Okay you guys. Unless The Good Old Index fails me, there doesn’t appear to be any direct reference to Holmes being right handed. It’s possible that he is depicted using his right hand to do things more often, which might lead to that assumption, though to be fair I favour my right hand for some things despite being ambidextrous, so that is meaningless.
In short, there doesn’t appear to be any blatant instance of Conan Doyle telling us which hand, if any, Holmes favours.
Quoth The Raven
Getting to the bottom of recurrence, as it has been as much a part of my life as cancer itself, I’ve sought out its meaning; and meaning for me has become sanctuary, even the act of seeking out meaning. Different dictionaries all conclude that to recur is an intransitive verb There are a few words like to die or to go or to sleep, to lie, or to sit, that, for example, are never going to be transitive. To recur is one of these verbs. It doesn’t suffer from ambitransitive-ness. It is what it is. Forevermore.
The “forevermore.” Reminds me…
“And [ ‘Recurrence’ ] never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!” [my bold]
I can write, “My cancer has recurred,” and it’s enough. Then there’s always this: “The cancer recurred in my lungs, 4 spots now, all measured in mmm (2 in each lung), and one bigger mass in my psoas muscle, maybe 2 or 3 cm.” The latter part of this, the prepositional phrase, is a luxury. It’s opulent, grand even.
In my mind, these days, who needs the rest of the sentence? Some would argue, “The phrase is a more specific, detailed fleshing out of the problem. The first gets at it, Raf,” they’d tell me. “Yes; but the second part, yes, the second part really gives us, the guts.”
“The guts?” I’d ask. “I’ve given the ‘guts’ with ‘my cancer has recurred.’ There’s no more ‘guts’ that that.” I’d ask them. It’s cancer. It’s recurred. Who cares, lungs and abdomen? Who cares lymph nodes and livers and brains? Who cares colons or renal glands or prostates? Who cares kidneys and bladders and intestines and pancreases. Who cares stages 3’s and 4s and three months to live or four? It’s always, rather plainly, ‘my cancer has recurred.’” It’s what I’ve told people. They don’t want that. They want the prepositional phrases. They want the adjectives and the adverbs. Never the thing-in-itself.
* * *
To recur, ( -curred, -curring ), most commonly means “occurring again, periodically, or repeatedly (see above examples).
Like: (recurring) Can you see and understand the recurring theme? Like: Why does Poe use the raven as a recurring symbol throughout his poem, “The Raven”?
Like: of a thought, image, or memory come back to one’s mind: In Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” the Protagonist’s own fears and desires keep recurring to him, even as he tries to forget and move forward, empty without Lenore, because his fears and desires speak directly to the opposite of his own sense of self; and it was this recurring“opposite sense of self” that he had held allegiance to for all these years even if this “sense of self” was potentially the most harmful thing in his life. Had he mistakenrecurrence for consistency and value and sensibility?
Moreover, the New Oxford American Dictionary notes that the word recurrence is a noun and a derivative of ‘recur.’
Like: My recurrence is back, and you’re gonna be in trouble (Hey La. Hey La…). Or, better, I’m experiencing a recurrence. Which is a strange sentence anyway because it suggests it’s a person, place, or thing that hangs around me for an inconsistent and indeterminate amount of time. My recurrences strike me as being like a loiterer. Similar to Poe’s raven, standing on the bust of Pallas, the goddess of wisdom — at the highest point in the room, lording over. Similar to Poe’s raven, the recurrence is a haunting (in Sweden, the raven is the ghost of murdered peoples. In Germany, recurr — um, I mean, ravens are the souls of the damned; and in Danish folklore, ravens could lead people astray. And yet, in various mythologies, ravens are god-like figures — both Tricksters and the Creator God. In Poe’s poem, and in my life, he is both, the damned and the Creator).
The origins of recurrence are Middle-English (in the sense [return to]): from Latin “recurrere,” from re- ‘again, back’ + currere which means ‘run.’
All that out of the way, the deeper meaning of the word ‘recurrence,’ something I’ve been forced to read and see and hear and understand, something far beyond the mere medical definition and its ramifications is stimulating in its own right. It’s not just a symbol of resistance to treatment, to chemotherapies and surgeries, trials and protocols and prayer and eating well and exercising at least an hour a day. Recurrence has become an idea that is central to my life and maybe always has been central to my life, and I’ve just been too blind to read it and see. The notion of recurrence is central to all of our lives with or without disease: whether it’s the past we’re reckoning with, the return of a jilted lover, the dreaminess of a middle-aged man in the midst of a cliched or not so cliched crisis, or, plainly enough, the days we wake to everyday: the medium triple-shot latte I order everyday at Starbucks and their attempt to correct my language by saying, “You mean a ‘grande, triple-shot latte?’”, the routes we choose to drive or walk to get to work, the work we do, the hours we give to sleep (“I’ve got to have at least 8 hours of sleep every night or else I’m nothing the next day!”), the alarm clock everyday faithfully at 6:13 a.m. It’s this “everydayness” as Walker Percy describes in his wonderful novel The Moviegoer, our being sunk in “everydayness.” This being “sunk” is disease enough because it blinds us to the potential of recurrence. (And everyone has it — most of us are sunk).
We are all seeking Lenore, the absent woman of Poe’s “The Raven.” We’re all going crazy for her and the absence. Sunk in the narrator’s library looking at the raven on the bust of Pallas proclaiming, “Nevermore.”
The most interesting dictionary definition is third one in the OED. It tells us that ‘recurrence’ is, as with oceans, “a flowing back.” Lastly, ‘recurrence’ is a reversion to “an ancestral type” — to return to something older amidst the chaos of the modern world — reverting to another, older kind of thinking to alleviate the alienation of now even if that new-old thinking could alienate one further.
