thoughts, dreams, and visions

authored by john lok

i write about everything. the author is john lok.

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reflections of a journey

reflections of a journey

There are so many moments. Where to start…?

I arrived early in the morning, eager to start the day. I arrived at around 8:45am. I tend to look at my watch a lot. It’s two minutes fast.

Apparently, the personalities of people fall into several different types. I tend to focus on the tasks at hand, the progress we can make, the amount of time we do it in, how long it will take. I think this is training left over from my previous studies. I flew planes before and hiked hills. I have rarely been lost.

During our stay at Tai O, which was next to the seaside (one of many, I’ve slept in the most beautiful places around Hong Kong during this journey), Dan and Yaz conducted an exercise. We first did some daily review of our trip about our mental and physical challenges during the day. Then the discussion turned to team dynamics. If there is a team involved, there is a triangle that we need to consider. The three points of the triangle are: Team, Individual (Needs) and Task.

We were each given different scenarios, such as a family vacation, a school project, our current journey. We were asked to stand at the point on which we felt about these scenarios. For example, in the case of the school project (a team project involving multiple parties), I felt that the Task was most important. After all, we need to get good grades, right??

Other people answered differently. One team member emphasised the Team (meaning the group as a whole) during the aforementioned case. Why? She said that as long as the Team was functioning properly, the Task and Individual Needs would come together naturally.

Another answered that Individual Needs were the most important. His reasoning was that individual needs must be met before any person could be a fully functioning team member.

Awareness of my own personality and strengths and the place I take in a team has helped me think about how I can best contribute to the team.

However, I seem to have skipped ahead in time. The first day we arrived we were to set up the ketch we were to sail. The winds were light and the weather was hot. I was asked to demonstrate some basic skills on rigging boats and to lead our team in rigging the boat. I had had some experience before in sailing, so it was just a matter of familiarising myself with the peculiarities of this particular boat. At this point, I think I still felt nervous about leading so many people, but I tried not to show it. I was not particularly confident, but I didn’t know why. I think I have never had much opportunity to lead people, so I never had much practice.

We set off soon after to find that the wind had died down and we had start rowing towards our destination. RT said that it would be faster rowing if we brought down the sails, but I persisted in keeping the sails up (I was skipper at this moment) until we reached the destination as the destination was close and I felt that it would be easier to bring the sails down once we had moored at the pier (near Yim Tin Tsai). I’m not sure whether it was the best choice, but I now understand we have to live with the decisions we make. I also thought about how being a leader requires you to act – not just in the sense that the leader must do things, but also that the leader must act like a leader, in terms of expression, tone of voice and conviction.

After camping at Yim Tim Tsai, we sailed in the morning towards Tung A. The winds were light. I chose to stand back a bit and let others try helming (helping is fun!), so I was the lookout instead. Lookout duty is fun, but is also tiring at the same time. Lookouts, I feel, should be changed every half hour so that they don’t fall asleep. Perhaps on longer journeys or with more experienced crew, the lookout can switch less.

Around Jin Island I took the opportunity to be skipper. Resolute (The name of the ketch we sailed on) was different to the boats I had handled before. I have sailed Lasers and Magics, both of which handled very lightly, meaning that they were responsive to small tiller movements. Resolute was a big and heavy boat, which RT (the name of the Ketch Skipper aboard with us) described as “State of the art, fifty years ago”. It had a main mast and a mizzen mast. Fully rigged, there was a genoa, a main and a mizzen sail. The boat wouldn’t win any races, but it could have done a solid five knots at force four winds with competent crew.

I wasn’t used to this configuration as I had only sailed single mast boats before, but it was an interesting challenge to manoeuvre a big and heavy boat. I would have to use small movements and try to anticipate what the boat would do. To tack I had to use full tiller, and only after three seconds would the boat start to move towards the wind. I would also have to start straightening out the tiller just a bit after the boat faced the no go zone so that we wouldn’t face away from the wind too much.

I was given a challenge, which was to helm the boat around a small island (the name of which I forgot) which was to east side of Jin Island. I was given the choice to either do a port rounding or a starboard rounding. I decided to do a port rounding (the island to the left side of boat). Each option had its advantages and disadvantages. I decided that I wanted to do a port rounding because I did it before in a small boat. I didn’t anticipate that it would take at least five tacks in a large heavy boat from the 1960s. We managed to do it, but not without coming pretty close to the island. The skipper started up the outboard just in case.

