Sometimes we deal with heavy emotion by focusing on one rational thing.


That's a natural defense. For instance, some people deal with their hysterical or overly-anxious parents by adopting a lawyerly style to all subjects. They counteract that unbridled emotion with logic.


And, some people overcome their own drug or alcohol addictions by directing their sprawling energy onto something just as taxing but less destructive, like building model airplanes from found materials, or discovering and detailing new varieties of marine life. Call it a useful neurotic fixation.


Such was the case, I think, of Nicholas Hughes, the son of Sylvia Plath who recently committed suicide. Plath was famous poet who explored depression in her famously evocative prose. She also killed herself by asphyxiations in her gas stove, with two young children in the home, at age 30.


Her son Nicholas survived her--but of course he sensed her shadow. Nicholas must have lived through an onslaught of emotion, without its proper taxonomy, as an adolescent. (In fact, both of his parents were famous poets; both were depressed; and Nick suffered biologically based depression himself.) He probably needed to counterbalance that heavy history and emotion.


In turn, he quickly attached to the study of marine biology, with a special focus on fish in the northernmost regions of our waters--i.e. special species that dwell in the frigid and nearly unreachable waters of Alaska. He moved to a wooden hut in Fairbanks and--according to his friends and a recent The New York Times article--was more comfortable debating the small points of ice fishing than literature or his parents. Most of his colleagues at the University of Alaska didn't even know that he was the son of two famous 20th Century poets. If they broached the subject, he cut them off. He didn't want to "go there," as we say.


It's likely that Nicholas defended against complex emotion by simplifying and amplifying his academic focus. He had an active mind--but handled it by zeroing in on one pocket of life, reducing possible irritants. His parents had over-emphasized emotion; why shouldn't he de-emphasize it?  But Nicholas killed himself by hanging on March 16, 2009.  The emotion overflowed the frame.


Perhaps you know someone like this. This type is, by all accounts, intellectual and complex, but she maintains a narrow range. She is intricate in her "science"--whether that means researching fish in Alaska, doing 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, or putting the dishes into the dishwasher with an intricate protocol.


This is the mind that defends against emotion through a poetry of "reason" that's containable, and all her own.


Do you relate to, or know, someone of this type?

by on ‎04-21-2009 01:16 AM

The actual topic of this 'blog', as presented to us.  I see, and find,  that it is interesting in the comparison of "logic" to  "unbridled emotion"  and the words:  "counterbalance that heavy history and emotion".  I do believe, that most of us do try to balance out the events  of our days, in choosing what we do, or let into it, to create a harmony within our selves.  At least that's the way I see it. Too much of anything creates tensions.


And what I found even more interesting, was in that article that I posted - at the end of it.  Nick Hughes quit his job.  And started something totally different in his life;  he went into the creative world.  I noticed this, because it mentioned clay.  Another article I had read, he was able to do quit his job, because he recieved monies from his mother's inheritance.  He still had a deep connection to his mother, whether he liked it or not.


I wondered just what he was trying to find, upon starting something  foreign, it wasn't logical, it was creative;  something he spent his life avoiding.  Just what was it that tipped the balance to this man's life?  Did he go off into a world that wasn't as logical as he had always been used to, a world he couldn't control?  As he created that logical, hard perameters, an insulation surrounded him, I'm guessing.  Now it no longer existed.  I think he gave into something he didn't know how to control.

by on ‎04-21-2009 03:15 AM

So what you are supposing is that by accessing an untapped section of his brain it triggered severe depression?


by on ‎04-21-2009 05:00 AM
I was under the impression that Hughes was a potter for quite a while and that he had just recently decided to give it a go commercially.
by on ‎04-21-2009 12:39 PM

Risky business, taking an art form into commercialism.  The odds of success can be a heavy burden. Creativity vs demand.  Both unkowns.  The boundries are soft, and the pressure great.  If he was a potter before he decided to take it commercial, it was probably an enjoyable hobby.  Nothing was asked of him from the world at large.


There is a difference between hobbies and real life commitments to the creative side.  Loads of pressure.  Lots of pull on the mind, both from within, and without.  How does anyone want to be seen?  I'd never heard of Nick Hughes until this week.  A basically unknown in the world of art.  Unchartered territory can be an uncertain/frightening place. 


If he created and initially succeeded in this art form, again, you end with the pressures of success where you never know where, and how far, your mind will take it.  The thoughts of failure loom.  The balance never stops tipping.  Back to the soft edges of uncertainty, and having it become out of his control. 


Maybe he felt, at the end, he couldn't live up to his irrational expectations he formed in his mind, living within the shadows of his parents fame.  Or maybe it was just the inherited gene that pushed him over.  But, again, how much does anyone know his mind, or anyone elses for that matter?  A lot of guess work, here.

by Peeps on ‎04-22-2009 01:15 PM

"In turn, he quickly attached to the study of marine biology, with a special focus on fish in the northernmost regions of our waters--i.e. special species that dwell in the frigid and nearly unreachable waters of Alaska. He moved to a wooden hut in Fairbanks and--according to his friends and a recent The New York Times article--was more comfortable debating the small points of ice fishing than literature or his parents." 


I appreciate the NYT article linked to here for describing not only the tragedy and legacy, but also the unfairness of reducing this man's life to a footnote in his mother's biography. I'm afraid this post falls into that trap by suggesting that Nicholas Hughes only became a marine biologist in response to his mother's and father's lives and stories. 

by on ‎04-25-2009 07:26 PM

I was reading in How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland (an MD who taught surgery and history of medicine and Yale, as well as who has written a number of articles for both  general and professional audiences) this morning and thought of this column.  While I can't readily summarize his chapter that deals with suicide and euthanasia, I can recommend his thoughtful stance and writing to anyone willing to spend time reading about this rather intimidating subject.



by on ‎05-02-2009 09:52 PM

How is it that Nicholas Hughes was able to conduct himself so normally on that last day, giving no hint of his intentions to his girlfriend? Was there a signal that she missed, an errant comment? Having had a battle with depression for years, was he on medication that he had stopped taking?
Are all suicides considered irrational behaviors? Hughes would seem to contradict that. How irrational could he have been if he was able to fool his girlfriend into thinking he was fine and was simply leaving to go for a walk? Was it impossible to notice the subtle changes that said he was not quite right again?
Some suicides seem to be a hostile or angry behavior, meant to punish those left behind. Those left behind are so horrified and bereft they blame themselves and ask why for the rest of their lives. They can't understand what they might have done to bring it about or how they might have behaved in order to prevent it. When no note is left questions hang in the air. There is terrible emotional pain. Did the victim want them to suffer that pain so they would know how he/she felt?
Once I pleaded with a friend who had tried to take her life unsuccessfully, to please call me the next time she felt that way. The next time, though, she tried again without calling. Luckily she survived, and today, she thinks so too. She felt so hopeless at that time, but she placed a call to 911 right before she passed out. If the act itself was a cry for help, what prevented her from calling and asking someone else for help first, before she attempted it? Is it a signal to everyone that you are in too much pain to cope alone?
Suicide because of incurable illness or unbearable pain or absence of quality of life, is assisted in some states and in some states euthanasia is legal regardless of whether or not the person is suffering but rather, just because they feel their quality of life is negligible. I don't know if I agree with that procedure because it is a slippery slope. Someday, will someone else decide how long any of us have to live based on statistics?

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