Make Yourself at Holmes

I don’t like to make assumptions about the New Year. But this time, dealing with it may be … elementary.

For those of you who missed it, Sherlock Holmes has escaped copyright, an opponent more tenacious than Professor Moriarty. As of 2023, the Great Detective is fully in the public domain, allowing the free use of the stories and characters in any medium. Why, we could see novels, movies, TV shows …

Hmm. OK, then.

If this sounds a little confusing, I don’t blame you. After all, Sherlock Holmes is already one of the best-known and most heavily utilized fictional characters in history. New stories appear every year, maybe every month. You can find him in board games. You can find him on stage. If you looked hard enough, you could probably find him in breakfast cereal. Could he be any more public?

As it happens, even Inspector Lestrade could predict the answer: lawyers. Holmes, as it turns out, has long lived in a legal gray area. The bulk of his stories by Arthur Conan Doyle did indeed come into the public domain ages ago. But with a small number of the tales still under copyright, Doyle’s estate could and did battle (most recently with Netflix)  over “unauthorized” use of the character. So he was public, but … not that public?

I could get even further into the silliness of protecting an author’s rights for nearly a century after his death. (Doyle passed away in 1930.) But no one wants to start the new year with a thesis on intellectual property law.  Well, except maybe Sherlock’s smarter brother Mycroft, but he hasn’t been returning my texts lately.

Instead, in honor of this year’s literary liberation, I’d like to suggest a few Sherlock-style resolutions for 2023:

  • Pay Attention: Everyone knows the scene where Holmes meets a client and rattles off the person’s complete biography, based on details he’s noticed. Most of us aren’t going to be THAT observant, but we can make sure to focus on the people around us and better understand where they’re at and what they’re going through.
  • Reason, Don’t Assume: Holmes’ most famous proverb is that “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” But sifting one from the other takes thought. If a claim seems wild, check it out. If a claim seems to support what you already believe, check it out even harder – after all, how often do the police in a Holmes story jump to the easy conclusion?
  • Find the Right Experts: Holmes talks to people. Constantly. He talks to medical examiners about the state of a corpse, carriage drivers about a suspect’s movements, even informers about the criminal underworld. But he doesn’t ask a street urchin about the Queen. Find the people and sources who can help you learn, and be careful in judging sources.
  • Use Your Down Time: There will be time “between cases,” so find a way to restore yourself. That said, Holmes isn’t always the best model for how to spend that time. When he goes to a concert or peruses the news, that’s great. When he uses his drawing-room wall for target practice … not so much.
  • Keep a Close Friend: Every Holmes needs his Watson, after all.

With that, best wishes for the year ahead. We’ve all been through some strange adventures lately, and there’s surely more mystery to come. But keep working on the puzzle. And whatever success you find, I hope you lock it in.

Or even Sherlock it in.

Hi, Resolution

All right, it’s time for a little bit of January heresy.

I’ve never been a big believer in New Year’s resolutions.

Don’t get me wrong. Goals are great. Commitments are wonderful. But making a big promise just because Jan. 1 happens to show up on the calendar – to hit the gym, to write the novel, to finally understand the offside rule in soccer – always seemed a little odd to me.

Why now?

Yes, I know the answer to that one, or as much of an answer as there is. The New Year’s a symbol of change. Speaking realistically, there’s very little that separates Dec. 31, 2020 from January 1, 2021. But when the date ticks over, it’s a reminder that things keep changing … and in the case of the late unlamented 2020, not a moment too soon.

So it’s natural to want to change ourselves, too. But making a change just because it’s Official Changing Time doesn’t have a great track record. As I noted last year, about 8% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them. The Broncos offensive line performs better than that.

So maybe it’s time for a different approach.

One that’s focused less on what we’d like to be and more on who we are.

I’ll explain.

I’ve learned a lot of important lessons in life, many of them the hard way. About how little control I really have over things. About living with loss and honoring memory. About taking the time to truly appreciate who we have while we have them, and the notes they bring to our common song.

Most of all, though, I have learned and learned and learned how to hope. Not the sort of dewy-eyed “Gee, maybe someday all this will get better” expectation, but a real belief that by acting together, we can make things better – which means that I can’t shirk my part of that.

Time and again, it’s been that ability to hope and that willingness to back it up with effort that have made a difference. It’s been a solution over and over.

So much so, that I’ve started thinking of it as a re-solution.
And that, I submit, is what we really need to look to in this new year.

It’s important to grow. But it’s just as important to examine ourselves, see the worthwhile things that have already grown in us, and commit to reinforcing them. Just like the plants you want to save, those solutions need to be fed, watered, strengthened.  

They’re what got you this far. And they’ll ultimately be the roots for the growth that lasts.

It’s not easy. A lot of times, it’s downright exhausting. I’ve seen my fighting hope sucked into the ceiling fan again and again, taking fresh lumps each time.

But I’ve also seen it helped build a family. A new career. A place to go to when things are at their worst, whether it’s the personal loss of a cousin or the shared loss of a normal reality.

My re-solution is still there.

And like any well-worked muscle, it keeps getting stronger with use.

That’s what will carry us through.

Resolutions help mark a change in time. Re-solutions confirm a change in life. They’re not always as simple as that promise to take guitar lessons (which I still need to do) but they undergird so much of what matters.

Find your re-solutions. Feed them well. Put them to work and don’t let up.

Who knows? Maybe when December comes around again, we’ll actually want to look forward to what’s ahead. I’m sure hoping to.

Just as long as it doesn’t involve that blasted offside rule.

