autism · pop culture overanalysis

am i talking too loud – neurodiversity and lin-manuel miranda’s hamilton

if you follow me on Twitter you might know that my lifelong sleeplessness has of late gone from formless insomnia to the sharp-edged specificity of I Have An Interest And Now My Emotions Are Keeping Me Awake Please Help Me I’m So Tired.

Yeah, who isn’t obsessed with Hamilton, I know. But I have an additional very important reason, outside of the fact that it’s just the fucking raddest: Alexander Hamilton is one of my new favourite autistic characters.

This interpretation is specific to the fictional version portrayed by Lin-Manuel Miranda rather than the real life dude, because how would I know what the real Hamilton was like? But when it comes to the musical, I have fully decided that A-Ham is one of our own.  Already went into some detail on Twitter the other day, but since I’ve been reasonably well rum-and-mangoed*, it’s approximately the holidays, and I’m nothing if not excessive, I’m allowing myself the self-indulgence of this Pretty Much An Essay. A lot of credit to the annotations on Genius for some insights.

(*this will probably be apparent.)

Alright, lets go. I’m only doing Act 1, partly because I don’t need to cry about Act 2 again so soon and partly because I’m actually supposed to be writing a proper essay on this musical for uni and this is my weird-ass form of procrastination on that.

Alexander Hamilton

“My name is Alexander Hamilton.”

We don’t get a lot of the dude himself in this song, but someone on Genius did point out that he sings his name in the specific cadence established at this point throughout the play, even when it doesn’t quite fit the current song: he’s very rarely willing to bend to the style of others around him,  especially when it comes to establishing his own role or identity.

Aaron Burr, Sir

Here’s the one I went through the other day typed up more readably. I think this is the song that, on my second listen-through, is what really made the headcanon stick because this fuckin’ kid, god.

“I’m Alexander Hamilton, I’m at your service, sir.”

“I was seeking an accelerated course of study when I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours. I may have punched him.”

“You’re an orphan. Of course! I’m an orphan!” 😀

He comes in almost overly formal in his speech when compared to our introduction to Burr, Laurens, Lafayette or Mulligan: five “sirs” within the first little chunk of lyrics. Of course, the ‘sir’ sticks for the whole play, in a way that reminds me of echolalia, or of sticking to a script for how to interact with specific people. Aaaand then leaps straight from over-formal to over-familiar really fast. He doesn’t really have much of a middle-ground, does he? Plus with some slightly inappropriate emotional affect. He’s just so excited to have something to bond about!

“Talk less, smile more.”

“AKA advice from NTs to autistics”, as @ScottKarp put it. Yeah, I’ll fuckin’ say. Or I won’t, I guess, because I’m trying really hard not to put my family off Hamilton before they listen to it even though I’ve only even yelled a monologue about it ONCE about it for the WHOLE OF CHRISTMAS, and that was ENTIRELY ACADEMIC and I still have SO MUCH TO SAY-

“Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead…”
“YO YO YO YO YO”

Laurens!

Of course Hamilton warms to Laurens best of all, they’re both fools who run their mouths off: valuing honesty even when it’s brutal and forthrightness even where social norms suggest you should hold back. Plus it’s just easier to deal with. I love Burr as a character, but people like that are too infuriatingly unreadable in real life.

‘If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

We work well with rules. Not necessarily with rules as imposed by authority or standard social practices, which is definitely not A-Ham’s jam, but with scripts and routines and principles. It’s less exhausting to navigate the world when you pick a route and stick with it. A strong sense of morality or duty is pretty common amongst us: Hamilton’s incredibly self-assured in his principles, so he doesn’t let other conflicting codes or even personal risk take him away from sticking to them. Good example of how apparently ‘rigid’ thinking can be used to create great things (and then come back to fuck you over, but let’s not be negative this early in Act 1.)

My Shot

“I probably shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish.”

In other words, “I know it’s against standard social rules but I can’t help myself”. Way too overlooked as part of the autistic life experience. It can be assumed that we either don’t know the rules at all or it takes us longer to learn them but then we should be able to follow them as naturally as others once we do. Not necessarily the case. Sometimes they just don’t make sense, sometimes they make sense but I have the burning need to do something contrary to them and I’ll explode if I dont satisfy that and it all tumbles out without me even meaning to. And bragging is definitely one of those things for me.

“I gotta holler just to be heard, with every word I drop knowledge”

I know this whole song refers a lot to Hamilton’s status as immigrant, bastard etc, but its something that resonates with any disadvantaged person trying to make the world recognise them and their value, and christ knows that applies to neurodiversity. How many half-assed awareness campaigns use that ‘letting disabled voices be heard’ kind of line? Meanwhile we’re over here yelling how we feel (metaphorically) and they’re just turning up their mics, blocking their ears and shouting “YEAH NOBODY’S SPEAKING FOR AUTISTIC PEOPLE SO WE’LL JUST CARRY ON PUTTING WORDS IN THEIR MOUTHS I GUESS”. Hey, but turns we do actually know what we’re talking about, chucklefucks, so pay the fuck attention.

