Finding the Write Time

For the past week or so, I’ve woken up at 7 a.m. to the opening chords of Hamilton (no surprise there, if you’ve read some of my other blog posts recently). My new morning routine goes something like this: dance along to Hamilton before turning off the alarm and turning on my laptop to write. I gather my binders and notebooks and set a goal for the morningedit something, write something, problem solve a solution to a plot hole in the novel I’m working on. Then, for the next 30 minutes, I put on my “Writing” playlist and set off towards accomplishing whatever goals I wrote down.

This is a relatively new routine for me, and, despite not being a zealous morning person, I have to say that I’m loving it so far. I saw a quote yesterday that read, “Set a goal that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning” and I realized that my writing goals make me want to do just that. No matter how tired I am, I’m always excited to get up, walk over to my desk and crack open my writing notebook.

As I’ve written before, this summer I am working full-time hours in a communications role. By carving out this half hour in the morning to write, I arrive at work at 9 a.m. already feeling like I’ve accomplished something for the day. Before I set this routine, I was trying to find time to write at nightand while I wrote blog posts after work, I never ended up working on writing fiction. Now, I am certain that I am making more progress than I otherwise would have been had I continued writing solely at night. I find it amazing that I can make significant progress towards my goals just by waking up 30 minutes earlier.

It can be tempting to only write when motivation strikes, but most creative people know that motivation is fleeting. What is not fleeting, however, is routine. I am the type of person who falls into a routine easily. To be honest, I did doubt my ability to wake up half an hour before I usually do; but I motivated myself by writing “a.m. editing” in my planner every day. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my ability to use this morning time productively. One day last week I woke up at 7 a.m., only to realize that, for some reason, my laptop wouldn’t open Microsoft Word. I couldn’t work on the project I wanted to edit, but I didn’t go back to sleep. Instead, I used the time to readsomething else I don’t make enough time for in my life.

Although this morning writing routine is new to me, making time to write is not. In the winter, I made it my goal to write 1,000 words every day. I didn’t set aside a specific time because my school schedule was different every day. I still ended up fulfilling my goal, thoughI wrote 1,000 words every day, without fail, until I reached my goal of 80,000 words. Even on days when I was exhausted from school, I still managed to sit down and write. Once I got started, I couldn’t break the routine; and the daily sessions of writing fiction were a welcome break from my schoolwork.

Knowing who you are goes a long way in finding ways to motivate yourself to write. I know, for example, that I am motivated by visually seeing my progress; so I like to track my progress through charts where I can write down what I accomplish every day. Making charts is a small thing, but I honestly think that the charts where I wrote down my word count every day were one of the main reasons why I was able to continue writing 1,000 words every day back in the winter. I hope that the goal-setting charts I am using now will make my current morning writing sessions successful, too.

I had a comment recently asking about what my writing schedule is, and I guess this is it. As of last week, I write and edit for half an hour in the morning and I also spend extra time at night writing blog posts. It’s a schedule that is still evolving, but one that is based on what I know works for me. In the end, it’s a schedule that allows me to wake up in the morning and spend time doing what I love while making progress towards my goals. What could be better than that?

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Dreaming vs Doing

What is your dream in life? How much time per day—or even per week—do you spend working to make that dream a reality? And how much time you do spend dreaming about making it a reality?

If you’ve read some of my recent blog posts, you might know that I am mildly obsessed with the hip-hop musical Hamilton. My favourite song in Hamilton is Wait For It, although it wasn’t always my favourite. One day at school this year as the soundtrack played in the background of a particularly stressful moment, I realized that the lyrics of the song were telling me exactly what I needed to hear. Aaron Burr sings, “I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable. I am an original. I’m not falling behind or running late. I’m not standing still. I am lying in wait.”

In that moment, Wait For It reminded me that while I felt like I wasn’t progressing, I was simply working hard in the present to experience success in the future. But the song also had a simpler impact on me; it gave me hope, reminding me to wait for the things that I wanted to happen to actually come to fruition. Of course, unless you’re incredibly lucky, this isn’t the way life works. Most of the time, dreams don’t just come true. We have to work to make them happen.

When I saw Hamilton in Chicago, I got chills during the performance of Wait For It. And then I had an epiphany of sorts. In the play, there’s a scene near the end of the first act which isn’t in the soundtrack. After learning of the death of a close friend, an impassioned Hamilton exclaims, “I have so much work to do.” In the following song, Non-Stop, we learn that Hamilton has been working, well, non-stop.

