Busy busy busy and there’s not bee in sight

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 8, 2014 9:34 PM

When I was in college, I took a number of literature classes. As an English major, even with a concentration in creative writing, this was required. I didn’t have a problem with it because I love to read, and many of the assigned texts I hadn’t had the occasion to open. For instance, until I was in college I had never read Shakespeare. Now I can scarcely get enough of the Bard. At some point, I also read The Canterbury Tales, or at least some of the tales since no one knows for sure if they were ever actually finished, and because they were composed as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they journeyed to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. There are over 20 stories, all written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century during the Hundred Years’ War waged by England for control of the French throne. The war was between 1337 and 1453, not quite a hundred years but that’s picking nits. It was still a long damn time.

I’ll be perfectly honest. While I absorbed Shakespeare, I didn’t take to Chaucer. I didn’t mind it; I just didn’t love it. Maybe it’s because as an English major, I was expected to love Shakespeare because of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and my personal favorite Much Ado About Nothing. I have grown to love Shakespeare even more thanks to Kenneth Branagh. Chaucer hasn’t been as lucky in having a film auteur turn his tales into cinematic treasures.

One of the anxiety dreams I have when I’m extremely stressed takes place at Ham-Smith, formally known as Hamilton-Smith Hall, at the University of New Hampshire where I received my degree. Ham-Smith is the English building. It even looks like a place book worms would hang out. Next to the library, it just looked scholarly even for a school that was founded in 1866. Gray stone exterior with small, arched windows, marbled columns in front. Wide cement steps leading up to two main doors. I spent hours and hours and hours in that building.

In my anxiety dream, I show up for class but I haven’t been there all semester. I have trouble finding the room, and then when I do, I realize that I haven’t done any of the reading, I don’t know any of the material, and there is a test and I don’t have a pencil and then I wake up.

Luckily I don’t have this dream very often and it’s not because I’m not stressed. I am, just like every other functioning adult in the country. It’s because I’m generally not anxious. My stress comes from the usual suspects. Too much to do and not enough time to get it done; generally things I can control. Anxiety comes from things I can’t control. Like when I get paid, or the building of a house.

I’ve been swamped lately. For about the last two or three months I have had a ton going on, almost too much if there is truly such a thing. As someone who’s self-employed it’s nearly impossible to turn down work since I never know when it will come my way again. I have many regular clients that I’ve worked with for years and some new ones as well. There is always time. I find it; I manufacture it if I need to.

I was thinking today as I was ping-ponging between clients and jobs that I’m flat out. Busy as a bee. Which got me to thinking because this is the warped way my brain sashays from one thought to another: Where did such a statement originate?

Which led me to The Canterbury Tales.

It seems that the first person to use the phrase “busy as a bee” (which means very busy and dedicated) or at least close enough to count, was none other than Mr. Chaucer in the Squire’s Tale:

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees

Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.

And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.

You can also see why I never really took to Chaucer. It bee-eth a tad too hardeth to, you knoweth, read. Eth. 

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