Monthly Archives: August 2015

Oak Bay Bicycles Sunday Ride

A writer ought to have active hobbies. If you’re writing five hours a day and reading two hours a day, that’s a lot of time sitting around. To make things worse, a lot of times when writers get writer’s block, they break out the munchies. I have a weakness for cookies (Dad’s), ice cream (black cherry), and nacho chips (plain chips with guac or salsa). Mmmm. A couple of cookies here and there, the second bowl of ice cream: the calories add up quickly! Nothing burns calories like cycling (maybe swimming, but you can cycle longer than you can swim). Cycling happens to be my active hobby of choice. Running too, is nice. But, on a ride, you can go for longer and enjoy more outdoor sights, sounds, and smells (esp. the ocean and the leaves as we head into fall). If I want to run by the ocean or around Elk Lake, I have to be able to get there first.

I spent a lot of time on a bike as a kid. It represented freedom. When I got my first car, that felt like freedom too. But looking back, the bike was better: you power the bike. It doesn’t break down all the time. Repairs don’t cost thousands. You don’t have to fill it up. You can eat more. You feel like you’ve accomplished something by commuting. Nothing against cars. I’d get a car if it could earn its keep: if it were a delivery car or a construction truck.

For a lot of years between then and now, the bike lay gathering dust, though. Last year, I dusted it off, pumped up the tires, and went for a ride. It was fun. The wind in the hair helmet. For my 40th birthday, I treated myself to my first road bike. One with bright silver Campagnolo parts: a Ti Marinoni Sportivo. No paint, no graphics. It was plain. It was beautiful. Made in Canada to boot. There’s a surprising number of Canadian bicycle companies: Kona, Norco, Guru, Argon 18, Cannondale (owned by Dorel Industries), Brodie, Rocky Mountain, and many others. If you’re wondering, yes, my bike earns its keep: it lugs around minor building materials for use around the building (tools, paint, and hardware). It’s cash flow positive. Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking. It will be cash flow positive.

Straight Up Cycles brought in the Marinoni came in November 2014. Looking back at a post in May this year, I had said 20km was an ideal ride and that 40km was becoming painful. That’s one of the nice things about blogging: once it’s written down, you know where to look for it if you don’t remember. Lately I’ve started to ride harder and longer. TS has inspired me: he’s been riding into Victoria from Mission, BC. It’s about 100km from Mission to the ferry. And he does it on a full mountain with a 20Ib backpack! Insanity! I thought if he can do it, I should be able to as well. Lately I’ve been going back and forth between town and the ferries (~70km). Another nice ride is to Cadboro Bay beach. Get there, read a book, and head back. Rolling hills. As I worked up the miles, I wondered: could I handle a group ride?

One of the guys at Straight Up Cycles suggested that the Sunday ride at Oak Bay Bicycles might be a good fit. The Oak Bay Bicycles website advertises the Sunday ride as a beginner/recovery ride. It turns out that the hard core group rides on Saturday. To them, the purpose of the Sunday ride is to recover and relax! The route they take is roughly 77km at a 25km/hr pace. So ’bout 3 hrs. It starts in Oak Bay, cuts through Gordon Head, Mt Doug, and up towards Sidney. There’s a short washroom break just before Sidney. From there, they ride towards the airport, down along West Saanich before joining up with the Galloping Goose heading back into town. Beginner riders typically see how far they can go. When they’ve had enough, they drop out and ride home. Next time out, they go further. Repeat until you build up the endurance to do the whole thing.

At the ride last Sunday, there were eight of us in all. Usually there are more: up to 30! But this week, there were two other races happening at the same time. And there was also a big storm the night before. Many people must have been still without power. The average age was around 40. Two women and six guys. And some beautiful bikes! Mostly carbon but one Moots ti as well. Also ran into JK, an old friend from high school! Wow! High school was over 20 years ago, would you believe it! I think some of the riders must be pros or serious amateurs.

Have you ever ridden with a group? The idea is that you can socialize as well as going faster and longer. By drafting (following the cyclist ahead of you with a gap of less than one wheel diameter), you can save 20% of your energy. You’re not fighting the wind. The cyclist at the head of the pack has to do most of the work. But, by taking turns leading the pack, everyone gets a benefit. It’s the closest thing out there to a free lunch.

There’s an interesting psychology in a group ride. First of all, a big thank you to the other riders who explained how things work! There’s some excellent teachers on this ride. The first thing in a group ride is that it’s harder to see the road when you’re riding in formation. You have to trust the riders in front to point out crap on the side of the road. If you’re riding at the back, your job is to alert the others of cars coming up from behind. And if you’re up front, your job is the grunt work of cutting through the wind. Everyone has a job. It seems everyone has a responsibility to one another. It’s nice to go faster and further. But the thing that left the biggest impression on my mind is the sense of trust the riders must have in one another. That’s cool. That’s something I can learn: trust. Biking really is a team sport. I had not known that before.

When I started the ride, it was difficult to follow so close on another rider’s wheel. I was afraid. What if they braked? What if I ran into them?  After a few kilometres and some kind words of encouragement, my fear dissipated. I could get closer: maybe a wheel diameter to half a diameter away. For the group ride to work, everyone has an obligation to one another to stay close together. It’s wonderful just watching the dynamics of the group. Or hearing the sound of people’s pedal strokes: they all sound different. Some riders grind it out in a low roar. Others spin quickly and lightly. Tires sound different too. If the road changes, you can hear the road changing from listening to the riders ahead of you. The experience is altogether different than, say, a group run. In a group run, you’re still your own individual. In a group ride, you’re really part of the group. You move with the group. You react with the group.

