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!

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