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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Seeing It

What is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

Sitting in a stark, bare-walled apartment with most of my possessions packed in boxes  Churchstaircasehelped clarify my reality last month.  The lack of distractions (no TV, no pictures, no knick knacks) enabled me to focus on what is important and clearly see the challenge (and the monster puzzle) at hand.

Yes, I’m moving again for the 21st time since I graduated college but this time is different since I did most of the packing on the weekends after going to yoga class. These weekly treks to Yoga Yoga in North Austin were not just any class. They were inspirational and dare I say, life changing. The two instructors, Lisa and Kimberly are amazing examples of strong, grounded woman and they helped me more than they know.

When the dreaded day came and I needed to pack the kitchen, I had an exciting new angle and attitude about it.

If you want to resolve something- you have to look at it… really look at it. These were the wise words I heard from Lisa. I was reminded to see things again for the first time, like a beginner entering a yoga pose.

A camera workshop I recently attended in Bastrop, TX, taught me to step back and look at the big picture and to zoom in closely to see important details.

All of the ideas that had been swirling around in my head came together with a simple, yet brilliant principle- “The Oz Principle” to be exact. This book by Roger Connor, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman was introduced to me at work this year and provided simple yet elegant steps to accountability. Like following the yellow brick road to get to the Emerald City, you put one foot in front of the other on and take the following steps:

  • See It
  • Own It
  • Solve It
  • Do it

It coalesced for me in my barren Austin apartment when I focused (no pun intended) on the See It part. I also took out my camera to document the process so I could share it with you in this blog.

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Before I dove right into fixing and solving my problem at hand, I took a breath and a step back and truly viewed the challenge at hand.  What was I dealing with?

What was my challenge that hot and swampy day in the Austin apartment?

I had the dreaded and monumental task of packing the kitchen for an out of state move. Anyone who has moved before knows the feeling that this undertaking brings up and I’m reaching for my Tums just thinking about it.

As I stood back in the small kitchen space of the apartment, I decided that this time would be different. This time I would solve my problem more efficiently and effectively. This time I would see it before I would solve it. I would solve it before I jumped into action to do it.

For my kitchen-packing project, I also used my Scrum Master training to break down the enormous undertaking into smaller, more digestible chunks.

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For fun and because I’m a Project Manager geek, I documented the steps of my exciting, new packing process and have outlined them below.

Here are the steps for quick and easy kitchen packing:

  1. Empty 1 or 2 shelves or cabinets at time and put everything out on the counter or table.
  2. Look, assess and mentally inventory what you have and how many boxes you’ll need.
  3. Determine what goes together from a packing perspective and physically group them together.
  4. Line up your empty boxes.
  5. Pack grouped items into the same box until it is full.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for remaining items on the counter.
  7. Once the table or counter is clear, go back to step 1 and empty out another cabinet or shelf and begin the Look and Inventory process again ( step 2).

It was like solving a big puzzle and I had fun with it.

Seeing it help me in this endeavor because I was able to take a step back and truly assess what I was dealing with before I acted to fix the problem.

Seeing the reality in front of you clearly and honestly without filters is one of the most difficult things to do since we all have our internal biases and frames of reference.

So while you may not be packing soon for a move across the country, you will be faced with some daunting and complex challenges ( I like to call them puzzles) in the coming weeks or months.  Problems are part of life and it sure is nice when we have better tools and techniques for clarifying and resolving them.

The light bulb went off when I realized that this concept of “Putting everything out on the counter” and Seeing It could be applied to many other areas of my life.

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I guess it’s like dealing with the elephant in the room.  You have to 1) acknowledge that you have an elephant ( or a smelly fish) present, 2) truly see the size and nature of the elephant and 3) honestly assess it and see the reality of the situation.

Viewing the puzzle from various angles and sides is also helpful.  The back side of the elephant  gives you a much different perspective that just seeing the trunk or the leg.

 

So what is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

What puzzle/obstacle/opportunity are you ready to see clearly before you jump right in to solving?

