Minimalism, intercontinental travel, important moral life lessons, and, of course, sex. You’ll find all these things and more in Colin Wright’s new memoir-style book, Iceland India Interstate, which covers an unexpected relationship that turns into an unconventional adventure, as Wright, a full-time writer, falls for an Icelandic girl who tests his ideas about relationships and becomes his partner-in-crime across three continents. This new book, published by Asymmetrical Press, covers a year of Colin Wright’s adventurous life, the lessons he learned, and the emotions he experienced on the road.
Iceland India Interstate is Wright’s seventh book, his second narrative nonfiction book, and is his best book to date. His signature informal-yet-formal, witty storytelling style has been refined over the years, as if his previous six book were simply written in preparation—as practice—for this volume of interesting tales.
We asked Colin the following questions about minimalism and his new book, which he was kind enough to answer in the video below (followed by transcribed answers).
Questions & Answers
The Minimalists: “The tiles that make up the bathroom walls were blue, but her hair was bluer.” This is the first line in your new book, Iceland India Interstate. It is a line that introduces us to Jóna, the Icelandic girl with whom you share center stage throughout the rest of this book. You break a few of your own “rules” to spend additional time with her on three continents. Did you ever expect to spend a year with the same woman? How much do personal rules play a role in your life? How willing are you to adjust your rules?
Colin: Well, the answer to that first question is honestly, no, it’s not that I have anything against long-term relationships, but my lifestyle simply doesn’t allow for it most of the time. So I’ve adjusted over the past three years or so to having shorter term relationship which are also excellent. And I’ve found that shorter relationships with time limits really make you appreciate the relationship more, and the other person more. As long as both people are fully aware of what’s join on and are communicating with each other clearly and making sure that neither person is left out as to what’s going on in the other person’s head, it usually works out pretty well. I’ve had some of the best relationships of my entire life last about a week, or in the case of Jóna, last about a year. The duration doesn’t seem to matter too much, it’s really what you make of it. And the way I tend to do things these days, with that time limit, really makes me appreciate the time I have with that person all the more.
My rules are very important to me. I’m not a religious or spiritual person. I’m someone for whom personal philosophy, morality and ethics are all incredibly important. I make sure to constantly reassess what my personal philosophy is. I learn a whole lot about other people and other things and other cultures when I travel, but I learn a whole lot about myself as well, and what I believe based on new information. I make sure to be constantly readjusting and constantly taking what I’m learning and applying it to my life and how I live. Honestly, what I’m doing wouldn’t be quite so valuable and interesting to me if I wasn’t able to do that. But because I’m able to start from scratch every time I move, it would seem silly not to take advantage of that situation and change along the way, as well.
Your previous memoir-style book, My Exile Lifestyle, seemed to be a Post-Minimalism Book. In other words, you had embraced a minimalist lifestyle for a few years, and that first book documented what you were able to do with your life after embracing such a lifestyle. Iceland India Interstate follows a similar motif, but takes it further—what one might refer to as Post-Post-Minimalism. What has been different in terms of writing these books, and how has your view on minimalism changed or evolved over the years?
I guess you could say that’s right. Honestly, when I first started reducing my possessions and such, I had no idea what Minimalism was. And it wasn’t until I started blogging and sharing what I was doing and getting rid of online that I found it was kind of a new trend at the time. It’s been around for thousands of years, but on the internet, in its current incarnation, it was still kind of a new thing. I took to it with gusto and used the term, as it really seemed to fit what I believe. And it still does, really, and I would still tell people that I’m a Minimalist, but it’s not the most important thing about who I am and what I believe, though it is a key component of a lot of what I believe, especially in terms of lifestyle choice and how I spend my time and resources. I’m acutely aware of how short a time I have to achieve all the things I want to achieve, and how much time before I discovered Minimalism that I spent on things that didn’t make me happy and on things that I didn’t need or want to do. Minimalism has evolved into something for me that is more about how I spend my time and energy than just about the things I own. It’s a key component of everything I do.
As someone who leads a somewhat non-traditional lifestyle, I can change how I live my life quickly, so that reassessment is good, and is always moving me closer to what I want do and where I want to be. That’s the role it’s taken in my life these days.
Since embracing minimalism, you’ve mentioned that the things you own now add much more value to your life. Please talk about the role of material possessions in your life and how they add value to what you do.
