The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoyevsky translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky

1880 (trans. 1990), Alfred A. Knopf, 976 pages

Book Blurb

Dostoevsky’s towering reputation as one of the handful of thinkers who forged the modern sensibility has sometimes obscured the purely novelistic virtues–brilliant characterizations, flair for suspense and melodrama, instinctive theatricality–that made his work so immensely popular in nineteenth-century Russia. The Brothers Karamazov, his last and greatest novel, published just before his death in 1881, chronicles the bitter love-hate struggle between the outsized Fyodor Karamazov and his three very different sons. It is above all the story of a murder, told with hair-raising intellectual clarity and a feeling for the human condition unsurpassed in world literature.

Translator Blurb

This award-winning translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky–the definitive version in English–magnificently captures the rich and subtle energies of Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece.

The Brothers Karamazov

High school friend HT invited me to join her book club five months ago and Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece came up for discussion at our session last Sunday. I’ve read this book years ago and was happy to revisit it. Dostoyevsky, because of his pioneering work drawing attention to our subconscious motivations, is one of my favourite authors. Nietzsche was also a Dostoyevsky fan. You could draw a line tracing Dostoyevsky to Nietzsche and from Nietzsche to Freud. In other words, no Nietzsche and Freud without Dostoyevsky.

This is a big book. Instead of our usual month-and-a-half between book clubs, we allotted two months for The Brothers Karamazov, or ‘BK’ as fans call it. And then it got extended another week, since I was in Denver to collect a book award for my recently published book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. But even this extra week wasn’t enough. Over half our book club didn’t make it through. Despite everyone’s valiant efforts, the states of completion ranged from halfway to the tens of pages from the ending. That’s telling of how tastes change.

Here’s a little bit about our book club. More women then men. Career wise we are all successful, having reached probably the top decile of our respective professions which are: interior designer, RMT, engineer, psychiatrist, and project manager. I’m not sure what one fellow does, but he recently did the Camino in Spain, and he was able to follow work with a laptop and an internet connection, so perhaps he’s a consultant of sorts?

The general complaint was that the book starts off slowly. I could see that. The religious issues that dominate the first half–the erosion of religion, the rise of free-thinking principles, the role of ‘elders’ in the church, the role of monasteries in society–have passed us by. They are no longer the burning issues they were in the mid-nineteenth century. Ivan’s tale of ‘the Grand Inquisitor’ caught people’s attention, but the problem was you had to read through so much to get to it. BK is not unlike a Wagner opera: you get ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ once in awhile, but you have to listen to a lot of other things in between. The mid- to late nineteenth century, in music and literature, was a time of epic constructions. Today we are more into Twitter, 140 characters or less, please.

While dramatic tension was slow in the building, the general consensus was the trial scene in the last third of the book is riveting. If only there were not the first two-thirds of the book to get in the way! The other observation echoed by book clubbers was that the female characters, notably Katerina and Grushenka, were cardboard cutouts more closely resembling drama queens than real individuals. I would have to agree, but I would add that everyone in the novel is a drama queen and that they are all drama queens (e.g. every conversation is “Please forgive me,” or “You’ve insulted my dignity,” or “My pride is wounded,” or “I’m all out of cash”) because no one has a job. If only Dmitri had to work our 40 hour week he would have less time to spend cavorting around with gypsies!

My burning question that I wanted to ask the book club was whether Ivan’s conjecture that “everything will be permitted” once Christianity gives way to free-thinking has come to pass. It seems in the century-and-a-half since BK came out freethinking has had a coming of age, especially out here on the westcoast, where the masses have raged into atheism. The book club consensus was that, today, in Russia, yes, Dostoyevsky was prescient. The anarchy and crime prevalent on the streets of Russia is a sign that “everything is permitted.”

I’m not so sure though. It seems to me that while Orthodoxism and religion were strong in Russia, lawlessness could also prevail. Look at how Dmitri drags around the retired captain Snegiryov by the beard. Or how Smerdyakov murders his father. I think human nature is the constant. We project human nature onto culture and society. To me, culture and society can change, but only so much as the elasticity of human nature allows. There is a bit of a moral decay theme in BK that change is always going for the worse (e.g. “Oh, if we were just in the good old days things would be better.”) I don’t find that necessarily true. From a technological point, things seem to be getting better (e.g. antibiotics, vaccinations, indoor heating, fridge, stove, and other appliances, cars, planes, etc.,). But from a moral perspective I can’t see how things can be that much different. Others will disagree. Vehemently.

The next book club read happens to be Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. It will be most interesting to see if science can encroach on morality and ethics, religion’s final strongholds. Maybe science will have the final word against Ivan’s prediction that, when religion falls, “everything is permitted.” Maybe Science will be our new god?

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Wins in the 11th Annual International Readers’ Favorite Awards

What do I have in common with celebrities Jim Carrey, Jonathan Frakes, Diana Hart, and bestselling writers J.A. Jance and Daniel Silva? Readers’ Favorite announced today that THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED is a winner in their 11th Annual Book Award Contest!

Thank you to editors Carla DeSantis and Damian Tarnopolsky for making concise the argument that risk, in tragedy, is the dramatic fulcrum of the action. Thank you to proofreader Mark Grill for his sharp eyes. Thank you to professors Laurel Bowman, Charles Fornara, and David Konstan for their inspiration and insights on drama. Thank you to Michael Armstrong, Michelle Buck, and Keith Digby at Langham Court Theatre in Victoria, Canada for turning this book into the world’s largest tragedy playwriting competition. Thank you to all the playwrights all over the world who have entered the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. Together we will change the course of this art form! And finally, thank you to Readers’ Favorite for making this opportunity available. Publicity means so much to writers releasing their debut efforts. It is an honour to win the prize and to have my book displayed at the Miami Book Fair International.

Congratulations to all the other winners who I look forward to meeting at the Miami Award Ceremony this November. Miami, here I come! Here’s the link to my five-star Readers’ Favorite review by Astrid Iustulin: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Readers’ Favorite Award

It’s Conferencing Time – Taking Risk Theatre on the Road

This isn’t the first time risk theatre has been on the road. Enthusiastic audiences have heard about this new theory of tragedy at the University of Calgary, the Society of Classical Studies AGM, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the University of Victoria. This last year though, with the publication of the book, my day job (yes, I have a full time day job), and the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, I haven’t had a chance to take risk theatre on the road. Now that things are settling down, it’s time to go in itinere, as they say in Latin.

