May 24, 2014

Bee-friending Yourself. ~ Savannah Gignac

Funny Hug Myself Boy

My class became my colony, the hive from which I entered and was enriched by.

The apiary is a small one, which only a select few know about. It’s located in the courtyard of a monastery. You can see the monks walking around, or visitors who’ve booked a weekend to get lost from their lives. There are no cell phones or laptops allowed, and the rooms have no clocks. Yet, no one is alone at the monastery and everyone depends on one another for encouragement, love, food, and peace of mind.

Like the bees I tend to at the monastery, the monks and visitors depend on each other to make a thriving community. The stronger the hive, the sweeter the honey.

A year ago, I sat on the D.C. metro thinking about what it would be like to live there. What would a new life in D.C. look like? What kind of friends would I have and where would I get my haircut?

I’d have to leave everything I had built to find that out.

As I was flying back from D.C. to Austin I got the call. I was offered the job and four weeks later I was migrating from Austin, Texas to D.C. After three years of living a sweltering, magical existence, scarfing down breakfast tacos and causing a ruckus on east sixth street, my time in Austin had come to a close.

The thirst I felt in Austin was getting drier and I needed to search in another direction. I loved my friends, but they could always fly to come visit me. I had no family, mortgage, or paramour.

I left in three weeks.

If something didn’t fit in a box, it was sold on Craigslist. If something couldn’t be sold, it went to the curb and was promptly gone the next morning. With Austin being a city of transients, everyone there likes a good deal.

Bees leave their hives for many reasons. One type of flight is called a “foraging flight” in which the bee flies out of the hive in a random direction in search of nectar, honeydew, pollen, or water.

I was seeking sweeter nectar.

I left with a bang. My last weekend I managed to have a fling with the co-worker I’d been infatuated with for a year. It didn’t help that he wasn’t single, but the intensity felt in such a short period made my take-off that much more charged with rocket fuel. I felt I had come to Austin how I was leaving it: open to change, slightly heartbroken, confident I was making the right decision.

For the second time in my life I was ready to live in a city where no one knew my name.

The first few weeks after moving to a new place are thrilling, exhilarating. I walked around the streets with a smile on my face. Every face entranced me; every building arch I was enamored by was one I had never seen before. The inevitable daily drudge had yet to muck up this new city I lived in, and for those first few weeks all I could see were the possibilities, the promise, the places I never knew existed.

After the first three months faded, real feelings began to set in—and not the fun ones.

I felt achingly alone. I’d moved before to a different city without knowing anyone, but this time I felt hollower on the inside. I missed the fast fling I had left in Austin, even though I knew there was no way it would’ve worked out with him anyhow.

A week later I got into my first bike accident ever.

In Austin I had lived as a commuter cyclist, with no car for three years and never had an accident. This accident in D.C. seemed even scarier since I wasn’t wearing a helmet. There I was, glass and blood coming out of my forehead from the cut above my eyebrow, dribbling down my favorite late-summer slip dress onto the Adams Morgan concrete beneath me. I could hear the shrieking ambulance sirens approaching.

Unlike Austin where I’d had a grad program as a crutch for early friendships, in DC it was different. It was hard to make friends.

There seemed to be no community to lean on. Who was I in this new place?

I guess I thought that once I finished high school, studied abroad, graduated college, got my Masters, paid my own bills, lived in a city as a single, independent woman, every question mark I ever had in my head would turn into a period.

Instead they all just turned into ellipses and I wondered what I needed to do next. What was next on the checklist? I couldn’t move to a new city again. There was no escape plan in that exhausted idea.

A man! A man was the only thing missing from my checklist. Maybe once I had him all the ellipses would be periods. Finally, I could take a nap and get some rest. If I had only known the ways of the bees months before, I wouldn’t have come to this fear-based conclusion.

In the hive community, the Queen bee births all the brood (offspring). She is the sole source of life. Without her presence there is no hive. It is not a patriarchal system. Although the Queen bee does need drones (male bees) to produce brood, she relies on her fellow worker bees (sterile female bees) to help the hive thrive and stay strong.

Did I mention I have a proclivity for Ernest Hemingway-like men who are much older than me and make me feel like shit about myself?

Well I started dating one of those men, figuring that this would fix it all. These months of my heart being high-jacked were ones of struggle, no appetite, and tears. All my energy was spent trying to impress him, getting to know him, lusting after him. I had no energy or foresight to go make new friends. He would be my key to new friends, a new life; happiness. I was constantly trying to convince this drone that I was worth loving.

I listened to him talk a lot, but never did much of the talking. I nodded so much I probably looked like a bobble head. I felt like one too. My head wasn’t really connected to the rest of my body so my soul felt like a big jumbled mess, confused between the head and the heart of my plastic existence.

I was being inauthentic. I remember sending a “Merry Christmas” email to Ernest Hemingway only to get a response a month later saying, “Sorry we lost touch—you know how that happens when people date?”

Another bold, searing question mark.

I was back at the beginning. I couldn’t take anymore question marks.

Darwin was bothered that he could not rationalize the fact that sterile worker bees would display altruism towards the Queen. Where did this will come from if they were unable to be encouraged by the possibility of offspring? One theory, “kin selection,” explains that worker bees are more related to each other than they are to their parents. By helping each other, they are helping themselves to produce a strong, thriving hive, in which genes can be passed down for the generations.

I didn’t need a drone to complete me. What I needed to practice was kin selection; to find a hive to shelter myself from this raging tornado of abandonment. I didn’t know it yet, but by engaging in a community, I would find strength as well as enhance the community’s purpose. This was the only way I’d feel I was helping myself find the periods to the sentences.

Ever the academic (as my student loan debt can confirm), I signed up for an urban bee keeping class. Why urban bee keeping? I had never been stung by a bee in my life, much less kept a bee hive. I live in an apartment complex in D.C. with no backyard. I knew I wouldn’t be building a hive my first bee season, but I wanted to learn about bees. They seemed like a blue print for a perfect community.

They seemed so in sync with one another and so mysterious to me.

When a new Queen bee is introduced to the hive, she is lowered into a hive encased in a glass vessel, with a cork made from sugar.  As the weeks go by, the bees get used to the Queen and her pheromones as they slowly eat away the sugar cork.

I desperately wanted someone to eat away at my sugar cork and let me burst free from this glass house I’d been living in.

My class became my colony; the hive from which I entered and was enriched by. Each Saturday I woke up early to get to bee class. I even had a man ask for me to sleep over at his house after a long night of kissing. I wasn’t feeling him that strongly anyways, but it was fun to say, “I can’t, I have an urban bee class tomorrow morning!” and receive the strangest face ever.

That’s how I knew he wasn’t really for me. The bees saved me from another Ernest Hemingway.

I no longer cared about completing my checklist. I only cared about the bees, and questioning the question marks. What else did I want to do now that I had freed myself from a checklist existence? What else was I here to do?

My purpose is not to be the world’s greatest bee keeper. But taking the class got me out of my comfort zone, led me to question my insecurities, embrace new people and make new friendships. Even if I was a newbie and had no clue what I was talking about when it came to bees, I was now a part of a community.

There was no winning or losing, and all my hellos were received with smiles when I sat in my classroom chair.

Because of bee class I had someone to spend a Sunday brunch with. And not just one person, but a swarm of people. As I sat on the patio that Sunday, sipping a mimosa under the early spring sun in the cool breeze with my new found friends, I realized there were periods at the end of the sentences in my head—and the ones that ended in question marks did not scare me anymore. I had found my place in the hive.


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Apprentice Editor: Ola Weber/ Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Barbara Martin Pixoto

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Savannah Gignac