Remember the Analog

Remember the Analog!

My husband posted this clever and thought provoking statement on Facebook the other morning and it perfectly ties together the theme of this blog which has been bouncing around in my head for weeks.

When contemplating the reasons why I miss the experiences of the 1980s so much, it comes down to some pretty basic things- some simple human needs that that time satisfied for many in my generation.

I often ask,  Why do Gen Xers love the Netflix Stranger Things series  so much?.

In my first blog on the topic,  I discussed four things that the ST characters and plot exemplified:

  1. Loyalty ( close knit bonds with friends and family)
  2. Character
  3. Adventure
  4. Freedom

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Upon further reflection, I realized that these things are all analog and are supported by in-person, live connections and relationships.   In short, most analog activities make us happy.

I also discerned that my four reasons where also closely aligned to the five basic human needs outlined in William Glasser’s book “Choice Theory” which are:

  1. Survival
  2. Love and Belonging
  3. Power
  4. Fun
  5. Freedom

Choice theory psychology posits that almost all behavior is chosen and we are driven by our genes to satisfy these five basic needs.

I find myself longing for more analog activities like riding bikes, playing board games and socializing with friends because it brings me more joy and relief from the bitter and angry world of social media.

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The positive memories of growing up in the 1980s is a safe and happy shelter for many people and this is why period pieces like Stranger Things and GLOW are so popular.  Plus, the clothes and the music of the 80s were just so funky and hilarious.

For me, the feeling of being part of a group where I could have free, fun, empowering adventures was an amazingly strong and positive gift that I wish I could replicate in the world today.

So how can we get a piece of that happiness back in our lives without having a TARDIS or a flux-capacitor fitted DeLorean?

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Here are some Remember the Analog Ideas:

  1. Invite friends over to play some non-digital games-  D&D, charades, Taboo, Monopoly, Clue, Twister, Catan
  2. Go bowling
  3. Ride bikes
  4. Play musical instruments
  5. Listen to music
  6. Lie on a blanket on the ground and look at the clouds- talking about what the shapes look like
  7. Watch classic movies together-  appreciate the artful composition of the shots while noticing (sometimes laughing) at the odd (slow) pacing of the scenes
  8. Go shopping at the mall
  9. Practice group yoga on the living room floor
  10. Tell stories about hedgehogs ( Ernie asked me to add this one)
  11. Play hopscotch in the driveway
  12. Do cart wheels in the grass
  13. Bring out the crayons or pencils and color or draw
  14. Attend a Toastmaster meeting
  15. Take an Improv class
  16. Sit around a campfire and tell stories
  17. Physical love and intimacy
  18. Go to a museum
  19. Group wine and painting events
  20. Have others over for a home cooked meal

When looking at these activities through a psychological  lens- they do seem to satisfy  the human needs of Freedom, Fun, Power and Control ( with #19 & 20 clearly being for Survival).

I am a huge fan of the series Stranger Things and GLOW on Netflix and I hope that these thoughts and ideas can help bring you a bit of the fun, happiness and adventure I had growing up in the 1980s.

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Ugly Mall Job Uniforms and Other Stranger Things- Part 3

I just finished watching the final episode of Stranger Things Season 3 and Scoops Ahoy! I was not disappointed.

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Memories of my first job at the Brunswick Square Mall in central New Jersey came rushing back in full neon color.  It was 1983 and I was a Hostess at the York Steakhouse and if you can believe it, my work uniform was ten times as dorky and considerably more ugly than the sailor suits that Steve and Robin donned at the Scoops Ahoy Ice Cream Parlor in the Starcourt Mall.  My lovely restaurant server wear was a heinous burnt orange, one-piece polyester dress with puke yellow trim.  It was cut above the knee and was a remnant from a bad 1975 style.  Oh how I sympathized with Steve and his silly sailor’s cap.

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J_ojI do have many positive memories of my childhood at the local mall and some of them actually include the color orange.   My favorite all time dessert drink is the Orange Julius and the show had me craving it and a big, warm chocolate cookie in the worst way.

In the first few episodes of Stranger Things Season 3, the scenes in the mall were fun, campy and true to most of my memories.  I don’t recall my mall being as crowded in the summer months because most of us in were playing outside or down the shore.

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Growing up, our mall’s anchor stores were Bamberger’s and JC Penney and I spent many hours in The Children’s Place, The Gap and at the Piercing Pagoda were I got my ears pierced at age nine.  I was encouraged to wear earrings because my haircut at the time was very short (a failed attempt at the “Dorothy Hamill look”) and my sister didn’t want people to mistake me for a boy.   I, like Max in Stranger Things, was a bit of a tomboy and I didn’t like to dress up in frilly clothes.  I spent many fun and unsupervised hours in the early 1980s riding either my skateboard, my Huffy ten speed bike or my Schwinn unicycle.  Riding bikes with my friends topped the list as my all time favorite thing to do.