And then it happened. On the way back, on the hills on West Saanich, I couldn’t keep up. Just out of gas. What a weird feeling that was. Watching the group pull away. I tried pedalling faster. I tried pedalling standing up. Just couldn’t do it. It’s such a weird and helpless feeling to be going all out, huffing and puffing, putting out as much as you can, and not being able to keep up. The group slowed down, but after a few more hills, I was done like dinner. Boy was I done. One of the kind riders dropped back with me and I followed him back into town drafting behind him. That was much appreciated, thank you!

What a great learning experience. Thanks to everyone for sharing their tips. I’ll be doing this again. But I’ll need to do some more hill training first. And I’ll push myself harder on the flats. And yes, no saddlebag and rear carrier next time! Going on the group ride was eye opening: this was the ‘recovery’ ride as well. I am almost frightened to think how much power is required to keep up with the group on their Saturday rides!

Still smiling at the halfway mark of the group ride

Still smiling at the halfway mark of the group ride

Improvised Tragedy Review (Fringe August 27)

Before Paying Melpomene’s Price is self-published, I thought I should improve my ‘street cred’. There’s only one way to do that: go see more theatre. Yes: see more theatre instead of read more theatre. I’ve become an ‘armchair critic’. Sort of like ‘armchair historians’ or ‘armchair archaeologists’: they prefer to do things in the comfort of their own homes rather than going out and getting their fingers dirty. Oh yes, are the quotation marks around the slang terms (‘street cred’) driving you crazy? Yes, all the styleguides say not to use them like that! Ah, I am a bad man!

Well, what do you know?–when I was thinking about going to see a show, this sign on a lamppost jumped out of nowhere:

Improvised Theatre Poster

Improvised Theatre Poster

Hmmm. Nice poster! Slightly detached look. The look of distance, perhaps. All black (well, it’s black and white). Wearing sackcloth. They must be either philosophers or characters in a tragedy!

But this isn’t any tragedy. This is Improvised Tragedy. And Improvised Tragedy was playing tonight. It was meant to be. I could see a strange show and improve my credibility. Who knew that tragedy could be improvised? Tragedy turns into comedy easily enough (think Gloucester jumping off the white cliffs of Dover in Lear). It would be interesting to see if Improvised Tragedy could maintain the tension of tragedy. What is more, an improvised tragedy would probably reduce tragedy done to the bare bones. An x-ray vision of tragedy. An x-ray vision of tragedy is just what I wanted to see. The question in my mind: will their version of tragedy conform with mine? It looks like from their blurb that the writers of this piece are also into the philosophy of tragedy:

‘Tragedy’ claims that whatever the disaster is, the disaster is exceptional. Lightning Theatre’s The Improvised Tragedy is both looking though the past at the history of the art of dramatic tragedy, and a progression for dramatic improvisation and the future of the art of tragedy. Together with your help we will discover what it’s like to say yes to life even in its strangest and most painful episodes.

The Improvised Tragedy

The Improvised Tragedy is written and performed by Lightning Theatre. The show is part of Victoria’s Fringe Festival, 11 days of unjuried contemporary plays at 11 different venues spread across town. Lottery determines who takes part. Experimental madness! A good chance to see up and coming artists perform.

The show played at the Roxy. Tickets were $11 and you also needed a $6 Fringe Button to get in. The Fringe Button gets you in all the shows. The $11 goes to the artists. The $6 probably goes to the venue. On opening night, the crowd was 28 strong, translating into proceeds of $308. The stage forces consisted of 3 actors, 1 musician on keyboard and a wind instrument, and a lighting tech. That works out to be $61.60 for a day’s work for each. The people selling / collecting tickets were Fringe volunteers. If the proceeds from the Fringe button goes to the venue (I think it must go into a pot which is distributed in the end somehow), the Roxy would have gotten $66 to open the doors that night. Good thing there are corporate sponsors. A raucous university crowd in attendance tonight.

By the way, I chatted with the actors before the show. That’s the nice thing about Fringe shows: audience and actors can interact. One of the actors was performing with a fresh (couple of hours old) sling on his right hand: he was riding his bike and got right hooked by a car that afternoon. Kudos to him for performing that night. Hey, as they say, ‘the show must go on’!


At the beginning of the show, the three actors ask the audience for various words. The winning selections were: bike, metamorphosis, and … can’t remember the third word! So, in the space of 50 minutes, they did three tragic skits based on the three words. There are spoilers below, but since every show should be different (it’s improv), brave readers read on! But I would imagine that they must have some kind of skeleton they work from…

The first tragedy is about a cyclist. He’s competitive but can’t quite win. A friend introduces him to doping. He starts winning. But turns into a horrible human being. Sort of like Lance Armstrong.

The second tragedy is about an unemployed hobo. He gets the job offer of a lifetime: work one day, decide yourself how much you want to be paid. But in that one day, anything goes. It turns out the employer steals his health and youth. It reminded me of Dorian Grey. But from a different perspective.

The third tragedy was about a stutterer and a gimp. He has the chance to try miracle cure. It works. But there are side effects: he becomes like an animal. He is rejected from society. It’s sort of like what happens to a Marvel comic villain.