Coming into Tung A, I had the task of steering the boat into mooring position. This is hard enough in a small boat. In a big heavy boat with 12 people aboard, this was my first time that I felt so much responsibility. I have a bad habit of trying to do everything myself. I had RT on my side saying “Delegate, delegate!”. I was trying to steer the boat and control the mizzen sail at the same time. I think sometimes I have a problem of trusting people to do things. Perhaps it’s a bit of laziness, it seems like it would be faster and easier to do it myself. Reflecting on this however, I think that it’s true that it’s more difficult in the short term to delegate and trying, but easier in the long term. I think it’s a balance. To be a better leader I must train people more and believe in their potential.

We eventually landed and started to set up camp. I am not the best at sorting out logistics and cooking, so I leave it to the other team members to sort cooking out. I take charge of setting up the tarp on the boat. We eventually finish and we go and eat.

I forget now, but I think we played a game where we had different sized balls. We were asked to pass the ball around in a certain order. We tried to pass the ball around as fast as we could. We found that we got better with practice. Yaz gave us even more balls (which were differently sized), and we were given the task of passing them around as fast as we could. We found that changing the order that we passed the balls around disrupted our rhythm and we ended up passing them around slower than we did when we followed our previous random order. Even if the whole team agrees on a new way of doing things, it may be a period of time before we get used to it and improve. This shows that teams may get stuck in “old” ways of doing things, which may not be the best or most efficient, but are the most familiar to the team, which makes it most efficient for the team.

The next day we sailed to Kiu Tsui. The wind was around force three in the middle of the day, dying down to force two in the afternoon. We sailed slowly and arrived at our destination to find the weekend people on the beach. It was shocking how many people left rubbish on the beach. From a Leave No Trace perspective, Kiu Tsui is an absolute nightmare. Also people were fishing, smoking, snorkelling and disturbing wildlife on the beach. I don’t know how much longer it can survive this abuse. I hope the people change their perspectives on wildlife and nature. There was a person dangling a sea cucumber around on a fishing line taking pictures with it. That was uncomfortable to watch.

We set up camp. In the morning we were to report to the instructors by a certain time. I tried to make sure that the whole team arrived and finished on time. I found that our team were quite slow to wake up. However we finished everything on time. Dan and Yaz brought us (me and Justin) to them and talked to us. They talked to us about how we did certain things very well, but were weaker in others. They pointed out to us that we took on tasks on our own for the team when no one in the team was doing them. This is good in a way but not so good in others. The fact is, is that if we are concentrated on the small tasks, we are unable to look at the bigger picture and make decisions. As before, it is a balance that must be achieved, between doing things for the team and stepping back and looking at the larger picture and situation of any team. As leaders, we must train and delegate duties.

We did our warm up session after. Dan led a kayak paddle familiarisation and we ran around the beach pretending to be motorcycles. That was fun. I’m stealing it for my own kayak sessions. We then did our kayak capsize drills. It was scary the first time we did it. I’ve never been trapped under a boat (thankfully) and this was the first time. The conditions were heavy and windy. We learned about weather-cocking, currents and ocean conditions. We paddled to Tung Lung Chau. I was the leader and navigator and had the responsibility of getting our team to the destination on time and safely. Luckily I am not too bad with maps and time, so we got to our destination on time with a bit of luck (the currents and winds were on our side).

We set up camp. We had an excellent dinner and we were asked to do a self-review of the team. We started talking and we had a very good discussion. It seemed that the team felt like it had achieved a lot, but still had a long way to go. We talked about how the team could be more self-motivated and how we could keep team morale up. We decided that team moral and closeness was something that could not be forced, but would develop organically. We also decided that the expectations of the instructors were interfering with our abilities as we constantly felt like we were being watched and tested. To counter this we agreed to just try our best and be ourselves as much as possible. We also felt that the communication within our team could be improved. This is a very general statement – we meant communication about team choices, food, opinions from the team. We felt that if we all talked more and opened ourselves up we could develop more trust. We were in the “Norming” state of group development, but I felt that we could do with more “Storming”, which is good for the team as well as the quality of decisions we make.

