Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When Thank You is Enough

Once a year, I get a thank you card for a Xmas gift. The card is always from Laura, Mary Ann's daughter-in-law. I received it yesterday. She and Jeremy won't be stationed in Colorado Springs as previously believed, but will be going to El Paso in the spring. I'm a little bummed because I thought I'd get a chance to get to know Laura and Jeremy in a more personal way and maybe even Mary Ann would get to come and visit for a change. Not going to happen, but the thought was lovely for a while. I was even cleaning house to be ready. Guess I can go back to my slovenly ways now.

I don't think people get how special thank you cards really are. I know it's something from an older time when the social graces included such niceties and thank you cards and, well, gracious rules, but that doesn't mean that they have to go out of style the way that graciousness and thank yous have gone out of style. I wish they wouldn't.

An old friend made his sons sit down at Xmas and write me thank you cards for the gifts I sent them. Well, I didn't really send the gifts to the boys, but to the tree. The cards they wrote were lovely and one of the boys even drew Jack Skellington on his thank you card. That is a bonus, a thank you gift for the gifts I sent for their tree. The boys complained loudly about how it was old fashioned and no one sent thank you cards any more, but my friend told them that in his house they would write the cards. They got into the spirit and did them. I don't know how much of a dent it will make in their lives, but I'm glad they wrote them.

Maybe we need to do something as an incentive for writing thank you cards and being more polite and gracious. I belong to a cross stitch bulletin board and everyone there is so polite. It didn't take me long to figure out why either. Every comment earns points that increase one's standing overall and allows the person to access more features and get more points. It's like paid politeness on the surface, but it also means that some people, in spite of the points they receive, are more gracious and polite and do it because that's the kind of people they are. It's like stimulating an unused muscle. It hurts for a while, but then begins to work smoother and more efficiently.

There is a counter at the top of every post that shows how many people have visited and how many have commented. The visits outweigh the comments, but the comments - the thank yous - are worth more to me.

I have yet to receive a thank you card from my grandchildren for their gifts over the years. I call them to make sure the gift arrived and they get on the phone and tell me they liked what I sent and we catch up. I often wonder if I'd get even a thank you if I didn't call and this has bothered me every year for a very long time. That is until this year. As my friend explained to his boys, no thank you card means no more gifts. That is what I'm giving my grandchildren for their birthdays and xmas this year and every year from now on. No thank you card means I will send them a card with a note that says that a gift was made in their name to a local charity, like Toys for Tots. I will likely not get a thank you card from the charity, but I will know for sure that the children receiving a gift from the charity will prize it because they have so little in their lives. That will be thanks enough.

I don't always send thank you cards. I often send thank you letters and I always call to say thank you, which isn't often since I receive gifts from only two people every year at Xmas and birthdays. It reminds me of a quote from El Dorado. Alan Padillion Trahern (James Caan) said, "A host of friends. I have a host of friends." Sarcasm at its finest and it only involved his hat.

I know times are tough; I live in them too. And I don't expect a gift for my birthday or Xmas or even Mother's Day every year, but it would be nice once in a while to know that more than my sister and Mary Ann think of me at those special times of year and respond with a gift to which I can reply with a thank you card or phone call. Such is not to be and I live with that every day.

In the meantime, I'll cherish my annual thank you card from Laura and the occasional thank you I get from Spock the cat and my friend's boys and whoever else decides that the old traditions are worth keeping and exercising on a regular basis. In lieu of that, I may have to consider something more pointed than sending personalized thank you cards, something like points or money. All I need to do then is decide what the points will be worth at the end.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Lair of the White Worm

After seeing The Lair of the White Worm again, the movie version with Amanda Donohoe and that old staple of British film, Hugh Grant, I decided once again to read the book by Bram Stoker. I've read several of Stoker's books, one of my favorite of which is The Jewel of Seven Stars, but was not prepared for the tale I thought I knew from the movie. The two versions, book and movie, could not be more different and not just in the usual "we can make it better and more spectacular" way of movie making. I was not prepared for the real story, as told by Stoker.

Lady Arabella March is quite the exotic female, at least from a 19th century perspective, in her all white gowns, sinuous movements, and determination to catch a wealthy husband in the person of Mr. Caswall, the current heir to an ancient stone pile called Castra Regis, a great tower that looms over the land of ancient Mercia like the Tower of Destruction in a deck of tarot cards, lightning blasting it to hell.

