Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sherlockian generational wealth

 This morning, I subscribed to a year of Sherlock Holmes Magazine for fifty-eight dollars and seven cents. A reasonable price for a big, glossy, well-written magazine coming all the way from Great Britain, but at the same time, spending that much on a periodical always gives me pause. Not that long ago, I remember having to make the decision to forego a year of The Baker Street Journal due to a post-Christmas budget crunch, even though I'm a fairly successful member of the tail-end-of-the-Boomer generation.

I look at that luxury item I just bought, realize how many of the other Sherlockians who will be buying it come from a generation that didn't have to take out something like a home loan just to attend college, many of whom got no-longer-existing retirement packages that let them quit working in their fifties, and that doesn't even include those folks in our realm who inherited enough from their folks to go full-geek early on. I know, I know, most of us have jobs, earning what's available at the time we're living in, but if I look at all the Sherlocking I did in my twenties, like subscribing to every single Sherlockian journal available, and try to imagine doing that now?

Hard enough to imagine living the lifestyle of my 1980s Sherlockian self in the 2020s with four times the income . . . but if I was at the relative income level of my 1980s self now? No way would I be living the Sherlockian life I had then.

Sherlockiana is a bubble of sorts, where we have always intermingled with folks from all walks of life, and it's easy to think, "Oh, Sherlockiana is the same as it's always been," when, like every other part of the world, it's slowly evolving. Sometimes so slowly that we can pretend it's staying the same.

Should membership in a Sherlockian society be based upon the subscription price to a journal that might have been the ambitious project of the well-off Sherlockian that started it? That's a question I've raised and will be raising with the John H. Watson Society, as I think we need to start taking economics into account as we move forward as Sherlockians. You might not think that the game is rigged, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, or that folks like Jeff Bezos raise their income by taking income away from the middle class and below. You may think that even suggesting that idea is "politics," the word for any part of reality there might be room to debate. But our little bubble of Sherlockiana isn't an air-tight biodome or terrarium. The outside world affects us.

It's easy to take pot-shots at country club Sherlockians who think that an annual trip to New York is the baseline cost for being in their club. But sometimes we have to step back and look at our own parts of the hobby, and how generational wealth might be tilting things toward a certain market of buyers rather than actually spreading the legend of Sherlock Holmes far and wide as we might prefer.

The game may be afoot, but I'm sure we'd rather it wasn't fixed, wherever the opportunity to even up the playing field can exist. There's enough corruption and bad-actor gamesmanship out there right now working against our younger Sherlockians, so opening doors wherever we can, making things more affordable wherever we can, in events and publications, is probably something we should think about.

Especially in a hobby based around two guys who had to share rooms because they couldn't afford to live without each other.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The impossible, the improbable, and the impractical

 One of my co-workers added this little inspirational tag to their profile last week: "Nothing is impossible, only mathematically improbable."

Any longtime Sherlock Holmes fan has to have an immediate, almost instinctual, reaction to that statement. "Nothing is impossible? What can you eliminate, if that's the case? How do you get to the truth? "

Because, as Sherlock's dictum tells us, time and again: "Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

I was surprised at how strong my feelings about the impossible were. If not for the impossible, I would constantly be jumping into the air, hoping that I would fly on one of my attempts. If not for the impossible,  my list of personal goals would shoot through the roof and form a ladder to the moon -- because that wouldn't be impossible any more, either. The impossible makes our lives livable, because we're not sitting at our work desks with a crucifix and a crossbow, ready for potential daytime vampire attacks. (This is probably on my mind as I work at an office -- when I'm in my office -- full of crucifixes. No crossbows though, because no daytime vampires.)

We live in a time when many of the things that Sherlock Holmes would have ruled impossible are now possible. What, you woke up, travelled a thousand miles, had lunch, travelled a thousand miles back, and slept in the same spot you work up in? Impossible in 1887, not so impossible now. We all carry magic genies in our pockets, and our personal list of "possibles" has increased to an exponential degree from what was available even to Queen Victoria during Sherlock's time.

