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Young Sally: " He will hear my call a mile away. He will whistle my favorite song. He can ride a pony backwards."

Young Gillian: "What are you doing?"

Young Sally: "Summoning up a true love spell. called Amas Veritas. He can flip pancakes in the air. He'll be marvelously kind. And his favorite shape will be a star. And he'll have one green eye and one blue."

Young Gillian: "I thought you never wanted to fall in love."

Young Sally: "That's the point. The guy I dreamed of doesn't exist. And if he doesn't exist, I'll never die of a broken heart."

- Practical Magic

After returning to school, there are some things I can’t help but think about. It must be the dense atmosphere of young adults scurrying from building to building with textbooks and bicycles. I can see trails in the grass where students made their own paths to beat the evil threat of tardiness. Yes, even in college. And then sometimes you pass the couple happily strolling along with their hands entwined like they were dolls – their fingers sewn together as they slept in plastic cocoons inside the box. You can’t help but murmur, “Well, wow. How’s that going to feel when it’s my turn?”

You can both cast a dreamy grin and adjust your bag strap, looking up the sky and wiggling your fingers as if someone was touching them back. Or you could pout and wish that Ben & Jerry’s was in your immediate, general direction.

I actually wrote something concerning this (or maybe echoing it) in one of the online novels I’m writing. Here is a full chapter from my serial novel, Birdcage Girl, where my main character Ashlyn faces her own desires head on. The chapter is called “The Prince List.”

At the age of ten, Ashlyn decided she had five qualities she expected for any man who would become her husband. She sat on her knees inside the birdcage and flattened a piece of her mother’s sketch paper. Her little face screwed up in concentration as she slowly dragged out the list with a salmon-colored crayon:

1. I have to be able to hear him approaching.

2. He should have one crooked pinky.

3. He can make homemade marshmallows.

4. He can't sing better than me, but he can play the piano from memory.

5. He must like birds.

She saved it in her scrap drawer. Over the years it got buried under other lists and other doodles. But Ashlyn still remembers it. She figures that one day, when she unearths it, she’ll either:

1. Laugh at the absurdity of the list.

2. Wonder how her ten-year-old self knew.

Before Figment decided to limit the genre boxes (ah, another kind of list), I had Birdcage Girl ticked off as a romance. And it is. It just hasn't happened yet. Ashlyn has a lot of other things on her mind than finding a boyfriend, certainly, but it doesn't mean she’s not thinking about it. Those gauzy thoughts flutter in her head – way in the back, where they’re practically abandoned. But they are there. And I can say, with every assurance, that someone will step up soon to draw that fragile gauze out and into the light.

Like Ashlyn, I’m sure there has been a time in everyone’s life where we’ve made such a list (though right now I’ll speak specifically to the girls).

You’ve heard they’re bad for you. You watch these lists burn on television in fire pits or just with the flick of a lighter’s delicate tongue.

But there’s something more to them, or to any action involving dreaming up that wonderful person.

Whether you hope your significant other has webbed feet or can make a good ham sandwich, I think it’s important to have fun with these thoughts. Don’t carry the list around with you in your purse, taking it out whenever you see a cute guy in line at the coffee shop or while waiting for your car to be repaired. Rolling it up in a tube and using it as a spyglass is much more useful than meticulously checking off the boxes.

For anyone still wanting for that special someone to walk in the door… well, there are ways to make the interval easier:

Men of Honor

It's officially 2011, and I feel as if the fresh air of the new year is filling all the spaces in my body with renewed energy as it tumbles into my lungs (except for that nasty headache from staying up way too late. Well, that, too, will pass). In order to celebrate, I thought I'd post a small list that probably won't end up changing, even with the new year.

The list consists of the top most influential men that have inspired me or, at the very least, helped shape my crooked brain into the shape it is now. Why men? Oh, I don't know. I thought it would be fun. I'll make a women one too, down the road.

These guys are in no particular order!

1. Mervyn Peake
It all started with my bad habit of wandering library stacks. I still lose track of time when I see all the books lined up so prettily, teasing me with their spines as if batting their eyelashes. In this discovery, it was actually a DVD that caught my eye, leading me to find illustrator and author Mr. Peake. The DVD was called Gormenghast, a BBC adaptation of the first two novels in this Titus Groan series. I fell in love with the strange world of an endless, ruinous castle with a full cast of odd characters living within it. It's more complicated than that, I assure you. He died before he could finish the series. 2011, though, is an exciting time for him because I've heard tell of a re-release of the series with all new illustrations (why couldn't I wait?) and the fourth novel, supposedly written by his wife after his death, in order to provide some kind of closure to the wondrous story he created. I can't wait. I'm on pins and needles.

2. George MacDonald
Okay, so I know that some of you are already familiar with him. It's been a few years since I stumbled upon him, but in the past few months I've finally obtained a bunch of his books to read. That explains all of his not-so-subtle appearances lately, haha. You know, some people say that Emerson's writing is so good that you can randomly open up a page, place a finger anywhere, and find that the sentence you've chosen can stand completely on its own. Well, I feel that way about MacDonald's writing - and he's writing stories! Graceful stories, full of sharp imagery, gentle humor, and wit. You can find a lot of his work online, and I strongly suggest you seek him out. He's rather unsung, but known by many who just seem to be into reading these sorts of things.

