Over the weekend my sister and I finally had the chance to watch the London production of Hamilton. I have to say that although its general knowledge by now that this show is a cultural phenomenon, its a different thing altogether to actually experience it yourself.
This isn’t a blog about how great the show it was though because I wouldn’t be telling you all anything you didn’t already know. It would be redundant for me to say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and as strange a concept as hip-hop musical theatre may be, he somehow made it work, and as a result he gave the Broadway and West End industry a badly-needed face lift and brought a new generation of theatre goers to the fold. We already know all that.
I suppose I wanted to talk about what watching Hamilton and listening to its music meant to me personally. For the past 6 months now I’ve slowly been resigning myself to the fact that this was it. This was all that’s going to become of my life. I would spend the rest of my days working for the NHS, doing a job that at best barely satisfies me, counting down the days until I collect my salary at the end of the month, breaking up the mind-numbing pattern by having sporadic dinners and catch-up sessions with friends every once in a while. Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.
It got to the point where I couldn’t even muster enough interest to pick up a book, I was sleeping longer, eating more – which is always indicative of my state of mind as I am a self-confessed stress eater. I could barely be bothered to put on make-up. I lost the will to even open a dating app. I spent most nights hunched over a 500-piece Disney Jigsaw Puzzle in a feeble attempt to find something that stimulates my brain. I start watching random shows on Netflix only to lose interest halfway through because I just could not be bothered.
Looking back I think I probably had the beginnings of – if not depression, something close to it. It’s like I lost some vital part of myself, the part that always enabled me to look forward to tomorrow, the part of me that believed that something exciting was always waiting to happen around the corner. I sometimes found myself in the middle of doing something and I would suddenly stop to think, what’s the point?
Anyway. That totally went to a darker place than I thought this blog would go. Funny what introspection can dig up, huh? I haven’t given myself the chance to reflect on the past year because I didn’t know if I would like what I saw when I did. But happily I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have it in within herself to be down in the dumps for so long. I’m genetically engineered to be bubbly and happy and for the most part that is my default setting. It was very eye-opening for me to realise that even the most seemingly well-adjusted and happiest of individuals could also go through mental health issues, mild as they may be.
You’ll all be happy to know that I reached a turning point last week leading to a series of activities culminating in the Hamilton show this weekend. First of all, I started reading again. I have always had an avaricious appetite for knowledge and stories. I went on a shopping spree on both Amazon Kindle and Waterstones, diversifying my bookshelves with an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among my most recent purchases include two feminist books, Julie Andrews’ memoir, a book on the Lost Princes of the Tower and two of Yuval Harris’ books Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st Century. Plus the usual romance novels of course.
I’ve started a workout regimen that challenges me but also allows for, shall we say, my physical shortcomings. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will never be an athlete, and that I will never be skinny, but I can still be active and healthy in my own way. My sister bought me a new pair of Nike’s over Christmas, which to be honest was probably the main catalyst for my renewed interest in training. Personally I think the right pair of shoes has enough power to change a person’s life. Quote me.
2019 was a struggle for me financially. I was still reaping the repercussions of having made questionable decisions in 2018. I probably should have limited my purchases to those that were strictly necessary, or perhaps travelled less, but I can’t really bring myself to regret the experiences I’ve had. So I worked a lot of extra shifts between September and December to make up for it. That probably contributed greatly to the feeling that my life was all about, and only about, work. I was spending too much time doing it, getting caught up in office politics and the drama of working in a slowly-dying NHS, plus working extra shifts that were both physically and mentally taxing.
I’m not sure how to express my feelings about this matter without sounding ungrateful. I’m lucky to have a job that on occasion still brings me something that might resemble joy, and my career trajectory is something that I’m really proud of. But. Part of me wishes I had the courage to give all that up to finally focus on something I’ve been wanting to do all my life: write a book.
I made several attempts to last year to write a story. Any story. I told myself that it doesn’t have to be good, the point is simply to finish. I bought books on everything from creative writing to grammar (and wished like hell that I paid more attention to subject-verb agreement in high school). I made a list of things that inspired me, tried to find a genre that suited me and filled notebook after notebook with ideas. I was determined to at least have a draft by the end of the year.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Every time I wrote something and reread it a week later it just felt shallow and superficial, and I didn’t think it measured up to a real writer’s work. I couldn’t find my voice, and I wasn’t sure what message I wanted to send to the world with my book. Basically, just finishing a story doesn’t and will never work for me. It didn’t inspire me. If I was going to tell a story, it needed to be a story worth telling, even if I’m the only person that thought so. I needed to be able to believe in my own creation.
In addition, “real life” got in the way. I work 37.5 hours a week, sometimes more. Each time I move up the career ladder I take on more responsibilities, which meant it was difficult to switch off from work even when I wasn’t at work. It was difficult to change gears, to put myself in the mindset of being a writer when part of my brain is still dwelling on whether we had enough bed capacity to operate on all our patients tomorrow.
So I lost the will to write. I gave up on that dream and told myself it’s never going to happen. I need to be content with what I have, be grateful to have stability and to be alive. But I was wrong.
This is the first time I’ve used my laptop for writing in a long while, and the first time I’ve had any interest in sharing my thoughts and feelings in a blog. It’s very therapeutic and it’s made me feel more like myself. I love being a nurse educator, I really do, but I think I realise I need both it and writing in my life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use my words to communicate, just like Alexander Hamilton.
Just two days ago I bought a notebook and a pen, sat down in a cafe and wrote a story that really meant something to me because it was my story, with a little bit of embellishment. I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, I really hope I do. I think I’ve found a way to tell the story I want to tell from a unique perspective, everything I need to complete it is within me, I just have to find the strength and the perseverance to keep at it even when it starts to feel like a pipe dream.
I think that’s why Hamilton resonated so much with me, and it will probably continue to do so in the months to come. Its a story about a revolution that founded a nation, sure, but at the core of it, it’s a story about having a dream AND having the drive to make that dream a reality. Its not enough to make castles in the clouds, if you want to achieve something you have to work for it, be willing to fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you.
I can only hope that if I ever put something out there, it can be as inspiring and life-changing for one person as Hamilton has been for so many others. Kudos, Lin Manuel Miranda.