May 11, 2010

"Ms. Angell committed suicide, her father, the author Roger Angell, said."

I don't know if I've ever seen an obituary that presented suicide so directly.

I'd never heard of Callie Angell, but I am intrigued by the idea of devoting one's mind to the study of the films of Andy Warhol and the nature of a mind that ultimately arrives at the decision to commit suicide.

I have read many articles by Roger Angell — the pieces on baseball that appeared in The New Yorker were quite wonderful. I'm sorry for him now.

From the daughter's obituary, I see that Roger Angell's stepfather was E. B. White, and that the dead woman was, in her time, close to White. Perhaps he read "Charlotte's Web" to her. From the obit:
"She untangled this web of films and revealed how they were a vital part in Andy Warhol’s life as an artist..."
This web... Who can untangle the reasons for suicide?

There is nothing in the article about a terrible physical illness. There is no reference to chronic depression. I assume Roger Angell, the brilliant writer, chose to present the news so starkly. But why? Why wouldn't you soften the news of your daughter's death?

Baseball, Warhol, children's books... there are always things to be seen and loved.

42 comments:

ricpic said...

I want to kill the guy in the hat.

Rick Lockridge said...

As a great writer--and I think of him as a great writer; his description of the 1991 World Series, in which my adopted Atlanta Braves were beaten in seven games by the Minnesota Twins stuck with me so thoroughly that I could quote you, even now, word for word, the last paragraph of that article--Roger Angell would know no other way than to run straight down the baseline.

Roger Angell is greatly admired and loved by baseball fans everywhere, but I suppose that is little consolation to him in this terrible moment.

former law student said...

Why wouldn't you soften the news of your daughter's death?


- Out of respect for her privacy.

- Because you were the cause.

GMay said...

My father's suicide still confuses me.

Brilliant guy. His high school science project - "The effects of Phagocytic Shock on the Reticulo-Endothelial System" - earned him a fourth place finish at the national science fair. Despite having no college degree and smoking five packs a day, he got a job as Director of Respiratory Therapy at a major Dallas hospital, but quit after a few years to fail at various self employment ventures.

Never thought he was the kind of guy to kill himself, but then again, I never knew him that well since he was a workaholic and divorced my mother when I was 12. Mom always thought he was manic depressive (which I guess is called bipolar these days or something), which I didn't find out about until after he was dead. They were married for eighteen years, but even then and despite how well she knew him, it was still a shock to her.

Putting pieces together, which is all you can really do after something like that, the only thing that seemed in character was the fact that he was somewhat methodical in how he went about it. He had already paid for the plot, the cremation, and made sure his insurance and will were in perfect order.

Given his penchant for self-diagnosis, he thought he was dying of stomach cancer and so we initially thought he did it because he figured he was going to die anyway. But the last time we saw him was at his mother's funeral where after she was laid to rest by my grandfather, he said out loud "my last family obligation is fulfilled".

He shot himself less than a year later.

former law student said...

GMay, I'm sorry for your loss.

People kill themselves when they feel they have nothing to live for, or when death is more appealing than life. Some people see their lives only getting worse, and decide to cut their losses.

This reminds me that I do not see the appeal of life extension. You are not going to get more time in your twenties and thirties. You will spend more time being elderly.

edutcher said...

Suicide can be an incredible shock to those around the victim. Often it's an "out of the blue" happenstance for those who knew the person. One of my uncles killed himself and no one in the family had seen it coming; it was especially hard because my mother's family is Catholic and suicide is a mortal sin.

I don't dispute what fls says about the motivations of suicide, but I think the victim's reasons may be far more complex. It is an act born, in many cases, of incredible desperation, but I think there are times when other motivations, even ones most people would view as positive, come into play.

William said...

If you find life confusing or depressing, I doubt very much that you will find relief in the study of Warhol's films.

SteveR said...

Suicide is never easy to deal with but it very much troubles me when it happens with someone young. A beautiful friend of my 17 year old daughter committed suicide earlier this year. The damage was great and will be long lasting. Nothing wrong in her life could not have been fixed.

Geoff Matthews said...

For the young and healthy, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

For the old or infirm, suicide is the admittance of 'enough'.

LG said...

A lovely tribute to Callie Angell from J. Hoberman in the @villagevoice. http://bit.ly/9tC8Pv

She was a lovely person, and did great work with the Warhol archive. I appreciate the starkness of her father's comment in the NYT - 'straight down the baseline' as stated above.

This is a tremendous loss.
R.I.P. Callie Angell

lemondog said...

Have you ever felt you were locked inside your own head with no way out?

TMink said...

