The Beehive State of Affairs (August 29, 2013)

I didn’t enter the world allergic to bee stings. Time was, the pierce of an angry wasp’s lance didn’t accomplish much more than giving some pain and briefly slowing my tomboyish romps. However, through repeated encounters in a variety of strange venues (a sting on the inner thigh in fourth grade whilst sitting on the school toilet, stepping on a bumble bee during an enthusiastic tetherball game at a neighborhood block party, drinking yet another surly insect out of an abandoned can of Coke), the allergy developed over time. For this reason, I carry two EpiPens with me wherever I travel. Because you never know.

This past weekend I journeyed to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the annual conference of the National Federation of Press Women. I was a first timer, representing the Illinois affiliate as chapter President, and slated to receive two awards at the conference’s concluding banquet for my 2012 work: an honorable mention for theater criticism, and amazingly, recognition as the best personal blogger of last year. The latter of these trophies is especially humbling due to the high volume of competition as well as the tremendously personal nature of my writing in this forum. To be championed simply for articulating the most authentic version of myself is an honor of the highest magnitude.

I had no idea as my Southwest Airlines flight touched the Salt Lake City airport tarmac, that Utah was known as “The Beehive State.” Blame ignorance on a parochial school education that prioritized memorizing the books of the Old Testament above national geography. I assumed the nickname was a simple tribute to the can-do pioneer spirit of the state’s first Mormon settlers, until I encountered countless gardens and urban farms planted past and present in service of LDS naturalistic ideals. Wherever copious plants and flowers go, the pollinating swarms follow, and I spent many of my sightseeing minutes fleeing potential assailants while running uphill in insensible shoes.

In periods of quiet wonder and reflection, many of which I enjoyed as I wandered about the clean, well-planned downtown area of the city, I thought about the team efforts, the worker bee collaboration that led to my presence in that place, moment and time. Because there’s just no pretending I arrived there on my own. In fact in some cases, certain advocates (I am looking at you little sister), dragged me kicking and screaming into following my dreams. The professors, mentors and supervisors who took chances on me when I had no pedigree to warrant them, the loved ones who cheered me through successes and picked me up after embarrassing falls, the partners who suffered through erratic work schedules and meager pay, the strangers who commented and emailed their appreciation. Hell even the hecklers made me a better writer: more focused, determined and articulate in defending a rhetorical point. It truly takes a village to build a successful communicator.

I am not religious. I immersed myself in all things LDS on my trip and while I admire much about the Church’s civic pride and genuine commitment to helping others, there’s also much about the ideology I find objectionable. That said, the trope of the beehive led me to think of collaboration in a new way, no longer an idea from which to literally run, comprised of threatening organisms bent on killing me. Instead I am able to view it as a pleasant image, to hear the telltale buzz with welcoming ears, an ideal of cooperation easily accessible to one self-aware enough to recognize the shoulders they’ve stood upon to access places of pride and accomplishment. I don’t need an EpiPen to protect myself from the love and fortification of my support network, or even the jeering of detractors. Whether flowers or stings, I build strength and immunity to press forward.

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