I’ve lined up an October 29 lecture at Okanagan College. A talk on tragedy is perfect for Halloween. Thank you Terry Scarborough for the invitation! And another opportunity popped into my inbox to speak at a conference in Austin, Texas next year. What a dream, a trip to the Lone Star State! The organizers wanted a 800 word abstract, and I’m sure the competition will be tough to get into this prestigious conference. The text of my proposal is included below for your reading pleasure. Will it be good enough? “New theory of tragedy” for the headline–you’d think that would get some attention. Doesn’t everyone want a new theory of tragedy? Fingers crossed!

PS I have a pet peeve. Although Seven against Thebes is probably more correct (prepositions are not capitalized), it just looks wrong. And what is worse, ugly. Any right minded person with a sense of aesthetics–to me at least–would write it Seven Against Thebes.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Probability, and a

New Theory of Tragedy

In Euripides’ Bacchae, the worst-case scenario happens to Pentheus if the stranger spreading a seditious cult happens to be a god, and not a hobo. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the worst-case scenario happens to Macbeth if his opponent happens to be not born of woman. In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the worst-case scenario happens to Loman if he discovers that his insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. In Sophocles’ Oedipus rex, the worst-case scenario happens to Oedipus if he finds out that he is the regicide. What were the odds of the worst-case scenario happening in each of these cases? Although the odds appear to be a longshot, they are impossible to quantify. In the tragic canon, there is one play—and one play only—where it is possible to quantify and demonstrate the odds of everything that does happen and does not happen. This fascinating play is Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes.

In Aeschylus’ Seven, seven attacking captains—one of whom is Polyneices—lay siege to seven-gated Thebes. Seven defending captains—one of whom is Polyneices’ brother Eteocles—defend Thebes’ seven gates. The worst-case scenario takes place if brother confronts brother at the seventh gate: brother will kill brother, kindred blood will be shed, and, in addition to the normal hazards of warfare, miasma results and the Furies will be unleashed. Because the captains are assigned their gates by a random, lottery process (Hermann, 2013), it is possible to precisely quantify the odds of the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario odds are 1:49. Conversely, the odds that the worst-case scenario does not happen are 48:49. The worst-case scenario is therefore an unexpected, low-probability outcome with odds 48 to 49 against. Most of the time, Polyneices will not encounter Eteocles at the seventh gate. Because the peculiar structure in Seven (seven attackers, seven defenders, and seven gates) allows us to work out all the permutations and combinations of the captains at the gates, we can determine the odds of the worst-case scenario. And, because we can determine the extent to which Aeschylus paradoxically brings about the fated event seemingly against all odds, we can quantitatively verify what we had suspected from watching Bacchae, Macbeth, Death of a Salesman, Oedipus rex, and other tragedies, and that is that unexpected and unanticipated low-probability events happen with alarming frequency in tragedy. What is more, these low-probability events carry the highest consequences. Heroes’ best-laid plans are often dashed because of such events and all is lost.

The observation that low-probability events (low-probability from the point of view of the characters who do not see them coming) can have high-consequences leads to an interesting conjecture: what if tragedy is a theatre of risk, a stage where risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action? In other words, the mystique of tragedy is not so much wrapped around motivations and nobility and flaws but around a hero who, by taking on too much risk, triggers exceedingly low-probability, high-consequence events?

My paper will close by exploring, as a point of further thought, how tragedy can be thought of as “risk theatre” and how risk theatre can be the basis of a bold new 21stcentury theory of tragedy, one which resonates with modern preoccupations with chance, uncertainty, and probability. Risk theater asks, “What if something happens that we did not think would happen?” and understands that tragedy dramatizes the limitations of intention against the vastness of the possible. Tragedy, in this view, is an exercise in risk management: by dramatizing risk, audiences emerge from the theatre with a higher sensibility of unintended consequences. By understanding this, ancient tragedy can powerfully speak to modern audiences who see scientists, engineers, and policy-makers gamble with the future of the world: it might happen the way they think it will happen, but, then again, more can happen than what their models project. With our technological, financial, and military wherewithal, we have a moral imperative to better understand risk, and the best way to examine risk is through tragedy.

Bibliography

Hermann, Fritz-Gregor. “Eteocles’s Decision in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes.” In Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought, edited by Douglas Cairns, 39-80. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2013.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Manson

2016, HarperCollins, 206 pages

Book Blurb

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger shows us that the key to being stronger, happier people is to handle adversity better and stop trying to be “positive” all the time.

For the past few years, Mark Manson–via his wildly popular blog–has been working on correcting our delusional expectations for ourselves and for the world. He now brings his hard-fought wisdom to this groundbreaking book.

Manson makes the argument that human beings are flawed and limited. As he writes, “not everybody can be extraordinary–there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them–this, he says, is the real source of empowerment. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties–once we stop running from and avoiding, and start confronting, painful truths–we can begin to find courage and confidence we desperately seek.

“In life, we have a limited amount of fucks to give. So you must choose your fucks wisely.” Manson brings a much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eyes moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor. This manifesto is a refreshing slap in the face for all of us, so that we can start to lead more contented, grounded lives.

Author Blurb

Mark Manson is a star blogger with more than two million readers. He lives in New York City. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is his first book.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

It was a peculiar series of coincidences that brought me to this book with the loud title. My friend SM had read it half a year ago. She thought it was a little over-the-top bold but liked it enough to bring it up in conversation and also to recommend it to her son. At this point, I had no plans of reading it. But the loud title stuck in my head. Then I started seeing it everywhere. You can spot it a mile away. It has a Halloween orange cover and it announces its title with a bold, black font. That got me interested. But still, no plans of reading it. Then I met a fascinating and charming lady on match.com. She’s into business books. Of course, she was reading this book. We talked about the book. She wasn’t the most impressed with it, but impressed enough to keep listening to the audiobook. For me, still no plans of reading it. But I was getting more intrigued. Maybe I could get some brownie points with her if I read it?

