Day 2 :: Sean :: Things get Weird

This is weird. Weirder than usual, I mean. There was a slight intimation before we went to sleep that something might happen that would affect our awakening, something we would discuss over breakfast. This I didn’t predict.

A short time ago, the lights came on for just Jenn and I. Fee and Thom (as far as we know) are still asleep. But Jenn and I aren’t properly up either: we remain wired up, stumbling about like something out of a weird scientific experi . . . oh, wait.

Here’s what’s happened since last time (“Previously on The Subjects”—I’ve always wanted to be that guy):

We had a couple of meals and several rounds of testing. I didn’t report on this at the time because it was getting repetitive. I feel like I had set the scene in my first post–more for my own benefit than anyone else’s–so it didn’t need restating. Also, I had hit four out of five on the “bushed”-o-meter and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together. (That didn’t stop me, though, doing what I think is some important work on the Twinmaker final pages. All that jetlag in recent years has prepared me for this moment. Woohoo.)

We had a visitor: the excellent Sonja Dechian who’s recording us for Kill Your Darlings. Weird having this small contact with the outside. Weirder still getting an excellent piece of relationship news this way. It feels like an experiment in some strange new social media. Dripfeed: one person a day, one message, get over it.

I found myself looking forward to sleep more as a release from the testing than for the actual sleep. (Although that was great too.) While fiddling with my PVT box I discovered that the serial number is A-1138. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Regarding the constant observation: I only think of it when I’ve done something really clumsy. Which is a lot when I’m tired. I also got very cold for the last hour or two. It was bound to happen, since the air is kept at a constant 21C in here. I’m really glad I packed my hoodie. My current uniform is black tracksuit pants, black shoes, black TMBG t-shirt, aforementioned black hoodie. Expect more band shirts in coming changes. (The excitement horizon in here is very small, and shrinking fast.)

Each time we perform one of the tasks, the instructions are repeated to us in full, like some quasi-religious ritual designed to lull us into a state of dull obedience (as such things are). And it works, although we all hate hate hate the PVT. This is the normal reaction, apparently. Our patient and very caring handlers have done these tests themselves; they know PVT bites. But they still make us do it. I’m worried about how they sleep at night.

The sound of airconditioning could be fake. I deduced this while doing some stretches. The ever-present hissing sound is actually coming from what appears to be a speaker set into the ceiling, near the vent. My guess is they’re pumping in white or pink noise to cover up the sounds around us (the centre is on a very busy arterial road) and perhaps for some psychological benefit, too, as background noise helps the mind function under some circumstances. When I asked about, I got a weird reaction, like it was a big secret. Like I had opened the wrong door and seen THE ALIENS. I changed the subject immediately. Who wants to be put in the grinder for KNOWING TOO MUCH? (Alternatively, that “speaker” is an intake vent, which might explain why I can’t feel any air movement when I put my hand near it. That’s the sane explanation.)

No dreams, no major inspirations. (No subliminal messages from the hiss, either. Not yet.) Waiting for stuff to happen is an idea-killer, and we’ve been doing a lot of that in here. Waiting for the next battery of tests, waiting for the next test to start, waiting for the current test to end. In between we’ve been talking a little, eating a lot, and getting tireder and tireder. At the end of our first full “day”, I think we all flatlined a little.

Perhaps the biggest hit to inspiration comes from the loss of all the times I’d normally fish for stuff in the back of my mind: walking, doing the dishes, lying on the floor stretching my neck (they don’t want me to do that because I might nod off), drowsing in bed (I went out like a freaking LIGHT), etc. All gone. I can’t even have a shower during this waking period because of the wires. Maybe when I wake up after the next sleep period. It will be to the benefit of all, believe me.

I did write a haiku, though, which will probably appear on the blog in the Questions for the Subjects section. (Yes, we had a couple of those. It was exciting. Send more! Pretend we’re on the space station or something. Ask about our food and what it’s like to go to the toilet. No, don’t ask that.) It wasn’t a very good haiku, but it did speak to my experiences in here. Here’s another one, a cut-up piece from our various experiments. It too is not very good.

numbers and colours
emotions and reactions
feet flat on the floor

I offer it to demonstrate that being in here has had no effect on my ability to write intelligent, meaningful poetry. Alas and alack, I remain a hack. (See?)

