Scott Langston

Authoring Adventures

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On friends, and the stuff they do sometimes….

I was reading Paulo Choelo recently. An article he had written included a story about Genghis Khan who went hunting in the desert with his favourite falcon. After an unsuccessful hunt, Genghis grew thirsty and searched for water. He supposedly found a small stream but when he filled his cup and raised it to his lips to drink, the falcon tore it from his hands and spilled the water. The falcon repeated this action three times. Furious at such behaviour, and desperate to drink, Genghis slew the falcon with his sword. As he threw the bird’s body in the scrub, he discovered  a dead poisonous snake in the water source – had he drunk the water he would surely be dead. The falcon had been trying to save his friend’s and master’s life…

The story put me in mind of the legend of Gelert, in the village of Beddgelert (meaning “Gelert’s Grave”) in Gwynedd, north-west Wales. A Welsh prince returned from a day’s hunting to find Gelert, his favourite hound, jumping to greet him covered in blood. The prince then saw his son’s crib empty and the bedclothes strewn on the ground. In a fit of rage he killed the dog, believing it to have slain his son. The dog’s dying yelp was answered by a baby’s cry. Behind a nearby rock, the prince found his baby son, next to the body of a large wolf, which Gelert had clearly attacked and killed. Legend has it that the Prince buried the dog with regal honours, and never smiled another day in his life.

Who Knoweth the Spirit of Man... by Byam Shaw (1901)

Who Knoweth the Spirit of Man… by Byam Shaw (1901)

This led to thinking about our friends and the stuff they do sometimes.

We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to dig beneath appearances and uncover the true motivation in the actions of others, before we judge them.

And we need to be mindful that our own actions, if executed in anger, can never lead to positive results.

On giving up…

It takes a certain sort of kind set to know when to give up. We are taught that perseverance is a quality to develop. I beg to differ.

Give up playing it safe. Very little was ever achieved by taking the safe option or the most certain route. If you are aiming for more than mediocrity, playing it safe is something you need to give up. Takes risks.

Give up on self-doubt. It’s unproductive and, very often, simple catastrophising. Focus instead on all that you have achieved, on every time it has worked out and on each success you’ve had in life. Everyone experiences self-doubt – the trick is not to listen.

Give up self-judgement. We are often our own harshest critics. Think instead what you would say with love and compassion to another person. Most of what we do is the best we can do under the very special set of circumstances under which we do it. Be gentle with yourself.

Give up negativity. Positive thinking can sometimes be misconstrued as unrealistic and unfounded, but it really only means acceptance. Accepting that what happens can be viewed as a learning experience and that what in the past we first thought was a disaster led to beautiful things. Negativity can only destroy motivation and self-respect. In giving up negativity, one raises the bar.

Give up being out of control. Rolling with whatever life throws at you is no plan for success. We can all live a ‘reactive’ life in this sense and achieve nothing but survival. Life is abut more than mere survival, so take control of your own path. Make your own decisions in the knowledge that you will own the outcome, whatever it may be.

Give up perfection. If you wait for the perfect moment to do anything, you are guaranteed a long wait. If you only accept perfect outcomes, you are guaranteed disappointment. Let go of the need to be perfect, and accept yourself as good enough.

On writing…

An exercise in writing to prompt – the aim being to write on themes or questions you might not usually write about. Feel free to respond to the questions yourself in the comments below.

1. How would it be to see snow for the first time?

Incomprehensible, assuming one were already an adult and had no conception of it from TV or similar exposure. That’s hard to imagine in this day and age though. Maybe it would even be frightening. Children see new things all the time, and would be completely unfazed.

2. Which would you choose if you had to: to be deaf or blind? Why?

I have always thought that being blind would be more frightening. Having considered it seriously in the light of a friend who is deaf and now going blind, however, I think I’d prefer (tough choice, I know) to be blind. If you are deaf you are truly cut off from other people, unable to communicate effectively, to appreciate music, to listen to speech. I think this form of isolation would, in the final analysis, scare me more.

