When I think about what makes an engaging character in a book, I begin to think on what it means to be a person. What is ‘me’?
In writing science fantasy, I’m not interested in simply ‘human’. Human is a species. I want to know what it means to be a person no matter the species. A person is an entity with cognitive and creative functions, with self-consciousness, with spiritual aspirations.
That definition takes me back to what is ‘me’?
Me = My Body?
Am I my body?
The physical seems to be how we relate to other persons on the most basic level. To those persons who are good-lookin’, we initially respond favorably. From those persons not so attractive, we shy away. This physicality is who we think others as.
But is this accurate? It’s not how I think of myself. Deep inside I know there’s more to me than a superficial body. And so it is with others.
Me = My Birth?
I didn’t make my body. It was there for me when I woke to consciousness.
I didn’t choose to exist. I didn’t choose when and where to be born, to whom or in what condition, not whether I was born a slave or the Prince of Wales, not whether sickly or robust.
Each of us starts as an infant. Time shoves forward and we become more through various lessons, experiences, and circumstances. All of these we had little or no control over.
Whether rich or poor, whether natural genius or dull normal, we each have a ‘me’ that’s more than the state into which we were born.
Me = My Appetites?
Some say you are what you eat. But when I take in food, my cells do a myriad chemical processes – those complicated ones I had to memorize in biochem – but none of this nutrition extraction is under my conscious control other than chewing.
I can’t stop myself from being hungry, though I can decide what and when and how much I eat. I may not be able to help being attracted to a pretty lady, but I don’t have to hop in bed; I decide what I put before my eyes.
I can’t control all my desires, but I can decide what to do about them, how much energy or thought to devote to them.
My appetites show a piece of self, but I’m not to ‘me’ yet.
Me = My Possessions or Works?
Am I my clothes or house or car, things I’ve acquired?
I didn’t have them when I was born and I can’t take them with me after death – much to the ancient Egyptians’ chagrin. Most of my possessions will perish long before I do. Those that do survive me – any pieces of art or crafts, any property or memorabilia – do not ensure my survival.
Even my creative works are only a reflection of me. But they’re not me, not the ‘me’ I want to live on forever in consciousness.
‘Me’ is something deeper than all these trappings.
Me = My Brain?
Am I my brain?
The brain is a physical organ that does some amazing stuff, but it’s only where my ‘me’ sits for the moment. I didn’t control its formation nor do I control its demise.
In the end, my brain and body will betray me to death.
No, I’m more than just brain.
Me = My Memory?
Am I the sum of my memories?
Memory makes a person interesting. Memory almost touches consciousness. Memory certainly helps me be self-aware. For a parable on this concept, check out the androids in Blade Runner.
But memory can be lost. For sure, most of my memories are already gone. I cannot remember what I had for lunch last Saturday. And the momentous occasions? Those memories are clouded in time by my own mind.
I’m getting closer to ‘me’ but memory is a shaky thing.
Me = My Contribution?
Is making a contribution to society ‘me’?
I’ve been reading a book about the story of making life, making a life count. But grabbing a thrill is not story, it’s just having fun.
Doing something charitable on vacation and saying that’s ‘me’ doesn’t give the mundane days much credit.
I live in those mundane days; that’s where ‘me’ is mostly found. I want to find me on Monday morning, not just Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Each day has to be its own story.
Me = My Principles?
This leads me to my principles.
Individual days are lived by a certain set of principles stored in my brain, not principles I’ve mentally assented to, but the true priorities down deep in my soul where I make decisions.
But principles are mostly what I’ve been taught. This isn’t necessarily a simple equation though, because there’s more to the principles I live by than what were taught or caught.
I’m getting closer to me. My principles take into account where I’ve come from, what I’ve done, and what is important to me. They guide what I chose day by day, choices that either underscore or erase principles others have given me.
Me = My Choices?
So could ‘me’ be a function of my choices?
I do have control over my choices. Choices are not just reactions, which can be spur of the moment produced by what I’ve eaten, how tired I am, who I’ve spoken to recently.
Choice is what act or attitude is decided upon after the initial reaction. My choices form the character that’s now ‘me’ from that raw baby material I started with.
I’m so close. My choices are me shaping ‘me’.
Maybe ‘me’ is about the few things I have some feeble control over. Is that what will remain once I’ve left this universe?
But I don’t have control over death, either.
Me = Me!
So, what is the essence of me?
Maybe all these orbit the real me like planets around a sun. Maybe ‘me’ is the center that makes the actual choices, that holds the principles, that lives my story, steers the car, indulges my wants, resides within my body.
This is the real person. This is my story: What I’m making out of my life right now.
Not yesterday, though my past choices and situations influence what today’s choices will be.
Not tomorrow, because the future is for planning and hoping, but not for living.
Living is right now. That’s all it ever is and all it’s ever going to be.
On the pages of a book, a character is revealed by all the above. And as the story progresses, he becomes what he chooses.
In reality, a person is revealed by the same. The ‘me’ beneath is that entity that’s living and choosing right now.
This is the kernel of me.