Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rules for Mittopoly, adapted for 2012

With the new economic proposals from the Romney-Ryan ticket, Monopoly needs some new rules to reflect  the economic reality ahead of us if they are elected. And so I present:


Official Mittopoly Game Rules
(Adapted from the classic Monopoly® game)
Original rules found at www.hasbro.com
Monopoly® available from www.amazon.com

The following page is a copy of the rules adapted from the Monopoly® Rule Book.
Additions in Yellow
Inspired by the Mitt Romney Paul Ryan budget plan
By Jane Hurst, www.janehurst.blogspot.com

OBJECT
The object of the game is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling of property.  If you want happiness, you have to find it some other way than by accumulating  wealth.


EQUIPMENT

The equipment consists of a board, 2 dice, tokens, 32 houses and 12 Hotels. There are 15 Silver Spoon Cards, 16 Chance (Plus one Silver Spoon Card in the chance deck* plus additional Chance cards as listed below) and 16 Community Chest cards, 28 Title Deed card (one for each property), and play money, with the addition of 50 x $1000 bills. 
*Silver Spoon chance card is only inserted into the deck every fifth  game, or at the whim of the Politician, who has written laws guaranteeing  tax advantages and write offs that allow the growth and transfer of wealth by the Silver Spoon Player.


PREPARATION

Place the board on a table and put the Chance and Community Chest cards face down on their allotted spaces on the board. Each player chooses one token to represent them while travelling around the board.

Roll the dice to decide which player (and his descendents) will be the Silver Spoon Player. Highest number wins.  The Silver Spoon player gets $15,000 and 5 houses and 5 hotels to begin the game.  He/she also gets guaranteed loans from the bank to expand his/her business when requested.

Roll the dice to decide which player will be the Politician. Lowest number wins. The Politician gets $5000 to start the game and favorable guaranteed loans to buy and improve property.

Each remaining player is given $1500 divided as follows:

2 $500's, 2 $100's, 2 $50's, 6 $20's, 5 $10's, 5 $5's, and 5 $1's.

All remaining money and other equipment go to the Bank.

POLITICIAN

The Politican in theory serves at the pleasure of the electorate, but in fact is in the pocket of the Silver Spoon Player. The advantage to being the Politician is that when he/she passes GO he/she collects $1000 in campaign contributions from the Silver Spoon Player.  He/she also has a higher salary (set by the congress) than everyone else and collects $500 from the bank when he/she passes Go. He/She also starts the game with $5000 and one Get out of Jail Free card.


BANKER

Select as Banker a player who will also make a good Auctioneer. A Banker who plays in the game must keep their personal funds separate from those of the Bank.  The Banker may have a Swiss Bank Account to conceal funds and avoid taxes. He/She also starts the game with$5000 and  one Get out of Jail Free card.

When more than five persons play, the Banker may elect to act only as Banker and Auctioneer.

THE SILVER SPOON PLAYER (The 1%)

The Silver Spoon Player begins the game with $15,000 and the ability to borrow money and make campaign contributions to the Politician in exchange for favorable legislation. He/She also starts the game with two Get out of Jail Free cards and a favorable line of credit with the bank.

Anyone who becomes a silver Spoon Player may convey this status to his/her heirs in the next game of Mittopoly.  If both generations want to play they have to share their money, but the other privileges convey to both.

THE BANK

Besides the Bank's money, the Bank holds the Title Deeds, and the houses and hotels prior to purchase by the players. The Bank pays salaries and bonuses. It sells and auctions properties and hands out the proper Title Deed cards when purchased by a player, it also sells houses and hotels to the players and loans money when required on mortgages.
The Bank collects all taxes, fines, loans and interest, and the price of all properties which it sells and auctions. The Bank "never goes broke." If the Bank runs out of money, the Banker may issue as much as needed by writing on any ordinary paper.


THE PLAY

Starting with the Banker, each player in turn throws the dice. The player with the highest total starts the play. Place your token on the corner marked "GO", then throw the dice and move your token
(in the direction of the arrow)
 the number of spaces indicated by the dice.
After you have completed your play, the turn passes to the left. The tokens remain on the spaces occupied and proceed from that point on the player's next turn. Two or more tokens may rest on the same space at the same time.
 
