Are you an ugly bag of mostly water – or are you a luminous being (not this crude matter)? Do you believe a sentient crystal in Star Trek (the former) or a wizened Jedi master in Star Wars (the latter?)
Another way to think about it: do you have a destiny – or as Marty McFly’s dad would say, a density? Are you the one meant to bring balance to the Force? Or, like Han, despite having seen a lot of strange stuff, are you sure there’s no mystical energy field that controls your destiny? No one all-powerful force controlling everything?
Fans are often a cynical lot, so many of us sympathize with Han’s quote, even as we know (at least in that universe) there is a Force. In our world too we are told we are many different things – and they can’t all be true.
I’ve heard I’m just a random assortment of space debris, sparked with some strange thing called consciousness. I’ve also heard a person can be known before they are in their mother’s womb. I’ve heard I’m part of a natural circle of life, eating food and being food on and on. I’ve heard I’m special and eternal. I’ve heard I’m a member of various tribes (women, Americans, Lutherans, liberals, etc., etc., etc.) I’ve heard I’m a link in the chain of my family.
To investigate all this, I recently turned to Science, as you do. Apparently in the smallest bit of my insignificant spit you can see that I am 65% British, 23% Scandinavian, and my relationship to my parents and cousins is close and scientifically verifiable.
Upon receiving these results in an email recently, I immediately thought, what witchcraft is this?! The mind reels. How amazing is it that you can construct so much of my life from so little of me?!
For meaning to the Science, I turn to literature and art – as you also simply have to do. You might go to religion, as a form of both those things, but I felt more like going to an interrogating insect.
“Who are you?” the caterpillar asks Alice. Who, indeed, are we? Who can say? Often, what rings truest to me is Alice’s response to the caterpillar: “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
She’s big, she’s small, she’s proper, she’s crazy. It’s confusing, for sure. But in the 2010 movie the Mad Hatter goes on to tell us there is nevertheless something consistent there, some core of her – her muchness. When it’s no longer there, he says, “You’re not the same as you were before…you were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.” (The book has the idea of muchness in it as well, but more as part of general silliness.)
The idea of muchness is a new element in all this. It’s not from science or religion, but it rings true, doesn’t it? I don’t know that you could see it in my vial of spit, but it’s certainly there and just as distinctive to me as my DNA statistics. There are times I feel like myself – activities I’m doing, places I am, people I’m with, that make me feel my muchness.
What’s weird is that can’t necessarily predict or even pick what brings this out in you. You know it when you feel it, and others can notice it in you as well. It’s not happiness, it’s not fulfillment exactly, it’s you being the you that (dare I say?!) you were meant to be.
Now I am not going to base my identity completely on characters known to be high or insane. Probably. But you can find this idea of muchness elsewhere, even in such an esteemed fandom as Star Trek (though not by that name.)
In the TNG episode “The Perfect Mate,” there is a woman Kamala changes who she is to fit with the man she is currently with, before she bonds with one forever. On one level it’s a male fantasy (so much is!), especially when she chooses to become Picard’s version of herself even when she’s married to man. But it’s also an illustration of how we change ourselves for others, and not always for the best. I know I do. Kamala ultimately chooses the version of herself she likes best, not the one that is perfect for her mate – I would say, she chooses to be how she feels her muchness.
Whether or not you are a metamorph, if you find you are a version of yourself you don’t much enjoy, you can sing out your woes thanks to the recent musical “Waitress.” There’s a whole song about the main character Jenna having essentially lost her muchness through her abusive marriage. She sings “she used to be mine,” – referring to herself, in the past, as she was with muchness. She gets sparks of that when she bakes, but can’t really find that self until she moves on.
Where do you feel your muchness? With whom? It’s well worth figuring out. Maybe stand in Mountain Pose, at ease, and consider it. But the fact that the question exists informs our answer to the caterpillar’s question. If there is a muchness that Alice can lose, that Kamala can choose, that Jenna can miss, that we can feel – then that is at least in part who we are. That’s maybe more that space debris, maybe more than DNA.
When I was younger, I would have taken that revelation as proof of the truth of religion. I’m not saying it’s not. But as I get older I think it’s bigger and more complicated than that. Perhaps more complicated than we can grasp.
But in any case, I think between taking identity advice from a sentient space crystal and a wizened old Jedi, I’ll choose the Jedi (especially if it’s Yoda). I’m not sure how luminous a being I am, but I’m more than this crude matter.