3. John R. Dilworth
I tend to consider the days in which Cartoon Network showed about six of the same cartoons everyday (like the PowerPuff Girls and Johnny Bravo) to be the "golden age." I highly doubt I'm the first to call it that, haha, or call anything that. However, it's safe to say that the cartoons of this time inspired me greatly. My favorite, though, will always be Courage the Cowardly Dog. Specially trained by Blue's Clues by always searching for Snail, I equally relished finding all the cameos Dilworth made in his own series. He was "Dilly," a little yellow man who would only appear in family photos or giant billboards in each episode. Just a picture. But my brother and I would always point at the screen and shout, "There's Dilly!" We'd get mad at each other too if one of us saw him for that split second and the other didn't. I've only just begun to explore Dilworth's other creations, but I'm glad to see that they are just as zany as Courage. Check out his short called, "Rinky Dink." You'll get a nice feel for his style, I think.

4. Don Bluth
Where do I begin? Perhaps I'll start by saying that Mr. Bluth had been an unconscious influence on me from when I was a tiny pup. I say unconscious because, when you're a kid and you're drooling over Rock-a-Doodle, you don't instinctively reach for the back of the VHS case to scan the credits. The movies I loved most, in the end, were not Disney films. It was his that stuck with me over the years. I can make a giant list of the films, but as I've noticed, people like to spend time mulling over each one because - let's face it - every one of his movies struck some kind of chord in each of us. I'll just say that if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Thumbelina. I'll be completely head over heels for it even when I'm ninety and half my brain is gone. Bluth's amazing sense of character and animated beauty and charm grace every movie. Each scene acts as a soft shard that sticks to the back of your skull, glimmering every once in a while so you can see the sparkling reflection again. I can't thank him enough for a lifetime of inspiration, haha.

5. C. S. Lewis
I don't remember much of my parents reading to me when I was little. I'm sure they did it. Perhaps I was too busy daydreaming to store up those memories. The only time I do recall sitting against the bed, digging my toes into the carpet as my mother read, was when she read my brother and I the Chronicles of Narnia. Because of this, I get the major case of the warm fuzzies whenever anything Narnia comes my way. My actual favorites in the series are all the books that aren't popular (my curse? I don't know). The Magician's Nephew, The Horse and His Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair took me to amazing places. Oh, yes, and I loved the Dawn Treader movie. I will continue to rally for all the books to make it on screen. There is not one that doesn't deserve it (and they better hurry up - those actors are growing so fast!). Aslan is pretty cool. I think he's a favorite character. He makes me smile. He feels very familiar, like an old friend.

6. Percy Shelley
Ah, the great optimistic poet. I really hated him in high school. Although I love English with all my heart - and can't imagine having studied anything else - I mentally blocked a lot of the literature classes I took in high school. Bad memories. I think now it was merely the atmosphere and the teachers that ruined it and caused my mind to shut out such creatures as the Transcendentalists, haha.
I went into my college Romanticism class saying, "I hate Shelley. I'm going to hate him again." Now, I believe I must have been spoiled by a really bad group analysis of "Ode to the West Wind." However, as soon as we started learning about him, I became intensely curious. I ate up his biography like it was candy floss. My college professor once told me that Shelley used to write cute little notes and put them in balloons. He would tie them up and send them off into the world for people to find and read. To this day, no one has ever found one of these notes. I kind of want to go on an adventure to see if these precious notes could be plucked from the knots of an old tree or found floating amongst all those lost messages in bottles on the wide open sea. It may be a fruitless wish, but it feels incredibly romantic.

7. Conrad Veidt
Ah! The only actor on this list - and an old one! Truth be told, Veidt is still a new influence for me. My mom and I got a old horror movie collection about a year back, and we sat for a few days straight and watched all the black and white films. It was so much fun and not so scary. We found a lot of movies we liked. As for me, I was entranced by an old German silent film called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Man, is it wonderful. Veidt plays a somnambulist (or sleepwalker) named Cesare who is being used by the eccentric Dr. Caligari to commit murder and other violent acts. This film goes much deeper, but Cesare quickly became my favorite character. My eyeballs were glued to his thin, ghostly white form whenever he slinked into a scene. After being exposed to such a character, I made an interesting promise to myself: I would try, as much as I could, to make odd, quirky men appealing leading males or love interests. Yes, it really did spring from this movie. It was like the trigger, haha. Then again, I'm not that into those Alpha males you find in the supermarket romance novels. I like a little more depth and a lot less aggressiveness. I find Veidt fascinating and I'm looking forward to discovering more of his films in the future.

8. Tetsuya Nomura
How could I think of closing out this list without a longtime Japanese influence? Hands down, Nomura has been inspiring me for a long time. His artwork makes my jaw drop, and his skill with characterization and story is wonderful. I spent many lunch periods in high school debating with my friends about how many people it would take to defeat Sephiroth in a chess match or singing terribly the lyrics to "Simple and Clean" from Kingdom Hearts. So, yeah, bring on the nerd - if I haven't done so already. I'm a big Final Fantasy geek. College had taken a lot of the energy and hype out of me - Zidane was replaced with Walt Whitman and Tonberries were not so dangerous anymore when placed side by side with a paper deadline. Nowadays, I feel that I have more time but am not handling it well enough to fit these games back in. But they deserve the attention. I keep rooting for Nomura and hope for better and better things from him. He's grown in the company and I know he still has much to offer.