Depending on the space your token reaches, you may be entitled to buy real estate or other properties, or be obliged to pay rent, pay taxes, draw a Chance or Community Chest card, Go To Jail, or etc...

If you throw doubles, you move your token as usual, the sum of the two dice, and are subject to any privileges or penalties pertaining to the space on which you land. Retaining the dice, throw again and move your token as before. If you throw doubles three times in succession, you have committed financial fraud and must move your token immediately to the space marked "In Jail".


GO

Each time a player's token lands on or passes over GO, whether by throwing the dice or drawing a card, the Banker pays that player a $200 salary. With these additions:
Banker $2000 in mortgage interest, credit card fees, and processing fees
Politician $1000 in campaign contributions
Silver Spoon Player $5000 in low tax stock dividends
The $200 is paid only once each time around the board. However, if a player passing
 GO on the throw of the dice lands 2 spaces beyond it on Community Chest, or 7 spaces beyond it on Chance, and draws the "Advance to GO" card, they collect $200 for passing GO the first time, and another $200 for Advancing to it the second time by the instructions on the card.


BUYING PROPERTY

Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price. You receive the Title Deed card showing ownership. Place the title deed card face up in front of you. If you do not wish to buy the property, the Bank sells it at through an auction to the highest bidder. The high bidder pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property.
Any player, including the one who declined the option to buy it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any price. The Banker, the Politician, and the Silver Spoon Player may borrow money from the Bank to buy property at no interest, to be paid back whenever the player wishes.


PAYING RENT

When you land on a property that is owned by another player, the owner collects rent from you in accordance with the list printed on its Title Deed card.
If the property is mortgaged, no rent can be collected. When a property is mortgaged, its Title Deed card is placed face down in front of the owner.
It is an advantage to hold all the Title Deed cards in a color-group (i.e., Boardwalk and Park Place, or Connecticut, Vermont and Oriental Avenues) because the owner may then charge double rent for unimproved properties in that colour-group. This rule applies to unmortgaged properties even if another property in that colour-group is mortgaged.
It is even more advantageous to have houses or hotels on properties because rents are much higher than for unimproved properties. The owner may not collect the rent if they fail to ask for it before the second player following throws the dice.  The Banker and the Silver Spoon Player may bargain with the Politican (in exchange for a campaign contribution) to pass a law that allows them to retroactively collect rent.


CHANCE AND COMMUNITY CHEST


When you land on either of these spaces, take the top card from the deck indicated, follow the instructions and return the card face down to the bottom of the deck. The "Get Out of Jail Free" card is held until used and then returned to the bottom of the deck. If the player who draws it does not wish to use it, then they may sell it, at any time, to another player at a price agreeable to both. 


INCOME TAX

If you land here you have two options: You may estimate your tax at $200 and pay the Bank, or you may pay 10% of your total worth to the Bank. Your total worth is all your cash on hand, printed prices of mortgaged and unmortgaged properties and cost price of all buildings you own.  The Banker, the Politician and the Silver Spoon Player pay only 5% of their wealth, so that they can create jobs later.
You must decide which option you will take before you add up your total worth.


JAIL
 

You land in Jail when...
(1)
 Your token lands on the space marked "Go to Jail",
(2)
 You draw a card marked "Go to Jail" or
(3)
 You throw doubles three times in succession.
When you are sent to Jail you cannot collect your $200 salary in that move since, regardless of where your token is on the board, you must move directly into Jail. Your turn ends when you are sent to Jail.
If you are not "sent to jail" but in the ordinary course of play lands on that space, you are
"Just Visiting", you incur no penalty, and you move ahead in the usual manner on your next turn.
You still are able to collect rent on your properties because you are
 "Just Visiting".

A player gets out of Jail by...
(1)
 Throwing doubles on any of your next three turns,
if you succeed in doing this you immediately move forward the number of spaces shown by your doubles throw. Even though you had thrown doubles, you do not take another turn.

