Sherlock Holmes and Me

I am not picky in my reading. All I ask is a good story. It can be any genre. In fact, I don’t think in genres. If a story-world plays by its own rules, I can accept just about any wackiness. But there’s one thing I’ve discovered about my reading: only when my life is chaotic do I turn to murder mysteries. (Actually, I read Louise Penny’s books annually when they come out at the end of August — but then, isn’t the end of August chaotic for any mother of school-aged children?) I read Dorothy Sayers when I was nine months pregnant and on bedrest. I read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon after a great loss.

I think the appeal of the murder mystery is two-fold: first, the gore. When things are bad, I want to feel it viscerally, to have the horror made manifest (even if only on the page). Second: the solution. A good murder mystery leads the reader down blind alleys and presents red herrings, but in the end, oh in the end, everything is made clear, the bad guy is punished and order is restored. What more does anyone want when real life doesn’t always present such clear solutions. The murder mystery is seductive in its wrap-up.

At Christmas this year — half-way through our three months of chaos — I received a Kobo mini reader. I was quite interested to see what the reading experience would be on a small electronic device. I paid for and downloaded two books, but then was offered free downloads, classic books that had become public domain, and books by emerging authors. Among the books I downloaded were two Sherlock Holmes books.

(I will say that I have enjoyed my little Kobo — four by five inches at most — but it will not replace books for me any time soon. I’ve had to learn new ways to hold a book with the Kobo as the slimness of the device means holding it for any period of time makes my hands go numb. Tapping the screen every two paragraphs caused a tiny muscle in my back to spasm. Who knew reading could be so physical? It has been a great thing to keep in my purse, to pull out while waiting in a hospital or an appointment or an airport. It’s far harder to lose myself in a book, though, but it’s not impossible.)

The other night I was reading a Sherlock Holmes story. Watson had been called to Holmes’ bedside where Holmes was suffering from nervous prostration and the blackest depression after two months of intense work on a case. Here’s what happened next: Watson spent three days nursing Holmes, who only slept and ate. Next, Watson took Holmes away to a country house for a change of scenery. Finally, the respite became a busman’s holiday as a crime was committed and Holmes got his spark back as he investigated and solved the case.

It made me think about the last few weeks. Because at long last, the various crises are over. And weirdly, I have had a surprising lack of work. Not only paid work, but my own projects are waiting on others right now.

For the first week or so, I was happy to rest. Really really happy. My mom who has been through some of the same crises in the last while was on holidays and found it took her forever to relax and rest. Apparently there just is a toll to emotional and mental exertion, just as Holmes found.

Last weekend we went to Ottawa for Winterlude. It was terrific to be away together as a family. It was the holiday we didn’t get at Christmas. We stayed with a gracious couple who were friends of friends and who opened their home to us. We visited family and good friends. We ate — oh, how we ate. Beaver tails with cinnamon, sugar and lemon, St. Hubert chicken, Chinese food, burgers, bagels, fudge and cheese curds. We skated the calories off. We slept in one morning and stayed in bed reading until nearly 11. We finally visited the National Gallery and I was deeply moved by a painting. We shopped for the girl’s birthday loot bags — moustache rings and tiny paint sets were among our purchases. It was beautiful to see the mountains in the distance, the river and the spires of Parliament in the foreground. It was fun to speak French. It was Sherlock’s change of scenery.

So now I’m ready for the third step of the cure: good work. I’ve put out feelers and work will come soon, but not yet. This week, I’ve decided, though, that I’m not waiting around any more. I’m tackling the house now. I’m purging cupboards and organizing rooms. I’m doing a good spring clean in the middle of winter. We have ambitious plans to refinish the upstairs floors of our house ourselves. (This can only be done room by room and requires a week of not replacing furniture after sealing so it will be a long project.) Some of the floors really need it and I suspect it will look terrific once it’s done. Our battle plan includes moving displaced persons one at a time to the office, finishing the office last of all. So, this week, the office furniture will move to the dining room.

It feels like good work. I’m glad to do it. I’m resisting the fear of poverty and failure. I’m trusting that the work will come. I’m trying to see this time as a gift and to use that gift well. I’m also reminding myself that three months of chaos does not resolve in an instant or even a week. I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself in the middle of a quiet spell. And to take the time to read a little Sherlock.

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