In the evening we did some self review. We were to review our Facts, Feelings, Findings and Future. Facts – everyone’s facts are different. Same for Feelings, Findings and Future. My Fact was that people don’t just wake up and are ready to go. For my team, it seemed that on average it took 20 minutes for people to wake up, brush their teeth and be ready to do things. From then on I added twenty minutes to every morning we needed to do things. My feelings were that I was very task-orientated. This meant that I get quite stressed out about meeting deadlines (or more exactly, not being able to meet deadlines). I am a pessimistic person and believe that if the worst will happen, but if it doesn’t, I’m happy. I think I also need to be able to trust other people more and believe that they can do things. It is physically impossible to do everything myself. I need to develop the ability to separate large tasks into small tasks and be able to delegate the tasks to the team.

For the Future part of the review, I decided to find a style of leadership suited to me. However as Dan said, there is no one “best” leadership style, rather the ability to adapt to the situation as needed is more important.

The next night, after the incident where Antonia and Dan were hit by a king wave and injured, was a subdued one. We cooked dinner and we talked about our different personality styles. Yazid thinks I may have a Diplomatic streak, which means that I think about the feelings of others. While this is sometimes a good trait to have, if done to excess, may lead to me appear to be weak. During our solo, Dan explained to me that there are different ways of being nice to people than not saying anything just because it may offend them. You have to believe that what you are saying is right and that it will help them in the long term, even if in the short term it may cause some conflict. The thing about Diplomats is that sometimes they may hide their true feelings or keep them suppressed. Without a suitable outlet for their emotions, they may kill themselves slowly from emotional pressure. I am aware of this now and I will try to make my feelings and beliefs known more often.

My diplomatic personality was most apparent to me after the incident where our kayaks were hit by typhoon waves and we lost some property. Several spraydecks were lost and at least three large bottles were lost. The previous night Justin had said we only needed to bring one night’s worth of supplies, including water, whereas I had heard Yazid give the instruction to carry everything up to Mr. Wong’s store. Out of avoiding conflict, I agreed with Justin even when I had heard a different instruction. From that moment onwards, I have learned to trust my own judgement and be confident in voicing out my views.

When we did our Solo, I thought about how we all perceive things differently. Every person has their own personality, there are no good or bad personalities, just different takes on the same thing, which is life.

I thought about how I did not love myself fully and how for much of my life I have doubted myself. I have had trouble accepting who I am, but I realised that we can contribute most to the world after we have accepted who we are, the good, the bad. Once we know ourselves we know what direction we need to move towards. For much of my life I have judged myself by external standards such as exams, tests and grades. But the hardest “test” or stick by which you can measure yourself are your own standards.

Solo was a good and eye-opening experience for me. The next day we started our kayak journey towards the gold coast. For me the kayak journey was physically challenging. We were cold and tired and hot and sunburnt. I am happy we made the journey.

When we arrived at Gold Coast I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. In general as I mentioned before I tend to enjoy completing tasks that have been set. If my life were a series of goals I could tick off, I think it would be easier for me. The hard part then, is deciding what those tick boxes are going to be. There are also some things that can’t be “ticked off” since they are so qualitative e.g. be a good musician. Anyway, I slept well that night.

The next morning we continued our journey. Our team as very talkative at first. I think in the beginning we had a lot of spirit. As we progressed through the hike though, we started to conserve our energy as even talking expended energy, which meant we started to talk less. However there were several things that I felt that I did that helped our team complete our challenge.

I decided that Sama should lead the group. First of all I think that if a group goes hiking we should always go at the pace of the slowest hiker. Sometimes however people are affected by their placement in the group. People who had been lagging behind would suddenly become walking machines when placed at the front of the group. I think it’s to do with confidence. My main role during the entire hiking trip was to make sure we stayed together as a team (Justin, Isaac and Fion seemed to have unlimited reserves of energy, whereas I would feel tired and say that we should rest.), and make sure that we didn’t get lost.

Luckily we only walked down the wrong path once, near Sha Tin Pass. At Sha Tin pass I felt like my leg muscles could move no more. I felt like an old man. But it was because I was expending too much energy going downhill, one step at a time. My fear of falling made going downhill extra hard as I had to be tense all the time. Luckily at Shui Long Wo Johnny gave me a few tips on walking downhill, which were to relax and let yourself fall.

I am glad that I exercised good judgement during our hiking journey. At the very least, no one got seriously injured and we managed to complete our challenge. One thing I feel that I could improve on is the ability to feel the group dynamic, to understand what the team is feeling. Sama and I talked afterwards about how she could feel the team spirit, whereas I could think of nothing but our route, how long it took to get from A to B and whether we were late or not. I hope that this will come with experience.

