For aren’t we all just a little bit in love with Sherlock Holmes?
I’ve written this blog post over a dozen times—in my head—and each time, it’s gone differently. In the end, I suppose I will have to accept that I won’t feel completely content with this decision, even if it is the most realistic. When I began this blog, back in January of 2012, I had just come off of a year-long binge of reading absolutely nothing but Sherlockian canon and pastiche, brought on when when I finished what was, in 2010, the entire run of Preston and Child’s Pendergast series. Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast was based on Holmes, everyone said, and since my attempts at reading Conan Doyle’s stories had fallen flat two times prior, I picked up a pastiche instead—Edward Hanna’s The Whitechapel Horror, which I’d read in the early 90’s. After that came Lyndsay Faye’s Dust and Shadow and then, the canon. By the time I’d finished “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” I was absolutely on fire, and longed to be able to share my excitement with others—except there weren’t any “others” in the small Indiana city where I lived. I could only find my fellow obsessives online, and they all seemed much more erudite, talented, and adult than I—even though I was 44 at the time. Jaime Mahoney’s “Better Holmes and Gardens,” a feminist-leaning blog (written by someone named Iris,maybe?), the long, continuing list of pastiche on “schoolandholmes”…those are the ones I remember most. I discovered the Baker Street Babes podcast and listened to it while I did housework, marveling at these bright young women who got to sit in a room together and talk about their passions the way I longed to do (yes, I did think they were all in the same room, the same way small children think people live in the radio). At some point that year, I stumbled onto Sherlockian.net and learned more about the BSI and scion societies. Finally, in the fall of 2011, I decided on my niche and decided to throw my own blog out into the Sherlockian world. My initial (and quite naïve) goal was to write reviews of all of the Holmesian pastiches—little did I know that, thanks to the RDJ movies and the BBC’s Sherlock, we were about to be engulfed in a flood of them! So it was that, on January 6, 2012, “The Well-Read Sherlockian” blog went live, urging any reader who happened to stumble upon it to “take a peek inside the tin dispatch box.”
I really knew nothing about blogging or book reviewing, and while I did know a bit about SEO, I didn’t care enough to make a point of that. I just wanted to write about Sherlock Holmes and books. But, as frequently happens when you pursue something you love, I caught the attention of some “kindred spirits” who appreciated my rather lengthy, in-depth reviews and, poised as I was on the cusp of the most recent pastiche boom, things took off rather quickly. I started to meet other Sherlockians in real life. I attended scion meetings, parties, book signings, conferences, and two BSI Weekends. I was given so many wonderful opportunities to contribute to the ever-growing body of Holmesian writing–by proofreading, editing, transcribing, reviewing, contributing to anthologies, and even writing an actual book (A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year With Sherlock Holmes, Wessex Press, 2016) with Jaime N. Mahoney. It wasn’t the prairie novel 11 year-old me had envisioned writing in 1978, but it was exciting, and it still seems so unreal to have my name on a book. I met so many wonderful people–and if a few turned out to be not so wonderful in the end, they only served to further illuminate the generous, the kind, the erudite, the witty and the true. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the lonely years of my forties, Sherlockians saved my sanity and gave me a sense of achievement and connection that many stay-at-home mothers with young children struggle to find. I dare say that you all kept me off Prozac for a little longer than would have happened otherwise.
But at the same time that I was taking pages of notes to make sure I got every detail and connection in every book I reviewed, or filling our kitchen and bookshelves with notebooks and files and books and books and books, the kids were growing up, my husband’s job was changing, and, well, I was, too. In 2016, we moved to a larger city several hours north, where we could have some stability and be nearer to our families. In 2018, the kids were old enough for me to go back to work (up to that time, childcare costs would have eaten up anything I could have earned), and I was able to find a job in the local library system. It was at this point that everything began to change.
In BBC’s Sherlock, there is a scene in which Sherlock and Mycroft discuss how they didn’t know they were different until they met other children. When my three were very little, I didn’t see anything unusual about them. Sure, they couldn’t stay quiet during a library story time or Kindermusik. My daughter preferred to run around rather than stand in line when we (briefly) tried ballet. But—they were little kids, right? And I was probably a subpar mother; I had always felt like there was some sort of women’s code for which everyone but me (and probably my own mother) had the key. When my daughter started school, I spent a fair amount of time going to special conferences, or silently seething when a Bible school teacher felt the need to discuss yet another behavior quirk one of my kids showed in class. “They’re so smart, but…,” became such a common refrain that I eventually stopped listening. In the meantime, I was forgetting to go through backpacks, fibbing my way through reading logs, and generally being “the late parent.” But all mothers were frazzled, right? They all forgot or lost permission slips. Other moms got their kids “gas station breakfast,” surely? And if I occasionally missed a bill or bounced a payment here or there, well, it wasn’t like I had never done it before and it was hardly fatal. When you have kids and a husband whose job demands all of his energy and most of his time, this is just how it is, right?
Whenever my kids—particularly my daughter—came to me with a problem, I tried to console them that “it’s like this for everybody.” And I truly believed that. It turns out, however, than when most other women talk about being behind on housework, they don’t….mean….what I do when I say that. No matter that everyone says that they’ve “cleaned up for company,” or for the online photo, their mess does not look like mine. Nor do their laundry piles. Or their floors. It doesn’t take them 20 minutes to get out the door every single morning because they cannot find their keys, badges, inhalers, whatever. They don’t rummage in cavernous bags for their debit cards or credit cards or library cards or licenses while the line behind them grows and grows and grows. I know this, because every day I watch as patron after patron reaches in a purse or wallet and magically pulls out the right card—without having to clutter the desk with CVS receipts, old bills and lint-covered cough drops.