I’ve been listening to a lot of Steve Roach. Surprise, surprise. While in walking-dead mode (during which the irony occurred to me that we’ve been joking about zombie apocalypses happening outside without us knowing, when in fact a very real one is happening to us inside) I played Patience using my awesome paranormal They Might Be Giants deck. I only played two hands because it was feeling like another alertness test. Also, I worried about the guys in the control room seeing moves I hadn’t noticed yet, like the annoying person who ALWAYS appears and leans over your shoulder to offer advice, even if it’s in the middle of the desert or on top of a giant mountain. Also, they’d see if I was cheating. Not that I ever ever . . . oh, never mind. Everyone cheats at Patience. That’s what real cards are for.

“Today” is TMBG day. “Tomorrow” I will be fishing for a Gary Numan t-shirt from the stack I brought in. I’m glad I brought my own entertainment.

So here we are. I feel quite awake at the moment, which is good. If I slept for only a short time, I wouldn’t know it. Thus far I’ve written 1200 words. Not fiction, but it’s something. I hope someone will read this. (If not, at least I’ll have this as a record of what really went down in here. I’m bound to forget once the white noise wears off and all is subsumed under a noctiluminescent fog of nostalgia.)

(Can’t check that word. DAMN. Google is so hardwired into my extended brain that I feel retarded without it. Clouds that glow in the dark. Look it up for me. Tell me in the comments if I got it wrong. I promise I’ll remember for next time.)

The “divide & conquer” feeling is a bit weird. I feel bad for Thom and Fee, who for all I know are lying awake, listening to me tippy-tap on my keyboard and wondering what’s going on. That worries me. My sense of being in the now is very strong: it’s exactly like being on a long plane flight in that one’s sense of connection with everyone outside the plane is held in abeyance until we “land” some vast, timeless distance away (only here, instead of regular meals being thrust upon us, it’s terrible PVT boxes—Worst Airline Ever). I wonder what’ll happen when the tables are reversed. Will I sleep on without knowing, unaware that I should be grateful for the extra hours of sleep, or will I lie sleepless in the dark, wondering how my two new friends are coping with the ALIENS IN HUMAN FORM?

(I should just add for the benefit of anyone from the centre who might be reading this: I am joking with the alien thing. You’ve all been totally awesome. And I’m not paranoid at all, honest. That’ll come in a day or two. And then IT’S ON.)

Jenn drew an amazing self-portrait, with cables. I hope that goes on the website. It captures the starkness of our experience so well, and at the same time the triumph of art over . . . what? Adversity? That’s not the right word. Not Orwell’s crushing bootheel, either. (Patience, I’m reaching for something profound here. Or maybe it’s only dream-profound, and will seem dumb when I wake up.) Mundanity, maybe. Everything in here is so strange, and yet at heart it’s what we have outside in the everyday world, magnified to a million: routine, time pressures, the feeling of being watched, the obligation to conform, boredom, exhaustion, agoraphobia, claustrophobia . . . it’s all here. But there are fun times, too, and I hope we’re all learning stuff about ourselves that we can take back with us out into the real world. So we’ll have something real to talk about at the end of it, not just how crazy it is doing a number two in zero gravity. Or whatever the equivalent is in here.

Sometimes I wish we had gone with the uniform option, to emphasise that we are faceless Subjects caught up in the machine of Scientism, but on the whole I think we did the right thing. Any clothes we brought out with us would become a superficial souvenir of what should be a profoundly personal experience. A uniform would highlight the collective and devalue the individual response. We’re in this together, yes, but if we all come out the same . . . that speaks against what art is, I think. Art is about finding the cracks in the edifice through which the tendril can grow, not to tear it down, but to weave through the concrete and make it stronger. We are the ivy in the walls. Scritch, scratch. (No wait, that’s rats. Forget I did that.)

I think I’m more tired than I realize. Time to take a break and do some Twinmaker editing. I’m scared to go back over what I did last “night”. Maybe the invasion of giant Brussels sprouts wasn’t a good idea after all.

I want to itch my head but am scared of tearing off the electrodes . . . .

Is this “Day” 3 now or what??
Time has passed. I’ve slept again (tried to, at least), had a “dinner” that felt like breakfast, had another round of testing, and caught up with the adventures of my fellow Subjects. Most importantly, I’ve had an idea for a short story. Here’s how it all played out.

Not long after I finished my account above, Jenn and I were told to go back to bed. We’d had no testing and no food, and I was feeling a mixture of awake and tired when I hit the sack again. Unfortunately, the latter won out, and I feel like I lay there for hours trying to sleep, unable to get up (except to go to the toilet, which required a call to the control room, placing the machine I’m plugged into into a shopping bag, and trundling off in the gloom), and thinking the same thoughts over and over again. Occasionally about food. I was pretty hungry.

