Wednesday, October 16, 2019

That rare morning with nothing to do

There are, if you're lucky, occasionally those mornings when you wake up and there's nothing on your mind. Nothing you need to do. Nothing troubling you. Nothing forcing you to get out of bed until you're good and ready to. And on such a morning, how soon does Sherlock Holmes come into your day, as he did with John Watson, and say:
"Get your hat."
"You with me to come?"
"Yes, if you have nothing better to do."
And, curiously, what was the major thing I came back to Peoria with, after my journey to Portland for the purposes of Sherlock Holmes? A hat.

Their were a lot of lovely places to visit in downtown Portland, but their hat store was quite the place. I splurged a bit and got a fine, crushable black Broner that I delightedly crushed all the way home.


But the point of this post isn't that I got a hat, as Holmes instructed Watson to do, that morning in A Study in Scarlet. It's about how quickly Sherlock Holmes can call upon you to come along with him if you've got nothing better to do.

A great writing project lept back to the forefront of my brain, a memory that "Oh, yes, I do a podcast now," and the verbal calisthentics of a blog post were all waiting, with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, just outside my bedroom door.

The game, as they say, is afoot.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium: Afterthoughts and Appreciations

What a weekend.

I know, I know, have you been to a Sherlockian weekend that just completely sucked? I don't think I ever have. I always come away from such weekends inspired, loving the hobby just a little bit more, and generally more wrapped in layers of lore. But sometimes, with no shade to any prior such weekends, you come away with something that feels completely new. The Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium was one of those weekends.

I don't think I ever just wanted to hug a symposium before.

I mean, I'm madly in love with 221B Con, so full of joy, enthusiasm, and warmth every April, yet the sheer size of the con makes it a world unto itself. Sherlock Holmes people taking over a large hotel for three days has beautiful little moments, but the overwhelming amount of the whole, the little longing it leaves you with because you can never take in every track, gives it an aspect like a favorite celebrity, whom you can love madly but never truly know fully.

LCSS followed the familiar single track of a Sherlockian weekend with around a hundred people filling a hotel event room, with dealer's tables around the edge. It was a very long room, so I wonder if those in the back had the same experience to what I had in the front, but we filled it to a cozy level without feeling cramped. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Having arrived plenty early and enjoyed a bit of Portland already, I put out the word Friday afternoon that I wanted to record some folks for the Watsonian Weekly and wound up with six special guests from up and down the coast. My first in-person meeting with Margie Deck had been a long-awaited treat, and she was just as great in person as one imagines from her online self -- a trend that would reoccur throughout the weekend with so many folks -- and she actually put off lunch until 3 PM, just to help record the podcast. Lynn Adams was great to finally meet, as well, at that podcast session, along with her husband Bill, who'd become very familiar as the symposium's badge-checker. Sheldon Goldfarb was very generous in talking about his new book, and Bob Coghill and Fran Martin were familiar faces from Sherlockian events long past, though they might not have remembered me as well as I remember such kindly Canadians of note.

That podcast led to getting to tag along to lunch, and an introductory course in light rail, which Sunny Even helped us navigate. Sherlockians tend to be good people like that, which won't be news to anyone. There's a community factor of this hobby that we don't always appreciate, yet has remained constant throughout the forty years of my doing this. Sunny also got a dozen of us a big table at Raven and Rose, which made for a lively dinner, another familiar part of Sherlockian life.

Getting to meet folks for the first time can be a bit surprising, as well, for in meeting Robert Perret in the flesh after hearing his podcast voice and reading his Tweets, a pleasant modesty came through that I somehow missed online. He actually had a book's publication announced this very weekend, Dead Ringers -- Sherlock Holmes Stories, and wasn't crowing it to high heavens. I had a great time with Robert and hoped I didn't bore him too much with my Sherlockian war stories, like some over-moustached old clubroom campaigner. And he even brought a fun little pamphlet titled The Pictorial History of Sherlock Holmes in Idaho, which made me laugh when I finally got time to read it.

