My wife and I flew back to Indiana last week to spend Christmas with the family. We had a ball! Among the highlights was when we all went to see The Hobbit part 2 on IMAX 3-D. The whole family is pretty religious about Tolkien, the movies especially. Dad is the expert, capable of explaining the changes from book to screen while assuring us that Peter Jackson’s changes still make for an extraordinary film without messing up anything major.
Ever since I was a kid first encountering The Hobbit as a cartoon and as my Dad read it during bedtime I loved the scene of Bilbo talking with the dragon Smaug, buried amidst the endless piles of pilfered Dwarven gold. That fantasy of limitless wealth to swim in seems a recurring one from childhood. I loved how Scrooge McDuck had a money bin that he’d dive into and pass through as though it were water:
I kind of imagine myself doing that these past few years editing PJ Lifestyle except instead of gold coins it’s the amazing writing of the PJ columnists, freelancers, and the authors in the books I’m researching. From family advice to tech news to TV and family commentaries to history/religion/ideology debates PJ Lifestyle has been accumulating a diverse range of exciting ideas and cultural challenges. Here was my attempt to organize this some last year via an ever-evolving self-improvement routine inspired by Charlie Martin’s 13 Weeks program:
December 31, 2012: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
February 1, 2013: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
April 10: The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen
May 8: Every American Needs to Read Books to Understand Islam
July 6: We Must Read Tons of Books With A Clear Purpose
October 5: 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading
November 17: Half Through 13 Weeks For Radical Readers and Madman Writers, Turning Up the Heat
To give Lifestyle some degree of structure I’ve sought to organize some of the themes each week by day — when the story isn’t a timely, breaking news piece. I’ve applied this also to my daily reading plan, drawing from a different pile of books and shifting subjects to try and make fresh connections for stories to assign to PJ’s writers and work on myself. Here’s my reading plan for the next 13 weeks cycle — join us starting the week of Sunday, January 5 for week 1 — and then how they’re inspiring me to make changes in my own life.
Every Saturday morning at PJ Lifestyle, join parenting writer Rhonda Robinson as she documents her strategies for getting her family’s finances back into shape. Check out the previous installments in her ongoing series:
Week 3: Keeping Afloat With A Budget
This week was rough.
I had to remind myself of a conversation I had a couple years ago with a young man from Kenya.
He had a basketball scholarship at Vanderbilt University. His girlfriend was a good friend of my daughter. The couple came to our home to visit for the first time. He was extremely tall, a mild mannered guy with a huge smile. Teasingly I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He explained he was getting his degree in social work. “Not a lot of money in that,” I chuckled.
He just flashed a blindingly bright smile and looked down shaking his head. “That’s ok,” he said. “I’m not really in it for the money. I just really want to help people.”
At that moment I realized something and asked, “Poor in Kenya is a lot different than poor in America, isn’t it?”
He laughed, then said with a more somber tone, “Poor in Kenya means you have a dirt floor if you’re lucky enough to have a house.” He described the conditions that people in his home town live in.
It was then I realized that my idea of poor meant I don’t get to have what I want when I want it. I have to wait, maybe even save for it. That’s not really poor. I have a lot to be thankful for.
Even when we were our “poorest,” we still owned a home. I’ve never looked into my children’s eyes and saw hunger that I couldn’t feed. During that time, we also owned and maintained a vehicle. My family had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted.
By most standards around the world, I’m rich. In fact, I’m so rich that I can drive my car into a separate room of my house. Clean water is at my fingertips, and fresh food grows in my yard.
For most of us, being poor in America is more a frame of mind than real poverty.
While serving time for whatever he supposedly did, newspaper baron Conrad Black taught history classes for his fellow prisoners.
Naturally, this prompted predictable “Geneva Convention” jokes among Black’s many detractors.
Even some of the prisoners were probably thinking, “This sure ain’t New Year’s Eve at Folsom.”
But ending up with Lord Black instead of “the Man in Black” isn’t the worst “punishment” I can imagine, although I can’t fathom how inmates without even GEDs coped with the former’s formidable vocabulary.
As I’ve stated before when talking about his latest book, Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America From Colonial Dependence to World Leadership, most of us could do far worse than have Conrad Black as a history teacher.
His enthusiasm is contagious, his erudition bracing, and his breadth of knowledge impressive.
(Maybe too impressive: While it purports to be a history of the United States, Flight… actually covers plenty of European ground, especially the continent’s martial and monarchical history from the eighteenth century onward. This isn’t a bonus if, like me, the very words “Habsburg” and “Crimea” can knock you into REM sleep faster than any hypnotist.)
image courtesy shutterstock / Stu Porter