Make a blanket fort and watch Stranger Things

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Friday night I decided I just couldn’t take it anymore. Between the unnecessary stress of my new office environment (yes they moved my office again), the political and social unrest that now confronts us daily I knew I needed a big break from reality. My escape plan including disconnecting from social media, grabbing my current read Mary Beard’s SPQR, and curling up on the couch for the weekend. I even thought about constructing a blanket fort to hide in but the weekend temperatures were to damn high.

By Saturday afternoon it became clear that even all of this wasn’t enough to shut my brain off so I turned my attention to Netflix. I’d read some Internet buzz about a new Netflix series called Stranger Things that promised to be highly addicting and fun. Depending on which review one read it was either a mash-up of every 80’s sci-fi and Steven King movie or X-Files meets The Goonies. Someone even wrote, “Imagine if Stephen King wrote E.T. and Steven Spielberg directed it”. One thing that everyone agreed on was that the show is the best thing Netflix has ever done. Two reviewers thought it was the best thing they’d ever seen, period.

I’m usually skeptical of anything that makes such hyperbolic claims; I find most things do not live up to this kind of hype. But, what the hell, I thought. I would try it for myself and if I didn’t like it, I could always build that fort since the weather was cooling off.

I noted in my review of The World of Poo that it is rare for anything to hearken me back to my childhood. There are not a lot, sadly, that stir up feelings of childhood for me. I am not one who feels nostalgic upon hearing an old song, or looking at pictures. Oh sure, memories come flooding back from time to time, but the emotions that usually accompany memories are dulled. The past seems too quiet for me to hear . So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself almost crying at the end of the series (yes I binged watched all 8 episodes) and wishing I had my childhood back.

I’m not the only one who felt this way. My good friend Jason posted this on Facebook after binge watching it too, “I am 35 years old. I will never not want to chat with friends on our walkie talkies, then jump on my bike to meet them for adventures.” This was his emotional response to the series. His sentiments were met with positive responses, it was clear this show had made an impact on many people.

The funny thing is, Jason is 35, I’m 52. We did not share a childhood but we do share the same feelings about our childhood that this series conjures up. The series is pure magic.

How to even begin to talk about this show without giving too much away? I will stay away from the plot details and instead just talk about why it worked and what to watch for.

When a young boy vanishes, a small town uncovers a mystery involving secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one strange little girl (Netflix blurb)

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True Stephen King fans will feel the hairs on their arms rise up as the title loads on the screen. Stranger Things contains the same type font as Kings early Double Day books. In fact, for a second I thought it said Needful Things, one of his older book titles. This is no coincidence as the show is a nod to all things King. A good eye will spot an officer reading a King book. By the look of the back jacket I’m sure the title is It. This too is no coincidence as the story revolves around its own “losers club” that is caught up in the search for the missing boy. Fans of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. will find elements of the movie, if not the over all theme, running throughout the series. In fact, it you don’t think E.T while watching, you may be missing the point. One of the show’s emotional hits for me was the sudden reminder that E.T. was the last movie my mom and I saw together before I moved out of the house. For some reason the biohazard scene in E.T really got to me and I turned to my mom for comfort. The scene is not repeated in Stranger Things, but does come close enough that some old discomfort started to arise and I had to take a moment to process why this was.

It also felt so much like Stand by Me, that one would be forgiven if they thought King wrote at least one or two episodes. He didn’t, but even King, posting on his Facebook page, had nothing but praise for the series.

How the producers, the Duffer brothers managed to pulls this off is beyond me; kudos to them for giving viewers everything that was great about Spielberg’s early work along with King and other 80’s cult classics. You’d think trying to fit this much pop-culture into one show would make it choppy or campy, yet the brothers were able to give us a fully polished gem.

That the series is set in 1983 is beside the point. Yes, the props and styles are as 80’s as you get, but the characters could be set in any time, any town. This is why my younger friend and I shared the same emotions. It didn’t matter that it was set in the 80’s, but as someone who was a teen in the early 80’s I appreciated the setting. I laughed when one of the teens tries to impress a girl by reminding her that all the other girls thinks he looks like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

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Beyond the supernatural and sci-fi elements, this is a series about the bonds of friendship; how they are forged and the lengths we will go to keep them. The series is dead set on reminding us that our childhood friendships once upon a time seemed to be the most important relationships we’d ever have. So much so that it deliberately plays on the disconnect between the adults and the children who are all affected by the disappearance of the boy. This disconnect applies to the adults too; it is uncomfortable to realize the father of one of the missing boy’s friends does not offer to join the search party until you recognize the theme of disconnection. The adults are not there for each other, and in one case, have no clue as to what goes on in their own house.

Maybe this is why the series works on such an emotional level. As a viewer I was never fully engaged with the adults, though I did feel for the mother of the missing boy, (played rather adeptly by 80’s star Winona Ryder). The connection is with the kids; you feel for them and by the end, want to be one of them.