Another of those thoughts concerned the story idea I’d had not long before lights-out. It’s set in the Twinmaker universe and might be called “Duplicity”. It speaks to themes of confinement, control and paranoia—gee, I wonder where that came from? The opening lines came to me while I was lying sleeplessly in bed. I’ll share them later.

Another thing I did while sleeping was attempt to embed signals in the data, first by blinking and then by clenching my jaw (both motions are recorded by the electrodes). I started with powers of two (1, 2, 4, 8 etc) then switched to perfect squares (1, 4, 9, 16 etc) but I’m pretty sure I muddled the two up. Either way, I’m keen to see if I can find that moment in the data, when we get our hands on it. That’ll happen a few days after the study has concluded. We’re already thinking of creative ways to use it.

I did sleep for an unknown amount of time. The moment the lights came back on, I reached for the notepad by the bed and started scribbling. I felt liberated and excited, full of energy and plans. The earworm I had on this awakening was “Absolutely Free” (iirc) from Frank Zappa’s We’re Only In It For The Money album, which works on so many levels. “Freedom freedom,” go the lyrics, which is exactly how I felt after being cooped up in the bed for so long. The song also touches on ideas of discorporation and altered states. “There is no time.” Yes yes!

I should say at this point that the bed is very comfortable. And did I mention earlier that I brought my own U-shaped pillow? Even so, my neck and back are sore today. I crave my workspace, and my drugs. I should stretch more. And walk more. Maybe I could somersault from one of the hallway to the other. No, I’d better not risk that. I haven’t performed any gymnastic acts since 1975. Now is not the time to start.

It was thrilling to rejoin the others. Jenn and I discovered that we weren’t the only ones separated from the pack over-“night”. Poor Thom had been kept awake some hours after we all went to bed (the first time), and had been physically prodded to stay awake by one of our minders. I feel such pity and sorrow for him. Knowing how I felt back then, it must’ve been unbelievably awful. I think the rest of us are now afraid it will happen to us all, at some point. Eek.

Anyway, I felt “full of pep” (thanks, 1971 questionnaire, for putting that phrase back into my mind) only as long as it took for the testing to begin. They changed the symbols in the replacement task, which threw me immediately. Then I made errors keying in maths and colours, despite Fee’s advice on how best to position the controller for the latter, and the PVT was predictably horrible. Weirdly, as I sat staring at that accursed red LED screen, waiting for the numbers to appear, the backdrop started phasing in and out as though someone was screwing around with the lights (I checked, they weren’t). That was trippy and highly disconcerting. I clearly am more fatigued than I thought. (Maybe it’s similar to Jenn’s carpet-hallucinations last night.)

And so, here I am, wearing a Gary Numan t-shirt and listening to Loscil. I intend to work on my new idea later, between testing, but my memory stick has just been returned from the outside, and I’m going to look at that first, hoping there’ll be a message from home. (I can’t tell you how excited that thought makes me. I feel like I’m in an episode of M*A*S*H.) But before I do that, here’s the opening line of “Duplicity”, subject to change without notice:

It wasn’t enough for Juliet to be crazy. Oh no. She had to be crazy in her own particular and very inconvenient way.

Not very much later at all:
There was nothing new on the memory stick, just the files I’d created. It’s all a bit depressing, actually. I didn’t realize just how much I was looking forward to hearing from home until the stick appeared. Maybe this is the way it will go. I wish we’d been clearer about how this kind of thing would work before we went in. Now I’m wondering if my messages have been delivered. I mean, they probably have been, but until I know for sure all I can do is wonder.

I’m going to go check to see if the others heard anything from anyone. Information enables.

Nope. We’re all in the dark. Thom and Fee also phased during the PVT, so I have company there, too. That helps.

Thom raised the terrific thought that this all could be a dream we’re having in our first compulsory nap period. Ha! And aarrgh. (Although that does explain why there is no mail.) I’m of the opinion that it might be Monday evening, but there’s no way to tell. No way at all. At some point I guess we’ll just stop wondering. Or will we? We know we’ll have hit some kind of wall when we do. Perhaps a new state of being. Is a sense of causality part and parcel of human consciousness? Does causality work without a sense of time? These are the thoughts I am employing to avoid dwelling on what’s happening on the outside world, in the life I’ve left behind.