Then, last Friday, I was at stopped over at the Calgary Airport. On the way to Denver to collect what I would later find out was the 2nd Prize in the Arts category of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association CIPA EVVY Awards. More on this exciting event and the new friends I made in a future blog. It was very early in the morning still, I had just sent my charming lady-friend an email. Then I ran off to the gate, where they were boarding the Denver flight. Well, I was waiting there for some time while all the ‘cool’ zones were boarding. I was in zone 3, the ‘loser’ zone. So, I was standing there a long time. Right in front of the book store. Right in front of the book. I bought it. How could I not? I think a lot of things in life must be like that. The stimulus has to present itself so many times before something happens.

At 206 pages, the book is a super quick read. The arguments and language are vivid and straightforward. Manson titles his chapters: “You are Not Special,” “Happiness is a Problem,” “Don’t Try,” and other equally provocative names.

The back blurb sums up the book well. Though Mr. Rogers told us we were special, we’re not all that special. We have to know our strengths and weaknesses. And we have to be prepared to put in the effort (i.e. go from failure to failure) to find success.

The one takeaway from the book was Manson’s focus on responsibility. To be successful, argues Manson, we have to take responsibility for our whole life. That means that we have to be responsible for things that we have no control over. His example is a judge. Even though the judge isn’t responsible for the crime, the judge still has to take responsibility for the crime, to make sure the procedure goes through all the appropriate steps:

Judges don’t get to choose their cases. When a case goes to court, the judge assigned to it did not commit the crime, was not a witness to the crime, and was not affected by the crime, but he or she is still responsible for the crime. The judge must then choose the consequences; he or she must identify the metric against which the crime will be measured and make sure that the chosen metric is carried out. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.

Manson tells the reader how, to get over a bad experience where his girlfriend cheated on him and dumped him, he had to take responsibility for the situation. Taking responsibility means that he had to understand his own role in the relationship and question why he let it go on. When he was able to do this, he was able to grow into a more balanced individual.

The relationship story wasn’t the most interesting part about responsibility to me, though. The most interesting part is how he dovetails that story with one of my favourite quotes: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Many years ago, Manson, who started off as a blogger, wrote that quote and attributed it to “a great philosopher.” His followers were quick to call him on that: the quote is actually from Uncle Ben in the movie Spider-Man. Manson tells that story in the book. And then he adds that, although the quote isn’t that profound, if you switch it around, it is the profoundest thing: “With great responsibility comes great power.”

The switched around quote is actually very interesting. What Manson’s saying is that power doesn’t come first. We think it comes first, and then we have to use it responsibly. But that’s a myth. To create power, you have to take responsibility for your dreams, desires, and goals in the first place. Once you accept or take responsibility for all the suffering to get to your dreams, desire, and goals, the power follows.

I applied this to my own situation, and I liked it. A lot of times, people ask me about my book and the playwright competition. I never really know how to answer. I say, “The book’s about theatre and playwriting. I’m trying to get people to reimagine tragedy as a theatre of risk.” Or something like that. What I’m going to say next time when someone asks what I’m doing with the book is: “I’m responsible for the largest playwriting contest in the world for the writing of tragedy. In this competition, we invite dramatists to make risk the fulcrum of the action.” By saying “responsible for,” I hold myself accountable for the success or failure of my enterprise. In all honesty though, the success or failure of my enterprise is only partially dependent on me. Like me buying Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, for my enterprise to be successful, many coincidental events have to occur which I have no control over. But, by taking responsibility for events I have no control over, I am putting skin in the game. And, by putting skin in the game, the odds of success go up. Dramatically. I will take responsibility, and all that responsibility entails.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

RISK THEATRE MODERN TRAGEDY COMPETITION – AUGUST 2019 UPDATE

Stats, stats, stats!

THANK YOU assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the 2nd annual competition began two months ago. Nine plays have come in from two continents (North American and Oceania) and two countries (USA and Australia). Here’s the country breakouts:

USA 7 entrants
Australia 2 entrants

Of the American entries, 4 are from the east and 3 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (4 entrants). Go New York! Australia is also off to a good start, already exceeding last year’s entries.

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 8 men and 1 woman. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

Last month the https://risktheatre.com/ website averaged 37 hits a day. Most clicks in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. Best month was March 2019 with 2372 hits—that was when we announced the 2019 winners. All time views stand at 12,646 and growing. So far, so good for this grassroots competition!

My book: THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED (ISBN 978-1-5255-3756-1) hit the bookshelves in February 2019. To date, it has sold 630 copies. THANK YOU to everyone for supporting the book—all proceeds from sales go back into funding the competition. Please ask your local library to carry this unique title. To date, members at these fantastic libraries have access: Brown University, Pasadena Public, Fargo Public, South Texas College, University of Bristol, University of Victoria, Greater Victoria Public, Richmond Public, Smithers Public, and the Russian State Library. Let’s get a few more libraries on board! Reviews of the book can be found here:

http://theelementsofwriting.com/wong/
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/…/the-risk-theatre-model-of-…/
https://www.broadwayworld.com/…/Book-Review-THE-RISK-THEATR…
https://www.forewordreviews.com/…/the-risk-theatre-model-o…/

“Aristotle’s Poetics: A Defense of Tragic Fiction” – Eden

pages 41-49 in A Companion to Tragedy, ed. Rebecca Bushnell, Blackwell 2009

After two chapters on the political and cultic roots of Greek tragedy, A Companion to Tragedy turns to tragedy as literature in chapter three with Kathy Eden’s piece “Aristotle’s Poetics: A Defense of Tragic Fiction.” Here’s her author blurb from the beginning of the book:

Kathy Eden is Chavkin Family Professor of English and Professor of Classics at Columbia University. She is the author of Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition (1986), Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition: Chapters in the Ancient Legacy and Its Humanist Reception (1997), and Friends Hold All Things in Common: Tradition, Intellectual Property and the “Adages” of Erasmus (2001).

