Need it to Survive


“How do you write like you need it to survive?”

The above lyric is from the song Non-Stop, which closes Act I of the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. I first listened to Non-Stop last Saturday and the line jumped out at me right away, especially since I had just blogged the day before about Yes Please by Amy Poehler.  In that post, I noted that the preface to her book:

… makes writing seem like the worst idea ever and also more important than you thought… maybe even necessary for survival.

I heard that song, that line, and felt gratitude. It eloquently echoed something that was obviously on my mind already: the importance – the necessity – of writing more. The above lyric in Non-Stop is followed by: “How do you write every second you’re alive, every second you’re alive, every second you’re alive?”

Leave it to a mega-talented composer, lyricist, librettist (rapper, singer, actor… more on Lin-Manuel Miranda shortly) to create an entire song about the prolific, tireless nature of his subject.

What are we wanting to do, planning to do, that we keep putting off? What if we decided that we can’t wait, that our life depends – at least mentally and spiritually – on taking action. On making art, on making connections, on making moves. Today is what we have. Nothing else is promised.

Writing inspiration aside, I’m rather obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack right now. I don’t generally gravitate toward musical theater – or American history, for that matter – but the writing and performances in Hamilton are astonishingly moving and fantastic. I laugh, I cry, I have these songs running through my head constantly!

It’s hard to describe the complex, beautiful layers that weave throughout these two acts. The layers upon layers: lyrical, musical, emotional, contextual, and so on. And I’ve only listened through the whole soundtrack twice, so I’m sure it’s even more rich and fertile than I fully realize quite yet.

I’m also reading Ron Chernow’s hefty tome Alexander Hamilton, the source material that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda (my new hero) in the first place. Chernow’s book is well written and dense with detail. I’m extra excited, though, to get Miranda’s Hamilton: The Revolution, which gets released next week. It promises to tell the story of the Broadway phenomenon in pictures, song annotations, and prose. More of Miranda’s lovely words? Yes please!

If I ever get the chance, I’d love to ask Miranda the question that opens this post. When he discovered Chernow’s book and began to envision a musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life, he had already written and starred in an international hit musical, In the Heights. He started working on his first Hamilton-inspired songs, ultimately distilling Chernow’s lengthy book and, indeed, the entire story of Hamilton’s life into 46 powerful, entertaining, beautiful songs. Then he brought the title character to life on stage and recording alike.

It’s inspiring not just as a writer but as a human being.

What’s inspiring you these days?

Yes Please


Cover image source: Entertainment Weekly

I loved Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please.

I’ve always enjoyed Ms. Poehler’s (Amy’s? I’m going to call her Amy; what the heck) acting and her interviews, so I was probably inclined to like her book, as well. But I didn’t necessarily expect to find so much value in it. As insightful and (sometimes painfully) honest as it is funny, to me her book is sort of a humorous manual for living.

It’s true that she and I are contemporaries (full disclosure: I’m 3.5 years older). While I have never been an improv comic, a national TV and movie star, a mom, or a bestselling writer, I am intimately acquainted with growing up in suburbia in the 1970s and, more recently, navigating the 21st century and adulthood with varying degrees of bemusement and accomplishment.

That said, I think most people will find plenty to relate to in the pages of Yes Please. I especially enjoyed some of her observations about writing:

The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver. I wrote this book after my kids went to sleep. I wrote this book on subways and on airplanes and in between setups while I shot a television show. I wrote this book from scribbled thoughts I kept in the Notes app on my iPhone and conversations I had with myself in my own head before I went to sleep. I wrote it ugly and in pieces….

Honestly, I have moments when I don’t even care if anyone reads this book. I just want to finish it.

I can’t say enough about the entire preface (which is titled writing is hard: a preface). It is seriously, hilariously brutal. It makes writing seem like the worst idea ever and also more important than you thought… maybe even necessary for survival.

The entire book is well worth your time, but I daresay the preface is elevated to must-read status for anyone who wants to write or has ever thought about writing or who happens to own a pen.

Entertainment Weekly recently shared the ten lines from the book that Kindle users highlighted most often. Here are just a couple:

  • “Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works.”
  • “Wordsworth also said that the best part of a person’s life is ‘his little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love.’”

The ten tidbits in EW’s list only scratch the surface of the book’s many lovely little gems. Have you read it? If so, what was your favorite part? If not, what are you waiting for?