The Idea of Tragedy

Interesting: in each of the three skits the hero is tempted (winning, job, and cure). He makes a wager (friends, health, and side effects). He rolls the dice. And pays the price. The x-ray vision of tragedy by the Lightning Theatre reduces tragedy to a sort of gambling instinct. I like it. This is tragedy distilled!

And yes, there were guffaws plenty from the audience. This wasn’t any shortcoming of the production: the actors did a great job. It has more to do with the nature of tragedy and comedy. It’s a thin line between the tragic and the comic. You know what they say: ‘When I get a papercut it’s a tragedy; when you fall into an open sewer and die it’s a comedy’. Who was that–Mel Brooks perhaps?

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am watching others who are Doing Melpomene’s Work.

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

Brief digression: a BIG thank you to everyone who responded to Monday’s post! Beta readers are going to make Paying Melpomene’s Price more accessible, clearer, and more fun to read. To those of you on the fence: join in the fun! There’s no commitment: do as little or as much as you please! I’m looking for feedback, comments, suggestions… It’s good to be writing for an audience again; for too long I’ve been writing for myself. Even knowing that the text will be beta read forces me to think more in terms of the reader. That is a good thing. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is the shortest and most frequently recommended of all styleguides. The body of the text weighs in at 85 pages. With the forward, introduction, glossary, afterword, and index, it is still a lean 123 pages. I have been meaning to read it for a long time. They say classics are books that everyone wishes they have read but no one wants to read. Well, The Elements of Style is definitely a classic. I am glad to have finally read it. I should have done so earlier. Better late than never.

Why would such a short book require two authors? It turns out that Strunk (1869-1946) was an English professor at Cornell. He wrote The Elements of Style to distribute to students. White was one of Strunk’s students in 1919. In 1956, seeing a need for such a book, White published it. He expanded Strunk’s original 43 pages and added an introduction and a concluding chapter (‘An Approach to Style’). That is the reason the book has two authors.

Back Blurb

Making ‘every word tell’ is what The Elements of Style is all about. This famous manual, now in a fourth edition, has conveyed the principles of plain English style to millions of readers. It is probably the only style manual ever to appear on the best seller lists.

Whether you write letters, term papers, or novels, the ‘little book’, as it has come to be called, can help you communicate more effectively. It will show you how to cut deadwood out of your sentences; enliven your prose with the active voice; put statements in a positive form; approach style by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.

The original ‘little’ book was written by William Strunk, Jr., late professor of English at Cornell, for use by his students. Years later, one of the most illustrious of those students, E.B. White, prepared an edition of the book for the general public, revising the original and contributing a final chapter of his own that sought to lead the reader beyond mere correctness toward distinction in English style.

This Fourth Edition includes a new glossary of grammatical terms. In addition, the book has been revised to update many of the references in examples and to reflect contemporary usage. These changes help make the ‘little’ book even more accessible to new generations of readers and writers.

The Eureka Moment

Believe it or not, it wasn’t what Strunk had to say but what White had to say in the final chapter that was the eureka moment. What Strunk lays out in the main body of the text is good. For example, one thing that’s always been on my mind is the difference between that and which. Here is how Strunk clarifies the difference between the two:

That is the the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the non defining, or nonrestrictive.

The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)

The use of which for that is common in written and spoken language (‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass’.) Occasionally which seems preferable to that, as in the sentence from the Bible. But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining whiches, and by so doing improve their work.

That is pretty good, but not the eureka moment. The eureka moment is in White’s final chapter on style:

With some writers, style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity, as surely as would his fingerprints. Here, following, are two brief passages from the works of two American novelists. The subject in each case is languor. In both, the words used are ordinary, and there is nothing eccentric about the construction.

He did not still fell weak, he was merely luxuriating in that supremely gutful lassitude of convalescence in which time, hurry, doing, did not exist, the accumulating seconds and minutes and hours to which in its well state the body is slave both waking and sleeping, now reversed and time now the lip-server and mendicant to the body’s pleasure instead of the body thrall to time’s headlong course

Manuel drank his brandy. He felt sleepy himself. It was too hot to go out into the town. Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito. He would go to sleep while he waited.

Anyone acquainted with Faulkner and Hemingway will have recognized them in these passages and perceived which is which. How different are their languors!

Or take two American poets, stopping at evening. One stops by woods, the other by laughing flesh.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,

To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,

To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing,

laughing flesh is enough…

Because of the characteristic styles, there is little question about identity here, and if the situations were revered, with Whitman stopping by woods and Frost by laughing flesh (not one of his regularly scheduled stops), the reader would know who was who.

It dawned on me: no one would mistake Faulkner for Hemingway or Frost for Whitman. In the above passages, there is nothing bombastic in the style: in Hemingway’s case it is even sort of mundane (e.g. ‘Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito’). But yet they are all great writers. The eureka moment for me was that style does not come from trying to do something fancy. Style comes from within. It is in every word we write.

Style is sort of like clothing. One can wear a suit jacket or a t-shirt. One can wear a dress or a blouse. There is style in both. Those with the best style don’t do anything pretentious with clothing. They wear clothing that fits the body. Not too tight, not too loose. Colour is nice. But not too bright and not too subdued. They choose colours to fit the occasion. There are winter colours and summer colours. There is no use in making clothing bombastic, loud, or pretentious: that is not style. Style comes from within. It is probably the way we carry ourselves in the clothing. Words are sort of like that: they are the things we dress up our thoughts with.