While there were many threads and plots in the rich and complex Season 3, the overarching theme that resonated with me most was the strength and unshakable power of the friendship bonds among the characters.  Even though they were all were changing and growing in strange new ways, they never stopped caring about each other.  Even though they were often confused and upset with each other’s words and actions, they never gave up and never stopped fighting or sacrificing for one another.  That’s what I remember about my friends and family in the 80s- a strong sense of loyalty, honor and integrity.   

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The bold, stark and often comical contrasts of many of the scenes had my emotions shifting faster than the bumper cars at the fun fair carnival.

In all, it was an action-packed storyline with a strong and emotional ending.   No spoilers here!

The other fun and random things I enjoyed about ST Season 3 include:

  • Dustin going to Science camp was totally awesome as I was fellow nerd who as part of the Science League at High School and attended string music camp with my cello for a week each August.
  • The budding romance of El and Mike and the demand from Hopper to keep the bedroom door open 3 inches.
  • The community pool antics, the aviator and Ray-Ban sunglasses and the big hair and blue eye shadow of the fawning ladies in the chaise lounges.farrells_mustache_bp
  • Fond memories of hanging out at the mall with friends and going to Spencer Gifts just to look at the stupid toys, stuffed animals and posters. For me, the mall was also the special place to go to eat large quantities of ice cream at a place called Farrell’s.

 

  • The rise of Girl Power and strong, smart female characters. Nancy, Robin, Joyce, Max and Erica (Caleb’s sassy little sister) all showed the boys a thing or two.  I also admired the technical prowess of Dustin’s elusive girlfriend Susie who knew Planck’s number by heart.
  • The understanding and acknowledgement that cherry Slurpees are the best and only flavor worth having.
  • 10-4 good buddy! What’s your 20? I loved the CB lingo on Dustin’s ham radio and the boys’ walkie-talkies.
  • Being a Nerd is cool and often helpful in killing the large, hungry monsters.
  • The hilarious clothes shopping spree with El and Max was just like I remember doing with my girl friends. I did own a pair of yellow pants with attached suspenders and a shirt very similar to Nancy’s purple blouse with the square cutouts at the top.
  • The nods to countless cool movies of the time like The Terminator, Back to the Future, Red Dawn, The Shining and ET.
  • A common bad guy/enemy in the Russians. Memories of Rocky 4 and the way Sylvester Stallone kicked butt in the ring with the hulking, blonde Dolph Lundgren.
  • The realization that I didn’t like New Coke and don’t know what all the fuss was about.
  • Banana boat ice cream sundaes.
  • Billy’s haircut was spot on for some of the boys I remember from my high school’s class of 1984 and 85.
  • The music from the mid 80s:  Corey Hart- “Never Surrender”, REO Speedwagon- “I can’t fight this feeling”, John Cougar Mellencamp- “R.O.C.K in the USA”, Motley Crue- Home Sweet Home” ( played in the Season 3 trailer).
  • The cars, the cars, the cars! My family, friends and classmates all had some version or another of some of the vehicles featured in season 3 including the clunky and hulking Ford LTD, the sturdy Chevy Blazer, the sexy 1979 Camaro and the beautiful, butter-cream yellow 1984 Cadillac Eldorado.

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Scoops Ahoy!  I can’t wait for Season 4.

 

Stranger Things Part 2: The Resurgence of D&D

Once upon a time in a land called Spotswood, there lived a small band of boys who wanted to escape to faraway places. Some were heroes and some were villains but all were creatively powerful. The young lads were named Peter, Chris, Bob and Jake. Led by a Dungeon Master, they met every week to map out their adventures and roll the dice for their fate.

The group ducked out of the doldrums of tedious tasks from school and created a magical world beyond anyone’s dreams. It was wondrous place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation was the boundaries of their imaginations.

A small square of land inside the boundaries of the brook and the streets of Bruning, Maiden and Manalapan became mystical whenever the boys met to embark on their adventures by waging war against the monsters.

Each boy became a rich and clever character with varying abilities and they often worked together to strategize, solve problems and overcome challenges. Other times they plotted and schemed and sought more control and power.

Some were Human and some were Elves. Others were Dwarfs or Wizards.

No matter what class they were, they assembled face to face around the table to slay monsters like Dragons, Giants, Orcs and Demogorgons. 