He’s been practicing law; he proposed “a new form of government” at the Constitutional Convention; and he has been writing like he’s “running out of time.” Hamilton’s non-stop writing comes to a capstone when he partners with James Madison and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers. Burr emphatically informs us that Hamilton wrote 51 of the papers (I had to read one for a politics class this year; I don’t think I could read 51, let alone write that many).

My epiphany was this: that I could “wait for it” all I wanted, but all that waiting would be for nil if I wasn’t actively working to make my dreams come true. I had to work, like Hamilton, non-stop. This brings me back to the questions with which I began this post: What’s your dream in life? And do you spend more time dreaming about making it happen, or actually working to make it happen?

Obviously, going to school, having a job or other commitments makes it difficult to spend all of your time working on your dreams. But if you spend an entire week dreaming about how great it will be when you finally design that website and spend zero hours planning or executing your dream… well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not a great ratio of dreaming to doing.

In all honesty, I am writing this as much to give advice to myself as I am to you, my reader. I love to dream about things happening—and what I’m trying to focus on this summer is putting in the effort and hard work to bring those dreams out of my head and make them into realities. For all the time I spend dreaming, I must spend more time doing—more time writing, more time editing, more time designing and reading and learning and creating. 

I still love Wait For It because I am naturally a dreamer; I love looking to the future with hope. But I know that what is better than waiting for a dream to come true, is to make that dream happen. One of my favourite quotes is by John Updike: “Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.” I wholeheartedly believe this. But if I could, I would add to the quote: “Dreams come true—if we work hard to make them a reality.”

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America, You Great Unfinished Symphony

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was, in many ways, a recipe for success. It was simple, catchy, and it articulated his clear ideas for the country he wanted to lead. Many, including the authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, have cited Hillary Clinton’s slogan as an epitome of the problems that ravaged her campaign: it failed to capture her version for America. She had policy ideas—scores of them. But Trump had those four words. Make America Great Again. And now, for better or for worse, he has the presidency.

Of course, whether America was ever truly great is up for debate. If America is great now, at this present moment, is also debatable. And is America any greater than it was before January 20, 2017, the date of Trump’s Inauguration? It is a sign of these politicized times that even calling America “great” (a word which is arguably one of the most elementary adjectives in the dictionary) is a charged discussion. It is a discussion which matters nonetheless, though. If you believe that America is currently great, you’re not going to want to change it; but if you believe that some aspects of America are great, but need some work, then you are more likely to attempt to improve it.

If you want my opinion—and I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you do, if only to express disagreement in the comments: I agree with the latter declaration. I think that there are aspects of America that are great—ideals which, if recognized, have the potential to create positive change. But you only have to read a few of the posts tagged “politics” on this blog to know that I am not pleased with the Trump administration (and “not pleased” is putting it lightly).

In theory, I think that the founding principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence have the power to pave the way to greatness. Fundamental equality? Unalienable rights? The pursuit of liberty and happiness? I’ve written before about the hollowness of the word “liberty,” but I digress. These ideals, if recognized, would make a great society.

“If recognized” are important words. Many of Trump’s policies challenge concepts like equality and unalienable, universal rights, making these things not tangible parts of society but instead unequally distributed privileges. In reality, America is not great because it has not fully realized these ideals. Maybe it is great in spite of the absence of them, though, because as we are seeing more and more, where there is trumping of rights (see what I did there?) there is triumphing of the Constitution. The ACLU, for example, is making America better. Good, even.

In case you didn’t understand the reference in my title of this post, it comes from the “death monologue” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stunningly genius musical Hamilton (spoiler alerts ahead, but if you don’t already know how the musical ends that means you haven’t listened to the soundtrack which means you need to skip this paragraph and listen to it ASAP). In the musical, Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasury secretary, is killed in a duel with Jefferson’s VP Aaron Burr. In a beautiful and heart wrenching moment, the duel freezes right before Hamilton is shot. He launches into a monologue, one spoken earlier in the musical.

“Legacy, what is a legacy?/ It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see/ I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me/America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me/You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up”

That’s only part of the monologue; I could dissect the entire thing word by word, second by second. But I will focus on what I titled this post: “America, you great unfinished symphony.” I’ve already skirted around the word “Great” and whether or not it truly applies to America, present day or at any other time. Let’s talk about the idea of America being “unfinished”; an idea which makes me think of Barack Obama and his legacy which Trump has been steadily working to dismantle. Obama has lived to see the seeds of the garden he planted, and they’re being ripped up, some of them before they had the chance to grow. He wrote some notes in the song of America, but the choir has retired.