(2)
 Using the "Get Out of Jail Free Card"
(3)
 Purchasing the "Get Out of Jail Free Card" from another player and playing it.
(4)
 Paying a fine of $50 before you roll the dice on either of your next two turns. If you do not throw doubles by your third turn, you must pay the $50 fine. You then get out of Jail and immediately move forward the number of spaces shown by your throw.
Even though you are in Jail, you may buy and sell property, buy and sell houses and hotels and collect rents.



FREE PARKING

A player landing on this place does not receive any money, property or reward of any kind.
This is just a "free" resting-place.  If you are the Banker, the Politician or the Silver Spoon Player, it has a water view.


HOUSES

When a player owns all the properties in a colour-group they may buy houses from the Bank
and erect them on those properties.
If you buy one house, you may put it on any one of those properties. The next house you buy must be erected on one of the unimproved properties of this or any other complete colour-group you may own. The price you must pay the Bank for each house is shown on your Title Deed card for the property on which you erect the house. The owner still collects double rent from an opponent who lands on the unimproved properties of there complete colour-group.
Following the above rules, you may buy and erect at any time as many houses as your judgement and financial standing will allow. But you must build evenly, i.e., you cannot erect more than one house on any one property of any colour-group until you have built one house on every property of that group. You may then begin on the second row of houses, and so on, up to a limit of four houses to a property. For example, you cannot build three Houses on one property if you have only one house on another property of that group.
As you build evenly, you must also break down evenly if you sell houses back to the Bank (see SELLING PROPERTY).


HOTELS

When a player has four houses on each property of a complete colour-group, they may buy a hotel from the Bank and erect it on any property of the colour-group. They return the four houses from that property to the Bank and pay the price for the hotel as shown on the Title Deed card. Only one hotel may be erected on any one property.

BUILDING SHORTAGES

When the Bank has no houses to sell, players wishing to build must wait for some player to return or sell their houses to the Bank before building. You may also contribute to the Politican who will pass  a law allowing you to seize the property of others for yourself, such as happens during highway building or urban renewal projects.  If there are a limited number of houses and hotels available and two or more players wish to buy more than the Bank has, the houses or hotels must be sold at auction to the highest bidder.

SELLING PROPERTY

Unimproved properties, railroads and utilities (but not buildings) may be sold to any player as a private transaction for any amount the owner can get. However, no property can be sold to another player if buildings are standing on any properties of that colour-group. Any buildings so located must be sold back to the Bank before the owner can sell any property of that colour-group.

Houses and Hotels may be sold back to the Bank at any time for one-half the price paid for them. All houses on one colour-group may be sold at once, or they may be sold one house at a time (one hotel equals five houses), evenly, in reverse of the manner in which they were erected.

MORTGAGES

Unimproved properties can be mortgaged through the Bank at any time. Before an improved property can be mortgaged, all the buildings on all the properties of its colour-group must be sold back to the Bank at half price. The mortgage value is printed on each Title Deed card.

No rent can be collected on mortgaged properties or utilities, but rent can be collected on unmortgaged properties in the same group.

In order to lift the mortgage, the owner must pay the Bank the amount of mortgage
 plus 10% interest. When all the properties of a colour-group are no longer mortgaged, the owner may begin to buy back houses at full price.

The player who mortgages property retains possession of it and no other player may secure it by lifting the mortgage from the Bank. However, the owner may sell this mortgaged property to another player at any agreed price. If you are the new owner, you may lift the mortgage at once if you wish by paying off the mortgage plus 10% interest to the Bank. If the mortgage is not lifted at once, you must pay the Bank 10% interest when you buy the property and if you lift the mortgage later you must pay the Bank an additional 10% interest as well as the amount of the mortgage.

