Friday, September 29, 2006

A good day for a cat nap

Isn't this sweet?

I've had one of those perfect days, the kind made up of a string of sweet, easy little moments. I finally got paid, which is nice, so now I can pay my bills and won't miss my fabric sale this weekend. I talked to a long-lost work associate, answered a string of neglected emails and took a nice stroll in the yard, making note of the deepening change of seasons.

This afternoon Lucas fell asleep with Piper. I walked in to find them holding "hands." While they dozed, Alex and I went out, roused the ponies from their lazy routine and subjected them to a walk and some grooming. Now that the weather is cooler, it's time for them to start working again. Alex has nearly outgrown her Shetland, Lyric, but doesn't want to admit it. I told her she's welcome to share my Haflinger, Guinevere, but she's now angling for something in between, perhaps a shorter Haflinger. We shall have to see.

In her English lesson today, Alex worked in her Wordsmith Apprentice book on a lesson that required her to write Help Wanted ads. One was for the President of the United States. Here's what she wrote:

HELP WANTED (PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES): Must be interested in world peace, must be good at decision making and must be smart. Salary is thirty dollars a day.

Well, she's a bit off on the pay scale, but the rest of the ad sure makes me wish we could find someone to fill the job to her specifications.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

All sewn up

I finally finished the wall hanging I'm planning to sell to benefit Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors. Sorry for the poor quality of the picture. Hopefully I'll have more time tomorrow to take some better ones that show the detail, including the crocodile's hand-stitched teeth. I actually have to take some better ones, not just of this wallhanging but several other handmade items so I can post them all on my Website. I won't be selling anything until I update the site, which is due for a complete revamp. I guess that's what I'll be doing this evening.

Since Larry turned one wall of our bedroom into a sewing studio for me, working on projects has been so much more enjoyable. Before I had to set everything up on the kitchen table and pack everything away at mealtimes. Now I can just leave projects in progress on the machine and come back to them as I need to.

I've worked on this project off and on since yesterday afternoon. The wallhanging depicts a crocodile looking out at a horizon, in which is written the word "Conserve." As with everything else I make, I didn't rely on a pattern. I started with an idea and sketched everything out on paper, decided how big I wanted it to be and patched it all together piece by piece. I use a formula for making dresses and skirts, again all without patterns. If you look behind the picture at top, you'll see a turtle sketch. That's my next applique design. I think it's going to be on a skirt or something. I haven't decided.

But whatever I decide, my new sewing studio will make the project flow more smoothly. The work area holds both of my machines - one regular sewing machine, one sewing machine with over 100 embroidery stitches, and one serger - as well as fabric, notions, etc. There's even a place on the end for my art supplies - paints, watercolor pencils, sketchbooks, canvases, etc. And a stereo, which is probably the most important part of any creative person's workspace. Today I listened to a lot of Jack Johnson. Yesterday it was a hodgepodge assortment of stuff my oldest daughter burned for me over the weekend.

There's a major sale at the local fabric store this weekend. I was supposed to get paid for a writing job earlier this week but so far I haven't. I'm hoping the money will come through by Friday; it would suck to miss the sale. But I'm not going to worry. This particular employer is very reliable, and I can't imagine I'll have to wait much longer. It's just always so much nicer to have the money sitting in one's account rather than on the way. Especially when there's a sale on autumn batiks. *sigh*

Lessons in death

Sometimes a closer look at death can demystify it. The garden spiders are dying now, in droves. I found this one in the greenhouse this morning, and brought it in for Lucas to examine. He took it to his bed and laid it on his pillow in a beam of light. I helped him move it back and forth as he got his first real close-up look at the object of his months-long fascination. A fragment of webbing could still be seen emerging in her spinarettes, enough to anchor to the web until her dead weight snapped it. Her tiny black eyes, the miniscule fangs that brought a season of death to unwary insects who entered her web, spiky black hairs on her eight jointed legs. The abdomen left flattened and saggy after expelling eggs into a silken sac now anchored to the greenhouse wall. Hundreds of them dot our property now, the eggs inside waiting for some secret signal to develop and emerge.

"Are you sad?" I asked Lucas as we examined the spider.

"No," he said after a moment. "I think she's sad. She died when it got too cold."

She didn't look sad to me, but who knows. A child's eyes see what we miss. If I were to die, I would be sad not so much for my own demise, but because it would take me away from my family. I think about that sometimes, more often since a health scare I had last year.