3. Which job could you never do? Why?

Work in an abattoir. I’m a vegetarian.

4. Is there a book you have read and would actively persuade others NOT to read?

’Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain. I was supposed to read as part of my A-level English course and could never got more than half-way. It was just plain self-absorbed diatribe about the Second World War. Technically, it doesn’t count then, since I haven’t read it all. I spent a long time with the belief, after this, that one should never leave a book unfinished, however bad it may be. Having written a couple, I know the time and effort it takes, and as a reader, I owe at least that to the author. Nowadays, however, possibly as a nod to my own mortality. I’m increasingly of the opinion that life is just too short to spend on mediocrity. If it doesn’t grab me quickly, I’m unlikely to persevere in the absence of strong recommendations to do so, from those I respect.

5. ‘In 1990, compared to the two previous decades, The US saw the highest juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes ever; teen arrests for forcible rape had doubled; teen murder rates quadrupled, mostly due to an increase in shooting. During those same decades, the suicide rate for teenagers tripled as did the number of children under fourteen who are murder victims.’

( ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Daniel Goleman Bloomsbury 1996.) Why would anyone want to bring children into this world?

Because of sunsets and sunrises. Because of the ocean. Because of the smell of the air after a storm. Because of a grandparent’s smile. Because of humanity’s inherent optimism. Because of the sound of laughter. Because of the dew on a rose on a spring morning. Because even if they fall in love just once, just fleetingly, just momentarily and have that feeling returned, then it is worthwhile.

An online author interview for ‘Is’

I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the years about ‘Is’, so here are the most common and my responses.

Tell us the book title and your author name.

Is cover imageMy name is Scott Langston and the title of the book is “Is”. Originally, I had intended to book to be called ‘The Domino Effect’ – one of the themes in the novel is how the actions of one character can have unforeseen impact on another – like falling dominoes. I even commissioned a Magritte-style cover page with this image. However, the novel became something a little different as it went through several edits, and ‘Is’ summed up better the overall message of the novel.

What inspired the book?

I started writing this book when I was twenty years old. Many of the themes were beyond my grasp, and it wasn’t until I ‘re-found’ the novel fifteen years after starting it that I had something approaching the maturity to do the book justice. If I had to pin it down to a precise moment, the novel was born after watching the film ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, specifically the funeral scene. I found it very moving, and imagined having to write such a eulogy myself.

What makes this book special to you?

It has certainly been a labour of love! I have physically lost the book on two occasions – the first time requiring a re-write almost entirely from pencil notes in an old scrap book. From first putting pen to paper to finally seeing the book in print took twenty years. That’s a long time. The book has been a part of my life, and my continual tinkering with it represented my desire to be a writer.

What makes this a book that other people must read?

I think the book has a lot to say about the fundamentals of how life is. It’s spiritual, without being religious. It raises many questions and, I hope, answers a few too. It’s about perspective – another way of looking at life and death and God. If these questions do not interest you, then you probably shouldn’t bother reading the book!

What people need to read this book?

Nobody needs to read this book. Nobody needs to do anything. That’s one of the central messages of the book. There is no requirement – life just ‘is’.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Writing is a muscle like any other. It needs exercising and flexing, otherwise it wastes away. I keep a blog, as well as trying to have more than one project ongoing at a time. When one dries up, I can try my hand at something completely different. That’s how ‘Benny and Binny’ was born – a children’s story I wrote with an illustrator friend.  Right now, I’m working on a novel set between Vietnam and France, dealing with roots and belonging. It’s the biggest project I’ve tackled so far. I’m also tinkering with a novel for teenagers about philosophy, tentatively called, ‘Henry Porter and the Stone Philosopher’ – although I cringe at the title now and it really hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

I took a year off work to ‘be an author’ full time at the same time as we had our baby daughter. I was under the impression that I could care for her and write at the same time. In short, children have been the biggest stumbling block for my writing. I need time and space to write, and kids don’t allow for much of either. That said, my life is considerably richer for having become a dad, and that can only come out in my writing eventually!