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In my last article “Friends Don’t Lie and other Stranger Things”, I highlighted how the elements of Freedom and Adventure were more prevalent for kids growing up in 1980s and were fostered by the very popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). The lack of electronic distractions combined with the creative power of the face-to face interactions with a dedicated group of ongoing characters propelled a generation of geeks and nerds into one of the most innovative and explosive periods of American prosperity, the 1990s.

Dungeons_and_Dragons_-_Chapter_1One of the things that fascinated me most about the Netflix series, Stranger Things, was the central and influential role the D&D-like game played. The plot, time frame and characters were perfectly set and most Generation Xers will proudly tell you that the story line would not have worked as well in another other decade.

 

When I was a young girl, my heroes were Wonder Woman and Samantha Stephens from Bewitched. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite books thanks to my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Muschla. So as you might imagine, I love the idea of average, ordinary people possessing special powers that enables them to kick ass and defeat the stronger villains and monsters.

Role-playing games like D&D are so popular because they so strongly tap into that primal urge to be secure and defeat any threat to one’s safety. It is all the more fun and appealing when you add in a sprinkle of magical powers that help you slay an evil foe with a bit of fire and flair! Merlin and Harry Potter showed us this.

Although I wasn’t an elf or a witch or even a fairy, I had a carefree and adventurous childhood growing up in Spotswood, NJ. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other by name and we all played together in the streets and explored in the woods and by the outlets, rivers and lakes.

I grew up on a small street called Maiden Lane and soon branched out with friends on Bruning Lane and Manalapan Road. After junior high school my world expanded to include friends from faraway places like East Brunswick, Milltown and Old Bridge (they were really only a few miles away).MaidenLanePorch_cropped

The close-knit friendships we forged in the 1980s were organic and lasting. The creative minds and sense of unlimited potential propelled us on an exciting journies to battle strange enemies and malevolent beings. Little did I know it would send me to the Persian Gulf in 1990 to fight in a war against Saddam Hussein but that is a story for another blog!

During school, my circle of friends was diverse and interesting included a quirky group of kids. They were mostly marching band members who were smart and dare I say slightly dorky. I had the fun and privilege to watch some of them play D&D for hours on end and was fascinated by the creativity and power of the character development. The concept of underdog heroes having powers to stop villains appeals to me and perhaps some of this influence is what planted the seed for me to join the US Army in the late 80s.

I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with some childhood friends from Spotswood to get their perspectives on Stranger Things and specially the influence of D&D.   Luck would have it that I was Facebook friends Peter C. (Spotswood SHS class of 82) and he has been a Dungeon Master for the past eight years and played with the boys on my block in the early 80s. Jack Pot! What fun we had talking about Stranger Things and strolling down memory lane, if not Maiden Lane.

Pete explained that D&D puts you into the adventure and makes you a hero. It sparks your imagination and for him and his friends it made their comic books come alive.

As a Stranger Things fan, Pete felt that “the D&D connection in the show allows the kids to relate to the weird events having around them. They have readied themselves for these battles. D&D has taught them to be heroes and they are putting it use fighting the Demongorgon in the Upside Down. Mind Flayer and Truesight are also out of D&D and are referenced in Season 2.

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The New Yorker magazine recently published an article by Neima Jahromi titled The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons and Dragons” (Oct. 24, 2017) and it summarized well some of the key ideas I had percolating in my mind after binge-watching Stranger Things Season 2.

The themes of escaping and being “off the grid”, connecting with a close and trusted circle of friends and fighting a common enemy are alluring and powerful in any decade.   The creativity that is unleashed by unplugging and sitting face to face around a table for hours is amazing and satisfying for many people. The level of immersion, concentration and focus that results from this type of experience is also something that is lacking our in hyper distracted and multi-tasking world.

This is why! This is the reason why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others.

People long to escape and share their stories and experiences. Role-playing games like D&D bring people together and gives the group sense of camaderie and belonging.

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Like the band of boys from the land of Spotswood, you can enter a magical world that is an exciting place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation is the bounds of your imagination. You can become a long-standing character that can grow in skills and power. You can be a force for good or you can chose to become a monster. No matter what, you will have fun and shared adventures with a trusted circle of friends.

Friends Don’t Lie and Other Stranger Things- Part 1

“The Past is a foreign country: They do things differently there”.

–L.P. Hartley 1953

Why am I longing for the year 1984 like it is some quaint, simple and authentic nation that values loyalty and character?   Is nostalgia clouding my view and causing me to misremember this strange decade that is now viewed as “retro” by the Millennial and Z generations?