What’s the takeaway from all this? First, read The Elements of Style. It is a nice short book. The way books ought to be. Second. When writing, don’t worry about style. It’s everywhere. It’s part of you. It is you. You don’t have to think about style to write with style. But do think about finding the words that fit just as you would find clothes that fit. And by fit I mean both the body and the occasion. Using a foreign word, for example, is like wearing the latest Spanish cut. And so on.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I am Doing Melpomene’s Work in style.

Get Your Free Copy of Paying Melpomene’s Price

Wanted: Beta Readers

Any beta readers out there? For your time and helpful suggestions, you will receive a signed copy of Paying Melpomene’s Price: Tragedy and the Risk Theatre. What is more, beta readers will be individually acknowledged in the published version: I realize your time is valuable. C’mon, give it a go and take part in this happy and worthy cause!

As assiduous readers will recall, the first draft of Paying Melpomene’s Price is complete. The internal process of rewriting and editing started in early August. I am looking for some much needed feedback as I rewrite and edit before sending the manuscript out to the copy editors, structural editors, proofreaders, etc., next year. You see, the ideas in Paying Melpomene’s Price have been with me so long that they just make sense. I’m convinced. But convincing me is like preaching to the choir. I’m reaching out for different perspectives.

What’s Involved for Beta Readers

There’s a preface and eight chapters. Each chapter is about 15 pages. At the rate I’m going, I’m editing/rewriting a chapter a month. This is what I’m thinking: each month I’ll release a chapter. To do a cursory read and make some notes takes roughly two hours. To write out the notes in an email takes another couple of hours (some may be faster). So its a half a day per month for nine months, give or take.

The nice thing is, the heavy lifting of fact checking, close reading, and proofreading will be done at a later stage. Right now, the thing that interests me the most is whether things make sense. These are the sorts of questions I have for beta readers: where is the text clear? Where is it unclear? What are some of the things I do well (because I need to do more of it!). What are some of the things you wish I did less of?

Beta Reader Qualifications

The book is on literary theory and theatre. But this doesn’t mean that beta readers have to be experts in these fields (though experts are welcome!). In some ways, it even helps out more when beta readers approach the text from a nonspecialist perspective: I want the arguments to appeal to broad segments of the population. I want it to be accessible to students, academics, dramatists, literary theorists, and people just interested in theatre or literary theory. I believe it’s possible to write something simple and broadly appealing at the same time. That’s where the feedback from beta readers is invaluable. Is it something you would enjoy reading (if you were not beta reading)?

So, there are no qualifications for beta readers! If you want to contribute to the idea of tragedy as the risk theatre or just to be a beta reader, give it a whirl!

Back Blurb for Paying Melpomene’s Price

The back blurb is an ongoing composition. Here it is as it stands right now. It’ll give you an idea of whether Paying Melpomene’s Price is something you want to beta read:


Tragedy is a high stakes game where gamblers stake the milk of human kindness for a crown (Macbeth), the immortal soul for mortal glory (Dr. Faustus), or happiness for distinction (The Master Builder). By playing the game, heroes expose themselves to risk: a dead man’s hand or a queen of spades lurks in the cards. This is the idea of the risk theatre.

Paying Melpomene’s Price is about the risk theatre. The risk theatre sells heroes its benefits at a dear cost. Oedipus saves Thebes, but pays the price in doing so. Because relief is purchased by exile, love is purchased by blood, and power comes at the cost of the soul, tragedy is a valuing mechanism. It assigns a tangible value to intangible human qualities: the milk of human kindness may be exchanged for a crown. In an increasingly monetized world, tragedy restores value to humanity because its transactions are not measured in dollars and cents, but blood, sweat, and tears.

This book is written for students of tragic art theory looking for a philosophy of tragedy that celebrates the innate value of life. It is also written with dramatists in mind: in these pages is a neoclassical working model of drama. With its template, the dramatist can bring the idea of risk theatre to the stage. It is also written for those dismayed in the monetization of all things: the risk theatre puts the human back in humanity.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and today I’m looking for beta readers interested in Doing Melpomene’s Work.

The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told – Lyons

As assiduous readers will recall, the risk theatre (otherwise known as my interpretation of tragedy) sees tragic heroes as gamblers of sorts. They play for higher and higher stakes and, in the mania of white heat, finally encounter the unexpected. The unexpected does bad things to them. Which is sort of surprising, since can’t the unexpected also be good? Well in tragedy, the heroes never run across fat tails on the right of the bell curve (unexpectedly fortuitous events such as winning the lottery); they always run across the fat tail on the left of the bell curve (some disastrous event). Here’s an explanation of fat tailed risk from the New York Times. So, that’s the reason why I’m interested in gambling.

But unfortunately I don’t have one single gambling bone in my body! To find out more about this world, I bought some stock in the Great Canadian Casino company (ticker And I also went down to their View Royal location to observe other gamblers in action. They also kindly gave me a used deck of cards for the Dead Man’s Hand photo shoot (did you know each deck of cards is only used once?). But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to read about gambling. That’s when I came across this book of 31 gambling short stories (some are excerpts from novels) put together by Paul Lyons.

Lyons, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told

Lyons, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told

Just the cover illustration tells an interesting story! Did the fellow on the left lose and the one on the right win? But what about the guy in the middle?-he seems impassive to it all.

