Book Report: Greenlights

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Did you think I wasn’t reading anymore? Not the case; I’m reading a long-ass book about working equitation and a book in my color series, on green. But, this green-themed book showed up yesterday, so I diverted to read it on a very rare rainy July day.

I didn’t jump to read Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey, the moment it came out last year, because I was busy reading other stuff. But, my love of memoirs by quirky people got the best of me, and when I was ordering another book, I stuck this one in my order. I’m glad I did, because this book is a fun adventure to read and a nice break from some of the “celebrity” books I’ve seen.

My favorite thing is that MM (as I’ll call him, to keep from having to type his surname over and over) is unabashedly honest about himself, which makes reading about his personal and spiritual journey am unexpected joy. As you probably know, one of my favorite pastimes is learning how different people “tick,” and MM gives you a lot of insight into how he got to be the way he is today. His morality is very consistent, and when he sees himself deviating, he goes off and works on it, by gosh. It’s no wonder one of the reviews on the back of the book is by Lee’s hero Ryan Holliday, the modern Stoic guy.

And, yes, it’s a philosophy book as well as a memoir. I’ll admit that some of the stuff seemed to be a bit simplistic, but I didn’t disagree with any of it, either. And I certainly enjoyed how he presented his ideas in photos of sticky notes, bumper stickers, and images of his hand-written notes from various stages of his life. Seeing someone else’s unedited thoughts is quite insightful, and I admire MM for sharing them!

A sample of the book’s layout.

About the Book Itself

Something else I liked about this memoir is the book itself. I like it when a publisher takes a chance and makes a book’s design a feast for the eyes. The physical book itself is even different in a good way. The book jacket is not the size of the book, and is on lovely paper. Then, when you open the book, you’re greeted with all sorts of photos and words inside the cover. This part contributes a lot to the story of MM, and is a delightful surprise.

The book itself has a theme, and by gosh, it sticks to it. MM talks about “greenlights” in his life, which are signals he’s on the right path. The color green appears in the section dividers, in the Venn diagram used to mark sections within chapters, and every time he says “greenlight.” The use of a typewriter-style monospaced font in any content that’s a poem or a philosophical break helps you keep track of what’s in the narrative and what’s an aside. Plus, the bits in MM’s handwriting show what isn’t edited at all.

Section head.

The Content

The other thing I want to say about this book is that it does what I like best in an introspective book, and that’s to NOT go on and on about every famous person the author encounters, every fancy thing the author ever did, etc. Instead, MM focuses on his own thought processes and introduces only people who let him toward his greenlights, most of whom aren’t all that famous (though a few are). His humility seems genuine, not a put-on, and you end the book not thinking how great it was to get to know a movie star, but rather how great it was to follow a man and learn from his insights as he grows and changes. (I also enjoyed reading about his times in Austin, which brought back memories.)

Why I sat and read all day yesterday.

Nope, MM is not much like me at all, but he earns my respect for being true to his ideals, for learning from his mistakes, and for focusing on what he learns from all his experiences. Well, in that way, he IS like what I’d hope to be!

By the way, I read the book by first reading through the narrative part (the “regular book” bits) so that I could keep track of the passage of time, then I went back and read all the inserts and philosophical asides. Those parts are timeless, though it’s cool to figure out where MM was on his journey when he wrote his notes.

So, if you like modern philosophy, spiritual growth, or funny stories about wrestling on other continents, playing bongos naked, or any combination of the above, you’ll like Greenlights. You might even start looking at your life’s challenges in a more positive way.

Let’s Practice What We Preach

This is a note to myself. Maybe if I write it out, then read it, then listen to myself reading it in the podcast, I can have a reasonable weekend.

So, Suna, ponder this:

Stressing over something you can’t do anything about helps nothing.

Me

Hypothetically, if someone sends a message at the end of the work day on Friday that completely changes work you’re supposed to start at 8 am Monday, but won’t explain what’s going on until 7 am Monday…you might be inclined to spend all weekend guessing what might be going on. That could ruin your weekend, right?

But, I’ve been doing my damnedest to not get myself all worked up over things I can’t control. I can’t change whatever decision happened that my input wasn’t wanted on. I don’t even know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, because I don’t know the details. I’m just gonna have to deal with the consequences. Monday.

