Day 3.5 :: Sean :: The missing pieces

Quite a lot happened after my USB was taken away last “night”, but I was in no fit state to record it. Jenn and Thom went to bed first, while Fee and I stayed up for the late shift.

I edited and paced to keep awake, and was about to play some Patience when Fee joined me. We were going to play cards together, but couldn’t find a game we both knew or could remember well enough to teach the other. So we just sat and chatted for a while before being told to go back to our rooms. The triumph of tiredness over memory and science over fraternity. It was a sweet moment.

This morning I woke up with all the missing pieces I need to write the short story, now called “Voyager” (for the moment). I slept well for a while, in a couple of stretches, then woke up feeling wide awake and needing to go to the loo. After that, I lay in bed thinking, making notes in the dark, and occasionally miming things for the benefit of the infrared camera watching my non-existent slumber (I did walking, the YMCA dance, etc, all under the covers). If I can find those moments in the video data, that will be fun. Or daggy. Whatever.

I’ve just received my memory stick from the outside, plus a couple of questions I’ll answer throughout the day, plus a message informing me that no “non-essential communication” can be exchanged between me and my wife. I feel quite angry about that—mainly at myself, for assuming that this would work in a way it clearly won’t—and am therefore in a non-cooperative mood. I can’t speak for Amanda, but I was definitely not prepared for such a total communications blackout. This is already the longest we’ve gone without speaking, and there’s a long way yet to go. I hope she understands that the silence is not from my end.

Angry, yes, and disappointed, but there’s no point stewing on it. It feels like evening to me (because I’m warm even without my hoodie on and I slept as though it was daytime, i.e. not very well). That would make it Tuesday evening—Valentine’s Day. (Another reason to be annoyed. I hope the flowers I arranged before going in arrived.) On a brighter note, Tuesday evening is halfway. Maybe that’s why we had ice-cream with “breakfast” (topped with pink Nesquick, the closest thing to chocolate in here).

Here are some other moments and thoughts I jotted down last night, some of them fragmentary because that reflected my mental state:

Is it weird that I’ve remembered no dreams at all so far? Could it be that I’m deliberately being woken before hitting stage 3 sleep every time? Will I be able to write without dreams? So many of my best works came from dreams: my first novel Metal Fatigue, one of my best stories “A Map of the Mines of Barnath”, a recent short-short “Tears of the Living Dead”, The Stone Mage & the Sea, the novel that kick-started over a million words of fiction set in one imaginary world . . . If I lose my dreams, what am I going to do in here? (Keep dribbling on like this is that likeliest answer to that question, I guess.)

The sound of Jenn running up and down the corridor is like drums, calling me to action. Or at least into motion.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve used the word “chocolate” . . . .

I’m glad I brought the hot pack for my neck, my Flexall magic cream, and my chilli flakes (the last has proven popular with us all). I also have a little pot pourri (sp?) sachet that I brought back from Thailand and have hung up on the wall as a reminder of good times. I am a mutant turtle that lives underground, dragging all my necessary things into my burrow, into the dark.

I had a weird flash last night in which I honestly couldn’t remember where I was. These are familiar from travelling and touring a lot overseas: you look around your hotel room and think, “Which city, exactly, lies beyond these walls?” Because I’m so rarely in a hotel in Adelaide, it took me twenty seconds or more to remember that I was just a kilometre or so away from my home. (And Amanda. Don’t think about that.)

So I’ve graduated from feeling like I’m in a plane to feeling like I’m in a hotel. Is that progress? Still, when the cables come out and it looks like sleep is imminent, that feels like we’re coming in to land (in the land of Nod). Only last night, when sleep was delayed for me and Fee, our descent kept on going, and going, and going . . . .

In my exhausted state last night (exhibiting all the rocking, stumbling, pacing, slurring behaviour one would expect—far, far removed from the “freedom freedom” battle cry I woke up with) sleep was all I could think of. I really REALLY wanted to go to bed. But I still managed to work on Twinmaker. I’m about halfway now, and it’s amazing to me that I’m still enjoying it. This is the last pass, and then it’s going out to the public. Terrifying, and exciting, and a little sad too, because from now it won’t really be mine. It’ll be the readers’. That’s as it should be and all, but it tugs a little all the same.

So I slept, and finally I did dream. Amanda and I were throwing a party, which required mixing G&Ts in a corner (flashes of a conversation Jenn and I had a couple of waking periods ago). That’s a relief. And although the dream appeared to have nothing to do with this, I did find myself lying awake thinking about the story idea I was struggling with yesterday—and Lo! the ideas did flow, and within an hour or two I had the material I needed. I’ll talk more about that later, or just submit some text so you can see where it’s going—maybe even the whole story, if I can get it down in time. We’ll see.

Here are some other thoughts I jotted down in the dark while I lay awake, thinking (some of these somnambulant scribblings took serious effort to decipher):

I’m heartily glad, for obvious reasons, that the protocol doesn’t involve rectal thermometers, as these things often do. There’s only so far I’ll go for Science.

My world has shrunk even further now, to just my bedroom. It’s amazing how fascinating the tiniest hints of the outside world can be: the thin line of light around a door, the faint thump and shuffle of someone moving around, a noise that might be a cough. Utterly riveting.

There’s a hum in my room that seems to be playing a Loscil track on endless repeat. Maybe I‘ve done the aural equivalent of staring at that particular sun too long. Still, it could be worse. Loscil is both interesting and soothing—highly recommended for writing to.

