A Circle of (Imaginary) Friends

At some point, even the most successful people on the planet suffers setbacks and self-doubt. As someone who’s moderately successful but still learning, I often have to fight my way through the secret convictions that 1. someday people will discover that I can’t write worth a damn and 2. my mother is right and my hair or whatever I’m wearing at any given moment looks awful.

Hopefully if we confess our doubts and flaws to our family and friends, we will instantly be reassured that we are good and smart and that our dream of starting a heavy metal band of retired electricians isn’t stupid. Sometimes, though, our loved ones don’t understand our ambitions, or because they’re not mind readers, they don’t say the exact words we want to hear. And some people don’t have others around them willing to offer support and encouragement at all.

At that point, it’s time to pick out a charmed circle of imaginary friends to be our advocates. No, I have not gone off to Looneyland. Harnessing mental imagery works — look up the benefits of biofeedback if you don’t believe me. Barbara Sher refers to this process as ‘finding cheerleaders’ in her book Wishcraft: people we admire giving positive feedback about our endeavors. And the cool thing is, we can pick anybody we want!

The imaginary friends can alive, dead, male, female, celebrities, historical figures or fictional ones…it doesn’t matter, as long as you pick them for other reasons besides being cool or famous. For example, here’s my circle of imaginary friends:

-My late grandmother:  As an aspiring concert pianist who set her ambitions aside for love and marriage, she understood that every choice has a price, and that those things not attempted are not gained. She’d say, “If it means that much to you, you should try to put that retiree band together.”

Bette Davis: In my mind, she represents the flip side of Grandma. She was a tough, scrappy, ambitious artist and she didn’t whine when she had to make sacrifices to get what she wanted. I imagine her saying “If you want a geriatric metal band, you’d better make damn sure everybody knows what they’re getting into.”

– Maksim Chmerkovskiy: The Slavic slave-driver is a hot-tempered and outspoken, but this is why he’d be the voice telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back to work. My guess is he’d sound like this: “So you’re old. That means you’d better get your butts off the floor and start playing, because you’re only going to get older.”

Michelle Kwan: The years she spent climbing to the top of the figure skating world did not impair her grace on or off of the ice. “Always make the next performance better than the time before.”

George Clooney: Okay, I did pick George partly for his looks. But he combines intelligence and a work ethic with a sense of humor, so I’m not completely shallow.  He’d be the one thinking of possibilities: “You could go on the road and tour retirement communities.”

The idea here is that even positive feedback from Imaginary Friends is still POSITIVE. It’s a way to trick yourself into seeing your own good qualities and encouraging yourself to work on your dreams. And you thought I was crazy.

Who, real, fictional, alive or dead, do you admire so much you’d like to have them in your circle of imaginary friends? What would you like them to say to you?

What’s Your Favorite Fairy Tale?

Actually, I’m talking about what kind of romantic plots people enjoy most. One of my favorite writing books is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Story Structure Architect. In it, she goes over the traditional elements of Western fiction, then looks at the variations within different genres. It’s a helpful resource for novelists, playwrights and screenwriters alike. For romance, she divides stories into three general types of structure, based on fairy tales. (Cause like romance, fairy tales are universal. 🙂 ) She also goes more detailed plot structure under each category — as I said, the book is a valuable resource.

In the Cinderella structure, the heroine falls in love with the hero first. This emotional response makes her vulnerable to him, even if she’s strong and independent in all other areas of her life. Schmidt notes that one of the hallmarks of this particular plot is that much of the focus is on the hero’s emotions. To get an idea of this plot, read Nicole Jordan’s excellent and steamy To Tame a Dangerous Lord.

Schmidt lists the Beauty and the Beast structure next. It mirrors the previous type plot in that the hero falls in love first, which makes him the more vulnerable of the couple. The focus here is on the heroine’s growing emotional bond to him. There is a bit less rescuing by the hero in these stories and a bit more self-awareness (eventually, anyway) on the part of the heroine. Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas is a classic example.

