Unlicensed sleuthing: a brief appreciation of the amateur detective

Photo by Flickr user Carla216, shared under a Creative Commons license

Amateur mystery solvers of the world, I sing the praises of thee.

Wrong has been done!  And, as all good people must, you seek to right it, solve it, punish it, avenge it, etc.  Anyway you slice it, justice must be rendered, and you're just the person to do it.

Some think this should be the sole purview of the criminal justice system, but you're certain that law and order can't always be maintained by Law and Order (dun-DUN).  In your experience, the police are always overlooking clues (obvious and otherwise), or making assumptions based on incomplete (possibly inaccurate) information.

"It's an open and shut case, stay out of it!  And besides, you're just the medical examiner, a doctor at a nearby hospital, a kid, a writer, maybe even a priest!  What's it to you, anyway?"

For many, this admonition would be enough.  They would drop the issue, not get involved, go back to doing the crossword or to their lucrative medical practice.  But not you, would-be detective!  Your tangential relation to someone in law enforcement, years spent observing the human condition, unique-yet-strangely-applicable skill set acquired from years in an oddball profession, or even just near obsessive need to insert yourself into literally everyone's business makes you ideally qualified to save the day, whether those in power see it or not.

But you're not content to just let the cases stumble into your line of vision, even if they tend to with an almost episodic regularity, and sometimes you need to take the show on the road; amateur Mystery Solver becomes Itinerant Mystery Solver! The reason why isn't important, though it's usually an out-of-state friend in trouble, an upcoming vacation or to a conference, or maybe you've finally burned every figurative bridge with local law enforcement and just need to get scarce for a bit.  What does matter is that you've got that sweet conversion van of yours gassed up and sitting in the driveway, ready to take you on to new locales, friendships with 1970s character actors, or - best case scenario - maybe even a crossover with some other sleuthy busybody.

Is this dangerous?  Sure.  Careless?  Perhaps.  Foolhardy?  Oh yeah, no question.  The fact that you haven't gotten yourself killed yet is nothing short of miraculous.  It's also surprising how few of these matters you're falsely implicated in, given the sort of bodycount your life seems to be acquiring.  No wonder the local police want you out of town and people everywhere else you go wish you would just stay home.  Let's face facts here: you're pretty much the Grim Spectre of Death Itself.  If you've noticed a real drop-off on the number of Christmas cards you've received in recent years, that's probably the reason.

You know deep in your heart you're interfering with due process and that a shocking number of innocent, otherwise uninvolved people have been killed because of your actions, but you carry on fighting the good fight.  Despite the stream of misery and suffering you leave in your wake, it cannot be denied that you have done a lot of good.  You cause as many problems as you solve, but your average trends toward the positive, so you've got that going for you.  Nice job.

Rest assured, amateur mystery solvers of the world... they would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for your meddling.

Refuge, not retreat: when the things that don't matter actually matter the most.

Well... it sure has been a year (or two), huh?

I'm not the sort of person to go around saying "man, the whole world's gone crazy!" because if you look at history even casually then it's pretty easy to see that the whole world has always been going crazy and that maybe we're just noticing it more now because a.) my generation are the adults now and society kinda demands that adults pay some actual attention to that sort of thing once in a while; and b.) thanks to the 24 hour news cycle, the internet, and the unceasing bombardment of screaming information (or screamformation, if you will*), there's just no avoiding it.

That being said... man, the whole world's gone crazy.

No need to get into the particulars.  You know the particulars.  Your particulars may even be very different than my particulars, and if they are, hey, that's fine.  We don't need to get into that here.  Plenty of other places on the internet for you to scream into the void about whatever it is that's on your mind there, sparky.  I'd rather talk about how we deal with it, or at least how I'm dealing with it.

Basically, I'm throwing myself down every pop culture rabbit hole I can find.  Shocking, I know.

Some would say that's just avoiding the problem(s), but I disagree.  I'm not approaching this from a place of antipathy or even apathy.  I'm carving out quiet little places in my brain and in my life when I need a break from the noise and insanity... like Sherlock's mind palace, but with more robots, rubber suited monsters, people in capes, and old-timey comedians in derby hats, for instance.  It's refuge, not retreat.

Refuge has always been important, but it's more vital than ever in our current screamformation environment**. The era of getting the bulk of your news information at the beginning and/or end of the day are long gone.  Although having wider-ranging real-time access to information can be beneficial (and there are plenty of times when it is), the signal-to-noise ratio of our current reality often feels to me like people screaming in our faces all day in the most alarmist way possible since that gets more attention.  Sure, I want to know when the zombie robot shark armada invades, but I don't necessarily need that 3 minutes of actual information couched in 13 hours of speculative commentary, accompanied by accusations that the zombie robot shark armada causes cancer and wants to steal our jobs, or 13 Facts About the Zombie Robot Shark Armada (#7 will astound you!), or anything like that unless I actively seek out that information myself.  Because sometimes I do (every once in a while #7 really does astound me).  But I want to make that choice, not have the everything forcefed down my mental gullet in order to make my brain into informational foie gras.

(Terrible metaphor, but I'm sticking with it.)

So how do you deal?  Well, you could unplug completely, but that's kind of ridiculous.  I may complain about the media in its many forms, but there's all kinds of awesome stuff there if you look, and besides sometimes you really do need to know about the zombie robot shark armada before they show up at your door.  You're better off taking a break.  You can't hide from everything forever, but the world can deal without you for a little while when you need some respite.  Build a blanket fort around your brain, hang up a No Reality Allowed sign, and just kind of... be.  Do what it is you do to untwist the knots in your brain... cook, walk, read, meditate, garden, eat, whatever.  Me, I fill my fort with cartoons and books and comics and movies and TV shows and whatever else comes to mind.  Lately I've decided I haven't seen enough Laurel and Hardy films in my life, so I've been watching a bunch of those (hot take: Laurel and Hardy were funny as hell, you guys).

You can't escape any problem forever, sooner or later the zombie robot sharks need to be dealt with, but there's nothing wrong with taking a breather now and then in order to save your sanity and your soul.  People may tell you you are Doing It Wrong, of course, and how dare you think about X at a time like this when there's so much Y in the world, and all of the other things terrible people who can't seem to mind their own business say. 

But you can, in turn, tell them to fuck the fuck off, and that can be cathartic release in times of great stress, too.


*If that gets over, I demand royalties.
** See, I already owe myself a dollar.