is the title of Jane Hirshfield’s essay in Nov/Dec issue of The American Poetry Review. It is, like most of Hirshfield’s essays, a compelling read. As I begin the dark crawl into the mindset of editing my second manuscript, I’ve found many parts of this essay useful/interesting/thought provoking. In particular, I was most drawn to an amazing quote from Dr. Michael Dickson about flies:
As for insects, they may not think but they certainly make lots of decisions. What we perceive as behavior is really just a seamless string of decisions: should I mate with you?, should I vomit here?, should I fly off this overcrowded rotting peach on the chance I’ll find a lovely uninhabited rotting peach? Flies make decisions forcefully, uninhibited by memory and nostalgia. Little six-legged Fortinbras. We like Hamlet better, because his uncertainty cuts so close to the source of our humanity. We cannot tabulate costs and benefits without being helplessly swayed by our memories and emotions. We get all bollixed up with uncertainty because we really don’t see things clearly. Our minds drift and we can’t quite manage to pull the trigger.
As for editing, I’m a blue-bottle fly–of course, this is also like awakening on the first warm day after a long, cold winter. I’m bumping into everything, and flying away with nothing.
One of the few things I’m certain about is how much I enjoy uncertainty. At least, I think I’m certain about it (possibly not. Maybe just reasonably sure. On the other hand…). Certainty is so constraining. It limits possibility. In a perfectly certain life, nothing would be possible; it would be unbearable.
Flies are an amazing group of insects. The males of one Family actually present the females with gifts (an item of prey—the dipteran equivalent of flowers or chocolate (“Here’s a juicy gnat, just for you, dear”)). Of course, they only do it so they can mate with the female. Some don’t even bother catching the gift/prey/gnat: they just use a ball of spit instead and by the time the female finds out, it’s all over.
Interesting facts about the fly. Who would’ve thought the male fly would be such a conniver?
Obviously, the fly is certain about certain things.
You know, I used a ball of spit to capture my mate…
Actually, I got that wrong—it’s not spit, it’s silk. A ball of silk. Kind of changes things, doesn’t it? Well, some things—sometimes there’s still no tasty midge wrapped up in it.
Ariel: how big was the ball of spit?
Pete: How does a fly spin silk? Like a spider? Is it the same sort of thing? Interesting.
Silk production is common among insects: the best known example is, of course, the silkworm, which is the caterpillar of a large moth. The flies I referred to belong to the Family Empididae, and as far as I can discover, they produce it from their front feet. Actually, I think some do use spit; apparently they present the females with frothy balls… Ahem.
In the vernacular, Empididae are usually called dance flies. They’re also notable because the males of some species have enormously enlarged… er… well, use your imagination. And by enormous, I mean enormous. Relative to the size of the rest of him, that is.
Yes, I’m intrigued, too, Ariel. Please elaborate. :^)
Thanks Pete. I think I may have to read more about flies.