Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Why place limits on virtual Sherlockiana?

 The Baker Street Irregulars are holding their January "dinner" virtually this year for the first time. Invitations have gone out, and I have signed up. It's been a few years, and I'm curious. The thing is, my curiosity always makes me wonder things, and that's where I tend to get into trouble with some folks, especially concerning the Big Sherlockian Institution. Because I tend to be a little public with the thoughts that most reserve for personal conversations, so as not to get into the sorts of trouble that I get into.

But since I'm already in that strange purgatory of certain people's shit list, why not just dig that hole a little deeper. So let me ask this question:

If you were running the Baker Street Irregulars, and a pandemic forced you to hold that annual meeting online for the very first time . . . why not make it open to everyone?

Every reasonable excuse I've ever heard for keeping the dinner and membership limited has had to do with banquet venue size. It was never "we don't want people to know what we're doing." Nothing that weird or out-of-the-Sherlockian-ordinary goes on there. So why place limits on it?

Is there a fear that if everyone saw what goes on there, the mystique might go away? A fear that a wide open virtual dinner might lead everyone to expect to be able to come once a physical dinner was possible again? Or is just the "exclusive" part of the Baker Street Irregulars so ingrained at this point that the very concept of a wide open BSI meeting is not even on the table? One hates to think it's fear or a locked-in mindset.

What purpose do limits like that serve? 

Any other corporate entity, and let's be honest, there is a certain brand-based incorporated aspect to the BSI, would see thinking-inside-the-box limits as something to be avoided. But historically, the organization's first reaction to any new thing is to see it as a threat and tighten the sphincter. The internet? Whoa! Hold up! A new Holmes fan base thanks to a hit TV show? Whoa! We're a literary society! The turns come very slowly. And this whole pandemic Zoom shift in Sherlockian lifestyles has been a high-acceleration drive into a turn none of us were ready for.

But, as any optimist knows, challenges like this offer opportunities as well as troubles. There is an opportunity here that many Sherlockians and groups are taking advantage of, and pushing new ideas forward.  It's a little ironic that the BSI chose to charge thirty-five dollars for the virtual event and build into that cost a donation to its own charity for helping its members and guests afford the costs of its annual dinner. One of the growing issues across the board in America is finding ways to help fund people unable to pay high prices, rather than just lowering prices, so on that one, maybe they get a pass. But this was definitely a moment where some fresh thought would have been welcomed.

The BSI "dinner" packet price includes a souvenir, and I have a feeling that the group won't be able to hold the "dinner" without the standard group photo so everyone can show they were there, so I'm betting it might be a screenshot of all the little Zoom windows. New idea, or just same old, same old? (Which is also called tradition, of course. Ah, tradition!)

It's going to be a very interesting year in any case, and I shall be curious to see how it all does play out. And seeing if curiosity kills the cat, as the saying goes. We shall see.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The new Sherlockian nomads

 It wasn't too long after I started attending Sherlockian weekends that I noticed a certain commonality. There was a certain pack of Sherlockians that, despite having no coordinated plan for such, always seemed to be at such events. "The Sherlockian gypsy caravan," I used to call them, before the word "gypsy" was something I learned was best avoided. They were the ones who found their community, the ones who knew the reward for the trip made it worth leaving home, had one the ability to do so.

And then the world changed.

Another nomadic community started to form, except these weren't folk who had to travel -- just folk comfortable enough with current tech and time to handle regular Zoom calls. New familiar faces started to show up time and again as the new regulars of Sherlockian gatherings. Others disappeared from sight. We saw what the online symposium looked like, not once, but twice, and we saw that about any Sherlockian society meeting could have the same level of content without taking up a whole day, and a whole lot of people went, "This works for me." And even though the community of Sherlockian Zoomers was created by the restrictions of the pandemic, it really seems like the best parts of it might just live on after it's over.

I suspect if one were to bring a new Sherlockian into our world at this point, they would think the three biggest Sherlockians in American are Steve Mason, Greg Ruby, and Rich Krisciunas. Each of them has made a splash into this new pond by just putting in the time and effort to get around and make some things happen, in their different ways. There are a lot of other folk, old Sherlockians (and hoo boy, have we all gone gray since I last saw so many folks!) and new (some really impressive new, too) that are starting to feel like the familiar folk of a new small town that we all suddenly found ourselves in.

It's so much like the old weekend workshop/symposium regulars, but the big difference here is that you get to see all these folks a lot more often. That old BSI buy-laws gag line "and there shall be no monthly meeting" has been tossed by the wayside by the sheer number of monthly meetings that any Sherlockian could easily put on their calendar.