Suspect commented after my last post that spiders are simple creatures incapable of anticipating or worrying about their own deaths. He says that's why spiders build webs and we, being more complex, build grander things, like the Great Wall of China.

I've studied spiders and would respectfully argue that building something like the Great Wall of China is perhaps easier that building a web. Man has yet to figure out how to make a material so thin but so strong as a strand of spider silk. Or to pass along the skill so dispassionately as they fade away, neither demanding nor expecting accolades for their short life's work.

Would I trade spaces with the spider? No. I admire them, but I don't envy them their existence. My fear of loss and leaving is a byproduct of my love. Detatchment is valuable in some areas, but not when it comes to one's family. Life for humans is like licking honey off a thorn. We have to take the sharp with the sweet, and the pain of parting is the price we pay for the joy we find in the company of others.

The web of life is diferent for us all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On sewing and spinning

I had a good weekend, workwise, if you define good as finishing a two-day job that gave me enough money not to take the next seven off.

But the thing about working for yourself is that you never really feel comfortable doing that. I'm always thinking ahead - not frantically, mind you - just thoughtfully. It's important to consider the "what ifs." What if this project is canceled ? What if that job I have lined up falls through? So even when I don't need to work, I find myself either doing it or planning something. When you're your own boss, you can't afford to get complacent. When it comes to freelancing, the key to getting fed is to stay hungry.

This week I'm reviving my erstwhile sewing business, which pleases me to no end for I love to sew almost as much as I love to write. Sometimes more. I have a number of interests, and a nack for turning them into little income generators. It helps the family and makes me feel less guilty for splurging on fabric, lenses or laptops. When I taught myself to sew a few years ago, I picked up on it so quickly that before I knew it I had a little sideline business sewing and selling bohemian clothing and handbags.

I dropped it over the summer when all my sewing stuff went into storage during the Giant Home Improvement Extravaganza. But Larry just finished my almost-favorite part of the project - a sewing studio.

So I've started sewing again and have made enough that my Web site will have to be updated. One of the things I'm working on isn't going to make me any money - it's a wall hanging I'm going to sell with all the proceeds going to the late Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors. The thought of Irwin's death still makes my heart twist into a tiny, painful knot. It just seems so surreal to me.

The weather has turned nice, and the signs of a dying summer are increasing. Our female garden spiders have completed laying their eggs, transforming their taut, large abdomens into what now look like deflated striped balloons. Lucas loves the garden spiders, and sits on the cedar chest in front of the picture window to talk and read to them in the morning. I've told him why they are moving slower and not eating now, and show him the egg sacs that hold promise of next year's crop of spiders. But I don't think he understands. He says they are his best friends, and the cycle of death in the garden is hard for four-year-olds to grasp, especially when next spring seems so, so far away.

But do any of us ever comprehend it really, this cycle of birth and death? It's no easier for me to understand the demise of Steve Irwin than it is for Lucas to understand the death of his beloved spiders. The spiders seem to understand it all better than we do, or at least don't waste time worrying over it. They spin, they eat, they breed and they die without obsessing over whither and why. Having survived their season on this earth, they hang suspended in their webs and wait with grace for what will happen next.

Perhaps we can learn something from them....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Small Wonders

I was so impressed with the big cats I saw at the zoological park on Sunday. I remember standing there, mentally juxtaposing my diminutive housecat's slight musculature against the powerful feline structure of the mountain lion.

It's was nice to be reminded that nature is capable of wonders on such a grand scale. But it was equally nice to stroll through my garden this morning and see the wonders in miniature. It's easy to pass beauty by, unless we learn to stop and look. Here are two tiny creatures I captured for you, digitally speaking. Enjoy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Zoo Photos!

So we spent yesterday at the N.C. Zoological Park. It was wonderful fun, and while I'd like to go into detail about what we saw and experienced, I have kids to educate and paying work to see to.

Alas, that means no time for extensive blogging, but I did manage to upload these pictures to Photobucket, so enjoy them!

I will say that my newly acquired Canon Rebel XT performed well, and I'd recommend the Canon EF 75-300mm to anyone as a bargain lens that does the Canon name proud. That's not to say I'm not eyeing more advanced lenses - both telephoto and macro. But they're pricey, which gives me good incentive to work. :-)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A closer look

I had a feeling this photography thing was going to be expensive, but I'm exercising some restraint.

