Sunday, July 15, 2018

It hasn't all been done before.

Feeling a little down of late, just because I'm focusing so much attention on twenty-five minutes in August when I'll be presenting at "Holmes in the Heartland." And when concentrating on one topic, all the sparkly other diversions of Holmes and Watson remain outside the window where the other kids are playing.

When one starts feeling the blues a bit, certain themes recur: Why am I doing this? What does it matter? Aren't you just doing the thing you did before all over again?

Well, at this point in life, I've gotten good at answering a few of my down-self questions. I know where the fun comes in, even if it's not present at the moment. And the importance of little things, things that may not seem as consequential, they have their time as well. And as I was running through all those sorts of questions and answers, I came upon that one bullshit line that fake smart people like to puff up and pontificate to make themselves feel important.

"It has all been done before."

All the stories are that one story that Joseph Campbell or Shakespeare or somebody came up with.

It's a bit like saying every painting with a person in it is just a new versions of the Mona Lisa or some cave drawing of a man with a spear. Yes, they have a similarity or two. But if you're actually going to claim that they're the same thing, that nothing new has been added to the field of art since that time, you're just not paying any attention at all.

Of course, our friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes, said it too, didn't he?

"It's all been done before, and will be again."

But context matters. He was explaining to Inspector MacDonald about understanding crime from reading up on the history of crime. And he doesn't start with those words. Holmes starts his explanation by saying, "Everything comes in circles -- even Professor Moriarty. Jonathan Wild was the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organization on a fifteen per cent commission." But would Holmes have seen Moriarty as a challenge, if he was just Jonathan Wild, the sequel?

Everything comes in circles, but the circle spins a little faster, throws out a few more sparks, and maybe even flies off its axle to spin somewhere new.

Seeing connections and similarities are actually one of the ways our brains come up with new things, and not just dismiss possibilities as "more of the same." (Though "more of the same" definitely does exist -- trust me, I saw the movie Skyscraper today, and if that movie had been a boxer, I'd have been ducking every telegraphed or familiar punch.) Sherlock Holmes would have gotten bored with detective work in the first year if crime was really just the same-old, same-old.

It may seem like we charge up the same hill, fight the same battles over and over, because when you come right down to it, we're almost the same human beings that walked the Earth a century or two centuries ago. Maslow's hierarchy of needs hasn't changed so much. But even though we may feel the same love, rage with the same anger, or laugh at the same twists others have done in the past, there are some details that are always different, always there to be appreciated anew.

A generator spins through the same cycles to produce energy that can go to a thousand different purposes, and cycling through the sixty-stories of Sherlock Holmes, with its surprisingly new details that can appear out of nowhere on a later read, are a great example of how something new can even come out of something that is exactly the same.

On we go, never quite sure where we'll wind up. And there's a reason for that, even in something as old as Sherlockiana.

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