The bends

I got caught up recently at work in a problem I've had before.

I know how to move comfortably—maybe not comfortably, but naturally—in two speeds: (1) slowly deliberately thoroughly; and (2) breakneck downhill try to avoid the trees if you can but if you can't keep your forward momentum going. There not much of a gradient between the two.

I don't recall much about the state change from (1) to (2). There's a general frustration at the slowness of forward progress—quite often due to the accumulated work I've pushed out ahead of me while moving to slow, but frequently the frustration comes from the sludgy pace that The Big Company moves at with its infinite resources at the ready. The pressure builds and builds and then ignites. Like a rocket leaving the pad, the acceleration is slow until it isn't.

In state (1) the movement is manic: do this and do that and write this and test that and plan this and ship that. Never stop moving. Never slow down. Stay one step ahead of death, one step ahead of deadline. It's fear and flow, and sometimes it's not clear which one I'm feeling at the time. It's often like that at The Small Company—persistently understaffed and oversubscribed.

The transition from (2) to (1) is where I have problems. Moving from (2) to (1) is like ascending from the depths of the ocean, and it gives me the bends. The pressure from the outside has subsided, but the internal acclimatization to the pressure is still there. I imagine the best case scenario is simply easing back to the lower speed—literally no effort at all, just rolling. In reality I'm still pushing, although it's not clear why. All the insufferable bullshit that I foisted on others when there was a deadline and there was a need for urgency—it's extra insufferable when the pressure's gone. And the wheel in my head is running and running and it won't slow down and it won't slow down and it won't slow down.


Deep in the trenches carved into the floors of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, there are fish which live and die without ever seeing or sensing the sun. These fabulous creatures cruise the depths like ghostly balloons, lit from within by their own radiance. Although they look delicate, they are actually marvels of biological design, built to withstand pressures that would squash a man as flat as a windowpane in the blink of an eye. Their great strength, however, is also their great weakness. Prisoners of their own alien bodies, they are locked forever in their dark depths. If they are captured and drawn toward the surface, toward the sun, they simply explode. It is not external pressure that destroys them, but its absence.

—Stephen King, "The Langoliers", Four Past Midnight (1990)


Possibly related—I don't know—but this song has been playing on repeat in my head all week: Firewater, "Six Forty Five", The Golden Hour (2008).

So this is how it feels / To stagger from the undergrowth / And rediscover emptiness / Dancing on the beach

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