(or, My Love/Hate Relationship with BUGS)
As many living on the east coast are aware, we have just experienced a 17-year cicada swarm, the particular group of which is known as “Brood II.” My own area saw a strong showing of the little beasties, though their numbers are well on the decline at this point. This is a difficult time for me because, on the one hand, I can’t stand being in close proximity to bugs. I see something flying at me or (heaven forbid) crawling on me, and I start screaming and flailing like a little girl. All my sense and reason go out the window; the situation boils down to some nonsensical rambling paired with involuntary muscle spasms. However, on the other hand, I find most bugs to be fascinating, even beautiful when I can observe and examine them without the threat of them crawling on me. Also, this:
That video just about moves me to tears. This man’s Kickstarter is still running, by the way, so, yeah – go fund that! But the problem remains that even though I feel such compassion for this species, even though the raucous symphony of cicada-song echoing from the trees fills me with joy, even though I would never wish this docile insect any harm, when I see one bobbing toward me in their classic erratic, bumbling flight pattern, all I can feel is a crippling, inhibition-busting sense of revulsion and terror. What is wrong with me?
As an artist and a writer, insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates are excellent sources of inspiration. They represent beings that cohabitate in our environment, but go about their lives in very different ways. Their bodies develop and function in a manner that’s foreign but functional, and sometimes unbelievable. Their forms inspire artistic and industrial design, an influence can be seen in everything from construction equipment to the alien invaders of the next summer blockbuster. Because of their capacity to be both beautiful and disgusting, they can also inspire creations with strong emotional impact, either positive or negative.
Of course, it’s important to understand what it is about the bug that elicits the desired reaction. Think about the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. They have insect-like qualities about them, and they are definitely frightening, so what insect elements achieve this effect? Is it their exoskeleton? Or their lack of facial features, with the exception of prominent jaws? Their parasitic breeding habits? Or maybe it’s an inversion of an insect trait – the fact that compared to normal bugs, they are enormous.
Sometimes you can get inspired by thinking about bugs in a different way. One of the best insect documentaries I’ve ever seen was a French film called Microcosmos. With no narration except for a brief introduction and denouement, it gave a fascinating up-close look at the lives of different bugs, including a snail-on-snail love scene so strangely romantic and beautiful that it called into question every perception I had about the slimy brutes.
Despite my physical discomfort with the various creepy-crawlies of the world, now that the hum of cicadas has faded and I no longer see them bobbing across the highway during my morning commute, I confess I’m going to miss them. The experience was so fleeting, yet so impressive. But life goes on: the young cicadas will hatch and burrow underground as the fireflies begin to flicker out for the warm summer nights, floating about with their warm, golden glow as the sun sinks into the horizon. I can still handle fireflies. Whatever strange bug aversion I have does not extend to them. So whenever I can, I let them alight on my outstretched hands, and we share a brief moment of connection before they float back off into the dusk. It’s a good way to start the summer.