When it comes to school, first-day jitters are elementary, Watson.
Today marks the first day of school for two-thirds of our household. Our son, Dashiell, is starting kindergarten — a milestone transition — and I’m teaching my first classes of the new semester at George Mason University.
Not incidentally, the other one-third of the house, my wife, Tara, started a new job over the summer — and all of us moved to a new house in early August. We’re still unpacking, endlessly, it seems.
Dash is excited about kindergarten, but he’s also a little bit — hold your thumb and forefinger about an inch apart — scared. As I’ve explained to him, that’s normal. Mama was nervous about her first day at the new job, but all’s working out there. And we were all a mix of excited and sad about moving from one home to another. Bittersweet — that was the word Dash learned in early August. Many conflicting emotions.
I’m anxious today myself, I’ll admit — more than usual at the start of a new semester, because I’m teaching for the first time a new course called simply “Sherlock.”
Why am I nervous? Well, I’m more an enthusiast than an authority when it comes to the world of Sherlock (though I have several actual authorities as guest speakers, including Peter Blau, Dana Cameron, Carla Coupe, Dana Richards, Michael Sims, and Daniel Stashower — thanks again to all).
This is also the first time I’ve taught a 75-person class, and I’m ultimately more of a discussion leader than a lecturer, so how’s that going to work? I do have a TA for the class, which is a major plus (she’s hardworking and, frankly, brilliant), but still…
Well, Dash and I are together in venturing into unknown territory.
It has indeed been fun to dive into the Holmes canon again while prepping the syllabus. We’ll be reading A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles, as well as a mix of well-known and lesser-known selections from the stories: “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” of course, but I’m grouping “The Red-headed League” with both “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk” and “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” — the latter two in some ways recycling elements of the former.
Many of the Holmes stories have “adventure” in the title — a word I’ve emphasized to Dash frequently over the years and pretty often recently — and much of my course prep has been an adventure for me, too, exploring Otto Penzler’s recent anthology, The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, an array of pastiches and parodies and more, those further adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Holmes-related characters in the hands of other writers.
Some stories I knew, some I discovered for the first time myself. Among the ones I’m including are “The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness” by Lyndsay Faye, “The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman, “Mrs. Hudson’s Case” by Laurie R. King, and “The Adventure of the Agitated Actress” by Daniel Stashower. (And let me give a shout-out to another guest speaker’s contribution: Dana Cameron’s infectiously fun standalone story “The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet.”)
I recognize that many of the students in my class enrolled not because of the stories they’ve read but because of the TV they’ve watched (Sherlock’s last name these days could well be Cumberbatch), but I’m looking forward to giving them some fresh adventures as well. Because what better word for entering for the first time the world of Holmes and Watson in those original stories?
Several strands of my column here keep bringing me back to Dash.
At our kindergarten’s open house last Thursday, Tara and I chatted briefly with Julia Trieber, a reading specialist for the school, who asked Dash if he liked books. He does (thank goodness!), and it gave me a little thrill thinking of all the worlds that learning to read will open up for him.
Like those students in my class, though, he also enjoys his TV, and one of his favorite shows right now is the late-1980s, early-1990s series “The Real Ghostbusters.” Coincidentally, in the midst of my syllabi prep last week, we watched an episode that brought the spirits of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, and the Hound to modern-day Manhattan — a challenging bit of ectoplasm, since these characters aren’t dead, having never actually lived. “Belief made manifest,” as one ghostbuster explained: Readers believe in Holmes so strongly that he’s become real.
After the episode was over, I talked to Dash more about Holmes and Watson, and he asked, wide-eyed, “Dad, can you read me one of those stories sometime?”
What adventures ahead for all of us!