“Geniuses, lower your voices! You keep out of trouble and you double your choices. I’m with you, but the situation is fraught. You’ve got to be carefully taught: if you talk, you’re gonna get shot.”

Burr’s like all the arguments of neurotypical people who just don’t quite get it, I swear. You gotta learn to speak like us, hide who you really are, for the sake of your own success and safety. And he’s not entirely wrong, is the most infuriating part: being visibly or proudly Other is a dangerous game. But Hamilton for the most part doesn’t change himself, he changes the game (plays and he RAISES THE STAKES AND IF THERE’S A REASON- stop that, SDH, focus). Trying to please everyone might keep you safer but you don’t get a whole lot done.

“Oh, am I talkin’ too loud? Sometimes I get overexcited, shoot off at the mouth. I never had a group of friends before, I promise that I’ll make y’all proud”

Okay first of all this line delivery is so fuckin’ cute it kills me, and second I hardly feel like I need to explain how accurate this is to anyone who’s ever infodumped their special interest at someone or forgot to keep their volume in check, only to be told to be quieter or slow down or stop talking.

And it’s one of the few times we see Hamilton being hesitant, which captures an interesting paradox I sometimes feel: I’ve been told before that one of my better traits is that I don’t care too much about the standard runaround, a kind of straightforwardness that can be refreshing after all the odd games that come with neurotypical interaction, but that’s not really true when it comes to people who I really want to like me. I like them because I’m more comfortable around them, but that in turn makes me more nervous, because if you’re not used to having proper friends you try even harder to adapt to their needs because you care about them and also so they don’t stop hanging out with you. You can be simultaneously assured and unchanging whilst still trying to be adaptive: it’s something I’m struggling to articulate, because it’s complex. People always want us to be a simple list of symptoms, “doesn’t like change”, “doesn’t recognise other people’s needs”, but it’s vastly more tangled than that. That’s exactly why it’s so difficult.

Farmer Refuted

Talking over someone without really caring if you’re interrupting something that I’m sure many would feel shows a lack of social understanding or lack of empathy, but the ability to elegantly monologue someone into submission when properly applied to dickheads is something to be celebrated, and nobody can shittalk like Hamilton.

(I have a lot to say about the juxtaposition of rap and singing, formal and informal language in this song in particular but I’d be pre-empting a great deal of my uni essay, which’ll be far better thought-out than this stream of conscious nonsense. I’ll probably end up uploading that too, once it’s been marked.)

Satisfied

“Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame”

There’s a lot made of Alexander’s eyes throughout the show which cant really be ignored if i’m making this fictional diagnosis, since lack of eye contact is probably one of the more widely-known indicators of autism.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a lack of eye contact – rather, it’s the inability or unwillingness to make ‘appropriate’ eye contact, whatever that actually is. Personally I notice myself flitting between the two, because I’m very aware that when I do make eye contact it can be a bit much. I don’t have the instinct for when to break it and look around the room, or when to re-establish it after doing that. But there’s studies out there that suggest those of us overdoing it may result from from a desire to observe without being too worried about whether doing so makes anyone uncomfortable.

I’ve encountered people who have that “I can see into your soul” intensity, a fair few of which are on the spectrum. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, but there are a couple people from whom it’s like they’re issuing a challenge, in a good way. I’d say that combining unusually intense eye contact with Hamilton’s proven intelligence, Lin-Manuel Miranda being a good-looking guy, and the fact that his voice has a slightly soft, eager quality that gives his Hamilton a certain sweetness underneath all the angry opinions, I could see how that translates to all of these ladies falling for his eyes.


Tomorrow There’ll Be More Of Us

FUCK THIS PART lets just have another three paragraphs about Hamilton being a total babe.

Ugh, okay, I’ll get it over with quickly. Spoilers, since this isn’t on the OBC album, but Laurens dies, a part of my soul dies with him, and Hamilton’s only response is “…I have so much work to do.

LMM, according to the Genius annotation for the Off-Broadway version, said in the book “Here’s the thing about Hamilton’s response: It’s more telling when he’s quiet than when he has something to say […]For a man who had an opinion on everything, for him to hold back betrays genuine, life-changing grief.”

The few times we see Hamilton truly overcome by emotion, he loses his eloquence: Philip’s birth in Dear Theodosia (“pride is not the word I’m looking for”), his death in It’s Quiet Uptown (“there are moments that the words don’t reach”), and here, where he has nothing to say but throws himself even more obsessively into his work.

Now, another common autism misconception: that you’re either verbal or you’re non-verbal. In fact, it’s a spectrum in more than one way: in terms of the fact that we all occupy different spaces on there to one another, but also because as individuals we can move up and down that spectrum depending on the day.


