Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Busy as…

        Is it beekeeping that brings out the cliché in me, or is it just that bee-based clichés are so compelling?

         Along with many other useful things that I learned in school, like never to climb on the monkey bars when wearing a dress and how to play a passable game of marbles, I learned to Avoid Clichés At All Costs When Speaking and Writing. You don't forget the lessons that were branded on your young brain by sort-tempered adults much older and bigger than you, so I have always tried, When Speaking and Writing, to Avoid Clichés at All Costs. Sometimes I even congratulate myself on coming up with a particularly effective and original simile when I could have just defaulted to a cliché.

          So it was entirely against all my training and my best instincts that I found myself the other day in the bee yard with K, watching the bees and about to commit cliché. "Look at how active they are," I said to K, completely helpless to prevent the following words from just falling out of my mouth: "Why, they're busy as bees."

          Of course you groan, but it turns out that clichés, before they were clichés, were in fact such universal truths or such creative or compellingly-worded comparisons that everyone fell in love with them and started using them because they were so good or true or evocative. You look at bees in the summer when they're really working, and they are the very archetype of busy. "Busy as bees" is a good and useful descriptor. It is as evocative as billy-o.

          But, as with anything you love and use all the time, these compelling phrases started to get a little worn. A little tired. A little been-there-done-that-bought-the-postcard-and-mailed-it-home. And people began to look down upon them, because they were familiar, and tell Other People that it was one of the High Holy Significators of Tackiness to use them. I myself felt this way until a couple of days after the "busy as bees" incident, when I was, again, in the bee yard.

          I was helping K work the hives, and so I was dressed in a bee-resistant bonnet, veil, and jacket. It was warm and the bees were busy as you know what—eddying around us before flying off in waves to their work. I didn't notice right away that the bee that was buzzing so close to my face—because they were all buzzing close to my face—was distinguished from the rest by being on the wrong side of my veil. Judging from the tenor of its buzz, it was starting to get a little grumpy about sharing such close quarters with me. "K," I said, in the world's most entirely justified use of cliché since the term was coined, "there's a bee in my bonnet."