There is a line in Lewis Carroll’s tales of Alice’s Adventures that reads: “You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”
I’ve often liked that line, spoken to Alice about the ways that she has changed. And though the point of Carroll’s writing was to make nonsense seem like sense and sense like nonsense, defying logic at every turn, I have always identified with the nonsense in a really lovely way.
I am Alice, in so many of these moments. She is sort of tumbling through Wonderland in this state of shock. Nothing makes sense. Everything is literally and metaphorically topsy-turvy. And what she believed to be true and correct and assumed by all, is not at all true and correct and assumed.
It is disorienting to discover that what you believed was sense is, instead, nonsense.
There are plenty of times in my life when I could relate to this disorientation. There are many instances where the things I once believed turned out to be wrong or insufficient or nonsense. And that isn’t an easy process to go through. And it is a process made more difficult by those who are around you supporting the thing you once considered sense and standing in opposition.
In many ways I have gone through transformations over the course of my life. And many of them are good changes, but some are or were not positive. The trip that Alice takes doesn’t just seem to turn her into someone new, however. It takes her back to who she was in her early years. It takes her back to the space where nonsense is sense. It takes her back into imagination and wonder and fun and passion and interest and joy.
And getting to that destination isn’t easy, but it is necessary. If she doesn’t find her former self, the battle will be lost, and everything falls apart.
I think that this idea of a previous stage in Alice’s life as the best and most necessary stage is telling. That she once found this strength within her, but now lacks it, expresses a lot. It helps me see that there was a person I was, and a way that I was being, that might have been better or more necessary, even though it was an earlier and less “sensible” stage and state of being. And for me, much of that ties to my imagination and my early years.
There is this space in our development that allows for all possibilities. There is a time, especially in early childhood, when we are allowed to believe wholeheartedly that anything is possible and all the things are good and that we are safe and strong and able. And that time doesn’t last long. That time is cut short when we start to see the sense as more important than the nonsense. We start to be told what we can and cannot accomplish. We start to feel the weight of failure. We start to play less and work more. We lose touch with that fire that burned in our hearts when we believed that all the things were possible, and that nothing was beyond our reach.
I think this is the muchness that Alice is meant to rediscover—she needs to find that space where all the things are possible and nothing is beyond her reach. She needs to believe in her strength, her will, her ability, and herself. But not in her reason. In her heart.
Several years back I was living in a less than stellar situation. My cocaine addiction was being fed in the midst of a bad relationship. I didn’t really like myself or the events that were happening or the ways that life was unfolding. And I started reading and working through a book called Something More. It had all these exercises within the pages that were designed to remind you who you are at your core. Through the process of engaging with this book, I stopped wanting to engage in the life I was living. I truly did start wanting something more. And eventually my desire for more created a chasm between my partner and myself, and our relationship came to a violent end. But that end was a catalyst for a new beginning. A remaking based on a remembrance. A memory of who I was and what I wanted in early childhood began to fuel the creation of this new way of being.
It was a much improved way of being, to be sure. And it was a good way of being for some time. But, today, I find myself back in a space where I want more, and I feel like I have lost a bit of myself. I have disconnected from the desires of my heart once more, and fallen into the trap of being sensible. I have lost my muchness.
And now the question that remains: How do I find it again?
Alice falls down a hole and ends up in crazy town. I don’t think I want to fall down any holes and end up in crazy town. But falling down holes and landing in nonsense isn’t practical for most of us. We need to find another way back to our muchness.
The book Something More definitely helped me find my muchness in the past, but I don’t know that repeating that process will yield a better or different result. And the path to nonsense isn’t one that many embark upon, so there are not a lot of guidebooks to set you on your way.
So, for lack of better options, I have gone back to what apparently served us well as children—I have been incessantly asking, “Why?”
I remember when my daughter went through this stage. It was annoying and infuriating and beautiful. I quickly discovered that if I gave her the most detailed scientific explanation possible, she stopped repeating the question. For some time, I thought that I had quieted her questioning by confusing her. But, after further consideration, I realized that she wasn’t quieted because she was confused, but because the answer was believable. It was the whole truth. She knew the difference, as a toddler, between me pandering to her and me telling her the answer to her questions. And some of my answers would, at a later date in my life and hers, change. But she could tell when I was speaking what I believed to be true and when I was giving child-sized explanations that didn’t tell the whole story.
So, to get back to myself—to rediscover my core desires and beliefs and find my muchness—I am asking why until I get an answer that feels fully true and wholly believable.