Since I got my camera a week ago Thursday, I've been researching zoom lenses and can now report that one could easily go broke buying equipment. One can spend thousands - yes, thousands - on a good lens. But half that will buy you a good one, and around $250 - $300 can get you an entry level Canon EF 75-300mm, which is what I ended up buying yesterday. At Best Buy, for $251.34, tax included.

I could not wait to get it home, but alas I had to because I had to pick John up, run to the fabric store and do various and sundry other little errands that whittled away at my time. It was around 6 p.m. when I pulled into my driveway, but still light so as soon as I got the kids indoors I put the new lens on my camera. Larry came in to check out the new hardware and suggested I put the polarizer on, which I did.

And outside I went to take pictures and quickly became one disappointed photographer. The lens seemed to have a real problem focusing and the shots looked out of focus in the viewfinder and even worse on the display screen. I came inside and tried shooting in a brightly lit room. No better.

I went online and re-read the reviews, which - as for any lens - are mixed. The negative ones came mostly from people who'd bought a $250 lens and expected it to perform like a $1,500 one. I didn't put a whole lot of stock in the criticism. I wasn't expecting spectacular pictures, but I didn't expect them to suck as bad as they were sucking on my initial shoot. The favorable reviews said it was a good entry level lens, and some experienced photographers praised it as an excellent bargain. So what was wrong? I figured my problems - and the negative reviews - had more to do with the operator than the lens.

One of the biggest criticisms of this particular lens is that it doesn't perform at its best in low light. So this morning - early - I got up and went outside to shoot. Again, it was a major letdown. The pictures were soft and the ones that had some clarity lost it upon being magnified. I came back in and put on my thinking cap.

On my second cup of coffee it occurred to me that the problem might not be with the lens, but on it. Could the polarizing filter be reducing the light so much that it was throwing off the focus? I took the polarizing lens off and started shooting again. And this time, I started to get really good pictures.

I shot the picture of the corgis playing across the yard at 300mm and was pleased with the result, although some reviewers said getting decent action shots or even stills at 300mm was impossible without a tripod. I shot stills of the horses from across the paddock that were so clear they picked up small knots in my Haflinger's mane. When I came in, I shot from the kitchen into the playroom, the zoom enabling me to get some candid shots since the kids didn't even realize they were being photographed.

The lens still has deficiencies in low light, and shots taken in deep shade, at dusk or in dark interiors - even with a flash - aren't going to meet my standards. But for the price of this lens I'd highly recommend it and am really looking forward to taking it on our family photographic outing scheduled for tomorrow.

Now, you may be wondering why a post about photography contains no photos. I'll tell you why. Because Blogger is being a fickle bitch tonight and won't let me upload. But take heart. After my outing tomorrow I shall post some on Photobucket and provide the link.

So there you go. My unillustrated story about the travails of photography.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Bright and Rainy Day

Today was the day of the big homeschooling group picnic - an annual affair held to kick off the new academic year.

As luck would have it, the weather was lousy. All the way down to the park Alex lamented the gray skies. But the rain came in soft showers that didn't deter the kids from having a great time. By the time we left three hours later they were wet, exhausted and happy.

We are really lucky to have a very large homeschooling group, and if you are homeschooling or considering it, do yourself and your kids a favor and find one in your area. Regardless of what some paranoid, over-protective (or lazy) homeschoolers will tell you, kids do benefit from peer relationships and homeschooling parents have a duty to make sure their kids get the interaction they crave. Our group meets twice a week and offers more activities than we could possibly ever fit into our schedule.

Alex and Lucas started off playing with kids their own age, but as the afternoon wore on they joined older and younger kids under the picnic shelter for an improv workshop and later everyone went back - even though it was still raining - to splash in the puddles.

It was a good afternoon, and on the way home we spotted a water lily in bloom and I stopped to take a picture of it. It's pretty, isn't it? - and more evidence that rain can't damper perfect moments if you don't let it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Picture Perfect

Quite a shot, isn't it? I took it yesterday with my new camera, a Canon Rebel XT. If you want to be even further creeped out, click on it for even more ghastly detail.