Remember the Oz Principle of Seeing It, Owning It, Solving It and Doing It.

For when Dorothy finally arrived at the beautiful Emerald City to see the Wizard, she had to draw back the curtain to see the true situation before she was able to get back home.

 

 

 

Mighty Gumby and the Importance of Flexible Strength 

Ouch! Traveling can be painful. Three weeks of planes, rental cars and unfamiliar beds have wreaked havoc on my back muscles. Plus, I was foolish and did not heed my own advice which is the key point of this article.

Flexibility and Strength are not mutually exclusive and should be worked on in tandem as much as possible. I am thinking of tattooing this reminder on my arm.

Are you one of those naturally flexible people who can do touch your toes without too much trouble? I have always admired this ability since I am not the most limber person in the world. When I was seven years old I struggled more than the other girls at the bar in ballet class. My muscles just didn’t seem as gumby-like as the graceful ballerinas. I was envious and realized that I wouldn’t be joining the circus as an acrobat anytime soon.

After my traumatic dance class experience I longed to be a combination of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman. The power, adaptability and super hearing abilities were alluring to me. I also longed to possess a “Truth Lasso” for obvious reasons.

Though I wasn’t able to touch to toes as a child, I did have strong leg muscles so I gravitated towards sports like soccer, track and cycling. I started weight lifting in college and ultimately joined the army where the goal was to do as many push-ups I could in a two minutes. Strength trumped flexibility because it was easier. Little did I realize how this one sided focus could cause imbalance, restriction and injury. Why did my lower back always get pulled into a painful knot? Why would my neck become so tight that I couldn’t look up?

Photo by Nancy Martch who is pictured below

Neck strain and back pain are so common in our stressed out and hectic world that Yoga centers are popping up everywhere to help unwind, relax and balance the masses.   This year in Austin I’ve been practicing yoga with a steady frequency and I was feeling great. In retrospect, my vacation plans to visit friends and family for my birthday should have included stretching and breathing exercises to keep me in balance. Oh when will I ever learn?

Many people don’t fully understand and appreciate the importance of balancing flexibility and strength. Here’s a good, simple way to think about it:

  • Increasing flexibility without strength results in joint instability.
  • Increasing strength without flexibility results in soft tissue tears, sprains and postural changes.

Thankfully three strong, lithe friends came into my life over the last 15 years and introduced me the power and healing benefits of the ancient practice. What Heidi started in San Diego in 2002, Nancy and Clarissa continue to inspire me to reach for my toes and beyond.

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Photo by Barry Staver

Elastic power leads to balance and stability, helping us physically and mentally in our personal and professional lives. Being grounded and level headed makes you a confident more assertive speaker and leader.

Here’s some great advice I received in yoga class: Flexibility needs to be supported by strength and stability.

Now I happily compliment my push-ups with the all -important child’s pose. My weight lifting reps are interspersed with the ever helpful downward facing dog.

Over the years I have come to marvel at how much yoga has improved my bicycling skills and strength and how my core strength has made my yoga poses so much more grounded.

Too much of any one good thing can lead to trouble and a wonderful blend of complimentary things can launch us to higher levels of achievement and satisfaction.

 

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Strong and flexible muscles are happy and less prone to injury.

So be like a mighty Gumby- your back and neck muscles will thank you!

 

You Have a Seat at the Table, Now What?

Much has been written about the strength and impact of women’s voices in corporate America and the level to which they are acknowledged and perceived. What we say and how we say it are critical success factors and key skills to refine and perfect. I would even go as far to say that how we present our message is an art which needs to be thoughtfully approached and practiced for maximum effect.

As more women get promoted into leadership and executive positions, the next challenge and question is-  how do we make certain that our input is heard? How do we connect and reach people to influence, motivate and inspire them?

Given my frame of reference and experience as a leader over the last 28 years, I’d like to share with you some thoughts, ideas and suggestions on how to ensure that your voice is  heard and respected.

