Monthly Archives: May 2015

Galloping Goose Magic

Magic is Actually a Collie

Well, you never know who you.ll meet and the circumstances which make it happen. With that in mind, here.s a story for all the assiduous readers out there. On the way out of town the other day, the nuts on the front fender worked themselves loose and fell off. The bike was still rideable, but the bottom part of the fender was rubbing against the tire. One of the most pleasant things about riding is a quiet ride. Not in terms of everything all quiet (which you never have) but in terms of the bike not contributing more than it should: the hum of the tires on the road and the whirl of a clean and lean drivetrain. No squeaking parts. And definitely no distraction of mudflap rubbing on the tire! While debating whether to tune it out it or turn around, the Nest Cafe appeared around the bend. It.s a new(er) cafe I.d recently seen on the Galloping Goose and had wanted to check it out. Time for a cold drink. This is how I met Magic.

Always Carry a Book with You

The Nest Cafe can be accessed right off the Galloping Goose and there.s a large selection of outdoor benches and seats on two levels. There.s also bike parking galore and an air pump with tools for basic adjustments / repairs on a work area (even with bike stand!). Lots of friendly cyclists around exchanging stories. The friendly barista recommended a cold chai latte and I sat outside at one of the parasoled tables. I carry a book most places I go and on this day in the saddlebag was Self-Publishing in Canada by Suzanne Anderson. While reading away, a table of cyclists were debating heading up to Matticks Farm on the table to the right and to the left a table of two sat down with a large collie with a well groomed coat. This was Magic and she liked to say come up and greet people. And yes, not only is the Nest Cafe bike friendly: it is also dog friendly!–there.s ‘hitching posts’ at the outdoor tables to attach the leash! What a great idea!

On my way out, one of the ladies asked me if I was in the process of self-publishing. Books are good conversation starters. It turns out L and M were good friends and that L had gone through the process. Now it.s hard to remember the whole conversation, but it.s an inspiring story. Over ten years ago, L.s husband was diagnosed with MS. It wasn.t looking good. Diligent friend M would help out by reading him novels while the patient sipped from a snifter of scotch. Things like that always catch you off guard but especially so since L.s husband was 45 at the time. L decided to self-publish a title relating her experiences. I.m sure there.s lots of folks going through caring for someone with MS that have benefitted and will benefit from reading her experiences. I haven.t looked, but I.d guess that there.s lots of books on MS but far fewer books from the perspective of coping with living with someone who has MS.

I was glad L shared her story with me. She.s moved beyond her book now (it came out over ten years ago) but I think she.s still conferencing and speaking on the subject. They also asked me about what I was working on. That was good as it gave me a chance to practise talking about the book. It.s something that I don.t really get to do that often. When I gave them my shout line: ‘You can.t be a hero unless you got something to lose’, M commented that it reminded her of something she had heard from Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. She had seem him lecture, I believe (I must really start taking supplements to improve my memory!). Wow! He.s a legend! I have some of his books on my shelf, perhaps I should read him next? Talking with both of them was a tremendous encouragement. That is helpful in that so often when writing I think, ‘Ugh! Why do I subject myself to this torture’. Something simple like being able to bounce some ideas off receptive folks is actually a great motivation boost.

So after chatting with for a little while as I turned to go, I said bye to L, M, and Magic. L said, ‘Would you believe it, she.s 14–a little slower but still curious and full of life!’. I didn.t put the numbers together at the time, but now thinking in retrospect, maybe she and her late husband bought Magic as a little puppy dog when he was first diagnosed with MS? Though I can.t remember the numbers, the time frame works out: it.s been over ten years since the book came out and while working on the book the question of whether her husband would see the publication was always in the air. And that would explain Magic.s name as well: after being diagnosed with MS at such an early age, they were looking for some ‘magic’ and gave their hope form by the addition of the collie dog to their family. If that.s the case, wow, that.s a beautiful story.

I.m glad L and M shared their stories with me. They had a lot of wisdom. It reminds me, there.s a bit of magic and a bit of loss in all things. It also reminds me of how wisdom comes too at a steep price. I.m glad friends and that must have helped out. One thing I notice about friends in woman-woman friendships is very often they come in pairs with one who is more introverted and one who is more extroverted. But that.s another story. Remind me to tell you the story of the ‘runaways’ on the viaRail trek across Canada one day.

This time last year I was having lunch with GP.s uncle in Vancouver. He had a bit of a sore throat, acid reflux or something. I remember, he was eating slowly. But he looked great. He was saying to check out his studio sometime and have some beers. Flash forward a few months, they found out it was throat cancer. From the diagnosis, he survived I think just a few weeks. It was fast. Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m filled with a sense of wonder that I.m able to be Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Bonus Photo: TS has inspired me to tweak up my bike for longer rides. After making some mods, went for a night ride around town yesterday and saw the cruise ships in town at Ogden Point! Bonus points to diligent readers who can spot my mighty all-titanium Marinoni Sportivo chariot!–

Celebrity Solstice at Ogden Point

Celebrity Solstice at Ogden Point

Life of Castruccio Castracani – Machiavelli

Why History?

The final chapter of the soon to be released (soon as in glacially soon 2017) book Paying Melpomene’s Price: Miscalculated Risk in Tragedy will finish off with a bang. What sort of a bang? Well, sometimes the way to really define something is to define what it is not. In the last chapter will be a discussion of the differences between tragedy, philosophy, history, and comedy. This means I should start reading other genres! Well, it so happens that history is a close second favourite after tragedy. They are in fact quite related. You can get, for instance, tragic history like the Leonidas’ last stand. In a later blog I will disclose what my third and fourth favourite are. So there you have it, assiduous readers: this is the reason why I.m reading The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca by Machiavelli. There will be more histories, philosophies, and comedies to follow.

Why Machiavelli? read (and enjoyed) Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Sallust, Caesar, and other ancient Greek and Roman historians. Thinking it.d be a good idea to branch out a bit for the purposes of Doing Melpomene’s Work, I went down to Russell Books to find something new. Boy do they have a big history section! It was overwhelming. The selection confounded me and I left without making a purchase. Stacks and stacks of WWII, WWI, early Canadian exploration, and so on. What is worse, the ones I looked at didn.t read like the ‘narrative’ type history that I was familiar with.

Later that afternoon, while meeting up with MT at Moka House (a well-heeled coffee shop for artists, students, on-duty police, and locals) on Cook street, who did I bump into but my (erstwhile) neighbour SG. SG happens to be a history professor at UVic, so he knows a thing or two about history. I asked him for some tips. He asked what I had read and then had three suggestions: Machiavelli, Ibn Khaldun, and Gibbon. Thanks for saving the day, SG!

Back to Russell Books

Next day, back to Russell Books. Believe it or not, they only had one copy of Machiavelli.s historical works there! It had the History of Florence (which was the recommendation) and also some other works, one of which among them is The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca. Normally, complete works are better. But seeing that this was all they had, well, beggars can.t be choosers! It was a bargain at $4.50 (well actually not so much since the original price was $1.45). No image on amazon or googleimages, here.s a snapshot:

Cover Illustration Machiavelli (The Great Histories Series)

Cover Illustration Machiavelli (The Great Histories Series)

The sparse looking cover is a welcome sight. I could imagine the stone lion guarding the bridges at Florence. It might even date back to Machiavelli.s time but on second thought maybe it.d be more weathered. It.s a sort of noble image that captures what the imagination anticipates in a Machiavelli history: noble, monolithic, distant, from another era.