Aristotle’s Poetics (written between 360-320 BC) has had an immense, twofold contribution to western thought. Not only does it dissect the inner workings of tragedy, it also created an entirely new genre called the philosophy of tragedy. As a guidebook on the history and social function of tragedy, it contributes to our understanding of literature. As a groundbreaking work in the new genre of the philosophy of tragedy, it contributes to our understanding of philosophy, particularly of aesthetics. It does so because it answers the question: “Why do we find the art of tragedy endearing when the action of tragedy is full of strife and sorrow?”

Because the contributions of the Poetics have been immense, philosophers, creative writers, playwrights, and students of drama continue to read it to this day. Most of the time, they read the Poetics as a standalone work. But it is not a standalone work. Aristotle wrote the Poetics as a rebuttal to his teacher Plato. And it is when readers understand that Plato is the secret unspoken antagonist lurking in the Poetics that the Poetics begin to make sense. Or so this is Eden’s argument in her chapter.

The Origins of Aristotle’s Poetics

Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, did not like mimetic arts or fiction. To Plato, the shortcoming of mimetic arts is that they copy reality, and, as copies, are imperfect and corrupt representations. The psychagogic power of fiction–as false copies of reality–lead the soul astray. Tragedy, as fiction and drama, is a mimetic art. Because it stirs the emotions, it is dangerous, something that Plato bans from his ideal state.

Take Homer’s Iliad as an example. It is a mimetic art of fiction. It represents war–a few days in the Trojan War, to be specific. But if you want to be a general, would you learn about war by reading (or listening) to the Iliad or by finding a general who is actually an expert in warfare? Although the Iliad has stories of generals and their tactics, it is not the real thing. It would be dangerous to read the Iliad and then go off into battle. True knowledge comes from doing. Or philosophizing, which is to understand the causes of why and what something is. Mimetic and fictional arts such as epic and drama are, to Plato, not serious, a form of ‘child’s play’ (paidia).

Plato also values truth because it is consistent. Fiction and the mimetic arts, however, portray change. They portray changes in the tragic agent in the face of misfortune. And dramatic change is based on probability. Change, being based on probability, is not truth. The truth to Plato is unchanging. Art which represents change based on plausibility and probability to Plato is dangerous, an attack on immutable truth.

All these things Plato taught Aristotle. But Aristotle wasn’t so sure. That’s why he wrote the Poetics, argues Eden. The Poetics is Aristotle’s rebuttal of Plato. It is Aristotle’s attempt to rehabilitate fiction and the mimetic arts as something worthwhile and wholesome.

How Aristotle Rehabilitates Tragedy in the Poetics

While agreeing with Plato that drama is an imitating or mimetic art, Aristotle disagrees that it is ‘child’s play’. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is not paidia but a ‘serious’ (spoudaia) representation. And, as a serious representation, it is worthwhile. Thus, when we wonder why Aristotle insists that tragedy is a serious representation, to understand that, we have to recall that he is rebuking Plato for calling the mimetic arts ‘child’s play’.

Now, how is tragedy a ‘serious’ representation? Although based on probability (here student and teacher agree), the tragedian ‘must understand the causes of human action in the ethical and intellectual qualities of the agents’. Tragedy is serious in that the tragic poet must convincingly weave together character and intention into the structure of the events. No small feat.

And what about the danger Plato identifies of tragedy influencing the emotions to lead the soul astray? Aristotle agrees with Plato that art has a great power over the emotions. But, instead of rejecting these emotions, Aristotle would rather harness them for a greater good. The purpose of tragedy, according to Aristotle, is to arouse pity and fear. Why pity and fear? ‘Pity and fear’ writes Eden, ‘are instrument in judging action . . . In the Poetics (ch. 13) we pity those agents who suffer unfairly, while we fear for those who are like us’. So, because tragedy elicits pity and fear, it performs a function in that it sharpens our ability to judge human action. And, because it sharpens our ability to judge human action, tragedy performs a useful social function. It is thereby rehabilitated. Or so Eden interprets Aristotle.

Risk Theatre and Aristotelian Theory

In my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected, I’ve developed a bold new 21st century model of tragedy. The feedback from the playwriting world has been fantastic. In the academic world, however, some critics wanted to see some more engagement with the existing body of tragic theory. This blog is a good place to respond. I could have done this in the book as well, but a decision was made at the time of writing to make the book accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The goal of the book is to start a 21st century art movement by reimagining the tragedy as a stage where risk is dramatized. Incorporating theoretical arguments would have detracted from the book’s main drive. So, what are the primary differences between risk theatre and Aristotle?

According to Aristotle, tragedy is ‘an imitation of human action that is serious’. According to risk theatre, tragedy is an imitation of a gambling act. The protagonist is tempted. The protagonist wagers a human asset (honour, the milk of human kindness, faith, the soul, etc.,) for the object of ambition (a crown, the opportunity to revenge, success, etc.,). And then the protagonist goes past the point of no return with a metaphorical roll of the dice.

According to Aristotle, there is a change (metabolē)–usually for the worse–in the hero’s fortune. This change is the result of hamartia, or an error. According to risk theatre, there is also a change, which is, again, usually for the worse. But this change is not due to error. The protagonist’s wager and course of action is reasonable. There is no mistake. The degree of success is high. What upsets the protagonist is an unexpected low-probability, high-consequence event that comes out of left field.

According to Aristotle, the elements of the plot follow the rules of probability. There is, as Eden says, a ‘causal connection between events’. According to risk theatre, the elements of the plot do not follow the rules of probability. In risk theatre, the unlikeliest outcome takes place: Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill (e.g. Macbeth) or it turns out that the man searching for the patricide happens himself to be the patricide (e.g. Oedipus). Risk theatre can generate the unlikeliest outcome because of a truism with risk: the more risk we take on, the more we expose ourselves to unintended consequences. In other words, risk theatre is exciting because, in taking on too much risk, the protagonist breaks the causal connection between events.

According to Aristotle, the emotions tragedy generates are pity and fear. According to risk theatre, the emotions tragedy generates are anticipation and apprehension: anticipation for what the hero will wager and apprehension for how the hero’s best-laid plans will be upset by some black swan event.