BANKRUPTCY

You are declared bankrupt if you owe more than you can pay either to another player or to the Bank. If your debt is to another player, you must turn over to that player all that you have of value and retire from the game.
In making this settlement, if you own houses or hotels, you must return these to the Bank in exchange for money to the extent of one-half the amount paid for them.
This cash is given to the creditor. If you have mortgaged property you also turn this property over to your creditor but the new owner must at once pay the Bank the amount of interest on the loan, which is 10% of the value of the property.
The new owner who does this may then, at their option, pay the principal or hold the property until some later turn, then lift the mortgage. If they hold property in this way until a later turn, they must pay the interest again upon lifting the mortgage.
Should you owe the Bank, instead of another player, more than you can pay (because of taxes or penalties) even by selling off buildings and mortgaging property, you must turn over all assets to the Bank. In this case, the Bank immediately sells by auction all property so taken, except buildings. A bankrupt player must immediately retire from the game. The last player left in the game wins.

FRUSTRATION

If the ordinary players get too frustrated with the game and start to complain about the rules, offer them 1) Distraction into political campaigns focused on socal issues unrelated to the player’s own life, such as abortion and gay marriage, which arouse passions or 2) easy credit to encourage distracting consumerism or 3) a choice of addictions to take their minds off the cause of their frustration.  Addictions may include gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, media, online games, eating.

Be sure to limit treatment programs that would allow recovery from these addictions by underfunding them in the healthcare system.


MISCELLANEOUS

Money can be loaned to a player only by the Bank and then only by mortgaging property or as a personal favor to the Politician or the Silver Spoon Player. No player may borrow from or lend money to another player. 

WHY WOULD ORDINARY PEOPLE WANT TO PLAY THIS GAME?
Every Fifth game the Banker may insert the Silver Spoon Card into the Chance Deck, so there is the opportunity to join the 1%.

RULES for a SHORT GAME (60 to 90 minutes)

There are three changed rules for this Short Game.
1. During
 PREPARATION for play, the Banker shuffles the pack of Title Deed cards, then the player to the left cuts them, then the Banker deals out two, one at a time, to each player. The players must immediately pay the Bank the printed price of each. Play then begins as in the regular game.
2. In this short game, it is necessary to have only three houses
 (instead of four) on each lot of a complete colour-group before the player may buy a hotel.
Rent for a hotel remains the same as in the regular game.
The turn-in value of a hotel is still one-half the purchase price, which in this game is one house fewer than in the regular game.
 
3.
 END OF GAME. The first player to go bankrupt retires from play, as in the regular game. However, when the second bankruptcy occurs, the game ends. Play immediately ceases, with the bankrupt player's turning over to there creditor all that they have of value, including buildings and any other properties.
This happens whether the creditor is a rival player or the Bank.
Each remaining player then values his/her property.
(1) Cash on hand
 
(2) Lots, Utilities and Railroads owned, at the price printed on the board.
(3) Any mortgaged property owned, at one-half the price printed on the board.
 
(4) Houses, valued at purchase price.
(5) Hotels, valued at purchase price including the value of the
three houses turned in.

THE RICHEST PLAYER WINS!


ANOTHER GOOD SHORT GAME
 

TIME LIMIT GAME...Before starting, agree upon a definite hour of termination, when the richest player will be declared The winner. Before starting, the Banker shuffles and cuts the Title Deed cards and deals two to each player. Players immediately pay the Bank the price of the properties dealt to them.


ADDITIONAL CHANCE CARDS  (Suggestions welcome here)

1.    Contract a serious but curable illness that your health insurance plan does not cover.  Surrender all your money and property.
2.    A family member contractsa serious but curable illness that your health insurance plan does not cover.  Surrender all your money and property.
3.    Your wife finds out about you sleeping with your secretary and you failed to sign a prenup. Surrender 50% of your wealth to another player, chosen by the roll of the dice. Highest number wins.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Greta Garbo, Zen Master


Greta Garbo showed up as a fictional character in a book, and we got interested in her. We didn't remember seeing her movies, but we had seen that face. Of course. So we asked the kids at the local video store and they recommended Queen Christina. Wonderful film about a woman who abdicates from the throne to live an ordinary life. We have followed up with Anna Christie, better in the German than in the English, and a couple of her silent films. They say that she was so expressive that she needed fewer written words to describe her action and dialogue than any other actor.

