Day 5 :: Sean :: Ms. PVT in leather

We’re all in agreement, rightly or wrongly, that it’s now Friday morning. So the time has come for us to start tying loose ends, and to do some of the things we talked about doing, if we haven’t already done them. No second chances. (If we do have an extra day, I’m going to look kinda dumb for saying that. Perhaps I should avoid clichés.) It’s time to revolt.

As the preparations began for sleep last night, I was reminded of Gary Numan’s song “I Dream of Wires”. We were doing just that, but sleep was a long time coming. We sat up in bed for ages, waiting to conduct the test exercises (eyes open for thirty seconds, eyes closed for thirty seconds, blink five times, clench your jaw and swallow), during which time lying down was verboten. I somehow managed to microsleep a couple of times, until Michaela brought my manuscript to edit. That kept me going a little longer. I don’t know if it was another test of some kind. Maybe they were surreptitiously recording our brainwaves as we struggled to stay awake. I don’t know if they were, but that would’ve been kind a cool.

Sleep has never been more welcome. That’s saying a lot, in here.

I know I dreamed but that’s all lost now. A full bladder woke me up, and only minutes after getting back into bed (it seemed) the lights were on and we were called to breakfast. Which really was breakfast this time, again. In the shower I had several ideas critical to the short story, which indicates to me that my brain is back onto some kind of track. To reinforce that feeling, I’m wearing my Clarion ’05 shirt, with the slogan: “We’re all going to die, but before we do, we’ll fix this story.”

The title of the story is currently “Death and the Hobbyists”. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Random thoughts:
Back to the PVT, the machine we love to hate.  We’ve all developed strategies for coping with it. Jenn counts the number of times the LEDs trigger (around 90 per ten-minute cycle, she says, which I find depressing). I look for patterns in the numbers, either ones that recur—255 is a common one, for some reason—or properties of the numbers themselves, as in 222, 234, 391 (my third favourite number), 314 (the first three digits of pi), and the squares that fall in my usual range (225 and 256 are really common; 196 and 289 are not). I’ve also started holding it on its side, which is much easier on my hands. It feels like cheating, but the rules state only that it needs to be held with two hands. Thom aims for particular numbers. Fee pumps everything into a short story she’s writing about the device. It’s an on-going struggle.

You might think I’m joking. I’m not. You might think we’re obsessive. We are. Our best beige Bauhaus buddy is our worst freaking nightmare. It’s going to haunt us the remainder of our days, until, you know, something actually horrible happens to us (touchwood it doesn’t).

Stage 3 of the Sleep Deprivation Cycle is now officially Upset (thanks to Jenn for find that word for me).

The driving simulator put in an appearance in our first battery this morning, the first time since our training day. I cocked it up a treat, starting too early and failing to read the speed limit sign right up until the very end. (110 not 100—derp.) It was an exciting change of routine, but I do think it’d be more fulfilling if there were something in that endless night sky. A comet, perhaps. Or a UFO. A single star would be nice.

Thom is playing “Rebel Rebel”. There’s a reason for this. Let me explain.

On our second test battery on our last day (presumably), we rebelled. It wasn’t random. It was planned, and we all did it together so as not to corrupt more than one set of data. We were consistent in the sense that for some of the tests we created our own parameters, or we created individual methodologies that we followed during the course of each task. The data resulting from the tasks became secondary to the new task, the meta-task of making an artistic statement. That itself is data, and we wanted it quantified. We did it once. These are the results.

It is an act of defiance, though, and I suppose there will be consequences. We haven’t been offered a snackurtunity, as we normally would be by this point. Maybe they’ll come tell us off, or ask us to take the tests again. I’d be happy to do that, but there’s no dialogue at the moment. Science is mad. Science is giving us the cold shoulder. Art looks awkwardly at its shoes and waits in its room for what happens next.

Random thoughts:
My sideways-PVT plan was scuppered before this round even started, so it’s back to holding it the painful way for me. But I hit 2001 on this “naughty” round, which makes me happy. It’s a bad score and a beautiful number at the same time.

Our sheets were changed before the battery. Does that mean we won’t be sleeping in the beds again? Could we be WAY out in our estimations and it’s actually late Friday night, and we’ll be awake right through to the end of the week?

The adrenaline surge of breaking the rules has left me shaky and washed out. This is nothing compared to what people in real oppression live with every day. We are playing games while protestors all over the world struggle to survive. I worry that I’ve done something really distasteful on that level.

