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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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adventure

So, In Solitude, You Can Hear Yourself Think…….

…….and that’s not as easy or as fun as it sounds.  Trust me on this – I am the over-thinker extraordinaire and getting out of my head is a task unto itself.  Embracing solitude and being alone with your thoughts can be intimidating or even frightening – my observation has been that those who fear or are uncomfortable with their own thoughts tend towards unhealthy or toxic situations and habits.  For me, solitude, being solitary and alone with my thoughts is as natural as breathing.

Also, thinking is how I get my brilliant story ideas, so at least there’s a trade-off.

I’m a solitary introvert with the occasional social tendencies. This means that, while I tend to prefer the company of Me, Myself and I, there are times when I also want to be in the company of others and share in conversation or experiences.  I’m also an Asperger’s, which may be why I’m comfortable with being solitary, but it’s also high-functioning and I’ve got the tools to navigate the social world.  Somewhere, there is a post about the times I enjoy socializing and the pros and cons of such an effort, but this is not that post.  This post is about solitude, why I enjoy it and the frustrations of trying to communicate this bit of joy to those who thrive on social interaction.

So, here goes.

Being solitary is my nature.  It’s something I don’t put a lot of thought into and it certainly never had a negative impact on me.  I’m free to entertain my own schedule and alter course as I please.  I can be as excited and energized over something I enjoy as I want – likewise, I can also be as introspective and contemplative as I want.  In neither case do I have to worry about a person being uncomfortable in my presence. [1]  When I go on my mini-road trips, I have no responsibility to anyone but myself and I am therefore able to see the details around me that would otherwise go unnoticed.

In solitude, everything can be seen and felt.

Details like dragonflies and hummingbirds flitting by; a sea otter playing in the bay; the sounds of gulls and seals arguing over property rights; waves crashing over a jetty; silence wrapping itself around you while walking along a dirt path; the smell of wet earth and the canopy of trees shielding you from the sun.

In my world, being solitary is heavenly, energizing in a way that I can only compare to working on a  play – which involves people.  There’s a kind of synergistic high as an actor when you connect with the audience and your fellow actors. The fact that I have a literal script to follow is an absolute bonus – as someone with Asperger’s, this allowed me to see structure in social interaction. [2]  This is probably the reason I thrived in theater for so many years – I had a literal blueprint for something that confused the hell out of me off-stage.  As an Asperger’s, having a script that told me what to do, what to say and when was a HUGE relief and it was probably the most social thing I ever did.  I not only willingly chose to participate with other people, but I also felt comfortable enough to keep separate at times without drawing criticism. [3]

Mask created by Robert Lamarche.

Being social in other environments requires me to wear a mask, so that I can at least pass for ‘normal’ – whatever that means. [4]  The pressure I feel to be just the right amount of social and Self in order to go out and mingle with people is so stressful that I’m already exhausted before I set foot outside my bedroom, let alone my house.  It’s sensory overload, or the anticipation of it, anyway.

How can I describe this, so that you, the person reading this, understands?  Because language is very important when communicating, I make an effort to find the right words.  I have many friends who are extroverts and thrive on social events.  I have an equal number of friends who are introverts and thrive on their own company.

People who are extroverts, and are used to being stimulated by external influences, may find solitude depressing or even frightening.  An extrovert friend mentioned something along those lines to me and I suggested that perhaps it’s because when you’re alone, you’re faced with yourself – no distractions, no filters, no smoke and mirrors.  Just you, your Self and your thoughts.

And that can be frightening – what kind of person are we when we’re alone?  Are we really the person we think we are, hope we are?  Or are we less than we hope to be?

It’s something I’ve reflected on, consciously and unconsciously, my entire life.  I’ve never been uncomfortable being on my own or alone, because that’s my constant state.  It has always been that way.  Do I want to share my world with someone?  Of course, I do.  But I’d like it if people would stop automatically assuming it’s because I’m lonely (“You need to learn how to be alone”) or that I don’t have a life (news flash – just because my life doesn’t live up to what you think it should be, doesn’t mean I don’t have one) or some other lame-ass opinion.

