBut all that writing of his looked so effortless. It looked as if this is just, he could do the whole thing in 20 minutes, writing, which is the whole trick, which is to make the writing seem easy and something that is written not for the writer but for the reader. And this is the whole trick to writing for me is to think of the reader. It's always between you and the reader. This is what this is about.

  • 11:33:10

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. There is a caller who's been waiting a little while, and I do want to invite the rest of our listeners to join us, as well, 800-433-8850. Right now let's go to Christopher in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:33:39

    CHRISTOPHERHi. I am 13, and I was wondering if you had any advice for younger people my age or even older.

  • 11:33:50

    ANGELLEnjoy.

  • 11:33:54

    REHMThat's a great piece of advice.

  • 11:33:57

    ANGELLI don't know what to say to a 13-year-old except that I envy you, and if you're a reader, keep on reading, reading -- read everything in sight and keep on reading. That's my advice. And...

  • 11:34:10

    REHMDoes that help, Christopher?

  • 11:34:11

    CHRISTOPHERYes, it does.

  • 11:34:13

    CHRISTOPHERThank you.

  • 11:34:13

    REHMOkay, keep on reading. Thanks for calling. To Jim in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:20

    JIMOh great. Yeah, Mr. Angell, it's so great to hear your voice. God, I'm stunned.

  • 11:34:26

    ANGELLThank you.

  • 11:34:27

    JIMYou're in your mid-90s. I had a question about your stepfather's famous co-wrote book, "Elements of Style," and which I loved. It was really very useful. But one of the most controversial things that Strunk and who was your dad's, your stepdad's Ph.D. mentor, right, is that the relationship?

  • 11:34:48

    ANGELLYeah, yeah, at Cornell, yes.

  • 11:34:50

    JIMIt -- I -- one of the more controversial assertions the book makes is never end a sentence in a preposition. And there's a famous -- there's a famous headline in one of the Chicago newspapers when one of the murderers of Bobby Frank was strangled to death in prison in Illinois, and he was a homosexual, and he made a pass at somebody, and the headline said, yesterday in the state prison, a sentence was ended up in a proposition.

  • 11:35:37

    ANGELLWell, I'm glad -- I'm so glad you brought this up because E.B. White came up with a sentence that ends in five prepositions, and here it is. A boy is upstairs in bed, a young boy, waiting to be read aloud to, and his father comes upstairs carrying a book. And the kid looks at the book, and he says, Why did you bring this book that I don't want to be read aloud to up for out of?

  • 11:36:07

    REHMThat's wonderful. That's wonderful.

  • 11:36:10

    ANGELLOut of up for, I'm sorry, out of up for.

  • 11:36:14

    REHMHave you ever written a sentence for the New Yorker that actually did end in a preposition?

  • 11:36:23

    ANGELLOh, I'm sure, I'm sure, no, of course it comes up, and sometimes it's exactly the right thing to do.

  • 11:36:30

    REHMSo what was the big deal with E.B. White and Strunk?

  • 11:36:35

    ANGELLWell, I think that he remembered Strunk, I mean, this is one of his old professors.

  • 11:36:41

    REHMSure.

  • 11:36:43

    ANGELLAnd what the famous "Elements of Style" book is, which is still sort of a bestseller on -- for people who want to start writing.

  • 11:36:49

    REHMYou bet, you bet.

  • 11:36:49

    ANGELLIs to -- is to say how hard it is and to put down a few simple rules, which is be yourself, write about something that you're familiar with. There are four or five precepts that people should really, really keep in mind, and I think that write for the reader, it runs all the way, which I've been saying, runs all the way through this. And as an editor, which is half of what I did all through my whole career, this is what you're doing. You're sitting with a writer and over a piece of copy. And writing is so difficult. It's so hard for everyone, hard for E.B. White.

  • 11:37:25

    REHMIt certainly is. All right.

  • 11:37:28

    ANGELLWriting is thinking. Writing is thinking, and so it's hard to do, and there are no real shortcuts to make it a lot easier.

  • 11:37:35

    REHMAbsolutely, and we've got to take a short break here. We'll be back in just a moment.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Roger Angell is with me this morning from New York. His newest book is "This Old Man." It's a collection of short stories, poetry, essays. He is now 95 years old and writing about the happiness of his 10th decade. Here's an email from Barbara, in Potomac, Md. She says, "I was not a regular reader of The New Yorker until recently.