On film she is mesmerizing and magnificent. She glows in front of the camera. When I started to read Garbo by Barry Paris, an exhaustive bio for those interested, I didn't know what to expect. In life she was kind of...dull. She seemed to lack direction, and needed people around her to decide which films she would make and how she would invest her money. In Hollywood she lived with a couple of guys, but didn't have any interest in marriage or settling into one spot. She moved around a lot. She didn't read much, and was not known to have "big thoughts". And most of all she is famous for having said about the starstruck fans chasing her "I want to be left alone."

Then why do I say she was a Zen Master? Because she did all this with an astonishing lack of ego. The makeup people made her look good for the camera, but she did not preen at herself. She seemed to have no obsession with how she looked on screen, letting costar John Gilbert always show his best side to the camera regardless of how she looked. She hated to rehearse, though she was letter perfect in memorizing dialogue. She just became the characters she played and with minimal fuss showed in her face and the lift of an eyebrow a lifetime of emotion.

And then she let it go. She had been a huge star, but never liked star trappings. She didn't like Hollywood parties where she would be on display as "Garbo". (Though she had little physical modesty and swam nude in her friends' pools.) She disliked fans coming up to her on the street for autographs, trying to get a piece of her personality for themselves. She usually said no. It's not that she was angry, it was that she just didn't care and didn't see why she should do anything that didn't interest her.

She just drifted out of film making. She lived in New York and traveled and walked a lot, and then stayed at home and watched Matlock on TV. She could have seemed depressed, but that didn't seem to be it. She was disinterested. She had few passions - not men or ideas or drugs or shopping. She was not motivated by the approval of others and did not feel the need to please them. She had many long term friendships but she was always less invested in the relationships than others were.

She was, to use a Zen word, detached. If you imagine being gifted in your youth with such talent and beauty that the world wanted access to you, how would you respond? Could you keep your ego out of it and not think how great you were based on others' opinions? Could you let fame and fortune go when you felt it was right and give up the applause? Could you look at your own beauty in the mirror and not take it personally? Garbo was able to do that.

So in the end, I'm not sure I would have been her friend, but I am moved by the way she lived her life. She did not let the world's opinion of what she ought to do keep her from following the path she felt pulled to. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are sleepy, act when someone puts you in a movie, as the old Zen teaching goes (sort of). And when the part calls for sadness you are sad, and when it calls for joy, you radiate your light through the lens, through the projector, to whoever is watching the film. And then you let it go.

P.S. She was also the perfect height, 5'7 1/2" and was mad about lingonberries. But I don't take these coincidences personally.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The right book at the right time

"A book is like a key that fits into the tumbler of the soul. The two parts have to match in order for each to unlock. Then - click - a world opens." Brad Kessler Goat Song

To say that I devoured this book is not exactly correct. I read it avidly over a period of the 22 hours since I got it from the library, with breaks for gardening and meals and sleep. And, happily, it is still available for me to read again. so I didn't consume it so much as it consumed me.

But I did devour the goat cheese from Vermont, made in the same valley and manner described in this book, that I bought at the Tomkins Square Farmer's Market in NYC in April. It wasn't until the last chapter that I realized that I had actually tasted the cheese he describes making, step by careful step. So now I have another sense memory to a book that goes up there with my all time favorites.

I have for the last few years been fascinated with sheep and goats and yarn (and knitting and weaving and dyeing). This has led to an interest in the behavior of these animals, who often act very differently but are nonetheless herd animals. Which has led to long ruminations (forgive me) on the nature of prey animals and predator animals. Herd animals gather together so that if a predator attacks, only the weakest on the edges will be picked off leaving the central core to survive. Kind of like 8th graders if I remember right.

Kessler takes my minimal knowledge and musings to an amazing level. Did you know that Swedish women used to sing to their herds in the mountains - secret songs that they would not share with men? Have you ever considered the connection between spiritual awakening and shepherding? (Moses, Muhammad, Krishna.) That shepherds and goat herds have traditionally been bards, creating poetry and songs that became the foundation of world literature?