My background is deeply rooted in the area of communication both in the military and in leadership roles in a number of large corporations in the US. I served as a Signal Platoon leader during the first Gulf War and my main job was directing and projecting my voice to give orders and commands to a communications unit that deployed cellular networks on the battlefield. I also received extensive training on radio communications and protocols during hostile operations. This is where I learned the importance and value of being bold, being brief and being gone. The mantra that stuck with me was: “Be bold, be brief, be gone”.  Make your point quickly and then be still.  Speak, wait, listen and learn.

After my time in the Army, I worked in various fields including Sales, Consulting, Project Management and Agile leadership, all of which rely heavily on strong communication skills to be effective.

I have been an active member in Toastmasters International since 1994 and enjoy giving speeches and mentoring others to improve their confidence and communication effectiveness. Basically, I’ve been working on honing my ability to connect, articulate and transmit information, stories and messages to others since the mid 1980s.

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As a long time Toastmaster, I’ve been told that I possess a “Confident Command” when I speak. It is from this perspective that I present to you some tips and techniques  on the topic of Powerful Speaking.

1 – Project your voice

Before you utter your first word at the table, on the conference call or at the lectern, take a long, deep breath and get grounded in your thoughts and intention. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles ( I use a technique of firmly pressing the palms of my hands together for 8 seconds- usually done under the table where I am sitting prior to standing for my presentation).

Be mindful of your volume and pitch. Avoid a shrill sound which is often overly high and piercing in quality. Even tones and breathing are your friends.   Practice your key foundational statements ( opening and closing) in advance so you can ensure that you project your message clearly and strongly.

2- Make your point quickly and succinctly

Back to the “Be Bold, Be Brief, Be Gone” mantra. Make sure that your main point is clearly stated up front and with power and conviction. Declare and proclaim the situation, facts and impact in a short 1-3 sentence statement of clarity and impact. Get their attention, connect and then elaborate on your point if necessary.

Providing brief stories and examples can help support your point and knowing your audience’s concern and frame of reference is key to ensuring that your message is heard, understood and hopefully appreciated.

Know your facts cold. This will help you deliver in a solid and unwavering manner.

Remember, Less is More.

3- Know your value and what you uniquely bring to the table.

Be prepared.

Be authentic.

Be steady.

Be assertive.

You’ve got this!

4- Having a Positive and Grounded Tone

It’s not only what you say but how you say it has never been more true.

As a woman friend and outstanding speaker from Laughing Matters Toastmasters club in Austin recently shared with me:

“Don’t be wimpy. Don’t be whiny. Don’t be pissy. Don’t go postal.

Rather, have a tone of confidence, composure, and quiet conviction.”

Another tip to have a good, solid tone is to tap into your Personal Power.

Here’s an energizing quote that I read on DailyOm.com two days ago.

“ Power is not about exerting our will over others, it is about being in complete truth with ourselves. When personal power is balanced, we are neither meek nor overbearing.”

When we have harness our Personal Power we:

  • Have a clear sense of our strength and the impact we can have on others
  • Are worthy and deserve to be heard
  • Come from a place of humility and strength- not entitlement

When speaking from a position of balanced strength, our tone and non-verbal communications send the message that “ I have something important and valuable to contribute”.

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The Goddess Pose

So take your seat at the table, speak up and let your voice and powerful message be heard!

I hope that this article was helpful and connected with you in some way.

Please send me your comments, questions and thoughts.

This is Brenda Smull signing off. Over and Out.

So Many Things Left Unsaid

There is much on my mind. So many topics to talk about, so many things to say but lately my blog outlines and drafts are piling up on the shelf.

Perhaps I have my first case of writer’s blog. Maybe I’m just too busy to finish and publish. Maybe I’m caught up in the intense tone of the nation when it comes to Freedom of Expression.

I’m not sure of the reason and I’m not big on making excuses so I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas and topics I’ve been tossing around for the last 6 months but haven’t finalized in an article, speech or blog.

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I’ll let you decide what you think is important, relevant or interesting.