I researched quite a few SLR's before going with the Canon, and it does not disappoint. I shot this photo of Larry displaying the fangs of a rattler using the lens that came with it, a modest EF-S18 - 55 mm. On Thursday I will upgrade to a more powerful one. It is mind-boggling how much people will pay for a good lens - and what a difference they can make. My husband has remarked that I will be easy to buy for now. My photographic wish list grows by leaps and bounds.

Since I bought the camera last Thursday, I've shot hundreds of photos. I've blown several of them up to 8 x 10, including this up-close shot of my cat, Piper, without losing a bit of resolution.

I haven't found the size of the camera to be a problem. Some reviewers complained it was too small, but I have small hands so find it comfortable. It shoots at 3 frames per second, so I was able to get some awesome pics of Lucas jumping in mud puddles. The different settings make it perfect for getting quick candid shots.

The only thing I'd recommend against is using the black and white setting. It's better to get the shot in color and use Photoshop to grayscale it. The Canon comes with a photo editing software, ArcSoft, but I wasn't as impressed with it as I am with Photoshop.

When I went shopping for the camera, I saw that the new Rebel XTi was out. It has 10.1 megapixels to the Rebel XT's eight, and a larger LCD screen. But as one of my photographer friends pointed out, you can get wonderful blow-ups from a 4 megapixel camera. Apparently, as megapixels go, a 2 point difference isn't worth the $200 difference in price. "Invest the price difference in a good lens instead," he advised. So that's what I'm going to do. A larger LCD display screen would have been nice. The Rebel XT only has a 1.8", but if you're like me you really don't even think of critiquing photos until you have them downloaded and blown up.

All in all, I'd highly recommend this camera. The guy who sold it to me was also in the market, and was trying to decide between the Rebel XT and a Nikon. I stopped by yesterday and showed him my photos and now he's decided to go with the Rebel XT himself. I wonder if I should ask Costco for a commission.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Joy of Skepticism

I was sitting in bed reading last night when my husband came into the room, a concerned expression on his face.

“I’m really getting worried about that storm,” he said.

“What storm?” I put my book down, puzzled.

“Florence,” he replied. “Ken called tonight and at around seven and said he heard it was a Category Three and headed our way.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And where did he get that information?”

Larry sat down. “I don’t know,” he said. “The news, I guess.”

I picked my book back up. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Ken’s wrong.”

“Why would you say that?” he asked in a tone edged with irritation.

“Because I checked the wires before I left work.” I had just finished my twice-weekly editing stint an hour earlier, and at 10 p.m. the National Weather Service’s official report had Florence still at tropical storm strength and projected to eventually head north. What Ken had alleged was impossible.

“Well, I was only going on what Ken said,” Larry muttered. “I don’t know what reason he’d have to lie.”

I bit my tongue, having no desire to rehash the conversation we’d had a few weeks earlier regarding the $4,000 steak story. Larry’s brother, who was touring Europe, had called to recount his dining experience in an Italian restaurant that sold $4,000 steaks. I’d not believed the story for two reasons. For one thing, Larry’s brother is prone to wild embellishments and for another no restaurant that served $4,000 steaks - if such a place existed - would let him in as a worker, let alone as a patron.

I had told Larry then what I refused to repeat. People make up, embellish or repeat crazy stories for all sorts of reasons. Some just like to be listened to, like our neighbor who once told us about witnessing a bobcat fight so fierce that by the time it was over, an acre of bushes and small trees had been uprooted. Others like to trick people, hence the urban legends we’ve all come to know and hate, like the story of tourists being waylaid and later waking up in tubs of ice, to find they’ve had their kidneys stolen. Others have financial motives, and make up stories so people will give them money.

Most people who pass on bogus information are benign, though. Ken, who works at the local grocery store, probably heard someone else’s embellishment about the storm, believed it, and passed it on. Ken is a friend, so Larry believed him. Larry’s like a lot of people, who equate kindness - or feigned kindness - with credibility.

I can’t do that. If something strikes me as unbelievable I feel compelled to check it out, I don’t care who it’s coming from. You should, too. You might be surprised at what you’d find.

Larry accuses me of being a too skeptical, but I don't think that I am. I think I'm realistic, and that realism keeps me from sending my money to scam artists, believing Bill Gates will send me $100 if I forward an email or panicking about the weather.

