We build castles in the clouds and call them skyscrapers — like the sky is a lottery ticket, and we’re hoping to find hidden fortunes if we just scratch off that blue glaze. Like we’re climbing brick-by-brick towards heaven, where we’re certain that bliss must be buried. Our daydreamed constructions crowd up between Cirrus and Cumulus, crammed together like jigsaw puzzles, each piece scoring a lofty line into the atmosphere.
With every tower, we court taller altitudes. But there is nothing uniquely urban about the human craving for height. We build hundred-story structures for some of the same reasons we scale mountains.
We want to elevate our humanity to something almost soaring. We want to challenge gravity. We want to reframe our smallness. It makes more sense to feel so small and insignificant when looking down from up above, seeing where we fit in amid our landscapes.
Up there, we are tiny but towering. Minuscule but mighty. We need the reassurance that one extreme does not negate the other.
Who unearthed the word “hustle” and made it an anthem?
Hustle and grind. The hustle never stops. Hustle harder. You gotta hustle.
We exalt the hustle. We celebrate the hustlers. We say that successful entrepreneurs, from Jay-Z to Oprah, had to hustle to get where they are.
Somebody took a term about aggressive pushing, forcing, jostling, and shoving and turned it into a charming motivational motto, catapulting it to the front pages of our cultural lexicon, where it now poses on its lofty platform and shouts at all of us to DO MORE, BETTER, FASTER, NOW.
If you search for “hustle” on Urban Dictionary, these are a few of the top related words:
Money. Scam. Cheat. Con. Steal. Swindle. Grind.
I’m all for breaking boundaries and kicking down walls. I’m all for big leaps and boldness. I’m all for striving towards ambitious aims. And I understand that Jay-Z and Oprah didn’t become Jay-Z and Oprah by crawling through their careers in slow, timid steps.
But the more we glorify the hustle, the more we praise the pursuit of personal goals above all else — the more straight A’s trump simple acts of kindness, the more promotions take precedence over poetry, the more we aspire to get our names in lights instead of in other people’s hearts.
There’s something so insidiously harsh and shamelessly self-focused about the word “hustle.” It feels inflexible and unapologetic. Though it slips gently from the tongue like something cute, its true connotations are sharp.
I think we underestimate the dangerous spell of “safe.”
“Safe” is why centuries of humans have relished the tale of Rapunzel, a perfect princess locked in a stone tower with only her golden braid dangling tantalizingly from the window. “Safe” is why we’re enchanted by Ariel and her eagerness to escape her watery dungeon; “safe” is the thing she forgoes when she breaks the ocean surface that her companions have always treated as a sturdy ceiling despite its fluidity. “Safe” is why the Beast’s dying rose stands perched in a sparkling bell jar, as if that layer of glass might prevent its inevitable wilting.
“Safe” is alluring. “Safe” is gorgeousness in view but out of touch, sheltered in a thin glaze of immaculate protection.
“Safe” is why I stopped to admire these tiny fenced-in flowers on an arbitrary Brooklyn street. I was charmed by the bittersweet beauty of the bright red blooms behind barbs, where no one but their owner could smell their sweetness or feel their velveteen petals or see their shimmering freckles of pollen.
I can’t stop thinking about the barbed wires and glass covers and stone walls that we build up around ourselves and the things we love.
On a recent morning run in Greenpoint, I slid on a slippery crack of the sidewalk and fell down in the gutter.
I wasn’t hurt. Aside from small scrapes on my left elbow and right palm, the only true casualty was to my shorts, which got drenched in a sewer soup of rain and trash that I’d rather not think about. My iPhone, by some stroke of luck, survived without a scratch. And so I stood and brushed myself off, ready to keep running, as three separate passersby paused to make sure I was okay.
“Oh, yeah, totally. No, no worries! Yep, I’m good. It’s all good. Thanks! Thanks.”
That’s what you’re supposed to do when you fall, right? Brush it off? Pick your ass up and get back in the game? Keep pushing?