According to Aristotle (and Eden’s interpretation of Aristotle), tragedy ‘sharpens its audience’s ability to judge human action’. According to risk theatre, tragedy sharpens its audience’s realization that low-probability, high-consequence events can defy the best-laid plans to shape life in unexpected ways. Tragedy, by dramatizing risk acts, warns us not to bite off more than we can chew. In this modern world where we go forwards in ever larger leaps and bounds, do we not need a risk theatre model of tragedy more than ever? By watching a cascading series of unintended consequences play out on stage, perhaps we will learn the wisdom of the old folk adage: ‘Keep some powder dry’.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

How to Get Your Self-Published and Indie Books into Libraries

So You Want to Get Your Self-Published or Indie Book into the Library? Read on!

It’s not easy but it sure is more and more possible. Just like how alternative music and indie rock in the 90s eventually went mainstream, so too alternative and indie book publishing is going mainstream today. With outfits such as Friesen Press, Kindle Direct, and Lulu, authors can easily bypass the closed gates of traditional publishers. Nothing against traditional publishers, but sometimes, when you have to get a book out, and you can’t get into their old boys’ club, you have to figure out alternative solutions.

While indie presses can get your book into the market, you still have to sell the book. In this blog, I’ll be talking about one particular type of customer: the library. In Canada, there’s over 3000 libraries. And in the USA, that number goes up to 120,000. That’s a lot of potential customers! Since my non-fiction book on theatre and creative writing came out six months ago, I’ve been learning a lot about marketing. Marketing is a full-time job. In these six months, I’ve sold 600 books. While it doesn’t seem like a big number, other writers have been telling me that’s pretty good. In the last month, I’ve begun focusing on libraries.

From a marketing perspective, libraries are a little trickier for self-published authors. While there’s a ton of resources to help indie authors promote their books, there isn’t so much out there to help them approach libraries. In this last month, I’ve found that it is indeed possible to get your book into libraries. I’ve just started the library drive and eleven have jumped on board: Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, Brown University Library, University of Bristol Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Library, Russian State Library, Richmond Public Library, Smithers Public Library, and the Alberta Playwrights Network Reading Room. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Several Months Before the Publication Date

Start thinking about getting reviews from the trade publications librarians read: Library JournalKirkusMidwest Book Review, and Publisher’s Weekly (or their indie counterpart Booklife) are good starting points. Keep in mind, some publications, such as Library Journal, only accept titles for review three months or more before the publication date. I lost a good chance here, as they rejected my application, since I approached them a few months after the publication date. Dang!

Several Months after Publication

Set up an Amazon author’s page. Set up a Goodreads account. Try doing a Goodreads Giveaway. A Giveaway is where you pay Goodreads $119 for the privilege to give away x number of books. Goodreads members interested in reviewing your book enter a lottery to receive a review copy. You are responsible for sending the winners a copy of the book. Then you wait for them to give you a review. About 25% of my Giveaway recipients ended up reviewing the book. Mind you, some reviews may still be coming. It takes some patience. To get in the library, you need to generate some publicity. Reviews help that process.

Speaking of reviews, also set up a NetGalley account. Whereas bibliophiles (and some librarians) go on the Goodreads site, NetGalley is populated by folks on the professional side: librarians, booksellers, educators, and book reviewers. If you’ve got one or two titles, you’ll save a few bucks joining a NetGalley Coop instead of signing directly with NetGalley. Once you have Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley set up, reviews should start coming in. Be patient. And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If every review is five stars, customers aren’t going to believe them. The occasional one- or two-star review keeps it honest.

As many libraries rebrand themselves as community centres, you see more and more of them offering a selection of books by local authors. My local library, the Greater Victoria Public Library has an emerging authors program. Check your local library and see what they can do. Many of them are keen on supporting local talent. I’ve been doing Facebook polls, and many writers have been able to get their book into their local library simply by walking in and talking to the librarian.

If you have a fiction or young adult title, the SELF-e program might be a good fit (at time of writing, they accept but have not begun reviewing non-fiction, children’s, and poetry titles). How it works is that you supply them with a PDF or ePUB copy of your book, and they make it available for electronic lending at their partner libraries. Statistics show that 50% of people who borrow your book will go on to purchase it. Somehow, I question this number, but hey, they must have crunched the actual numbers…

Half a Year to Three Years after Publication

Libraries are interested in purchasing newer books. Unless you book becomes a classic, you’ve got three years to get into the library. So, what do you do after the initial burst of activity? Here’s what I’ve been doing as I enter a sort of no-man’s land six months after initial publication.

I created a Facebook business page for my book. And on that page, I made a post asking readers to ask their local library to purchase the book. Then I used the paid Facebook ‘Boost’ feature to advertise the post to people with links to theatre, libraries, playwriting, and creative writing. Here’s how the post reads:

***RISK THEATRE LIBRARY DRIVE*** If risk theatre ever inspired you to rethink tragedy, then write your local library. Ask them to carry the book. Ideas have a half-life, and after that time, they are done. Now, while risk theatre is full of that incipient energy, is the time to make inroads. And, as a grassroots art movement, risk theatre depends so much on your support. The book has a good start. In its first five months, it has sold over six hundred copies. Nine libraries stock it: Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Library, Smithers Public Library, Richmond Public Library, Russian State Library (the 2nd largest library in the world, thank you Natalia), Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, and the Alberta Playwrights Network Reading Room. Nine is not enough. Can we not have fifty by year end? Here’s the vital details:

TITLE: THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY
AUTHOR: EDWIN WONG
PUBLISHER: FRIESEN PRESS 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5255-3756-1
AVAILABILITY: Amazon, B&N, Chapters Indigo, and wherever books are sold

All it takes is a minute to get this idea out to waiting readers!
https://yourlibrary.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1329131101

I’ve been also emailing the acquisitions or collections staff at libraries to ask them to consider my title. I send them a blurb with the purchasing details and also a PDF of the front and back jacket (so that they can see right away that the book has been professionally designed). I’ve started keeping track of libraries on a spreadsheet. I’ve hit up all public and academic libraries in BC, Canada (there’s a hundred or so). And now I’m concentrating on New York State because it’s a playwriting powerhouse. This process is extremely laborious. But since when has anything worthwhile been without labour? Here’s what my blurb to the libraries looks like. I’ve tried to emphasize in the letter the advantages to the library of carrying the title:

Hello,

Here’s an amazing book on theatre and creative writing that library readers absolutely love. Would you consider adding it to your collection?—details below. We began the library drive a month ago, and the book can be already found at: Brown University Library, Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, University of Bristol Library, the University of Victoria Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, Richmond Public Library, Smithers Public Library, and the Russian State Library. Join the growing list of libraries which stock this exciting title!