It's funny that, since the Zoom is a substitute for local meetings, there are still local Sherlockians. Some folks will always be happy with the people they already knew, staying in touch with local friends. Having the ability to attend meetings all over the place doesn't mean it's for everyone, and there are always going to be gathering that fit some more than others. But when the pandemic plight is done, and the locals go back to meeting in person, I'm pretty certain that the community that connected across time zones and even oceans during this change will continue to evolve. It's just started working a little too well for many of us.

But who knows? It's been an invigorating time for a lot of old Sherlockian warhorses, in any case, and I hope the bonds that have been forming with this new sort of community continue on. This new group of Sherlockian nomads have a whole lot of future territory to explore.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The 43rd Anniversary Meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton

 There are those who say that because something can't be what it once was, maybe you should just let that thing go. You find that sentiment a lot among fans of different fandoms. Fear of overlaying old memories of thing they enjoyed I guess. But the world never ends with any of us, and sometimes things go on.

And last night, Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton went on for one more night.

It's been a bumpy road since Bob Burr gave the group up with the turn of the century. He was the heart and soul of the Hansoms during its peak, and my biggest challenge in carrying on the group, especially during those dark times of the early 2000s between Brett and Cumberbatch, was those clear memories of all that came before, and moments never to be recreated. 

But when the Cesspuddlians of London, Ontatrio (whom I always think are in England, for some reason), tweeted last Friday that the Hansoms were coming up on a birthday, well it nagged at me for most of the weekend.


At some point Sunday night, I realized that any attempt at a 43rd anniversary meeting was better than no attempt at all, so I started inviting the few members and nearby friends I still had connections to, and those fellows we all know who are attempting to attend a Zoom meeting for every scion society ever. I didn't want to try to beef up the numbers too much, as I had no program for the meeting as of that moment, and it was two days away. So I started to throw together a program, with the help of two Hansoms who have came aboard at least as early as me -- one was the good Carter, of course, and the other was George Scheetz, youngest of the club's three founders.

We ended up with a dozen fine folk in attendance, and I got out the old podium with the club logo on it and managed to zoom from behind it.


We kept to the basic rituals that we observed at every meeting: Start with the Clayton Ritual, end with Starrett's "221B." As our banquets had forever had a letter from Sherlock Holmes writing as to why he couldn't attend at the outset, we had one of those. The meeting minutes of the first meeting forty three years ago, held only a few hundred yards from where I was currently hosting the meeting, were read, and we rolled through a slide show with random talk of Hansom history. I kept it to an hour, as I promised those in attendance. (It was a school night, after all.) And after that hour, I offered the option to view the video of the Hansoms' lowest-possible-budget recreation of "The Three Garridebs," which featured some of the worst line-reads imaginable, and was a little sleep-inducing. But it was only twenty minutes long (with at least four or five of that being hand-written credits being . . . hand . . . written), and eight of our dozen dutifully suffered through.

It was definitely more about the Hansoms of John Clayton than Sherlock Holmes, which can be a bad thing for any club -- becoming more interested in itself than the great detective -- but the Hansoms hadn't had a meeting in a many years, and it seemed a good way to do a reset. This is where we've been, where are we going next, if we are at all? Who knows?

People always ask me if the Hansoms of John Clayton still meet in Peoria, and I like to think they do. And since we just had a 43rd anniversary meeting, with old members and new, I can now say we definitely do. Some clubs meet annually and leave it at that. Maybe that will be what the Hansoms do now as well, until someone triggers something further and new traditions are built underneath the name, should it be carried on.

Next year, there will be a 44th anniversary meeting, and since I have a year to prepare, it should have a program that's something new and not about the club of years gone by.

Because the world never ends with any of us, and sometimes things do go on.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Major Holmes and Captain Watson

 Back in the eighties, when I was first getting into Sherlock Holmes, it seemed like any non-Sherlock, Sherlock-related folk in books or comics were all trying to be Sherlock clones. Irene Adler would grab up a Watson of her own. Solar Pons just flat-out copied everything. More and more since the Cumberbatch wave hit, I'm seeing writers create some marvelous original characters who exist in Holmes's universe and bloodline without being dreadful mimics of the master detective.

One such delightful new character is Captain Sheffield Holmes, the nephew of Sherlock and the start of Cloudwrangler Comics series Major Holmes and Captain Watson. I've had some real disappointment in Sherlock-related comics lately, so many just trading on the name, and I'm very happy to find the Major Holmes & Captain Watson does not fit that category at all.

