Lin Manuel Miranda, water utilities, and the creative process. Say wha?

This is how excited I get talking about water. Yep.

If you’re a Hamilton addict, as I am, you know far too well how annoying people think you are. At least, people who aren’t also Hamilton addicts. But my obsession is not singularly rooted in fandom. I am obsessed with what Lin Manuel Miranda pulled off with Hamilton and what that means to my own job.

I’m a public educator and communicator for water utilities and environmental services. I am Passionate, yes with a capital P, about water. Water. Yes, the clear, tasteless, odorless liquid. I go to multiple government communications and marketing conferences every year and I hear a lot of commiserating going on between city communicators, law enforcement information officers, parks and recreation marketers. As a government entity it’s hard to get the public to care about your message. Now, I’m not one to say “woe is me” but those guys have politicians, stoic police and fire employees, cute kids and dogs, bunnies, parks…..

I have water. Yes, you’ll die without it but we’re spoiled in the U.S. We don’t live in the places in the world that have to walk miles to collect water in buckets. Water that isn’t even safe or clean water. Most of the world’s water supply is like a game of Russian Roulette. Not so in the U.S. We’re indifferent to water.


Stephanie Zavala (me) and Arianne Shipley (partner in crime) at the Bud Ervin Water Treatment Plant in Mansfield, TX.

The ambiguity of water is why I’m obsessed with Lin Manuel Miranda. Huh? Stick with me here. Lin made American history sexy. He took a hard 1 and made her an 11. How? He made it relevant. He put the people of today into the people of yesterday. He reminded us that we are connected by that history, no matter how opposed our ideals of old are with the ideals of today. He found the rebel, the spy, the leader — characters that are timeless — and he presented them in a modern language. I Need, yes need with a capital N, this kind of inspiration. Making the mundane holy. This is my daily challenge at work.

Ok but why water? It matters. It matters as much as it matters to know your history and where you came from, to feel connected to your larger story. Water is the key to the public health of a community. It only takes one Flint to understand the value water plays in a community. We, my peeps, take that to heart, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get our message through. That’s why when someone can take something old, and make it new, my ears prick up. (Even the CIA used Hamilton in a social media post.)

Creative Process of Andy Azula from the Creative Process Illustrated

This is why creativity is my drug of choice. This is why people like Lin and even the other creatives in my industry, in my circle, are so inspiring to me. I’ve learned so much about my own creative process by learning about others. I’m grateful that they’ve shared their process for the rest of us to learn from and think “I do that too” or “I should try that out”.

When I feel overwhelmed (which is often) or discouraged (less often) or like I’m just running in place or running out of time (on whose watch, I’m not sure)…I think of Lin. I think of In the Heights that he wrote as a broke teacher and Hamilton that was inspired by a book he read on vacation. I believe creative magic is everywhere, and his story proves this. It inspires me to leave no rock left unturned.

I’m not a playwright. I’m not an actor. I’m no one that would ordinarily cross paths or roll in the same circles as Lin. And yet, here I am, inspired by his story and his creative process. To me that’s what creativity is all about. Making connections between the seemingly unconnected.

Ryan Romero’s creative process from Creative Process Illustrated. Our borrowed manifesto.