Please send me your comments and feedback on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Letting Go – I learned a new word today while in Yoga class. It is Vairagya…
  2. REI’s Force of Nature marketing campaign.
    • Do we need a retail company to “help make outside the largest level playing field on earth”?
  3. Life is Spiritual Warfare. Words of wisdom from Tariji Henson.
  4. You have a seat at the table- Now what? Speaking with confidence and humility to land your message and make an impact.

Sadly, the communication climate in the United States has taken an extremely negative turn since the election of Donald Trump in Nov 2016. Many people do not feel safe or comfortable with sharing their thoughts and opinions outside of their circle of like-minded “friends” and those that are voicing their ideas and concerns are doing so with such anger and intensity that the point of the message is not being received by those who need to hear it.

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Is this the reason why I’m not carrying through with my ideas on my WordPress blog ?

Is Fear stopping me?

I don’t know but I’m afraid to ask.

What do you think?

Should some things be left unsaid?

Soulful Servings 

Getting healthy dose of quality communication with others and can do wonders for your soul. But how often do we get a full and balanced serving of it?

Taking a vacation with a long time friend is fun and rejuvenating, especially when you can connect with the child-like spirit you once possessed.  This year’s getaway was to the west coast of Florida and I was thrilled to have a three day road trip with my dear friend Andrea.

Our time together was just what the doctor ordered and our interaction time was extended, genuine and authentic.  We told stories, shared dreams and lamented the woes of the world.  We were together and connecting without the use of an electronic device, just like we did in the 1980s when we met.

I had full, balanced and delicious meals of communication that left me happy and satisfied. I can’t tell you how much I have missed live expression, eye contact and nuance in my connections with others. All the things we are lacking in our frenzied life of online interaction with what’s called the “Snackification” of communication, I got to enjoy and experience it in the flesh.

Since it is the Lent season, Andrea and I have decided to give up Angst. Relaxing and restoring a sense of balance were our main objectives and I think we have met our goals.

There are many different forms of communication in today’s online world: written (texts, emails, letters), verbal (phone, FaceTime) and social media (posts, blogs and tweets). To me, nothing beats good old fashioned face to face sharing.

As I reflect on these last few days I can’t help but feel blessed and thankful for being able to spend quality time with good friends and family.  This is what a full and balanced life is all about and I was so happy consume and savor my Soulful Serving!

 

A View on Balance: Yoga, Minds and Eyes

I went to yoga class the other day and after holding a difficult pose for a minute the yoga instructor asked us to switch sides. She calmed stated, “You may notice that this side feels different than the first one and that is okay. Just observe it, take note and let it go. Don’t judge the difference between the two sides.”

After hearing some groans and comments from the group about recent events, marches and demonstrations, the instructor gently reminded us that there are no politics in Yoga rather it is about centering and focusing. Yoga helps us balance and is about opening your body and clearing your mind.

Wouldn’t this be nice if we did this in our everyday life?

Being aware of the differences from all the different sides and viewing them with both eyes wide open and not filtering so strongly through our own biased lens.

I view my life as a continuous effort to remain in balance. Opposing forces are always around us and we are often asked to pick or support one side or the other. But why? Why is there always a binary choice? Why is one side viewed as always right and the other as wrong?

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After my yoga class experience, an interesting and apropos book was brought to my attention by Steve Smull, a thoughtful and insightful writer, with his clever commentary and posts on Facebook.

The book by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Righteous Mind” was published in 2012 and has an important and relevant message in the polarized and hyper-partisan world in 2017.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s Yin and Yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues”

My husband Steve created another insightful thread online this morning that ties into this theme and I’ll leave you with his words.

“I view the world through both eyes. I have a right eye and a left eye. People who pick one to look through and close the other are missing depth perception. I suppose it’s simpler that way.

I do close one eye when I look through a viewfinder to capture an image. But not before surveying the scene with both eyes open first.

I don’t know why people are so incredibly defensive about how great it is to see through only their preferred eye. OK, one of your eyes may be dominant, but that’s no reason to cover your other eye with duct tape.”

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