There’s a song within the Hamilton songbook… Wait, first let’s back up: If you don’t know what Hamilton is, it’s an 11 Tony Award-winning musical about the suavest Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, who served as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Formulated and fleshed out by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it is a thoroughly modern masterpiece, and by the end of listening to the cast recording (because getting tickets is, in short, a practical/financial nightmare), you’ll be in tears. Oh, and it’s the site of one of the most trash fandoms in the year of our lord 2016.
So. There’s a song in the second half of Hamilton called “Say No To This.” Though it’s ostensibly about Hamilton’s willing-ish seduction by Maria Reynolds, I’ve thought about the song a lot recently as an anti-personal mantra. As someone who was raised by particularly thrifty immigrants, whose own lifestyle is oftentimes a parody of the “young artist lifestyle” archetype, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy agonizing over my financial decisions. As anyone who’s tried to restrict any sort of guilty activity knows (whether it be binge-eating, cosmetic procedures/treatments, or impulsive shopping), the more you try to set firm limits on the thing you’re trying not to do, the more often that pressure leaks out in different ways.
2014 was the year that money drove me mad. I was making a fixed monthly salary, and when I wasn’t being paid a month late, every month (I. Know.), I was counting every dollar, every cent, breaking down over every big expense that I made. It was a year of big, necessary expenses, and it coincided with my first year of true ~adult~ living. I certainly felt more grown, poring over receipts, wondering if that case of beer I bought was worth the financial distress.
The thing is… I wasn’t actually in dire financial straits. That mindset, of being fastidious about money, of tearing your soul out when you dip into your savings, is one borne out of good intentions but, as I was going about it, also belying the fact that I was okay, that a generation of 20, 30-somethings living in financial uncertainty is not just symptomatic of but also a survival tactic of the post-recession economy, the gig economy, the economy that we’ve inherited and adapted to.
2015, then, was the year I got a steady writing job, where I started building savings instead of chipping away at them slowly. I formalized my entrance into the “writing world,” and started making professional and personal connections with other people who wrote for a living. And what I quickly noticed was that while money anxiety was a constant thing amongst my peers, that didn’t stop them from living in a way that I’d previously considered unattainable. Everyone balanced home cooking with restaurant eating! Everyone occasionally made lavish purchases that they balanced with student loan debt! Everyone fretted about their bank accounts, but that didn’t stop them from putting their money, their “potential future savings,” forward, to engage with cultural and material desires that made them feel good! When I first learned about self-care as praxis, I was amazed that there was an ideology that balanced capitalist pressure with capitalist release—which, of course, isn’t self-care’s only purpose—and that the only barrier to entry was my own discomfort.
So, when in December that year, my sister asked me if I’d be able to drop hundreds of dollars on Hamilton tickets for me, her, and her best friend for a mid-February, 2016 date, I said yes. It was a huge, huge amount of money to unload at once (they paid me back, in portions), but I did it.
Right before I flew to NYC (another expense) to actually see the show, one of my favorite writers tweeted this missive, in reference to Beyoncé’s recently-released Formation Tour announcement:
If you see the Formation Tour and Hamilton in the same year do you ascend to heaven
— #rachelsyme (@rachsyme) February 8, 2016
And then the seed of that idea fell into the ground. Of course, Hamilton was an exhilarating experience, not just because of its historical relevance (I’m definitely gonna tell my kids about seeing the original Broadway cast run) but because I got to experience it with my two sisters, one in blood and one in spirit. Also, it reignited my long-buried interest in musical theater. As an unexpected side effect, it also kinda made me quit my job. After seeing “Formation” and then the rest of Beyoncé’s Lemonade vision, I was both moved by the strength of another singular, fully-developed vision, and interested in ascension, but unsure if I would or could drop That Much Money again.
When Prince passed, a lot of people shared their experiences with seeing him live, and how grateful they were to have had a chance to see their idol in the flesh, financial and geographical barriers be damned. Isn’t that the reason to invest in anything that you can’t physically hold onto afterward — that the collective cultural memory you perhaps might enter is worth the entrance fee? So many of us reminisce not solely about the mundanities of our childhoods (although certainly those too), but about the formative, and yes, paid events that our lives were built around. Which isn’t to say that capital is the only key to a fulfilling life or to building lasting memories, but that it’s naïve to believe that money isn’t an essential part of most people’s lives, and that engaging in the material, in the monetary, is somehow profane.
With that in mind, I bought a ticket to Beyoncé’s Rose Bowl Formation Tour date. Fuck the profane; I’d rather see Beyoncé.
A photo posted by 莉莉 (@atticuswench) on
The Formation Tour was a fantastic showcase by an incredible artist at the height of her relevance and artistic development. Hamilton is a future cultural institution and touchpoint. I dropped a lot of Tubmans on both (though less than I expected on Yoncé), and guess what? I had the money to do so. Do I still fret about paying rent and saving money? Yes; these indulgences (because that’s what they are) both can’t and shouldn’t become a staple of my life.
But my desire to go, however overpriced and inflated the tickets were from their originally-determined value, was stronger than my desire to hold onto my not-easily-earned cash. Other areas of my expenditure dipped to accommodate the costs, and I regret nothing. This perspective definitely comes from a place of privilege on so many levels, but I also know that I’m not alone in the endeavor: Of deciding what’s worth my money and my time, and determining how much I can and am willing to pay. I could; and as silly, strange, stupid, misguided, moronic as it sounds, for the first time in my life, I want to.