Anatomy of a Swingset
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You always start in the middle of things. Is that something you should fix? Your arc swings wide, your body tilting to the side. It’s so fast now. There’s no stopping – your flow is turbulent, erratic, forced upon you. Your legs weigh a thousand pounds at the upswing and are weightless as air on the backswing. You can’t stop. Never have been able to; not going to now. But no matter your faults, you somehow keep rising. Is that something you should fix? The swing rushes, the bars creak, your ribs tighten and loosen as you breathe. When was the last time you slept? You’ve been nodding off on the chains all week, last week too, the week before that, the month. Just swing, you’ve been telling yourself. You’ll be done soon. But is that the truth?

When was the last time you dreamed?

Focus on the swingset, the arc of it, the balance of body and rhythm and momentum. Wind roars in your ears, self-made but chill and filled with the reek of your sweat. It’s like swimming in a churning surf: your body knows, now, your muscles preemptively moving before you tell them to, how far back they must go on the backswing. Can you make yourself swing forward indefinitely, forever higher and never going back? A circadian rhythm, forever waking, never sleeping. Never twilight, never dawn. It’d be so nice — just think of it, rising evermore, never falling. But you must fall to rise again, and do so with greater height each time. Even the fall, in its weightless gravity, is enjoyable. But only here. Think: You’re in graduate school now, and you’ll be out of graduate school at twenty-two. Is that as high as you’ll go in life? Don’t think about how your age will bother your clients – not might, will, that you are so young and so successful, more than they are now. Think that won't affect them? They can’t see the pain, the strife — not that you had much to deal with anyway. All of your pain, all of your conflict, has been elementary compared to theirs. You don’t deserve therapy.

Other swingsets litter the playground. Red, blue, cloth-wrapped, rope-anchored. All unique, all distinct — the lives of others. Some people have kids; some are professional, wearing suits from the moment they wake, never letting down the mask; some are extravagant, eating sushi every night and wearing expensive perfume; others eat ramen and pray to the god of pocket change in the grocery store line. You swing with frantic kicks, an erratic pulse. Even when you try to balance, to do that effortless act everyone else has nailed down, you can't. You're stuck this way. Stuck being you.

Stay on the swingset. If you stay, you can’t hurt. Just keep working. Ever higher.

Your rhythm falters, the chains twanging like lightning under the great boughs of the tree. There’s no lightning though: no storm, no rain. Just the clear blue of a faultless sky, interspersed with the warm branches of the tree above, whose strength holds the swingset.

The playground is growing golden, the autumn sun basking the world in a warm glow. And here you are still, staying out long after you were allowed to leave. Pushing yourself to achieve…

…something. Is it true? That your goal morphed into the effort itself of achieving your dreams?

Do you try to slow down? Not just stop the diagonals, but to stop the speed you have gained? You try. You must. But time always catches up with you. Won’t the world just pause for a moment? you often ask late at night. You're riddled with caffeine, mind scrambled by the encroaching future: meetings, deadlines, to-do lists that never end. Knock an item off, and another replaces it. You do so many things at once — are so many things at once: a writer, a reader, a student, a child, a teenager, a college student. A friend, a coworker, a researcher, a speaker. An advocate for your people, at times, but you’ve let that one slide as of late. Oh, god.

Yes, maybe you’ve tried to slow down. Tried to reverse the direction of your swing, tried to kick back on the frontswing and forward on the back. A reversal of entropy. And if you have tried this, you know that slowing down is a joke. You’re restless, unable to stay idle, forever pacing. Always been that way. You can’t stop yourself from rising to the challenges life throws at you, even when they might kill you. You’re burning up, flying so high. No Icarus metaphor here; the sun is hot and the swing has reached its peak. When did it become day? All this time you’ve been swinging at evening, at night, waiting for dawn, but now dawn has passed and you’re in the open air, exposed. This is real. Wobbling in jagged diagonals at times, but your body has moved you higher even while you thought about slowing. Always gathering momentum, that’s what you are. But for what? What are you aiming for?

Do you even remember?

What would happen if you jumped off? Not off of life – you aren’t inclined to that. Jumping off, rather, from your career path. Of your life direction as of late. Two hundred dollars a month of food expenses, much more than that for rent, more than those combined for attendance of the university that will take you. All so you can help people – but that’s not it, is it?

Please. Slow down.

When you jump — because you will — will you jump backwards, or forwards? A reset, or a continuation? There are justifications for both.

The swing has reached its peak – had reached it long ago.

You’re stalling. Why? What’s down there, on the ground? What are the consequences of falling? Do you even know how high you’ve gotten?

Why are you so afraid of taking action? Is it because you received a push long ago, and a few more pushes along the years, and you’ve attributed your cumulative height to those? Are you laying aside the effort you put in, the nights sleepless on the swingset, the burning of muscles and coughing gasps for air as you fought to rise beyond the capacity that everyone else thought was your maximum? Or, perhaps are you afraid of losing all that you have gained, of making the jump at the wrong time and missing what you were aiming for, unable to go back?

Does that even make sense to you?

It’s deep in the night. The sun is gone, again. You missed your chance. It'll come around again, but for now, the playground is deserted. Streetlights flick back on, the sun seesaws on the horizon and then bleeds out, the ocean crashes miles behind your back. The stars whirl, align — a faint push – or is it a tug, a restraining hand helping you down? – comes in from the wind, a sea breeze forcing your heart to slow. It’s a jackhammer in your chest, drilling into your core, writhing your stomach with anxiety and your body with freeze-frame tremors that never seem to leave. But now, with the anchor of the wind, you are still, a statue in the wide arc of the swingset.

Deep breath. The moment is arriving. Let your body carry through the motions. The last time you dreamed was yesterday. It can be today, too. And tomorrow. All you have to do is remember. You’re destined for great things – no, not destined. You’ve been this way for years. Always higher, always farther, reaching for the stars and unwilling to miss. Because you’re not reaching for just any star; you’re caught in its pull already.

You’re reaching for the Sun. The core of your life.

Feel the weightlessness; the lack of gravity, at the top of the swing.

Be careful. The ground is miles down.

Prepare yourself, rushing forward. You have a parachute; you made it yourself, don’t deny that. Strap it on.

Stare into the sun. It’s morning. Your goal is just a mile ahead.

See how far you can get.

And now, on the upswing—


Sorry about this one, y'all. Not my best work. But hey, I got into my Master's program!

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