Another successful Kickstarter that hit every single funding goal it went after, the book is a lovely thing and writer Jeff Rider and artist Ismael Canales put their talents to make it a rip-snortin' wartime tale that captures the magic of comics that many a Sherlock-ish comic doesn't, which makes it a very special beast. The book doesn't waste any time in setting Sheffield apart from Sherlock, the blond, tossle-maned nephew getting pulled from bed with a boyfriend on the very first page. His "Watson" arrives and quickly sets herself in place as an able partner . . . though one that might have been more contrived to be just that than a random relative of Dr. Watson who just happened to be handy. And who would contrive such a thing?

Well, that would be telling. The ride that Major Holmes & Captain Watson gives a reader is the kind you don't want spoiled, and I was very glad to get the book with a completely blank slate to place my first impression on. (I'd forgotten the preview pages, as I backed the project so long ago.) I'm saving the second issue to read when the time is best suited, but since I backed it at "The Special Dossier" level, and received the file of extras, one of the intelligence photos did give away a secret I hadn't read yet.

That particular secret was still a grand treat, as I had already developed my theories on the subject -- which immediately proved wrong, even though I should have seen it. (Aren't those the best twists, the ones you kick yourself for not seeing sooner?)

You can find copies of the comic at CloudwranglerComics.com as well as some other items of interest, and, being a comics fan as well as a Sherlockian, I've already ordered a couple of Jeff Rider's other comics.  And I'm definitely looking forward to this series going forward.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Thirty years to an ASH meeting

 It is 1:04 PM on Sunday, and I am already reviewing the meeting of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes that started at noon. Why? Because somehow, Evelyn Herzog, with technical support from Greg Ruby and Steve Mason, distilled what felt like three hours worth of Zoom speakers into a terrific hour of Sherlockian fun.

Of course, the fun for me didn't truly begin until I got to finish my toast to "Friendship," because I was more nervous than I've been in a decade, about anything. Why?

Because I've been wanting to get to a meeting of the Adventuresses for well over thirty years.

Back in the eighties snail mail days, Tina Rhea was a frequent correspondent and would write me of all the glories, fun, and frolic of the ASH gathering together. At a time when the BSI was still men-only and seeming a bit stodgy, that group seemed like the true fun Sherlockians, and I had even promised Tina I would attend in 1989, then got talked into the other January dinner by a friend who was strongly hinting at a shilling might be my reward. (It was, but that's another story.)

Now, I don't know about you, but even though we weren't Catholic, my mama raised my with a fully activated sense of guilt, and a couple of years later, when the Irregulars started letting women in, and the alternate January dinner was no longer the ASH dinner, I did get to NYC again and attend that other dinner, at least a couple of times. But it wasn't the ASH dinner. And since getting me to fly to New York for any reason became a harder and harder sell as the years past, the non-January ASH dinners never saw me in attendance either. That little thread of Sherlockian guilt never fully left.

Even after 2008, when I became an Adventuress myself, I never got to a meeting proper, but then along came this pandemic and Zoom. Suddenly, my chance was here. I actually volunteered to give a toast, not realizing how big that moment might feel, finally getting to be with the ASH and their friends, virtually traveling to New York in my mind. And had I not become so practiced at pontificating in front of the computer screen for podcasts, I might have been just a little freaked out by all that.

But, the moment passed, as all moments happily do, and the ASH meeting as a whole was full of thoughtful toasts and excellent presentations, all kept in one tidy hour in a demonstration of how much diverse and quality content can be put in a single hour of Zoom -- an inspiration to those of us trying to wrangle our own Zooms. While we didn't get to see all the faces of all those hundred and fifty Sherlockians present, and there was some confusion in the chat as to who was Peter Blau, it was one of the best virtual Sherlockian meetings I've attended, and while I hope the ASH can return to their old habits soon, I would not mind another one of these at all.

And if not, how much is a ticket to NYC? 

Friday, November 13, 2020

The less socially motivated Sherlockian

 A couple of questions have come up lately that have related answers, so it seemed worth a post. The first was "Why not invited a guest on your podcast?" The second, "Do the Hansoms of John Clayton still meet?"

Here is the grand Sherlockian paradox.

A goodly share of our number are bookish sorts. Introverts. Readers who enjoy our own company as much as a group. And yet everyone wants a little company now and then, the validation of a community, the fresh ideas of others who know your field.

