I saw the musical last week and it was delightful. Lin-Manuel Miranda is truly a genius and a master of his craft; I’m so impressed by the music and the lyrics and the narrative and how he turned the story of an otherwise somewhat forgotten founding father into our newest national treasure.

But I’m actually here to recommend the Chernow biography, the one that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical. I’m not normally a history buff and I can’t remember the last biography I read (if any genre is a particular culprit for my tsundoku, it’s biographies of historical figures), but I loved this book.

It tends to the hagiographic, but Alexander Hamilton was indeed an extraordinarily impressive man. If Washington can be said to be the founding father of America, Hamilton was the founding father of American government. Both his prescience and his prolificity are astounding: As one example, he was the driving force behind the Federalist Papers, which helped ensure the ratification of the Constitution and are still referenced in contemporary Supreme Court decisions. In what was originally meant to be an equal, three-way collaboration, he wrote 51 of the 85 papers in a span of 6 months, while full-time engaged in his law practice and serving as one of New York’s most influential and highest profile lawyers. He also created the national bank and national currency and rescued the war-torn American economy whilst binding the union together via the federal government’s assumption of state debt. Amongst so, so many other things. Chernow is a skillful biographer; I found the juiciest bits of the book to be the study of Hamilton’s character, the political conflicts and compromises, the design of American democratic experiment, and not at all the human interest story lines that made for some of the most emotional and evocative songs in the musical (e.g. Burn, It’s Quiet Uptown).

If you’re going to watch the musical, I highly recommend reading the biography first. (But maybe hold off on listening to the soundtrack ahead of time, since the music and lyricism is really dazzling and I think there’s something really special about experiencing it for the first time live!)


Snow globe

It’s my first proper winter!

I got caught in a minor snow flurry yesterday, with stinging cold wind and snowflake clumps whipping horizontally into my face. It was like being in a snow globe! But not quite as yuletide picturesque as those kitschy toys usually are… The forecast says more flurries and heavy snowfall tonight, courtesy polar vortex and a storm following through.

Happily, the long down jacket I panic-purchased on Amazon Prime during the first autumnal chilliness is holding up surprisingly well, so long as I layer a couple sweaters or a thick hoodie underneath. It’s no fashion statement—rather, not a statement I want to be making—but function wins over aesthetic here and I am resigned to looking like a hobo for the next few months.

The Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

— Teddy Roosevelt, 1910

I spent the past weekend in Nashville being newly re-inspired for American democracy: convening with 400 bright, passionate, and patriotic souls, making their way from 30 different states on three weeks’ notice to a summit assembled in due November 9th urgency, to learn, engage, and commit to political candidacy and as well as other forms of civic participation.

There are more than 500,000 elected offices in the United States. We need talented, authentic individuals putting themselves into the political arena, and to develop the systems of strategy and support to make them successful. Most media attention fixates on federal government, particularly the executive office, but that belies all the hard work of governance and progress that is so critical at the state and local levels too. And ultimately, it is about making that progress. It’s not about left or right; it’s about forward.

We heard from speakers like Florida Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy, who rose from humble beginnings as a boat refugee from Vietnam to step up to her first run for elected office only this summer; unseated a 12-term incumbent; and will be the first Vietnamese woman in Congress. She was first prompted to public service by the 9/11 attacks, and then to a congressional run after seeing her representative take a check from the gun lobby just two days after the horror of the Pulse nightclub shootings, right in their own neighborhood. And Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who is just coming off an impressively strong race for Missouri Senator (though as a Democratic candidate, he did ultimately lose the very red state); he spoke humorously but pointedly about the value of authenticity, a theme that was echoed in the remarks of many subsequent speakers. Including those of Stockton, CA Mayor-elect Michael Tubbs, who will be the city’s first black mayor and the youngest to the hold the office, at 26; in an age of social media and wide dissemination of salacious stories, Tubbs’s indiscretion on display was a DUI just two years prior, while serving as a city councilman. But he owned up to it and could be very real with the community about the fact that everyone makes mistakes—and more importantly than that, people are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.