And the writing. Oh, Brad, you can write. Each sentence is beautiful. Descriptions so natural but powerful that you are there on the mountain with the goats as the Carthusian Monastery in the next valley rings the bells for prayer.

I do not expect everyone to go pick up a copy of Goat Song just because I loved it so much. It is rare that this kind of connection between book and reader is made. I always want to love my books, to disappear into them the way I did when I was a kid, sitting on the kitchen stool over the hot air register, reading amidst the chaos of the family so intently that I often had to be called three or four times to bring me up out of my book trance.

Nowadays finding a book that does that for me is unexpected. You wander into the library and look at the books with those yellow "New" stickers and wonder what might catch your fancy. Sometimes you find a book that opens the door to your soul. And you never know when it will happen. I read Geraldine Brooks' March almost halfway through before I became entranced by it. Every time I pick up The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed I am carried away by her writing and I learn some new insight about slavery times. I am barely more than halfway through. It is too rich to eat/read in large amounts.

I don't read only literature or high quality nonfiction. Sometimes I read junk, a stupid mystery or a romance novel (always with an interesting setting or historical era) or a airport bookstore thriller. That's because if Kessler is right, sometimes I don't want to go into my soul and deliberately avoid books that might take me there. Or maybe I can't find the key that day, so compromise with passing the time.

"Reading good books ruins you for reading bad books" says Julia Ashton in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (I listened to this one as an audio book and thoroughly enjoyed it.) Sadly, this is true. I have been known to throw a book across the room in rage at the bad writing. Where are the editors? Do they just publish whatever a writer sends them? I'm working myself up here, and will now calm down.

I'm sad to finish Goat Song this morning, but surely there is another gem in the pile of books that are my planned summer reading. But it has to be the right book for the right moment. The key has to fit before I can disappear into the book. This, my friends, is my excuse for keeping too many books around. You never know when one might be just right for this moment.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

College Reunion


What we didn’t talk about at my 40th college reunion last week was the hard times we have been through. We didn’t dwell on illness, divorce, loss of loved ones, children in trouble, disappointments with our own achievements, those nights when you wake up wondering. We didn’t need to talk about that because by now we have all been through some of those difficulties, and it was understood that we were on equal footing.

We didn’t start college that way. We were all smart and knew how to work at a task, having been admitted to a competitive college. But we came from vastly different life experiences. Socially and economically we were all over the map, from on the edge economic survival in small town Ohio (me) to the wealthy New York Jewish world. From upper class Irish families to working class and brilliant. We had socially prominent classmates in both the white and black communities. Some had “ideal” families where there was plenty of love and security (emotional and financial) or so it seemed at the time. Others were not so fortunate, and the public fa├žade of “everything’s fine” covered up a boatload of suffering. We know that now, because we now know life has its unavoidable struggles. This is what Buddha meant when he said in the First Noble Truth “Life is suffering.” (But not all the time. We’ve learned that, too.)

We may have come to college with expectations of where we would fit in the world, and certainly I thought there would be “happily ever after” both with the guy I would eventually marry and with my life now that I had left Ohio. But between the years of 1966 and 1970 the world changed. And we were in the wave of that change. By now everyone is sick of the sixties generation talking about what we went through, but we aren’t sick of talking to each other about it. Here are some of the significant changes we saw during our four years of college:

• The Viet Nam War raged on, the draft took any of the guys who flunked out of or never attended college. The anti-draft movement was born, as well as the Anti-War movement.
• The time of “parietal hours” ended and we didn’t need to be back in the dorm by 11 on week nights and 1 am on weekends. We were allowed to have boys in our rooms more than 2 hours on Sunday with the door open. We didn’t have to wear skirts to dinner.
• Birth control became legal in our state for people who were not married, and we had easy access to the pill, though not through our college infirmary.
• There was access to safe but not legal abortions through a secret network of clergymen who had seen too many women die from back alley procedures.
• People began coming out as gay and lesbian, if only to a few close friends.
• The rise of Black Power, and the creation of the academic study of Afro-American Studies. (Women’s Studies came later.) We read Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver.
• The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
• The moon landing. Now we could see that the earth is one, without lines defining countries.
• The Summer of Love, Woodstock, Altamont.
• The many demonstrations against the war, in our town and Washington.
• The invasion of Cambodia and the killing of 4 students at Kent State University in 1970, weeks before our graduation. We were part of the nationwide student strike as a result.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve seen that list or something like it before. But we felt it and lived it, and the changes in the world made changes in ourselves, or vice versa. You can argue that the change was bad, that it never should have happened (some do) but we were there and the change not only happened, but it is in us. We couldn’t avoid it. We are different from those who came before us as a result.