Back Blurb:

Whether your vice be a tame game of bingo or a visit to the local horse track, a friendly game of poker with friends or a tense match of billiards in a smoky parlor, chances are that you, at one time or another, have gambled on something. And nowhere is man”s fascination with gambling more clearly evident than in the massive profits amassed each year by illegal bookmakers and the lavish casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and abroad.

In The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told, editor Paul Lyons has compiled thirty-one of the finest writings, both fact and realistic fiction, ever penned about our collective gambling vice, which has been a part of our history and culture since Biblical times.

With contributions from such renowned writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, David Mamet, and Charles Bukowski, as well as some rare, lesser-known gems of the genre from Dan McGoorty, Michael Konik, and Jane Smiley, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told is an entertaining and enlightening collection sure to appeal to anyone who has ever picked up a cue, cards, dice, or racing form, and to anyone out there looking to feel a little bit of “juice.”

Paul Lyons, the editor of The Quotable Gambler, was raised in New York City, and received his early gambling training at Guys and Dolls Billiards-recalled in his novel Table Legs. He received a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and now teaches English at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.


Lyons, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told, Contents 1

Lyons, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told, Contents 1

Lyons, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told, Contents 2

Lyons, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told, Contents 2

As editor, Lyons is our guide throughout the book. He writes the standard introduction. But he’s at his best in the short little introductions preceding each of the 31 stories: he points out why the selection is special. For example, Lyons directs the reader to appreciate how Zweig captures the interior, physiological sensation of gambling through his hero: a lady who is an astute observer of hands. That’s something I would have missed, but it made that selection all the more enriching.

The other thing awesome about this book is that I finally get to meet all these characters of lore: fast Eddie, Minnesota Fats, the Cincinnati Kid, and so on. And believe it or not, I have never read Balzac and D.H. Lawrence! Looking forward to that. And why is it that some people are always referred to by first initials and last name? Like T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. You wouldn’t really say ‘Eliot’ or ‘Lawrence’ but T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. I wonder.

And yes, I cheated! I am not through the collection, just through the first couple of stories! Oh my…

BOOM Review (Belfry August 7)

It’s good to go out and see a live show. Especially since I profess to be a theatre expert! Well, the blog constantly reminds me of how seldom I get out. It doesn’t lie: from the reviews I’m averaging two shows a year. Part of the reason for starting the blog in the first place was to get me to go out more often. It hasn’t worked out that way. But on August 7, I had a chance to see Boom with my friend S. It was playing at the Belfry theatre down the street, a ten minute walk.

Boom is a one man show written, produced, and performed by Rick Miller. It follows the lives of three individuals growing up in post-war Europe, USA, and Canada. The performance is two hours and the time covered by the performance is over 20 years. One of the last musical cuts is ‘Born to be Wild’ by Steppenwolf which came out in 1968. The boomer generation proper is, I believe, those born from 1946 to 1964.

In a previous post, I had commented on how tight the margins must be in live theatre. In fact, I couldn’t really understand how some shows could even be profitable. Unless one had deep pockets or some kind of corporate or government funding, the one man show is the way to go for independent artists. We estimated the Friday crowd to be 100 strong. At $50 average per ticket, that translates to $5000. To rent the Belfry (one of the nicer of the smaller venues) along with a sound and lights team for a night must cost $2500, ball park. Remember, the Belfry, unlike the Blue Bridge Theatre, is union. So union rates. The artist is travelling, so allow another $300 for accommodations and food. That leaves him $2200. Not bad for one night, you say. But also remember, this is a Friday night show. Maybe half the people show up during the weekdays. And tickets are less as well on weekdays. To top it off: it took Miller two years of hard work to put Boom together. That has to be accounted for in the calculation as well. Theatre is a labour of love. Which is why I appreciate it. It’s real. They’re not doing it for the money. At least that’s what the back of the napkin calculations say!

It was a good choice for the three characters: one is a white Austrian fellow, one is his mom, and the last a black American musician. Since Miller plays all the roles, having a clearly differentiated set of characters is helpful! It adds to the perspective as well. Not only do we see the boomer years through the lens of different nationalities, races, and sexes, the action is spread over Canada, USA, and Europe.

There were two takeaways from this show for me. The first is that damn this guy is a good performer. He impersonates all the politicians, musicians, and actors. Dylan must have been one of the harder ones. I wasn’t quite sure if he played all the instruments, but he definitely plays guitar and harmonica. Maybe the piano… Probably. He’s talented.

The other takeaway is the history lesson. I didn’t know that the Soviets had been so far ahead in the space race. JFK I knew was assassinated. But I didn’t know about his brother Bobby. It was fun to see how things have changed too: the popularity of processed food. Nowadays you couldn’t pay someone enough to eat that stuff. He had ad footage and processed food was IT! The same with DDT. They had spray cans so that you could treat fleas on your dog. You don’t see that anymore! It reminds me: it will be like that with the things we hold precious today. Give it thirty years.

As entertaining as the show was, it was more a documentary than a drama. A drama is doing and acting. The story emerges from the doing and the acting. At least that’s my idea of dramaBoom is more narrative. Telling. Relating. Mind you, Miller intended it to be like that and it shows off his storytelling and impersonating skills. But I guess this is one of the weaknesses of one man shows: it’s hard to create drama with one actor. But I should end on a positive note. With one man shows–especially if the performer is also the writer–all the lines are spoken with perfect conviction. The delivery is splendid.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’ve been Doing Melpomene’s Work at the Belfry Theatre.