And over the years, if one gets involved in a hobby, an introvert might pick up a few social skills, lose some of that fear of public speaking, even organize a function or two. And yet there remains a distinct difference between being a true gregarious extrovert and someone who can sometimes pass as one.

So, the answers to the two questions: As long as either of those questions relies completely on me, my natural inclinations never draw me in those directions. 

Podcast guests aren't a problem, if time allows and it's someone I'm comfortable with from past association. Cold-calling someone brand new? Not in my zone, especially for a first meeting to converse over Zoom. And not the sort of thing I'm going to bite the bullet and force upon myself when there is so much other Sherlocking to do out there.

Do the Hansoms of John Clayton yet meet? Well, Sherlockians do meet in Peoria, together when we can, Zooming when we cannot. Gathering under the name of the Hansoms faded out in the 2000s, when things were slowing down and our meetings fell to three persons per, two of whom came from my house. We had a couple attempts at restarts since then, but the evenings were mostly filled with my friends who would have come over anyway and the one or two other Peoria Sherlock Holmes fans, if they had time.

The Sherlock Holmes Story Society, the name I came up with for our library discussion group, when it started a few years back, has been meeting monthly for four straight years now. We've got a good group of regulars, even after Covid knocked us down by half. Being public library based, however, we needed a name that advertised what we did without explanation. I could easily hand out membership cards or certificates to our group and claim the Hansoms of John Clayton still exist, but that seems like a bit of a cheat.

The Hansoms of John Clayton will exist in Peoria, at least as long as I do. It'll be one of those one-or-two person groups like the Solitary Cyclist or the One Fixed Point or the Shingle of Southsea until that day when someone with enough interest in classic Sherlockian society dinners or meetings comes along and has extroversion, energy, and time enough to try to build it up again. And I'll be willing to help that person. But for now . . . .

Some of us are just a little too comfortable with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, a book, and a laptop for some projects to get fully undertaken.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

"Listen to the experts!"

 A phrase I enjoyed hearing the other day was "I will listen to the experts" with regard to the current pandemic. Medical experts have done a lot for the human race. And then my brain fell into Sherlockian mode. "Listen to the experts!" applies to scientific areas of human endeavor, but does it apply to our particular field.

My gut instinct said, "Nooooo, don't listen to the experts! Follow your own path." I've always railed against those classicists of Sherlockiana who claimed that every good thing possible in this hobby was done before 1950. But were those folks "experts?"

I've been called an expert on Sherlock Holmes. My late neighbor was called an expert on Sherlock Holmes. Practically every single Sherlockian ever written up as a feature in their local newspaper (back when newspapers were a thing and needed features) has been called an expert in Sherlock Holmes. Because compared to non-Sherlockians, who outnumber us by the thousands, if not the tens of thousands by my estimate, we are experts in Sherlock Holmes. All of us.

The thing about being a expert in Sherlock Holmes the man is that you really just have to be knowledgeable about the one book, where we find everything that is completely accepted about the man. You can go on and become an expert in Sherlockian film, in Sherlockiaan chronology, in Sherlockian fan fiction, but to just be an expert in Sherlock? One big fat book.

Read that one big fat book, and you don't really need to listen to the experts. Sure, they can tell you what has been done in the past inspired by Holmes, but as I said, expertise in what has been done in the past outside of that one book is a whole 'nother expertise that not every Sherlockian has. Your own inspired creation will surely find an audience among the other experts in your area . . . who didn't necessarily read the monograph William Buxley passed out as a table favor at a Baker Street Irregulars dinner in 1953.

If one enjoys listening to experts, Sherlockiana is a wonderful place. We have so very many experts.

But if one is a creative who wants to follow one's own path free of expert critiques, Sherlockiana is also a wonderful place. None of our experts is expert in everything Sherlockian, so you're likely to find a free spot to fly.

And if you want to do something between those two, listen to some experts and charge blindly into your own Sherlockian project without calling upon every other person who wrote about the wine Watson took with his lunch on a particular day, well, you can have at it. We'll still love to see what you come up with.

The larger Sherlockiana grows, the more territory it seems we have to explore. It's part of the magic of this hobby -- there's always more left to learn, to see, to do.

And, to become an expert in. Because we do love our experts, even if we don't always listen to them.

Monday, November 9, 2020

The true reason Mrs. Watson and Mr. Holmes didn't get along?

Some time back, my mind wandered to Mrs. James Watson, the wife of Sherlock Holmes's friend and chronicler in "The Man with the Twisted Lip." I'd like to refer to her as Mary Morstan Watson, or Mrs. John H. Watson, but going strictly by the evidence presented in that tale . . . well, she really is most accurately identified as "Mrs. James Watson."

