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.

fiction, new from the book

new from the book: Chapter 2; October 30, 1857

read Chapter 1: Late October, 1857 here

William thought about turning back the whole ride over to Brockwayville. He thought it, dithered and pondered, but did not once turn the reins. Ambition pushed him forward. Pride, too. Without him, their little endeavor would be as cold in the ground as Black Hen. William puffed out his chest at that.

He deflated quickly, looked around to be sure no one saw. No one thinks highly of a man too proud of himself. Only twenty-one and nothing to be prideful about, anyway. William had enough sense to be able to laugh at his own self. Want to get it outta the way before she does, if I even catch a glimpse, he thought.

Uncle Junior at the livery stables gave him a beauty that morning. The kind of horse a man felt like taking when he went a-courtin’. Guess he was, in a couple of ways. William admired the horse with the sunlight rising through the trees. Some trees, anyway. Fewer than there used to be, said mama. Fewer than there were before he went Cincinnati last winter. Lord, but he saw some women there. His mind drifted pleasurably. William hauled up short, reminding himself of his vow.

No more women. Less liquor. No more trouble. I went to Cincy. I had as fine a time a poor man could have in a city, and kept Mama from hearin’ most of it. There’s something to be proud about. William threw out the kind of fine laugh he’s known for, startling the horse. She settled right back down, though, and only gave him sort of a look.

“I know, girl,” he said, patting the mare’s neck. “Penelope’s the only female fer me. Human, at least, anymore. I promised.” He’d come back from the only debauchery a man who’s been helping support his family could. The boys been determined to be men for their mama since they’s born. Cincinnati sure was fun, though. Playing around, learning, burning with ambition.

He’d come back to Brookville, spotted Penelope Clarke, and promised her he’d not feel another woman’s breasts, nor any of the other fun bits, ‘less they were hers. Well, excluding patients. And, well, he’d not precisely made that promise to Penelope, out loud, in person, or any other way. “Wouldn’t do to discuss delicate things with a delicate lady.” William said that last bit aloud.

The horse snorted. “That’s last of the flies, I suspect,” said William to her. Reassuring the mare.

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fiction, new from the book

new from the book: Chapter 1; late October, 1857

new opening, new tone, better story. still looking for a title.
warning: racially charged language, swearing

Henry swung in a wide arc over the creek, whooping and hollering. He left go and fell through the water to land directly on his ass. He came up sputtering, like the water was deep enough to drown, which it was, but it was not precisely deep enough that he’d gone under.

“Damnation, that water’s cold.” He raised his voice to be sure it carried to the boys waiting on the bank, making a fuss of splashing and wringing out his shirttails. No one bit. They knew he’d take the bet before they made it, and he knew he’d wrestle any one of them. No one suggests Henry wouldn’t grab that timber pulley rope and jump the crick without expecting him in the air ‘fore they’re done.

All of them had tempers, as anyone would tell you all the North Fork boys had. Barely did Charlie need to roll his eyes towards John before Henry jumped him. John couldn’t challenge both to shoot a running rabbit before they were arguing over whose shot killed it.

Most everyone thereabouts had a temper or some gumption or something that made them come to the hills and ridges and hollows of Western Pennsylvania. Sure, people started settling Brookville at the turn of the century. Henry’s momma had come with her daddy near as soon as anybody else, but even fifty or so years later with the trees coming down and more than a handful of doctors or barbers and lawyers and newspapers in the town proper, it was on the frontier of the East.

They sent their share of lumber and game down the North Fork and the Redbank to the Allegheny at the junction of the three rivers in Pittsburgh, and made men rich. Or they came for the land, and some said there was maybe coal in the hills, too. No matter why or how, people came from all over America and tried to have a life and family.

Eyes down on the rocks, Henry reached out a hand for a friendly pull up the bank or his gun, didn’t much matter which. “You fellers had best not’ve run off with my boots.” He grabbed air.

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fiction, new from the book

first draft complete: a teaser

I feel like exclamation points. Lots and lots and lots of exclamation points. Instead of using them, there are pedicures and champagne, and the first pages of the first draft of the tentatively titled “The Worst Laid Plans,” a novel loosely based on a true story of grave robbing doctors in rural Western Pennsylvania in 1857.

“Before God, I am exceeding weary.”
Augustus Bell swallowed his whiskey and slid the glass down the bar.
“Are we about to argue the relative demerits of patients before and after the prescription again?” he asked the man who had spoken. “If so, I require another drink.”

Swinging the door securely closed behind him, the new arrival nodded his confirmation to the bartender. Downing his first quickly as his companion sipped, he signaled for another and sighed.

“The Widow Barnett arrived this afternoon, interrupting an appointment, demanding to know why half the town’s doctors appeared hungover yesterday.”
Bell shifted his eyes, searching for listeners.
“Do you think she suspects?”
“That we’re all raving drunkards and desperately looking for excitement? Absolutely.”
“No,” Bell said, “Do you think she suspects?”
“That only a few of the town’s unmarried doctors are behaving as appropriately as expected while squiring young ladies? Absolutely again.”
“Heichhold, you test my patience. Do you think she knows we have performed sustained physical labor in the previous thirty-six hours?”

Heichhold gave his chin a nod to thank the bartender for prompt service and used the opportunity to make his own scan for eavesdroppers.

“Harriet was delightfully robust in manner this afternoon.”
“You vex me. And, do not allow anyone to hear you call her Harriet. You are on thin enough ice with your ingratiating manners and constant demands for a dance.”

“Don’t be on about dancing again, fellows.”

William McKnight sidled up to the bar, somehow drifting through the cold wind without the slamming door that had followed the entry of all previous patrons.

Nick was ready with a whiskey poured, wondering like all the others how the town had come to this. He had never seen such grim faces, nor heard the whispers so loud. The various townsfolk shared the gossip they traded like currency all through the afternoon.

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