“I picked up a pen. I wrote my own deliverance.”: Hamilton, and aspiring to write oneself out of trauma.

It has been a while since I updated this blog for several reasons. Life has been tumultuous, and until perhaps a month ago, relatively good. It’s taken a nosedive, and I have committed to reflecting on it.

I have been really into Hamilton: An American Musical these days. It’s a wonderful piece of art, that captures the frenzy and desperation of writers well. In many ways it has been inspiring, but that inspiration hits a wall almost immediately when its confronted by my anxiety.

I ask myself the standard questions: Will anything be good enough? Will I put myself out there and be laughed away? And then those questions morph into ones that are like claws sunk into my skin—questions that, when prodded at, cause pain and bleeding. Who do I think I am, to write and impose my writing onto others? Who am I kidding? Who am I to question my innate worthlessness?

My mind answers itself—these thoughts tear more and more out of me—The world will hate you. Stay quiet, and you’ll live another day. If you put yourself out there, they will all turn against you. They will tear you apart—your words of weakness, your fat body, your shuddering voice. The world is filled with people who expect the best and shame those who can’t give it but have the audacity to try anyway.

That is not true. It isn’t. The world is filled with complex people with complex tastes. It is filled with gentle people, uncynical observers, and supportive friends.

But that self-affirmation is never enough. If I can’t carve out a path to instant satisfaction, then I see no escape from the purgatorial state of being.

I recently watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s commencement speech to Weseleyan University.

It was beautiful. He used “My Shot” and “Wait For It” from Hamilton before Hamilton became what it is now to conceptualize the notion that there are two approaches to life—one of pursuing life relentlessly, and another of biding one’s time and waiting for it. He concluded by speaking on how these sometimes work in concert. He also spoke of two internal clocks we have—one for the present, that ticks rapidly and causes us to rush, and the larger one measuring our time on Earth. There are those of us, he says, who are frightened of that latter one, desperate to leave our mark while there is time left. There are others who are blessed with the ability to ignore it.

But there are still others. There are others like me, who hear that clock and are imbued with a deep-seated panic-inducing desire to smash that clock to smithereens. I think of that clock often. As a child, my life was mapped out ahead of me in terms of my life up until I got married, and then some sort of disconnected vegetative state afterwards, so I was always in a panic about life ending.

Now marriage is off the table, but that clock is still there, and nothing will satisfy the need to adjust my body to it.

In “My Shot”, Hamilton says: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” This motivates him to live his life to the fullest, accomplish as much as possible. When I first heard that line, I had to pause the song and sit with it. I too imagine death so much it feels more like a memory, but it does not motivate me. It is merely a part of me.

In “Wait For It”, Burr says: “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints; it takes and it takes and it takes, and we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we make our mistakes. And if there’s a reason I’m still alive when everyone who loves me has died, then I’m willing to wait for it.” But what if we are not only waiting for it, but darting after it only to stop at the edge and fall to our knees instead of to our deaths, before turning around and trudging the long, familiar path back to rest?

One of the later songs in Hamilton is “Hurricane”. Without giving too much away, Hamilton is ruminating over his life after making a disastrous mistake. He has spent his entire life fighting to survive and honing his skill as a writer to accrue success. Writing has gotten him out of poverty, has gotten him his career, his relationships—his wife, and he is determined to write himself out of the hole he’s fallen into… and it turns out to be the decidedly wrong decision.

I’m captivated by “Hurricane”, so much so that I thought to write Lin a letter discussing it. How did he manage to capture a brilliant, but traumatized, individual so perfectly? Hamilton, who was either abandoned by or in other ways lost his family as a child never learned to trust others. In this case, having conversations with those impacted—privately, taking responsibility and trusting the response of those who loved him would have gotten him out of his predicament. Instead, he confesses his sins to the world, relying on his own words and nothing else. As a side note, while I haven’t been able to go into it here, it is also telling how willing Hamilton is to die for his cause–going so far as to tell Washington he’s “more than ready to die”. He had fantasies of dying like a martyr in his younger years–how much was that the recklessness of youth and how much did the trauma of his life inform that impulse?

My own traumas affect me differently. I also switched caregivers often as a child, but instead of developing obsessive self-reliance, I was raised being told I was dependent and in need of constant monitoring. Now, when I write for reasons other than myself, I seek out affirmation desperately. Tell me my writing is good so that I can take the next step. Tell me I am not wasting your time, the world’s time, anyone’s time but mine because my time is worthless and can not end soon enough. Tell me my voice is helping you because fuck what it does for me.