[edit] There is a note on the front cover illustration inside the book:

Sculpted in sandstone by Donatello circa 1418, The Sitting Lion, also known as The Marzocco, is a Florentine emblem. Designed for a papal residence, this statue now reside in the Mseo Nazionale in Florence.

Back Blurb and ‘About the Author’

Since readers of the blog are becoming experts at analyzing back blurbs, here.s the one from this volume:

Machiavelli–whose name has become synonymous with the cynical, scheming, and immoral–was in truth an idealist with a cold, clear eye on reality. A passionate, courageous patriot, he would have spent his entire career in the active service of a free Florence. But upheavals of war ousted him after fourteen years. Yet his assertion that politics has inherent rules not necessarily related to morality, and his blunt aphorisms–so easily distorted out of context–account for his undeserved notoriety.

For Machiavelli, the historian played a significant pedagogic role. In Th Description of the Affairs of France and the Discourse on the Government of Florence, he viewed history with an eye to contemporary problems. The Life of Castruccio, a romanticized biography, illustrates his ideal of strength.

The major portion of this book is devoted to selections from The History of Florence. Here Machiavelli applied the criteria of success and failure developed in his earlier studies to evaluate his city’s past

Machiavelli was edited by Myron P. Gilmore, Professor of History at Harvard University.

Some thoughts. Wow, if you are a tenured professor at Harvard with an initialed middle name, you don.t need much of an ‘About the Author’ or in this case ‘About the Editor’! Just that you have three initials and work at Harvard suffices. Hmm, maybe I could be Edwin C. Wong. Or, not to be outdone, maybe I could use my Chinese middle name for even greater effect: Edwin C.L. Wong!

The back blurb in this volume gets the attention by dispelling conventions. It also has the advantage of being written from the point of view of someone who appreciates Machiavelli and wishes to recuperate his cold-blooded reputation. Whether Machiavelli was calculatingly cold-blooded I.ll leave it up to you. But to argue for his redemption (‘passionate, courageous patriot…’) is stronger than arguing that he was a prick because the argument for redemption is filled with sympathy and not bile. It.s the same with Homeric scholarship. There there are unitarians–who argue Homer was one person–and analysts–who argue that Homer is not one person but a long tradition epic poets. The analysts are probably correct, but I always liked the unitarians because they were loyal to the genius of one man: they loved the Iliad and Odyssey as artists. The analysts I always thought of as being clinical and dry, without love and fellow-feeling.


Now to the good part. History has one fantastic feature: aphorisms by famous folks. Even if apocryphal, fun. So here.s a reward for diligent readers! Enjoy! These are selections, there.s more in the Life of Castruccio:

When a friend was reproving him for having bought a partridge for a ducat, Castruccio said: ‘You would not have spent more than a soldo on it’. When his friend agreed, he replied: ‘A ducat is worth much less to me’.

That one illustrates the difference between price and value. Castruccio believes in value, not price.

When Castruccio said to a man who was a professional philosopher: ‘You are like dogs who are always hanging around those who can feed them best’; the other replied: ‘We are more like doctors who go to those who need them most’.

Like I was intimating at the beginning of this post, there is some kind of ancient enmity between philosophy, history, tragedy, and comedy.

Castruccio was going to sea from Pisa to Leghorn and was overtaken by a dangerous storm that frightened him badly. One of the men who were with Castruccio accused him of cowardice and said he was not afraid of anything. Castruccio replied that he was not surprised, for each person set the right value on his own soul.

A similar reckoning between the value of a ducat and a soldo in the first aphorism.

On being asked how Caesar died, Castruccio said: ‘Would to God I might die like him’.

I have to remember to use this one. It is awesome. It hits the nail on the head by twisting hackneyed thought on its head: his death was proof that he was Caesar. A lesser tyrant would have lived.

And one more for the road:

When someone asked him a favour, and used a lot of superfluous words, Castruccio said to him: ‘When you want anything else of me send another man’. When a similar person had bored him with a long speech and had ended by saying: ‘Perhaps I have tired you by talking too much’; ‘Not at all’, Castruccio said, ‘because I did not her a word you said’.

Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and apparently I.m Doing Melpomene’s Work by reading Clio.s works.

Staging the Dead Man’s Hand

Dead Man’s Hand Photo Shoot

This is it! Photo shoot coming up at the Cenote Lounge Sunday, May 31st 2:30-4 with appys and drinks on the house afterwards. The Cenote Lounge is next to the Odeon Theatre and down a flight of stairs. Thank you to the owner for opening up a few hours early so that we can do the shoot. And thank you also to all the volunteers who are taking a big chunk out of their Sunday afternoon to help out. Don.t worry, it.s time well spent: when the book on tragic art theory sells ten million copies, you will be a star!

Not sure what I.ll wear to the shoot, thinking about trousers with collared shirt, no jacket no tie. But jeans and t-shirt would be equally appropriate. LH is thinking about wearing classic black dress and word is MR is going to break out the mighty cowboy boots and hat. Baseball caps (might work out well with poker brim) and bow ties have been mentioned. To me, best fit for the shoot would be something that is your style in a subdued colour. The centrepiece of the painting is the dead man’s hand and people.s astonished reactions to the loud entrance. Lots of options for attire.

There.s a cap of 10 people, at 10 adults and one child (understandably the owner isn.t looking for the restaurant to be overrun!). Of the adults, 3 women and 7 men. Had wanted balanced numbers but couldn.t get it to go this time. Here.s the roll call:

1 LH

2 MT

3 Es

4 OZ

5 CR

6 Ei

7 MR

8 DR

9 SB

10 Ro

11 EW

I hope everyone can come, it.s going to be a blast! But if something comes up (which is the way of the world), please drop me a line so I can fill the spot.

Dead Man’s Hand Cue Cards

What.s everyones’ roles during the shoot? Good question! The talented artistic team nailed it down last night at Cenote over a few cold ones. Thank you to SB, MR, and Ro for their enthusiastic input. There.s seven roles. Everyone can play as many roles as they like: nice thing about digital photography, we can take lots of shots and select the best afterwards. I.ll have little cue cards made up for the day of the shoot so as you rotate into different roles you.ll can see what that character is up to. The backstory is that Wild Bill Hickok is playing poker with his back to the entrance, pulls out the dead man’s hand (pair of aces on eights). At that moment, the gunman enters and shoots him in the back of the head. The moral of the story is never to underestimate the unexpected. The dead man’s hand is the visual representation of the unexpected that.s made its way into common folklore (i.e. Dylan has a song about it, Motorhead sings about it, and so on).

Here are the roles:

Dead Man's Hand Concept Sketch

Dead Man’s Hand Concept Sketch

1 Bartender. Action: cleaning a mug, looking at gunman apprehensively. Thoughts: ‘Something bad is about to happen (but I.m not sure what quite yet)’. Personality type: experienced, seen it all.

2 Barstool customer. Action: turning head slightly towards gunman, looking with corner of his eye. Smoking cigar. Thoughts: ‘Make my day!’. Personality type: ornery, not impressed with what.s about to happen.

3 Server. Action: walking into kitchen, startled by sound of gunman entering, contorts body/head to look, carrying tray. Thoughts: ‘Shit!’. Personality type: easily frightened.

4 Gambler #1. Action: playing with poker chips, arm on chair, disinterested smirk. Thoughts: ‘Hmmmmm’. Personality type: cool, indifferent

5 Gambler #2 Action: hand on table, tilting body, about to get up, looking directly at gunman. Thoughts: ‘Shit!’. Personality type: interested in self-preservation.

6 Gambler #3 Action: focussed on game, turns to gunman with poker face. Thoughts: ‘A distraction to the game of poker’. Personality: stoic.