If I’m inviting you into my world, it’s because I think you’d not only enjoy it, but that you’d add to it, just as my presence might add to yours. [5]

Being alone is my preferred state.  I am not forced to be in a box to make others comfortable, I am free to be as elemental as I want and, while occasionally frustrating, my thoughts are perfectly suited as company.  I lack for nothing in my life as a solitary person – I have my own beat, I have my art and stories to research, I have horses and cats and the occasional foray into social interactions.  I also have my adventures to plan.

And the best adventurers are usually loners……with the occasional side-kick.

[1] I’m aware that what other people think of me is A. none of my business and B. who gives a fuck.

[2] Real life needs to be scripted. It also needs to be accompanied with a music score, so that one could more easily recognize certain situations for what they are.  A bad situation in alley is easy to recognize – a bad situation surrounded by people whom you know, not so much.

[3] I was once cornered at a table by two people whom I’d known for at least three years in the same social setting.  They knew of my Asperger’s and the techniques I utilized to take care of myself when feeling overwhelmed in social settings, and yet chose to be critical of me and those techniques.  My crime?  Sitting by myself, writing in my journal about the day I’d had, the enjoyment I’d felt and the people I’d chosen to share it with.

[4] I’m aware of the fact that others may feel overwhelmed and stressed in social gatherings, but they can either tell their own stories or be quiet. Dismissing and/or talking over someone who is opening up and trying to articulate their discomfort, their feelings and experience as best they can is disrespectful, to say the least.

[5] Before you make assumptions about someone, it’s best to look at why you’re making those assumptions.

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So, I was thinking some random thoughts this morning……

……..about life, the universe and everything (the answer is 42). I found myself thinking about Ireland again (it never really goes away, memories of places that claim your heart) and of the two, very different, reactions I got when I mentioned the trip.

Reaction #1 – “You’re going to Ireland! How exciting!”

This was the general response and it would devolve into the minutiae of what I was going to see, when I was going, how long, etc. I loved these conversations because they reminded me of what was to come. I had no idea of what to expect, beyond just getting there. So I learned to not expect anything.

A lot of planning and packing, re-packing and organizing went on in the six or seven months before I left. I like to make sure I’ve prepared for every contingency. Also, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get started.

Reaction #2 – “I bet you’ll meet someone.”

Or variations of that.

I was always a little nonplussed by that comment. I was going to Ireland, not Mars – of course I was going to meet people.

Invariably, they meant that I would meet a man, a romantic prospect that would add a little sparkle to an already sparkling adventure, with the shelf-life of the trip’s duration.

This wasn’t wrong for them to hope and I appreciated their love for me, in wanting that for me, a little romance to garnish what I already had.

I didn’t plan my trip for any reason other than to visit the land of my great-great grandparents. I wanted to touch the ground they had walked on, maybe get closer to knowing where they may have been born and grew up. I don’t think I’m any closer than I was before the trip, but at least I’m not any further away.

As for love, well, it’ll happen when it happens. I’m too busy with my life to worry about it.

Irish countryside.
Irish countryside.

So, many years ago, I read Good Night, Mr. Holmes…..

…….a novel by Carole Nelson Douglas. It’s a re-telling of A Scandal in Bohemia, told from the point of view of Irene Adler’s companion, Penelope ‘Nell’ Huxleigh. Of all the novels written by various authors set in the Holmes-ian universe, I found these to be closest in spirit and tone to the original stories, while having its own voice and sense of humor.

There are eight titles in the series, of which I only have five (I know, a serious oversight that I am working to correct). Of these novels, two are closely related to the original story, A Scandal in Bohemia – Good Night, Mr. Holmes and Irene’s Last Waltz (it was later re-issued as Another Scandal in Bohemia in 1994).

Narrated by Nell in the same way as Holmes’ adventures are told by Doctor Watson, we follow Irene, Nell and their companions as they travel. Along the way, they meeting significant people of the time, such as Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (the latter two of whom were contemporaries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

Irene and company also find themselves involved in cases that remain a mystery today. In Chapel Noir and Castle Rouge, gruesome murders in Paris echo similar crimes that had occurred only months earlier in London, raising concerns that perhaps Jack the Ripper wasn’t finished. Nellie Bly, who helped Irene hunt down Jack the Ripper in those novels, later involves her in a case that delves deep into Irene Adler’s past.