One of our staff writers and his wife had a baby recently. A photographer took a great picture of mother and child. It’s a funny shot; in it the baby is looking at its mother with the most dubious expression. The caption under the picture read, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

For the record, that’s skepticism.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ask not for whom the homeschool bell tolls....

This morning it tolled for our household.

Today was the first day back to formal studies. All summer the kids have learned a great deal through osmosis and observation. Lucas has declared every spider in the yard his best friend and watches them with rapt fascination.

I know unschoolers who don't give the kids an iota of guidance. Some are friends of mine and I just tell them we'll just have to agree to disagree when they say curriculums and guidance are both unnecessary for homeschooling.

We aren't dictatorial; the kids have always been allowed to do their subject by order of personal preference, and to spend as long on what they like with the understanding that covering everything is still a requirement. I've noticed that as they mature and their self-discipline increases, they spend as much time or more on the subjects that challenge them without being told to do so. In that respect, I suppose we do "unschool" a bit.

But curriculum isn't evil, and doesn't constrain kids unless you limit their learning to the book in their hands. There's nothing wrong with learning beyond what you read by exploring elsewhere or seeking verification elsewhere if you doubt what you've been told. Larry's taught the kids that already; when we're watching some on reptiles he'll point out misidentifications when he sees them, and there are plenty.

Homeschooling does require a time committment both at home and in the community. Our homeschool group is very active and meets twice a week - once for history club and enrichment activities and other for general educational activities. Friday is the kids' favorite day. We have homeschooling enrichment in the early afernoon and after picking John up from his autistic program head to either the bookstore, aquarium or movie.

This year, Alex is taking creative writing, Saxon math, biology, typing, history, geography, art and photograhy. Lucas is especially excited because he's now oficially a "student," complete with his own little curriculum. It's Pre-K and kindegarten level stuff, most of which he already knows, but he just beams with pride when he colors shapes or correctly identifies numbers. I purchased a good reading readiness program for him, as he's not quite ready for intensive phonics yet and there's no need to push. I also found a great game I'd recommend for anyone looking to teach number identification and early addition. It's the Thomas Number Game based on Thomas the Tank Engine. There are four train boards with a number at the end of the car. The child fills the empty space in between with numbered pieces that add up to total the end-of-car number. Lucas caught on right away and has been enjoying filling the cars with various combinations of numbers it takes to get the correct total. It really is a brilliant design.

For me, being a homeschooling, working mom has meant telling my news editor that I'll only be available two nights a week to edit copy at the newspaper, and switching my daily freelance writing schedule to late afternoons and evenings and weekends so days will be available for the kids.

It's a bit of a juggling act to homeschool and earn a living, but it can be done. And we wouldn't have it any other way. Educating the kids ourselves isn't some religious calling for us, but an option that works best and is most rewarding for our family. And it's a team effort.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Well this is a pretty suckful way to start off the day, turning on CNN to find that Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is dead.

My husband, Larry, has owned and bred reptiles for years and we've had everything here from alligators to cobras. Before Alex was born, we did wildlife educational programs for schools and groups. We always stressed respect for wild animals, and when Steve Irwin's show appeared we winced a little at the crazy chances he took. Wild animals can be dangerous. Touching or tackling them is never a good idea, but here was a guy free-handling snakes and teasing crocs with chunks of chicken.

But for all his daredevil showmanship, it was impossible not to like Irwin. He had a infectious appreciation for animals, especially reptiles, and his popular program inspired many youngsters to think differently about creatures their parents warned them were better off dead. It didn't take us long to be converted from skeptics to fans, even if we didn't always agree with his tactics.

His death was one of those freakish accidents that just doesn't make sense. The man who threw himself on 18-food saltwater crocodiles with reckless abandon was speared through the heart by the tail of a stingray while diving off the Great Barrier Reef. Only three such other fatalities have been reported.

Irwin was reportedly filming a program that was to star his 9-year-old daughter, Bindi, when he was killed. He also leaves behind a wife and a 3-year-old son. I can't imagine how deeply his family feel the loss - all loss that all his fans, in small part, are sharing upon hearing the news.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Spider shots

Our spider population took a dramatic jump overnight. Alex took this picture of a female grass spider outside the door this morning.

The spider was perched on a shirt one of the kids left draped over the back of the garden bench and is a big girl. With her legs stretched out, she covers my palm and then some. I've seen her several times in the garden this week, toting the enormous egg sac that finally hatched and covered her abdomen in a wiggly mass of offspring.