I did better at the PVT because I hated it. (“Fuck you, PVT” was my mantra.) Not sure I can or want to maintain that kind of intensity. Also hard on my hands, and exhausting. Am feeling sleepy again, and somewhat like mucking around. We mingled in the hallway afterwards and shared our feelings. Sounds sappy, but it’s the best part of this thing, getting to know the others. Layers are peeling back, truths are coming out. These are good people and we have things in common. We get on with getting on.

For doing well in my PVT (by my own ruler—we don’t get the results now until it’s over) I am eating a banana. We have “snack opportunities” after each test battery. (I am resisting calling them “snackurtunities”.) There is never any chocolate. There will never be any chocolate. I’ll just have to get over it.

General thoughts:
What if we take Thom’s theory that it’s really still Saturday afternoon seriously? How could we disprove it? There are no clocks, and sleep times are unreliable. There are only two measures we have, and they are meals and testing. I’ve lost count of both, but I’m pretty confident there’s no way they would’ve let us eat so much in single day. So it’s definitely not Saturday, probably not Sunday, likely to be Monday, and not likely to be Tuesday (but not impossible, given my weight went down from 76.3kg to 75.0kg in consecutive measurements).

Fee and Jenn both knit. Thom plays great music as he works (Fourtet at the moment; I’ve loaned him a Susumu Yokota CD to see what he thinks). We joke about creating our own tests to subject our handlers to. PVT stands for the Psychomoter Vigilance Test. Perhaps some Painful Violence and Torture is in order. Smiley face!

I would love to know if ability at different tasks correlates to different personality types (arty vs mathy, for instance). But what kind of person would be good at the PVT? We are obsessed by the PVT, clearly. It is the yardstick by which all crap things are measured.

Have I mentioned the sensor we wear strapped to our left wrists? It monitors our activity levels. I am reassured by its presence, because it feels exactly like a watch, but I rarely look at it. That surprises me. The urge to know what time it is very strong, but I haven’t been tricked into looking in the obvious places yet. My brain knows what’s what in that regard, at least.

The “alternate uses” test of our creativity is our joint favourite, but I am appalled by how bad I am at it. What other uses ARE there for a key? A spoon? I hope they’re collecting our weirdest answers for latter. That would make a fun blog post.

BREAKING NEWS: There are fireworks outside! Or war has broken out, one or the other. We gathered in the hallway and decided that the former was most likely. Which means it’s night outside. Or someone is wasting a LOT of money. (These are serious fireworks. It’s going a long time.) The next question is: what are the fireworks for? We can’t think of a reason why there’d by fireworks on Monday the 11th, or Tuesday the 12th or Sunday the 10th for that matter. Too early for the Fringe, right? And it’s unlikely to be for Valentine’s Day, Thursday. (Do they even do fireworks for that? Seems like they’ll blow up a few million dollars at the drop of a hat these days.) So maybe it IS war. Or as Jenn just said, someone’s making some really massive popcorn.

Anyway, our impromptu confab was quickly shut down. And now the fireworks/ordinance/killer kernels have died down. This is that moment in the movie where a sail appears on the horizon, leading the people trapped on the island to dance and wave their arms over their hands, until slowly the sail vanishes once more out of view, and we slump back to our bamboo huts to work on our art. (Where’s the Professor when we need him?)

I have been trying to work on “Duplicity” but I am missing some important pieces of the puzzle. Will go for a walk now, maybe do some work on Twinmaker if nothing comes. (I feel like I’m getting a cold, but I always feel that way when my sleep is disturbed. And sometimes it does turn into a cold. Hopefully this time it’s just the aircon.) If I don’t make any progress on the short story, there are lots of other things to do. At the very least I can return to this rambling account, although I’m not sure what could possibly equal the thunder of invisible fireworks. Perhaps I’ll invent a psychotic breakdown or two, as I seem to be doing in “Duplicity”.

(I mistyped “Dubplicity” there. Is that title in use? Would love to Google it. Am writing it here to remind me later.)

More food. More testing. Getting steadily more sleepy. The sleep centre spiral winds further down with every turn, like some ghastly screw turning, turning, turning . . .
Ahem. What I wanted to say was that I’m going to close this now before they come and take our memory sticks away. At some point between now and next time there will be sleep and, hopefully, movement on the creative front. A dream, at least. (I’ve yet to remember one of those, in here.) Keep the real world safe for us, and enjoy the fireworks.

Sean Williams

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post a new comment