7 Dog: Action: sleeping, perks up ear.

8 Wild Bill Hickok: Action: startled, about to turn around. Thoughts: ‘Damn I shouldn.t have sat with my back to the door’. Personality: grizzled

There you have it. Comments and suggestions by assiduous readers always appreciated and welcome!

Until the Sunday shoot, I.m Edwin Wong and I am always thinking of ways of Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Deep Simplicity – Gribbin

Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity by John Gribbin

Charlie Munger.s fabulous coffee table volume Poor Charlie’s Almanack tipped me off to Gribbin.s latest work. There.s a list of books he recommends, and Deep Simplicity made his cut. Who.s Munger? For the assiduous readers who don.t know (and for the ones who do know, let me refresh your memory), he.s Warren Buffett.s long time partner and co-CEO of mighty Berkshire Hathaway. been reading about Buffett here and when Munger has something to recommend, I listen.

I was glad to see the recommendation and was pleasantly surprised by the publication date of 2005. Having grown up reading Gribbin.s titles such as The Big Bang, Schrodinger’s Cat, and so on, I wasn.t sure if he was still active. The topic also excited me. As the subtitle indicates, it.s on order and chaos. Davies’ book The Cosmic Blueprint that I had recently finished covers similar ground. Here is the link to my blog review. Why the fascination with chaos and order, you ask? Well, literature and drama are perpetually in that turbulent state between chaos and order. Sometimes order breaks down into chaos but most of the time order results from chaos. And even amidst the chaos of creative words, there may be the simplicity of a deeper underlying order. To me, science is on the cutting edge and its theories provide useful conceptual models through which literature can be understood. Think of science as providing different lenses through which words can be read.

In addition to science, lately been fascinated with book design, since, well, I am in the midst of putting one together. Let.s see how Deep Simplicity is put together.


On the cover of Deep Simplicity is a photo of tree rings on the top half and taxicabs on the lower half:

Deep Simplicity Cover Art

Deep Simplicity Cover Art

As we will soon see, chaos theory explains why traffic jams happen. Traffic jams–like earthquakes, the stock market, mass extinctions, avalanches, and a gazillion other phenomenon–obey a power law. When a phenomenon obeys a power law, it means there is a relationship between the frequency at which it happens and its magnitude. Stock market collapses obey a power law. That is to say, if you plot all the little downdrafts (sell in May and go away) and big collapses (Black Monday 1987, Tech Bubble 1999, Great Recession of 2008, and so on) with x-axis being the magnitude and the y-axis showing the frequency, everything would line up along a nice line. What kind of graph would you use?–a log-log graph where the scale of both x and y axes are represented logarithmically, that is to say instead of units of 1, 2, 3, 4… you have ten to the power of 0 (=1), ten to the power of 1 (=10), ten to the power of 2 (=100), ten to the power of three (=1000), and so on (hence ‘power’ law as ten raised to the power of x). Now, if this doesn.t surprise assiduous readers, I don.t know what can. That stock market collapses obey a power law means that they are built into the system. You can.t legislate them away and even if you do, another trigger will pop up somewhere else. That stock market collapses obey a power law means that you can throw out all of classical economics. If that doesn.t get your attention, I don.t know what will. If you don.t believe me, read the book. Also read Mandelbrot–who applied power laws to economics in the 1960s and, more recently, Taleb, who, as a ‘philosopher of uncertainty’ has been trying to spread the gospel. If you put data points on a log-log chart, and a straight line forms, it.s telling you that the process is systemic. But enough of that. Traffic jams obey a power law. So there.s a photo of jammed up taxicabs. I see that. But the tree rings are more mysterious. I don.t quite get that. So let.s say I.m only half satisfied with the cover. The cover should be immediately or at least fairly immediately comprehensible.

Deep Simplicity Back Blurb

Praise for Deep Simplicity:

“Gribbin takes us through the basics [of chaos theory] with his customary talent for accessibility and clarity. [His] arguments are driven not by impersonal equations but by a sense of wonder at the presence in the universe and in nature of simple, self-organizing harmonies underpinning all structures, whether they are stars of flowers.” The Sunday Times (London)

“[Gribbin] breathes life into the core ideas of complexity science, and argues convincingly that the basic laws, even in biology, will ultimately turn out to be simple.” Nature magazine

Since this copy of Deep Simplicity is a library hardback (interlibrary loan from Saltspring Library, surprised that GVPL does not stock!), the back blurb isn.t what I.m used to. To find the ‘traditional’ back blurb, one must turn to the inside flap of the dust jacket:

Why do traffic jams seem to happen for no apparent reason? Can major earthquakes be predicted? Why does the stock market have its ups and downs? How do species evolve? Where do galaxies come from? What is the origin of life on Earth? What if all these questions had a single answer?

Over the past two decades, no field of scientific inquiry has had a more striking impact across a wide array of disciplines–from biology to physics, computing to meteorology–than that known as chaos and complexity, the study of complex systems. Now astrophysicist John Gribbin draws on his expertise to explore, in prose that communicates not only the wonder but the substance of cutting-edge science, the principles behind chaos and complexity. He reveals the remarkable ways these two revolutionary theories have been applied over the last twenty years to explain all sorts of phenomena–from weather patterns to mass extinctions.

Grounding these paradigm-shifting ideas in their historical context, Gribbin also traces their development from Newton to Darwin to Lorenz, Prigogine, and Lovelock, demonstrating how–far from overturning all that has gone before–chaos and complexity are the triumphant extensions of simple scientific laws. Ultimately, Gribbin illustrates how chaos and complexity permeate the universe on every scale, governing the evolution of life and galaxies alike. As profound as it is provocative, Deep Simplicity takes us to the brink of understanding life itself.

The back blurb gets my attention. It.s a bit long though. Maybe for hardbacks that is the norm though. And if I were writing it, I.d mention the power law right away. But maybe that was a conscious decision not to so that the reader wouldn.t be scared away.

Deep Simplicity ‘About the Author’

John Gribbin trained as a astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is currently Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex. His many books include In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, Stardust, Schrodinger’s Kittens and The Search for Reality, Fitzroy (with his wife, Mary Gribbin), and The Scientists.

I really like this ‘about the author’. Quick and to the point. Authoritative but not pretentious.

Deep Simplicity Structure

Here.s the contents:

Introduction: The Simplicity of Complexity xvii

1 Order out of Chaos 3

2 The Return of Chaos 40

3 Chaos out of Order 74

4 From Chaos to Complexity 110

5 Earthquakes, Extinctions, and Emergence 145

6 The Facts of Life 187

7 Life Beyond 214

One can tell a lot from the contents. Do you see anything, assiduous readers? Chapters are about 30 pages: nice & manageable. In the opening chapters, he lays the groundwork with chaos and order duelling for supremacy. After the groundwork has been laid, he moves on to complexity and provides examples in chapter 5 ‘Earthquakes, Extinctions, and Emergence’. This is the axis. Then the book turns to the close: the chapters bringing together chaos, order, and complexity and the their relation to the formation of life on earth.

You should be able to look at the chapters and see the narrative flow, even in a non-fiction work: it all tells a story.

