Obvious Musing On The Meaning Of Monopoly

I am not a fan of Monopoly.

I am all for games- for years after college I worked as a teacher, first at a school for troubled adolescent girls, then at an after-school program in Cambridge.  I basically made a career for myself playing games: zombie tag, Mancala, Four Square, Fishie Fishie Cross My Ocean, Boppity Bop Bop Bop, Ninja, Big Booty, hand games, the Game of Life, Jenga, freeze tag, dodge ball, volley ball, basketball, wii sports, card games– the list goes on and on but I never played Monopoly.

Junior Mopoly was acceptable on Sunday mornings after breakfast, with my brother and dad when I was a kid, but playing regular Monopoly at my friends house, we laborously set up the board and bank, only to find ourselves throwing fake paper money in each other’s faces before we made three rotations around the board.  I didn’t play for years after that.  Not until Thanksgiving sometime around age 17 or 18, when I played with 7 of my friends.  I was the last to roll, and with my post-Thanksgiving food coma, I could not make myself care enough to barter with my friends over fake properties.

I read magazines on the couch instead.

At this year’s annual Muse and The Marketplace Conference, keynote speaker Ron Carlson noted, “The key to becoming a successful writer in America is not being ashamed of having your spouse support you.”  I am so fortunate that my family is extraordinarily supportive of my endeavors as a writer, letting me live at home, feeding me as I work on my projects and build a self-sustaining writing career.

But, for extra cash in my pocket, I have been taking the occasional odd job.  Although, I suppose “odd” is relative, and I don’t really know if any of my jobs were ever really “normal.”  I think of my current jobs now as “irregular,” as in- not consistent, as needed, here or there.

Here or there, I have babysat, dog sat, house sat (a lot of “sitting has been happening, which is good, because it often gives me the opportunity to write or read).  I’ve also helped facilitate open studio hours for Mourning Dove Studio, an environmentally conscious funeral consultation center.  This work, finding “odd” jobs and helping others as needed is what my friend and fellow writer-artiste-awesome person extraordinaire Sean refers to as The Hustle, and he has recorded his endeavors in his own wordpress blog.

In my own hustle, I found myself babysitting a couple of twelve year old boys a while back, and with little else to do, we ended up playing intense, anxiety-inducing, blood-pressure raising games of Monopoly- the game which I had sworn off that Thanksgiving night almost 10 years ago.  That night, as I listlessly flipped through Vogue and W, six of my friends grew so enraged with our friend Spyro, that by the end of the evening they all “merged” their companies and had one conglomerate against him.  If my memory served me correctly, he still won.

What I had learned that night, and playing two games (each lasting almost 4 hours) as a babysat almost a month ago, was the well known adage: Money changes people.

Take a couple of thoughtful, creative pre-adolescent boys and their fun-loving, twenty-something babysitter.  Sit them down at the kitchen table on a late summer day.  Set up a game of Monopoly, the “Here and Now” edition where you play with thousands and millions and Airports instead of Rail Roads.  Give each player 15 million dollars.

You will find these normal people suddenly cut-throat, scheming, deceptive, demanding and greedy.  As we played, yelling at each other to roll the dice, trading out our money for  bigger bills and feeling the satisfaction of counting how much money we had, I imagined that scene was what it must be like inside the head of a multi-millionaire or some high-rolling mogul.  That however composed they are in board meetings, they are inwardly reduced to greedy children playing Monopoly.

I admit, that is a huge stereotype and assumption on my part, and not necessarily an idea that I hold as true.  It was just a thought.

What I was more interested in observing, was what this kind of game taught children as they played, and the value we have placed on position, status, and wealth in our society.  I have found that, even with the full support of my parents, who have also made sacrifices in their lives to follow their dreams to become martial artists, one of my biggest challenges in this career is overcoming the guilt and shame I feel for following my heart and doing what I love– at the expense of not immediately earning money.

On one of the first warm days this year, I left my parents house after helping take care of my grandmother.  I sat in a field while I waited for Kyle to get out of school.  Looking down at new grass and taking a deep breath of warm breeze, I realized: There is so much more to life than “work,” and “work” comes in many forms.

It used to be my job to teach math to girls in psychiatric care,  or reading stories to kindergardners.  It used to be my job to have English conversations with Japanese students.  Now my job is writing- working on my projects and acquiring freelance work. But I have found meaning in my life through helping others- sitting with my grandmother on quiet afternoons, picking up Kyle’s brother from school, cooking dinner after everyone else has had a long day.

I have learned the value of a lifetime of work cannot be equated to the sum of assets you count at the end of the day, like finishing a Monopoly game.  How much have you done for others?  What have you done to help make the world a more peaceful place?

I would like to see the Parker Bros or Milton Bradley come up with a game for that.