Unfinished. Healthcare, moving backwards. Women’s rights, moving backwards. Acceptance, tolerance, moving backwards. No one would claim that Obama “fixed” America; some argue that Obama actually paved the way for Trump’s success. Trump constantly claims that he was not aware how difficult certain things would be—“Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated,” he claimed. Certainly some of his supporters believe that Trump would be able to be successful, if it wasn’t for the crooked Democrats and biased liberal fake news outlets who are holding him back. Trump’s work is unfinished, some would say. I would agree, I just don’t think he is the person to fix things.

Perhaps my favourite part of this line from Hamilton’s monologue is the word “symphony.” America is an overture; harps and flutes singing while trombones blurt out the foundation. Independence. Equality. Liberty. Happiness, or at least the unrelenting pursuit of it. These are the underlying notes of the symphony of America, finely tuned notes sung since America broke away from Great Britain so many years ago.

With the election of Donald Trump, the great, unfinished symphony of America is both dying out and playing in a more chaotic manner. Things are happening left, right, and centre. Where to look? Look right at Trump’s actions. And then look at the people resisting. The people helping. The people caring. The people refusing to give in. These are the people who make America great, and who are going to make it an even greater symphony. The symphony of America may never be finished, but members of its orchestra can be relentless in their pursuit of greatness, of fundamental freedoms and equality. It may never be fully great, or a finished symphony, as Hamilton’s character sings. But that is up to Americans to decide.

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That Time I Saw Hamilton

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now, I felt like singing at the top of my lungs. I was standing with my family outside the PrivateBank Theater in Chicago, staring up at a row of gold lights. On the windows above, eight letters spelled out the soundtrack of the past five months of my life: H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N.

Hamilton, in case you aren’t familiar, is a musical about Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and America’s first Treasury Secretary. Through hip-hop and rap music, the musical takes you through Hamilton’s journey to America and his so-called “rise to the top.” It explores his relationships, from marrying Eliza Schuyler to sending love letters to her sister Angelica and having an affair with Maria Reynolds. Hamilton’s friendships are also shown—we see, for example, both the moment he first meets Aaron Burr and the moment when Burr shoots him in a duel.

My sister got into the Hamilton soundtrack long before I did. When I finally started listening to it, she guided me through the history behind the songs and told me which ones I’d probably like the best (she was right—she almost always is). Once I got to know the songs, we’d sing together every chance we got. We’d discussed the moment we’d get to see the show so many times and yet, as we stood outside the theatre, it hadn’t really sunk in.

The excitement of the other people in line surprised me. Everyone wanted to take a picture with the iconic image—the distressed golden background with the four-pointed star and the cloaked figure of Alexander Hamilton raising his arm to the sky. I knew Hamilton was a big deal, of course; it’s won 11 Tonys. But I guess I never really considered that the hype, so to speak, existed outside the bubble of myself, my sister, and my best friend who also loves the musical.

The inside of the theatre looked similar to the outside, with shining lights and golden decor. Family close in tow, I evaded the monstrously long merch lines and headed for the balcony. Miraculously, on the way up there was a merch station with no line —I purchased a set of postcards (already having a t-shirt from my aforementioned Hamilton-obsessed best friend). As I climbed the stairs to the balcony, my excitement was climbing, too. By the time I was in my seat with a Playbill in my hand, I had a smile permanently plastered on my face.

hamiltonplaybill (1)

My first thought was that the stage looked exactly like the photos I’d seen of it. Two circular parts of the stage floor, which would rotate during the show, sat still—I didn’t. I bounced around, unable to contain my excitement. Soon, the lights faded and, as a hush fell over the theatre, a voice spoke. In a British accent that the crowd would come to love, “our” King, as in King George, told us to turn off our phones and enjoy “my show.” This set the scene for the show magnificently. Before I knew it, that signature opening— if you know it, you’ll know—was playing, and Aaron Burr was onstage, introducing, in song, none other than Mr. Alexander Hamilton.

The musical was absolutely amazing. Hearing the music live gave me goosebumps—the orchestra, the singers—and seeing the actions and choreography accompanying the music was phenomenal. I loved seeing the story I’d come to love played out visually: watching as Hamilton proclaimed that he’d never throw away his shot and seeing Alexander and Eliza meet (and then seeing that entire scene again from Angelica’s point of view).

I love Hamilton not just because of the music, plot or characters, though these are all things I love about it; I also love the story of how the musical came to be. Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation in Mexico and, upon reading Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton, immediately connected the way Hamilton wrote his way off an Island to America to an arc that would fit in a hip-hop album. Miranda already had a successful musical, In The Heights; and, at first, he envisioned Hamilton as a mixtape. But it grew into a musical—a crazy successful one, at that.

Many people compare Lin-Manuel Miranda to Alexander Hamilton. Both men were and are prolific writers—“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” —and both work, to use a song title from the musical, Non-Stop. What especially inspires me about the musical is that it started with a simple idea and it grew into something incredible.

