Tag Archives: time management

What I Learned from Hamilton

Okay, so I’m five years late to the party. I put off watching Hamilton because it blew up, it became this huge thing, and I figured it was so big, it had to be some lowest common denominator action happening, something that was mindless and appealed to all. Big spectacle, catchy music, no substance. So I didn’t get involved. Didn’t listen to the soundtrack (inasmuch as I could avoid it), didn’t watch video clips of it.

Well, we finally watched it this past week. It’s on Disney Plus. Big Mouse. Big House. Much Exposure. I couldn’t put it off any longer. We watched it.

And at first watch? It’s exactly as expected. Big, catchy numbers. Wonderful choreography and storytelling. A thoroughly enjoyable musical theatre experience. Substance? More than expected. (It’s a historical dramatization, after all.) But then we listened to the soundtrack again on a long drive, and it got under my skin. If music has an infectious quality, this was that, exactly. My wife started reading articles, then ordered a book on Hamilton. I found myself searching for podcasts on American history (I always need more material for my morning runs).

But the more I thought about the story from a literary perspective, the more I felt hollow. See, from the theatrical perspective, the show is absolutely lights out. A rap musical? A stage full of performers at the top of their game? Multicultural cast appropriating a bunch of crusty old white dudes? Yes. This is the jam. Turn your brain off and drink it in. But from the perspective of actual story?


It hurts.

Because we like arcs. And we like themes. And we like characters that grow and mature and overcome their faults and save the world.

And Hamilton? Well, here’s where the spoilers set in. There’s none of that.

He starts as this brash, talk-too-much unstoppable force and … well, he’s that way for his whole life, never really gets that in check. It gets him killed.

He has all this incredible potential — a mind like none other, the wit to put his ideas into words and to convince people, but he blows up his political career (and in fact his whole life) because he can’t keep it in his pants. He’s a superman brought down, not by the nefarious dealings of foes who conspire against him, but by perfectly ordinary means: his own failure to master his impulses.

Even his death. He dies “throwing away his shot” — that is, wasting his opportunity to fire upon his opponent in a duel, believing that his opponent will also do the honorable thing as well. But he overestimates his opponent’s good will and takes a bullet in the chest. Of course, that’s tragic — until you remember the same thing happened to his son years before. The son had a duel, came to the father for advice, Hamilton advised him to do the honorable thing and throw away his shot … and his son gets killed by a less-than-honorable opponent. He learns nothing!

So he has this incredible life, creates (apparently out of whole cloth) the economic structure of a new nation, and dies because he can’t keep his mouth shut and trusts to the better nature of a man he believes to be a scoundrel.

I suppose it fits the mold of a Greek Tragedy more than anything else, but even in a Greek Tragedy the hero has that moment of recognition, where he realizes he was wrong all along. Hamilton doesn’t get that. He stays who he is until the last.

And while in real life that may be something worth boasting about, in a story, it’s unsatisfying.

So I find myself going round and round with this. What do I take away from this story, when the main character is so frustrating, and his end so abrupt and needless?

But that’s the answer. The play is very concerned with Hamilton operating like he’s on a timer: he writes “like he’s running out of time”, he can’t wait to assume command in battle and prove himself; heck, the closing number for the first act is titled “Non-Stop”. What stands out in the story, for me, is the fact that none of us knows how much time we have, that the timer is counting down for all of us. That death waits for all of us. And like Burr, the villain of the play, most of us seem to be waiting for something. Hamilton may do a lot of things, but waiting is not one of them.

We don’t know what history will say about us. We don’t get to decide who will tell our stories. All we can do is make the most of the time we get.

That’s the core message of Hamilton, I think.

As frustrated as I am with the rest of it, I can be moved by that.

Lucky Bastard, or A Glitch in the Matrix

No re-motivator this week, because holy carp am I tapped out. Long week at school. Long week at the novel-writing game. Wife is hella sick. No time to muse on creativity and motivation and inspiration and the darkly wonderful things that happen in the writer’s lizard brain.

But, dude. You guys. GUYS.

I am thirty-something years old, and I have never in my life found a four-leaf clover. And there were times that I looked. I can distinctly remember a younger, high-school aged or maybe even collegiate version of myself spending entire minutes in weedy fields searching for one.

Never happened.

Then, today, this:20160326_185018.jpg

That’s totally my hand; you can tell by the horrible cuticles. I was gobsmacked. We hopped out of the car after a long day visiting with family, and I happened to glance down at my feet, and there it was.

But wait. WAIT.

Not even an hour later, I’d been to the grocery store and come back, and I was reflecting on how strange it was that I should find a four-leaf cloverin my own front yard. I glanced at my feet as I stepped over a totally different patch of clover. And I glanced again.



But yes way. A second four-leaf clover.

You guys.

Either I’m really, really lucky, or my front yard is a glitch in the matrix.

*skitters off to wait for Morpheus to unplug me*

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Short of Time

I’m tired.