And what was the notable characteristic of Mrs. James Watson?

"Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house."

Grief, like all emotions, can be very hard to deal with when it comes on, most commonly brought on by the loss of a loved one. In "The Man with the Twisted Lip," the loss of a loved one is in the "misplaced" category rather than the "death" category, but the way Watson describes his wife and the reason people came to her, it seems like the latter might have been more common than the former. While folks whose loved ones were missing might come to Doctor Watson, folks whose loved ones had died would not need his services. So they came to his wife.

But why?

We know Watson spent more of his time in the company of Sherlock "No ghosts need apply!" Holmes, but the good doctor also had a certain literary agent in his social sphere, and therefore in his wife's social sphere. And when it came to a particular way of dealing with grief, said literary agent was hardcore headed down a certain questionable path. So let's just cut to the chase:

Was Watson's wife a medium?

Did folks in grief come to her to contact their recently passed loved ones?

Mrs. James Watson being a practicing spiritualist, holding seances, doing spirit writing, etc. makes that light-house line a very interesting thing, setting up a more direct conflict between Mrs. Watson and Mr. Holmes, explaining why the doctor might have been going for periods without seeing his best pal.

"Birds to a lighthouse," Watson wrote, and the symbolism of the souls of the departed being attracted to his wife's aura just adds to the idea of Mary Morstan, medium.

Sherlock Holmes, of course, knowing the powers of observation needed for an expert in cold reading (one technique for the con artist playing at spiritualism) would almost confirm Mary Morstan as such with his assessment of her as "most useful in such work as we have been doing." Sherlock's own displays of his powers of observation were basically cold readings -- which makes if odd to think that Watson's literary agent would have fallen so easily into such a trap at some point.

And yet John "James" Watson's association with devout spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle makes the idea of his wife Mary being deeply involved in the practice as well even more likely . . . with her husband constantly caught between worlds.

Ah, but if only someone could contact Mrs. James Watson's spirit and let us know the truth, eh?

I think I'll stick with Sherlock Holmes, though, and when it comes to Sherlockian scholarship, say, "No ghost wives need apply."

Friday, November 6, 2020

The clumsy fabrications

 "How do I know they are lying? Because it is a clumsy fabrication which simply could not be true."

-- Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear

We hold the methods of Sherlock Holmes in pretty high esteem in these Sherlockian parts. The man was a genius, who studied hard, kept a mental library of recognizable details, and performed feats of observation and deduction that seem beyond most of us . . . usually.

Yet this week, I don't think one particular method of Sherlock's is beyond most of us, the one he uses in the quote above. How does he spot a lie? Because it's so badly concocted that it just couldn't be true.

That has been a growing trend of the U.S. president over the past four years. Yes, I'm going "political" because reality isn't just an opinion, as much as some would like to deny facts as it suits them by dumping them in the "political" bucket. The man lies, again and again and again. Clumsy fabrications that anyone who is paying attention to the world about them knows are lies the minute they come out of his mouth.

It quit taking a Sherlock Holmes to spot that a long time ago.

His sycophants lie to him to keep him happy, he lies to keep his fans happy at their little fan-fests, and then his enablers lie to try to massage his lies into something closer to palatable plausibility. The circle of fiction just feeds itself, 'round and 'round it goes. It becomes very tiring to the rest of us, having to hear the clumsy fabrications day after day, to the point where the news has to just shut him off.

Before the last few years, it's hard to imagine a major network just shutting down a presidential speech just thirty seconds in, but here we are. Just that tired of the clumsy fabrications.

The loyal team players dutifully stand by him, for whatever reason. Many have just been trained to fear some other group so much they'll put up with incompetence, just to protect themselves from that group they're frightened of. There are other reasons, some more valid than others, some as nutty as a flat earther with a magic bean.  But, y'know, I'm writing a Sherlock Holmes blog here.

And you know what a Sherlock Holmes blog is about? That guy who had no time for "a clumsy fabrication." The guy who sought truth, honest, science-based, provable truth . . . it was his whole end goal, every time. Justice could be administered or not. Lives could be saved . . . or not. But at the end, always at the end, no matter what he could or could not do, was the truth. Even if Sherlock Holmes was just revealing the truth behind his own less-clumsy fabrication, as in "Dying Detective."

We need more Sherlock Holmes right now. And a lot less clumsy fabrications.

Because, damn, they get old fast.