  • 11:40:42

    REHM"But some years ago I discovered the book, 'Nothing But You,' a collection of love stories from The New Yorker, edited by Roger Angell. It's the most charming, poignant and wonderful collection. I've read almost nonstop and turn to every now and again for a laugh and a few tears." Do you recall that book?

  • 11:41:11

    ANGELLI'm so happy that she brought this up. Working on that was one of the most rewarding and difficult and pleasurable things I ever did, going through all The New Yorkers of -- I think we started from 1960 on -- and finding love stories. And they came in every form, every length, by famous writers, by little-known writers. And "Nothing But You" comes from a quotation from that famous, fabulous Chekov story, the lady with the dog.

  • 11:41:40

    REHMUm-hum.

  • 11:41:41

    ANGELL"All this time I've been thinking of nothing for you -- but you. And why, oh, why have you come?" And so forth. There was…

  • 11:41:47

    REHMI'd be interested…

  • 11:41:50

    ANGELLI had many collaborators and all of my fiction department collaborators helped with that, too. But we had a fabulous time. And the book, I loved the book. I still love it.

  • 11:41:57

    REHMGood. Good. I think I'll have to get a copy of that. I've not read it. I wonder about your recollections of someone I interviewed twice many years ago, Joseph Brodsky.

  • 11:42:16

    ANGELLWell, yes. There is -- I remember him so vivid -- such a vivid, extraordinary man and I -- he appears in a chapter of mine in "This Old Man," which the chapter's called, "Who Was That?" Which is about -- first, it starts off being about encountering celebrities in New York on the street and how you behave.

  • 11:42:35

    ANGELLYou took a look and nodded and smiled and walked on by, and how that has changed. And then I move on to talk about celebrated people that I've run into or that I met here and there over my life. And one of the latter parts is about Brodsky. And I'll read this section.

  • 11:42:54

    REHMPlease.

  • 11:42:55

    ANGELL"At home at our Brooklin, Maine, summer cottage in the mid '70s, we received a late-morning visit from our friend Stephen Dixon and Anne Frydman. He a prolific fiction writer and a Johns Hopkins English prof, and she a translator of Russian literature. They'd brought along a younger couple, out-of-town friends up here for a long weekend. The woman, a striking blond Italian lady who spoke only a few words of English. I've forgotten her name.

  • 11:43:27

    ANGELL"And he a thin, intense, 40-ish Russian." It's hard to say 40-ish Russian. "…40-ish Russian new to our country, but now safely ensconced as a visiting poet at the University of Michigan, Joseph Brodsky. We invited them all out onto our sunny porch and Carol produced iced tea, and the conversation flowed long -- flowed along easily enough to turn the occasion into lunch a little later.

  • 11:43:58

    ANGELL"Brodsky, in a thin cotton summer suit, smoked incessantly, and could not take his eyes away from his date. In time, though, he asked if he could walk around a little and vanished in the direction of our adjacent granite point on Eggemoggin Reach, which offers panoramas of seaweedy shoreline and, across the waters, Deer Isle. He was away almost half an hour, and when he reappeared he was excited. I have found Moosels, he cried. Moosels everywhere.

  • 11:44:33

    ANGELL"And so he had. Every pocket of his pants and his jacket now bulged with damp live mussels he had plucked from the crevices and crannies of barnacled ledges, now exposed at low tide. We often sat down to the same backyard provender, steamed and dripping with wine and butter, with friends at dinner, but Brodsky, an ex-patriot and an exile, understood things differently. This was his next meal, packed and ready to go.

  • 11:45:06

    ANGELL"We saw him now and then after this, back in New York, where he was a vibrant presence at dinners given by our friend and near neighbor Eileen Simpson. He was a world-class conversationalist, with flowing ideas and a smoky laugh. He died in 1996, at 55, a shock to the world. Another New York celebrity, of course, and almost a friend of ours. Now he's become a companion, see, ever since I started memorizing poetry as a prop to my declining brain, and came upon his 'A Song,'" the name of a title, "'A Song,' which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1988.

  • 11:45:51

    ANGELL"Each of its four stanzas begins with, 'I wish you were here, dear.' The third one goes, 'I wish you were here, dear, I wish you here. I wish I knew no astronomy when stars appear, when the moon skims the water that sighs and shifts in its slumber. I wish it was still a quarter to call your number." And I can add the fourth, I think, from memory.

  • 11:46:20

    ANGELL"I wish you were here, dear, in this hemisphere as I sit on the porch sipping a beer. It's evening, the sun is setting, boys shout and gulls are crying. What's the point of forgetting, if it's followed by dying?"