Do yourself a favor; take a break from adulthood. Make yourself a blanket fort, grab some Eggos watch the series, and then let me know if you want to go bike riding. I’ve got the walkies-talkies.

In the age of digital interaction, what counts as friendship?

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While talking to my assistant yesterday I mentioned my love of podcasts. Without thinking I said, “I have two friends who host a thought provoking podcast on Sunday afternoons”. As soon as the words fell out of my mouth, I started to question my use of the term “friend”. I started to wonder, “are they my friends or are they acquaintances”? Why did I choose that word, and why was it so easy to think of them as friends even though we’ve never met face to face? In the age of superficial connections via social media, who is it that we can truly call our friend and who, an acquaintance?

Merriam Webster defines an acquaintance as:  Someone who is known but who is not a close friend The state of knowing someone in a personal or social way : the state of knowing someone as an acquaintance

This definition doesn’t seem to be at all helpful. If you know someone in a personal way, wouldn’t that person be your friend, or someone, because you personally know what she or he is like, is someone to avoid? We need a better definition.

Thanks to Facebook, we have come to loosely throw the term “friend” around when speaking about someone we’ve had even the slightest contact with. Before FB installed its Page feature, celebrities and authors looking to engage with their fans had to become “Friends” with them. Back in 2012 I became “friends” with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and even had a one on one conversation with him, but in no way did that count as friendship. So what does?

Who is the friend and who is the acquaintance?

Take these two people as examples: one is someone with whom I am in almost daily contact with, even if it’s a quick note on her FB wall. We’ve been in contact for almost 9 years. In those 9 years we’ve managed an online book club together, wrote long personal e-mails (I owe her one) and have exchanged Christmas gifts. I can still recall the thrill of picking out books for her daughter’s 6th birthday. But for all of that, we’ve never met face to face. The other is someone that I went to school with. Someone I hung out with middle school (somewhere in my collection of pictures is one of us dancing at my 13th birthday party). Of course we lost contact after high school and it wasn’t until the invention of FB did we reconnect. I have no idea what his wife’s name is, or how long they’ve been married. Once in a while we post a comment on each other’s wall, and give the obligatory birthday greeting. Yet despite the fact that he and I went to school together and at one time had a personal relationship, I’d be hard pressed to say we are truly friends. He has become an acquaintance, while my online friend and I share a very close personal relationship.

The above example seems obvious, we are learning in large part thanks to the Internet, that real friendships can develop even if distance keeps us apart. But that doesn’t answer my original question, given that we can now connect with authors, podcasters, bloggers etc. Who is it that we can truly call our friend and who an acquaintance?  Have we’ve been conditioned to use this term as a catch all for our daily social interactions? What is the line between friendship and a casual acquaintance? Surly not everyone we interact with are true friends.

That last question was key to my understanding of why I called the two above mentioned podcasters my friends. I’ve subconsciously formed an idea of whom I call friend. We all have I’m sure. I even suspect we all have list of what makes up a friendship or at least a vague idea of such a list.

The more I pondered the term “friend” and how I use it, the more important this list seemed to be. So I sat down and wrote one out in order to answer my question and understand why I called two guys I’ve never met, friends. This is how I determine whom I feel comfortable calling friend. I was a little hesitant to share it, as I am sure there will be those reading it that don’t agree or may feel uncomfortable with my idea of friendship. Don’t worry, most of you will never be asked to help me move or get that frantic 2am call.

I once had a boyfriend tell me my internet relationships were not real. He's gone, but my online friends remain.
I once had a boyfriend tell me my internet relationships were not real. He’s gone, but my online friends remain.

You might be Sari’s friend, even though we’ve never met if:

We’ve stayed in contact for a long period of time, even if that contact has moved from one form of social media to another. We’ve shared our ups and downs and know as much, if not more, than the people in our daily lives.

You share personal pictures and stories on your FB wall and or blog and we talk about them, and we do this on a regular basis. I know about your family and your achievements and you know about mine. We cheer each other on and give sympathy when needed.

We feel comfortable posting possible unpopular opinions, knowing the other will not be offended because we both value honesty and differing points of view. And we do this quite often.

I am one of the few people that you will get back to right away. Whenever I e-mail or send a quick Tweet, you make sure to respond right away. We may not communicate often but when we do it is never shallow or impersonal.

Our conversations have moved beyond what brought us together in the first place. If we stay on one topic, then we are acquaintances who share similar tastes and worldviews.

In short, those I call friends know and value my opinions, take me for who I am and are comfortable being themselves around me. We share pieces of our lives, sometimes small, and sometimes more than we share with others. We may not be in constant contact, but when we do communicate it is always a good feeling. And that, I believe, is the cornerstone of all friendships, no matter the distance between us.

I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.
William Shakespeare Richard II

If you have an idea or list of things that you use to determine friendship let us know. All comments are welcome.