Deep Simplicity and Gravity

All this focus on the structure of the book! Well, I.m going to share with you one interesting story Gribbin recounts. It is so interesting, that when Einstein heard about it for the first time, he stopped right in the middle of the street in awe. Gamow was recounting it to him and they happened to be crossing the street. Cars had to go around them. Here it is: gravity actually has negative energy. Yes. Negative. Here.s the though experiment. For it to work, you have to believe in the conservation of energy. I hope that isn.t a problem! So let.s say there.s the earth. And then there.s a brick floating in space far away. Let.s say the earth and the brick have a net energy of zero. Now the brick gets pulled to earth by earth.s gravity. It comes through the atmosphere and then accelerates and hits the ground. Well, when it falls down, it.s getting energy from somewhere. Because hey, if you lift the brick, it takes energy! Well, where does it get the energy from? It gets it from the gravitational field of earth. This means that in the celestial balance sheet, the gravitational field of the earth incurs a debit equal to the amount of kinetic energy that was transferred to the falling brick. Now what happens when you apply this to the whole universe? This was the part that amazed Einstein… Drum roll… The net energy of the universe is zero, zilch, nada. The energy/mass (energy and mass are one and the same, right?) of the universe is exactly balanced out by the negative energy of gravity. I.ll leave you to ponder this. Yes, there are more ramifications…

Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m Doing Melpomene’s Work by reading widely. Just as all roads lead to Rome, all books lead to drama! Wow, who would have guessed!

Does Tight Coupling Lead to Tragedy?

The Unexpected

It.s Friday afternoon and I.m finishing off the discussion of a crucial topic: how do dramatists generate unexpected outcomes? Tight coupling is one way. But before discussing tight coupling, let.s talk about the unexpected. Dramatists need unexpected outcomes, because, if outcomes were expected, where would the drama be in drama?–it would be boring without the unknown. But since the unexpected arises from the feeling of suspense, it can.t be entirely ‘out of the blue’ or ‘come out of left field’. In real life, the unexpected can come out of anywhere. A lump in the throat. A knock on the door at a strange hour. The day Kennedy died. But because suspense is a two way street between dramatist and audience–with the dramatist providing clues and the audience fitting together the puzzle–the unexpected in drama emerges from something the audience knows, or, in retrospect, could have known. That.s unexpectation. Which actually is a word: damn you spell check! What I want to share with assiduous readers to day is ‘tight coupling’. It is one way to create unexpectation naturally and seamlessly.

Types of Unexpectation

There.s a lot of ways to introduce the unexpected. Fate and the gods was the preferred old school method. Since the gods are more powerful, they can appear and do all sorts of things heroes don.t anticipate. And if you believe in fate and the gods–or at least believe in them within the context of the pay–you can accept that they cause unexpected things to happen. Other ways of generating the unexpected include: a lack of knowledge, thinking too fast, unpredictable responses from other people (et tu, Brute?), unintended consequences, and so on. Lack of power (fate), epistemological uncertainty (is that Desdemona.s handkerchief?), and ontological uncertainty (should I make a deal with the devil?) all can wrack havoc with expectation. Tight coupling is a little different. It.s different because it.s not a lack of power. not scaling the golden walls of heaven shouting against the gods. It.s not ontological uncertainty (i.e. does God exist?). And it.s not epistemological uncertainty. What is it then?

Tight Coupling

Let.s ask the new god what it is. Wow, prayer answered in 0.59 seconds! Here.s google.s answer:

Google Search 'tight coupling tragedy'

Google Search ‘tight coupling tragedy’

Here.s a definition from a sociological site:

Coupling can be thought of as the distance or slack between individual components. Systems can either be loosely coupled, like cars on a sleepy rural highway, or systems can be tightly coupled, like cars on the freeway at 5pm in L.A.

Here.s a definition from a site breaking down a tragic lesson learned on Mount Everest:

Complex interactions become more dangerous if tight coupling also exists within a system. Tight coupling means one breakdown triggers a series of other problems. Tightly coupled systems have four characteristics: time-dependent processes, a fairly rigid sequence of activities, one dominant path to achieving the goal, and very little slack.

They speak of systems. In drama, tight coupling would be the interdependencies between all the stages in a plan. So, if in order to achieve goal x, you need a, b, c, and d to happen AND if any one a, b, c, or d go awry, x does not happen, well that plan is tight coupled. But if, in order to achieve x, you need a, b, and c to happen AND if one of them goes awry that.s okay because there.s different options available, that plan is loose coupled.

Tight Coupling in Tragedy

Romeo and Juliet is tight coupled. Friar Laurence gives Juliet the sleeping draught so she can feign death. Only he and her know about this. And she.s going to be unconscious so really only he will know. They.ll bury Juliet. Friar Laurence will inform Romeo of the proceedings by snail mail (he.s been exiled to Mantua). Then when she awakes in the vault, they.ll both be there to whisk her away.

The goal is for Juliet to avoid marriage with County Paris: as diligent readers will all know, she.s in love with Romeo and Romeo with her. But there.s just so much that can go wrong with the holy man.s plans: maybe Juliet will have an adverse reaction to the potion (it.s got to be powerful if it knock you out for two days), maybe she won.t wake up, maybe something with happen to the friar, maybe they.ll inter her six feet under too soon, or maybe Romeo will hear of Juliet.s death before the friar tells him the plan! Because so many things can go wrong and because if any one of these things goes wrong, disaster strikes the whole enterprise, Friar Laurence.s plan is said to be tight coupled.

What eventually happens is that Friar Laurence charges Friar John to deliver the letter detailing the plan to Romeo in Mantua. While visiting the sick, Friar John is detained because the sick house is sealed on suspicion of the plague. The letter is never delivered. But Romeo finds out from Balthasar that Juliet has died. The rest you know.

Because the friar.s plan relies on tight coupling, the chances of an unfortunate accident go up. Drastically. The suicides of both Romeo and Juliet can be traced back to Friar John.s failure to deliver. That he failed to deliver is because he visited a sick house that happened to be sealed. The sick house really has nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet. But because the friar.s plan relies on tight coupling, even things that normally have no effect have a crucial affect on the outcome.

Tight coupling is a wonderful way for dramatists to drop the unexpected into their dramas in a way that is believable and convincing. Especially today since tight coupling is widely understood. Our receptivity to tight coupling probably comes from an awareness that tightly couple computer programs can bring down the whole computer necessitating a restart. But here.s what I find strange: besides Romeo and Juliet, I.m drawing a complete blank as to which other tragedies are tightly coupled. I can.t think of even one other one! I know they just have to be out there! Ugh.

Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I.m wondering why some days it.s so hard to be Doing Melpomene’s Work!

Lights, Cameras, ART!–The Dead Man’s Hand


Here we go, starting to come together! Diligent artist SB has drawn up the concept sketch of the Dead Man’s Hand. Here.s what it looks like:

Dead Man's Hand Layout Sketch

Dead Man’s Hand Concept Sketch

Here.s a list of things that came into my head. Here.s a cut and paste of the email I sent back to SB:

Hi SB,

Good stuff! I like the back wall with staff door and the black swans all nice and discreet. Let me throw some ideas out there, see what you guys think:
-does the gunman enter on the left of the picture (bar side), centre, or right (dog side)?
-how could we create the illusion of more space? For example, could back wall move back 5’ or table where card players are sitting move to the right (opening up the middle)?
-which of the characters sees the gunman coming in?
-I like that the bartender is cleaning a glass, nice sense of motion. I.m wondering if there.s other ways to capture a sense of motion in the picture? For example, could the waitress be coming through the door or could one of the players be in the act of getting up or sitting down?
-would it be an effective way to draw attention to the dead man.s hand if there was a pendant light hanging over the table, something like this:
These are some of the things that jumped into my head looking at the drawing. Not sure how your guys schedules are next week, can we meet briefly to nail down the concept? Perhaps Monday or Tuesday.