As I look back on what we achieved, I begin to also analyze our team and the different roles that we each took in the team.

There was a moment during the final review of our journey during which we were asked to stand on a map that we drew together of our journey together. We were to stand on the part of the map which represented our proudest and happiest moment. Each person stood at a different place, for a reason (which reflected their values), and we also drew the map differently since we put different things at the forefront of our minds. For me, the trip consisted of the names different places, how far we travelled and how long it took, how much energy was spent. This was why when I was asked to draw the map, I was focused on the map being to scale and having a properly-dimensioned map of Hong Kong which we could refer to. I also put an emphasis on the route we took. Other team members, for example, Sama and Fion thought of the journey in moments of the team coming together. When we were asked to stand on our proudest moment, I stood on OBHK (Outward Bound, Hong Kong, Base), representing the final moment of our journey, the completion. Other members of Phoenix stood on specific moments in our journey where our team was challenged the most, rather than the moment at which we completed our journey.

These facts were made apparent to me when our team met for dinner after the trip. I then began to understand why the team acted in a certain way. For example, I place timeliness and the completion of tasks as the highest of priorities. As a result I woke up earlier than we planned every morning and placed pressure on myself to perform. I think this is a part of my upbringing and it sometimes places stress/pressure on myself, but I believe it is also a good trait in certain contexts. In other contexts it may not be appropriate.

During the last part of the trip, which was the walk from East Dam to West Dam, I was surprised at how slowly the team was walking. I found out later that it was not because they were tired or that their ability was low, it was because they did not want their journey to end, as they had so much fun during the journey. It was when I found this out that I realized that I have been viewing things through a very specific perspective, when there are many different perspectives. I must try to open up my mind to these different types of perspectives.

I thought today about how I view people as well. I think I have been made aware of the fact that I view people in terms of their ability to accomplish a task, rather than just viewing them as people in themselves. I feel as though I have been trained my whole life to view things in this perspective, where the accomplishment of the goal of the first priority, and peoples feelings and emotions are secondary to the goal. But now I think I understand that sometimes the task is not as important as the people and what happens in between them. The goal and the “achievement” are just abstract ideas that we put in our head so that we may have some sense of direction, but the method and manner in which the goal is completed is also important. The value of people cannot be measured solely in their ability to accomplish an arbitrary task, rather, everyone is of value and each and everybody is valuable in their own unique way.

it’s still my home


i don’t know whether it’s me or something else, or whether it’s the place, or whether it’s a manifestation of my mind. the minute the plane lands phones start beeping and people are impatient. it’s in the air. it’s contagious. whatever it is, it fills my heart with an anxious desire to check my phone, walk faster and be more impatient.

in the long corridors with the mechanical walkways, the same old ads shout back at me like touts outside an airport. buy me, buy me, buy me, they say. here’s one with a bored looking couple standing in a fancy washroom overlooking the city. they are dressed in fashionable clothes. it’s a fucking toilet brand. can shitting be glamorous? apparently so. as long as you wear fancy clothes and your toilet is on the fifty-fifth floor of a building. the world has gone insane.

everyone seems to be walking fast. what is motivating them? they walk as if the fires of hell are on their tails. to be fair, i am infected with the same virus. the eat faster, walk faster, make money faster virus. i feel as if it rots my soul. i run down the corridor proclaiming loudly “i’m walking faster than you, bitches! what are you gonna do now??”

i feel myself slipping back into my old routines. the old vices, like old friends greeting me. “hey, drink me! i’m smoky and sweet and i’ll make you feel relaxed”. “smoke me, i taste like strawberries and old tea leaves”, “eat me, i’ll make you feel good right now.”. my coping mechanisms aren’t very good. everything in moderation, including moderation (oscar wilde).

neon globes fly past my eyes leaving fluorescent trails on my tired retinas. the manmade stars of our city glint in the distance. the train transits through the city docks, the soul of our city. the metal cranes stand guard silently.

i haven’t changed much. but i am grateful for new perspectives. we are materially rich, very much so. it’s now time to be spiritually rich too.


the wonderful series Life on Earth (1979) produced by John Sparks and narrated by David Attenborough is a wonderful example of what happens when great people work together and make something wonderful. the science is sound, the music melodic, the pictures picturesque and the sound engineering astounding.