Back to the symposium itself, though, an easy segue, since Robert was the first presenter -- I have probably written this many times now, but the depth and breadth of the presentations was really something this time out, as well as the intimacy, as the weekend moved along. Robert led off with a fascinating survey of the data of who we are and what we do in Sherlockiana, but as we moved along, I felt like the presentations got more personal, and more about the experience of lives lived with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. The giving and connections of Holmestice, the struggles of obsessed attention to detail in making 221B realities out of fiction, the vulnerability of public speaking even for the best of us, and a real moment of meditation upon the challenges we face in our community, done with a gentle touch.

Saturday night, among the other entertainments, was time spent with mediums quietly trying to put people in touch with their dead. I'm not at all comfortable with the practice, as I've lived my whole life dealing with a particular death early in my life, but the experience can leave one both thoughtful and a little emotionally sensitive. And, being a man of a certain age whom menopause has definitely affected, I'm even a touch more sensitive than ever, when I'm not putting up walls. And while the term "safe spaces" is relatively new, the actual safe space that Sherlockiana has provided for many of us has long been appreciated.

The warm, safe space of Sherlockiana makes it all the harder when asshattery occurs, and even though that didn't happen this weekend, 2019 has been a definite year for exposing some less than pleasant bits in our ranks. Tim Johnson's very personal reflection on the Mary Oliver poem "Hum" gave us a good context for what has gone on, and how this hobby can help us deal with it. Sherlockiana gives us a connection that we can use to get past some of our differences, like the moment when Crow wanted to show me a beautiful Sherlock manga she had gotten, but hesitated because some of that beautiful art was Sherlock and John naked and affectionate. While I've never been into men being naked and affectionate, really good work involving Sherlock Holmes is still something I connect to and appreciate. Sherlockiana can help us get past our petty biases and look deeper at the true value of something . . . or someone.

After I crashed hard Sunday afternoon, I dragged myself out to get a falafel and some junk food to get me through the evening, but as I came back through the lobby, Julie McKuras settled me into a comfy chair across from the lobby counter and we talked for a good hour and a half. Julie's one of those folks that gets along well with even the most prickly of folk (Minnesotans and Canadians do get a reputation for that, don't they?), and going over life in the Sherlockian world with her was the perfect postscript to the weekend. We discussed the pluses and minuses of some of the tougher Sherlockians to deal with, but kept coming back to the fact that 99.9% of us are just pretty good people. And that 0.1%? They might not be without some value as Sherlockians, even if we wish they could be a bit nicer about it sometimes. We should all be.

I know I've pissed off some very sweet Sherlockians in my time, who've been very kindly to me later on, so I know my ledger might still need some balancing. And that makes these weekends all the more of a pleasure.

And this one? Like I said, I just want to give it a big hug. Thank you so much to everyone I mentioned here, and all those I didn't like Elinor's family and friends who backed her up on this marvelous first outing for a weekend event. It was a great work and very much appreciated. And now, on to one more day in Portland, and a little fun on the light rail system!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium: Still MORE Sunday morning!

Kris Pepper Hambrick is next, a fellow alum from the Wigmore Street Post Office days of early internet Sherlocking (when she was very young, and I was not as old as now). As I said, tough spot following Tim, but she's made it in before noon, I don't think any early leavers have bailed out yet.

"Play-acting Busybody: Essential Elements of Performing Holmes" is her theme and . . . oh, she performed in Ken Ludwig's Baskerville . . . I'm impressed! That play doesn't look easy. And she's distilling an eight-hour class she did on film Canon down to today's twenty minutes.

What does make a Sherlock Holmes portrayal? Projecting intelligence: How does one portray that? "Five mile eyeballs," Lyndsay suggests from the audience, talking about Hugh Laurie's eye-acting, as Kris has started asking for audience input. People agree with eyes. Crow throws in evoking the stories. And we all probably agree with that. Cumberbatch's "alien presence," as someone playing human "who hasn't quite got it yet," Kris adds. Physical presence, height, comes up. Chuck Kovacic, who has also played Holmes, brings in his own experience playing an acerbic Holmes. A whole lot of aspects of Holmes coming out.