Sometimes stating things bluntly is an occupational hazard. Not for attorneys so much, who look for spin and advantage. I think good therapists get overly blunt over time in social situations. You talk to people in a straightforward and honest manner all day long and it gets to be a habit.

Trey

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

FLS, #2 not fair. Who knows why? Maybe that's all he could get out. He's 89. #1 is more likely. Maybe the NYT should have investigated more.

Toy

t-man said...

Why should anyone have investigated more, unless it appeared to be a homicide disguised as a suicide? Just so we all could all practice armchair psychoanalysis of Ms. Angell?

Trooper York said...

Roger Angell is one of the greatest baseball writers of all time. He is right there with Grantland Rice, Milton Gross, Arthur Daily, Red Smith and Dick Young. He was the only reason I ever bought the New Yorker.

I am so very sorry for his loss and will remember him and his daughter in my prayers.

former law student said...

toy -- the question posed was "why wouldn't you", not why wouldn't he. I just threw out two possible answers to the general question.

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

Lem, good point. But if she had a history of depression or bipolar disorder, or another serious illness, we would not be psychoanalyzing. We'd just have some explanation. It's enough of an issue that AA commented on it and we are discussing it. People are always trying to fill in the blanks.

Toy

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

Sorry, I meant T-man, not Lem.
FLS, point taken, but it's easy to confuse the two in the context. And I don't think it's often that someone actually causes another's suicide. Makes someone miserable, despairing, cut off==yes; but cause a suicide? Possibly, but I think that would be a really extreme case. What's your experience, TMink?

Toy

reader_iam said...

It seems Callie Angell's mother has no name, and not just in this obituary.

former law student said...

Toy -- good point.

Make #2: because in some cases the father feels responsible for whatever thing he thinks caused his daughter's death, and is unwilling to share this with the world.

Trooper York said...

I seem to remember a story that Roger wrote about how he was driving past the Polo Grounds and told his daughter that the New York Giants were playing that day.

The little girl plastered herself against the window to look and her father was amused. "What are you looking at honey." "Giants play there Daddy."

To lose that sweet little girl is enough to make a stone of a heart.

Trooper York said...

No need to nitpick someone else's tragedy.

Schorsch said...

Andy Warhol: the intellectual father of Youtube cat videos.

A mix of the delightful and the tragic. Classic Althouse.

former law student said...

reader: Evelyn Baker (Angell) Nelson. A diabetic, she died in 1997.

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/25/classified/paid-notice-deaths-nelson-evelyn-baker.html

There was another daughter, Alice
Angell Evangelista.

TMink said...

I would have to agree that suicide is a tragedy of the self and not caused by others. But the tragedy spreads to everyone who loved or cared for the person who killed themselves. It is horribly messy that way.

Trey

Ralph L said...

Two weeks ago, a forty-something wife and mother jumped off an overpass onto the interstate near my office and died several days later. The obituary was unusually saccahrine, using "loving" at least three times. I suspect someone overcompensated for his anger. Apparently, none of her loving relatives or friends detected severe depression.

Kirstin said...

My university magazine came in the mail a few days ago, and the "In Memoriam" column lists over 20 faculty members and graduates. Only one mentions a cause of death. It says that the graduate "was kidnapped and murdered in the Mexican city of Gomez Palacio on Dec. 30." It was jarring to read.

Penny said...

“People are always trying to fill in the blanks.”

It’s human nature, Toy.

Have you ever looked at a lovely watercolor done in a loose style? The artist purposefully avoids an exact replica to allow the brain of the viewer to fill in the blanks. A brick building might be just a few bricks drawn, but the viewer knows the rest is brick. Just a few leaves drawn, and then patches of green that the viewer knows is a shrub or a tree. All of this happens automatically. We don’t need to direct our brain to fill in the blanks when viewing such a painting. We never even think about it consciously.

reader_iam said...

“People are always trying to fill in the blanks.”

Sometimes they are creating them.

Summer Anne said...

Roger Angell read Charlotte's Web himself to his daughter.

E.B. White, in a letter to Ursula Nordstrom, head of the children's book division at Harper & Row:

22 October 1952, Dear Ursula: ... So far, Charlotte's Web seems to have been read largely by adults with a literary turn of mind. I have had only a sprinkling of childhood reaction to the book -- those vital and difficult precincts -- and will not know for a little while how it sits with the young. I have a step-grandchild named Caroline Angell who is a quiet little girl of about five. She listened attentively to the reading of the book by her father, and said, "I think there was an easier way to save Wilbur, without all that trouble. Charlotte should have told him not to eat, then he wouldn't have been killed because he would have been too thin." Trust an author to go to a lot of unnecessary trouble. Yrs, Andy

Pogo said...

Suffering's the thing.

