December 8, 2012

Awww crap - RIP Nick Johnson

Back in 2004, I found a blog called Big Dead Place. I have always had a fascination with polar regions -- backpacked through Iceland, visited the French station Dumont D'Urville in Antarctica in 1992 aboard this now sunk vessel and spent a bunch of time in Alaska as far north as Point Barrow. I had noticed that the posts at Big Dead Place were not as frequent but there was no indication of what was happening with the posters life. It seems that Nick's life was not going well and he committed suicide this November 28th. The last post at Big Dead Place is a brilliant polemic against the management at McMurdo base. Go there and read. I wondered why it wasn't in the usual blog format with links to the earlier posts (this was a week ago) but now I know -- it was Nick's swan song. It seems that Nick had written a book -- Big Dead Place: Inside The Strange And Menacing World Of Antarctica He had re-applied for work at McMurdo and was sent this email reply:
Dear Mr. Johnson:

Please be advised that PAE Inc. hereby rescinds its August 1, 2012 primary offer letter and September 28, 2012 alternate offer letter to you. It has recently come to our attention that, writing as Nicholas Johnson, you are the author of Big Dead Place. It is our opinion that due to the nature and content of this book, you would not be a suitable candidate for employment under the Antarctic Support Contract.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. PAE regrets any inconvenience this decision has caused, but believes that the decision is in both parties’ best interest.


Stacy Maddox
Vice President, Stability Operations
From Feral House Publishers:
Nick Johnson, RIP
A close friend and Feral House author, Nick Johnson, also known as Darin and Nicholas, blew his head off with a shotgun in the afternoon of Wednesday November 28 in West Seattle.

He’s the guy with the green hat in the attached photo taken by Jodi Wille in our Port Townsend living room back in 2009.

Nick and I got on really well, and I respected that he approached his life as an adventure and was not opposed to spending many months of his life in Antarctica, both in the McMurdo Station and the South Pole itself. His fascinating website, inspired me to ask him to put together a book on the subject, and he did, receiving excellent reviews and a television series option by HBO (which is still in development there).

Admittedly, I was concerned for Nick’s physical and mental health when he started working for a contractor in Kabul, Afghanistan a few years ago. The experiences sounded both sad and horrendous, and it seemed to rot his soul. Unlike his Antarctica experience, Nick had trouble turning his Afghanistan years into words, and he began drinking quite a bit and taking seriously the nihilist essays of Thomas Ligotti. This past year Nick got off the juice. I last saw him in Seattle when Nick, his friend Frank Woll and I attended a screening of The Master which had perhaps three or four other audience members. The experience was depressing in a way that only a dark and lonely Fall Seattle evening can be.

Nick is perhaps best known for his book and website Big Dead Place, but he also wrote issues of a well-known zine world iteration, “Shark Fear, Shark Awareness,” which can be found through a Google search.

Nick got “clean” and did quite well this past year keeping off the juice. But what might put him over was the fact that he was accepted to go down to Antarctica but at the last minute was rejected.
The rejection letter above was from this obituary. Another obituary is from Hoosh: (from here: a thick stew made from pemmican (a mix of dried meat, fat, and cereal) or other meat, thickener such as ground biscuits, and water. It was the common food of early twentieth century Antarctic expeditions.)
Death of Antarctic writer Nicholas Johnson
Nicholas Johnson, author of Big Dead Place and a close friend, took his life on November 28, 2012. Nick’s death is a heartbreaking loss to his family, to his friends, and to so many of us that knew him as an essential part of the Antarctic community. He had a voice and a spirit unlike any I’ve known, equally cynical and generous, funny and soulful. I loved him and I miss him.

No one has done more to change the way we understand Antarctica. Nick was unflinching in his critique of bureaucracy and authority in the United States Antarctic Program, but mainly he sought to create a dialogue within and about Antarctica that cut through cliché and hypocrisy in order to describe things as they really are, in all their glory and strangeness. Not all his readers realize that Big Dead Place (both the book and the website), which can be both brutally honest and explicit, is first and foremost an expression of Nick’s love of Antarctica and of the people in the USAP. He loved the place so much that he wanted to make it better. And he did. There is nothing like Nick or his writing in all of Antarctic literature or history. Not many people can say they upended a continent’s literature.
Yeah -- what he said. There is a transcendent purity in extreme places and I think that Nick was looking forward to returning to that place that he loved so that he could heal. To have that door slammed in his face by a mindless bureaucrat... Nicholas -- wherever you are, may God light your path and give you peace. Stacy -- #1) - I know that you had no idea what the reaction to your letter would be and #2) - anyone this close to the edge would not be someone you would want to have on ice for six months but... Nick's track record was a well proven thing. He did good work for you before and to reject his re-application solely on the basis of his book was cruel. Please remember that actions have consequences and it is usually better to have an employee who is fiercely critical but who fiercely loves the work (and does it very well) than to have a "safe" employee who does not rock your corporate boat but who is not as passionate or efficient. Like I said -- Awww crap... Posted by DaveH at December 8, 2012 10:27 PM