Thursday, January 28, 2016

Heights and Crashes

by Annabeth Leong

My childhood was shaped by hustling, which is maybe why I feel some resistance to this topic, and to the entire concept of the word.

I grew up with no clear idea of how money worked or where it came from. For a living, my parents did… nothing that I could see. A lot of times we were poor. I heard them fighting about money. I remember them screaming over sums like two dollars.

On the other hand, they both knew how to come up with cash when they really needed to.

My mother had a wealthy husband before she met my father, and I saw her occasionally selling items of jewelry from before, then buying things like a new crib for my baby sister.

Mostly, though, my dad was the one who would mysteriously show up with money. It was always burning a hole in his pocket. There’s a kind of money that you have to spend fast. So, I’d be yanked out of a life of living on spam and ramen noodles and suddenly spend a week at the Sheraton Makaha resort, eating every meal in the lavish hotel restaurant and getting horseback riding lessons every day.

I think a key thing about the hustling lifestyle is the awareness of that gap, that transition. One day, you’re in clothes from the Salvation Army, and the next you’re buying Armani. I recognize this mentality in a lot of hiphop music videos.

For example, look at the structure here, in TI’s “Go Get It”:

The video shows the rapper in two distinct settings: one at home in the neighborhood, and the other in a lavish mansion. The two visions inform each other. In the neighborhood, he dreams of the mansion. And the life of the mansion is given meaning by the memory of the neighborhood, and the specific contrasts between the two situations.

I’ve never seen this in people who are just wealthy or well-off. They don’t seem to have that constant outlook of having one foot on each side of the river. I think hiphop gets criticized for being materialistic (for example, in songs such as Lorde’s “Royals”) partly because people don’t understand that this fantasizing about material possessions has to do with a certain experience of poverty and need.

My dad seemed to enjoy those weeks at the Sheraton Makaha in a simple, uncomplicated way. He wanted as much of that as he could have. He did everything he could to make them as frequent as possible. He had no impulse to stash things away and live a modest and more stable life. For him, it was all or nothing, another mindset I associate with hustling.

For me, though, it was all incredibly uncomfortable. The sacrifices we made when we were poor stung but also felt false. The luxuries we enjoyed tasted strange to me. Nothing ever seemed to fit on my body. I did not live for the fat life. I didn’t know what I was. It was hard to know the truth of our situation.

So I have weird feelings about the idea that hustling is good or virtuous. To me, there’s something distorted about the constant drive it requires, the feeling that you’ve got to put, as TI says, “hustle over all.” I don’t like bouncing between feast and famine. I don’t have the ability to sustain the energy hustling requires, and I can’t handle the heights and crashes.


  1. Once Momma X was healthy enough to work, she kept the steady job which ameliorated or at least minimized our highs and lows. If I was doing well with my extracurricular stuff, we could and did put money away. For us, it worked well.

    I've always thought if there was some steady income coming in, we'd be okay. Not necessarily lots of money, but something that was steady and dependable. Then and only then could I expand my deals. Before she was well, I kept steady jobs. Mostly. :>)

    1. Yeah, I think a bit of steadiness can go a long way. :)

  2. Sorry that our topics seem to so often make you uncomfortable, Annabeth.

    Your description of your childhood reminds me of John Le Carre's novel A Perfect Spy, which I read last year. The main character's father was like yours, hustling, splurging, losing everything, then doing it all over again.

    I can definitely imagine how stressful that sort of life must have been.

    1. Hi Lisabet! Don't worry about that. Being uncomfortable does not bother me. It's just part of me having an honest reaction. One thing I like about The Grip is that I bring my whole self here instead of hiding that stuff. :)

      I've never read Le Carre, but A Perfect Spy sounds interesting!

  3. There seem to be some people who live, subconsciously or not, for the adrenaline rush of "making it big," so much so that the subsequent crash is worth it so they can have the rush of success all over again. But children need security, and going through all that must have been traumatic for you.

    1. Very much agreed. I think it's left me largely impervious to some of that adrenaline rush. I am so not a gambler, for example.

  4. This is a fascinating look at a feast-and-famine lifestyle from a child's viewpoint. I'm sure this would make most children confused and uncomfortable.

    1. Thank you for reading, Jean! I'm glad it interested you.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.