How does a writer, so-called author-in-progress, raised on books and history and musicals in a city next door to the Caribbean, remain unexposed to Hamilton until the late, late year of 2018? No one knows. Not even me.
But I’m a big believer in “better late than never”—what matters is that I have finally heard Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical masterpiece and have, happily, become somewhat obsessed. I adore everything about it, from the music to the cast to the story to the choreography to the clothes. And, like any good story, it left me with a few lingering questions—not just about Alexander Hamilton, but about myself.
“Why Don’t I Write Like I’m Running Out of Time?”
One of the big self-truths Hamilton illuminated for me was my own unconscious admiration of characters whose creative ambition is so great it becomes both a blessing and a curse—and, eventually, their doom. I am in love with Icaruses (Icari?) as much for their brilliant determination as for the excruciating beauty of their downfalls. The idea of wanting and believing in something so much, so badly, that you’d die for it is appealing to me, perhaps because I’ve ached for things too, or perhaps because I envy them the courage it takes to fly in the first place.
The dangerous thing about this love is that I’ve been using such stories as a yardstick by which to measure my own accomplishments and level of commitment to my craft. Miranda’s Hamilton writes like he’s running out of time, sacrificing sleep, health, and even his own family for the sake of fighting for the things he believes in. It’s noble, but it’s also incredibly damaging to himself and to those he loves. He “writes his way out” of the ashes like a phoenix, only to spiral back down and write himself into ruin. And while his writing and ideals didn’t kill him directly, they were certainly contributing factors.
I, on the other hand, sometimes go days without writing. I no longer stay up until 5 AM just because “it’s easier to write late at night” (as I used to claim). I hesitate. I procrastinate. And then I write for a while—but until I’m done, not until it kills me. I write until I’ve hit a marker I’ve set for myself or crossed an important hurdle, and then I stop. I close my laptop, put my notebook away in a drawer, and walk away.
When I look at characters like Hamilton, people who really do sit at their typewriters (or in Alex’s case, a writing desk) and bleed, I feel guilt wash over me in a bitter tide of self-deprecation. Why can’t I write like that? Why aren’t I more dedicated, more driven—more of a “real writer”? I beat myself with my aforementioned measuring stick until I am black and blue. And then, after I’ve healed a bit, I return to my usual cycle: procrastinate, write, walk away, hit “repeat.” Nothing changes, and the scars remain.
“What Would Be Enough?”
The problem with idolizing an Icarus is that it’s caused me to set impossible standards for myself—standards which don’t even properly align with my own values. I don’t want to be the cause of anyone else’s suffering, especially the people I love the most. I don’t want to sacrifice everything for the sake of my work. I believe in the importance of writing and the power of stories, but I also believe generosity and self-care, in broadening my horizons and living my life to the fullest.
And yet, I find myself listening to “Non-Stop” and getting carried off by the current, swept up in the melody and the rhyme and all the while wondering why I’m still not good enough, why I’m still wasting time like I’ve got all the time in the world.
The answer isn’t that I haven’t tried, or that I haven’t put in enough effort. Some days are more productive than others, but that’s how it goes. Sometimes I’m motivated, sometimes I’m not. C’est la vie. No, the real answer is that, according to my current standards, nothing I do will ever be enough. I will never be satisfied with my own work. I will always be facing an endless uphill climb. I will never reach the top.
“What Comes Next?”
One of my focuses this year is being kinder—to the planet, to others, and to myself. In that spirit, I know what needs to change. I need to take a break, reassess my goals, and snap my old measuring stick in half. I will always love my Icaruses for their lofty ideals and for daring to dream, but I refuse to continue shaming myself for not following the misguided paths they have forged ahead of me.
I will keep writing, and perhaps from time to time I will bleed, but I will not purposely slice open my own arteries to do it. I will build my golden wings and I will fly, but I’ll bring my own compass and keep an eye out for dripping wax. I will not guilt myself into feeling like less of a writer for not spending every waking minute at my desk, punching away at my keyboard until my fingers fall off. I will believe in my work and myself enough to respect the needs of both—and I will not throw away my shot.