HOW I SURVIVED HAVING MY MAN BITS SLAPPED AROUND

Or The Need to Make Your Story Heroes Step Out of Comfort Zones

I am not sure about you, but every time I go on a cruise, I feel as if a cruise fairy godmother has touched my head with her wand and turned me into a cow and made me a member of a herd of cattle. Hours before you step onto the ship, you wait at the holding area, after which you are herded to a row of counters where you receive what they call — your Sea Pass. This is a card that serves as your cabin key as well as a card that you can charge to, for any purchases you make when you are on board the ship. Once you receive the card, you are then herded along the gangplank where you are met at the ship entrance, after which you submit your passports after which you are directed to a location on the same floor where you will receive a mandatory safety demonstration, in case, God Forbid, the ship does a titanic and you are in danger of floundering in icy cold waters. Once you are on board the cruise ship, and the one which I went was called SPECTRUM OF THE SEAS, you can download an app which will inform you of the activities that you can enjoy as well as all the venues where you can have free food.

I went for 3 days and two nights and this was roughly what I did throughout the three days.

Eat.

Sleep.

Watch tv.

Eat.

Watch a magic show.

Eat.

Eat more.

Learn how to fold towels.

Eat even more.

There were free pizzas, free hotdogs, and the breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets at Level 14, were stocked with meats, seafood, pastries, fruits, and juices, enough to serve about 5000 people on board the ship. I was so stuffed with food that to make space in my body, my arteries and veins had to clear some blood to make room for more meats, more seafood, more pizza, more hot dogs, and more juice.

This was not my first cruise though.

I had been on cruises before. And the experience reminded me of that Pixar movie Wall-E, where men and women in the future were so pampered by robots that their brains turned into a collective mush while their bellies grew rounder. The first few times I went on a cruise, I brought along a novel or two to read but though my eyes could take in the words, the meaning of the sentences began to slowly curdle and congeal into an indecipherable mess. It exhausted my food-sated brain just to unravel three sentences. And so I gave up bringing books on a cruise. I tried to do some writing, thinking that finally, here was a chance to not let the daily grind of office work get to you. Now you can simply sit in your cabin and write or work out new ideas for a story, but after the first day, the consumption of free pizzas brought about an insidious torpor that crept over my brain, dulling it so much that all I could do was –

Eat.

Watch tv.

Eat more.

But this time around, I decided to do something different.

I would participate in an activity.

I would be active. I resolved not to be a passive receiver of food and entertainment.

I decided I would queue up to do something called the FLOW RIDER.

This is a big square rubber tub that slopes at an upward angle. At the bottom of the square, jets of water shoot forth, creating a fast-moving stream of water that surges upwards.

To ride the flow, in the flow rider, I had to lie down on the water, keep my elbows on the board, while gripping the left and right edge of the surfboard with my left and right hand. Water flowed past me in a craze. I was supposed to glance at the instructor who would tell me to move either left or right. This was done by pushing upwards with your left hand, as if you are steering a wheel, if you wish to move to the right, and then pushing up with your right, if you wish to slide to the left.

The first time I did it, the surfboard swivelled, turned ninety degrees to the water flow, and immediately I was swept up to the back of the tub and flipped on my back. It did not matter if I liked it or not, the waves were so relentless that I just surrendered to being flipped upwards like a turtle.

But I did not give up.

I went back down. Gripped the surfboard. Began to grasp the idea of pushing up with either my left or right hand and was able to adjust the pressure and control the movement. But my body slid down until half of it dangled off the board.

Causing my poor testicles to be continuously slapped by surging ripples of water.

This rhythmic slap-slap was far from pleasant. Add to that anxiety was the fear that the water pressure may be strong enough to rip my swimming trunks down and off my legs. You could not imagine my relief when the instructor finally said my time was up.

I stood up.

My trunks were intact.

My man bits were slightly bruised but none the worse for wear.

I did it.

I rode the flow.

More importantly, I stepped out of my comfort zone. You must realize that this was not something I usually do on a cruise ship. I have always regarded people who participate in these activities as a tad too “touristy” — if that is even a word — for my taste. I have always refused to join the “herd activities”. This time around, I figured, what the hell, there is no harm trying.

It did really look fun.

And once I did it, I had no regret. The exhilaration was intense. I felt transported back to childhood times when as a boy, I would run to the beach and mess around with the waves, for no other reason than it was a fun thing to do.

Much later, when I was resting in my cabin, I began to think, as I always do, how my flow rider experience could have anything to do with storytelling.

And it struck me that as writers, to move a story forward, we should ensure that our protagonists in our stories take that important first step outside their comfort zones.

And experience discomfort.

Because when characters experience discomfort, be it in a situation where they must rely on their wits to navigate pitfalls, they learn new lessons about themselves. They bring to light hidden aspects of their characters. And with this new understanding, they move closer to fulfilling their potential. Like for example, in the classic boxing movie, Rocky.

Rocky realized by end of the movie that what he truly wanted was not to win the boxing match but the love of his girlfriend. All Rocky had to prove to himself was that he could “go the distance” and keep moving forward every time he was knocked down. It was love that drove him to his final lesson. But first, he had to step out of his comfort zone. He had to face Apollo.

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is not easy. But it is an ability that one can train in oneself. You don’t have to take giant leaps. Just as you train for a marathon by running smaller distances, so you can train your ability to step out of your comfort zone in small steps.

For you, it may be walking a different route back to your home.

For me, it was getting down on the Flow Rider.

Getting tossed about and having my man bits slapped around, was not comfortable, but at least I came away with a small lesson in storytelling.

To say the hero in your story has grown…

First make the hero step out of his comfort zone.

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Andrew Ngin

Man In The Arena . Once a lecturer. Written television, films, short stories. Older. Singaporean. Still writing. Always with love