Woke with “Informer” by Snow as my earworm. That popped up in a shuffle from home, days ago. I don’t think it has any meaningful connection to what’s going on in here, beyond the endless, almost painful repetition of the song itself. I wish Loscil would come back.

During the night I meditated to pass the time, and that’s when the ideas came. It’ll be interesting to see what my brainwaves did during this period. Long and slow or brisk and spiky? We’ll see when the study is concluded. Was it the meditation or the return to dreaming that sparked the story ideas? That will be harder to determine, I suspect.

Among the things I considered miming for the camera while in bed was charades (The Shining, because apparently our eyes glow in infrared) and semaphore, but I don’t remember the rules for either. Maybe the others will know.

I need an African American girls’ name. Google, I miss you!

So, back to today.  I wonder if our curry breakfast was inspired by us eating peanut butter by the spoonful last night—Jenn’s idea–jazzed up by chilli flakes and a slice of cucumber. However it came about, it was excellent. We chatted with the mighty Drew Dawson, who came to show solidarity in boxer shorts, and among other things we discussed modern media and whether kids these days are more or less connected to their environments immediate. While we talked, I jotted notes on another subject in my two notepads. One’s the size of an iPad mini, the other a smart phone. Disconnection, old school.

Testing started straight afterwards. I was feeling lively (story ideas are my cocaine) but soon lost some of that edge. Testing reveals the difference between how I feel and how I am, which is the point, I guess, of the sheets we have to fill in first, telling us to estimate how we’re going to do. (Afterwards we have to guess how we did, and describe how hungry we’re feeling, what cravings we have. There’s only one answer to the latter question, as far as I’m concerned, and it starts with C.) The PVT is an amazing moodkiller. I would totally buy one and have a cathartic smashing ceremony at the end of this week, if only they didn’t cost $3000 dollars apiece. I’ll just have to imagine it.

Sonja Dechian dropped in again to check up on our progress. That was awesome. Then more testing. I was distracted by thoughts of Amanda. Gah. I hate not being in touch with her. And what is it with freaking yellow? Why is that the colour I always get wrong? My fingers seem to flail at random, and they hurt, damn it. Must do more stretches, apply more cream, try hard to not be so annoyed. All this grizzling, for science! At least they’ve added pears to the snack cart. Apples are so boringly ubiquitous. If you can’t eat them that leaves you with bananas. Yellow again—it’s a conspiracy!

Today I weigh 75.3kg. I am wearing a Steve Roach t-shirt. Fee acted out a bee’s waggle dance (Fee’s waggle dance) that lifted my spirits no end. As did the fact that it was recorded on camera for posterity. I ate a pear.

Time to try some writing.

Today is going so QUICKLY. Or else they’re testing us more quickly, just to mess with our heads. I was thinking earlier that I’m stage three of deprivation protocol, “Sad/Angry”—the first two being “Dazed” and “Paranoid”—but maybe in this unique situation stage three is actually “Panicked”. I’m aware that time is ticking and there are a certain number of things I need to do before it’s all finished. The closer we get to the end, the more uncertain that exact timing of the end becomes. If I assume I have plenty of time, I’m sure to run out.

So, writing. I’m 1000 words into the new story. My original idea was going to focus on madness and confinement (as I might have said earlier) but it’s opened up a bit to cover loss and redemption as well. “Voyager” is an ironic title, in the context of the story. Twinmaker employs the old sci-fi trope of the matter transmitter (“Beam me up, Scotty.”), sometimes to explore ideas of identity, but often just to move things around in a really cool way. “Voyager” is about Juliet, a woman who doesn’t think it’s d-mat at all, and insists on finding her own way. Juliet is the grandmother of Twinmaker’s main character, and I’m loving the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into that family history.

Back to it I go. I’ll check back in before my memory stick is taken away from again. At this rate, that’ll be freakishly soon!

We’re in our last work period before handing in our posts, so I’ll wrap this up now and go hand-wash some undies. (The glamorous life of a writer, eh?) I was going to post everything I’ve written of “Voyager” but I think it’s not yet ready for public consumption. I will share this, though, the latest version of the opening line, and the following two paragraphs:

It wasn’t enough for Juliet to be crazy. Of course not. She was always going to choose a uniquely inconvenient way to drive us mad along with her.

That she was a bit odd escaped no one’s notice. I speak with sincere love, but the list of things my mother wouldn’t tolerate only seemed to get longer, the older she got. Lenses, fabbers, the Air—everything younger than she was she considered potentially dangerous. I suppose we all slipped into the habit of treating her concerns with, not disdain exactly, but with the same patience one tolerates the night-terrors of a child. Fabbers won’t give you cancer any more than there are monsters under the bed, so here, Mum, have a cake I said I cooked with my own hands but really dialled up the same as everyone else. She never knew the difference, and we in turn never noticed her succumbing to serious mental illness.

It has a name, this illness, a name that doesn’t matter now. There was probably nothing we could have done to stop it, had we noticed earlier. She might have been on the edge of it her whole life, and we’ll never know what finally tipped her over. That personal history, that experience, she’s taken it all with her on her final journey.

So there we are. I’m too tired to tell if that’s any good or not. Luckily, our day here is coming to an end while the rest of the world does whatever it’s doing, far, far away. Somewhere it’s night-time, and I’m comforted by the fact that, even unknowing, we’re in sync with someone. It’s a long way from the missives from home that I was so eager to receive, but it’s much better than nothing at all.

Sean Williams

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