That isn’t an easy process. I feels a bit like falling down a hole and landing in crazy town. And constantly questioning your reasons for beliefs and actions can, at first, feel like it is breaking you in pieces. It feels like you don’t and can’t trust yourself. It feels like judgment, if you come from a background or current environment that tends to be judgmental. And it can be really uncomfortable.
But when you keep questioning—when you continue to dig until you get to what feels like the true and full answer to the “why”—you begin to feel stronger and better and more confident in what you believe and in how you choose to act. It takes time. Lots of time. And it is worth every moment of that time. Because it is really easy to become a believer of the easy answer and to follow the path of collective “sense”, but that collective and simplistic way of approaching the world may be (as it was for me) in conflict with your deepest and truest desire.
My nonsense is better than the world’s sense.
The creative, empathic, passionate, adventurous, strong woman that I am often clashes with what might be considered common sense. When I follow my heart I end up moving 2000 miles to a new city with no job, no home, and no acceptance letter to the school I hope to attend. When I follow my heart I end up in the ghetto surrounded by a strange mix of chaos and community. When I follow my heart I break up with great people to pursue a connection more passionate and powerful than the perceived “Mr. Right” offers. When I follow my heart my business card reads “Author” and “Artist”, not M.Div.
When I follow my heart I exhibit all sorts of “nonsense”. I anger people. I frustrate people. But I connect to me, and to my understanding and my desire and my core belief, in amazing ways.
I find my muchness. I get muchier. I find me.
And we can debate for a millennium the ways that who I am may or may not be “wrong” or “bad” or “immoral”. I don’t really care to do that, but I always invite civil discussion and dialogue, so I will do so if it seems productive. But that debate won’t likely end with me changing my view, because the view is formed by the constant questioning and the finding of my muchness. I’m not going to give that up easily or quickly. I’m going to hold on to that muchness and seek to always follow my heart.
And that might look like nonsense.
I’m totally happy with it looking like nonsense to others, if it feels like the deepest truth to me. And the philosophical and theological definitions of truth don’t need to be addressed when I look to my muchness. Because no matter what moral or philosophical dilemma I am faced with, I will still look to my heart, my understanding, my experience, and my study to find the truest and most complete answer. That might not be the answer you prefer, but I am not made unique in order to become mundanely accepting of someone else’s views.
I am made for my muchness. I am made to live in it and with it and through it. I am made to use it to create a better world, to offer new ideas, to live with gusto, and to turn the world on its head and make you feel like you fell down a hole into crazy town, so that you too can investigate, pursue, and live out your own muchness.
It will look different for each of us. Because the truest and most complete answer to all of the “why’s” won’t always align. We are different people, with different knowledge and experience, and different hearts. But that doesn’t mean we cannot live together in harmony. We can do so, if we simply respect and honor the muchness of others—their opinions and beliefs and understandings and experiences and hearts.
I got into an argument with my sister the other day. There was voice raising and abrupt hanging up of phones involved. It wasn’t pretty.
Afterward, I continued to ask “why”. Because her heart says something that my heart cannot. And my heart says something that hers cannot. This is true because we are different people, with different experiences and understanding. But it didn’t break our relationship. In fact, it might grow all the stronger after the lengthy text messages following the argument that worked to express love and commitments to listen to one another’s needs more fully and respectfully. But when I sought out the why, I could see her perspective clearly and, simultaneously, know that I am firmly rooted in my perspective for really important reasons. And while my perspective feels like nonsense to her, it is sense for me.
So, I am holding on to my nonsensical muchness, with the confidence that I will continue to investigate what feels most true and whole, and with the knowledge that my views make others feel, at times, like they fell down a hole into crazy town.
I can accept that. And I can try to lower them into crazy town gently and with kindness and compassion. But I can’t give up my muchness. It takes such work to find it and hold it. Alice couldn’t hold her heart and her imagination in high regard. She lost her muchness. And so have I, but I am regaining it.
I am letting the topsy-turvy feel like home. I am allowing my own heart to speak. I am filling life with what I love. I am returning to the strength within, letting my imagination run wild, embracing the way that I have been fashioned, loving who I am, and continuing to seek out the most complete answer to the question, “Why?”.
I am opening myself to the nonsense, and refusing to be confined by the restraints of the status quo.
I am becoming muchier. I am finding my heart. I am gaining something more.
I am embracing my muchness.