Grass spiders don't build webs. They hunt on the ground. But garden spiders do. Alex took this picture of one yesterday.

I'd suggest zooming on both pictures for more detail, unless you're an arachnaphobe, in which case you can just piss on yourself instead.

Alex took these shots with her new Kodak digital camera. I'm impressed with both pictures, especially the one of the grass spider. She shot it on high resolution, so I had to reduce the image to get it on the blog, but even with the loss in resolution, it's still nice. The girl has a good eye and has inherited her mother's odd fascination with macro-photography.

And spiders are good subjects.

We have a bumper crop of spiders this year, which is find from a pest control standpoint, but annoying if you do a lot of gardening. I can't count the number of times I've been pulling weeds or planting something and felt the tickle of a spider crawling on my head or the nape of my neck. The spiders themselves aren't a problem; I'm not afraid of them. But it's no fun getting web out of your hair.

Update: So Alex managed another spider shot this afternoon, this one even more interesting than the other two. It's a linx spider. Being camoflauged against the green leaf, she was able to snag this honeybee.

Again, if you enlarge it you can see more detail.


Update II: Ksquest informed me I was incorrect when I originally identified the spider at left as a "link" spider. It is a linx spider. She also provides a link in my comment section to some awesome photos. Ksquest also has a nice blog. Check it out!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Typical Ann Coulter fan?

Normally I don't take issue with other Bloggers, but something so extraordinarily amusing happened this past week that I thought the irony of it all was exceptionally post-worthy.

Another Blogger, Bane, took issue with my simple suggestion that he might supplement his tip jar and Amazon wish list with some actual work. For those of you unfamiliar with Bane, his life is one long tale of woe, from his adventures with a car that won't run to his sweltering AC-deprived house to his leaking air mattress. Of course, he's not in it alone in his sad little boat. He has a hard-working wife - a very hardworking wife who by all accounts has the patience of Job. He also has two sweet little kids, one with a serious disability.

Bane's disabled, or so he says. He's a decent writer, too, hovering somewhere between Good and Not As Good As He Thinks He Is. So when I recommended he seek out some writing jobs, he got quite angry and declared himself above working - that being something he apparently prefers to leave to the wife.

It seems Bane would rather rely on the charity of his readers, which strikes me a rather liberal approach for a man who considers the very conservative Ann Coulter a "goddess." Call me crazy, but if your family needs basic necessities and you regularly refer readers to a wish list in hopes they'll buy you the latest version of "Doom" your priorities seem pretty left of center. Why work when you can have people give you stuff instead? Sorry, but that sounds remarkably like something they'd teach you in Panhandling 101. And that's fine if you're a hobo living on your own. But when you've got a family? Not.

Another disappointing aspect of this guy is what a wuss he turned out to be. I can only assume he agreed with Ann when she said the 9/11 widows seem to be enjoying their husband's deaths a bit too much. So it surprises me when he takes umbrage at someone suggesting he might be getting equal mileage out of his kid's problems, given that he appears to be playing the sympathy card pretty often. It seems to me that he'd appreciate such an observation, it being Coulteresque and all. When Coulter does it to someone else, he seems to find it funny. When someone does it to him, it's "attacking his family." But I'm not attacking his family. I feel sorry for them. I'm not even attacking him; I'm attacking his adherence to a liberal approach that is keeping his family below the poverty line when he could easily do more to help.

I had thought to engage Bane in a debate on this, once upon a time. True we've sparred in the past and I never took it as seriously as he did. I wasn't afraid to go another round. But that was not to be. Bane not only stifles comment on his blog, he runs about encouraging others to ban those who criticize him. This is regrettable, and has turned my image of him as a crusty ex-soldier into that of a sad, middle-aged man who can dish it out while being completely unable to take it. I wonder if Coulter knows this is the type of person who buys her books. I wonder if she'd be proud if she did.

You may wonder if I harbor any ill will towards Bane, given my criticisms. The honest answer is I don't. I haven't come across anyone yet that was worth the energy it would take to hate them. Bane is no different. So no, I don't feel animosity for the guy, just disappointment. I'd thought him tougher than that. Especially given that he's an Ann Coulter fan.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Bloody Good Subject

I like vampires. I always have. Not in the creepy sense that would make me ever want to dress in goth clothing and haunt some of the clubs inhabited by the misfits who fancy themselves modern day vampires. That's just weird.