For years I had assumed that all of this would improve as my kids got older and needed less hands-on attention. That did not happen. When your children become teenagers, they actually need more attention than they did at seven or eight. You’re no longer wiping noses and tying shoes, you’re guiding souls and mending hearts; mentally and emotionally, it’s demanding, it’s essential, and you can’t put your child off just because you had a long day at work and the carpet is full of dog hair and you need to write a blog post. At the same time, I took a position with more hours. We got a second dog. I taught Bible classes at church, chauffeured kids here and there, and began working on another book. And if life seemed more than a little overwhelming and out of control, well, I just had to work harder, right? “Just do it,” I told Katie when she told me she just couldn’t muster what it took to write a paper or finish a project. “Just get a grip and do it,” I told myself.
Then my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. From first grade on, teacher after teacher had “suggested” that we pursue this with her, but we chose not too. In the early 2000’s, I’d tutored a child who started ADHD meds while I was working with him; he went from a distractible but lively little boy who loved dinosaurs to a child who was all but unrecognizable to me. The available medications had side effects that worried me, while my husband was afraid that such a diagnosis would hold his bright little girl back and stigmatize her at school. Over time, I became convinced that, sure, perhaps there was something going on in that little head but, I told myself, she needed to learn how to work with the type of brain she had. For awhile, this was true, and she was able to develop coping and management strategies that enabled her to do well in school and not annoy her teachers too much. Her father and I felt vindicated.
ADHD/ADD has a nasty little tendency, however, to creep out between the gaps in whatever structures you’ve built to contain it. As the demands of life increase, it can become more difficult to hang onto whatever order you’ve be able to create, and you have to work even harder to do the most basic tasks, let alone things like schoolwork. At first, we thought that our daughter was dealing with anxiety and depression—heaven knows there’s a long and illustrious family history of both—and she was. What we didn’t realize right away was that the root cause of those was her struggle with ADHD, and it was while I was reading up on it, at her insistance, that I realized….
Whenever one of our children got a “needs improvement” in “Executive Function” on their report card, I would laugh and tell my husband that they came by it naturally. I was right. It happens so frequently that it starts to sound like a cliché, but most adult attention deficits are diagnosed when parents take their children to be evaluated and, due to the way it frequently presents in girls, ADD/ADHD is underdiagnosed in women. It was definitely not a thing when I was a kid in the1970’s. It also helped that I was bright, and that our family size (14 kids) meant that my parents had to focus on order and logistics. We were also very religious so, while I can see, looking back, that I was impulsive, it didn’t come out in teenage experimentation or brushes with the legal system, the way ADD experts say it can, and if I was disorganized, wasn’t always able to recognize or establish personal boundaries, and had persistent difficulty managing my finances or my time, well, those were character flaws I needed to work on. It never occurred to me, as I grew into an adult, that my brain chemistry might be making those changes more difficult to achieve than they might have been. It never dawned on me that the frankly obscene caffeine tolerance I’d developed was the result of self-medication, with every form of cola known to man replacing the dopamine and serotonin that I didn’t produce or process properly. Up until the time I went back to work, I was able to compensate just enough to avoid utter chaos. But after 2018, my coping strategies were inadequate, and every additional demand on them pushed my life further into a mess of neglected work, forgotten appointments, piles of clutter, unsent mail, and unfulfilled promises.
So here we are.
Last spring, I began taking Vyvanse, and it has helped immensely. I’ve spent the months since then trying to re-order my life and my work, and to set up routines and strategies that will repair the utter chaos that had gradually taken over. It’s not been easy; medication helps remove some mental and emotional obstacles, but it doesn’t last all day, and, like an antidepressant, it doesn’t “fix” anything; it just makes it easier for you to start fixing problems yourself. One thing ADD looooooves to tell you is that it is indeed possible for you to do EVERY SINGLE THING EVER, ALL AT THE SAME TIME–WHICH IS RIGHT NOW!!!! I’m sorry, but this is not true. Instead my former library boss (bless her crochety soul) was right when she told me, “You won’t be able to do all of that; you’ll have to choose.” And so I have been, getting rid of soooooo many books, and knick-knacks and projects I would get to “eventually.”
You know where this is going.
I love this blog. I love the Giveaway. I love all of you. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I will no longer be able to keep it up the way it should be done. For one thing, my ADD brain means that I do have to take an insane amount of notes to review a book; I can’t just read it and bash out a few paragraphs. It is a time-consuming process which takes away from, well, other time-consuming processes. And as much as I love Sherlock Holmes and just about everything to do with him, I also…like reading and writing about other things. Also, as you become more involved with the Sherlockian world, you begin to “know” everyone, and they know you. It’s really difficult to honestly review books written by people I chat with online and hang out with at conferences, nor can I manage the time to blog about everything that’s out there. It’s true that, when it comes to Holmes, “never has so much been written by so many for so few!” Up until just a couple of days ago, I figured I would just keep on, though; I didn’t want to stop being “The Well-Read Sherlockian.”
But it’s time. I’m 54. There are still so many other things I want to do, and so many other things I should do, particularly for the people around me. I will keep writing about Sherlock Holmes; I still have an “Ask Mrs. Hudson Column” in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, an ongoing transcription/editing project with Mattias Böstrom and Mark Alberstadt, an unfinished short pastiche that needs, well, finishing, and at least 3 article ideas for the BSJ, or any publication that will have them. I’m paying our Clients dues this morning. I still have at least two prizes to mail out from the last Giveaway, and they will reach their recipients. But I’m also sliding into further into the background, confident that there are plenty of people better suited to “keep the memory green” in the large swaths I once aspired to. I will be over in my little corner, pruning and watering, and cheering you on.
Thank you all so much. You mean more to me than you can ever know.
Leah Cummins Guinn,
The Well-Read Sherlockian.