It always seemed right that ‘The Woman’ would have her own mystery series, with Sherlock Holmes as a minor character. With the great detective enjoying a continued popularity in film, television and novels, it’s refreshing to step into that world and view it and him through the eyes of a villain, a friend, a nemesis, or a respected equal.

If you come across them, snatch them up and read. You’re truly in for a fun and exciting read.

The Irene Adler series, by Carole Nelson Douglas.
The Irene Adler series, by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Recommended:
Good Night, Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas
Good Morning, Irene by Carole Nelson Douglas
Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminisit (A Biography) by Brooke Kroeger

Author website: Carole Nelson Douglas

So, I’m feeling a little bereft……

……now that I’m done re-visiting my trip to Ireland. I’m not sure what course to plot next, but I have some ideas that I’ve started working on. Not necessarily another travel-log, but things that should at least be interesting.

In any case, I’ll try not to mourn the end of my trip down memory lane too much. It was a grand adventure, I feel very lucky that I was able to manage it and I hope to find my way back. Not to repeat it, one can never do that, but to deepen my experience by spending more than one day in a specific place.

That’s the goal, anyway.

In the mean time, I’ve got a novel to finish, a play to revise and a show to act in. Also, it never hurts to plan the next big adventure.

I think I’ll look at Middle-Earth, see if I can convince Gandalf the Gray to take me on one of his quests.

Oh, wait. That’s New Zealand. 😉

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An American Tourist in Ireland (13)

Dinner the night before had been fun – we were entertained by some of live Irish music and a trio of Irish dancers. Lots of laughing and teasing and good food and drink. And then it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the journey home.

Saturday. My last morning in Ireland.

What else can I say? Other than I had to make sure everything was ready, I had showered and dressed. Then, with all my luggage in tow, I made my way down to the restaurant for my last breakfast in Ireland. It was an early trip to the airport, which is always best for checking in one’s luggage and going through the security check points.

I also went through customs at the Dublin airport, prior to getting to my gate. I was prepared to do this when I landed in San Francisco, but because the customs check-point was in the Dublin airport, I didn’t have to. I actually think this is a far more efficient way of doing things – you have the security check-points, then customs, all of which are designed to prevent trouble from getting on the plane.

On the flight back to San Francisco, I finally got to see The Martian (2015) and one other film, before I settled in for a long nap.

On the flight to Dublin, however, I treated myself to The Hobbit (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013).

How else to start an unexpected journey?

bilbo

I enjoyed writing about my trip to Ireland. I was able to recall and embrace certain moments that I’d almost forgotten. It seems to have been an enjoyable read for many.

Thank you for joining me in remembering.

An American Tourist in Ireland (12)

After we left Kilbeggan Distillery, we traveled back to Dublin. We were given the option of staying in the city for a couple of hours or going straight on to the hotel, to clean up and rest before dinner. Some of us (including yours truly), elected to spend a couple of hours in the city before going onto the hotel. The rest of the group went on to the hotel.

I joined a couple from the group and we walked along the streets, exploring some shops. I found some coins on the sidewalk, but half a block later, gave it to someone who needed it more. We had a specific time to meet back up with our tour driver, so even though it felt like a leisurely pace, it was actually the opposite.

I didn’t get many pictures here, either. Again, too much to see and observe than to just point the camera and take pictures. I did manage to get a couple of pictures of Dublin my first day, however, and I’ll share one here:

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.

I was the only one of thirty-five people on the tour to be traveling by myself. I knew no one, not on the tour or in Ireland. If I’m very lucky and keep up my efforts in tracing my family history, I may find relatives in the Emerald Isle.

So, I first encountered Sherlock Holmes……

……..at the age of six, via an old black and white movie on Channel 5, starring Basil Rathbone as the famous detective and Nigel Bruce as his foil and confidant. I don’t recall the movie itself, just that it was black and white and the literary dynamic duo were off on a mystery to solve, but I was hooked. I mean, seriously hooked.

By the age of ten, I had read The Hound of the Baskervilles at least twice. I don’t know what happened to that copy – I probably read it to pieces. I had so many different copies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books and short stories by various publishers that they were contained in one box. This includes the YA books that are similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure, but it’s basically Solve Your Own Mystery with Sherlock Holmes.

I’d seen Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Frank Langella, Nicholas Rowe and Jeremy Brett play the iconic detective. I loved each interpretation, unique to the actor bringing their vision of Holmes to life.

