I’ve been bombarded for the past month or two now with gifset upon gifset and photo upon photo of the Broadway phenomenon that is Hamilton. Somehow, I’ve put off listening to it until last week, which is weird, because musicals + historical narratives + diverse cast is usually a textbook recipe for “well, here’s a thing Emily will probably like and think about non-stop for weeks on end.”
Spoiler alert: it is totally that thing I just said.
First off, if you haven’t had the absolute pleasure of listening to Hamilton, oh god please do that as soon as you can. Don’t make the mistake I did on putting it off for months. Just, ok, stop reading this, go on Spotify or Google it or something, just please take a few hours out of your day to listen to this musical.
Did you do that? We’re gonna roll with the honor system here and I’ll assume that you did that. Moving onwardly.
So, here’s the thing: I was initially gonna write about narrative, the need we have to control the stories we allow into our own narrative and canon, and how that desire turns ourselves into storytellers without even meaning to, but instead I want to talk about something a little more personal, probably a little more rambly, and likely very much more scatterbrained.
You see, I haven’t really been in the best of spots lately (“What else is new,” a chorus of people who even vaguely know me as well as my own self-deprecation yell. “Get a different blog post, assholes,” I yell back). I’m working a less-than-fulfilling temp job that leaves me drained and exhausted, I give myself an hour to relax and eat after I come home from a lengthy commute, and then work on my own stuff (comics, illustrations, scripting, the list goes on) until I pass out around midnight everyday, wake up at 6am, wash, rinse, repeat. Despite working myself to the point of physical fatigue, I still feel like I’m not doing enough. If everyone is giving 110%, I have to give 120%, and then 120% isn’t enough, it has to be 130%, and what am I doing stopping to spend time with friends, that’s valuable time being lost on this project or that script or looking for a full-time job or trying to get more freelance work. I’m not quite sure how many times I’ve thought “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” seriously these past few months, but it’s definitely probably way too many (one is probably way too many, if we’re being honest here).
The thing is, I only do this to myself. Anyone else who pushes themselves to this kind of brink, I’m immediately concerned for. “Take a break! Rest, you can’t work all of the time, you need to take care of yourself too,” I find myself saying to friends. I remember a college friend of mine getting repeated cases of mono because she would pull all-nighter after all-nighter painting, and I never chided her for “not working hard enough” (In fact, we were constantly concerned for her, and it took two months of our nagging for her to finally go and see a doctor for what turned out to be the second case of mono). And yet, the standards I hold myself to are absurd and, frankly, dangerous.
But anywho. Back to Hamilton. It’s a normal Thursday night and I’m working, enthralled by this very human musical about people and a time that to most only exists in three or so paragraphs in a high school textbook, and suddenly, the end of Act 1 hits me like a freight train. Non-Stop makes me stop dead in my tracks. I had to pause before I started Act 2 and have myself a good cry because I couldn’t remember the last time something resonated with me so profoundly, on such a core level.
Also, I cry a lot. I’m sort of self-conscious about this fact, because some might use it to say that my feeling aren’t valid (“Well, Emily, you cry at everything”), but it was one of the most therapeutic cries I’ve had in a long while.
I’ve definitely been working excessively to cope with (or, in many cases, entirely mask) some of the fears I have. If I’m exhausted from a full day of work, I don’t have to lie awake at night and worry about the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year. I throw myself into organizing Etsy inventory on the weekends, plan comic schedules that are so rigorous that I can’t stick to them and thus get even more disappointed with myself, take on more work than I’m being paid for in order to keep myself busy, because busy is fulfilled, even though it’s really not.
I know I’m young, I know I have so much life ahead of me that I can’t even begin to imagine, but I can’t drown out that deafening tick of the clock that is my own heartbeat. I’m only 22, and yet I already feel like there’s not enough time.
If you had told me I would have found myself relating to a founding father, I would have laughed, but now those words just repeat in my head like it’s an echo chamber.
Why do you write like you’re running out of time?
Why do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
Why do you write like you need it to survive?
I don’t have answers to these questions. I’m not sure if I will.
But even though Hamilton made me stare my pride and my fear dead-on, there is comfort in that connection. Because my immediate thought, after the shock had subsided (and I cleaned my glasses cause they got all fogged up and smudgy), was “man, how do you know?” For a moment, but one with long-lasting effects, like a lightning strike, I didn’t feel alone. Because here was someone who got it. And I know a lot of people probably get it, but it’s something that’s so hard to put into words, so you feel very isolated and very alone, and anything that breaks that barrier is a godsend. Your brain feels like a cacophony of sound and ideas and fears and stress and it’s so loud and you don’t know what to do with any of it because it’s so overwhelming, so you work and you work just to try to make sense of any of it, because to make sense of even one little thing, that would be enough.
(Ey, see what I did there? I didn’t even mean to do that, it just happened.)
I wish there was a way to properly say thank you. Being in the mid-west, New York is an unfortunately long ways away to make a quick weekend trip to, and even then, my luck at lottery has never been great (though, one time I won a plastic dinosaur at a raffle. That’s like Hamilton tickets, right? Right? Wait where are you going).
Though, let’s be real, if I did live in NYC, I’d probably be at every Ham4Ham show, even in freezing temps. Especially in freezing temps. You don’t know freezing temps till you have to walk through foot deep lake-effect snow.
But, I guess this is my weird, drawn out, very personal thanks. Well, between this and what will likely be tons of fanart that I’ll draw and post over on my art blog.
There is so much I want to do with the fleeting time that I have on this earth. And I know I will not be able to do even a fraction of it.
But, with the people that I love, I can damn well try, and whatever I do will be meaningful because of the people I do it with and for.