While it becomes tempting to say things like "Nothing is impossible," the thought is, at the very least, impractical. We can't do everything. We can't perfect everything. But as Sherlock Holmes said, "We can but try." And we also really need to eliminate those pesky impossibles in looking for possible explanations for things. As Holmes also said, "No ghosts need apply." He plainly placed them in the bucket for "impossible."

And why not? Otherwise, the minute ghosts entered the equation, anything becomes possible and there's no reason to keep looking for actual explanations. How does this blender work? Ghosts! Why doesn't the mailman show up until two in the afternoon? Ghosts! Who killed Sir Charles Baskerville? Ghosts!

While Sherlock Holmes might have called himself "the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather," he was not nearly as lazy as the person who stops at the first imagined explanation for an event, a.k.a. ghosts, not to be picking on ghosts all the time, but . . . ghosts!

We've got enough intellectual laziness out there right now without letting the ghosts apply.

Is believing in the impossible a thing now? Another side we have to choose? Well, as I have just proven to myself the impossibility that twin versions of me are sitting next to each other typing this by alternating one-finger pecks on the keyboard, I think there might just be such a thing. While it might still seem improbable, yet possible, to the reader, I think you should trust me on this one. Twin blogging Brads looks pretty impossible on this side of the screen. So I'm going to eliminate it, myself, but you do you.

Good luck figuring out your own impossibilities to eliminate. 

And P.S. . . . don't eliminate these guys. They were my first favorite rock band.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Last dance with Quizzy Jane

My friends down in Southern Illinois never did quizzes in any capacity with their club, the Occupants of the Empty House. I always kinda envied that. They were like monks that way, choosing to live their lives without a particular Sherlockian vice. And after forty years of indulging, I think I've finally decided to join that philosophy and take a vow of living without the Sherlockian quiz.

I should have done so after the locally notorious night of unending tie-breakers back in the eighties, when three of us memorized a story so completely that we couldn't miss a question. A little competitiveness is okay, but when you've hit that point, there might be a problem. But I grew up with siblings, and you tend to get a little competitive from that. And when you're a newbie Sherlockian, trying to prove your mettle, quizzes seem like something that can do that, even though they never seem to impress anyone, really.

The key to any activity is purely how much you enjoy it, and I don't think I've ever really enjoyed scrabbling at the Canon for details to answer queries posed. The casual impromptu verbal quizzery at a picnic or party is fine, if done with a sense of fun, just to see what you hold in your head at any given moment. But to pound away at an obscure question, requiring you to go beyond mere empathy to try to figure out what another human was thinking when they wrote the wording of a question before you can start to look for an answer . . . who has the time? Not I.

So, as one of the two quiz masters of the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt for 2020, I found myself split into two people: The kindly fellow who wanted to spare my fellow Sherlockians the grief of a quiz and the evil mastermind who had to come up with challenges for those who actually want to fight the battle. And so, with my partner in crime in agreement, I came up with a second quiz. A friendly quiz, for those who wanted to be a part of the proceedings without taking on an obligation they might never finish.

Still, the harder part had to be written, and during that, I started to feel like a victim of abuse who was turning into an abuser of the next generation. Because coming up with a tough question in the age of search engines can take you to a very dark place, especially if you're short on time and can't fully test out a question with human trials.  Merely posting a disclaimer like "Some side effects may include confusion, begging for an explanation, or loss of interest" seems hardly enough. Warnings still seemed necessary, and would be applied.

And yet, even that was not enough. I think we might have broke some people this year.

Had it not been for the pandemic, 2020 would have seen two happier versions in a similar realm: Pub Trivia. Both 221B Con and St. Louis's "Holmes in the Heartland" were to feature something I put together called "Alpha Inn Goose Club Trivia Night." The con was the hour-long test run, and then St. Louis would have featured the full after-dinner entertainment. And the difference between pub trivia and the standard quiz? The former is meant to be live and social. A good pub trivia question is entertaining even if you don't know the answer. And there's also room in the format to put something fun in there for everyone beyond just answering questions, which can be a lot like a game show from earlier days, where there it's just fun to watch someone taking part. There was going to be a goose!