So we gathered 40 years later to celebrate our lives up to now. My freshman year six of us were on the 5th floor (walk up!) of a dorm in what had been maid’s rooms. We had no phone service (we had to go downstairs if the phone was for us) and a bathroom with a tub, no shower. We bonded really well, and two thirds of us came to this reunion. We have had amazing lives. We have been a college professor, a corporate attorney, a forensic analyst, and a world traveler. Our experiences in life of love and loss are oddly parallel, whatever we were doing.

Women are good at that. We find our commonality and stay with it whenever possible. We know the value of the group not only as a key to survival but as a key to thriving. At the reunion, we put aside our differences (political, social class, economic, health, appearance, success) and opened our hearts. We sang together a lot, from “Imagine” to “You’ve Got a Friend” to “You’re So Vain” to “Give Peace a Chance.” We danced and passed around the Advil. At the end of it we could imagine living together in a big building, and sharing our lives from here on in. Kind of college at the end of life, where the curriculum is self designed.

In my life I am often the oldest person at a gathering, and it was great to be with so many dynamite women my own age. I love younger people, but there’s something about your own age mates. And I am used to holding back part of myself so as not to seem to be “too much.” Not with my classmates – I could let it all go and not have to make myself small to be part of the group. This group loves big! And we have realized there’s room for all of us to shine.

Did I mention that this was Smith College, all women since 1875? When I got there, I was coming out of some difficult years. Smith nurtured me (literally, when they gave me a scholarship) and gave me a place to become myself. In those turbulent years, I needed that grounding.

At the beginning of this post is a picture of Paradise Pond that I took last week.
I love this one especially because you have me, the photographer, in darkness, moving into the light where all is possible. That was my experience of college. And I am exceedingly grateful to the universe for the opportunity to share it with the amazing women I spent time with last weekend. I cannot imagine who I would be without them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On a wave of love, a Funeral and a Wedding

I feel like a cliche right now, feeling a wave of love that is so powerful I can't contain it. And the reasons are very sad and very beautiful all at once.

I spoke to a dear friend yesterday whose husband has been battling (really too small a world in his case) serious illness (3 kinds of cancer) for more than 15 years. We don't talk often enough, but I had been dreaming about her. She asked for news of my kids, which I was happy to provide. And then she confirmed my hunch, that her dear Stephen had died in August. It was a beautiful death as these things go. He had been more sick than usual for months, but rallied enough to go with the family on vacation. This time they splurged, renting a place overlooking the water. They settled in, walked on the beach, and he died peacefully in his sleep.

Even after years of illness, it is shocking. Despite my intuition that this might have happened, I am shocked, too. But this is a family so filled with love and creativity and positive energy, they had fit more into a too-short marriage and time with the children than many do in a long life. And Stephen didn't die in a hospital with tubes or unconscious for weeks or suffering as he made his exit. He died with dignity, and Love. I am filled with sorrow about his loss, but oddly also with the wave of love that people can create.

My strongest memory of Stephen is the "Stephen Our Hero" story. After attending my mother-in-law's funeral several years ago we were driving home on a Sunday when the fan belt on our car broke. We pulled off the road, into a gas station that did no repairs until Monday morning. Neither did any of the other places we called. Stranded. And then I remembered my nearby friends who I hadn't seen in way too long. Worth a try, we said, and called. Stephen dropped everything and came to our rescue, making sure we were fed, taking my spouse and kids to the train so they could get home for school and work the next day, and taking me to their home until the car could be fixed. He was so kind and sweet and talked us down from "broken fan belt panic." Our Hero! And I had a chance to catch up with the family that night, which was a great blessing.