the many and varied sounds of animals and motion pictures of their movements, behaviours from high up in the sky to deep underwater are captured with technical prowess. extreme closeups and good storytelling. an orchestra playing a different soundtrack for each animal. to think that they travelled a million miles to capture all this footage, edit and air it. applause, please.

reptiles are not really cold-blooded. they just need to absorb heat from the sunlight for their bodies to work properly. we are all descended from fish. turns out we were all a bunch of sea squirts a few hundred million years back. nature can be pretty gross. but it can also be beautiful. there is a species of ant that lives only in the acacia tree found in Africa.

think about it. a few (65-250) million years. that is a lot of time. in that time, the dinosaurs ruled and disappeared from the world, Australia separated from the Antarctic both of which in turn separated from Africa. it makes my waiting for the laundry to be finished seem like a blink of an eye. i will also die in fifty or so years. ah. such short lives we live.

the dinosaurs died out because of a sudden change in climate. some reptiles survived, such as the crocodile. the crocodile, the turtle, the nautilus and the horseshoe crab are all examples of living fossils. they have survived unchanged for millions of years.

at our current rate of living, i am not sure that humans can even make it to the million year mark. we will be but a slice of history in the rocks. perhaps a luckier, less warlike and greedy and more advanced species will look at our fossils and shake its head, proclaiming our foolishness.

being special

today i was painting the underside of a wooden house with mark when he started talking about where we are going. i told him – we all want to go to different places, but in the end we all end up in the same place.

it was the type of job you only do if you had to do it. we were crouching with no height above our heads in the fading afternoon light. we were spreading wood preservative onto the beams of a house. the paint dripped onto our skin and it does not wash off (it is basically tar mixed with turpentine). large spiders and chicken shit surrounded us and mosquitoes buzzed around our head. it was raining. the pitter patter of rain surrounded us.

for some reason we started talking about ourselves. i think it’s natural. he told me “i’ve accepted that i am completely normal and not special at all. the more normal i become, the more myself i can be, and in that way, the more special i become”.

these words had an effect on me. for a while now i have struggled with “being special”. what do i mean? i mean that i have trouble accepting the fact that i am a completely normal human being. i will likely never be very wealthy, i do not have spectacular genes or physique, i am not particularly smart or intelligent. i am not particularly handsome and i am not particularly talented at anything. i’ve always struggled with this. why am i not talented? why am i not original? why have i not created anything that is spectacular? why have i not composed fifty sonatas and fugues? where am i going? why am i here?

from now on, i will try to accept that i am completely normal. i will not try to do anything “original”. i look around and see many things and read many things. it seems that everything has been written about, everything has been drawn and all the music has been played. how do you even compete against the masters of the past?

i think now that it is not about competition. i know but a fraction of the history of mankind along with all its knowledge. i will quit being special, and just do what i like without any concern as to whether i am original, whether people will like what i do or what other people expect of me. i am tired of worrying about how “good” my work will be. fuck, just making work is fun enough already, why worry about what other people will say?

the process is the reward. may we all live wonderful and productive lives.

meet and depart

in the past two months i have spent time with many people. it is funny how people who have never met each other or have any history can meet and become good friends. have a good time, perhaps our paths will cross again in the future.

i always have this impending sense of not being good enough. there is fear i guess. but it’s also an indication, which is good. it’s your heart telling you to practice more so you don’t have to say “oh i’m not very good at it” – someone said yesterday to me, there are some people who say “oh yeah, I am good at that” – because they spend all their time practicing. i want to be one of those people. perhaps go out less, spend less money, dedicate your life, practice as hard as you can, stop going around and around in circles. what do you want to be good at? do you want to be sorry that you never practiced hard enough? it’s not too late to start now.

start now. what’s your passion?

the other side of the hedge


i read a short story recently by e.m. forster. it is a beautiful story that is about humanity and the way we choose to live. you can read it here. i’ll share some of my favourite parts with you.

the story starts off like this: “My pedometer told me that I was twenty-five; and, though it is a shocking thing to stop walking, I was so tired that I sat down on a milestone to rest”

this story is about “walking” – about how we are always trying to go “forward”. right at the beginning of the story, the word “milestone” is used, indicating that some type of progress is being made and indeed, that progress is measurable. the word “milestone” in my mind is a corporate cliche. it resonates with me that it’s being used this way.

