Monthly Archives: August 2020

Almost Freedom 45

You don’t know your value until you put it on the table. Here’s a story, a true story that played out this month. I work construction. I’m a project manager on a team that builds highrises, hospitals, schools, old folks’ homes, you name it. At the beginning of August, I gave my notice: I would stay on as long as the company wanted, but not past February 2021, the completion date of my current project. Why? I’m 45. There are many years left to build buildings.

Here’s the reason: when you talk to the old timers, they’ll tell you all the things they wish they’d done different. None of these things involves working more hours at the office or working longer. There’re books for me to read. Maybe another book for me to write. There’s my work in theatre. There are my hobbies: kickboxing, cycling, running, the gym. And now yoga and backpacking. I work because of a fear of running out of money. But you don’t need that much to achieve your dreams. And, more often, when you have more, it prevents you from achieving your dreams.

Look at Cus D’Amato. He invented the peek-a-book style of boxing. He coached three heavyweight champions of the world, including Mike Tyson. Every day, he did what he loved. By all accounts, he led the best of lives. When he died, all he had in his name was the station wagon he used to drive his fighters to the gym. I would like to be more like him. He didn’t worry about the money. He worried about doing exactly what he needed to be doing. That’s why he has a legacy.

When I gave notice, however, my boss made me an unexpected offer. This is the part about not knowing your value until you put it on the table. Here was the offer: a) full-time too much?–then go to part-time, you decide how many hours a week and which days, b) over 10% raise, and c) work from home or remotely. For the last month I’ve been torn. Some friends say: “It’s an incredible offer, you have to at least try it.” Other friends say: “If you can, get the hell out.” My friends outside the construction industry would be more likely to give the former advice. My friends in the industry, however, would tend to give the latter advice. This last month, the decision’s been tearing me apart. To go for legacy on a threadbare budget or to sell my soul for a measure of comfort? Or could I do both?

In October, I start part-time. The tragedy is that understanding comes after choice, sometimes many years and decades after.

Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.

Review of Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+ Cycling Panniers

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

My twenty plus year old Serratus panniers finally wore out (on the bottom of the photo, they used to be black). They were maybe 17 litres a side for 34 litres of combined carrying capacity. I cycle to get groceries once a week, and I found that two 17 litre panniers plus a 25 litre backpack did it most of the time, but on weeks where I was getting bulky items, another trip would be required. I’d also like to put more weight into the panniers rather than in the backpack. It’s just a more comfortable ride not having milk jugs and tubs of ice cream on your back. And it would be nice being able to lie apple pies down flat. They don’t like being jostled around when placed on their side. Yes, there is room for me to eat a little healthier. But at least I burn some of it off cycling. So, I was looking for a large set of panniers. But the catch was that I was also looking for a lightweight set of panniers. No four pound panniers, thank you.

The choices came down to Tailfin’s SL22, Ortlieb’s Back-Roller City, and Axiom’s Seymour Oceanweave P55+. Tailfin’s SL22 is the lightest of the bunch: 1200 grams and fully waterproof. But $380 (CDN) for a set. They hold 22 litres per side for 44 litres total storage. Like the Tailfin SL22, Ortlieb’s Back-Roller City is a roll-top pannier, meaning you fold the top to close it. The Back-Roller City holds 20 litres per pannier for 40 litres total storage and weigh 1520 grams. They are Ortlieb’s lightest 40 litre panniers and are fully waterproof. Axiom’s Seymour Oceanweave P55+ holds a combined 55 litres. Since they are a drawstring closure with a top flap that buckles down with two adjustable straps, it is easy to overload them for 55+ litres of storage. Like the Ortliebs, they also weight 1520 grams (3.35 pounds) for a pair. But they hold much more than the Back-Rollers. In Canada, the Ortliebs cost $170. The Axioms are also priced at $170 a set. They are both much less than the Tailfin SL22, which, at $380, are over double. What an incredible premium to be lightweight.

The first bag at the local bike shop (LBS) I saw was the ubiquitous Ortlieb Back-Roller City. For being fully waterproof, it was lighter than I thought. The roll-top design, however, does not allow much room for overpacking. Three rolls and then buckle down is standard. For larger loads, you could get away with two rolls. That’s not very much extra room. And, while 20 litres a side is spacious, it’s not spacious enough to lay an apple pie or a black forest cake down flat. On top of this, I like to leave panniers on the bike. Not only does my bike do club rides, it’s also a commuting bike and a grocery bike. The Ortliebs, with their distinctive design and enduring popularity may be a target for thieves. I never saw the Tailfin SL22 (not stocked at the LBS, mail order only), but it is also a roll-top design. With an extra litre a side, it wasn’t going to be much bigger than the Back-Roller City panniers.