Breaking news:
My leads are being set up. This post might be considerably shorter than usual! In case I don’t get to write more later, here’s another excerpt from the story, which still doesn’t have a perfect ending but is, I think, falling into shape.

Much later, Juliet explained the mechanism to me. To get from A to B, every object in the universe took a certain amount of time. For most things, people included, that natural velocity was much slower than the speed of light. D-mat, however, enabled people to travel much faster than they ordinarily would, but that debt of time wasn’t forgotten. Time doesn’t just vanish, she said. It has to go somewhere.

She believed that it was added to us while we were in transit. Every time we went through d-mat, in the instant we were between here and there, we aged the time it should have taken us. And the more we travelled, the older we got.

Look at you, she told me once, you should be a young woman of twenty. But you look forty. Why would you do something like that to yourself?
I looked forty because I was forty. But that made no difference to Juliet. She was stubborn and ill, and people like that have always made for entertaining patients.

I like to think that we are entertaining. I suspect that may not be the case today.

More breaking news:
We’ve had a visit from Xuan. We explained what our motives were and some of our methodologies and swore we’d keep our naughtiness confined to this one battery. This was always our intention—we chose this one hoping to minimise the damage to the data, but always knowing there would be damage—to them and to us, because rebelling is actually much harder than going with the flow. The scientists are disappointed (this is why they don’t like us talking to each other for too long); the artists feel good for having made their statement (some more guilty about it than others—I am torn, still feeling a bit quivery from unexpected adrenalin). But we’re talking again, and I think we understand each other a bit better now. There are hurt feelings and lingering uncertainties, but that always happens when one group shifts the parameters on another. This isn’t about Art vs Science; it’s about exploring the ways in which we have a bit of both in all of us. (Meddling with our new skills is also fun. Amazing how difficult conditioning is to break.)

It was always going to happen. Because it’s important. And because we learned something about ourselves doing it. Having been a slave to my beloved science for most of this week, it’s terrifyingly wonderful to snatch the switch from her hand and turn it back on her. (I have a vision of Ms. PVT in leather stuck in my head now.)

Also, it seems we’re having a short protocol rather than the full day. It’s not punishment. So I guess we’ll get a meal at some point (hopefully! I’m rather peckish) and then we’ll be hitting the sack again. Short nights and short days are in some ways a bigger mindfuck than long days and long nights. Maybe I won’t be finishing the story today after all.

Seconds later:
Just ate a banana. It was good. (Our snackurtunity privileges have been restored, it seems.)

Another battery of tests is about to start. We have promised to be good. And we will be. We’re all on the same team, really,
A big hello, btw, to Kelsey’s mum, who’s been reading the blog. Sorry we were naughty on her watch. It’s not her fault. She’s been such a good sport, reading our poems and stuff. I hope she doesn’t feel too let down by our bad behaviour.

Day “5.5”
Didn’t have time to wrap up before we went to bed last “night”. After second breakfast, it was straight to sleep, but not before we took what might be our final chance to pose for a group photo with our wires on. (Looks like an album cover by a band called The Subjects. We should totally do that.) I am in “packing mode”, i.e. I’m thinking about how to pack everything back into my suitcase, so I’m prepped for leaving today, whether we are or not. I’m wearing my Ekidnas t-shirt. Coming out outfit will be Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. We’ll see what happens.

General thoughts:
Dreamed like boss! Got lost in a Hobart that had even more cathedrals than it already does. Was robbed by street kids and caught up in a Scandinavian crime show. Had a cigarette. Was Matt Smith being interviewed by Parkinson with Jon Pertwee! Felt like flood gates opening. Nothing relevant to the story, though. Just cool.

Movies make it look easy, putting on the electrodes, but it’s not. It’s an art as well as a science. It has to be just right. It’s fiddly and time-consuming, and hair is a huge pain in the arse. Xuan is the acknowledged master. If there were belts in electrodes, his would be black (with gold stars).

Woke up just before the lights came on. Hallucinated a flash of light that turned out to be the dim lights coming back on. Heard another “flumph” in the ceiling that might have been evidence of the atmosphere outside. Was just about to push the buzzer to go to the loo when the lights came on. Perfect.

On the way to the shower, discussed with Thom the feeling that our time sense is useless now, but that doesn’t stop us trying to work out what time it is. It’s like having a phantom limb, only it’s a phantom body clock. Also, “What time do you think it is?” is the new “Nice day, isn’t it?” Sad and amusing at the same time, to me, anyway.