By age or cancer or injury, the body fails and every moment cries for relief.

For some the mind, the soul, is defeated or trapped or inconsolable. Each new day feels grey and endless.

Family finds the suffering is not gone, however, but transferred, like an unwanted pet or an existential fruitcake.

But some days it's awfully hard to see much beyond the moment at hand, and you struggle with the definitions of abnegation .

May her family find peace.

Penny said...

“Sometimes stating things bluntly is an occupational hazard.I think good therapists get overly blunt over time in social situations. You talk to people in a straightforward and honest manner all day long and it gets to be a habit.”

This doesn’t strike me as the modus operandi of a therapist. Aren’t they always asking the right questions so that their patients can figure out the answers for themselves? Or maybe that’s a TV myth.

It seems to me that it would be more likely that the person who, in the course of their job, has to put on a mask of concern, interest or sensitivity, even where none exists, would be a more likely candidate to have run out of gentle words on their own time. For example, customer service people, human resources types, teachers, politicians and yes, even TV therapists might be a bit more blunt with social contacts.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

More important than E.B. White was Roger Angell's mother, the legendary Katharine Angell of the New Yorker and one of the most influential editors of the 20th century.

Richard Dolan said...

"Why wouldn't you soften the news of your daughter's death?"

Roger Angell is almost 90; perhaps he doesn't view death quite in the same way as someone younger. His writings show him to be a sensitive and insightful observer, very much alive to all that life has to offer. I can't believe that he welcomed his daughter's death by suicide. But he also doesn't seem to see anything shameful or frightening about it that needs softening. Perhaps he's just come to think of it as another way in which Uncle Thanatos, a member of the family who has to be welcomed too, pays a visit.

Penny said...

"But he also doesn't seem to see anything shameful or frightening about it that needs softening."

Couldn't agree more, Richard Dolan.

We are all, in fact, born to die, as much as we are born to live.

Each of us will do BOTH in our own way.

Perhaps it's fortunate... even LUCKY for humanity, that, in between birth and death, so many of us come to care about "others" more than we even care about ourselves.

Penny said...

"Perhaps he's just come to think of it as another way in which Uncle Thanatos, a member of the family who has to be welcomed too, pays a visit."

For as much as we all love myth and metaphor, Richard Dolan, "Uncle Thanatos seems to be absent from our "family dinner"...not to mention the "dinner for one".

Isn't it more accurate to say that Ms. Angell "took her final bow" after the performance of her life?

She had not one more thing to "give".

Redorb said...

It seems the judgments on this blog fly fast and furious: "I am intrigued by the idea of devoting one's mind to the study of the films of Andy Warhol". Why should that seem any more "intriguing" (you meant "odd", right?), than the study of, say, the law? Why assume that Angell's father was somehow responsible, or that there is something strange about her mother not being mentioned (her stepmother is, however), when she'd been deceased for 13 years? Or that Warhol's films are "confusing and depressing...?"

Who knows what might be going on in a person's private life that would drive them to such an act? Angell was internationally recognized as the foremost authority on Warhol's films, and she will be greatly missed. Read the article in the Village Voice if you want to see a well-deserved tribute: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2010/05/callie_angell_1.php.

reader_iam said...

Redorb: Who knows what might be going on in a person's private life that would drive them to such an act? Exactly.

Suburbanbanshee said...

The sort of people who get depression (which usually runs in families) are the sort of people who tend to have a very stark view of life. It's been shown in studies that depressive people take a more realistic view of their abilities, though they may take a less realistic view of their failings (ie, worse than they really are).

I've never seen the point in not saying a death was suicide. Everybody you know is just going to ask you endlessly about cause of death, otherwise, and you'd have to go to the trouble of making something up.

Now, what would be brutal is if you started telling people about the suicide method and how horrible the body looked afterward.

chsmac said...

i think its odd that roger angell wrote the lead to his own daughter's suicide. and i think it is indicative of some aspect of their relationship. i wouldn't be able to say exactly but i know it wasn't a good one it was very painful for callie and i wonder how she would feel about it and what she would say. and whether roger angell wanted to spin and possess an event that was interwoven with his complicity. at least she made it to 62

Steve InDixie said...

Mrs. Roger Angell left him to wed E.B. White - check their ages. So, White was the daughter's stepdad.

There's a neat Maureen Dowd item about Angell in the Sunday 8/27/2014 Times.

Rick L - watch all your fave Braves players begin their passage into the Hall of Fame over the next few years.

Martha said...

No, Steve In Dixie. I think you have it wrong. Roger Angell's mother, Katherine Sargent Angell, divorced Roger Angell's father and married E. B. White. So White was Callie Angell's step-grandfather.