The Bumblebee Conspiracy
By Eric Luper
Before my first novel was accepted, there were countless moments when I wondered why I continued to write. Why stay up later than the infomercials? Why spend every spare simoleon on paper, toner, and postage? I was falling behind in my day job, I was seeing less of my children, and the weeds in the backyard were about to riot.
I was doing everything the books told me to do. I had several manuscripts circulating, was going to conferences, was meeting the right people. I was reading, reading, reading. Yet, my work was rejected every time. The more proficient I became, the more hopeless things seemed.
“All this time you spend writing,” one of my friends said to me over a beer, “even if you do get a contract you’ll be paid less hourly than a sweatshop worker.”
After I dumped my hefeweizen on his head, I realized I was in a major funk.
I approached my critique group, ready to bail out on writing and begin my life as a normal member of society, when one of the members quipped, "Aerodynamically a bumblebee should not be able to fly, but nobody ever told the bumblebee."
At first, I wondered what the heck this woman was getting at. What did my total frustration have to do with bees? Did her statement warrant dumping an iced latte on her head? Then, I realized it must be an allegory—or one of those other fancy writing thingies I know about because I’m a writer.
But I also knew that it would be impossible—even for a tiny bee—to violate the laws of nature. Then, it struck me. If a bee’s ignorance allowed it to perform impossible feats, then it follows that I could become a novelist if I found a way to forget that I’ll probably never make it in this business.
I decided to test this theory. I have a background in science and I am quite well versed in the scientific method. And since my lilies were in bloom, my backyard was filled with bees. I knew it would serve as an ideal “laboratory” to test my bumblebee phenomenon.
The hypothesis was: "Bumblebees are able to violate the laws of aerodynamics because no one ever told them they should not be able to fly." I shortened this to the "Bees-Are-Too-Stupid-to-Know-Any-Better” (or BATSKAB) Effect. If my hypothesis was correct, as soon as the bees discovered their ignorance they should drop to the ground and start crawling like the rest of us lowly earth-walkers.
See how easy science is?
Now, it was time to do the fieldwork. I headed out back and announced to the bumblebees that despite what they may think, they are violating the laws of aerodynamics and should be unable to fly as they do.
Then I waited.
Not a single bee dropped out of the air to begin its life as a land insect.
I repeated my statement—this time louder—figuring that the nectar collectors couldn’t hear me over their infernal buzzing.
My wife asked me why I wasn't weeding like I had promised.
I explained my experiment to her.
“Stop being stupid,” she said and went back inside.
I'm sure Sir Isaac Newton's wife called him stupid. Galileo's wife too. So, I took it as the highest of compliments.
Then I repeated my comment to the bees in case they hadn’t heard me the first two times. I was determined to prove this theory so I could try to forget that catching a publisher’s eye was impossible.
"Bees don't understand English," a voice said from over my shoulder. It was my neighbor, Mr. Smug [name changed to protect the innocent]. Mr. Smug thinks he's better than me because he uses all kinds of organic fertilizers and natural pH balancers to grow the perfect garden. "Bees communicate by a complex dance that consists of round patterns, figure eights, and waggles," he said. "Talking to them thusly will do no good."
Thusly. Mr. Smug actually said "thusly" in conversation.
Usually, I respond to my neighbor by flinging dog poop over his fence, but this time I thought he might have a point. I began shuffling amidst the day lilies, moving about in circular patterns all the while shaking my rear end like a jackhammer. And concentrating thusly on my bee message.
Mr. Smug laughed at me so I stopped my rhythmic dance long enough to fling a shovelful of dog poop over the fence. Moments later, I had a scientific breakthrough. I felt a searing pain on the inside of my thigh and another on my butt. Two of those little buggers had stung me—probably as they were plummeting to the ground!
I dropped to my hands and knees to find the culprits, when I saw something that intrigued me.
It was an ant.
This ant was marching toward a stone wall carrying a large crumb. When the ant got to the massive barrier, it stopped, backed up and tried another route. It kept trying to find its way without even a pause. Onward this little loaded-down guy marched and time after time it came to the wall. Each time it simply backed up and tried again.
“Stupid ant,” I thought. “You just keep trying and trying. Don’t you ever give up?”
I knew there was a lesson to be learned with this ant, but I was too busy looking for my new species (I plan to call it Ericus luperus) to be concerned with it. I never did find the flightless bee, but I’m sure it’s only because it instantly burrowed into the earth.
And that meant one thing: my experiment was a success. Now, it only stood to reason that if I could forget that I didn’t have the perseverance to become a successful author, I suddenly would.
That night, I booted up my computer, filled my printer with paper, and lowered myself into my chair. As soon as my first cheek touched the cushion, I leaped straight up and I decided to wait and make my theory a reality when I could actually sit down.
Eric Luper's first YA novel (BIG SLICK) came out in 2007 and his second (BUG BOY) in 2009. His third (SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO) hits shelves in June 2010 and he is busy as a bee working on his fourth, which is mega, ultra, top-secret. Find him at www.ericluper.com.
Eric, you are hilarious. And thank you because I can learn a thing or two from the Bee's and Ant's. Notice I capitalized their species? They're my new hero's.ReplyDelete
Holy KAPOW! Never has science been so fascinating to me, except maybe the few times I had cool dreams during chemistry class in high school.ReplyDelete
What I most enjoyed about what you wrote, Eric, is that you are one of the first authors to put, 'pick yourself up and try again', into real perspective. No matter how many rejections one gets, you have to keep going, but reading some author's statement that they just kept trying is hard to swallow. We know you kept trying, you're now published, but did it take four pilsners and ten Twinkies a night to get there?
The ants are the best analogy, because their only task is to survive. And like you said, to give up is to kill your potential life as an author.
Therefore, I am currently an ant hitting my head on a stone in the backyard, but in a few minutes, I'll be an ant on my way to some sweet pie.
T.Anne, thank you and I'm flattered that you'd think to capitalize Bees and Ants on account of me!ReplyDelete
Jonathon, science can be riveting. Pick up Bill Bryson's or Loree Griffin Burns's book and you'll agree. But I think it's true. Too many aspiring authors think the published ones a) are born with some mystical ability that they lack, b) have some connection in the publishing world, or c) are a celebrity of some sort. I entered the field with none of those things. My only mystic ability is to levitate things with my mind! Sheesh.
For the longest time, I felt just like I thought that ant felt. Then, I came to realize that the ant doesn't even understand frustration. It only understands its task.
KEEP FORGING AHEAD!!!
Okay, that brought a smile to my face! I think my neighbor is related to Mr. Smug. Now I know what to do with the excess buildup of poop in my yard :)ReplyDelete
Here's an experiment for you: If an ant is clinging to that poo as you fling it into a different yard, how long will it take him to get back home?
What I wouldn't give to see some hidden camera footage of Eric Luper doing his "bee dance"... Priceless!ReplyDelete
Librarina, I've never done my bee dance for you? Hurm.ReplyDelete