Being in here is murder on my skin. Scratched a zit overnight that left blood on my face when I woke up. Can’t help but hope we’re not coming out soon, because there’s no hiding from the cruel light of day. It’s the spotlight effect, I tell myself. No one else will notice my scabby zit. They’ll be staring at my giant carb-fuelled stomach.

I’m looking forward to:
seeing Amanda
getting a haircut
eating some Brussels sprouts (and eggs, tofu, cashews, broccoli)
going for a real drive
listening to The Church’s “Unguarded Moment”
checking my mail
changing some of my work methods to capture some of the good stuff from in here
no PVT!

I’m not looking forward to:
the chaos of the outside world
having to make decisions about things like meal and sleep times
going on a diet
stepping out into the sunlight (it’ll hurt)
summer (it’ll be hot)
checking my mail
having to think further than a few days ahead

There’s a small chance we might have one more short sleep period left, but I’m pretty convinced we’ll be out in a few hours. It would be cool if Xuan made an announcement over the speakers: “This is your captain speaking. We have begun our descent into Adelaide. Please get out of your tracky-dacks, stuff your stinky band shirts into your suitcase, and prepare for the coming assault. Don’t panic.”

I’m looking forward to the Big Reveal. Were the fireworks Monday or Sunday? Is it Saturday morning right now or sometime in 1956? I wouldn’t be surprised if all of our guesses had been totally wrong. In fact, I’d be delighted. There’s nothing more stimulating than cracking open your head and realising that most of what’s in there is held together with rubber bands and bits of string.

Just had the first battery of our short protocol. I tried a new challenge with the PVT: to quickly work out the difference between my latest time and the time before, before the next time rolls along. It was interesting but I gave up after a couple of minutes. Required a lot of brain power. After that, the usual routine seemed easy. Almost a relief, until the tedium kicked in again.

More random thoughts:
Should I go back and edit these posts into one coherent account? I’m not sure. The rawness, the paranoia, the uncertainty—it’s not how I would usually present myself to the public, but I think that’s part of the package, here. Being exposed is not just about the cameras watching us all the time, or at least it doesn’t have to be. I don’t mind people knowing I’ve had some hopeless moments in here, and I really hope readers will forgive my typos, repetitions, awkward turns of phrases, etc. I have edited each post before it went out, but under the same conditions in which I wrote them. To examine these missives again outside might risk making it too smooth, a little less honest. (Maybe that would be a good thing, for a wider audience. And it’s always good to recycle research. I have no doubt this experience will turn up in my fiction somewhere, more overtly than it already has in “Death and the Hobbyist”. Why not in non-fiction too?)

While on the subject of these posts . . . I’ve been struggling a bit with what to call the people looking after and studying us in here. Several terms have appeared in my posts, my least favourite being “scientists” even though that’s what they are and it’s something totally awesome to be. Maybe I don’t like it because it speaks back to the art/science divide, and I don’t really think of myself as an artist (even though that’s what I am and it’s something totally awesome to be). The one I haven’t used before is “wrangler”, although that could work. It’s like herding cats in here, sometimes. “The Invigilators” is far too scary.

I’m wondering how to end my final post. END OF TEST could work, because that’s what comes up on the screen when we finish several of the tasks. (Always makes me think of END OF LINE from Tron . . . Such. A. Nerd.) There may not need to be an end just yet, of course, since we’ve been talking about continuing the blog as we process our feelings, polish the work we did in here, and grapple with the real world. I’ve got some time to think about it, but not very much time, now.

Will work on the story for a bit. Still haven’t got the ending right. Have just learned that we have one more work session before handing in our memory sticks for posting to the blog, so this will probably be my last post from inside. (Now I have the theme from Prisoner in my head.) Will come back to say something witty and charming before signing off.

Wit and charm have escaped me, so I’ll do the right thing instead, and thank everyone who’s looked after us through the course of this project: Drew, Jin Zhe (sp?), Kelsey, Melissa, Michaela, Sarah, Staz (sp?), and Xuan; and on the outside Catherine, Sonja, Stuart, Vicki, our spouses and buses, and everyone who sent in questions. If I’ve forgotten anyone, please accept my sincere apologies and blame my aching brain. I’ll be available for public humiliation in a very short time (probably). This has been an amazing experience, something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It was everything I hoped it would be, and of course wildly different to how I imagined it would be. I’ll miss the Subjects when we disband, but we’ll always have the PVT.

Here’s the last line of “Death and the Hobbyist”. Maybe it works here.

Juliet Larhonda Hill, my mother, was undoubtedly crazy, but there are all different kinds of crazy. Sometimes they add up to sane.

Sean Williams

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