“And I had already dropped several things — indeed, the road behind was strewn with the things we had all dropped; and the white dust was settling down on them, so that already they looked no better than stones.”

the author makes no mention of what these things are. when i read this, my first thought was of our dreams, desires and passions that we neglect. those many things that you want to try or used to love but gave up because they got too heavy – how are you supposed to live your life carrying so many things when there is such a long way to go? a choice must be made between the things you love. how do you choose?

“The road sometimes doubles, to be sure, but that is a part of our discipline. Who can doubt that its general tendency is onwards? To what goal we know not – it may be to some mountain where we shall touch the sky, it may be over precipices into the sea. But that it goes forward—who can doubt that? It is the thought of that that makes us strive to excel, each in his own way, and gives us an impetus which is lacking with you.”

the main “character” who is actually you since the story is written in first person, meets a man. this man shares with him his surroundings and shows “you” the path that you have been walking on. the above passage is spoken by “you” – it is taken as common knowledge that we are walking “forward” – but are we really? we don’t know the goal or where we want to go, but we walk forwards nonetheless. there are milestones, but no destination. the main character then scolds the man for having no motivation to walk forward.

“This is where your road ends, and through this gate humanity—all that is left of it—will come into us.”

true value

it’s been raining for two days at the farm.

on Monday, i learned to use a machine which takes soil from a furrow and places it to the side. you run it between rows of crops to give plants more soil. the plants like this. in the afternoon, i helped clear a field.

on tuesday i baked bread. i am getting better at it. you have to let it rise. some things are like bread. they take time to develop.

on wednesday i planted an entire field of sweet potato. this work was “back-breaking”. many of our sayings have their roots in farm work. “grow like a weed”, “you reap what you sow”, “hedge your bets”.

on thursday morning i hadn’t finished planting the sweet potatoes. i spent another morning finishing the job. the rain started. in the afternoon the last seedling was planted. Isha cooked the three tiny eggs our hens had laid. it was really good.

today i picked quinoa off the stalk. a person named jason had arrived. he has worked in “private security” and is a big fellow. i cannot find my phone. i spent the afternoon sharpening tools. it was fun.

i’ve been feeling very tired for the last few days. planting sweet potatoes is hard work. imagine squatting for three hours in anxiety-inducing heat. then you have to dig the soil. sweet potatoes propagate via cuttings. they take root at nodes.

the fireflies are out. so are the termites. they swarm during heavy rain. they are also attracted to lights.

nature isn’t all pretty. some of it is pretty damn annoying. flies like high protein food sources. i ate meat on tuesday night. on wednesday morning they hovered around be, giving me no end of acoustic aggravation. that is to say, they buzzed the fuck out of me.

farming and making food is really hard. i’ve lived in a city for so long. this is a new perspective. it seems to me that large cities are quite wasteful. food has to be packaged, transported many miles, and stored in supermarkets which play shitty music and keep the fridge on to keep the food fresh. the food in the stores isn’t even all sold. it goes into the landfill.

packaged processed food wastes energy and contributes towards a bad diet. the hustle and bustle of day to day work leaves no time for the preparation of food. many people don’t even have time to sit down in a restaurant. take-out is common and adds to the packaging problem.

some “eco-conscious” food stores are doing quite well in terms of business. they sell the idea that you can live in a city but still consume your way to a better planet.

sweet potatoes take half a year to grow.

i have written in a non-sequential manner. i’ve lost nearly four kilograms of weight since i’ve been here, which is nearly three weeks. this is healthy.

that’s it for now. i’m writing an article on growing corn. will try to finish it soon.

petroleum assisted massacre

today was a mixed day.

in the morning, me and isha raked the dead grass off a field. it had lain fallow for too long and the weeds had overgrown it. yesterday, phil had cut it all down. we were to make large piles of dead organic matter which would be saved for later use.

the thunder rumbled in the distance. not too bad of a morning. humid as a sweaty armpit that hasn’t been washed, which caused beads of sweat to roll down my forehead into my eyes. it started raining, and we continued.

the rake and the pitchfork were our friends today. it was a bit of a forced relationship really. i found them too heavy for my liking, but we eventually got along. i would switch the rake to different sides of my body so that i could use my muscles evenly. i found that holding stick end of the rake with my left hand at the base and my right hand providing fine control near the rake end of the instrument to be the best combination.

the pitchfork i used was a hybrid. it was not as big as a “pitchfork” – it was the length of a shovel with the head of a pitchfork. phil could lift an entire pile at once, which weighs around the weight of two fully loaded grocery bags. i had to settle with a slightly smaller load.