"We can agree on all those things being Holmes, and disagree on who's pulling it off," Kris points out, very accurately. Some slides of various Holmeses unpopular with some people come up and there's a few hisses, but certainly not about Will Ferrell's corner of the screen. Certainly.

Holmes has so much to him, so many descriptive words that we use to define him, that the intentions of a specific production make a difference in how he is played -- good point there, that most of us never consider. (Yes, Will Ferrell's intentions, ego, infallibility, etc. are part of why I love him. As does his Watson.) But on to Jeremy Brett, because, well, he has a ton of GIFs.

Kris is having us analyze Brett GIFs, seeing how we interpret a look. The first brings up both "kindness" and "patronizing," as well as "intimacy."  The appearance of eye contact and widening eyes, as he nods his head. The next GIF brings up "playfulness," "smug," and "love of another man" from different folk, all in the same simple movement. A lot going on with the eyes. A very interesting study.

We're getting Kris's own observations of what a good Holmes takes, and eleven qualities that a good Holmes has to bring out. "How does he laugh?" was a big question she had to deal with when playing Holmes.

We're getting down to questions, so I'm going to wrap this up, as I'm next. Really good analysis, and I hope I caught some of the spirit of it here!

Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium: More Sunday morning!!

"Hum" (Reflections on a Sherlockian World Inspired by Poetry, Roses, and Bees) is Tim Johnson's presentation, a prose poem inspired by poet Mary Oliver, a meditation on all things Sherlockian from his archivist view. This is the one I've been most curious about all weekend.

He begins by reading Mary Oliver's "Hum" itself, about bees, what she saw in them, almost like something out of Sherlock's brain. And now comes his riff on it. "We dabble in poetry, but Canon came first . . ." he begins. "What is this dark hum among the roses?" Mary Oliver wrote, and Tim's riff goes into Doyle's own words from STUD and MUSG, poetry without being poetry, what would Doyle think of Brexit, he refers to Sherlockian poetry "Long Evening With Holmes" and "221B," Chicago. This poetic meditation is a bit tough to report, so bear with me.

And he's getting to the big tent of Sherlockiana: "It should be a safe tent." And how some don't get along. This is our Sunday morning service, I think. The darkness of the world enters in, tragic leaders that hit us more important than Holmes. Uh-oh, he mentions Ferrell Holmes and a certain Peorian who's crazy about it . . . but adds "We need crazy."  And on to "No Holmes barred" and LGBTQ and how we're kinda white, and our "devotee" side is a little old and wrinkled, and fandom is young and different. Sherlock Seattle's effects on Tim. All he learned there. We've all had journeys, learning how to deal in this new world some of us have come to. I think of Jameela Jamil's recent twitter experiences on that. Finding himself between Trumpers at a Sherlockian event, and how we don't talk politics, yet come together with those we might otherwise now. Clubs, not exclusivity, and he touches on that one club for a moment.

The Game we all play, the joy of it, and how some might be a little more competitive and some may think there are rules or not. Tim is really continuing our theme of mass content deluges this weekend, and he's rolling out real ponderances like chocolates on Lucy Ricardo's inspection conveyer belt and we have to start stuffing some in our figurative mental blouses as they go by. I pause to pin on a button and just listen and he's on to Sherlock Holmes music and how there's not enough of it.

OH! Standing ovation for Tim! That was spiritual. Don't know if it's my aging hormone shifts, but it got me a bit teary. My seat-neighbor Kristin is next and a bit daunted to follow Tim, and I appreciate her being my buffer.

Posting this! I will be back!

Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium: Sunday morning!

Sunday morning starts at 9:30 with Margie Deck and Bob Coghill giving out the fabulous doorprizes!