  • 11:46:39

    REHMJust lovely. Just absolutely lovely. Roger Angell, you have, like everyone else, suffered losses in your life. You've lost a spouse. You've lost a second spouse. You've lost a daughter. And, as you said, your dog died. How do you get through that loss and continue to have an uplifting and forward-thinking outlook at 95?

  • 11:47:30

    ANGELLYou know, Diane, I don't think there's any trick to it. I think we -- when we have a devastating loss we -- it's -- it is devastating. It is devastating and we think we're not gonna survive. I have the advantage of seeing over a long term, a wonderful therapist. And I remember saying to her shortly after this, I said, "I don't know how I'm gonna get through this." And she said, "Neither do I, but you will." And it happens. It happens.

  • 11:48:02

    ANGELLThe unbearable becomes a little bit bearable. Time moves along. We survive and something else stirs. We go on living. And the extraordinary thing is that we can love again and we can find someone else that we wanna have close to our heart and to be intimate with. And this is in the book, too. And this is great news. It's great news for all old people, that the wish to live in every way is in us somewhere. And this doesn't mean that we've forgotten. We, I mean, I was putting out the Christmas tree yesterday and we'd just finished trimming.

  • 11:48:42

    ANGELLAnd I put on an old 78 record of Polish Christmas carols, which was playing and I began to -- some tears came because I was thinking of Carol, my wife of 48 years, and how much we used to do this. But those aren't sad tears for some reason. They're not. They're tears of loss, but what matters now is that I've remarried and I'm very happy. And I'm still alive. And this is what happens.

  • 11:49:11

    REHMI'm so glad for you.

  • 11:49:12

    ANGELLIt's sort of a miracle, yeah. Thank you.

  • 11:49:13

    REHMSo you were married for 48 years. Your wife died. And how long ago did you remarry?

  • 11:49:22

    ANGELLI married a year ago -- a year and a half ago.

  • 11:49:25

    REHMOh, I'm so glad for you.

  • 11:49:26

    ANGELLAnd a big surprise to everyone, including my children.

  • 11:49:30

    REHMAnd including maybe yourself?

  • 11:49:32

    ANGELLWell, absolutely. I was stunned. In fact, I'm still sort of stunned, but it was a great move. A great move, wonderful thing.

  • 11:49:39

    REHMYou know, my own husband died after 54 years of marriage. He died a year and a half ago. I find myself now missing him even more.

  • 11:49:56

    ANGELLYeah, I think that's true. I think that the missing never goes away. But it isn't as painful as it once was. It's a different…

  • 11:50:08

    REHMIt's different.

  • 11:50:09

    ANGELLIt's something that you're grateful for, I think, actually.

  • 11:50:12

    REHMThere are a number of people who've written about your baseball writing. We have an email from Richard, in Charlotte, N.C. He says, "Roger Angell's columns on baseball and the several books on that subject remain the best writing on the national pastime I've ever enjoyed. Is there more to come?"

  • 11:50:43

    ANGELLWell, I hope so. I'm not writing long pieces about baseball now, but I am blogging. And, which I did all through this last fall season, the latter part of the season. I wrote a -- I posted an obituary to Yogi Berra. And then I wrote, I think, about 14 blogs about the post-season games, about the Mets and the wonderful Kansas City Royals game. And it was nothing but pleasure for me.

  • 11:51:18

    ANGELLBaseball continues to reward because it is endlessly surprising. It is both familiar in every way and stuffed with surprises. And you can't predict -- people say who's gonna win and I say I have no idea. I have no idea. And nobody else has an idea either.

  • 11:51:32

    REHMOf course not. Then we have an email from Lamont, in Indiana, who asks that you say a little about Emily Hahn.

  • 11:51:47

    ANGELLEmily Hahn was just absolutely extraordinary and a wonderful woman who traveled the world and wrote about it for The New Yorker. And then later in her life began reporting, writing about guerrillas and chimpanzees. Like no one else. She smoked cigars when she was in her 30s. She was stunningly beautiful. Everyone was half in love with her. She wrote marvelously. She had a happy long-term marriage and -- to a British officer that she'd met during the war in the Philippines.

  • 11:52:35

    ANGELLNot in the Philippines, in Singapore. And when he was shortly, after that was captured by the Japanese, she -- they were not yet married. She was pregnant with their first child. And she used to walk outside the prison perimeter, where he'd be on the inside. And they were not allowed to speak or to even acknowledge each other. And then she took her child and got on a boat and made something like a 6,000-mile ocean voyage in the middle of the war, back to the United States, just like her.