The final structure is based on Sleeping Beauty. The hero and heroine fall in love at the same time, which gives them equal footing emotionally, although their feelings may see-saw a bit as they deal with the conflicts standing in the way of their Happy Ever After. The couple in these books recognize their feelings all right, but their mutual love faces a series struggles, internal and/or external, before they can get together. Many ‘second chance’ love stories are found in this category, or stories of already-married couples, as in Victoria Alexander’s My Wicked Little Lies.

So what kind of romances do you like best? She falls first, he falls first, or they both fall and have to work it out together? Which fairy tail describes your favorite romance ?

I’ve attempted a first with this post and added a poll! And now you can rate all my posts, too.

Bad Movies I Love

I guess you could call this sort of anti-Oscar post. Not as in against the Oscars, which I watch faithfully every single year, both for the dresses and the awards. I love film. ’31 Days of Oscar’ on Turner Classic Movies is one of the high points of my year.

And then there are those movies referred to as guilty pleasures. Sometimes they’re called camp classics. I just call them bad movies I love, because they are so, so cheesy and delicious.

Van Helsing, 2004: A mashup of Dracula and Frankenstein saved by the presence of Hugh Jackman in a sexy leather coat. Jackman plays the vampire hunter, who is sent by the Vatican to save the lives of the last two members of a family of vampire hunters, one of which is Kate Beckinsdale in skin-tight pants and high-heeled boots and the other of which is her brother, who becomes a werewolf partway through the movie.

Still with me? I didn’t think so. Really, the plot doesn’t matter much since it gets lost pretty quickly among baby vampires (world’s ugliest babies), a not actually evil Frankenstein monster, anorexic winged vampire chicks, and the requisite sidekick, a bumbling monk played by David Wenham (who would team up with Jackman later in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.) Forget trying to follow what’s going on. Just let the badness flow over you and focus on Jackman in that coat.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003: Based on a dreadful comic book series, an alternate title could be Famous Victorian Fictional Characters Stop World War I. Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll (plus his alter ego Mr. Hyde), a grown up Tom Sawyer and Mina Harker (of Dracula fame) must seek out and destroy a group of anarchists led by the unidentified Fantom (as in ‘of the Opera’, one presumes). Their handler, by the way is known only as ‘M’. Groan.

Sean Connery as Quartermain leads the group as they travel to Venice in Nemo’s HUGE GIANT submarine that somehow manages to escape notice in both the Thames and in later in Venice. The sub is the best part. Seriously, it shouldn’t even be able to fit in the Thames, much less narrow Venetian canals. I rewatch the movie in hopes figuring out how that works, but so far, no luck.

Mystery Men, 1999: Stupid comedy, yes. But it’s quality stupid comedy. A bunch of delusional or gallant (depending on your view) collection of wanna-be superheroes try to imitate the derring-d0 of their role model, Captain Amazing. Sadly, their super powers cover things like impotent rage (Ben Stiller), throwing silverware (Hank Azaria), shoveling ditches (William H. Macy), thinking one is invisible (Kel Mitchell), bowling (Janeane Garofolo), and extreme farting (Paul Reubens), only the last two of which could be considered serious weapons. Captain Amazing, in fear of losing his lucrative sponsorships, arranges for his arch-enemy, Cassanova Frankenstein (Best. Villain. Name. Ever.) to be paroled and tries to cut a deal with him. Frankenstein harbors a grudge and captures the Captain, leaving the unlikely wannabes to step up to the plate.

Classic scenes include superhero auditions, the appearance of the pompous Sphinx (Wes Studi), anything with Geoffrey Rush as Cassanova Frankenstein, and William H. Macy delivering the line, “We’ve got a blind date with destiny… and it looks like she’s ordered the lobster.”

The Fifth Element, 1997: It’s the special effects and supporting roles that make this movie. Bruce Willis plays the same guy he does in the Die Hard movies while Milla Jovovich runs around half-naked. But Sir Ian Holm plays a priest with secret knowledge of how to defeat evil aliens bent on attacking earth and Gary Oldman is one of the most original bad guys you’ll ever see. Totally the best part is watching Chris Tucker as a drag queen intergalactic talk-show host suffering a permanent panic attack.