Adam Salton is the distant cousin of Mr. Salton who has no heirs and has made Adam his heir. The younger Mr. Salton has come all the way from Australia to meet his cousin and accept his inheritance. Into this genial partnership comes Mr. Nathaniel, local landowner and historian, and the two girls of Mercy Farm, Mimi and Lilla.

Mr. Caswall, lately of Africa, brings with him an evil looking Negro, Oolanga, whose reputation is of dark and powerful magics. Caswall and Oolanga are quite interested in their tenants, Mimi and Lilla, and spend a great deal of time at Mercy Farm in a struggle of wills with Lilla. Caswall is backed in this endeavor by Lady Arabella and Oolanga while Mimi pits the force of her will against them to shore up Lilla's flagging spirit.

The Lair of the White Worm offers several diabolical intrigues, one of which is Caswall's kite, a giant affair up which he sends runners of magnesium ribbon and weights, and which scares all the local birds from the area while it flies, a dark harbinger of the doom to come and the weighty presence of evil weighing down on the countryside from the Tower.

Caswall is the direct descendent and heir of a previous Caswall who learned mesmerism from Mesmer himself and came away with machines that have been stored in a trunk in one of the servant's rooms. The tower attic rooms are filled with the mementos of past Castra Regis heirs and all spread a miasma of darker appetites.

Lady Arabella, for all her sinuous and somewhat repugnant movements in her white gowns, spreads her own discord throughout the area and is at the heart of the legend of the great white worm, a denizen of Mercia from ancient times. Adam Salton becomes a witness to her nightly walks and to the death and destruction that follow in her wake.

I found Stoker's writer more florid than in previous books and even a bit fantastical in his premise that a woman bitten by a snake could actually transform a lithe and slender body into the massive bulk of an ancient worm that has evolved sufficiently to be aware of itself in human and worm form and be just as malignant in both. The addition of several mongooses (mongeese?) seemed little more than a bit of fancy thrown in that had nothing to do with the final outcome of the story. Even Oolanga's malign presence and presumption did little to add to the story or earn out his mention since he was soon lost to Lady Arabella's venomous intentions. Adam Salter's cousin offered little more depth than the reason for Adam being in England and thrust into this seething morass of intrigues and ancient horror.

Overall, The Lair of the White Worm is long on words and short on meat, depth, and complexity, although the machinations of the various cabals become quite entangled. Much was left to wither and die while Stoker moved on with the main focus of his story -- setting up the final spectacular destruction of Lady Arabella, Mr. Caswall, and the Tower.

The movie, released in 1988, was quite a bit different from the book in almost all respects. There is a Mercy Farm and the orphaned girls, Mary and Eve Trent, whose parents disappeared the previous year, Lady Sylvia Marsh, the owner of Temple House (which was Diana's Grove in the book), and Lord James D'Ampton, who is a conflation of Mr. Caswall and Adam Salton and like neither, except in being a wealthy landowner and the last in a long line of D'Amptons descended from the D'Ampton who killed the great white worm of legend.

Unlike Lady Arabella March, Lady Sylvia Marsh, played by Amanda Donohoe, scantily clad in black leather and black clothing, is an immortal who worships and is priestess for Dionyn, the great white worm of legend. True to the determination of movies to make a fantastic story even more fantastic and adding the larges helping of sex and seduction possible while amping up the volume on the original horror. There is a single mention of being bitten by a snake as a child and dealing with her fear of snakes by playing Snakes and Ladders while she weeps without a single tear in Hugh Grant's arms, but there is nothing beyond Amanda Donohoe's seductive charms and patently obvious malign intentions that signal she is at the heart of the mystery of the great white worm. The movie is low budget but high on the sex and shock scale. The added appeal of Catherine Oxenburg, Hugh Grant, and Amanda Donohoe ramp up the screen appeal to go with the spectacular, often psychedelic, montages of monsters, Christ, elaborately carved and prodigiously pointed dildos and Amanda Donohoe and the Romans ravaging virginal nuns while Donohoe sprouts 10-inch long fangs while painted blue. It is quite the spectacle.

Stoker may have had more in mind for The Lair of the White Worm, but he seems to have run out of steam or inspiration or something because very little of it hangs together in a cohesive tapestry of evil and good in earnest battle. Much was offered, but few connections made and fewer explanations given. The best I can give is 3/5 stars and a wish for more to fill in the blanks, something I doubt which will come about unless Stoker is resurrected or someone successfully channels him. I felt I had been to a banquet and left wanting as though the gorgeous spread were merely cardboard and pretty paint.