Back Blurb Revision

Books on self-publishing give pointers on writing the back blurb: that’s the short introduction on the back cover of books. This is how a book sale works. The customer comes into the bookstore. If the cover art/design is appealing, the customer will pick up the book. If it isn’t appealing, then all is lost. But the customer doesn’t buy on the basis of the cover art. It’s the back blurb that makes the sale. The back blurb is like the elevator pitch: you have 15 seconds of the customer’s time: make it happen. Why do they need to read your book?

My friend TS was in town last week. He’s an English professor and we got talking into how it’d be cool if I could test out some of my ideas at the college where he teaches. Give a lecture or something like that. What he wanted was a short description of what I was working on to present to the department. I thought, ‘I should revise the back blurb and send it to him’.

Revised Back Blurb (with Shout Line)


Tragedy is a high stakes game where gamblers stake the milk of human kindness for a crown (Macbeth), the immortal soul for mortal glory (Dr. Faustus), or happiness for distinction (The Master Builder). By playing the game, heroes expose themselves to risk: a dead man’s hand or a queen of spades lurks in the cards. This is the idea of the risk theatre.

Paying Melpomene’s Price is about the risk theatre. The risk theatre sells heroes its benefits at a dear cost. Oedipus saves Thebes, but pays the price in doing so. Because relief is purchased by exile, love is purchased by blood, and power comes at the cost of the soul, tragedy is a valuing mechanism. It assigns a tangible value to intangible human qualities: the milk of human kindness may be exchanged for a crown. In an increasingly monetized world, tragedy restores value to humanity because its transactions are not measured in dollars and cents, but blood, sweat, and tears.

This book is written for students of tragic art theory looking for a philosophy of tragedy that celebrates the innate value of life. It is also written with dramatists in mind: in these pages is a neoclassical working model of drama. With its template, the dramatist can bring the idea of risk theatre to the stage. It is also written for those dismayed in the monetization of all things: the risk theatre puts the human back in humanity.

Old Back Blurb

The loss of a sense of value in a world where everything has become monetized has led to a reexamination of the tragic art form as a means of reclaiming human value. What if tragedy were a marketplace? What if it were like one of the great bourses in New York or Frankfurt, except anger and ambitions change hands instead of stock certificates? What is more, what if Melpomene’s price is not something to be paid in dollars and cents, but the terms of payment are all-too-human things such as faith, the milk of human kindness, or even the soul of a man.

This book is the meeting of Aristotle’s Poetics with Smith’s Wealth of Nations. It paints a picture of the hero as a gambler willing to lay down his life in gage for the great reward. It will help you conceptualize how the hero rediscovers human value by playing the high stakes game in the ludic theatre. Written for dramatists, theatregoers, and students of tragic art theory, there are detailed examples of how tragedy can be conceptualized not as a destructive medium, but as a celebration of the spiritual wealth which resides in each one of us.

Written by a lifelong connoisseur and student of the theatrical arts, this comprehensive study breaks down tragedy into its constituent parts: the hero’s wager, the myth of the price you pay, and the role of the unexpected. They myth of the price you pay provides the philosophic underpinnings of tragedy: you get something for something, nothing for nothing, and sometimes nothing for something. In the hero’s wager is the dramatization of the myth of the price you pay. Finally, the role of the unexpected generates the thrill of theatre. In breaking down tragedy into its constituent parts, it builds them back up to argue that tragedy is the greatest show on earth.

Edwin Wong is an expert on theatre and literary theory. He has written and lectured widely on the subject. He graduated with a BA in Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria and a MA in Classics from Brown University. Check out his theatre blog at: His favourite tragedy is Macbeth and his favourite tragedian Aeschylus.

The new back blurb is 40% shorter. It gets to the point quicker. And it offers specific examples right away instead of talking about generalities. These are things that the style guides have been talking about. What do you think–is the new back blurb better?

What is Concision in Writing?

The other day CM and I were catching up. We hadn’t chatted in months. He’s been working on his yard. Landscaping. The big project was a picket fence. I betcha it looks good. As assiduous readers will recall from prior posts, I’ve started the rewriting and editing process. I shared with him the good news that the first draft of the book was complete and that the goal was to get the book down from 210 pages to 150 or less. ‘The writing has to be concise’, I said, parroting what the style guides were saying. Concision is everything. But then CM asked, ‘What exactly is concision in writing?’. Well, I hadn’t actually thought of that! Concise is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. But what is ‘as much as possible’? How does one know? Is there a boundary between too little and too much?

How to Express Concision

Communication is a two way street. When attempting to get ideas across, it’s always helpful to remember how the other person is looking at things. It just so happens that me and CM share a construction background. In fact, years ago, when I was thinking of getting into the trades, I asked CM which trade I should get into. He said if he were doing it all again, he’d check out either electrical or plumbing: they’re paid well and you’re not outside working in the rain or on top of a slippery roof.

So, when asked ‘What exactly is concision in writing?’, I came up with the following: concision is like what you find on a blueprint. Tradespeople read blueprints when they build a house. The print tells them where the stairs go, the rise and the run of the treads, how many levels the house has. It tells them how to lay out the walls, where the bathrooms are, and how many bedrooms there are. It does not tell them where to hang the Monet, where to put the TV, or which pan goes into which cupboard.