Like I said in an earlier post, I.m sure appreciating a lot more all the time, energy, effort, and thought that goes into cover illustrations. Going through this has been a tremendous learning opportunity for me so far, glad to be working with a great team. Also met up with MR last night. He.s the other half of the dynamic duo behind the Dead Man’s Hand. I.ll be bringing my laptop to the photo shoot and we confirmed yesterday that his sweet Nikon camera is compatible with my MacBook Pro. I didn.t know all the technology that.s available these days (maybe it.s been out there for years!). You can tether the camera to the laptop and use the laptop screen as viewfinder. You can also control the camera.s functions right off the keyboard!-would you believe that? This will be a good feature as it will allow us all to crowd in front of the 15″ laptop screen instead of the little camera screen to see how the photos are turning out.

Wow, look at that, while been blogging away, SB has already replied!


Great ideas!
Let me go one by one on what I think 😀
1. I think he could enter from the center, and we could cast a light/shadow of the door and the gunman entering on the floor.. so it would show like someone was coming in but without making it very clear. I was thinking of making the whole drawing from the point of view from the gunman because then the characters would be looking at who’s looking at the painting… (I’m not sure if that made sense)…
2. For more space we can just move the walls around. The last time we spoke, the idea was the make it a tiny space but that’s an easy fix! I’ll do it in the 3D room and send you some ideas. We can change the sofas and all for another table if you want, but it’d be hard to place the players more to the center/back of the room because they need to be the first thing in the drawing so the cards are bigger and you can see what hand he has.
3. For more motion, I’m thinking of making the waitress coming out from the kitchen, so she’d still be opening the door (I drew it wrong, sorry!). Also, I wanted to put a glass falling from her tray like if she got scared or something. One of the players could be sitting down, although I wouldn’t see them doing this in a poker game. What we could do is to have one of them playing with the chips, like if he was waiting for someone else’s turn.
4. I’m not sure if it’ll be necessary to have a lamp, but it could be done. I’d have to move the waitress otherwise the lamp would end up covering her face – I’ll see what I can do!
I’ll get a drawing tablet tomorrow and do some coloured previews in Photoshop, so we can have a way better idea for colours and light/shadows.
As for meeting, I’m good any day, whenever you guys can 🙂 Just let me know!
– SB

I can see it must be a really interesting process for the artist as well when doing a commission. I wonder if there.s any blogs out there written by artists who talk about their experiences working with patrons?–that.d be an interesting read.

Onwards and upwards! Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong, and I.ll be Doing Melpomene’s Work even if it involves holding the dead man’s hand!

Economics of Live Theatre

In the last month, been to two performances. The first was a production of Macbeth put on by the Blue Bridge Theatre Repertory at the Roxy that was discussed in this blog. The second was eatingthegame put on by Hong Kong Exile at Metro Studio discussed here. Have you ever wondered about the economics of theatre? Here.s my take on the economics of live theatre based on the rate cards from the Roxy and Metro Studio.

Here.s the rate card from Metro Studio:

Metro Studio Rate Card

Metro Studio Rate Card

Let.s work it out in the most advantageous terms from the point of view of art. Or in other words, how to make the show as profitable as possible. Here.s the base price scenario for the Metro Studio:

$575 (not for profit rental rate) + technician ($98, based on minimum 4hr call) + front of house manager ($70, based on minimum 4hr call) + production manager ($120, based on minimum 4hr call) + projector rental ($40) = GRAND TOTAL $903.

Here.s the rate card from the Roxy:

Rate Card Roxy

Rate Card Roxy

Let.s make it out in the most advantageous terms from the view of art. Or in other words, how to make the show as profitable as possible. Here.s the base price scenario for the Roxy:

$650 (not for profit rental day rate) + concession manager ($72, based on minimum 4hr call) + technician ($88, based on minimum 4hr call) + $2,000,000 public liability insurance ($150, estimate from top of head) = $960.

So, best case scenario for a theatre troupe to stage a one day production at the Metro Studio is $903. By best case, these are only the fees incurred to the venue. The writer, director, actors, assistants, costume/set designers, makeup artists, etc., are all working for free. You say: ‘Maybe the rental rate shouldn.t be included in that figure if the Metro Studio is inviting a troupe to perform in their space’. Well, the Metro Studio wouldn.t be in business for long if they didn.t get rental revenue so that figure should stay in.

For the Roxy (which has 20% or so additional capacity), the best case scenario for a theatre troupe to stage a one day production is $960. By best case, these are only the fees incurred to the venue. The director, actors, assistants, constume/set designers, makeup artists, etc., are all working for free. You say: ‘Maybe the rental rate shouldn.t be included in that figure if the Roxy is putting on a performance in its own space’. Well, the Roxy would.t be in business for long if they didn’t. pay their property taxes, upkeep their building, pay the hydro bill, etc., In other words, the rental rate should stay in the figure.

At eatingthegame at the Metro Studio, the crowd was estimated at 50. At $20 a ticket, that.s a revenue of $1000. So, if the troupe didn.t have to travel from Vancouver and got paid absolutely nothing for the performance and the rehearsals, the show would make $97.

At Macbeth at the Roxy, the crowd was estimated at 70. At an average of $35 a ticket (including student / senior discounts & flex passes), that.s a revenue of $2450. So, if the troupe got paid absolutely nothing for the performance and rehearsals, the show would make $1490.

eatingthegame was a one show deal at the Metro. The economics are ouch. Good thing it is a one man show.

Macbeth went on for 14 performances. $1490 * 14 is $20,860. The bad thing is you have to split that number between 10+ actors, choreographers, director, set designers, and so on. Let.s say to make a Macbeth happen, four weeks of labour for 20 people are necessary. That.s a very optimistic estimate. That.s 3200 man hours. Let.s say of that $20,860 profit, $5000 goes to materials: props, setting, costumes, and so on. That leaves $15,860. $15,860 divided by 3200 man hours equals a wage of $4.96 per hour. Ouch. No wonder in the economics of theatre there are sponsors but not investors.

I.m Edwin Wong and my heart goes out to all the brothers and sisters out there Doing Melpomene’s Work because from the economics, it looks like it.s a tough go.

eatingthegame Review (Metro Studio May 15)

It.s Victoria Day long weekend here in, well, Victoria, and what better way to kick it off than to go down to the Metro Studio with MT to see eatingthegame! eatingthegame is produced by the Hong Kong Exile Arts Association based out of Vancouver. It.s a contemporary outfit formed in 2011 by three students who had met at Simon Fraser University.s School for the Contemporary Arts. The play is written and performed by Conor Wylie, who looks like this in half eclipse:


I found out about the play while going around to some of the local theatres inquiring if they rented their spaces. One of the ideas for the Dead Man.s Hand was to stage it in a theatre set up as a restaurant. Assiduous readers will of course remember that this last month been coordinating the events which will culminate in the production of the cover illustration for my book “Paying Melpomene’s Price: Risk and Reward in Tragedy”. It turns out we.ll be staging the poker game at Cenote, but I.m glad I came across the advertisement to eatingthegame while scouting around town. By the way, YES, theatres rent out their spaces for all sorts of things: plays, presentations, parties, you name it! You can rent them out by the hour, day, or week. The prices varied, but for the smaller theatres were very reasonable. But without further ado, if wondering how the advertisement caught my eye, here it is:

Artist-entreprenuer Conor Wylie delivers a keynote speech from and between two worlds: Vancouver and China, West and East, business and culture, ethics and desire. Follow his enlightening journey into the world of foreign property investment, then join him for an exhilarating talk-back and post-show party.