after the work was done, we went to lunch. olive, the cool dude who runs the orchard here brought us to a nearby taoist monastery. they serve free vegetarian lunch every day. this in itself was new to me. it was excellent food. unfortunately i had to sit in the trunk section of a 15 year old clunker with no seatbelt on and a lunatic at the wheel. however i haven’t died yet so i suppose it wasn’t too bad.

after lunch i was asked to mow a section of the farm. i don’t like mowing for several reasons. first of all it’s loud as fuck. the second is that it’s heavy. the third is that it kills things.

the mower is a frightening device. this is not an exaggeration. it is a two stroke motor with a long shaft. at the end is a large two sided metal blade that spins at many revolutions per second. think “propeller on a stick”. should i wish, i could inflict grievous bodily harm to a person of my choice.

i tug on the cord that starts the engine. it coughs and then it starts. its whine drowns out the sound of nature.

i told a fellow volunteer…”i don’t like mowing. i killed many things today.”

i have destroyed the homes of many insects. i have personally shattered the shells and splattered the innards into the air of several beautifully formed snails. i have created noise and air pollution as well as destroying the environment. i watched the wings of an eviscerated butterfly float onto the ground. i am a monster.

so much of this is happening on a even larger scale so that we can have a few nice pieces of furniture or go to a nice steak restaurant and have a dinner. sure, the existence of oil and its associated products have helped us create miracles of modern science. but then at what cost?


“have you ever written any stories?”

i was asked this question yesterday, which got me thinking. what exactly is a story? can anything be a story? as a journalist i write “stories” on certain subjects. but then, “authors” also write “stories”. is there any difference between these stories? one may use the qualitative aspects of each to define them, but then that seems to be being pedantic about definitions. however you could also argue that writing about the meaning of the word “story” is also pedantic.

the first definition i find from a quick search is “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment” – this to me sounds like a weak definition. the origin is the latin word “historia”, which eventually becomes “estorie” in anglo-norman french, and then becomes “story” in middle english. stories are so much more than recounting events for entertainment. they are how humans communicate. there is the story the boy who cried wolf. there is the story of cinderella, of hansel and gretel. there are more complicated stories like lolita, anna karenina, 1984, etc. these are all stories. what’s the difference between them? what are the similarities?

the first similarity i can think of is that there is reason that these stories were written. it might not be immediately obvious to the reader, however. here is where literary analysis comes into handy. one can analyse so many things – you could analyse the structure, syntax, and choice of vocabulary. or you could analyse the characters and their relationships. it seems that for some stories, the characters are metaphors, and the actual “story” is something other than what is written (damn these authors, but praise them too), and for some of these stories, the message and meaning they want to convey is more clear, for example in the case of 1984 and Animal Farm (George Orwell).

thinking and writing about “stories” – perhaps i could also try categorising different stories. for example, the Sherlock Holmes or Artemis Fowl series (Eoin Colfer) are more “entertainment” – in that i feel that the stories are very accessible and that it’s the type of book that gets you hooked on turning their pages. we can learn a lot from these authors in terms of pacing and character development. however in the case of the Artemis Fowl series, entertainment can also help change the world. in the stories, humans are known as the “Mud People” as we used to live in mud huts. a second race exists on the planet with magical powers. The author makes a point of depicting humans as backwards, polluting and warlike species (which we are to a certain extent), whereas the fairies are depicted as technologically advanced, environmentally conscious, peaceful beings. in an implicit manner, Eoin Colfer used a children’s book series to make a comment on human beings as a whole. an admirable use of the story medium.

there are also stories like 1984 and Brave New World – these books are *entertaining* but they are also creating worlds which we can experience without actually having to be in those worlds – “what-if”. i think we are much better off reading about Orwell’s vision of a world under surveillance and cultural control than actually living it, although some would argue (and perhaps i would agree) that many of the things that he wrote about were prescient, and they are already happening. the great thing about these types of stories is that they help you realise what is happening, since in your daily life you are like a fish in water – the water doesn’t occur to you. these stories add food colouring to the water (if you would grant me the pleasure of extending my simile).

each of us has a story too. that type of story would be the type you live out on a day to day basis, that is written during every second. you aren’t writing it, but imagine that someone is writing it – how would you feel like reading it? our stories affect others, and others ours. live a great story, tell great stories. i think that’s what matters.