Born in a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, Alexander Hamilton has become the poster boy for every music-loving writer in a modern world that is quite literally teeming with them.
So what is it that has captivated an entire generation of creative-types to obsess so thoroughly over a musical that is only a couple of years old, and its namesake: an 18th century politician, of all things?
Well, if you’re asking this particular writer, I think it’s the aspiration that our writing — necessary, therapeutic and cathartic as it might be — can actually make a difference in the world.
As Lin Manuel Miranda once said writing is a lonely business. Writing is essentially confining yourself to a room, alone, and facing yourself at your most vulnerable, all the while with a pen and paper (or keyboard) as your only confidante.
There’s a magic to it but it’s also an act of desperation. It’s an act of necessity but also of fear. To write, and I mean to really write, as in to to bear your soul and expose yourself truly in your writing, regardless of the medium, is to take a real risk. The hope isn’t just that you have something to say, you already know that much — the hope is that there’s someone (or a whole lot of someones) out there that are willing to listen.
In this way, Alexander Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda are both a sort of light in the darkness for all of us lonely souls who sit in a dark room late at night tapping that keyboard in hopes of writing our way out.
One managed to change the world quite literally through the simple act of putting a pen to paper, while the other has captured the focus and attention of an entire industry, and really the world at large, by presenting that story to the people as an inspiration for us all.
In a sense it’s no accident that Hamilton has gained the sort of gravity and cache that it has with a population so divided politically, economically and socially. It’s essentially the story of how America began in that very same fashion, and how the rifts between different factions of what would come to be called the United States have rippled throughout history all the way to the present day.
On the other hand, however, it’s a much simpler story: it’s the story of a man who was born to unfavorable circumstances and managed to pull his way out of them through simple expression of his thoughts through the written word. Alexander Hamilton was a bastard before he knew how to speak and in a time when that still carried a very real stigma. He was abandoned by his father and orphaned by his mother even before a hurricane came and devastated his home.
Yet somehow that sorrow served to raise him up, as he penned a moving account of the hurricane and gained the attention of some local community leaders who sponsored him on a trip to New York City. There he took part in the American Revolution, served at the right hand of George Washington, and worked to construct the government that still holds sway over the most powerful nation on Earth to this day.
In a sense, the story of Hamilton and the story of America are one: the story of someone aspiring to better things. Hamilton wanted a better life, and so did all of the others who were there at the beginning of the American Revolution. And though it would eventually spiral out into one of the bloodiest conflicts of its time, it all began with a pen put to paper by someone who wanted to create a better world.
The fact that we live in a world where that’s still possible, over 200 years later, is why the story of Alexander Hamilton still resonates today, even in a time and place largely removed from the context in which his story is told. We may not all have the potential or the chance to change the world the way Alexander Hamilton did with his writing but the fact that it was even possible in the first place is inspiration enough for a lonely writer shouting their words into the void, hoping against hope that someone finally hears them.
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