The plan tells the tradespeople what they need to know to build the house. And in very exact terms: the shear wall will be screwed together with certain types of screws. The length and type of plating of exterior screws will be specified. But it does not go beyond what it is designed to do: it will not talk about where the TV goes, for example. This is concision: the state of expressing as efficiently as possible what needs to be said.

How Concision Works

If a set of blueprints for a house can be described as being ‘concise’, concision works because there is an understanding between the architect who drafts the blueprints and the tradespeople who interpret the blueprints. Through experience, the architect knows what to put on the blueprints and what not to put on. And through experience, the tradespeople know what to look for. A book then, must be like a set of blueprints: it must start off with a well defined goal. Just as the point of a blueprint is so a house can be built, the writer must define the purpose of the book.

To continue the analogy, once the writer defines the purpose of a book, the next thing to establish is the book’s audience. Just as an architect is making a set of blueprints for tradespeople, the writer must figure out who the audience is. That way, the right amount of information is conveyed. Once the architect defines the audience as an audience of tradespeople, certain things can be said which do not need further elaboration. For instance, if acoustic insulation is specified, it can be presumed that the tradespeople are familiar with how to install it: no need to give a lesson on the history and application of acoustic insulation. For the same reason, if a writer is writing about theatre to an audience of theatregoers, there is no need to give the background of each play under discussion: it can be presumed the audience is already familiar. There is no need, for example, to say that Macbeth is a play by Shakespeare in which an ambitious vassal assassinates his lord. That information would be superfluous. To include it would not be concise.

The Current State of Paying Melpomene’s Price

Now that the process of rewriting and editing the book has started, how does it look? To use the blueprint analogy, currently the book is like a glorious house built in the clouds. It has no foundation. Some of the stairs lead nowhere. Others are in the wrong place. It needs concision.

But even in this bad state, one can tell that the house has an interesting design. With the proper corrections, one could live in there. And comfortably. The crucial thing I can see right now is that what I have created is not yet a house, but, can become a house with the proper revisions. And that for now is good enough. Actually, in a way, I’m counting my lucky stars because I’ve started off a lot of projects where, looking back on them, they’re not even salvageable.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work many times over.

Editing & Style

Since the first draft is complete, it’s time to start rewriting and editing. The manuscript is at 126 Microsoft Word pages which is equal to about 210 softcover book pages (depending on size, font, etc.,). I’ve started rewriting the preface. The goal with the preface is to shorten it 20% and it looks like I might be able to exceed that. I’ve also started to put in the appropriate footnotes. And then it struck me: I can’t remember all the formats! It’s been eight years since I’ve done this sort of stuff. Same for editing. I haven’t edited anything in these last eight years either. Rusty. Of course, the goal is to get professional editors to go through everything. But the goal also is to get it to the very best of my ability before getting outside help. Junk in, junk out, as they say. And if you’re wondering, no, my ‘academic’ writing isn’t the same as my ‘blogging’ writing. Too bad. Because my ‘blogging’ writing actually has some good things going for it. It’s short. It’s fairly concise. It’s readily understandable. At least that’s what Yoast SEO reports: ‘The copy scores 70 on the Flesch Reading Ease test which is considered easy to read’. I’m pretty sure if I fed my manuscript into WordPress Yoast SEO it would yell at me for making things too difficult to read. Time to change that. I think I might try too hard to appear clever in my academic writing. This is where having a blog sorta helps me out.

Off to the Library to Find Editing Books

So, at the library I found four interesting volumes. And on the bookshelf at home, there was a good old standby. Here’s the library picks:

Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. I’ve never read this before. But everyone swears by it. It’s the only book to appear on every top 10 list. And it’s short. Actually, all these style guides are short. Maybe that’s some sort of hint to would-be writers. Some famous writers read this volume yearly. Wow. Here’s the back blurb:

Making ‘every word tell’ is what The Elements of Style is all about. This famous manual, now in a fourth edition, has conveyed the principles of plain English style to millions of readers. It is probably the only style manual ever to appear on the best seller lists.

Whether you write letters, term papers, or novels, the ‘little’ book, as it has come to be called, can help you communicate more effectively. It will show you how to cut deadwood out of your sentences; enliven your prose with the active voice; put statements in a positive for; approach style by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, simplicity.

The original ‘little’ book was written by William Strunk, Jr., late professor of English at Cornell, for use by his students. Years later, one of the most illustrious of those students, E.B. White, prepared an edition of the book for the general public, revising the original and contributing a chapter of his own that sought to lead the reader beyond mere correctness toward distinction in English style.

I like it. The goal of writing is to ‘communicate’ with readers. Put this way, I’m beginning to understand why simplicity and concision are desirable: it’s just like talking with people. Who appreciates a conversation when someone is hammering them over their head with huge words and sentences which never end?

Number two is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. I used to have the 5th ed. Now it’s up to the 7th ed.! This volume has all the goods on the format footnotes go in, how to do abbreviations, and so on. Maybe it will even tell me how to differentiate between ‘which’ and ‘that’: that’s something I’ve forgotten how to do! Here’s the back blurb:

The MLA Handbook is published by the Modern Language Association, the authority on MLA documentation style. Widely adopted by universities, colleges, and secondary schools, the MLA Handbook gives step-by-step advice on every aspect of writing research papers, from selecting a topic to submitting the completed paper.