All best,

Edwin

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy:

Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

By Edwin Wong

AUTHOR & THEATRE EXPERT SEEKING TO REKINDLE THE ART OF

THE DRAMATIC TRAGEDY

Winner in the 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards

Winner in the 2019 Colorado Independent Publishers Association CIPA EVVY Awards

The author’s diagnosis and remedy for the current state of theater are imaginative and quite persuasive . . . An ambitious, thought-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.

—Kirkus Reviews

If you love literature—theater, film, novels, history, biography, opera, whatever—you need to read this extraordinary work . . . Read it—twice. You will never read another work of literature the same way.

—Charlie Euchner, Columbia University

An insightful and compelling read . . . Through the art of reinterpretation, Wong manages to present a bold, inventive new model of theatre through the lens of risk.

—Broadway World

The idea of ‘tragedy’ was wrapped in the mystique of motivations and nobility and flaws that put it out of reach for me as a playwright. This book strips away the mystique and makes the form available to me.

—Donald Connolly, playwright and two-time Academy Award nominee

On Netflix, it seems the vast majority of shows are centred around doom, death, and destruction—and viewers can’t get enough. But if you take a trip to Broadway, all you see are upbeat musicals and comedies. There is a vast difference between the content consumed on television and live on stage—but why?

Theatre expert Edwin Wong thinks the time has come to reboot the ancient art of the tragedy. To do so, Wong who has a master’s degree in the classics with a concentration in ancient theatre, has developed a new and unique model of drama called ‘risk theatre’ to align tragedy with modern concepts of chance and uncertainty. The result is a tragic stage where every dramatic scene is a gambling act, and risk runs riot. His vision of the stage is outlined in his new book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected[Friesen Press, 2019].

The risk theatre model is a blueprint of 21st century drama. By drawing examples from Sophocles to Shakespeare and O’Neill, Wong argues in a clear and straightforward voice how tragedy dramatizes gambling acts gone awry. By dramatizing risk, tragedy speaks powerfully and directly to people living in an increasingly volatile world. Audiences leave with a heightened sense of how low-probability, high-consequence events defy our best-laid plans to reshape the world.

‘Today tragedy is a tired art. It fails to capture the attention and publicity that it once did in the past’, says Wong. ‘The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy aims to restore this revered art to its rightful throne by illustrating and then inviting dramatists to create suspenseful, captivating risk theatre plays’.

To further this exploration into the art form of the modern tragedy, Wong teamed up with Langham Court Theatre, one of the oldest and most respected theatres in Canada, to create the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the world’s largest playwriting competition for the writing of tragedy. In its inaugural run, 182 playwrights from 11 countries participated. The competition is now in its second year and has been covered by Broadway World, BC Bookworld, The Dramatist (the official publication of the Dramatists Guild of America), and The New York Review of Books.

‘By reimagining tragedy as a theatre of risk, my book aligns the art form with the modern fascination with chance and uncertainty and restores tragedy to its rightful place as the greatest show on earth’, adds Wong.

EDWIN WONG is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre. His other research interests include epic poetry, where he has published a solution to the contradiction between fate and free will in Homer’s Iliad by drawing attention to the peculiar mechanics of chess endgames. Wong founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition with Langham Court Theatre to align tragedy with the modern fascination with uncertainty and chance. It is the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy (visit risktheatre.com for details). Wong lives in Victoria, Canada.

ISBN: 978-1-5255-3756-1

Title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

Author: Edwin Wong

List Price: $14.99 (USD)

Language: English

Formats: Paperback, hardcover, eBook

Pub Date: February 2019

Publisher: Friesen Press

What else can you do to get into libraries? Well, in Canada, there’s a non-profit owned by the libraries called the Library Services Centre or LSC. They provide cataloguing and acquisitions help to their members. In addition, LSC has a small press and author program. This service is completely free: you send them marketing info for your self-published or indie title, and they advertise the book to their member libraries. If libraries decide to order, LSC will send the author a PO and the author ships the books out to LCS. To provide this service, LCS expects a discount from list price, which, in my opinion, is more than fair. It took me half an hour to set up with LCS, and they listed my book within an hour. Very impressive! I’m currently trying to find LSC equivalents in the USA and UK. Please let me know if you know of one.

Three Years and Beyond

This requires some thinking outside the box. A writer on a Facebook authors page had a fascinating suggestion: use a service such as Findaway to convert your written book into an audiobook. The awesome thing about Findaway’s service is that they take care of getting your audiobook into libraries. Wow! The cost? On Findaway’s site, a 80,000-word book sets you back $2000-$2500 dollars (USD, 2019 estimate). That’s a little bit more than what Friesen Press charged me to distribute, layout, design, and typeset my written book. The difference in distribution between Friesen and Findaway, however, is that Findaway gets the audiobook into libraries, which is a big plus. I am stoked to consider this option in the future. It would actually be quite exciting to hear what the book sounds like.

Well, assiduous readers, there you have it: some ways of getting your book into libraries worldwide! I’ll see you in the library!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Another Milestone for The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy!

Would you believe it?–my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy been out there for half a year. It’s sold six hundred copies and it can be found in nine libraries worldwide, from right here in Victoria, Canada to the second largest library in the world in Moscow, Russia. There’s been many firsts along the way. I want to tell you about an important milestone that came out last week. Before we do that, let’s take a moment to recall the previous milestones.

