Paperless office … Ha, ha! Gotcha traitor.

Angela Aspen was willing to sacrifice her life.

“Take me instead of Princely Pine, I am softwood too,” she begged but the man in the big boots – aka Mr. Tablet Logger- consulted his handheld computer  and placed an orange neon sticker on Princely’s trunk.

What could she do? She had grown very fond of Princely. They did not share DNA nor did she have papers formalising their relationship but Princely was as much her offspring as if he had grown out of her roots like one of her many clones. She and he were joined by their hearts which were now being ripped apart by Princely’s imminent dislodgement from his spot a few feet away from the edge of her canopy which was his home all his life.

“Human beings seldom fulfil their promises, except those that lead to destruction of lives by war or by wreaking the ecosystem,” Angela Aspen cried.

Judas Hangs Himself

Judas Hangs Himself (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She was inconsolable. Her leaves, renowned for fluttering and trembling ever since Judas Iscariot hanged himself from one of her foreparents, were now quaking out of control.

Panicky and in pain!

She had given Princely hope every time Mr. Tablet Logger passed their way. Countless times, she reassuringly told the pine that he was young and by the time he was matured enough to go to the pulp mills, the humans would have long fulfilled their promise, thanks to digital technology.

Her thoughts drifted back to the day of the promise, about three decades ago when as a sapling she felt the growing excitement and hopefulness that was sweeping through the tree farm. She knew very important news was being shared because all the trees from every family in Tucky Timberlands- the Oaks, Birches, Spruces, Pines, Firs, Larches and Hemlocks – no matter their heights or flexibility were bending sequentially to each other like sports fans doing the Mexican wave.

Angela had heard about the wave from the gigantic elders who could see into the stadium, a few miles away. They had seen jubilant soccer and cricket fans celebrating in that fashion and had practised the motion. Afterwards whenever the wind blew strong, the whole of Tucky Timberlands ‘Mexican waved’ in celebration of any event that suited their fancy, for example the change of a season or the achievement of a goal by a tree or animal.

That day in question, they were Mexican waving, unaided by wind but spurred on by a desire to spread gripping news. She wondered what could be so important.

Eventually the news wave reached Angela. She learned that the only friendly and trustworthy human beings they all knew, the nature lovers, had been talking about a new development that would lead to a paperless office. The environmentalists, who were camping in the woods, said the development was causing much talk and their peers were joining leading business and financial experts to debate the implications that night on Radio 640.1.

Bob Braden plots the future of the paperless o...

On the dot of 9:00 p.m. when the campers turned on their battery-powered radio, every tree leaned in to get the facts first-hand and they cheered at the prediction that a paperless office was only a few years away. This, they heard, would be accompanied by recycling programmes worldwide that would see used paper transformed into usable materials.

The woods erupted in thunderous applause; branches and leaves snapped, breaking away from their hosts in glee. Everyone felt suddenly free; all the other plants and all creatures in the woods resorted to their primal sounds of merriment as they joined the tumultuous rejoicing. So loud was the noise that people in the nearby towns and villages called the meteorological office asking whether a typhoon was in progress.  The humans did not address him but Bullish Birch proffered an apt reply: “Fewer trees will be destroyed, the ecosystem MUST rejoice.”

But today, sapling Angela Aspen had grown into  “Disappointed tree” Angela Aspen and yet again she was mourning loss. She bowed her top so low that like Judas she kissed the clones that look up from her roots.  It was an accidental kiss of betrayal that happened because she was so ashamed to have believed mankind’s promises. She had only done so because the environmentalists were so positive about the outcome of man’s technological inventions.

Now she wanted to give up. She had grown weary of gaining and losing companions. Oh, how she had betrayed Princely Pine and all the trees that looked up to her for advice and hope. She cried out loudly, her voice echoing in the distant: “Take me! Take me! I have gained Judas’ character, I have caught his virus.”

But the logger with the big boots and tablet ignored her pleas. He moved on to chat with a worker in green overalls who displayed the company’s logo proudly on his left breast.

Princely saw Angela’s pain and opened his branches to form a specially conduit.  Normally when the wind filtered this special intertwining of branches, a cheerful tune would fill the woods and Angela would chuckle loudly and dance. But Princely’s unhappiness was so great that his branches responded lethargically and the song that escaped was a haunting dirge. More tears slid down Angela’s bark creating a pool of loneliness, desolation and hopelessness  that covered many of her clones.

The willowy aspen was almost friendless. Over the years, saplings were planted or they sprung up; they matured, were felled and carted off to become paper, lumber or fuels. But she remained to produce clones for Tucky Timberlands. Some said she was lucky but she felt she was a Judas and today underlined the fact that she was a helpless traitor like him.

The situation was hopeless for all trees in the farm, Angel thought.  She had reached that conclusion, a few days ago when a strong wind swayed her head so she got a peek into Tucky Timberlands’ office.