Worry doesn’t change a situation other than to make you feel bad the entire time you’re worrying.

I do have a hint that I’ve figured out through this situation, that might lead to happier relationships, whether with family, friends, or colleagues. Nah. I don’t. Hints you share for people who will never actually read or hear your words are sorta passive aggressive. Give that up, Suna.

Look, pretty flowers.

I’m guessing that, being human and fallible, I’m going to remain annoyed from time to time this weekend. But then I’ll remind myself that I wrote these messages to myself to remember to be way more philosophically consistent, more Zen, and kinder to myself.

You can only change your reactions, not the actions of others. Deal with it.

Suna

End of advice to self. You’re welcome, if you also needed to hear this. C’mon, we can practice what we preach! Let’s start now.

Unconscious Bias? Just Ask Marcus Aurelius

My spouse, Lee, has been studying Stoicism for the past year or two. He really enjoys The Daily Stoic podcast, by Ryan Holiday, who happens to be my boss’s best friend. Small world! Who knew? Holiday has a new book of meditations out, with new translations of the Stoics into modern English by Stephen Hanselman. Of course, Lee’s enjoying it greatly. He even got a special journal to record his own thoughts. That man LOVES to journal almost as much as I love to blog!

So, the passage for yesterday was:

Do away with the opinion I am harmed, and the harm is cast away, too. Do away with being harmed, and harm disappears.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.7, as quoted in The Daily Stoic, p. 119.

This is one of those topics we linguists love, especially those of us, like me, who are enamored of pragmatics. Not only do words have different meanings in different contexts, but tone of voice and intention can also change meanings. PLUS, the person hearing the words will interpret what is said through their filters. The same sentence with the same intonation can engender a hearty laugh or a world of hurt, depending on how it’s taken.

You have to like a guy who was a good horseman. From Britannica.

Assuming good intent is what it boils down to, right? It’s just like with the Little Free Library story yesterday! Susan could have interpreted the stolen books as an act of aggression or malice, but she instead chose to interpret it as a cry for help. I often find myself interpreting comments that could be taken as mean or passive aggressive as being the result of some issue I have no clue about. Thus, I do away with the harm, and it’s gone. Easier said than done sometimes, I must admit.

Continue reading “Unconscious Bias? Just Ask Marcus Aurelius”

Why Am I Here?

sunsetToday my husband and I were talking about our long-term personal goals. I said that my most important one right now is to remember to live in the moment. It’s becoming more and more of a habit over the past few years, and while my meditation practice has helped, I honestly give most of the credit to spending time at the Hermits’ Rest.

Being away from all the traffic, people, and noise in Austin is a real balm for my soul. And while there are things I must do, like feed the animals, water the plants, and such, even those chores provide me the opportunity to just enjoy what I have here. To me, nothing smells better than my horse on a hot day, and it’s hard to be all involved with outside issues when you are looking for beautiful eggs in the hen house.

Plus, the darned dogs make us smile all the time.

Part of what I like about this place is that it isn’t all fancy or full of spectacular beauty (I was comparing it to a friend’s hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my dad came from and where the natural beauty is so thick it is almost overwhelming). You have to look for the amazing natural wonders in central Texas. And that looking makes you slow down and really SEE what’s around you.

That’s been a real gift for me. I’ve always been an observer, but the years spent on this ranch have helped me hone it to where I just can’t help but stop and really look at what’s going on around me every day. I think my mental health improvements alone have made the purchase of this land and construction of our house worth it! After all:

sign
I like the sign, even though it refers to “wild Apaches,” but since it’s humor, I forgive it. And actually a lot of the people who lived here before weren’t Apaches. They showed up later.

By the way, if you look at the limestone on the house, you’ll see it is full of fossil shells. This layer of the limestone is called the “rattlesnake” layer, because the fossil shells look like rattlesnake rattles. This limestone came from a quarry near Georgetown, Texas, which is not too far from us. I love being surrounded by fossils. I’ll post more on them another time.

This informally Zen-like goal of taking the time to enjoy where I am and who I am at any moment is why I am so fervent about protecting our natural areas, our plants, our wildlife, and all who live here. People need to connect to the earth. I think it’s a basic need.

What about where you live?  Is it easy to live in the moment? Can you find the beauty wherever you are? I hope so, because it’s everywhere (including the Bobcat Lair, our Austin house).