The seventh edition is a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to research and writing in the online environment. It provides an authoritative account of MLA documentation style for use in student writing, including simplified guidelines for citing works published on the Web and new recommendations for citing several kinds of works, such as digital files and graphic narratives.

Number three is The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. Here’s its blurb:

For over twenty-five years, The Canadian Writer’s Handbook has provided invaluable guidance on all aspects of the writing process, from the mechanics of building effective sentences and paragraphs to the intricacies of writing, formatting, and documenting full-length research papers. Building on the foundations laid by William Messenger and Jan de Bruyn, Judy Brown and Ramona Montagnes, both of the respected UBC Writing Centre, have updated this comprehensive and authoritative text.

This volume has MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE style guides for citing references. I can compare it with the MLA Handbook to come up with a style appropriate for my book.

Last there is my own dog eared copy of Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams. Here’s what its back blurb has to say:

This acclaimed book is a master teacher’s tested program for turning clumsy prose into clear, powerful, effective writing. A logical, expert, easy-to-use plan for achieving excellence in expression, Style offers neither simplistic rules nor endless lists of dos and don’ts. Rather, Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb explain how to be concise, how to be focused, how to be organized.

Filled with realistic examples of good, bad, and better writing, and step-by-step strategies for crafting a sentence or organizing a paragraph, Style does much more than teach mechanics: it helps anyone who must write clearly and persuasively transform even the roughest of drafts into a polished work of clarity, coherence, impact, and personality.

Wow! I am SOLD! And, believe it or not, I find books on style actually quite entertaining to read.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am editing and re-Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Philosophy for Beginners – Osborne

Between you and me, Philosophy for Beginners by Richard Osborne and illustrated by Ralph Edney has probably been sitting on the bookshelf since its publication date of 1992. There’s a vague recollection of having had purchased it at Munro’s Books years ago. That was before the time of Before the time of ABE books. The good old days when I used to wander around the bookshops listening to the obligatory baroque chamber orchestras playing through bookstore loudspeakers. And buying more books than I was reading. Have to remember this in the future: balance input with output. Or better yet, consider the public library as an extension of your personal bookshelf. We all pay the taxes. Might as well derive benefit from it. And best of all, no philosopher is required to prove that theorem!

Philosophy for Beginners Cover Illustration

Philosophy for Beginners Cover Illustration

Philosophy for Beginners Cover Illustration

The ‘cosmic’ look of the Greek philosopher in the background is fitting. It must be Thales. And it appears the philosophers closer to modernity get bigger and colour as well (i.e. Nietzsche and nice use of foreshortening on his clenched fist). Three guesses to the philosopher smashing the painting? If you said J.J. Rousseau, you are absolutely right! That must be a reference to his First Discourse on the Arts where he said that all art is decadent. And on the top left that’s Pythagoras, who’s looking a little cross-eyed staring into his magical dodecahedron.

The art is really top notch as well. Did I ever tell you I used to be a comic collector? Not big time. But enough to go down to the comic book store every other paycheque and pick something up. Mostly Marvel comics. So nothing ‘serious’ like Image or DC. But the soap opera Spider-Man stories still have a place in my heart.

Philosophy for Beginners Back Blurb

Why does philosophy give some people a headache, others a real buzz, and yet others a feeling that it is subversive & dangerous? Why do a lot of people think philosophy is totally irrelevant? What is philosophy anyway?

The ABCs of philosophy-easy to understand but never simplistic.

Beginning with basic questions posed by the ancient Greeks-‘What is the world made of?’ ‘What is man?’ ‘What is knowledge?’ ‘What is good and evil?’-this guide traces the development of these questions as the key to understanding how western philosophy developed over the last 2,500 years.

Nice and to the point.

The Book

Its nice to read these summary books. And the visual comic format is inviting after a long day. Summary books give you the whole picture quickly and identify points of further interest. For example, I’d like to read something by Willard Quine, a contemporary American philosopher. Also J.S. Mill. He argued that things like pleasure could not be quantified like coal. This is one of my arguments in Paying Melpomene’s Price so it’d be interesting to see if my argument would be made stronger from seeing what he has to say. And the book reminded me that I must absolutely get with the times and read some Derrida, though I think he’s a bum. It’s always easy destroying meaning and form. Building it is harder. And more noble. As a summary, Osborne and Edney have done a terrific job. I would definitely check out others in this series.

The Comics

Here’s some of my favourites, in chronological order.



He’s too busy philosophizing to defend the Empire! He was one of the good emperors but its a funny caricature at any rate.



Here’s Spinoza arguing with Hobbes! Spinoza is so involved with Euclidean geometry that he has become a collage of boxes and triangles!



Here is Daffy Duck interviewing Hegel’s imperial eagle. Or maybe it’s a fictitious heraldic animal of sorts. The joke must be that Hegel was an avowed Prussian nationalist.

CS Peirce 1

CS Peirce 1

CS Peirce 2

CS Peirce 2

I don’t know much about C.S. Peirce, but as you can tell, he’s an early American philosopher out in the Wild West! I like his actions speak louder than words philosophy!



Haha, even though I don’t like Derrida, it’s funny watching his robot ‘deconstruct’ its structuralist adversary. If only it were the other way around!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and these are the light hearted hours of Doing Melpomene’s Work.