Margie prepared a fun quiz based on Portland and the symposium itself, and by turning it in (You didn't even have to get any answers right!), we all got ten door prize tickets we could drop in cups next to some really great prizes. I dropped most of mine in celebrity autographed photos, but there were games, stuffed Sherlock bears, mystery boxes, all sorts of goodies. About eight prizes in, I still haven't won anything . . . SOB tea box, hmm, didn't put a ticket in that one, so I'm good. Christopher Lee autograph photo! Tim Johnson gets it, and I did have a ticket in that one. Aw. missed the Cumberbatch, too!  First edition Bonnie MacBird, no luck! RDJ, Jude Law, NOOOO!!! Jeremy Brett, goes, and we're done. No luck for me on this outing.

But Margie is giving us to the answers to the quiz. Stormy Petrels are Watson, Holmes, and a member of a scion. Lyndsay Faye goes with Dust and Shadows. Henry Baskerville, John Watson, Sherlock Holmes = Christopher Lee. Sherlock Hemlock first appeared looking for a half a chicken salad sandwich. Jack James did time in Portland. SH looked for the Missing Three Quarter on Gray's Inn Road. Neil GIbson looked like Abe Lincoln.  October 13 was when Watson wrote a letter from Baskerville Hall. Hosmer and Mary met at a ball. Thirteen friends of Hugo Baskerville, thirteen speakers on the program for the weekend. What were the questions? You'll have to ask Margie, as I'm already typing as fast as I can.

Haley stops by, gathering speaker autographs on the symposium poster -- one of those brilliant ideas that we all wish we had thought of, now too late to pull off. A lot of luggage in the symposium room today as folks have checked out and are leaving soon.

Elinor's up to introduce Lyndsay Faye, and my table learned early on that if we started loudly clapping, we could silence the room for her. Sherlockians love to join in clapping. And now comes Lyndsay, who is fearing spontaneous combustion from public speaking, unbelievably enough. She's diving into audience interaction to help out, and endearing herself immediately.

I always remember meeting Lyndsay at the first 221B Con, and telling her she was the person that I wanted to be when I was thirty, and there's still a lot to admire there. Such good thoughts coming out, Doyle's hat-trick in Holmes and Watson being self-aware that they were getting published -- something BBC's Holmes and Watson would have had to realize they were on TV to pull off. And how she brought that into her wonderful Timothy Wilde novels.

"All novels are sequels," Michael Chabon said, according to Lyndsay, as she's shown that Sherlock Holmes followed other writings and other writings followed him. She wraps up her main comments, and we eventually get to "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs," one of her true passions. And there are people in this audience who have never heard of it? WHAT!?!? (And that guy across the room that threw shade at Holmes and Watson -- I may have to take him out. He looks a little young and fit though, and probably even capable of verbal riposte, so then again . . . well, I'm save that for my podium time.)

Asked about her influences, Lyndsay tells us she reads a lot of poetry while she's writing, which is a really interesting point about wordsmithing. She also makes a point of historical fiction giving voices to people whose voices we never will hear. The audience questions are really providing a nice variety of Lyndsay thoughts. Her roots, her childhood, and how they play into her creation of Paragon Hotel, and Portland's racist past. And up comes, for the second or third time this weekend, how Michael Dibdin's The Last Sherlock Holmes Story is the one most offensive Sherlock Holmes pastiche in the world, and is always called out as possibly the worst Holmes book ever.

Like so much of the rest of this weekend, a whole ton of ideas are coming out here. And we're about to roll right into Tim Johnson, so I'm posting!

Left Coast Sherlockian Symposum: And Into The Night . . .

Well, I'll be honest with you: My great flaw as a Sherlockian weekend reporter is that I always miss something. This time, I over-extended our afternoon break, got caught up in an conversation in the hall, and missed 75% of the final speaker of the day, Dr. Bruce Parker on "Sherlock Holmes and Medicine." I heard later that the biggest takeaway might have been that a 7% solution of cocaine was pretty weak stuff.

