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Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I'm just a 40something kid from northern Michigan and very far removed from the politics of small foreign communities so there is little reason to listen to what I have to say. There is very little reason for me to believe that my voice matters at all. True, alone, it is nothing. Having made my disclaimer let me say that added to other voices I can change the world. And so, after years of wondering what I care enough about to which I could add my service & and apply my heart, I find a cause in Undershaw. But why?

Well, because I was once a 12 year old artsy kid that was too scared of the world to leave the house until I found Holmes as a protector.

When I was a 12 year old kid I found that I loved a good mystery, a puzzle of the non-jigsaw variety, and learned that observation is everything. First in art: you can not draw if you can not see. Second: introverts get run over in social situations because they do not see. True, some of us do not understand what we see when we see it. Mostly though we fail to see what is in front of our faces because we are too busy looking inward. Observation is survival. I learned all about observation through one of the purportedly greatest minds in history: Sherlock Holmes.

Of course like most American kids I got to Holmes through the torture of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, some Scooby Doo mysteries and sundry elementary adventures. It was my freshman year in High School that solidified Holmes as a literary hero. He had already been a larger than life legend for me as my mother recounted his exploits based on her memories of Basil Rathbone films. I was wonderfully surprised to find, through Mr. Trapp, that Holmes was really real and not just a Hollywood concoction. And for the entire reading of "The Speckled Band", which to my absolute horror was about a snake, and the biography of Conan Doyle as a means of introduction I was convinced that Holmes was real. And since it seems he is based almost solely upon Joseph Bell, a professor of Conan Doyle's, I shall maintain for myself the solidity of his person. I could not solve the Speckled Band as Mr. Trapp encouraged us to do as we read. In my defense I would have to have had encyclopedic knowledge of the animal kingdom as known in the Victorian era as it was a rare Indian breed that performed the hideous deeds. What was not, however, defendable, was my failure to recognize the human behaviors described by Conan Doyle and the Old Testament evil housed in the mind and body of Grimsby Roylance.

And that is where Holmes has made his most significant mark on me. Observe!

"You see but you do not observe."
& "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."

The one that gets me every time:
"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes."

We assume. Or we do not care. Holmes taught me a lot about observations and how to formulate theories after observations rather than before. In truth, the failure to observe one's surroundings is likely the single most self-destructive thing that we can do. Mostly we blunder through our lives recovering from missteps more than we do following some kind of a plan. Cagey criminals and ruthless relations whose motivation is to prey on the unobserving masses create a maze of life situations that, were we more observant, could be avoided.

Holmes taught me to be aware of my surroundings at all times. He taught me how to protect my poor little introverted heart from the vagaries of those ruthless individuals who would prey upon me before submitting to the favor of praying for me. When I have suffered the most is when I have laid down Holmes' rules for the sake of civility or emotional satisfaction. When I assume something can not happen I am almost always proven incorrect.

Observation and Logic can make a cruelly solitary and cold life of once vibrant individuals. And so we have Watson to remind us of our human hearts and the compassion with which facts can be disseminated. Watson is the introverts guide through Life the Universe & Everything Human. Between the two of them I think we have the best teachers of social navigation. And neither of them would exist without the writing life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The writer's life informs every word written, every word that survives the red pen before it gets to the editor. Conan Doyle's literary life was lived at Undershaw for a decade. And what a significant decade it was. Arthur Conan Doyle took on the persona of his own creation, Sherlock Holmes, and solved two mysteries that lead to over turned convictions & were helpful in establishing Britain's Court of Criminal Appeal in addition to penning most of the Holmes adventures. Undershaw has welcomed literary friends and peers such as Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolfe and J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame. One does not have to spend much energy imagining what vivid conversations may have taken place while Conan Doyle was in residence at Undershaw.... nor what characters future vivid Undershaw conversations might beget.

If  there is a future.

Undershaw had been slated for redevelopment until a group of passionate fans and conservationists began the fight to block demolition and rehabilitation as luxury flats. In 2012 development was halted after a heated legal battle. Now the battle to fund the preservation and restoration ensues with the Undershaw Preservation Trust at the helm. Various campaigns around the world have begun to find funds for the venture. The latest one to come to me was in my Facebook feed this morning. I did not hesitate to sign this petition. Though I did hesitate to donate to the ipetions page. prefer to send money directly to Undershaw. Should you chose to send a gift, here is a direct link

True, Conan Doyle lived many places in England. Some of them are now private residences, there is a Sherlock Holmes museum. The argument for not registering the home as a historical landmark due to lack of architectural interest is certainly valid. In its glory days it was not that much different than any other manse of its time. Undershaw was not supposed to be a grand architectural statement like the home of Edith Wharton here in America. Undershaw was to be Mrs. Doyle's retreat to recover from illness and a place for Conan Doyle to write. The architecture is not the thing.

The Literature is the Thing!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the writer's residence part of Undershaw were preserved? And not because Sherlock is a cultural icon, not because Hollywood needs another monument to its ability to franchise the hell out of anything but because the Literature really is the thing. A Writer's Residency program would be a tremendous tribute to Conan Doyle. While Thomas Hardy can be credited with the birth of the detective genre, and in fact was instrumental in creating Scotland Yard, Arthur Conan Doyle is definitely its most acclaimed teacher & proponent with many acclaimed authors in England and around the world following in his footsteps.

For my own part, living in a city that takes great pride in retrieving buildings of historic significance from the jaws of Decay and Despair while promoting respectful economic growth, I am partial to the idea of usable preservation beyond simple preservation. We are too numerous a species to let things sit upon a shelf so to speak. We must use what we love and love the things that we use. Selfishly, I would love to spend some bleak, misbegotten November at Undershaw under the pretense of writing my great American novel when in fact, I would simply be letting my spirit roam free in hopes of communing with whatever energy the man left behind. If I were to get a novel out of it all the better.

The following link is another blogger's take on Undershaw.
I would hope that one of us would have some influence on the reader's here at 6° of Geekdom and spread awareness. There are a lot of things in this world that need our attention. Saving a smallish building may not seem like much in comparison to saving the Sea, Rainforests, Organic Farms, Wetlands, Endangered Species and our Sanity. It is in the small things that we find a voice and strength to then tend the larger things. Let this be a place to wet your toes before jumping into the ocean to rescue the whales if that should seem to large a task. Small steps lead to larger ones.

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