It was cluttered. Several stacks of paper documents were piled high on desks. There were also scores of files filled with paper receipts, bills and contracts as well as lots of containers of pencils and pens. The volume of paper bothered her most.  She had seen more paper in that one five-second peek than she had seen in the same office many years ago when she lived next door in the  nursery as a seedling.

In addition, the aspen had overheard a nature lover lamenting that nowadays every house had a computer and printer and householders were always printing something. He had added that every person who could write a sentence was calling him or herself an author and the number of self-published books was growing exponentially. Thanks to the same technology that was the promised route to  ‘paperlessness’.

So Angela knew the inevitable was happening. Her days with Princely Pine were ending. She thought about falling on Mr Tablet-Logger, as his punishment for sending Princely to the pulp mills. The logger was no match for her; she could take him down any time.

Aspens in Autumn, Elk Mountain Ranch, COAs she considered her next move, Angela saw Mr. Tablet Logger looking intently at his computer.  “They will need fewer workers, soon,” he said.

“It says here that ‘Google and a group of other  companies are encouraging users to help the environment  while saving  time and money this year by adopting a New Year’s resolution to go  paperless’.  The Paperless Coalition, which also includes partners HelloFax, Manilla,  HelloSign, Expensify, Xero, and Fujitsu ScanSnap,  is asking users to sign an  electronic pledge to go paperless in 2013,  and invite others to do the same.”

“I know this will mean fewer of us. Demand is going to drop more than in the 2009 recession when newspaper sales fell and things looked shaky for the industry here. Fujitsu is also bringing out the latest version of their ScanSnap line. Say it will bring the paperless office closer to reality.   Fewer workers, layoffs  … ” Mr. Tablet Logger grumbled unhappily.

He looked grim and afraid, so Angela roared with laughter as she imagined him getting his comeuppance. She was so excited that she didn’t hear his companion, Tory retort: “Yes? Heard that before!”

Here it says that ‘before encouraging people to go paperless, and particularly inferring that electronic services are better for the environment, Google and others need to examine their own impacts and perhaps might reflect that, on balance, print and paper can be a sustainable way to communicate’,” Tory countered.

“It is big business against big business, you think they will ever be a paperless office?  No, not unless trees get up and form they own multinational corporations.” He put his iPhone into his back pocket and walked towards Princely armed with a chain saw.

(P.S. Hi readers… here is my attempt at writing fiction. It was motivated by the paperless announcement. Tell me what you think. Criticism will help me grow. I am listening.)

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Squarely overworked & overused

“Picture-square?  Pic-ture-squ-are?”  He dragged out the word.

“I can’t believe it!” he added. I was dumbstruck.

Holding a photo aloft, he cried: “Look at this; you surely can’t miss the vibrant colours, the sharp reds, browns and oranges that spell the variety that mark the clay soils of the Scotland District?”  He moved his head slowly from side to side, sighing at measured intervals, and suddenly exclaimed, “This is it; this is it!”

The ‘it’ was a close-up photo of one of the fruit laden trees that grew along the District. A yellow-breasted robin sucking on a large fully ripen orange-red mango brought alive the photo.

“Check out, that rich juice running down this mango and escaping that bird, I can taste and smell the sweetness of the fruit, by just looking at it?

“Can’t you? Then why do you describe my scenes as picture-square, every week. My photos are graphic in their story-telling and they aren’t even square.” he exploded in belly shaking laughter at his own lame joke.

I was relieved.  My confusion over ‘picture-square’ was cleared and the tirade ended but the lessons remain today. I, a junior reporter then, had failed to complement his pictoral portrayal of Barbados’ countryside with energetic writing. Instead I had opted for laziness, for overworking words and phrases.

My colleague died many years ago, but thinking of him now, reminds me of his speeches about cliché behaviour. Any overused activity or notion was enough for him to reach for a soapbox.  I recall him speaking to me about the Barbadian view that workmates often pay you tearful tributes at your funeral but almost immediately afterwards, wipe you from their memories. That is a myth, he said.  I know because I remember Charlie, sometimes when I see a large dog, for these animals starred in his life; and when writing an article, that demands painting a scene with my words, his playful chiding comes into sharp focus.

As I recall that day, I note too that stereotyping is clique-ish at the core. It is a sign of laziness that we do not seek an adequate knowledge of someone, but rather blanket him/her under standardized group and expect him to behaviour in a prescribed manner. Thus we say: he lives in  ‘x’ neighbourhood therefore he is involved in crime or will be involved in crime; she is from a certain race, so she is a lady.

Nothing is wrong with using well-placed cliches, or regular phrases, but it takes skill to do so with impact.

I have pet phrases though, like telling people that “I will not peep under myself” when they urge me to do something I consider as second guessing myself.  I feel no other words can snap the images I want to send, with the precision that this phrase does.  In any case, my pet phrases are part of my informal signature that also vividly conveys my feelings to my friends.  However, I will not be tempted to say these expressions are also picturesque; I am fighting my addiction with that word.