I guess another hurdle has been the management of distractions. When I turn on the computer, it’s all too easy to spend hours fiddling with stuff I’ve already written, updating my website, or simply surfing, rather than actually writing. I now have a dedicated laptop for writing which doesn’t have internet access.

What motivated you to become an author? What motivated you to get into this unusual industry?

I believe I write because I have to. If you simply want to write, then my advice would be: don’t bother. Find something else to do and save yourself a whole lot of trouble. Writing is a lonely and often demoralising business – except when the connection comes through and then it’s without equal. So, it wasn’t really a choice – I have to write.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done as an author to promote any books?

Book promotion is my weakness. I have done the rounds of local bookshops where ‘Is’ was set, and a few copies have been sold that way. I’ve run book signings. I haven’t really done anything inspiring in the field of self-promotion. I know I ought to.

How did you decide on that setting and what you did to create a complete and vivid setting for your readers?

I grew up in Cornwall. It never crossed my mind to set my first novel anywhere else. It’s a truly magical and inspiring locale – even now as I write this |I can smell the sea air and hear the seagulls – though I’m thousands of kilometres away.

What inspires you about the hero or heroine in your book? What makes them memorable for the reader? 

I’m not sure Martin inspires me. He’s a protagonist, rather than a hero in the true sense of the word. Insomuch as everyone’s first novel is autobiographical, I guess Martin is in some respects me. His getting to grips with life and his enlightenment are ideals I would reach for.

Is there a villain or something that causes friction in your novel?

The conflict rests between expectations and risks, between safety and leaps of faith, between believing and knowing. Martin takes risks, when society would have him do otherwise. He trusts to himself, when society would have him do otherwise. He is prepared to love, not just another, but himself. This is perhaps one of the most difficult yet rewarding things we can achieve in life.

On current reading

I’m often tempted to stop reading fiction. Coming from a writer, that must sound strange. I can get well and truly lost in a good novel, and it bothers me. I like to be present and mindful. It’s hard to do when you are immersed in someone else’s story. And so from time to time I go through phases of reading non-fiction exclusively (my last five, Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame Tara Brach;  The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich Timothy Ferriss; Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harar;  Why Be Vegetarian: Debunking the excuses. Includes Free vegetarian recipes (The Good Life Book 1) Fee O’Shea and, just finished,  House and Philosophy: Everybody Lies (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series) Jacoby, Henry).

But then a yearning grabs me and I am compelled reaching for something different. For the power of story and fable and possibility. And so I find myself back on a fiction reading streak, which began this year with Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’ the 41st and last Discworld novel. When Terry died, I bought every book in the series and spent the year reading them in a kind of order. I revisited Roberston Davis’ ‘The Deptford Trilogy’ (which, I’m sorry, I concluded after much thought was just an exercise in intellectual masturbation. The Cornish Trilogy is far superior). And now I’m back with my current favourite author, David Mitchell. I stumbled across number9dream a couple of years ago and was immersed completely. And then there was Cloud Atlas, of course. I’m currently re-reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which affirmed my opinion of Mitchell as possibly as good as Louis de Bernieres (whose Birds Without Wings I started re-reading the same day I’d finished it for the first time).

Screenshot 2016-03-21 10.24.07

But I’ve no idea what reading comes next…

On getting organised

I’ve been spending a significant amount of time whilst convalescing listening to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, where he interviews a host of celebrities, venture capitalists, mindfulness gurus, technical wizards and CEOs. What do they have in common and why does he do it? Well, for a full answer, check out his blog – http://fourhourworkweek.com/ – but my short version is that he is mining for habits and aptitudes that successful people have, and trying to present them as possible avenues of self-improvement to us all.

In this post, I’m going to share what I have gleaned and found useful.