I still have the broken fan belt, meaning to make it into a piece of art. It is dirty and (obviously) broken, but I feel Stephen's warm heart every time I look at it.

The wave of love continues, because today, March 3, 1010 gay couples who wish to get married in the District of Columbia can do so! My neighbor Andy is one of my heroes in this, since he led the legal fight to resist challenges to the law from groups largely outside DC to stop it going into effect. I am so happy about this both from a human rights perspective and from my sentimental heart, which just loves weddings.

And today I was asked by a couple who stood in line at 4:30 am to get the fifth license issued to perform their marriage. (I am an Interfaith Minister and help couples create the exact wedding they want.) I have known them for years, and know of the love and commitment they share. This just makes me so happy I am grinning from ear to ear.

Today I am riding a wave of love, with rainbows.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Chinese Acrobats

I am happy to report that the Chinese acrobats who were stuck in town due to the snowfall had the chance to perform twice in the Presbyterian Church Gym. It was cold in there and we kept our coats on. I thought to myself that this might feel like home to the acrobats, central heating of big public spaces being a western habit. Lots of young children, very little verbal communication, Chinese music that makes you amazed at the creativity of human beings. And that feels totally alien to me.

The acrobats were great, and I was reminded of a simpler time when you didn't have glitzy entertainment via the tv or internet or radio, but were entertained by what the traveling players brought to town. And some themes are universal, like one young man being forced by another to keep many, many plates spinning in the air at the same time. The Moms looked sympathetic, the kids helped out by pointing out when a plate was about to fall. "Multi-tasking" remarked one of the women in the back where I was standing. We all nodded.

I ran into friends there, and we repaired to the Middle East restaurant for lunch and conversation. I went to Now and Then and bought some knitting needles and walked home. I am going to miss being surrounded by millions of crystals. That snow was truly awesome to me, and made me feel terrific. But now it's melting and the flowers are starting to bloom, and that will be good, too.

Here's a taste of the acrobats, complete with unicycle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojoXuf7l5hM

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snowed In

It has been an interesting week. We have had two snowstorms, the first one leaving 24 inches, the second about a foot of snow. When the sun shines on it, you can see tiny rainbows all around. I'm reminded of Russell Conwell's 19th century speech "Acres of Diamonds" in which he urges listeners to give up searching far and wide for wealth and success because the diamonds of opportunity are hidden right in your own back yard.

The crystal structures around me aren't very well hidden. They are mounds of snow. Mounds and mounds of white, fluffy, cold, beautiful snow. The snow muffles the sounds of the city, and since the DC Metro has been out of service for a few days that has been quiet, too. The snow makes us stop. Right where we are. There is no place else to go.

This is the lesson of many great spiritual teachers, from Zen Buddhism to Advaita Buddhism to Meister Eckhart, the Christian Mystic. Just stop what you are doing.

Being snowbound gives us that opportunity. Oddly it hasn't had that effect for me, mostly because when I retired I in some way stopped what I was doing, and have been giving myself time to stand still, as previous posts have talked about. I didn't need to stop being engaged with the world because I have been disengaging for weeks now.

For me being snowbound has been a very social time. I've talked to neighbors, had potluck dinners almost nightly, and had long phone conversations with family and friends. We have all been checking on each other, and taking the time to really talk. And cook. And hang out. This is a lot of interaction, since I am basically an introvert who gets energy from time alone. I want everybody to go back to work so I can stop being so social!

That will come soon enough, and in fact many folks are going back to work today. And I will have a chance to get lonely and crave human interaction and bother all my busy friends with phone calls and invitations. I am wondering about just this issue, because I do miss my colleagues at work. I am building new networks (mostly my retired or self-employed friends) but this is a slow process.

Today I'm going to walk a couple of blocks to the church gym and see a troupe of Chinese acrobats who were stranded in town by the storm. Some neighbors organized a couple of performances for them since they can't get to the venues they had originally planned to go to.

You just never know what is going to show up if you stop what you are doing and see what's next.