But, alas, none of that got to happen, and here we are in September, with the final winners of the John H. Watson Treasure Hunt about to come out. Anyone who got a hundred percent score probably has hacked into my computer, because, looking at the answers now . . . this was insanely hard. No one could reasonably be expected to interpret a few of the answers. The final four who actually turned in answers deserve a medal of valor. Look for those names on this week's episode of the Watsonian Weekly, and on the John H. Watson Society website.

As for me? No more quizzes. I'm retiring from creating or taking them. This pub trivia thing, though . . . when the pandemic has calmed, my friends, we are going to have some parties.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Sherlockian pancake fever

 How much do five-year-olds know about pancakes? 

That non-Sherlock-Holmes section of A Study in Scarlet is our only Canonical reference to pancakes, that king of breakfast culture. And that one reference is weird.

"I'll bet she meets us at the door of Heaven with a big pitcher of water, and a lot of buckwheat cakes, hot and toasted on both sides, like Bob and me was fond of."

Little Lucy, last name unknown, is thirsty, so that pitcher of water makes sense. But those dry, crispy pancakes? No butter, no syrup, but somehow important that they are "toasted on both sides."

Who toasts their pancakes on only one side? Who leaves one side of their pancakes raw, wet, and bubbly?

Of course, little Lucy, last name unknown, is wearing a pink pinafore in the middle of a barren wasteland, having just been told that everyone she knows has died of thirst, which she somehow was sheltered from, as if she was just carried into existence by a weather-beaten old guy she didn't know too well before he decided to raise her. Maybe we can't expect her to make much culinary sense.

Now sugar maples grow throughout the part of the country where Lucy surely came from  -- "down in Illinois." Maple syrup could be had, as well as butter. To not think of those two things, and just hope that your pancakes are just "toasted on both sides" is rather sad. Lucy does talk about the trees that the current barren wasteland is missing, so she was familiar with those big plants that make the syrup juice. 

But she doesn't mention the syrup . . . maybe at age five she thought it was an automatic part of the pancake. Or maybe in the 1800s, with no Cheerios to give toddlers to chew on, Lucy's Southern Illinois clan just gave the tots silver dollar pancakes to keep them quiet. Mom could carry a buckskin bag of the things around with her to calm a hangry Lucy.

We never hear what happened to brother Bob. (Which concerns me a little bit, because I can think of a couple Sherlockian couples who were named Lucy and Bob, but weren't siblings, still, we hate, therefore, to think of anything bad befelling a Lucy and Bob. Especially if they liked pancakes.) He did like those double-toasted pancakes, though.

There's just a lot of weirdness going on with that Lucy kid in A Study in Scarlet. And the pancake issues seem to get right to the core of it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Sherlockian cobitment?

There's a phrase in certain circles of comedy known as "cobitment." A mash-up of the words "bit," as in comedy bit, and "commitment," as in sticking to a thing. It is basically an expression of committing one's self to continuing a joke or gag long past when others might have given it up. The thought of cobitment came to me this morning in relation to this game Sherlockians have been playing for so very long.

Whether one considers it "the grand game" or "the great game," a game is what we call the exploration of the sixty stories found in The Complete Sherlock Holmes as history. Real, factual history that intertwines with those things we find in other historical records of the era, requiring research, documentation, and all those things normally reserved for serious minds doing serious things.

It's not really a gag or a joke. We're not looking to lead anyone down a Watsonian path and then suddenly go, "Ha-ha! Fooled you!" It's not a joke made funnier by repetition or extending it out, as one would think when using that "cobitment" idea I started this train with. So what is our game?

It's really a sort of "let's pretend," where we gather up the like-minded scamps and indulge ourselves with an imaginary landscape for a time, laid over the world we know. We can peruse the theatrical records and look for traces of Irene Adler. We can take old maps of London and hunt up Saxe-Coburg Square. We can take a safari thought J.G. Wood's works for a glimpse of cyanea capillata. And with each foray into such adventures, Mr. Sherlock Holmes becomes a little more solid, a little more real in our minds.

Now, occasionally the adults on the porch are going to shout, "ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE! ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE!" and call us in to quite playing for a while and deal with serious matters. I always have found that a little irritating, but then, I'm not so mature nor well-behaved as some of the other children. Sometimes, the other kids go in for a dose of proper medicine, whilst some of us stay out in the yard, chasing Garridebs. Is that sticking with a gag that has gone on too long? Our just wanting to stay up and play just a little while longer in that world that hides all around us.

