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Swingers

by on August 9, 2019

Swingers

by Marco M. Pardi

Every day should be passed as if it were to be our last.” Publius Syrus (85-43 BCE)

Few men of action have been able to make a graceful exit at the appropriate time.” Malcolm Muggeridge. 1966

All comments are sincerely welcome and will receive a response.

Remember those days of childhood fun playing on a swing, straining to go as high as possible? Or those evenings when you were older and could slip into the park playground and go back in time on the swing, straining less but feeling the A frame pull out of the ground behind you? That drive to go higher – deeper? – into the blue sky or to float among the stars, imagining the ability to do so but knowing of the broken bones that would result from letting go? Somewhere up there we reached apogee, though we knew that word only later. Somewhere up there the chains reached their limits, gravity found us and quietly but forcefully asserted dominance. We tucked up our legs and let the pendulum do what pendulums eventually do, unlike that huge pendulum we saw at the science museum that swings with the motion of the Earth. No, we’re not that glorious.

Sometimes it seemed we were spending our whole lives trying to swing up, only to be brought down again. Day passed into night and again became day. Our minds and bodies gravitated into a work – off time schedule we hardly noticed after a while. It just seemed natural. We were part of the work force. We were productive, although many of us had long given up on ever knowing what exactly we produced. But knowing that became less necessary as we learned to measure the value of our lives by more immediate standards: Bank account; home; transportation; family; friends, – not necessarily in that order. And on we swung. Because….well….we were swingers.

And as we swung we looked at people on other swings. And wondered if we made the right choice. Would we have been happier on another swing, or made more money, or been happier with a different spouse? Some of us considered our options. Could we leap to that other, seemingly more attractive swing? What would we leave behind? Would we be shamed by our families, our former co-workers, our friends?

As long ago as the mid 1960’s college Sociology texts were warning readers that college students soon entering the work force must be prepared to change careers three to five times during their working lives. They did not mean changing location with the same company, or even career field. They meant changing careers – what we do for a living. Of course, certain professions were likely immune from this threat. But this seemed extreme to me. Until I found myself teaching college courses in 1969. One of the first things I noticed was the older ages of several of the students. They weren’t late in starting college; they were returning to college with one or more degrees already in hand. They were preparing to change careers.

Changing careers can be a scary thought, especially if it is forced upon you by circumstances you cannot control. Of course, there are always those who discovered too late into their college years that the field they were getting a degree in was not really what they wanted in life. They were too late in that just starting over was financially not an option. And, the doors were quickly closing on those jobs for which any college diploma would do.

Some of those same 1960’s textbooks mentioned the need for “Leisure Studies”. Again, I was a bit perplexed. I had not had much in the way of leisure, but I felt I didn’t need any help in using it if I ever got it. Nonetheless, Leisure Studies began blooming at universities around the country. I had images of freshly degreed people (what do you call a specialist in Leisure Studies?) fanning out across Florida, a State with more liquor stores per square mile than any other place on Earth, to rouse old people off parks benches – or call the EMTs for those who were stiff. I still haven’t used my leisure time to find out exactly what these graduates do.

Inevitably, as we swing along among the other swings we notice that faces come and go. Friends for Life, even Soul Mates are no longer there. Oh, yes. We promised to keep in touch. How long ago was that? It’ll come to me. Many of them reached their apogee and the swing chains came unfastened; they achieved lift-off, floating out there in the Void somewhere. Others, probably so. Are they around me now, giving my swing an occasional push? Sometimes I wonder.

The same Sociology texts that advised students to be prepared for career change also discussed what can happen when work-life is effectively over, a kind of terminal velocity. Many people come to define themselves through their work. It may be as casual as saying, I’m an engineer. Or, it may be as comprehensive as saying, Engineering is in my blood. Of course, that leaves one wondering what one is when the opportunity to engineer is no longer there. Rachel McAlpine, writing from New Zealand, posed this issue in her recent blog. Essentially, she asked what we lost when we stopped working. I answered by writing, “I found me before I found ‘a job’. So, everything I did thereafter was just me being me. I lost nothing when it came time for me to continue just being me.”