The first tip I found really useful was to organise email. Rather than allowing email to dictate my day, by setting my priorities for me, I have turned off instant notifications (no more bleeps or pop-up notifications when an email arrives). I have also set up auto-responders indicating that I’m checking email only twice a day. This leads directly to either the request being sent to someone else or a phone call in urgent cases. I then check email only after 9am, when I’ve already taken on the task I prioritised for myself the previous evening. Thanks Tim – my inbox has reduced markedly.

Next up, prioritising for myself. I end the day with a thought for tomorrow’s agenda, and identify what I absolutely want to achieve to feel that I have had some measure of success with my day. This allows me to address things I didn’t get to today, and ensures that my day and productivity do not get sidetracked by somebody else’s emergency.

Habits. I have downloaded the app Productive which allows you to enter habits you wish to establish, reminders at preset moments during the day and (for those so motivated) motivational ‘rewards’ for completing habits on time and consistently. I’ve used it to set mindfulness moments – more in another post – and a mini-goal of 50 words per day. (A little digression – mini-habits are habits so small and ridiculously achievable, that they don’t threaten us and lead to failure…an example would be setting the goal of 50 push-ups a day vs one push up a day. One is so easy, that it can develop into a fully formed habit, before defeating itself…and one push-up, once you’re there, quickly becomes 5 or 10. You can read more about this here.)

Tech can be a great tool to use in increasing productivity – it can also be a trojan horse in inviting in more time-consuming gadgetry which is actually doing very little good. So I’m cutting back on apps I don’t use regularly. I use Evernote and Dropbox, and wouldn’t be without either. I use Slack for project management, and so far find it a brilliant tool. But I’ve dropped Penultimate, which is admittedly very sexy and cool, as I actually haven’t been using since buying it. The verdict is still out on iCloud – I suspect it’s days are numbered.

 

On giving…

This post title is perhaps misleading. It’s actually about a lot of things. The culmination of some thinking. But also a work in progress.

I’m recovering from an SI joint fusion operation, which you can find out more about here, should you be so inclined. But the point is, I’m having time off work, with now manageable pain for the first time in 15 months, and having this time allows me to reflect.

Kiva

Lending to help build lives

I’ve been doing a lot of mindfulness – (try out www.headspace.com) – and thinking a lot about generosity. Giving. Not just to others, but also to myself. I’ve re-established my habit of giving a Kiva loan a month – (kiva.org) – and giving myself time, regularly and intentionally, to think on where I am going.

I’ve discovered the Tim Ferris podcast, the HiddenBrain podcast and the Infinite Monkey Cage podcast – all of which I thoroughly recommend. This has also led me to Tim Ferris’ book – The Four Hour Work Week, which is fascinating reading.

So where is all this leading? To an epiphany, I hope. Certainly to a lifestyle change. As I near the end of a contract here in Nanjing as a High School Counsellor, I see the future as an open door, full of possibilities. And these may not involve working full time and saving for the future…at least not in the traditional sense, where I’m working a 9-5 in order to ‘enjoy’ a retirement in 20 years’ time…

We’re taking a year off from August and giving ourselves the luxury of a year to travel, to chill out in our place in France, and to be with our kids and each other in a much more intentional and rich way. The year off has been planned for a long time and is evolving into two years… Instead of travelling around the world for 8 or 9 months, we may simply visit Canada and the US and then come home. And then head off again when we feel like it to tour Europe closer to home. And then hit South America sometime in 2017…

Are we sudden lottery winners? No. We’ve been keen savers for a while and have no illusions about the lifestyle we’ll be adopting for a couple of years. Learning about investment has been a big thing over the last couple of years for me as well. We think we can do this. It’s exciting.

So giving in its broadest sense. Giving us time and adventure and life in the here and now. After all, it’s where we always are..

Hello world!

A new page. A new website. A new blog.

Whilst I’m not about to promise to write daily, it is my intention to write regularly. On many subjects. Just to write, and enjoy the process. So it is a live journal – not necessarily polished pieces or monumentally profound.

Welcome.

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