Writing our own tales of detection and romance can be fun, letting Watson's spirit flow through our fingers into the keyboard, creating worlds where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson roam where we'd like them to. But that thrill will never match finding that one sentence in that one old book that tells you, "Yes, this thing I read in 'The Bruce-Partington Plans' is actually a real thing!" or finally putting your hands on a bullseye lantern and feeling that surface that Sherlock Holmes once felt. 

If that was committing to an ongoing joke, that little thrill would not be there. That little moment of impossible possibility that the legends could be somehow true. It's ironic that I've actually heard Sherlockians express fears that our game might lead someone to believe that Sherlock Holmes was real, and that Conan Doyle was a mere literary agent, somehow losing all deserved credit for his work. For I think Conan Doyle saw the magic in crossing into "that fairy kingdom of romance" for a time, and had he not found himself dead center of the Holmes hurricane, would have enjoyed the game.

Perhaps, rather than a joke we're committed to, our game is a opiate that we're addicted to. Perhaps there should be warning labels for us, rather than those we're in danger of tricking with our games. But that's for the surgeon general to decide. 

Me, I'm going back outside to play.


Monday, September 7, 2020

The legacy load

 Here's something in my basement.


It's the official podium of the Hansoms of John Clayton, the Sherlock Holmes society of Peoria, Illinois.

Built during the heyday of the Hansoms, it once moved from house to house, meeting to meeting, and from behind it, toasts were given, presentations were made, and the Clayton Ritual was responsively read. It was the centerpiece of Sherlockian functions in Peoria for decades. And here it sits.

I've started and abandoned a few Sherlockian societies in my day. Who knows? They might still exist, on hiatus until some air-gun crime of fate lures them back into town. But I did not start the Hansoms of John Clayton, and its slumber weighs more heavily on me for that very reason. Even though one of the original founders still roams the Earth, somewhere other than Peoria, I was the one left holding the reins when it quietly came to an end. Once the meeting attendance dwindled to four people in the early 2000s, and the only two regulars lived in my house, it came time to call it "on hiatus."

A legacy Sherlockian society will always weigh heavier than your own personal attempts that fail. You never know the limits of what your locale or speciality will bear until you try, and all trial holds that potential for failure. But that other thing, that thing someone else started and had a good run with, before handing it off to you, whether or not you actually wanted it . . . well, nobody wants to be the one to turn off the lights on their way out the door.

Now, before you go, "But Brad . . . !" in a burst of Sherlockian fervor, let me get to the other side of that coin, our enthusiam. When people get fancy with our hobby, they like to call themselves (and us, just because they don't want to seem to egotistical) the exotic sounding words "afficianados" or "devotees." The better fancy word might be "enthusiast," because enthusiasm is what drives us, our enthusiasm for all things Sherlock and John.

New ideas give you enthusiasm. 

"Hey, let's start a club!" 

"Hey, let's print a journal!" 

"Hey, let's do a weekly podcast!" 

"Hey, let's have a month-long quiz every August!" (Did I get too specific there? Maybe.)

And every one of those things is great, especially that first time. And the second or third. And maybe for a while. But every new idea ought to have an automatic term limit built in, because even if you're someone who loves ritual and routine, eventually you're going to hit your life's term limit and someone else is going to have to continue that repetition, playing your greatest hits night-after-night as the cover band with the same name as the original.

Now, Sherlockiana has had some really great achievements in carrying on traditions in some areas, but has also paid the price for some of those as well, when holding on to past glories has stunted current potential for new glories. It's a very hard balance, keeping enough of the old to have some sort of continuity while keeping things fresh enough to make it interesting for those who aren't into the security of the same-old, same-old. A lot of times, that's accomplished by passing a duty from hand-to-hand-to-hand. But we can't just expect people to carry things on in exactly the fashion they were before like robots. Even that mega-corporation McDonald's, the king of comforting sameness, couldn't keep things how they were forever.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday, as he was contemplating taking up a new Sherlockian task. I might have been exactly the wrong person for that conversation, being a little burnt-out on some things at the moment -- there are some of us who cycle burn-out and enthusiasm as if we're the cylinder of an internal combustion engine. But that's Sherlockiana. That's any creative endeavor. You're gonna have high energy moments, and you're gonna hit rock bottom. But if you find a fuel line to keep the motor running, you'll be okay.

