The Problem with Identity: Can I Conceal Myself Forevermore?

I know I write this blog for you all, but a lot of times, I feel like I end up writing for myself. One time, I wrote a whole post on how I don’t get angry, then took a step back, asked myself, “What’s the point?” and threw it out (or in this day and age, deleted the file). So I try to make sure my posts are relevant to my readers, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. I was questioning these tendencies in myself, and I came to this answer: I, like pretty much everyone, want to understand myself.

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Thinking about identity makes me feel so small.

Identity is a funny thing. Is it completely shaped by us, or do other people play a part in it? Do we only have one identity, or do we have many? Is it constant, or does it change? In short, what is identity?

Yeah, I don’t think I can answer that now. I keep coming up with more questions. Then I create answers that contradict each other or that aren’t as full as I want them to be. And I keep coming back to the question, “Who am I?”

This, of course, brings me to the song of that name in the musical, Les Miserables, which is what I will focus on for the rest of this post. It doesn’t get much press, even though the music is awesome and the conflict in the words is captivating. Honestly, I like this song a lot more than “Bring Him Home,” but maybe that’s just me.

In this breathtaking moment, Jean Valjean is torn between two sides of himself—the old, selfish side that runs away from his past, and the new side of him that wants to redeem himself. And he realizes that they are both a part of who he is now. To take on the new side of himself, he must admit that he used to follow the old side. He chooses redemption by confessing his selfishness. I was absolutely in love with Valjean at this point in the non-musical movie (the one with Liam Neeson).

The conflict is so real and so relatable. How many times have we done things that we just want to erase from existence? How many times have we wanted to deny parts of ourselves? I dunno about you, but that phenomenon is certainly not foreign to me. But everything that we do, everything that we say and think, is part of our identity. Every little habit, every spoken or unspoken word defines who we are, even the things we’d like to forget.  

And so, I will leave you with this wonderful clip of Alfie Boe singing “Who Am I?”

Boe is my personal favorite musical Valjean, and I don’t really care if you don’t agree with me on that. Just don’t say that Hugh Jackman was your favorite (loved the acting, but the songs aren’t remotely in his range). Anyway, enough musical nerdiness. So long, farewell, and stay tuned for more blog posts about identity once I’ve had more time to think on it. 

Epylle Spydre

p.s. (this is the first time I’ve done a postscript that was actually written after the publication of the rest of the post). Some more thoughts on this song and this moment in Jean Valjean’s life! Perhaps even more prominently than what I was focusing on, Valjean is assessing his character. He knows that the old Valjean would yield to temptation and hide. And he’s asking if the new Valjean will follow that lead or take the path of honor. He quite literally wants to know who he is, which Valjean will win the fight. And that is why this scene is so powerful, because we all tussle with who we are, and he offers us hope that we can all resist the struggles of the flesh, that we all can be our own masters of who we are. As J. K. Rowling so wonderfully put it, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Of Zombies and Heroes

Hey all, I hope you’re having a wonderful time. I would like to start this post with two disclaimers: 1) this post will be rather theological, so if you don’t like that stuff, don’t get offended; and 2) I will be talking about the movie Warm Bodies a bit, so if you don’t want to know the ending, stop reading now. 

I can see that I’ve thoroughly confused you. What does theology have to do with Warm Bodies? It will all make sense, dear readers. I promise. 

So, you have probably heard of the term, living dead. It’s used to describe things like zombies and vampires and sometimes Ringwraiths (for the purposes of this blog post, I will mostly be focusing on zombies). But you may not have heard the term used to describe people. Now I’ve really confused you. Let me elaborate.

We are broken creatures. Nobody is perfect; we are all given lives that will take us through failure and pain. It’s just a fact of life. And from a theological angle, we may be physically alive, but most of us are spiritually dead. We are the living dead. And you can take that in a lot of different directions, but I’m going to shoot for zombies.