When I saw the Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+, I thought: “Wow, this is big!” With the drawstring closure and the flap that buckles down with adjustable straps, you can pile another foot of stuff on top of their nominal height. Here’s a photo of a 4 litre milk jug with a 750 ml bottle of wine sitting on top of it. It’s always hard in photos to see exactly how big things are, but this gives you an idea. These are deep panniers. If you overloaded the pannier to maximum capacity, you can pile another foot of groceries above the top of the bottle of wine. Of course, at this point, you’re going to have weight and balance problems driving the bike!

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+

I bought the Axiom Seymour Oceanweave P55+ panniers. They are incredibly light for a 55 litre pannier. Part of this is that they are water-resistant, not waterproof. Axiom has a Monsoon line, also made from their Oceanweave fabric, but thicker. It is fully waterproof. But heavier. If I need to transport something in heavy rain for more than twenty minutes, I’d put it in a plastic grocery bag or a dry sack. Easy. The Axiom Seymour Oceanweave panniers come in 22, 35, and 55 litre (per pair) sizes. They will appeal to people looking for a no-nonsense and lightweight pannier that can be left on the bike without too much fear of theft. The Oceanweave fabric is also a selling point.

Ever go down to the beach of the docks and see busted up fishing line floating around? The fishing line that all sorts of otters and turtles get themselves stuck in? Fishing line floats up all the time in the beaches and docks around Vancouver, where cycling gear company Axiom is based. But what we see on the beaches is just a fraction of the problem. There’re football field sized masses of fishing line floating in the oceans. Now fishing line is made with polyester threads. So are bicycle panniers. This got Axiom’s brand manager Andrew Belson thinking: could fishing line be recycled into material to make panniers? This was the beginning of a five year R&D project to create Oceanweave, a textile made from reclaimed fishing nets.

In the end, Belson and Axiom Gear found a way to recycle fishing line to make the Oceanweave fabric at a cost just a fraction more than what it would have cost to have made the material new. The important thing, however, is, that 75% less crude oil is used to produce Oceanweave than to produce new fabric. And, what is more, now there is an incentive for companies to go out to “harvest” these football field sized masses of fishing line floating in the oceans. This is win for marine life (which gets stuck in the nets), people hoping to make a difference by cleaning up fishing line (there’s now an economic incentive to collect it), and environmentally conscious cyclists.

What I hear is that backpack makers, clothing companies, and other companies that use fabrics have been in touch with Axiom to enquire about their Oceanweave fabric. Oceanweave has only been around for three years. Maybe this is the start of something great? Well, each time I use my panniers, I can have that feel good feeling.

Oh yes, I should add the mounting mechanism is first class. The rack clips adjust to different diameter rack tubes with the turn of a screwdriver. Lots of adjustment is possible. Easy, takes seconds to adjust. The distance between the rack clips is, unlike on Ortlieb and other panniers, not adjustable. If Axiom were to have made it adjustable, they would have needed to add bars for the clips to slide back and forth. This just means more weight. I like Axiom’s lighter design. I had no issues with heel strike while cycling. The panniers were mounted onto a conventional looking Blackburn EX-1 rear rack. On the bottom of the bag, there’s an adjustable arm that slides onto the rack tube to prevent the bag from bouncing around. This is adjustable with a Phillips screwdriver as well. It worked fine for me, and it will likely work fine for you as well. In a few weeks, I’ll be swapping out my Blackburn rack for a Tubus Airy rack. I expect this to work just fine as well. The Oceanweave line of panniers is not only a great product, but a great story as well. A good buy. Now I can have my apple pie and eat is as well.

Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.

Review of NEW DRAMATURGIES – Mark Bly

Routledge, 2020, 121 pages

Reading Bly’s book was a special treat. Here’s the story of how I came across his wonderful book. The National New Play Network (NNPN) invited me to speak at their “We’ve Been Here Before: Theater & Crisis” panel earlier this year. The panel took place during the pandemic and was live-streamed on Zoom. With over 300 people watching, I must admit I was a little nervous. But it was well worth it: one of the folks tuning in was Mark Bly. Sometimes fortune smiles on you. He was interested in what I had to say and got my contact info from Jess Hutchinson, NNPN’s engagement manager. Mark and I struck up a dialogue and exchanged books: I sent him a copy of my theory of tragedy: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected and he sent me New Dramaturgies: Strategies and Exercises for the 21st Century Playwriting.

In New Dramaturgies, Bly presents nine exercises to unleash the beast within the playwright. Are you too focused on writing about personal experiences? No problem. Try “Bly’s myth exercise” and see if your writing takes on a more universal and timeless perspective. Are you experiencing writer’s block? No problem. Try “Bly’s sensory writing exercise” and see how touch, smell, taste, hearing, and the other senses unlock a train of words, rolling and rambling over one another. Are you worried that the forward momentum of your play has stalled? No problem. Try “Bly’s character’s greatest fear” exercise and kickstart the action. As Holly Hepp-Gálvan, one of Bly’s former students, puts it, these exercises “not only get writers writing” but “set them on fire.” The excellent thing about this book is that Bly gives you successful applications of his exercises by his former students, many of which have become top names on the stage and on the screen. That way you can see the exercise in motion. I love it.

