Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Sherlock Holmes, the mantra

 Sherlock Holmes is a gift the universe has given us, I think every Sherlockian knows that. Conan Doyle gets the lion's share of the official credit, but so many of us have come to Sherlock through the efforts of other creators over the years, though, that I have to spread the appreciation out. No matter what you think of an individual Sherlock Holmes pastiche or film, somewhere out there was a person whose Sherlockian switch got flipped by that Holmes. While I publicly credit Billy Wilder for starting my Holmes journey, there was a Manly Wade Wellman turning point that may have been critical to that trip, and, hoo boy, let's not get into that pastiche.

But there is much more to the gift that is Sherlock Holmes than just a guy in a deerstalker running around with Watson. Sherlock Holmes brings so many other things to our lives when he walks in. For some, it's discovering a love of history. For others, it's a motivation to do more art. For me, it's the writing.

At this point, it seems like I'm writing every day. It may not be as visible as if I was blog-posting every day, as it gets scattered out among podcast script, newsletter bits, the occasional article, and always . . . always . . . those books that may or may not ever reach fruition and readers. And the current running underneath all of it, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, giving me something to write about.

Writing isn't something you really see as a thing -- you see the results of the writing. The process itself is something that happens privately. I've never been the sort of writer than gathers in a coffee shop or library for a group writing event like Nanowrimo encourages, with rare exceptions, like a late night 221B Con fic workshop. Writing has become more like a meditation for me, putting the thoughts in order, a practice that has worth even without eventual readers. And I owe that practice to Sherlock Holmes.

At the meeting of the Sherlockians of Baltimore last Saturday, Monica Schmidt spoke on mindfulness and learning to focus amid the chaos and attention-pulling distractions of life, and how Sherlock Holmes was a practitioner of same. And you can find some really good quotes in the Canon about focus. One of my favorites has always been "It is a singular thing, but I find that a concentrated atmosphere helps a concentration of thought" from The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sherlock liked filling a room with smoke, and when I was writing The Elementary Methods of Sherlock Holmes I tested out filling a room with light to see if that had a similar effect. (Hard to say if it really did, or I just went along with the thought and made it work.) But Sherlock himself helps us focus, just by being Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes is almost like a mantra in human form. Instead of a word or sound used to aid concentration for meditation or focus, he gives us a mental target to pull our thoughts and abilities to a certain headspace. Vincent Starrett romantically referred to it as the place "where it is always 1895," but in truth, that Sherlock Holmes space isn't a point in history or an alternate universe. It's a mental state we come back to in ourselves, using our own tools and tastes, whether it is writing or watching actors do their thing or socializing with fellow Sherlockians. "Sherlock Holmes" is the password that takes us through the door into that particular mindscape.

The universe, working through Conan Doyle, Jeremy Brett, or even Manly Wade Wellman, gave us a gift in Sherlock Holmes, and sometimes I suspect it's a larger gift than I can even fully realize.

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