As night fell on the day I saw Hamilton, I sat down in my Chicago hotel room to watch TV with my parents. It just so happened that we stumbled upon the episode of Modern Family where Lin-Manuel Miranda guest-stars (crazy coincidence, right?). He was already a Tony winner when he appeared on the show, but he has still grown so much since then.

All in all, seeing Hamilton was an amazing experience. If anything, my obsession has grown since seeing it—I still listen to the soundtrack on almost a daily basis. But now, I can envision the scenes from the musical in my head; I see the costumes, the facial expressions, the dancing, everything. And for that, I feel pretty lucky.

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A Weekend in the Windy City

On the weekend I went to Chicago with my family. I’m home now, but part of me still feels like I’m in the windy city — steps away from shopping on the Magnificent Mile, walking in Millennium Park and alongside Lake Michigan. I’ve been to Chicago twice now, and there’s something indescribable about the city that I just love.

This visit was made even more special because I had the opportunity to see Hamilton, AKA the best two hours and 45 minutes of my life. I think that experience warrants a separate post, but as you read on, remember that more is coming. I can’t stop thinking about Hamilton, so I won’t stop talking (and writing) about it. If you can’t tell, that’s kind of my unofficial blog mandate.

It was hard for me to narrow down photos to include in this post, but I’ve selected a group of photos that, to me, capture that indescribable feeling about my visit to Chicago. It’s the ornate architecture juxtaposed against the trees in the park; it’s the tourists milling around the stainless steel Bean and the locals jogging past Lake Michigan on a sunny morning. It’s all of these things, and more. There’s always more. But for now, here are some of my favourite photos. Enjoy!

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History Has Its Eyes

My daily routine during my winter break from school has become very predictable: turn on my laptop, open up some Google docs to write in, and press play on the Hamilton soundtrack. Against today’s wild and bewildering political climate, I find the story of Alexander Hamilton’s rise (and fall) a fascinating one. Interestingly, despite the different time periods and political cultures, there are some lyrics from Hamilton that I think are relevant today.

As you likely know if you’ve read some of my other blog posts, I am typically optimistic; and so, I love this lyric from The Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” This lyric resounded in my head as I read Maclean’s and came across a poignant oral history of the first arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada. In the article, Bruce Grundison, the senior direction of resettlement operations at Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, remarks that he recalls turning to someone and saying, “Something amazing is going to happen here. We have such an opportunity to participate in a historic effort…”

This made me think of my own role, albeit a small one, in welcoming the refugees. I worked with a youth council I was part of to create a video to welcome the refugees. The video was also promoted on social media to raise awareness of, and for, the refugees in our community. It’s only been a year but I already look back at Canada’s acceptance of 25,000 refugees as a powerful historic moment that I’m proud to have lived through. I’m so lucky to live in Canada, I thought to myself as I read about the refugees who kissed the ground when they landed in Canada and the father of a family coming to Canada who said he’d “rather snow [fall] from the sky than bombs.”

And yet. I cannot, we should not, blur the line between pride and smugness. Because it’s easy to be smug and invoke all the Canadian stereotypes when other countries are falling to populist regimes and the fate of the world order is precarious, if not frighteningly uncertain. In a recent speech, America’s Vice President (for a few days longer) Joe Biden said, “Vive le Canada, because we need you very, very badly.”

Canadian advertising is going to increase its appeal to the Canadian national identity, according to the Globe and Mail, because of the country’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Certainly, this pride in our identity as Canadians will increase our love of our country, but I hope it doesn’t increase our self-righteousness. Such self-righteousness is, in my opinion, one of the things that led the election of Donald Trump to be such a shock (even to those of us who watched the election as bystanders who were glad we weren’t American. But that’s more self-righteousness, because Canada is not immune to populism.)

So, yes, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. But let’s not forget the work that remains, because, as a song from Hamilton suggests, “History has it’s eyes on you.” And maybe those eyes are not specifically on you (depending on what you’re up to, that is), but history has it’s eyes on us as a people. There is a another side to that refugee situation: the treacherous war they’re trying to escape, the perilous conditions they’re fleeing under, the racism and xenophobia they face even in the countries where they are promised refuge.

When historians look back on the years you were alive, what do you want them to see? Do you want to be part of the group who, for example, shunned the refugees; or part of the group who welcomed them with open arms and actively sought to improve the quality of their lives and that of the country they now call home?

History, of course, is not Big Brother. It doesn’t literally have eyes. But members of the public do. And those of us who look around and feel lucky to be alive should consider what impact we want to have on history.