When I was younger, I thought to name something after yourself was a prideful thing, something to be avoided. With this mindset, if you were starting a car company, you would name the company after an agile animal such as “Jaguar” instead of naming it after yourself like how Henry Ford did. Now I’m older, I’ve changed my mind. Putting your name on your work gets you skin in the game. When your name is on it, you tell the world you stake your reputation on its quality. Your name, after all, is on it. For example, if you were considering two similar gyms, which one would you instinctively trust more: “The Forge World Class Gym” or “Tom Yankello’s World Class Gym”? Why this digression? All the playwriting exercises in the book are in Bly’s name: “Bly’s music memory exercise,” “Bly’s Einstein’s dreams exercise,” and so on. I like that. Bly has skin in the game. When he says his exercises work, he has a stake in it: his name.

I think of this book as a series of nine studies or études, similar to the Etudes Liszt and Chopin wrote for the piano. Like Liszt and Chopin’s Etudes, they are short exercises that work on specific techniques. And just like Liszt and Chopin, Bly has condensed many years of learning into these Etudes. Although it’s a short book, it’s long on the gems. Here’s one concept Bly recounts (quoting neuroscientist Eagleman) that fascinates me to no end:

There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is the moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

When I read this, an epiphany struck me: the third death is the death I fear. Why had I never thought of this before?–a good reason to pick up Bly’s book.

How has New Dramaturgies influenced me? It’s taught me that dramaturgs approach the text unlike academics. My teachers in the classics taught me: if it’s not in the text, it doesn’t exist. You’re not allowed to question concepts, ideas, and realities that lie beyond the text. For dramaturgs and playwrights, however, it’s different. They need to ask the questions that academics shun. They need to ask what drives the characters, and–if the answer isn’t in the text–they need to come up with their own answers. This reminds me of a series of conversations I had with director, playwright, and actor Tony Nardi. He explodes the writer/actor dichotomy by arguing that a writer, in writing, acts and that an actor, in acting, writes. Bly’s book has taught me that fascinating insights happen when you go beyond the text by asking questions such as what a character’s greatest fear or pleasure is. When an actor acts or when a critic interprets, their performance is more powerful when they go beyond the text. When writers go beyond the text, the become actors. And when actors go beyond the text, they become writers.

The series of playwright exercises in New Dramaturgies gave me a crucial insight for which I am very grateful. As part of the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwriting Competition, each year I workshop the winning play. As the jurors get closer to announcing the winner, I’ve been thinking of how to run this year’s workshop. I saw how Bly’s exercises, by focusing on a fundamental aspect of playwriting, allowed the play as a whole to become what it must be. Then it occurred to me: the fundamental aspect of playwriting I would focus on in the workshop would be risk. In the risk theatre workshop, we would ask questions such as: what is at stake, why a character goes all-in on an uncertain outcome, why characters up the ante, the role of the unexpected, and so on. Many times, when you’re working on a problem and can’t come up with an answer, if you keep reading, the answer will come to you. Such was the case reading New Dramaturgies.

Book Blurb

In New Dramaturgies: Strategies and Exercises for 21st Century Playwriting, mark Bly offers a new playwriting book with nine unique play-generating exercises. These exercises offer dramaturgical strategies and tools for confronting and overcoming obstacles that all playwrights face. Each of the chapters features lively commentary and participation from Bly’s former students. They are now acclaimed writers and producers from media such as House of Cards, Weeds, Friday Night Lights, Warrior, and The Affair, and their plays appear in major venues such as the Roundabout Theatre, Yale Rep, and the Royal National Theatre. They share thoughts about their original response to an exercise and why it continues to have a major impact on their writing and mentoring today. Each chapter concludes with their original, inventive, and provocative scene generated in response to Bly’s exercise, providing a vivid real-life example of what the exercises can create. Suitable for both students of playwriting and screenwriting, as well as professionals in the field, New Dramaturgies gives readers a rare combination of practical provocation and creative discussion.

Author Blurb

Mark Bly has worked as a dramaturg, director of new play development, and associate artistic director for the Arena Stage, Alley Theatre, Guthrie Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Seattle Rep, and Yale Rep, producing over 250 plays in a career in theatre spanning more than 40 years. Bly has dramaturged Broadway productions and has been credited as being the first production dramaturg on Broadway for his work on Execution of Justice. Bly has also served as the Director of the MFA Playwriting Programs for the Yale School of Drama, Hunter College, and Fordham/Primary Stages in a nearly 30-year Teaching Artist career. He is the editor and author of The Production Notebooks: Theater in Process Volumes I & II. Bly is an active freelance dramaturg and was the recipient of the LMDA’s G.E. Lessing Award for Career Achievement in 2010 and in 2019 was honored by The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival with its most prestigious award, The Kennedy Center Medallion of Excellence.

Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s work.