In this sense, my recurrence of cancer, two spots in each lung and one in the anterior abdomen, has forced me out of Percy-ian everydayness and into something more primal and necessary. To “back run” (the literal putting together of ‘re-’ and ‘currere’) is to run into myself, back into the buried. The recurrence of cancer, sure, is the splitting of cells and the failure of my body’s environment to deal with it, but outside that easy and diseased definition, the recurrence is also a moment that allows me to revert, flow back, and potentially find meaning — if done well and purposefully. No wonder Poe’s raven sits atop the bust of Pallas, the goddess of Wisdom. What recurrence is, when used in the aforementioned ways, is an allowance to read again and see again the world we’ve been fundamentally reading poorly and not closely enough. Of course the raven sits atop the bust, for the man who has lost Lenore “for evermore” believes wisdom is the highest thing to be attained, what will help ameliorate terror. It’s why the bust holds prominence in the room (and is usually taught in American Literature classes as the symbol of rationality and reasonableness, what is, we teach wrongly I’d argue, lost to the man), but the bird, taking hold of the bust lets the narrator potentially see the world as it is. The bird offers a new worldview, a new ability to close-read. Yet even we, as readers, are as confused and terrified at the bird’s gaze. It’s what makes Poe so eerie. But, living with recurrence, Poe’s poem can’t help me think that what the bird is doing is teaching. His lesson, “Nevermore,” is a good one. A lesson that should be memorized, but to us and, more importantly, to the widower the lesson is lost — especially as he is a man who is living in the midst of recurrence.
He is given an opportunity to move beyond what is known as “wisdom.” For isn’t “wisdom” in the story a statue of Pallas, mere replica of the goddess of Pallas (much like Caesar’s Palace is a replica of ancient Rome)? Isn’t the bust of wisdom a symbol of something worldly and therefore transitory, and what’s so spooky about the bird is that he speaks about a notion — “nevermore” — that transcends the worldly and right now — Poe brilliantly brings our eyes not to the bust of Pallas, but, more importantly to that which is physically higher, therefore most authentic. He toys with us. We want to see the bust, because the bird and his pronouncement is just to scary to believe in and see and know. “Nevermore” (the repeated answer the bird gives to various questions posed by the narrator) speaks not to a horror but to a truth that extends beyond the grave and our fear of it.
Sometimes the answer we’re given isn’t the answer we wanted or ever wanted. It’s true we weren’t asked to be born, but we must be responsible for the kinds of questions we ask even if it means the answers we find disrupt our lives in terrifying ways. Actually, with almost four years of treatment under my belt, I’m still terrified, but I find myself trying to ask the kinds of necessary questions that may make my life more full.
“Nevermore,” quoth the raven.
The narrator has mind enough to call him “prophet” because he just might see for a moment; but soon enough it is a “fiend,” “thing of evil,” or “devil,” as the answers he’s given to questions he’s asked are “incorrect.” “Nevermore” is Poe’s attention to the language, that in the everyday there is meaning even in the transitory and worldly. And it recurs over and over again, but do we stop to think about recurrences, to stop and say, “Hold it a minute, I’ve seen (or heard) this before. What does it mean?”
As powerful as my cancer growing again, itself sort of yelling out, “Nevermore.” Believe me, there have been days where I, like the narrator of Poe’s poem:
“shrieked upstarting - […]
Leave my loneliness unbroken! […]
Take thy beak from out my heart, […]’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’”
But the problem was never the cancer or the recurrence, the real disease was the inability and ineffectualness of my desire to read well the world before me and to build a new thesis statement that would somehow account for the life I find myself in. I often tell my students (and this is a major part of the second half of an essay of mine on my other blog Pacific Coast Time called “Everywhere. Going Everywhere.”) that they should be prepared to, mid-essay, re-write their thesis statements because they might find that their evidence has taken them in new and exciting directions. They are too often ready to crash and burn with the ones they’ve built. We are too, it seems, ready to crash and burn with the faulty theses we’ve built because to destroy them would be to start again, to return to the beginning, and who would want to do that? What would it mean, we might ask ourselves, to return to the beginning? What if I have to deal with the unforeseen, turn over that rock or this rock?
Progress is moving forward! we shriek. Progress is always moving forward, we tell one another. It’s in the language of our day. The president implores us to try and “own the future” or, better yet, “win the future.”
Building sound thesis statements that might mirror our lives and be testaments to the kind of lives we want to live should be our aim. We should attempt to be open to, recognize, and closely inspect the recurrences of daily life for they must mean something. They’re recurring! To forever be attuned to recurrence is allowing us to be in the process of “going everywhere.” Everywhere at once. I’ve come to think progress is not always moving forward. Progress is going everywhere even at the price of maybe being forced to deal with the problems of any and all beginnings — the blank page for the writer. Cursor blinking. Waiting. For you. Forevermore.
* * *
My cancer has recurred. I’ve so much ahead of me. Who could blame me for being so anxious and drearily dark sometimes, but on other days, being so dazzled by the potentiality of days, these recurrent days. Living with cancer, I’ve learned that recurrence is greater than wisdom, as we know it and understand it today. Being attuned to recurrence(s) is seeing. It is being-there. It is the Beautiful. It is forevermore because it is in the heart and is of hope, which is a place right between the roar and silence of things. I’ve come to pride myself in recurrence even if it does come on the heels of hearing the doctor telling me, “I’m sorry, son, the chemotherapy didn’t work. You’ve got cancer again. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”