What.s not to like about this! I can even learn about foreign property investment at this ‘keynote’ event and be entertained as well. More on foreign property investment in a second. But first, I should write a few words on the Metro Studio. It.s located in downtown Victoria on the corner of Johnson and Quadra. It.s in a sort of a ‘house’ that.s attached to the back of the Victoria Conservatory of Music. I can actually see it from my window while composing the blog, believe it or not–I wasn.t kidding when I said I lived in the theatre district! It.s my first time in the Metro Studio and boy am I impressed. Clean, spacious, and modern (though the ‘house’ which it.s in looks rather unassuming from the exterior. Seats are comfortable. One central aisle with two banks of seats arranged in nine rows. With ten seats a row total capacity is around 180. I believe its a slab on grade stage, meaning there.s no trap doors from underneath. All the walls and ceiling are painted black which give the space a larger feel (since black is the colour of the infinite void and the night sky). This was a one night show and I estimate the crowd at 50 or so. From what Wylie said, two rows (or 20 people) were family and friends. At $20 a ticket, this translates into a thousand dollars at the box office. Here.s the view from the back:

eatingthegame Metro Studio

Metro Studio from Top Row

On the left you can Remy Siu at the laptop running the lights and sound. There.s a skyline on the floor of the stage made of mahjong bricks. The large projection screen on the back shows the Vancouver harbour and different stills and motion clips are incorporated into the production.

This is my first time to a one man show, and there.s an immediacy and vivacity that.s gripping. That the actor is also the writer furthers bolsters the immediacy. There.s was never a moment where I was wondering, ‘Does he understand the lines?’. After watching eatingthegame and enjoying how crisply the lines are delivered, come to the realization that, in the past, if I was ever wondering, ‘Does the actor understand the lines?’ it means that the actor has most definitely not understood. Wylie made me realize that if you believe what you say, it comes out loud and clear: the well timed smirk, the millisecond delay for effect, intonation, sarcasm, and so on. Many things come together to make a line believable. When you have it, it comes out naturally.

eatingthegame is made up of a bunch of skits revolving around the idea of Wylie finding himself. It.s also heavily metatheatrical in that he.s constantly ‘breaking the illusion’ of theatre by direct audience address and references to his personal life and the writing/promotion of the play. For example, he plays a game with the audience, ‘White or Yellow?’. He.s half white half Chinese, and uses this game to explore stereotypes. ‘Christmas: white or yellow?’. ‘Kung-fu: white or yellow?’. Then there.s harder ones which drew confusion, then laughs from the audience: ‘Karate Kid: white or yellow?’ and ‘White rice: white or yellow?’.

There.s lots of positives to write about this thought provoking piece. It.s a lot fresher than the classic theatre. A lot more relevant too. Did I say that out loud? That must have been a slip. I want to return to a certain scene in which Wylie is approached by a certain Chinese businessman from the old country. He wants to do the ‘yolk’ business manoeuvre. The ‘yolk’ manoeuvre is where yellow money (the yolk) is disguised in a white business enterprise (the egg white) for the purpose of snapping up local real estate. The businessman wants to team up with Wylie to buy up the vacant Buckerfields lot in Victoria’s Chinatown district. Then they would build the ‘Grand Fortune’ condominiums (‘The Union‘, a five storey condo building was actually built on this lot in real life and finished last year). I think Wylie must make subtle changes to the show as he tours to give it local significance, kudos to him for that. This is a big thing these days.  In the last few days, for example, the National Pest ran an article ‘Prince Edward Island: The One Place in Canada Where Foreign Buyers Must Check In‘. Not to be outdone, Globe and Flail ran ‘In Vancouver Debate Swirls Around Jericho Lands‘. It.s all about real estate and affordability. There.s a fear that foreign money makes real estate more expensive for the locals. Victoria for the Victorians. Canada for Canadians. Sort of like ‘Mexico for the Mexicans’ in 1938. With loads of foreign investment, Mexico had been the second largest producer of oil in the world. They felt, however, that not enough profits were remaining in Mexico (which was true, Mexican workers would be paid half the wages of international workers). So they rose up against the evil corporate oppressor and expropriated all their assets, forming Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). With the Great Depression still lingering and choked from foreign capital, oil production halved. So they got ‘Mexico for Mexicans’ but there wasn.t much left of Mexico to go around! Another unintended consequence was that the Allies wouldn.t do business with them anymore (since they took all their assets). They could only sell oil to the Axis powers. Unintended consequences everywhere. In 2014 Mexico opened its doors back to foreign investors. Let.s see how it works out.

Back to eatingthegame. Wylie turns down the offer to do the yolk manoeuvre and build the ‘Grand Fortune’ condos in historic Chinatown. The foreign businessman is evil (he owns corporations and kills people) and Wylie is concerned about affordability and gentrification. Where would the Chinese live? How would the Victorians fare? The logic of this is beyond me. Wouldn.t supply and demand say that if you build more condos (more supply) affordability would get better? As to where the Chinese would live in Chinatown: well, the Buckerfields lot is bare land! It.s not like building something there is taking away someone else.s house. But I get his point which is that foreign ownership drives up prices. His example doesn.t quite work though. But it.s more dramatic. A better example is if they had built this place and a Chinese mogul comes in and buys two floors. But that.s less dramatic.

Part of the message of eatingthegame seems to be to think local, do the right thing, Victoria for Victorians, and Canada for Canadians. Here.s my question: where did the Chinese businessman get his money? I.m typing on a MacBook Pro. Maybe you have an iPhone. both ‘Designed in California and Made in China’. 50 percent of my clothes are ‘made in China’. The Chinese businessman gets his money from you and me, my friend: from all the iPhones, clothing, computer parts, steel (the Blue Bridge is being replaced by Chinese steel), textiles, medical imaging devices (yes, they make most of this stuff, believe it or not), and so on that China produces. The Chinese workers slave away to produce this stuff for us. We buy it and give them dollars in return. They save their money (something forgotten how to do), pool it together, and make a bid to buy Canadian property. But wait, now thinking of charging them another 10 or 20 percent ‘foreign property owner tax’? Or maybe make it more onerous like in PEI so as to deter foreign property owners altogether. To me, this seems like saying: ‘Hey, sell us iPhones and we.ll give you millions of dollars. But don.t think about spending the money here because you can.t’. Then what.s the purpose of money? Money just really is, at bottom, an IOU. And what good is an IOU if you don.t accept it? So this is my first objection: foreign buyers have money to spend on property because we give it to them. If we don.t want them to drive up local real estate, why are we giving them our money? But if we give them our money, it seems like we have a moral obligation to live up to this IOU that written them. If we accept the advantages of globalization, then we must also accept its discontents.

I.m not saying affordability in Vancouver or Victoria isn.t a problem. It strikes me that the camps that are into reducing foreign ownership aren.t really solutions oriented. Look at PEI. Yes, things are affordable. $170,000 is the median price for a single family detached house. But look, it.s still ‘unaffordable’ to people in PEI because of the shortage of jobs! That.s why young workers have been moving out of PEI. If PEI opened their doors to foreign investors and money, the median price for real estate will go up. Yes. But then so will the opportunities for PEIers.

What about all the Victorians in Victoria and all the Vancouverites in Vancouver that benefit from rising real estate? Do we take away from their happy days to make ownership more affordable?

In Vancouver, a square foot of new condo costs about $850. In Victoria, about $550. So about $275k for a 500 sq/ft pad in Victoria and just over $400k for the same in Vancouver. Pricey. Yes. What about renting? It.s a smoking hot deal right now. Twenty years ago, you could buy a house in Gordon Head in Victoria (university district) for $200k. Today that same house would be almost triple: $550k give or take. Twenty years ago, the rent for a place like that would be $1600/month. Today, it rents for $2500/month. For the rents to have maintained pace with the property value, it would rent for $4400/month today. Which it doesn.t. Looking at the rent/property value ratios over the last twenty years, renting looks like a smoking hot deal. Of course don.t tell this to the people who are decrying foreign property investors.