  • 11:53:01

    REHMWow.

  • 11:53:02

    ANGELLAmazing woman in every way. Still a hero of mine, heroine of mine. Wonderful writer.

  • 11:53:07

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Megan, in Gaithersburg, Md. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:15

    MEGANHello. I just wanted to make a comment on when you were discussing breaking rules in writing. I think you were specifically talking about prepositions or other things. It just brought back to my memory, I think was in maybe 4th grade, so I was 8 or 9 years old. And we had some kind of writing assignment that we had to write dialog in it. And I wanted my character to say, I'm gonna go to the store, G-O-N-N-A, instead of, I'm going to go to the store.

  • 11:53:49

    ANGELLGood for you.

  • 11:53:51

    MEGANAnd my mother, who was the -- a former teacher in a long line of teachers from New England, you know, circled it with a red pen when I went home.

  • 11:54:00

    REHMSure.

  • 11:54:00

    MEGANAnd said, you know, no, you can't do this. That's not correct English. That's not a word. And I said, but that's I want her to say. Nobody says, I'm going to go. And we had this big long discussion and she said something to the effect of, you're not allowed to break the rules until you can prove you know all the rules, or something like that. And I was just disgusted, but, you know, I was nine so I had no recourse.

  • 11:54:25

    REHMExactly. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:54:28

    ANGELLWell, you had the right idea at nine. I hope you're still writing.

  • 11:54:32

    MEGANWell, I do sometimes.

  • 11:54:33

    ANGELLYou had the right idea.

  • 11:54:34

    MEGANI do some. Well, thank you very much.

  • 11:54:35

    REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. And let's finally go to Audrey, in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.

  • 11:54:44

    AUDREYHi. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:54:46

    REHMSure.

  • 11:54:47

    AUDREYMr. Angell, you're -- you've had this long history with The New Yorker magazine. I've had, in my life, my parents read it, now I've had a subscription for more decades than I wanna admit. And I wanna know what you see as its -- what about it as an institution, as a magazine? You've been, of course, you know, involved with all these years.

  • 11:55:13

    REHMAnd really, what it has meant for the country, Roger Angell.

  • 11:55:19

    ANGELLWell, I think the remarkable thing about The New Yorker is the way it has changed. It -- every -- it has had five editors. And every one of them changed the magazine and made it his or her own. David Remnick's wonderful New Yorker is not much like Howard Ross's or even like William Shawn's, who had the longest tenure. Everybody trembled when these changes came along. And luckily the magazine was able to change and to become something different, which is the whole idea for all of us, which is not to be exactly the same as we used to be.

  • 11:55:52

    ANGELLWe have a very young readership now. And a very large proportion of our reading is the online edition. And the online readers are not the same as the paper subscribers, which is good. We don't have to spend much money in promotion because we have the highest re-subscription rate of any magazine.

  • 11:56:13

    REHMWow.

  • 11:56:13

    ANGELLI'm very critical of the magazine. Every week I think is it good enough, is it good enough. I'm critical of different parts of it, but that's also a part of the process. It's something we care about and want every issue to be great and David Remnick has just done wonders. And he's been fabulously wonderful to me and I welcome the chance to say this.

  • 11:56:32

    REHMWell, and I am especially grateful to you, Roger Angell, for being with us for this hour, talking about your poetry, your memories, your strength of learning, your strength of communication. Just wonderful…

  • 11:56:53

    ANGELLThank you, Diane.

  • 11:56:53

    REHM…to be with you.

  • 11:56:54

    ANGELLWhat a pleasure to be here.

  • 11:56:56

    REHMThank you so, so much.

  • 11:56:56

    ANGELLThanks so much. Thank you very much.

  • 11:56:58

    REHMMerry Christmas, Happy New Year.

  • 11:57:00

    ANGELLThank you. Merry Christmas. Same to you.

  • 11:57:01

    REHMAnd to all our listeners, we'll be taking just a short break. We'll come back after January 1st. We'll be back, actually on the 4th. We'll bring you some of our favorite programs between now and then. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Tracking Local Reparations Efforts In The U.S.

Friday, Oct 01 2021Cities and states across the country are exploring reparations programs for Black Americans, but not all reparations advocates think it's the right approach. Diane talks to Mayor Daniel Biss of Evanston, Ill., and William Darity, Jr., and Kirsten Mullen, the co-authors of the book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century”