Okay, got lost in my metaphor for a moment there. The point is, as much as Sherlockiana is a joy and a light in our lives, there can also be a laborious side to it, where hard choices have to be made and that beautiful idea someone had once does not get to go on forever. As any creative person knows, you get idea after idea after idea, and if you jump from one to the next constantly, you'll never accomplish any of them. But at the same time, we can't beat a dead horse at the cost of getting those new thoroughbreds out on the track. (Gone from engines to horses. Metaphors!)

Today is Labor Day in America. We don't usually stop and think about folks who labor at the tasks that keep our world running, both inside and outside Sherlockiana. Podcasts like "I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" and "The Tree Patch Podcast," publications like Canadian Holmes, The Serpentine Mews, and those ones with "Journal" in the title. The Baker Street Journal and The Sherlock Holmes Journal probably get the least respect in terms of the labor that goes into them, as we can easily look at institutions like those and just think they magically exist because they always have. But there are people behind all those things who are carrying a load, a load they bear in addition to their normal workaday lives, if they aren't retired folks, which so many aren't.

We are enthusiasts. That's what starts us out, that's what drives us. But no matter what you do in Sherlockiana that isn't just taking it all in, there's going to be some labor involved eventually. So, on this Labor Day, here's to you, all you laborers in the Sherlockian and Holmesian fields past and present. This oft-irritating blogger loves you all and the work you do, the work you try, and even the work you occasionally fail at and have to quit. It's all part of our laborious "game." 

But I've rambled on enough . . . time to get back to work.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Hot characters of the Sherlockian Canon

After the recent discussion of hot Sherlocks, perhaps we should turn to our much-respected Canon and see what the citizens therein thought was hot and what was not. Being Victorians, they were not like Paris Hilton in her heyday, pronouncing every other thing as "so hot." Yet they did seem to have a few opinions on the topic, from which we might learn a thing or two. What were they?

"He was so hot that I think he would have thrashed Drebber with his cudgel . . ."

               -- Jefferson Hope on a man his was obsessed with, in A Study in Scarlet

"So hot was I . . ." 

              -- John H. Watson, The Sign of the Four

". . . the scissors-grinder, who was equally hot. . ."

            -- John H. Watson, also The Sign of the Four

". . . he was hot . . ."

            -- John H. Watson, regarding Sherlock Holmes in "Beryl Coronet"

"I have reason to think that they are hot . . ." 

           -- Sherlock Holmes, regarding Moriarty's gang, in "The Final Problem"

"I think that we are particularly hot . . ."

          -- Sherlock Holmes, upon himself and Watson, in The Hound of the Baskervilles

"Well, Jack, you are very hot."

         -- Beryl Stapleton, about her brother/husband in The Hound of the Baskervilles

"He has a reputation of being hot . . ."

        -- Mycroft Holmes on Cadogan West in "Bruce-Partington Plans

". . . I was hot . . ."

      -- John H. Watson, looking for "Lady Frances Carfax"

In any survey of the Canon, we're always going to get John Watson's opinion first and foremost, and the preceding quotes do tend to hit him the most. John Watson apparently thinks he himself is hot more often than he thinks Holmes is. This would correspond to the longtime idea of Watson as the looker of the two, the serial lover of the two, and . . . well . . . that moustache. 

Holmes seems to favor the criminal element in what he finds hot, Mycroft likes a young government clerk type, and . .  well, Watson has a scissors-grinder kink. (Oh, wait . . . scissoring . . . grinding . . . NEVER MIND!) There is info here for further investigation, to be sure.

These are actual quotes from the actual Canon after all, whatever the context police might want to tell you. I'm just reporting. It doesn't answer our ongoing questions about Jeremy Brett, but I'll leave those to his stage-door jennies and loyal followers.