Oreos, Electrons, and How the Transcendentalists Got It Wrong

¿Quién eres? asks my AP Spanish homework, and I don’t even know how to answer that question in English so forget about it in Spanish. I don’t think it’s supposed to be this hard.

In 7th grade, we used to get almost the exact same question when we were learning adjectives and practicing the verb “ser.” ¿Cómo eres? they used to ask, and I never had any trouble answering that one. Soy baja, I wrote, y de pelo negro.  Soy tímida, atlética, y ambiciosa. And okay, now I’m only un poco baja and I’m more habladora than tímida, but those are the answers to ¿Cómo eres? and not ¿Quién eres? I know como soy, but I’m not quite sure of quien soy.

I don’t really want this to turn into an “I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing with my life” existential rant, but the more I struggle to write about who I am in Spanish, the more I realize that I actually don’t. The thing is, I think I do, but that just shows how much I don’t.

Or maybe it’s not my fault, and the answer to ¿Quién eres? can’t really be put into words. Words, as much as I like to think of them as something that’s not technical like numbers or data, sometimes limit you. They are, at the very least, more technical than a human being. If the things that words can describe are infinite, quien is a greater infinity (The Fault in Our Stars. Go read it.)

I think quien means something different to everyone, too. To me, quien is about the details, but then again, to me, everything is about the details. Quien is about what kind of toothpaste you use and what your favorite day of the week is and how you eat Oreos.

Crest, Wednesday, not at all.

If I could write that as my Spanish essay, or any of my college admissions essays that keep asking me who I am, I would. Not just because it would be about a million times easier, but because I think those things say just as much about me as a time that I failed or rebelled against the system.

The real problem is that we like to know things in a world that’s too complicated to know everything. So we simplify, simplify, simplify, like Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, but we simplify too much and the details get lost. We’re left with the big things and we think we like it because if we can just focus on one thing, it’s a lot easier to get our heads around it than a million little things at once. It’s much easier to explain who I am if I am one big event. If I am a test score. If I am “the event that marked my transition into adulthood.” If that event even existed. Because all of those things just require a graspable amount of words.

Simplifying is what makes things seem insignificant, because if we were to place weight on everything that’s shaped us, it’d be too great an infinity to even think about. I’m not saying that brushing your teeth in the morning is necessarily as significant as whatever else might happen in your day, but in an un-simplified world, where everything matters, it is something that defines you somehow. Perhaps not in the direct way that a life-changing event would, but it’s still a part of your quien. Everyone pretends that the mass of electrons is not significant because it’s so small, but if we didn’t have electrons, everything would be charged and we couldn’t touch them without being shocked. Which would suck.

And as someone who hasn’t experienced a lot of life-changing events, my quien is pretty much completely composed of these little things, the electrons. On their own, they may not carry as much weight as a more exciting piece of someone else’s quien, but when I add everything together, my quien reaches infinity, just like everyone else’s.


One thought on “Oreos, Electrons, and How the Transcendentalists Got It Wrong

  1. I love this. College application essays are honestly so stressful because they want you to boil yourself down into one experience or characteristic, and it’s impossible to do that without abandoning another part of your quien.

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