Screening the New Year

The lights went dark. The ads went quiet. The familiar words appeared on the screen.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …

And with that, it was time to hit the holiday hyperdrive into another universe – even if it was without the usual crew.

Once upon a time, this would have been time spent with my Dad. After I graduated college and took my first job in Kansas, I made sure to come back to Colorado for the holidays. That was when our favorite literary universe of Middle-Earth first hit the big screen, so Dad and I always carved out a night to go see it. From there, it became a habit, even after I came back to the Front Range.

The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit. Jason Bourne. Harry Potter. The Force Awakens. Something big and bold and splashy to wave out the old year and welcome the new one. As a kid, this would have been a summertime adventure, especially since Star Wars movies were always released in May. Now, it was something as brilliant as any string of Christmas lights and as dependable as any Times Square ball dropping.

This year, the count’s off a little bit. This year, with my parents in Washington State, it was my 7-year-old nephew Gil who got to see The Last Jedi with Dad. (Funny enough, that’s the same age at which I saw The Empire Strikes Back with Dad and became a fan for life.) This year, Heather and I watched the movie with friends even while our memories were with an audience far, far away.

And this year, it still felt more right than any countdown with Dick Clark ever could.

I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions. Easily made, easily forgotten. But with apologies to Robert Fulghum, everything I do know about New Year’s lessons, I learned from a night at the movies:

The story will go unexpected places. Let it. With the Tolkien movies, it was because Hollywood can never leave a literary adaptation alone, even when it’s done well. With something that’s pure cinema, like Star Wars, the directors will still have something in their back pocket. Maybe several somethings. (“Darth Vader is his what??”) Whatever story you find, take it on its own merits and follow where it goes – arguing about it in your head at the time will just mean you miss the best parts.

Talk with your family. Some of those surprises, of course, fueled many a conversation outside of the theater. The fate of Han Solo. The craftiness of Luke. Talking about them afterward not only drove them in more firmly, they tied us more firmly and created a family story to go with the fictional one.

Never give up hope. OK, this is practically routine for Hollywood, but it still bears remembering. Empire became one of my favorite films because its victory was survival. Nobody blew up a battle station. Everyone came away battered and scarred, sometimes literally. But they did get away. The fight went on, with promises made that friends would not be forgotten. That’s something that I think most of us can identify with.

Remember, and say goodbye. Not everyone gets to finish the story. On screen, we got that memory – and a catch in the throat — as Carrie Fisher performed what would be her last turn as Leia. Off screen … well, we all have our own separations and farewells, none of them at a time we would have chosen. Acknowledge them. They’re part of your tale.

Now it’s time for a new chapter. And whether it enters to the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” or of John Williams, it will be yours to tell. Tell it well.

And don’t forget to bring a few dollars for popcorn.

Forward With Resolution

I opened our Christmas present from my brother-in-law and his wife … and started to laugh.

“Brad, Rena,” I told them, “you guys have to open our gift now.”

They did – and soon joined the laughter. Somehow, in a fit of holiday inspiration, we’d gotten each other the same board game.

“Good taste!” we agreed.

Somehow, it seems a fitting way to enter the new year.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Eve festivities.  It’s not really my kind of holiday – I don’t drink, I’m not a huge party-goer, I already stay up past midnight, and the whole year-in-review business, while kind of fun, reminds me too much of work.

But the core of it all – and you knew this was coming – are the resolutions.

Those famous, impossible resolutions.

A lot of us make them. Almost none of us keep them. I’ve seen one set of statistics that suggests a 90 percent failure rate; frankly, I suspect that’s on the low side.

We keep doing it, of course. After all, it’s a new year, a turn of the calendar, a roll of Father Time’s odometer. Perfect time for a fresh start, right?

Until it isn’t.

So why do we blow it so badly?

OK, some of it might be the natural collision of willpower with won’t power. But I think there’s something more.

I think we overestimate our foresight.

I’ve known my brother-in-law for 14 years. We’ve got a good idea of each other’s characters, our likes and dislikes, a little bit of personal history. Armed with all that, we still couldn’t predict that we’d wind up with matching gifts.

If I can’t even anticipate that, how the heck do I go about predicting what I’ll most need to do for an entire year?

Like a lot of generals, we fight the last war. At this point last year, I had decided that my main goal was going to be to write for myself a bit more, maybe even get something published. A worthy enough goal, certainly within my abilities.

Since I’m writing it in this column, you can guess what the result was. And I don’t mean a No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

But the thing is, the year was far from wasted.

This was the year of a new home, a new family. This was the year Heather and I became guardians for her young aunt Missy, a role that’s led me to be a combination parent, big brother, and friend.  It’s a year where I got to enjoy the role of “Uncle Scott” to my infant nieces and nephew; a time where I continued to write in the midst of an often topsy-turvy industry; even a time where I got to be part of one of the best shows the Longmont Theatre Company has ever produced (he said modestly).  I celebrated at a relative’s wedding and then cried at her husband’s funeral before the year was out.

Almost none of that could have been anticipated on  Dec. 31, 2010.

It’s said that every general fights the last war. I think we do the same with our lives. We think next year will be last year with minor revisions. Sometimes it’s true. More often, there’s surprises.

And in the face of that, all our resolutions and plans go out the window.

Mind you, it’s not a useless thing to set goals. But the best resolutions are those made every morning, not every year. They’re the ones where you can look at the day ahead, look at the life that faces you, and decide “This will be the best day it can be.” And then do your best to make it so.

A year is a long span. As you cross it, remember that each day is a gift.

And  no one else will unwrap one quite like it.