So that was my rant. And that.s the purpose of good theatre. It makes us think. Forces us to react. That I ranted, then, is a sign that eatingthegame works. I.m Edwin Wong, and, until next time, I.ll be Doing Melpomene’s Work.

PS ‘eating the game’ is a phrase used by a mahjong player who has cleaned up the competition.

Angela Hewitt Piano Masterclass

Victorians got a treat this morning: from 10 to noon, renonwned international superstar Angela Hewitt donated her time to host a piano masterclass at Christ Church Cathedral. Proceeds from the masterclass and the weekend concert go to the Godfrey Hewitt Memorial Scholarship Fund to encourage and develop organ players. Four lucky students got some expert advice in front of a crowd of 340 or so. Here.s the menu:



Some observations on the pieces. Chronological from Baroque (Bach) to Classical (Beethoven) to Romantic (Schumann) to maybe a counter-Romanticism (Brahms, but this piece is musically more forward than backwards looking with its undulating melodies). Musically, a span of two hundred years from early 1700s to late 1800s. Composer wise we have the three Bs with Schumann thrown in.

It was a lot more packed than I had thought, so I ended up sitting five or six rows further back than I like. You can sort of get a sense of where I am in this shot. Hewitt.s just wrapping things up here after the last student:



About ten rows back (with another 15′ space between the piano and the first row) and the balance between the direct sound and the reverberations tilts towards the latter. At this distance, you can also notice a slight delay from when they strike the keys to when the sound gets to you. Quite a bloom with the sound. Having played the instrument, I prefer the sound closer up with less reverberation. The piano is one of those instruments that just sounds so different depending on how far away you sit. It.d be interesting to ask performers if they change how they play depending on the size of the venue. The impression I got today was that in a large venue, you could probably use a lot less pedal because the reverberations will blend things together all on their own.

Some thoughts on the concert. What fun! The masterclass was in many ways more thrilling than going to a professional concert. You have four young students playing their hearts out, taking chances. That they aren.t used to the piano adds to the thrill and hazard. Some of them may have never played before so many people at such a cavernous venue. You can tell this was the case because Hewitt was exhorting them to ‘make sure the sound makes it right to the back door, the one way back there!’. It.s true: you have at your disposal not a spinet, not an upright, not a 5′ grand but a 9′ grand–make it sing! Even though the students are obviously less polished than a professional recital, there was never a dull moment in this fun filled two hours.

How the masterclass works is that each student get half an hour of the limelight. They play a ten to fifteen minute selection and the rest of the time Hewitt comments on what she.d like to hear, often jumping herself onto the piano to demonstrate. Her comments included, ‘I want to hear more depth in the sound, you know, I always think of a picture of Brahms over the keyboard like this [makes gesture] and you know, he was a very corpulent man so the sound must be just as corpulent’. Well, that idea of Brahms’ music being corpulent I think is now stuck in my mind forever, it hits the nail right on the head. Another time, she insists that the student ‘play with authority’ saying ‘think of Furtwangler conducting: that is how you move your hands over the keyboard’. Wow! Brilliant image. What an effective teacher!

Hewitt may be doing Terpsichore’s work today, but her tips can benefit those doing Melpomene’s work or really anytime anyone is engaged in performance. Which is all the time. Public speaking, making presentations, even communicating. Her pedagogy is: get the idea straight in your head. Think about it some. The idea can be a musical phrase. Or an emotion. It.s not good enough playing the notes. Think: ‘what do you want to say?’. Only when you have figured this out can you make the fingers play. Now, to get the idea out, sing along and sing out loud. As the students played or as she herself played, she would sing out loud: a crescendo would be sung and spoken out loud as ‘crescendo!’ and sforzandos would be ‘SFORZANDO NOW!’. And all the while gesticulating about. Now, not everything is transferable to other arts and disciplines. But some things are. Here they are dear readers: 1) figure out what you want to say, 2) after figuring out what to say, use whatever techniques you can muster to bring it out (singing, dancing, etc.,): it must COME ALIVE, 3) don.t be timid or shy: belt it out. Belting it out doesn.t just mean loud (though it can). Belting it out means playing with inner conviction. It must be your own interpretation and you must be proud of it, 4) you are in performance, not playing before yourself: make sure to captivate the audience! One of the students had a really introspective touch which actually I thought was very interesting: focus on the decay of the notes, soft and delicate grace. But Hewitt was right: you could lose the audience with this sort of approach. Save the introspective playing for late nights in the drawing room.

One thing that I also picked up on that I would like to share with you, diligent reader, is the art of criticism. What do you think would have the greatest impact, be the most constructive? Let.s say there.s a weak passage in the student.s playing. Would you say: ‘It.s falling apart’. Or would you say: ‘I want you to play more robustly’. Or if the emotion is lacking, would you say, ‘There.s no emotion’. Or would you say, ‘I need you to express yourself here’. I.d venture if you tell someone what you want rather than telling than how lacking, you.d get better results. It.s really the same thing though, but psychologically by coming at it in terms of what you want, approaching it from a more positive angle. This is something I can learn from Hewitt so I.m thankful for this lesson.

Another thing these concerts and plays are good for is just to practise the art of communicating with strangers. Small talk. Ever since I left work, I feel like been holed up a lot, just in my own company (which I don.t mind). But if talking to yourself a lot of the time, you lose the art of communicating with others. Which is not a good thing. Back at Bayside Mechanical, I.d be on the phone a good deal of the day, or if not on the phone on emails or meeting people at site meeting and so on. And of course also interacting with everyone in the office as well. There was lots of personal interactions. been trying to initiate ‘small talk’ with random people at these events. What learned is that as you walk by people, you have about a one or two second window to start the conversation. Once the window is past, it.s awkward to go back to start the conversation. But when the window is open, it.s easy. As for what to say, there are two approaches: ask something or convey something. I find that when I ask something (for example, ‘How did you enjoy the concert?’) what usually happens is a weird look and an awkward start to the conversation. But I find if I convey something (for example, ‘I really enjoyed the concert’) the other person pauses, smiles and responds and you can usually keep the conversation going. I think usually when people walk around, you glance up at them and no conversation starts. At best, a smile. But if at the second people exchange glances, you ask them something that initiates small talk, you catch them off guard. flat footed because its sort of unexpected. But if you convey something, it.s also unexpected, but more natural in that already announced your position (ie ‘I really enjoyed that’).

So, as I was walking around after the show making small talk, two thing that emerged from the conversations: how wonderful Hewitt is and how we shall certainly be seeing more of Keaton Ollech, the young musician that played the Schumann piece with such poise. We are seeing the birth of a star. And that.s something you don.t get to see when you go to the professional concerts. I certainly agree. Right from the first note, you could feel the star power. But it.s hard to qualify just what it is. He just made it sound easy.

A big thank you to Christ Church Cathedral for the wonderful venue, Hewitt for the masterclass, and a round of applause for the four musicians: Laura Altenmueller, Elizabeth Clarke, Keaton Ollech, and Frances Armstrong. Until next time, I am Edwin Wong and I am Learning Melpomene’s Work by listening to Terpsichore in action! What a wonderful venue too, here.a parting shot. Just look at that Gothic rib vaulting! It.s beauty almost makes me lose sight of how all those bricks overhead probably aren.t a good idea on the San Andreas fault!