It was also good to hear about the ways in which others can support, those for whom political office isn’t in the cards. Congresswoman-elect Murphy broke down the process of a successful candidacy in three parts: message, money, machine. There’s the work that goes into designing a platform that’s compelling, that speaks to the concerns of constituents, that elevates important conversations. There’s the long, tedious, cruel necessity of fundraising, a task even more so difficult for upstart, first-time candidates. There’s the field and canvassing machine that has to be on the ground, getting out the message and getting out the vote. And of course that’s not even to speak of all the work after election; officials need staffers to help them research, design, and implement policy. These are all opportunities for us to take part and to serve, and there are so many more…

I haven’t yet had enough time to process everything I took away from the summit, and really there was so, so much more, but at the very least I’ve deepened my November 9th resolve to genuinely take on my American civic duties, and I have a new network of people with which to follow through on that commitment.

Please don’t tell me to celebrate hate

White and Asian men picking fights with those of us that are truly horrified and terrified by the specter of a Trump presidency and what that means for the marginalized, telling us we need to celebrate democracy and “be open” to those who are gleefully hateful and intolerant, who are proudly racist and sexist and xenophobic and Islamophobic and homophobic and all sorts of other awful: Please. Just. Stop.

Yes, the way to move forward as a country is through love and compassion and empathy and coming together and bridging differences. I truly believe that. But there is also a wrong side of history. The hate and bullying that the sheer fact of Trump’s election has condoned and normalized is wrong. It’s not just a difference of opinion. It’s wrong. Many of the legislative and judicial changes imminent with his presidency will be, too. (You can call me selfish but I’m afraid of losing my own reproductive rights, the ability to decide issues about my own body, ffs… And not to mention the rights about to be denied so many other marginalized groups.)

I know there’s more to it. Not everyone who voted for Trump is racist and sexist and homophobic, and taking a condescending tone of liberal elitism doesn’t help. I know. But those of you trying to play at being on a moral high ground for telling me that I should embrace and celebrate the democratic election of a hateful demagogue, telling me I’m the one being divisive: Please, stop.

TCS NYC Marathon 2016

I finished! I really finished! My first marathon on the books.

I got around to it just barely in time to check off a bucket list item that I casually suggested to a friend in a meandering lunchtime conversation 5 years ago, as something I wanted to do in the next 5 years… I don’t even remember who I was talking to and I’m sure they wouldn’t remember the conversation either but it stuck in my head that I was supposed to run a marathon by 2016 and now here I am.

The race went a lot more smoothly than I expected. After a slow start hanging out by the 4:55 pacer and nursing some deep concerns about a 5+ hour finish, as FiveThirtyEight’s marathon time calculator had predicted for me, I managed negative splits to then pass the 4:45 and 4:35 pacers for a nice round 4:30 finish. (As one friend says, “On par with the rest of FiveThirtyEight’s predictions this year!”) Still none too fast but very acceptable given my baseline level of slowness in running and lack of interest in training for speed. I think a couple of weird-tasting but well-timed gels at miles 11 and 18, plus Gatorade every other mile, helped. And the perfect weather today: brisk but sunny fall weather, slight breeze, temperatures in the 50s, ideal for running.

Oh and the cheering! I brought headphones so I could listen to music but the cheering along the entire course was a much better acoustic complement for the race. I loved all the energy from the spectators, their cheering and their cowbells, and all the singers and bands and boom boxes along the way. There were lots of fun signs to serve as visual distraction as well: “If Trump can run, so can you!” “26.2, because 26.3 would be crazy” “Who needs toenails anyways?” “Seems like a lot of work for a free banana…” The cheering made the miles go so, so much faster than they ever did on any of my long training runs.

For the first time ever I also had friends come watch and then meet me at the end of the race. It’s kind of nice to be loved! And now I get to enjoy my finisher flowers in their mason jar vase.