A convoluted and not terribly coherent plot, characters that have fuzzy motivations, and clichés everywhere. I love this film’s awfulness with every fiber of my being, perhaps because of what the Fifth Element turns out to be in the end.

Mine are all less than 20 years old, but I know Hollywood has made plenty of other bad movies to love in the last 84 years. What are your favorite movies that are so bad they’re good?

Picture from from http://www.moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

The Gentlewoman’s Guide to Tea

Ah, the pleasures of the tea table! The fragrant liquid, enjoyed in between tidbits of delicious finger sandwiches, cakes and gossip. (At least the sandwiches and cakes are delicious. No Person of Breeding ever calls gossip delicious, unless in the company of Trusted Friends. But I digress.)

Few of us are aware of the background of the drink consumed in every home from Buckingham Palace down to the lowliest cottage. Thanks to the help of Mr. Tim Smith, a most knowledgeable purveyor of fine teas, (and an American, no less!) I can pass on some interesting facts to share with friends. Just in case there is a lack of goss– er, amusing stories — to share at teatime.

Worldwide, only water is consumed more often than tea. And he variety of teas boggles the mind. In England, we greet the day with a full-bodied black tea, such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey. In the afternoons, Oolong is preferred. Let us not forget green teas, used by the Japanese, and white teas. The latter do not seem to play a part in any formal ceremony, but Mr. Smith assures me he sells a fair amount of them in his shop, the Tea Smith.

Imagine my amazement when Mr. Smith informed me that all  those different kinds of tea come from the same plant, camellia sinensis! I thought he was jesting, but he assures me that it is simply a matter of how the leaves are prepared.

All Quality tea starts with the two tenderest leaves and a bud from each branch of the plant. White teas are produced from leaves that are plucked, steamed, and then dried. To make green teas, leaves dry and wither somewhat before steaming, and afterwards, leaves are rolled by hand and dried near a source of heat. The delicate flavor of Oolong teas come from actually bruising the leaves after they are withered, to increase oxidation. Once the edges turn red, the leaves are rolled and dried. Black teas attain their deep coloring and rich flavor because they are made from leaves they are left to oxidize completely before rolling and heating.

(I am Shocked at all this plucking, bruising and rolling. I had no idea processing tea leaves involved such Violence.)

One hears rumors of a something called a ‘tea bag’, in which the lowest quality of tea, referred to as ’fannings’ or ’dust’, are gathered into paper envelopes attached to a string. How Revolting! How can one indulge in the frivolous but charming pastime of reading one another’s tea leaves? As any Civilized Person knows, good tea can be reused after the initial steeping. Furthermore, the leaves, once the flavor is completely brewed out of them, make excellent compost. Or an economical household will strew the damp leaves over the rugs each morning and then sweep them up, thus removing dust. Tea bags, indeed!

The dashing botanist Robert Fortune introduced tea plants to the Darjeeling province of India by smuggling them out of the hinterlands of China. The writer cannot help but Wonder how the entire East India Company missed the species of tea plant growing one province over, in Assam. Possibly the observant eyes of females, so used to noticing important details, could have prevented this Embarrassing Oversight. On a happy note this means we now have access to India’s camellia sinensis assamicus in addition to the Chinese plant.

Climate and soil affect the taste of tea leaves, much they do the taste of grapes used in wine-making. Teas are labeled by their location and type (white, green, oolong or black). If more than one kind of leaf or ingredient as added, the tea is referred to as ‘blended’. Our beloved Earl Grey tea is considered a blend, as are English and Irish Breakfast teas. Other blends are jasmine, orange and mint teas, all of which sound most Exotic!)

Mr. Smith says that he imports teas from not only China and India, but from Kenya, Taiwan and Japan. By the first two names, he refers to parts of the globe labeled on my maps as British East Africa and the island of Formosa. (One is concerned about the teaching of Geography in the United States.) I have included his address below, in case any reader should like to investigate his wares.

www.thesteasmith.com
345 N 78th Street
Omaha, NE 68114
(402) 393-7070

1118 Howard St
Omaha, NE 68102
(402) 932 3933