After the day's program was finished, I recorded a little podcast material with Robert Perret, then went up to dress for dinner. SyFy channel was showing the return of the Banana Splits, only horror (?), and as a card-carrying member of the Banana Splits Club since the 1960s, I had to resist the temptation to see what was going on there to head down to dinner.

The trend toward fancy dress balls finally saw me attending one in something close to fancy dress. (Hey, I put on a vest!) And soon I found myself dining at another table full of Sherlockians. The conversation was far-ranging, and often very personal. We've had some really thoughtful and illuminating presentations so far, and are all looking forward to more tomorrow. Getting a good table of Sherlockian dining companions is always one of the great pleasures of our hobby, and . . . well, I think I'll leave it at that to protect the innocent. (Not that anyone was guilty, of course.)

We were called away from our happy dinner table (Oh, the buffet was a nice change, by the way -- build your own burgers and salads with some really nice options, and good dessert choices.) to go see the historical conjurer, Professor D.R. Schrieber, who put on an excellent show whilst demonstrating the sort of effects one would have seen in the century of Holmes and Watson.


Here he is with Elinor and Kris, turning seeds into roses.


And here poor Fran was about to run some sparky Victorian electrical device to send a message via fruit in his show-closer effect. The professor put on a delightful show of both impressive effects and education on magic of the past.

Once that was done, many of us headed a few rooms over to where the seances were being held. Two mediums were contacting the spirit world in a more modern method than the glowing-ether and spirit-writing of Conan Doyle's time. Sitting in a quiet circle waiting for the mediums to see spirits coming to pass along their messages of comfort is a time when you can't help but think of those who have passed on, or one's personal philosophies of what happens after we die, and it can get a little emotional, even if you aren't connecting with any of the spirits the seers are calling out. It went on a little longer than my midwestern body clock would have liked, and sometimes I might have been closing my eyes with a bit more sleepiness than meditative thoughts of those passed.

And now I've stayed up much too late to report on this, but I've got to say, tomorrow should be a very interesting day. On we go.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium: Later Afternoon

It's Nancy Holder time, and her list of credentials as a writer and Sherlockian are long and impressive, and she starts by passing books around to look at and showing her butterfly net of added topics . . . "Sherlock Holmes in Horror and Science Fiction" is the specific topic of her talk, and it's a pretty wide area to run about in.

Nancy starts with Conan Doyle, who wrote a bit of horror and science fiction outside the Canon, as well as a a bit inside the Canon. From there it's a ride across the world of pastiche, television, and movies, including Star Wars and Star Trek actors who have played Holmes. And Data Holmes, of course.

Ah, but we have to get into "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs," our modern classic Asylum Films Sherlock Holmes. (With brother Robert and that robot assassin in addition to the dinosaurs.) How we get from there to Edgar Allen Poe so quickly, I'm not sure, but from Poe we go to Lovecraft, and . . . is everything not touched by Sherlock Holmes these days?

Nancy spares us a visit by Cthulhu by not speaking his invocation . . . but why did she display it on the screen? Why? Hopefully, now that she's shifting to Jack the Ripper, we're not going to see a way to invoke him. But we make it to "Gaslamp" horror without that. I suspect we'll be getting to ghosts tonight. But not premature burials, which she's moved on to.

Hard to capture the personality that comes through in Nancy Holder's talk, with finger-wagging pronouncements of Sherlock Holmes's premature burial in the waters of Reichenbach Falls. Her last tidbit is a rolling review of all of the Hound of the Baskervilles adaptations and spinoffs, "The Brotherhood of the Wolf?"

It seemed to be getting colder and colder in the conference room as the afternoon went on, so I ran up to my room following Nancy's talk to warm up and get a jacket . . . having a hotel room handy is the best part of these conferences, so you can freshen up or recharge when needed. More to come.