The first milestone was February 4, 2019, the date the book was available for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A couple of months later on April 8, the first professional review came out on the book review outfit Kirkus. Then, on May 4, the book became available at its first library, the downtown branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. Later that month, the book was included in IndieReader’s ‘Best Reviewed Books of the Month’ and was also declared a winner in the 13th Annual Indie Excellence Awards. On June 17, the book got its first non-paid review from The Midwest Book Review, a major media outlet. On that very same day, the book got its radio debut on The Tom Sumner Program: it was the focus of a live, one-hour show. And on June 26, the book got its first review from a theatre professional in Broadway World. And in the beginning of July, the book got panned by two critics in quick succession on Goodreads: both gave it two out of five stars. I mention this among milestones because the negative reviews play an important part in the life of the book–who would believe the reviewers if every review was five stars? We must embrace the negative. As they say, even bad publicity is still publicity. Even if they didn’t like it, they did take the time to read the book, after all. The worst is oblivion, when the book lies unread. After all these happy and sad milestones, however, one thing was missing: an academic review.

As an academic, having an academic critique my book was important. I’ve read countless academic reviews of books. Why was one not out there for my book?  I felt that The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy offers something new, not only to the theatre world, but to the academic world, the world of universities, professors, students, late-night study sessions, and of triumph and heartache. The theory of tragedy–or the question of why sad stories captivate us–has been one of the central questions in art and aesthetics since Plato first wrestled with it. And, between Plato and today, the best thinkers–including Aristotle, Hegel, and Nietzsche–have grappled with this question at length. The risk model answers the question by arguing that tragedy is really risk dramatized. Tragedy captivates and entertains despite the gloom because it plays out risk acts on the stage. When would the ivory tower take note that a new voice was speaking out?

In mid-July, I got an email from Columbia University writing professor Charlie Euchner (pronounced IKE-ner). He had read my book and wanted to do an interview for his website The Elements of Writing. Yes! He started off the interview with a series of email questions. Afterwards we followed up with a fascinating hour-long chat on the phone. He was on his third read of the book, and the thing that intrigued him was how the book looks at the art of storytelling from the perspective of risk. Euchner himself, I found out, was working on a history of Woodrow Wilson. My book, I think, intrigued Euchner because it invited him to look at Wilson’s career as a series of risk acts. From Wilson’s power struggles at Princeton University to the race to be governor of New Jersey and from the struggle to be president to going all-in on the League of Nations, it was possible to create a larger, overarching narrative using risk theory. Although my book specifically addresses the art form of tragedy, many reviewers are noting how its framework can be applied to any sort of writing where there is dramatic tension.

Euchner’s full review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy can be found here. Here is Euchner’s abridged review from the Goodreads site:

If you love literature–theater, film, novels, history, biography, opera, whatever–you need to read this extraordinary work.

Wong presents a new theory of tragedy, which contrasts those of Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others. The classic theory, outlined by Aristotle, states that the hero has a “tragic flaw” that causes him or her to make a “tragic mistake.” But Wong argues that the hero might not in fact make a mistake; instead he or she makes a calculated risk that backfires.

Wong’s approach is especially pertinent to the modern condition. For most of history, the consequences of decisions were for the most part local. Today, even minor decisions can have global repercussions. Also, we live in the age of science, where calculation of odds has become commonplace. many bemoan that this calculation takes the heart and soul out of life. The Age of the Algorithm can, in fact, suck the agency out of even the most strong-willed people.

All the more reason for Wong’s brilliant thesis.

If you’re an avid reader (which I assume is the case, since you’re on Goodreads) or a writer, read this book. It’s sometimes dense and filled with examples from ancient literature unfamiliar to many moderns. No matter. Read it–twice. You will never read another work of literature the same way.

Thank you Charlie for taking the time to read and write about the book! What a great milestone, the first academic review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. People pay attention to Columbia professors: what they say helps readers decide what to read next. Today is a good day.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Juror Comments from Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA)

Congratulations to the 2019 Whistler Independent Book Awards (WIBA) finalists!–

The fiction finalists are:

Edythe Anstey Hanen for Nine Birds Singing
Ann Shortell for Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale
Diana Stevan for Sunflowers under Fire

The non-fiction nominees are:

Bill Arnott for Gone Viking: A Travel Saga
Tina Martel for Not in the Pink
Manuel Matas for The Borders of Normal

I had also entered this competition. The organizers were kind enough to send the juror scorecard for my title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. It’s great to see the feedback, as the jurors are all writers. They’re members of the Canadian Authors Association. Perhaps more competitions could do this? Here are the juror comments.

PLOT (a coherent, well developed narrative arc; appropriate and satisfying ending)

COMMENTS: This is a well thought out and cogently argued exploration of a topic about which I had no prior knowledge. I found it interesting and informative.

RATING: Strong

PACE (the plot unfolds effectively to keep the reader’s attention)

COMMENTS: The author does a good job of building and following a narrative structure that keeps the reader following along at a brisk pace and in a logical fashion. The trade-off is an extraordinary reliance on footnotes, but I consider this to have been the right choice.

RATING: Strong

CHARACTERS (characters are fully realized and believable)

COMMENTS: While I don’t doubt the author’s knowledge or interpretation, his examples are all drawn from classical plays, many of which are obscure (at least to me). I would have liked to see him refer to other times and genres to make the content more accessible. Why does risk theatre have to be restricted to the stage? It seems to me that The Great Gadsby has many tragic elements and Indiana Jones is certainly a classic swashbuckling hero, even though Raiders of the Lost Arc [sic] is not a tragedy. What about Citizen Kane? More contemporary references would have been a great help.

RATING: Weak

DIALOGUE (dialogue reveals, reflects and reinforces the character of the speaker)

COMMENTS: Dialogue, as such, is not a feature of this book. But the quotations cited from the plays the author references are appropriately chosen.

RATING: Sufficient

SETTING (time and place are well presented, authentic and contribute to the narrative)

COMMENTS: The author does an excellent job of establishing links between his thesis and our current culture, particularly the juxtaposition of economic and tragic theory. The section titled Chance and the Unexpected through the Ages was particularly fascinating.

RATING: Strong

WRITING (sentence structure is varied; writing is imaginative, effective and clear)

COMMENTS: The writing is clear and effective but the tone is a bit too academic. I found the prose hampered by the use of passive voice (It will be remembered…) and a didactic tone (I will now…). The structure of the book also lends itself to some repetition (As previously argued…). The writing of The Quarrel Between Philosophy, History, Comedy, and Tragedy (pg. 222-225) has a welcome, lighter touch that I would like to have seen throughout.