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

Cinna and the Complex Plot (Corneille)

Within the genre of tragedy there are three sub-genres, one of which is the tragedy in parallel motion. Full details on the other two sub-genres in a future blog, so keep tuning in, diligent readers! What gives away the tragedy in parallel motion is that, in this type of play, many tragedies are all happening simultaneously, or, happening in parallel motion, as it were. Hamlet is a tragedy in parallel motion. There.s the main tragedy, that of Hamlet. And then there.s the stories of Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Claudius, and Laertes which play out in parallel to the main event. King Lear is also of this type where the tragedy of Gloucester plays out alongside Lear.s downfall. Cinna, by Pierre Corneille, is an exceptionally fine example of tragedy in parallel motion because, unlike Lear and Hamlet, Corneille gives each of the four main characters (Augustus, Cinna, Emilia, and Maximus) equal weight. In this sense, they are like four planets of equal mass revolving in parallel motion around a common centre of gravity. In the other examples, the motions are more lopsided than parallel as Hamlet and Lear have much more mass than the shadow tragedies playing in the proximate background.

As usual, I.m reading from a mighty Penguin edition with a detail from The Knight and his Page translated by super duper John Cairncross:


Here.s the back blurb with shout line and author introduction:

‘You suffer by the death of such a man. Avenge it by another’s, blood for blood’

The three plays in this volume demonstrate the full range of Corneille’s dramatic genius, from tragi-comedy and political drama to exuberant fantasy. The Cid (1636), his masterpiece set in medieval Spain, depicts a young knight torn between his duty to avenge his wronged father and his love for the daughter of a sworn enemy. Portraying a Roman nobleman’s plot to kill the tyrannical Emperor Augustus, Cinna (1640) reflect events in seventeenth-century France as Cardinal Richelieu moved to establish Louis XIII as its absolute ruler. And in the highly unusual comedy, The Theatrical Illusion (1636), a magician reassures a despairing father that his long-lost son is still alive–and proceeds to conjure up the young man’s amorous adventures in an elaborate play within a play.

John Cairncross’s clear, vibrant translation is accompanied by an introduction discussing the ways in which Corneille explored concepts of free will and inner conflict in his works. This edition also includes a bibliography, notes and separate prefaces and summaries for each play.

If The Cid ‘bursts but once upon the world / And their first blow displays their mastery’, Cinna, produced four years after The Cid, makes up in form, structure, and polish what The Cid had in elemental force. Dismayed at the reaction of Cardinal Richelieu and the French Academy’s criticism of the structure of The Cid, Corneille composed Cinna in response. Cinna is more perfect in the same way as corporate rock bands in the 70s were ‘more perfect’ than the 60s experiments in sound. I.m thinking of bands like Boston and Journey: heavily produced, formulaic songs, and catchy tunes meant for the radio. Not that these are bad things. Between you and me, I think Journey is the best (who doesn.t sing along to Wheel in the Sky, Don.t Stop Believing or Faithfully?). Listening to them always reminds me of dimly lit bars with the smell of smoke and cheap perfume in the air. For the same reason Cinna is good in the way corporate rock can be good, Cinna can also be criticized for being lacking the same way corporate rock is lacking: ie that last iota of creativity.

What I want to share with you today, however, is just how professionally Cinna is put together. It.s creativity is hidden in its structure, in how it all meshes together. While the characters aren.t as memorable as the Cid, the structure is put together with the finest joinery. There are four main characters: Augustus, Cinna, Emilia, and Maximus. As if to demonstrate the futility of expectation, they are only allowed to misjudge one another’s motives. Accordingly, the play jumps from one unintended consequence to the next, ultimately demanding the most unintended of all consequences to bring the freight train of chance judgments to standstill. Augustus is mistaken about his adopted daughter. He thinks by heaping gifts on Emilia, she will forgive him for the loss of her father (whom he had proscribed). He is mistaken. She retains Cinna to avenge her father. He is mistaken about Livia. He believes his wife loves the crown and not the man. He is mistaken about his trusted lieutenants. By heaping honours upon them, he thinks to secure their loyalty. Far from gratitude, Cinna and Maximus plot treason. That he gives means to those who would bring about his fall and cannot listen to those who care for him are the unintended consequences of Augustus’ actions.

Next is Cinna. He trusts Maximus, his friend and fellow conspirator. He is mistaken. When Maximus discovers Cinna is romancing Emilia, he betrays the conspiracy in a jealous fit to do away with his rival. Regarding Emilia, Cinna is doubly mistaken, once before the conspiracy is exposed and again afterwards. Before the conspiracy is exposed, Augustus summons Cinna and asks him whether he should restore the republican government. Surprised that the question should come up at this time, Cinna advises him to hold onto empire, putting himself into an ethical quandary as he advocates the very thing that justifies the conspirators. His position baffles Maximus–why risk the assassination attempt when Augustus is ready to stand down? What Maximus does not know–not yet, at least–is that Emilia has bound Cinna by an oath to bring Augustus down; the conspiracy is merely a pretext for revenge. As the ethical quandary gives Cinna second thought about the attempt, he goes to Emilia seeking understanding. Instead of understanding, he finds her heart hardened against him. After the conspiracy is exposed, Emilia once again baffles expectations. Having discovered the plot, Augustus passes sentence on Cinna. Cinna is prepared to die. Though a capital crime, the tradition of restoring republican governments was honoured in the hearts of Roman patriots. He would die with honour. At the last second, however, Emilia storms in, revealing that he had done it all to win her hand. Her revelation takes away the argument that his actions were borne out of a moral duty to Rome. That he loses himself and all he holds dear in the pursuit of happiness is the unintended consequence of Cinna’s actions.

Then there is Maximus.  He trusts that Cinna has led them into a dangerous undertaking in the name of liberty.  He is mistaken.  The conspiracy was formed so that Emilia could avenge her father.  He is also mistaken when it comes to Emilia.  Having found out the underlying reason why Cinna wanted to assassinate Augustus, he comes up with a plan: by feigning his death and exposing the conspiracy to Augustus, he could do away with Cinna and whisk Emilia away in safety.  He could not foresee, however, that Emilia would prefer to die with honour than to live in shame.  That he reveals himself to be a jealous imbecile is the unintended consequence of Maximus’ actions.

Finally there is Emilia.  She is the spoiler, more erred against the erring.  But even she could not foresee the clemency of Augustus.  In revealing her role in fomenting treason, she had anticipated a capital sentence from her stepfather.  The failure to anticipate the clemency of Augustus is a miscalculation she shares with Cinna and Maximus.  But her miscalculation is the play’s keystone.  While Augustus was more than ready to sentence Cinna and Maximus according to expectation, his stepdaughter’s confession stops him in his tracks.  That Augustus restores Maximus, raises Cinna, and blesses Emilia and Cinna’s marriage is the unintended consequence of Emilia’s actions.  With the clemency of Augustus, there are no more unintended consequences as the enigmatic portrait of empire is complete. Empire is a form of state wherein absolute clemency buys absolute power. The beauty of Cinna is that each of the unintended consequences propels the play towards the most unintended of all consequences: that treason would be rewarded with clemency. The human face of empire.

There you have it diligent readers! And if you made it to the end of the blog you really are a diligent reader! One surprising thing about the wonderful Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) that I learned today. I was finishing parts of today.s blog there and needed to sneak a peak at Cinna. Easy, right?–I.m at the main branch. That.s true, I found a copy. But did you know that in the whole library there.s only one copy of a translation of Corneille? I would have thought there would have been multiple copies, you know, maybe not a copy at each of the regional branches but there would be more than one copy for all the, what, seven or eight branches of the GVPL! Perhaps a sign that not everyone these days is into Melpomene’s work. But hey, I am! And until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I will be Doing Melpomene’s Work.