musings on art, musings on creating

the messiness of emotions & “Hamilton”

I cry. Not heartbroken, but I cry. Tears rise up, choke my throat, cut off all but a whisper. They drip, drip, drip down my cheeks, land somewhere near my collarbone, and I try to hold on. I’m driving, and I’ve already cried too much this trip. Traffic and stoplights demand my focus, and all I can do is wade through the unimaginable.

Only, it’s not my unimaginable. My life has held no tragedy. I am wildly privileged in that my family loves and accepts me. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t struggled to learn, to earn, worried about student loan debt or a job.

But these words, they rise up, rise up, rise up, inexplicable. I scream them, sob them, allow them to shake me to the core. I appropriate these words: the accents, the cadence. The speed with which I have managed to make them tumble from my mouth is close, but not enough. I practice.

Hamilton is not the first piece of musical theater to make me cry. I can’t remember what was. Emotions well with overtures. That’s what art is supposed to do: make people feel. Anger, heartache, glee, terror, delight.

Trying to codify how Hamilton swirls emotions feels as impossible as Hamilton itself. Who’d’ve thought a rap musical about a forgotten Founding Father would eat at the public consciousness? How do I listen to the whole album without tears?

Even whispering the words to myself, a fist squeezes my heart. No song finishes without some rallying cry.

“I’m not throwing away my shot.” “Rise up.” “How do you write like you’re running out of time?” “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” “I will never be satisfied.”

It’s just the first act, with its triumphant tale of bastard orphan rising to Treasury Secretary. The quiet and raucous, horrifying downfall and death that litter the second act bring their own sadness and forgiveness.

More eloquent and elegant people write about the transcendence of Hamilton, its ubiquitous grasp, reaching out farther and further and beyond. Our history, our present, perhaps and hope for the future.

All these things, the hard work and joy and sorrow of searching for the perfect word and grasping at quicksilver emotion. Hamilton is a rallying cry and an admission of defeat. It makes me sit up, buckle down, tell my story. And it makes me so very aware of how hard that is.

Maybe that’s why I cry. Maybe it’s just so damn good. I’m telling everyone I know this story. And I burn.

apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda for borrowing so many of his lovely words just now.