Some would say that suggests not being fully dedicated to the job or career. I would say it is simply the ability to compartmentalize. And I speak from a position of having held three careers concurrently, not to mention all the familial permutations that developed along the way.

So what about those individuals who were totally invested in their careers? Ever heard it said about someone in retirement, They don’t know what to do with themselves? Oh, we can offer distractions but how effective are they, and are they addressing the issue or are they simply “killing time” until the swing comes to a stop. In recent years I have noticed there are many more social activities for older women than for older men. Okay, men don’t live quite as long. Those texts mentioned earlier warned of an association, perhaps causative, between retirement and death. Loss of meaningful identity seems to be a health issue (I think television, such as FOX NEWS is a key vector).

I hope it’s obvious that I enjoy writing this blog. I certainly have other things to do but I make time to do this. I particularly enjoy the comments and the opportunity to interact with people even if it is only “electronic”.

How about you, Dear Reader? Have you planned the plan, or do you take it as it comes?

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18 Comments
  1. Killing time is an important retirement skill.

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  2. Thanks, AR. Judging by what we see, you are entirely correct.

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  3. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Back in 1979, after a handful of part-time jobs and two college degrees, I went looking for “a job” that would pay the bills while I became a writer. I didn’t make things work out that way, and–after one year and one small promotion–that simple job became a sortakinda career that I stayed in for the next 35 years. And I liked it, mostly, until the last year or so…but I often wished I could change jobs, or find something different to do, though I never did. Which will always feel like a waste of potential and a kind of failure. But on the other hand, it meant that (aside from the occasional dream to this very day) I could retire and leave that job without regrets and without looking back, and that has to count for something. The lack of structure in my life is a bit of a problem, but I have yet to feel seriously at loose ends or without anything to do–even if I don’t always *do* what there is to do right away.

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    • Thanks, Mike. I’ll be candid. The personality that comes through in your writing, even in your reactions to everyday events, has been a kind of mentor to me. Not an exclusive one, but an important one. It may well be that speaking our minds, conversing with others, doesn’t always bring the standard “rewards of success” to our doors but deep down inside it’s really the only thing that counts.

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  4. I’m enjoying watching you work three swings simultaneously… precarious! More mundanely I look around and back at the careers of my friends, most of whom are women. My generation mostly took time out for child-rearing, after which another change of career was natural—and so I’ve had a new career every decade or so. But in retrospect, a theme runs through, so I know who I am. Time really helps to figure that out. Those changes at the time may seem radical: but they’re a change of direction, not identity. Thanks for citing my blog!

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    • Thank you, Rachel. Actually, you have awakened me to a gross oversight on my part. I obviously wrote this from a male point of view, completely leaving out the vital and consuming career of child-rearing.

      It is so unfortunately true that “youth is wasted on the young”. But hopefully we still have time to appreciate our understanding of all the knowledge we gained along the way.

      I’m not sure how to append a link to your blog, but will look into it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That child rearing pattern is different now of course with childcare the norm. But still women’s careers have a different shape and we tend to have plenty of other interests going strong when we retire. That helps.

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  5. DJ Diamond permalink

    From the time I was in 7th grade until I graduated from college, all I wanted to be was an English teacher. I loved literature, creative writing, enhancing vocabulary, and I had no other goal. From the time I was 20 on, I joined other members of my family battling manic depression. It got so debilitating by the end of the first semester teaching that I quit. I felt I had lost all direction and that I was a complete failure. My next career last 6 yrs., but eventually I couldn’t handle my bi-polar swings. I thought a change in location would change things, but it didn’t. I seemed to come with me no matter what the job. Fortunately starting my own business allowed me to do things in a manner that allowed me to be productive and mostly successful in managing my mood swings. Now that I am retired I have jumped into political activism as a way to make the world a bit better and to give me purpose. This has put me on a swing that goes so much higher than making a living.

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    • Dianne, you have been through so much. Perhaps we can say the illness was a circumstance beyond your control…..until you did learn to manage it. And you did a remarkable job.