This is the part of the year where everything seems to converge and my time and energy run low, the gas tank puttering on fumes, the next gas station a couple of impossible miles ahead. Soccer is getting into full swing, which means I’m losing out on a couple entire evenings every week, and several hours on the average weeknight. School tends to pick up during this time as well, as we start to look forward toward the end of the year: conferences, scheduling for next year, graduation, all of which says nothing about the old refrain of grades, grades, grades. It’s colder out, which makes it harder to get out for my runs, which makes me more likely to miss them, which has its own sapping effect. And, of course, the days are shorter, so there is literally less daylight in which to get done the things that need doing.

Again: I’m tired.

The inclination is to just let a few things slide. Miss a run here and there. Let a day’s worth of writing get away from me. Shell out for some fast food instead of cooking a proper meal.

But momentum matters, and it cuts both ways.

I’ve worked really hard to establish a momentum which has me writing every day, exercising almost every day, waking up early, doing a decent job balancing work with family. And I know that that momentum will survive a skipped workout, a slipped writing session, a meal of junk food. But just like the slow orbit of the moon is slowly disrupting the earth’s rotation, little things add up over time. Skipping a workout on Monday makes it easy to skip the one on Tuesday as well. Leaving out the writing time on Thursday makes me realize just how nice it would be to have that extra time on Friday, too.

Hourglass, Duration, Temporal Distance, Egg Timer

It’s why we have the recognizable, lamentable stereotype of the person who retires and develops Alzheimer’s or dementia in just a few short years. The routine goes away, there’s not nearly so much to occupy their time, and suddenly, they’re no longer able to accomplish a fraction of what they once could.

Writer types know how hard it is to protect their writing time, especially when the routine is disrupted. It only gets worse when nature itself is conspiring against you by literally removing minutes and hours from the day. The truth is, I know it won’t be that big a deal if I let the project breathe for a few days while I catch up on some other work, and it certainly won’t hurt me to catch up on a little sleep instead of rising at 5 to go for a run. But I think it becomes even more important to be true to our goals when it’s hard to follow through on them.

It’s like a placekicker who never misses a goal in practice but shanks his kicks during the game. Well and good to deliver when it’s easy, but it doesn’t help much if you can’t get the work done when it matters. Which is not to say that the work matters more at this time of year than at any other — unless you’re lucky enough to have a deadline looming — but I just come back to knowing that the momentum matters. My momentum will survive a day or two of slippage, but an entire week? A month?

No chance.

Winter has its hooks in. I’m tired. We’re all tired.

But there is still work to do.

As a great American once said, we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

So I guess I’ll find a way to lace up for my run later this afternoon, even though I missed it this morning. And I’ll find a way to carve out a few more minutes for my writing, too.

Luckily, the kids are out of town for the night. Maybe this is why god invented grandparents.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Infrequent Air Bubbles

I am so tired. I’m poking my head up through the fog of exhaustion just to send a little signal that I’m okay. Or maybe that I’m not. But I’m still here. And some of the waves may be washing over my head, and maybe there’s a bit of water in my lungs, but I’m still floating, if just below the surface.

I’m a big proponent of the concept that we all have the exact same twenty-four hours in the day, and it’s just a question of what you apply those hours to. I also think I’ve been pretty good about carving out pieces of that time for my various exploits. This week, though, time has got my number.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and I think I need to invent a time machine. I only need to take a few courses in temporal engineering and discover dark matter and invent some new laws of physics. Luckily, I have a rocket scientist reading this very blog, so I have some good backup in that arena. Stay tuned. Or to be more correct, you will have already seen the fruits of my inventions by the time this post may have been written.

Then again, discretion is the better part of valor, and as much as I feel I need to press on and keep working until the work is done, maybe it wouldn’t be a horrible thing to consider a little break. However — and this is one of the things I’m maybe a little bit crazy about — I’m terrified that if I stop pushing forward, all the momentum will bleed out like a punctured waterbed.

On the one hand, part of my brain is telling me that the circumstances I’m claiming are getting the better of me are no better or worse or more demanding than at any other time over the last 8 months of this adventure I’ve been on. On the other, I feel as if the klaxons are sounding and the deckhands are scrambling for the lifeboats as the other part of my brain tells me that no, really I’m trying to do too much. The core temperature is increasing. Bubbles are rising to the surface, fewer and less frequent.

The end of the first edit is so close. Even if I’m artificially claiming that closeness, it needs to be close. I’ve been going back and forth with it so much that like bread left too long in the oven, it’s crusting over and turning black around the edges. I feel like I felt toward the end of the first draft: I’m getting sick of the work and I need a break from it. But the only way out is through, and the quicker I finish, the quicker it’s done.

On the other other hand, it’s possible that all this is simply normal mild parental exhaustion exacerbated by the fact that our 8-month old handed my wife and me a surprise sleep-deprivation treatment last night. It’s possible, in that vein, that I’m just loopy and moderately delirious and is that pink stuff oozing out of the vent? THAT’S PINK STUFF OOZING OUT OF THE VENT OMG IT’S GHOSTBUSTERS 2 COMMAND ME LORD VIGO

Manufactured, imagined, or actual, I think it’s fair to say there’s some stress settling in on my brain parts. I need to finish this edit.

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