The world's strongest insect
I like that I was a weird kid
When I was 11, I did a science project.
Being homeschooled meant that most science projects were at-home affairs but this one was for the local homeschool group’s science fair. I’m sure we did this every year, or nearly, but this is the only one I remember.
I remember walking around the borrowed church gym that night, looking at the other projects. The squeak of shoes on the floor, the lighting, the cold air, the voices.
One of the girls did a science project on how flavors interact with taste buds, the premise being that there is a certain area of the tongue associated with sour, another with sweet, another salty, so on. There was a volcano, of course, and something with a lightbulb. Somebody had seedlings. Another kid had colored water in dishes.
I didn’t even do a science project, really. I made a poster. There was no premise, no experimentation. None of that mattered. I didn’t want a prize, I didn’t want recognition for doing science better than someone else. What I wanted was to make a choice that was perfectly mine, and see what happened.
Finding the right subject was a process of elimination.
I needed something not girly, so that meant no gardening, no cooking or food-related things, no textiles, really nothing aesthetically pleasing.
I needed something a little unexpected, on the edge of inexplicable, so that meant no electricity experiments, no buoyancy tests, no communication devices, no potatoes.
I needed something that was off-putting, something that made people a little uncomfortable, and that was the toughest line to walk. I wanted to be good. I just wanted to know if, in the space defined as good, there was room for me.
I chose the dung beetle.
It was the best option I could come up with. It fit the parameters. I remember Mom gently asking me about other topics, trying to steer me in a different direction, and then accepting my choice. I remember Dad trying to help me develop a premise that could be demonstrated without bringing actual pieces of poop to the science fair.
If it was a test—and I think it was—they both passed.
At the science fair itself, I learned what it means to be politely ignored. It’s a powerful strategy for distancing yourself from whatever makes you uncomfortable. The eyes glaze over, stare into middle distance, and slide by. The voices become murmurs, Oh, I see, how interesting, the pace slows but does not stop, there is only the briefest of pauses.
I don’t think a dung beetle on a poster made anyone uncomfortable, per say, but it did what I wanted it to do: it defied categorizing, it was not meant to appeal or entertain, it was not wrong by any standard but it was clearly not there to garner approval. It was all those things, and it was there, a tri-fold on a table, taking up space and making no concessions, and for a couple of hours that evening so was I.