Day 2 :: Jen :: Hooked to The Machine

They let us sleep at last, gluing electrodes to our heads and plugging us in to the little board beside the bed which sends our brainwaves and eye movements off to be monitored. I have a tape measure wrapped around my skull and a blue line ruled on the top of my head, and then I have ten wires taped to various bits of my noggin. It seems like a very inefficient way to communicate with the world. It takes an hour for Scientist Michaela to hook me up to the machine and then I have to sit on the edge of the bed waiting until the others are ready. I don’t know how long I’ve been awake but I am guessing it’s a while from the way the carpet is pulsating like a life form. I try to lie down but someone appears in the doorway and politely but firmly tells me to sit up again. In here you only find out what the rules are when you break them.

After an age, instructions come through the intercom on the wall above my bed: Keep your eyes open for thirty seconds (am I allowed to blink? I have to blink. I’m blinking. I’m not in trouble for blinking!); blink five times slowly (Ah, sweet blinking). Winston would remember this bit. At last, with much gratitude, the lights go down to “moonlight setting” and I sleep until Scientist Xuan wakes me. It’s long enough to dream a little. The only thing I remember about my dreams is that I played the role of babysitter. Waking, I feel more like the baby. Xuan tells me I will be put back to bed again after a short time. This means the electrodes stay in, and I rush to the bathroom to see what I look like. I look like this:

But on the plus side, my brain has been returned to me! I have energy to write and I do, working on a new story, then editing an old one. It’s only Sean and I that are awake at this point – Fee and Thom are still sleeping. After my second sleep session, when we are all back together – electrode-free and keen to interact after the forced separation – we learn that Thom was kept awake for hours longer than the rest of us. I have a pang of survivor’s guilt about this torture but I am glad it wasn’t me. If I was really being tortured in this way I probably would have confessed at about the point the carpet started doing the hokey pokey.

Some of our creative attentions are being directed at rebellious fantasies.; others at knitting and bad, increasingly nonsensical puns. I am writing another new story between tests – I predict that this constant interruption means I am going to start something new each “day” and finish nothing. I have also been scrawling down notes about the tests. The most dreaded of these is the Psychomotor Vigilance Test, the 80s robot box, which is ten minutes of pressing a button every time a red LED display starts randomly counting milliseconds. While time in here is unpredictable, those ten minute blocks are reliably epic.

The tests are all-pervasive, but there are ways of turning the imposition back on itself. From my notes I make this cut n’ paste poem which I ask Scientist Kelsey to read to us in the corridor before the regular instructions, in her lovely scientist voice. I think it’s a good place to leave this post, with the infiltration working both ways, and hopefully giving you an impression of the effect all of this repetition and instruction is having on language.

test battery

remember the aim of this task
is to be as accurate as possible
please complete these scales
with regard to how you feel right now

these scales are not timed
these scales should be less than fresh
your symbols must be legible
your symbols must be uncertain about things

the word will appear less than fresh
in the colour that it describes
please rate the general
intensity of this feeling

the word will appear full of pep
in a different colour
to the colour that it describes
please rate the general intensity
of the colour of the word

please rate your symbols moderately
your symbols must be legible
your symbols must be uncertain about Red

HOW not at all
YOU a little bit
HAVE moderately
BEEN quite a lot
extremely Yellow FEELING
to the visual stimulus

please rate Red
corresponding Green
to what the word reads
right now

Jennifer Mills

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