How big of a fan am I of Sherlock Holmes? Well, there’s this picture of myself and friends from high school on Halloween:

Vampire, monkey, Marilyn Monroe & Sherlock Holmes (me).
Vampire, monkey, Marilyn Monroe & Sherlock Holmes on the case.

I still own the deerstalker hat:

The infamous deerstalker hat.
The infamous deerstalker hat.

And I’m fulfilling a childhood dream of learning how to play the violin:

Still waiting patiently, the violin waits.
Patiently, the violin waits.

Watching Elementary (ABC) and Sherlock (BBC) with their modern interpretations of Holmes is both fun and interesting. Elementary, with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, allow the stories to develop over a 22 episode season, while Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, have three ninety minute movies that are packed with detail and nuance. Both shows are worth watching over again, as there is always some detail one misses on the initial viewing, such as a bit of dialogue here or a visual there.

Robert Downey, Jr. brings Sherlock Holmes to life in the 19th century, haunting the foggy streets of London by hansom cab. Sir Ian McKellen, meantime, brings him into the 20th century as an older version of himself, fighting against memory loss and seeking to retain his own dignity.

I’m always intrigued by the various interpretations of this Victorian detective and how he has transcended that era to influence generations of readers, writers and more with his ability to deduce from the barest details the solution to any case presented to him.

I suspect there’s more to mull over on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, but deduce that it will take more than just one blog post to cover it.

 

Recommended:
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Stories & Novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Mr. Holmes (2015) starring Ian McKellen
Teller of Tales: a biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

An American Tourist in Ireland (1)

In books and movies (and the occasional TV show), when the main character goes on vacation, adventure inevitably happens. Agatha Christie wrote quite a few of my favorites, among them, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad. In both novels, a young woman embarks on an adventure – Anne Beddingfeld (TMitBS) for mystery and Victoria Jones (TCtB) for love. Both get far more than they bargained for.

When I embarked on my adventure to Ireland, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I only knew this was a journey I needed to make. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle and that’s pretty much all I know about them. They are the mystery I need to unravel and put the puzzle pieces in the right place, to better know my family, my great-grandfather and myself.

Did I get adventure? Not in the same manner as Anne or Victoria did. I did go to a country that was magical and exciting and both familiar and strange to me. I got a marriage proposal, after a fashion, but it was more in jest than seriousness. I felt Ireland’s history and present merge, depart and walk alongside each other. In a country whose civilization dates back more than ten thousand years, it’s not uncommon to feel that weight.

Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, Newtown Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland
Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, Newtown Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland

History is itself an adventure. So is life.

So, one of the things I like to do is travel……

…….and it’s something I try to do as often as possible, just to recharge my creative spirit. I have a few favorite haunts that I travel to, such as Morro Bay or Long Beach (both in California), and they have that vibe that resonates and makes me feel refreshed. But I often think about places that are further away, like Romania or Egypt or Greece. These places fire my imagination with their histories, their cultures, their mythologies.

Early morning in Morro Bay
Early morning in Morro Bay

I’m not suggesting that in order to write, you must travel and experience different lives and customs, but it helps. If traveling is not in your budget, then reading about your favorite countries and their people is a definite alternative, as is reading their literature and viewing their films and television shows. It’s not the same, sure, but it’s better than nothing. Who knows, you may end up being inspired to set a goal and put a budget aside for something as exciting and as different as travelling to another country.

In addition to the countries I named above, I’ve always wanted to travel to the countries my ancestors emigrated from (there are eleven, mostly north-western European/Scandinavian, but also from the British Isles). I want to breathe in the air that they grew up in, loved and lived in, to walk the streets they did. It’s a secret fantasy that I’ll find and connect with cousins several times removed. If it happens, no one will be more thrilled than I, but it’s not something I expect to occur.

In any case, the point of travel is to experience life in a place that is not familiar, to interact and learn what it is that is the same, as well as what is different. As an artist of any type, whether of the written word or of canvas or music, travel will enrich your soul and mind, which will then translate itself into whatever creative work you’re planning. Get a passport, even if it takes nine years for you to use it. Buy travel guides and maps and foreign language dictionaries of the countries that fascinate you the most.

Travelling is, when you do it, you leave pieces of yourself behind, but you also take pieces of what you encounter with you.

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