I blame this recent love and fascination with the 1980s on the popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I finished watching season 2 three weeks ago and it really has me obsessing about big hair, parachute pants, and the video games Pac-Man and Asteroids.

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Movies seemed bigger and better forty years ago and we were forever changed by ET, The Terminator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Ghost Busters and Gremlins.   The themes of good vs evil seemed more simple, sincere and powerful. Films were more about entertaining and less about lecturing.  The plots and characters seemed more fun and whimsical. Being an adrenalin junkie, I loved the intense adventure, risk taking and the fearless dedication to noble and sometimes scary causes.

I found myself pondering the question of why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others?

Being a proud and slightly older member of Generation X,  I reached back into my memory banks with the help of photos, high school year books and interviews with childhood friends.  From this I distilled the following four reasons for why the early 1980s were so totally awesome and how the Stranger Things cast and plot exemplified them:

  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Loyalty
  • Character

The tight group of friends in Stranger Things had an important and secret mission on their hands and I related to the huge amount of Freedom they were afforded by their parents.   As a latch key kid with both parents working, I had large  amounts of time on my own where I could explore and be with my friends.

Unsupervised Adventures were another hallmark of growing up the in the early 1980s.  For me, the only planned or scheduled events were sporting events at school (or via a bus) during the week, orchestra and marching band practices.  Most of my memorable experiences were outside playing in the street, at the lake or in the woods. By far the most exciting adventures were spontaneous.

Defeating the demogorgon and rescuing Will from the Upside Down was the ultimate adventure in my book.  I loved how many of the parents in Stranger Things were completely oblivious to what their kids were up to!

The theme of Loyalty really hit home for me during Eleven’s strong expression/tantrum of “Friends don’t lie!”.

Mike, Eleven, Lucas, Dustin and Will had a strong and trusting bond of friendship that enabled them stick together, count on each other and accomplish their heroic mission. I identified with this sense of commitment as I still have loyal connections with a number of friends from my childhood and adolescence.

The concept of Character in Stranger Things resonated with me in two ways with two meanings. First, I loved the character development of the underdog heroes and the references to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). I also felt a strong sense of virtue and moral code among the friends.  I dig more deeply into the D&D influences in my next blog ( part 2 of this series).

I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed Stranger Things. On multiple levels, for a multitude of reasons I became enthralled, reminiscent and excited. While I’ve always been a big Sci-Fi fan (Ray Bradbury rocks), there was something special about this mix of characters, plot and time period. It truly warmed my heart.

Seeing and feeling the loyalty, love and trust of family and friends makes we want to travel home soon to my small hometown so I can take a walk down by the water with my sister, brothers, nieces and nephews.

“The Past is a foreign country: They do things differently there”.

Stranger Things reminded me of just how different our world has become in the past 40 years and how lucky I was to grow up during a time of relative peace and innocence.

I’ll end with a Top 20 List of the things I loved about the 1980s (in no particular order).

  1. Hanging out with friends and listening to records or tapes for hours on end.
  2. Making custom cassette tape mixes. IMG_4511
  3. Watching actual music videos on MTV.
  4. Being able to go over to someone’s house unannounced and just knock on the door and ask if they want to come out and play.
  5. Climbing trees and occasionally having someone break an arm (ok, maybe I don’t miss this part).
  6. Live rock concerts.
  7. Playing in the “dirt piles” behind my house.
  8. Sitting around an open fire in the woods.
  9. Going to Devoe Lake and sitting by the small waterfall overlooking the American Legion post.
  10. Play acting and performing skits for no apparent reason.DSCF8413
  11. Riding our bikes to places my parents didn’t know about ( and would have had a heart attack if they had).
  12. Exploration and the sense of wonder at discovering new and buried things.
  13. Playing kick ball in the street.
  14. Riding my bike and unicycle without a helmet ( it’s amazing I survived).
  15. Swing sets and dodge ball at recess after lunch at school.
  16. Playing video games at the local pizza parlor (Sorrentos).
  17. Jumping off home made, wooden ramps with our bikes.
  18. Storytelling at sleepovers.
  19. Overalls and white painters pants.
  20. High school yearbooks with hand drawn artwork on the covers.  See the Pegasus photos above and below.

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In Part 2 of this Series on Stranger Things and the 1980s, I’ll dive into the magical world of D&D which played such a pivotal part in the Stranger Things series to date.

I recently interviewed a childhood friend from Spotswood, NJ, Peter C., who shared with me his experience with D&D over the past 39 years and his thoughts and perspective on the early 1980s and the Stranger Things series.

Stay tuned for more tidbits, trivia and insights from a Dungeon Master!

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