It is coming to a head now. It has taken years for me to get to this place, but it’s times like these where my mother says that I need to enter “practical life”—a nonsensical, useless turn of phrase. The thought of and desperation for Hamilton tickets has gotten me out of my bed and onto the streets looking for any job—finally a tangible goal that is motivating me in healthy ways, and my mother instead spits back that even if I raise the money I am not deserving of going. In front of my friends, she belittles my interest, my labor, in an attempt to sever my ties to them and reorient all my dependency back to her. When I avoid her or challenge her, she gets defensive, gets offensive, cries and blames me for blaming her for what? For causing me pain? Who else am I to blame? Myself for feeling pain when she continues the same binding language my brother once used? That she used? When she denied the validity of anything? When she denied the validity of any choice I made on my own?

It is moving that Lin gets choked up every time he mentions how hard his parents worked for him to be able to do what he wanted. My mother works hard too. My mother worked endlessly everyday. The tragedy is that I can say my thanks and act as grateful as possible, but the emotional abuse has superceded all her hard work. The self-hatred she has sunk into me through razor sharp words closes off any meaningful sense of gratitude. Thank you for your sacrifice, but now we have both lived lives we hated.

That is simply what trauma does. It warps worldviews and ways of being into arbiters of destruction—in the case of our family, self-destruction.

My cousin once pointed out that my mother saves her cruelty for those she is closest with. She has strung up me, my brother, and nephews and nieces she is closest to because it is her subconscious way of both validating herself and destroying herself. She sees herself in the people whose lives she throws her love, hard work, and sacrifice into and it is that part of herself that she devastates when she can’t fashion it into the version she wants. Our bodies are collateral damage.

She has not been the only source of pain this past month. Troubling thoughts of my uncle, changes in my health, self-inflicted isolation, and desperate self-injury sessions have plagued this month. The honest truth is that I was able to handle it all until my mother and I clashed. There is so much baggage, we cut each other so deeply, that afterwards, any progress is wiped out and I’m dragged back to the starting point by my hair.

I was laying in it. I was succumbing to it. I was ticking off on my fingers all the reasons why I deserved no place in this world. And then I managed to stop. I instead decided that this was my duty. That instead of succumbing to it, I had to stand in it—I had to be an analyst. Like Hamilton and his writing, I have relied on my skills, my ability to analyze things around me and understand people’s motivations to get me out of self-loathing that was far, far worse than anything I have experienced in years. My self-loathing before I entered college was so great that I could not see outside of it. Ever. My writings from that time see no rationalization for those ways of thinking; they are merely seen as truth. Now I unpack the nuance, the histories, the contradictions in evaluations and judgments. Now I make sure to loosen the hold the tendrils of my own traumatic childhood have when they infiltrate my day-to-day life.

But like Hamilton, I have also used this skill at the wrong time and for the wrong purpose. I was an intelligent child. I thought through everything. I had to, because I was in such tense political situations as a child—such secrecy, such confusion, such violence—both emotional and physical. But because of it, I never learned to let things go. I never learned to not take things to heart. When you are a child and you keep switching hands, you subconsciously ask yourself: Why am I not staying in one place? Why is this other person caring for me now? Who am I supposed to trust? When the claws dig in deeper over time, the questions become: Why does no one want me? What have I done to cause people to leave me so often? When your environment becomes heavily surveilled, heavily critiqued, the mind answers itself—you are not good enough; see how everything about you is constantly challenged? No wonder no one wanted you. No one wants you now. You are worthless. You should die.

My mother is sitting on my shoulder
She shreds her lungs to yell: be bolder
You are nothing; act older.
I told her:
I gave more to the earth than you choose to see.
She chortles:
No, you merely gave away my blood for free.

My mother is sitting on my shoulder.
She drains the ink from my pens, empties my plastic folders.
She undresses me in the winter to ensure the nights are colder.
I implore:
Admit you will never let me be.
She whimpers:
It’s my eyes, my mind, my legacy.

My mother is sitting on my shoulder.
She coughs noxious scoffs at every heart and soul brother.
Cold as steel, metal boxes smother.
I offer:
Let others heal that which is wounded by history.
She snickers:
As if there is anyone who could love you aside from me.