Like everybody in the first world, consumerism was a huge part of who I was for a long time. I had to have more, to acquire more positive associations and prove who I was to those around me. I did that, and I still do. It’s almost unavoidable these days, unless you live in the mountains and build your own hut out of found materials or something. Material possessions to me are enablers now. They’re accessories, not something of vital importance. I like owning things that make me happy, and allow me to do what I love to do more easily. Without a laptop, my life would be significantly more difficult. Without a decent laptop, my job would be more difficult. The better the laptop I have, the more opportunities and options I have. Having certain things is quite important to me, though I feel I need fewer and fewer things as time goes by. I could live without a computer, but I wouldn’t be as happy without one. A laptop improves my life. It adds to it, rather than distracting from other things that add to my life.
I still find myself ogling some new device that doesn’t add anything to my life, but that’s the nature of the beast. I work very hard every day to make sure I’m more aware of what’s important to me, and the more I focus on those things that make me happy, the better my life becomes.
As long as you’re a very meticulous curator of your possessions, you’ll be fine, regardless of how your collection or priorities shift. Filter carefully. Stuff is important, but choosing the right stuff is just as important, if not more so.
We recently teamed up you to form Asymmetrical Press, a publishing company and community that embraces new technologies, methods, and ideas to improve the quality of published work. Please talk about how you came upon this idea and why you decided to make it a reality.
I have tried several different business models and several different concepts in the indie publishing field. I had a business called Ebookling that was a platform, made to compete with Amazon and Smashwords and such. We were leapfrogged, and we discovered that just having another store didn’t change anything dramatically about the way the industry works.
I wanted to come up with a new approach to the problem: indie published work is seen as inferior to legacy published work. This is not true, but the latter’s delivery does tend to be better, due to the processes and resources that they bring to bear. Indie authors might be great writers, but they aren’t necessarily great at packaging and selling their work.
The idea of Asymmetrical Press is to leverage the new technologies and methods available that legacy publishers aren’t using very well, but that I and other indie publishers do know how to use. I presented the idea to Josh, Ryan, and Thom, and the idea was to create a new type of publishing house. Rather than buying other people’s work, we invest in it. We leverage our skills and the methods and tech we know how to use well to make that work into a better asset, which nets us 20%, but allows the indie author to maintain control of their work, and still own the vast majority of it (a far cry from how things are done within the legacy publishing world).
We want to up the quality of indie publishing as a whole, through the Press, but also through the Asymmetrical Community. We’re aiming to raise the bar and help people meet their potential by sharing what we know for free in that Community, while authors and work that we bring under the Asymmetrical Press label will be handled by us.
This isn’t really something that anyone is doing yet, so we’re trying to build a resource that people will come back to again and again, and one that will evolve over time. We also want to instill a sense of sharing among the Community, which will inspire people to help each other out along the way, so that as one indue publisher benefits, we all benefit.
Finally, we’d love if you would read a brief except from the book for our audience.
An excerpt from Iceland India Interstate:
One of the downsides of my lifestyle is that there are often things you want, but can’t have. Or rather, you could have them, but the tradeoff wouldn’t be worth it. In the case of Khet (which I took to calling ‘Egyptian Laser Chess’), buying the game would have resulted in me needing to buy another bag to carry it in, which would have resulted in another bag to carry everywhere I went. Alternatively, I could have bought it and shipped it somewhere, but as soon as I have a ‘somewhere’ to keep spare doodads, there’s little incentive to be as careful about what I buy. I could just ship any old junk there, and there it would likely remain, devaluing in the mean time, and devaluing everything else stored in that somewhere, as well, because of the opportunity cost I would have to pay to use it over the other things I gave into and shipped.
Then again, this is one of the aspects of minimalism that I like best; that it makes purchasing decisions quite easy. There are many things out there that I would like to have, but very few that I need. Knowing exactly how much real estate you have to work with (in my case, the space inside my bag) gives you a very precise scale with which to measure any potential acquisition.
Of course, this isn’t for everyone, but I would venture that most people would benefit from refocusing their attention on the things that really matter to them; those few incredibly important things in life that really, truly make them happy. When your focus is there, you also tend to focus your time, energy and resources on those important things, increasing your happiness and decreasing the amount of ‘stuff’ you buy out of habit or boredom.
Colin Wright’s online home is his blog, Exile Lifestyle.