      I truly love your last sentence.

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  6. From MSF:

    Your last two posts have come at a relevant time for me. I’ve been thinking about your character post. I agree that the negative or difficult times in my life have been what I believe to be character building and are deeply engraved in the memory bank, but the more I think about it, I think the not-difficult times have give me the attitude to be resilient. For this reason, I have been trying to re-remember enjoyable memories to strengthen these neurons and spend more time doing things I enjoy just for the fun of it – maybe overwrite some past less enjoyable memories along the way.

    Working with poor populations – I have often wondered what gives one person the ability to be (or at least seem) happy (and adherent with medical care) while another is unable to function when both people face very similar socioeconomic barriers.

    Being able to watch the human spirit in intense emotional conditions is what I like most about my work with HIV (also that HIV care is much more hopeful today and the possibility I may be able to use my training for employment abroad). Watching people overcome the stigma and dejection is really an honor – similar to watching the transition into death or willingness to under chemotherapy. In short, even though this dimension is pretty much hell- it’s awesome if we can step back and appreciate it.

    On your swing post, I don’t prioritize material things and I sometimes feel inadequate because I recognize that being able to act the part is helpful to navigate society. Fancy things/small talk/etiquette are my weaknesses. I don’t put a lot of effort into clothes or material stuff- in fact, they really stress me out. Blood, guts – fine. Nice dress – hell no. I do try to outdo myself and learn or try new things though – life would be too boring otherwise. You know; you’re more adventurous than I am Emoji I’m also almost ready to move onto career 2.

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  7. Thank you, MSF. I’ve watched your career develop and grow, confident it would develop as it has but amazed at the progress you have made personally and the difference you have made in so many lives. You inspire me to take better care of my swing chains lest I fly off into the Void before I can see more of your amazing development and good works.

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  8. Gary permalink

    You should be careful, Marco. You are in danger of starting yet another career as a poet. I really enjoyed this one.

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    • Thank you, Gary. That’s high praise coming from you. Your career depended on eloquence expressing logic and you are demonstrably a master.

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  9. Haven’t you always told me that the plan is always the first thing to go? Certainly, I would never have expected my past life to be what it has been, or my future life to be what it will be. I always thought I would have a career; would make some difference in this world. Alas, that was not to be. My adventures have been small, but I never imagined they would end so soon.

    I do love your analogy of a swing; it was always my favorite playground pastime as a child, and remained so long into my adult life. I can remember leaving PCC and visiting a small park on the lake near the hospital, there to release my stress and anxiety by flying high. My swings have been more mental and emotional than physical, and right now is a real low.

    My every day is taking care of my mother while trying to adapt to my newly found diabetes. It’s not physically hard, except when she falls. The difficulty lies in knowing that there is no predictable end. She is healthy enough to live for many years to come, but she will never be any better than she is now. The forever of it hasn’t broken my chains, but it has brought my swing to a stop.

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  10. Thank you, Rose. Yes, we often talked about how plans fall apart. And, we thought through the process of building the kinds of personal tools which enable us to quickly and appropriately adapt. But thinking on your feet is hard to do when you are flat on your back.

    I can’t agree with your sentiment that you are not making a difference any more, that your adventures have ended or your swing has come to a stop. Of course, I know only what you tell me about your involvement in the lives of those close to you but your blog articles and the life enriching stories you weave most certainly affect the momentum and the strength of others on swings you may never see.

    I hope there are community resources to whom you can turn for help with your mother. As we have discussed before, being a sole caretaker can take a severe toll.

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  11. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco, have returned from a holiday and always love catching up on your blog. This one i particularly enjoyed as very pertinent to life at my age. I feel you need to be you first and foremost and then life will find it way of evolving around that. Everyone is different in that some people seem to truly identify themselves with their work, which i believe is not great . I also think to compartalise is probably a good way to go as not to put all your eggs in one basket. Thank you for writing yet another brilliant piece 😊

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    • Thank you, Julie. I’ve been following your travels as posted on Facebook. I wish I were there.

      From what I know of you, you are a role model for living life in balance.

      Like

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