Russell H. Ragsdale


Five Days of Gratefulness – Day Three

Third day of gratitude:

  1.  I am grateful for Sherlock Holmes.  That may seem a bit strange to you but if A. Conan Doyle hadn’t created this character I would have had to find some other reason to obsess about that old consciousness question: what is going on around us?  In the stories about Holmes we learn that nobody really knows what has happened when something a bit mysterious is taking place except for dear old Sherlock.  If he hadn’t appeared from Doyle’s pen we all might sit complacently thinking we have a pretty good grasp of things.  Wrong!  Post S.H. we are forced to accept that the world is a place of mirrors and smoke and it takes careful attention to detail to sift beneath the illusion to understand what has really taken place.  Disinformation is everywhere and everything seems to have the extra motion of somebodies “spin.”  I was a 13 year old kid, sitting for three weeks alone in a sort of dormitory in Nyborg Denmark when I read the complete Sherlock Holmes.  I read both books from cover to cover as I immersed myself in the dangerous and desperate Victorian world and the mysterious crimes they detailed.  That book changed my life because I decided that I had better start noticing things, particularly details, if I didn’t want to stay a part of that group of people who really didn’t have a clue.  Sadly the fictional world of that book can’t be lived in this real one and I still struggle to understand what is going on around me but, as a result of paying close attention to details, my conscious awareness expanded and I discovered I was living in a richer and more varied world than most people.  I already knew I was different when at age 11 I started writing plays instead of playing with the other kids.  Now I was even more different (post S.H.) and the only option that remained available to me as an adult was to become a poet.  Thanks Shirley!
  2. I am grateful for Falstaff.  Taking a step further back in time to Shakespeare, Falstaff is a fictional character that I sometimes write poems to or about. He was rather loveable and a real hedonist but he was also amusing, not only with the considerable wit given him but also with his foibles and his humanity (not in the noblest sense of that word).   I have always felt a kind of affinity to him even though he was a coward and a cheat.  I hold him up to myself like that convex mirror the Dutch artists and philosophers used to gaze at themselves in to try to see into their own souls.  So far I understand that his life was comprised of nothing serious or noble and a kind of “let’s have fun and enjoy ourselves until we need more money” type of existence that gave word service to more meaningful interests but was actually poorly motivated to do anything about them.  That is clearly a danger for us all in this modern world, with its consumerism and its massive interest in convenience.  Falstaff was also terribly self-absorbed.  That is a much more personal danger as I am a writer, which means I must spend much of my time alone.  People who are sick and people who must spend much time alone tend to structure their thoughts around and about themselves in the end result.  A common form of punishment for mankind is to force the person who is to be punished to be without the company of others, ostensibly, I would assume, so that they will contemplate their wrongdoings.  I find I must be alone so that I can write so I also must avoid thinking too much about myself while I’m creating.  But I think the biggest lesson I learn from Falstaff is the one about courage.  It seems to me that it was his cowardliness that really made him the victim of living a meaningless life.  I learn from him that I must have the courage to create or else I must personally slip into that misty realm of “What is for dinner?  Do you have any wine?” and thus avoid the danger of an empty life. 
  3. I am grateful for brave Odysseus.  Thousands of years ago Homer gave us the story of a bunch of soldiers and their quest for revenge.  It seems the motivations of mankind haven’t changed much in the intervening millennia.  The most remarkable story for me is the Odyssey because it seems so personal to me.  Sure Odysseus is brave and he is able to overcome some terrible dangers because he is also clever as well as an excellent fighter but scary monsters aren’t the only thing he has to face.  Homer cleverly shows us two kinds of dangers and Odysseus is finally trapped by the second type.  The first kind of danger is the type that scares you.  Mythological dangers require that you be fearless, clever and an excellent fighter and not many could survive the dangers of the Minotaur, the Cyclops, and Medusa armed with just a sword and shield.   The second type of danger is first shown to us as the Sirens who don’t frighten you at all but rather lull you in so that you can meet your demise on their perilous coastline.  In this case, our hero’s cleverness is enough to save him and he makes his crew put wax in their ears so as to not be enticed by the irresistible song of the Sirens.  Now let me say that I also am a traveler and thus feel a lot of affinity with Odysseus.  Especially when he meets Circe who is finally able to hold him prisoner without any bars.  She welcomes him and offers him food and drink.  She is beautiful and love is an agreeable pastime.  Hey the food is good, there’s plenty to drink, she is beautiful and has a talent with music and no matter how clever he is he is stuck for years on her island.  You see the secret to imprisoning someone is to not make them feel like they are a prisoner.  That is just so modern that I can’t believe it can happen to me... but it certainly can!  How does a traveler know when he’s stayed too long and had too much fun?  How do we know when the comfort of our lives has become a prison without bars?  Thanks Odysseus for making me think!