Spontaneous Generation

“You’ll know, of course, that I was referring to the pre-Enlightenment belief, held by natural philosophers, physicians, barbers, and priests, by dying milkmaids and ailing queens, by everyone really, that rats and maggots and other creeping things erupted spontaneously from mud and nightsoil, like Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’s head. Then, at the end of the seventeenth century, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek figured out how to craft lenses small enough to lead to the invention of the microscope, and the truth was out: nothing comes out of nowhere. Baby rats came out of bigger rats, butterfly larvae out of tiny butterfly eggs, flies out of maggots. And although van Leeuwenhoek later revealed blah blah blah, and I’m blathering because, you see, I have a head for these things; I can forget about a bird dying in the chimney, and I can forget to call home for years at a time, but I can remember the history of science that I learned in grade nine.”

This story, like all the stories in this book, is fiction. The characters are fictions, and the things they do and the things they say are fictitious. That being said, do we really want to embark on the interplay between life and true life, between real and really, at this point? I really did have a bird die inside my chimney because it could not find its way out. That much is true.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek really did develop lenses for microscopes, ushering in the Enlightenment. True.

Baby flies come from big flies. Flies are real, maggots are real fly larva — the developing fly, wingless organism that emerges from the fly egg. Real stuff.

Flies may lay their eggs in the flesh of a dead animal. Disgusting, but true.

But, of course, you will know right away that this story is not about flies, but about families: the one into which we are born, and the ones we make; and about Trying as the only opposite of Failure that I know.