RATING: Sufficient

LANGUAGE (original and free of clichés; varied vocabulary; correct spelling, punctuation)

The language is clear, usage is correct and the book has been thoroughly copy-edited.

RATING: Strong

THEMES (themes are well developed and use vivid imagery to add depth to the narrative)

The author’s argument is clear and compelling. I appreciated the way he incorporated references ranging from World War II to firefighting to sports to physics to help make his case. Most of all, I was interested in his argument about why tragedy, and by extension, storytelling, matter.

PRODUCTION (cover is well designed and appealing; interiors are professional)

The book has been professionally designed and is generally appealing. I would have recommended a different treatment for quotes, which fill many pages. I would also recommend a new, more accessible title. “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy” is more appropriate as a sub-title.

SUMMARY

Any storyteller looking to improve his/her craft would do well to read this clearly laid out and well argued blueprint for how to build and sustain dramatic tension. While the author’s focus is on tragedy, many of these principles would translate to other genres.

END OF JUROR COMMENTS

Some great observations here. First, the criteria seem more oriented to fiction. Since the Whistler Independent Book Awards also has a non-fiction category, they might consider a separate scorecard for non-fiction. I like the juror’s comments in the ‘Summary’ section. Many reviewers (such as Cavak on Goodreads, who compared the book to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces) have also remarked that The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy offers creative writers of all stripes important tips. Aristotle’s Poetics, the preeminent guidebook for tragedy, has also been taken up by artists working outside tragedy. Lastly, I got a chuckle when I read the juror comment: “I found the prose hampered by use of passive voice.” Surely the juror meant: “The passive voice hampered the prose”? It’s the return of the “Pervasive passive.” I like it, I just coined that up now! We are all victims of the pervasive passive!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

19.07.16.whistler book awards

Yellow Belt – Peterec’s Kickboxing

I’ve been going to Peterec’s Kickboxing for a year and a half now. The gym’s right downtown on Fisgard. And the Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes are super convenient–my office is literally blocks away. Hey, no excuse not to go! But even so, I only manage to go, on average, twice a week. Something always seems to come up, whether it’s a meeting that goes to long or an injury. But hey, we’re past the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra of the 80s. Rest is good. Of course, not too much rest! That would be sloth!

When I joined up, the goal was never to compete or acquire the different colour belts. I enjoy physical activity (I’ve run a marathon and done a 130km bike trek) and I wanted to see if I could toughen myself up. I’ve never been quite tough, you see. In fact, quite the opposite. Also, martial arts runs in the family. My father taught Wing Chun to police officers when he moved from Hong Kong to Canada in the late 60s. His teacher in Hong Kong was one of Bruce Lee’s instructors.

For some reason or another, I never took up Wing Chun with my father. He taught me for a couple of weeks, but, at that time in my late teens, I didn’t have the patience. Later on, I tried Tai Chi. But it was difficult for me to remember the sequence. After a few months, I moved on to other things. Kickboxing seemed different. You can start hitting the bag right away. And there’s only so many basic motions: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, leg kick, body kick, head kick, front kick, etc., (there’s also elbows and knees and other moves, but the basic moves seem manageable to a novice). In short, kickboxing seemed more accessible out of the starting gate.

I’ve been grateful for everything that Stan and the other instructors and classmates have taught me over the last year and a half. You know, when most people watch the fights, they look at how impressive fighters look when they throw devastating combos. But, when you go to the gym, you begin to understand and appreciate how impressive it is for guys to absorb the combos thrown at them. Even if a kick or punch is successfully blocked, it can hurt. During training, we hold up big thick foam shields for the training partner to kick. One time, this one kid kicked me so hard–even though I had this massive shield on my leg–that I crumpled to the ground in pain. After that, I realized how impressive fighters are for the hits that they can absorb. It’s not normal to be able to take that kind of punishment and keep going. That’s mental toughness. An insane amount of mental toughness.

There’s been a few injuries too. I ruptured a tendon in my left middle finger. The doctor had a good laugh when she saw. She said, ‘Haha, we call this mallet finger!’ And it does sort of look like the end of a hammer. The finger extends straight out, and then, on the last joint (where the fingernail is), it drops down 90 degrees. I didn’t even know it could do that. The weird thing is, it didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t even notice until I took off the boxing gloves. They put me in a finger splint for two months and then the tendon reattaches. The finger is almost straight again today.

Then there’s the tendinitis. Tendinitis in both elbows. I think it’s from making a fist and then punching the bag really hard. It’s on the days that we practise hard punches on the bags that makes it worse. It used to be that if I rested a few days it would go away. But now it’s constant. And it is a little frustrating. I can feel it when I pick up things like a dinner plate. It wakes me up sometimes at night if my arm is straight (if it’s bent it seems to be fine). But, you know, the body’s meant to be used. Doing something meaningful and rewarding with some aches and pain is better than trying to be 100% healthy and doing nothing. Life is meant to be lived.

So…the belt test. Yellow belt. The first belt. Test is next Friday. 5PM. Allow two hours says Stan. The guys that have gone through it say it’s pretty brutal, but you’ll get through it. Some people throw up during the test, but most pass. Apparently, they don’t invite students to do the test unless they have a high degree of confidence you’ll pass. We’ll be drilled on everything that we’ve done. Punches. Kicks. Blocks. Movement. Movement is a particular weakness. I’m too stiff. Rigid. It’s funny. I was doing swing dance classes last year, and my dance partners were saying the same thing about my dancing. Kickboxing, you know, isn’t that much different than dancing. In both activities, there’s a pair moving in tandem. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

On top of the drills, there’s also different combos that will be tested. Here they are:

#1 jab, cross, jab, cross, left hook, right leg kick, slide back, snake kick

#2 jab, cross, left hook, right uppercut, cross, step through, left body kick

#3 jab, cross, step through, two left body kicks, cross, left hook, right leg kick

#4 left hook, beeline (step to right at a 45-degree angle towards partner so you’re on his left side), left hook to body, left uppercut, cross, use elbow to push partner away, step through, left head kick

This is going to be fun! Five days to go!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.