Why do we have such a fascination with zombies? Because we see our spiritual selves reflected in their physical bodies. Of course, zombies lend themselves to many different venues, so they also make for excellent creators of suspense or points of conflict in movies and books and even haunted houses. But what gets us the most is that “living dead” characteristic. It’s a paradox. We love paradoxes. We love anything that messes with our minds. And when it’s a paradox buried inside of our souls, it becomes almost irresistible. 

“Cool,” you say, “but what about all the other things we like? What about superheroes, and hobbits, and all of our childhood heroes? They don’t have that paradox.”

You see, we’re fascinated with zombies because we see ourselves in them. But we love heroes because we long to see ourselves in them. We want redemption. We want to be good and true and loving. We want to be soon for the good creatures that we are, not the broken ones. 

That’s what makes Warm Bodies such good literature for this blog post. Because Warm Bodies isn’t just a zombie movie. It’s a beautiful picture of redemption of those that look as if they have no hope. Most of us probably focus on the adorable love story in Warm Bodies (did you notice all those Romeo and Juliet allusions?), but it’s really about the liberation of those in bondage to a condition that they did not choose. 

So, we may be fascinated with zombies, but we really want to be modeled after the heroes. We want to know that good triumphs over evil, that justice reigns, and that all will live in peace. After all the blood and gore and suspense, we want to rest, knowing that all is well.

Epylle Spydre

p.s. here’s a really cool song to go with the post. Jonathan Thulin is way underrated, so you should check out more of his stuff (the “Bombs Away” and “Babylon” music videos are particularly fabulous). 

To Be a Hero

Oh gosh, have I missed this. Yay! School’s out, and I can blog everyday again! It’s time to get ready for all those college applications *groan*. But I didn’t write this to talk about school. On the contrary, I’ve had the theme of this blog post in my brain for ages, that theme being redemption as seen in my favorite tv show, Once Upon a Time. So here we go!

I don’t know about you, but I generally put books into 3 categories: books that are kinda good but not exceptionally amazing; books with really engaging plots but aren’t particularly meaningful; and finally, books that are really meaningful, regardless of how engaging the plot is (they usually go hand in hand with books that make you cry). I actually blogged about one of my favorite books that belongs in this last category, so you can check that out here if you want. Anyways, we have been blessed with wonderful minds who created these books that mean so much. And usually, the biggest difference between the stories with amazing plots and small meanings and the stories with great meanings and perhaps average plots comes down to redemption.

These are the stories (because they don’t have to just be books) that give us hope for the world and hope for humanity. We all know that we live in a fallen world and that we are flawed. We just can’t escape that. But there is hope. We don’t have to be slaves to our fallen nature; we can rise above it and be heroes. That is what these stories show us. They say that we may have failed, but we don’t have to let that failure define us. Since I was inspired by the Once Upon a Time season 2 finale, I’ll use it as an example.

(SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE FINALE)

The so-called Evil Queen Regina just wanted someone to love her. After her fiancee, Daniel, died, she had no one. But then Henry came along. Henry, her adopted son, saw beyond all her lies and less than honorable actions. Henry believed in the goodness of Regina, but Regina kept failing him. When the trigger that would destroy Storybrooke falls into the wrong hands (somewhat due to Regina), Regina has a choice to make. She could continue on the self-serving path she had created for herself, or she could be noble and save everyone in Storybrooke. Regina makes the choice to sacrifice herself in exchange for everyone else, showing that Henry was right all along. 

This moment was so beautiful it legitimately made me cry. The beauty of her sacrifice coupled with the profound change of character she had in that moment was just too much for me. I don’t really expect you to understand unless you know the story, but that doesn’t really matter. Redemption plays a part in almost every truly meaningful story. In The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, it was in the forgiveness of Despereaux’s father. Some stories, like The Great Gatsby, find meaning in showing painful truths. But the best ones are the ones that say you don’t have to slay dragons or destroy the Ring of Power to be a hero.