After all, vampires are figments of imagination. So don't write me and tell me otherwise; if you do I'll be forced to write back and tell you you're a dork. I once had a conversation like that with a guy who wrote me claiming to be an elf, and asking that I tell his story. His request arrived shortly after the release of the second Lord of the Rings movie. I refused on the grounds that A.) I didn't believe in elves and B.) If there was an elven realm, as he claimed - I sort of doubted that it existed in the lockdown unit of the mental hospital he was calling from.

But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is vampires, which have garnered much of my creative attention over the last few weeks. Last year, I was hired to write a screenplay for a vampire series. Recently, I was hired to write another.

For a vampire movie buff, this is one of those dream jobs - the kind where you have to stop every half hour or so to pinch yourself, just to make sure you're really awake. To get hired to do something like this is a stroke of ridiculous good fortune; to get paid good money to write something like this is beyond ridiculous good fortune. It's pennies from heaven, and don't think I don't know it.

Now don't get me wrong - I would have felt just as fortunate if I'd been hired to write a werewolf screenplay, though not as giddy. Werewolves are limited characters. Once they change, all they can really do is run about, howling at the moon and ripping off limbs. The only time they get to have a real personality is between transformations, when they fret over their next impending full-moon metamorphis. An American Werewolf In London did a great job with this. So did The Company of Wolves, one of my other favorites.

But vampires are different. Their humorous or brooding nature - or sensuality - isn't diminished by their vampyric state, only enhanced by it. That gives writers the chance to work with characters that have a lot of range.

And over the year some pretty diverse vampires have emerged from the minds of writers who've brought them to life.

Here's a very short list of my favorite movie vampires:

Sexiest Vampire: Jerry Dandridge from the movie Fright Night
Played by Chris Sarandon, this character was funny, suave and oh, so sexy. And of course, a blood-sucking killer. When his next door neighbor, - a teenager named Charlie Brewster - realizes that Jerry is a murderous Creature of the Night, the vampire threatens to kill him. And what's worse, he develops designs on Charlie's girlfriend, Amy. To protect himself and his friends, Charlie enlists the help of a has-been horror show host, Peter Vincent.
The special effects in this movie are awesome, but don't watch it for that. Watch it to ogle Chris Sarandon.
(For you guys, the female sexiest vampire is probably Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn. Her part was pretty short, and she transformed into one horrifically ugly vampire. But her snake dance beforehand will have just about any man willing to open a vein.)

Best Modern Classic Vampire: Prince Vlad from Bram Stoker's Dracula
Gary Oldman was really two vampires in this movie - the very creepy, sadistic old Dracula and later, a romantically seductive younger version.
Now, Gary Oldman is not a sexy guy, but his Romanian accent combined with his vampire angst over his conflict with God and love for Mina made this such an unforgettable performance that even the embarrassing addition of Keanu Reeves couldn't drag the movie down.

Vampire with the Worst Luck: Count Vladislaus Dracula from Van Helsing
OK, so this movie is hardly a classic, but Richard Roxburgh did such a good job in this role as the Count that it was hard not to be a bit sympathetic. Here's a guy with three beautiful vampire wives, a steady supply of peasants to kill and a plan to populate the earth with more blood-suckers. But between uncooperative werewolves, a recalcitrant Frankenstein and two dedicated vampire hunters, his scheme goes straight to hell. He raises his voice a lot, and is hardly composed by classic vampire standards. But that just makes him more fun to watch.

Best Vampire Geek: Max from The Lost Boys
"One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach, all the damn vampires."
So reveals the eccentric grandfather at the end of this movie, following the best ever vampire free-for-all.
And who knew their undead leader would be a uptight-looking video store owner.
The hapless teenaged vampire hunters in this cult classic suspect Max, but make a few errors in their attempts to out him during a hilarious dinner scene. So the viewer is later genuinely surprised to learn that Max is indeed to head of this California town's vampire underground.
This movie is full of good quotes, by the way. Besides Grandfather's deadpan revelation, my other favorite line is the one delivered by Sam after he realizes his brother is turning into a dangerous creature: "My own brother a goddamn, shit-sucking vampire! Oh, you wait 'til mom finds out!"

I'm sure there others may have their own favorite, but those are my top picks.