100 meters

John IV
4 min readJan 19, 2019


I swam in high school, all four years. I can’t remember if I was varsity freshman year. Like most things I did in high school — and most things I’ve done in my life — I don’t feel that I applied myself to the endeavor. Practice every day for an hour and a half, meets once or twice a week for ten weeks or so.

I’d go — I’d always go to practice, swim in the meets. I did the whole thing, I was physically present, participating … and I did alright, pretty well even. My races were the 50 and 100 freestyle, plus some relays and, my senior year, the 100 meter butterfly. I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t really care enough to push myself to be better. Maybe it was because I knew I would never be the best — what’s the difference between being the 1115th fastest in the state and 1116th? I can see the practical reasons to swim, but after a certain amount of progression, additional competence does not confer greater efficacy in an emergency (or at least diminishingly so). I didn’t push, and it was fine — I stayed in shape, had fun with my friends, had something to do after school, even got my first real job through team connections. (Casa Bonita, the summer after my senior year.)

My coach, Coach Scott, had a talk with my towards the beginning of my third season. He knew I showed up and worked but also knew that I could push harder, get faster quicker. At the time I was swimming 100 freestyle in maybe 56 seconds (yards), but he saw that in the fourth length of each race I swam my pace picked up noticeably. He correctly thought that I was deliberately going slower in the early stage of the race, saving my strength and endurance for later on.

The point, I guess — I’m not much of a story teller — was that he asked me what I was waiting for. In a longer race, sure, pacing is massively important. But not in the 100 free: it is a sprint. A long sprint, sure, but one where a reasonably well-conditioned high school boy should be able to swim at just about full power for the entire thing, less than 60 seconds of exertion. Unbroken mental focus and full physical effort is possible from the moment of departing to the moment of arrival. I’m still not sure why I didn’t figure out myself to sprint the entire race — to avoid the discomfort experienced when one pushes oneself to the edge, maybe, or a misjudgement of physical ability. Towards the end of high school I started to learn what was required, to be fully engaged through the duration of the race.

My sister calls the space space between departing and arriving the “liminal space”, an in-between time. It yields to many interpretations: aim- or placelessness, progress, transition (obviously), lost time, holy time (ritual). Sometimes it is a hassle to be endured, ignored — think a long flight — and sometimes it is among the most important moments of our life, a wedding or birth.

In the 12 or so years since my last swim meet my pattern of presenting myself without engaging has persisted, though not at a constant rate. The proportion of my time I spend aware of myself and my actions, considering the consequences of my decisions and behavior, has been increasing, as I think it has for almost everyone on Earth. (Happy to argue this point with anyone — [@robisoniv](https://twitter.com/robisoniv).) I realize now — we exist in the liminal space, always. The simple fact of existing means we abide in the space between when we didn’t exist and when we won’t. We departed at conception, give or take, and we arrive in death — beyond death, in many ways. Regardless, you and I and any one and any thing here is firmly planted in between those two moments in time: impermanent.

The reason I bring all this up is that I have realized that my habit of presence without engagement will not serve me if I want to do the things I want to do in this life. I am so privileged — not only do I have a functional body and my health, but I come from a loving, secure home, a life lived without exposure to true scarcity. I took this privilege for granted (which it was) as so many others in that situation do, and only recently have been realizing even the edge of the extent of my good fortune. I am humbled and formed by my lot in life, and the most humbling thing is that I am even here at all, that this whole production is even playing out. Absurd cannot capture even a figment of it — chlorophyll and transistors and Kanye West and Malala and Rick and Morty and the eurozone — and that’s just on Earth. What a laugh.

I don’t want to live my life like I swam the 100 free. I don’t want to switch on after the last turn, in the final quarter. I already spent the first half or so working out how this all makes sense, how it all can exist, the rules that govern reality and the patterns that arise and forms that manifest as time soldiers on, indifferent to the toing and froing of us perceiving agents in its midst.

I suppose I want to adopt the belief that the liminal space is holy. We’ve departed, we don’t know when we’ll arrive — so what do we do now?



John IV

Data visualization, spatial data science, consensus networks.