I consider myself pretty wordy. The fact that I’ve tipsily typed up over 2000 words of whatever the hell this is just for funsies would suggest that this is a fair self-assessment. There are, however, some days when I’ll only be able to write poetry because it lets me be as grammatically disjointed and fragmented as my thoughts are at that time. A lot of the time I’ll have to ask “do you want the real answer, or the short one” before I go off on one for half an hour, but there are times when I have to text people I’m sat in the same room with because I can’t talk at all. It’s mostly to do with how emotionally overwhelmed I’ve been at a given point. And honestly, even though I always know they’ll come back eventually, it’s still scary to define yourself by your word skills and then not be able to access them so it feels like a big deal.

So Hamilton of “talks for six hours at the constitutional convention” fame losing his words, shutting down or throwing himself into special interest stuff because its just too much emotion to cope with straight on? I am 1000% here for. I get it.

(Okay, at this point I fell asleep on top of my laptop and woke up sober and covered in cats, so lets get a coffee and finish up)

Non-Stop

I honestly feel like if you have even the slightest knowledge of special interests this one explains itself, and it’s just a distilled version of what I’ve already covered, so instead of going lyric-by-lyric, I wanna say this:

The themes of revolution and rising up and the work that goes into that are so much more powerful when it’s coming from a character who I can connect to, and connect to with the part of myself most in need of some revolution. It’s a rare thing, good autistic representation, and exactly what my most of my work both uni and creative is centred round.

Right now we’re at an interesting point, socially-speaking. We’ve grown up in a world mostly surrounded by people who are so different to us, and even those who went to specific educational institutions with autistic/disabled peers have still grown up in a world run by neurotypical authority and values. In some cases, like me, we’ve grown up not even knowing who the hell we are. (I genuinely only figured out I’m autistic after watching Community, so thats an example of how much representation can change your life.)

But now, we’re building friendships and connections, on Twitter or Tumblr or wherever. We’re recognising the difference between the way we see ourselves and the way the world tells us we are. I know at least a few of us are making plans to get out there and fix things. I feel like we’re on the edge of something, and having someone to be inspired by really helps. (Okay yes he fucked himself over in act 2, and was deeply flawed and kind of a dick, but that doesn’t stop him being inspirational. I mean, I’m deeply flawed and kind of a dick, so it really speaks to me on all levels.)

There’s other struggles we can empathise with, there’s a sense of kinship looking at people fighting for their rights and their humanity just as I’ve always felt a sense of kinship with characters who are dealing with their own Other-ness. Like I said in my last entry, though, I can’t properly know someone else’s oppression. I think that Hamilton would appeal to me even if I didn’t read Alexander as autistic, because its about changing cultural narratives, forcing the world to recognise your place in it after being consistently and systematically denied, and that’s what I spend every day learning, writing, doing. It just wouldn’t be as powerful on a personal level, because my struggle has never been the struggle of an immigrant, or what have you.

That I can read this version of Alexander Hamilton as a person like me  and that he can be that for so many people: the neurodiverse, those who grew up in poverty, immigrants and people of colour, queer people (I’ll die before I let you take my queer reading of Hamilton/Laurens away, it’s hard enough to find either autistic or bisexual characters to latch onto, never mind one who’s both at once), people who identify with multiple aspects of that. The world is going to shit around us, in a way that’s targeted at us, and we’re the ones who will change it, and we can sit and listen to an album that makes us realise we’ve never been fighting alone, that we don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. Intentional or not, it’s still more powerful than I could ever articulate.

I’ll take my last inspiration here from Lin-Manuel Miranda himself rather than his fictional counterpart:

How much time do we get on this earth? We don’t know. They don’t tell us at the outset how much time we get. It’s something I’ve been sort of grappling with and terrified with. I think we all grapple with it. I think we all grapple with the paradox of knowing tomorrow’s not promised, but making plans anyway.”

It’s so hard to start something knowing that you might never get to see it succeed. There have always been suffragettes who never got to vote, civil rights protestors who never lived to see the end of segregation, queer rights activists who never got to be openly in love. And there’s still so much to be done for all of those identities. I might – actually, I almost certainly won’t live to see a fully autistic-friendly world. I might not even live to see any more improvement for disability representation. I could be like one of those people who fought so hard for protective legislation back in the 90s and thought we were making progress only to see it all falling away again in the face of the Tories and austerity and all this anti-welfare backlash.

That doesn’t mean they fought for nothing, because there are people to rediscover them and follow their lead. It’ll play out eventually: today’s activists always owe so much to those who came before. Even if it doesn’t play out, if the world all explodes in a couple of months like sometimes I worry it might, if there’s even the smallest chance we might do something to make a difference in any way then we’ve got to take it. “Are you running out of time?” Yes, I am, so I’m gonna put my headphones on, start writing, and change the world with the best fucking soundtrack possible.

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