Day 4 :: Sean :: This is not sustainable

Thom and I are up early.

I was hoping this might happen, as it’ll give me a chance to do some work without testing getting in the way. I had a broken, uneven rest, and I think I might’ve dropped off just before the lights came back on, so I’m feeling shaky, easily confused, mentally below par. Don’t know how long I have to get down the ideas I had overnight, so I won’t talk long now, except to say this:

If PVT took some cues from PvP, it would be a whole different experience in here.

To prove how below par my brain is at the moment, I wrote “queues” there.

The forecast is for a loooooong day, whatever day it is.

(I am wearing Doctor Who socks and a Fourplay t-shirt. Wish I’d remembered to pack some of their music. No earworm to report. My backbrain DJ has let me down.)

I’ve just finished a first draft. It’s 3000 words, which means I’ve written 2000 words this morning. It’s now called “The Hobbyist”, but I think that’s still a working title. I’m not sure about the last line, either. Ordinarily I’d go for a walk to let my subconscious throw up anything I haven’t already thought of. Maybe I’ll pace for a bit. Jenn and Fee are still asleep, so I have some time. How much time exactly I do not know. But I feel good for having finished.

I was choked up as I wrote the final paragraphs. Ordinarily I’d count that as a sign that I’ve written an absolute corker, but in here, who knows? Maybe I’m just overtired and sentimental. We’ll see.

Gah. Just went to put my long-distance glasses back on but discovered I was already wearing my reading glasses. THIS IS NOT A GOOD SIGN.

Jenn and Fee are up and showering. I’ve been pacing while editing Twinmaker. Over halfway through the ms now. I’m filled with a sense of achievement, but also with a certainty that time here is running out. It could be Thursday now, outside. I’m unbelievably excited by the thought of going home, and at the same time I’m loving being productive. The two normally go together. It’s interesting to tease one out from the other, subtracting every ordinary routine, and to see what happens.

This is not sustainable, but it is fascinating. It’ll give me a lot to think about.

“Breakfast” will be soon, which is good. I’m starving and full of beans—quite a contrast to the disoriented start I had to the day. I’m looking forward to hearing how everyone’s nights were. Will dust off the camera and take a grainy picture of us feasting for posterity. I hope the good mood and energy lasts. If I crash too soon, that will be a drag. No chance of having a nap to recharge the batteries.

I think the story might be called “Requiem” now, but that surely has to change. It’s on-theme yet very, very boring. At least I think I have the right theme now. It’s changed a lot since my original conception. I’m certain the ending needs work, which might necessitate changing the beginning. Hopefully it’ll hang together.

Here’s a paragraph:
Fearing a full-on breakdown, I started coming every day. There was no point to it—there was nothing I could offer Juliet that the staff didn’t already provide, except my own anxieties. I became obsessed with the possibility that she might attempt self-harm rather than accept that this was how the world had to be, now. I would sit with her at nights until she fell asleep, cradling Clair in my lap. These two remarkable women, at opposite ends of their lives, now totally ruled my life. I was exhausted. I didn’t see how I could help both of them much longer.

Clair is sixteen in Twinmaker. I love that she’s a baby in this story. Her mother has no idea just how remarkable she’s going to be when she grows up.

Over breakfast, we started talking about what’s waiting for us on the outside. (We reckon it’s sometime early Thursday morning, so release is not far away now.) I don’t even want to think about the inevitable mountain of emails, and I’ve got nothing on what’s waiting for Fee. At some point, before the end or after, I’ll have to come to some kind of conclusion regarding what this week has given me. What will it change in my life, if anything? (Maybe I’ll stop wearing my watch again, as I did for a few years after Dad died. It’s been nice living in a timeless space for a bit. But my fear of being late for anything will probably put paid to that.) Hanging out with my fellow Subjects remains awesome. If nothing else, learning about them and their work is something I’ll always have.

General thoughts:
75.4 kg today. They’re loading us on carbs because (a) we need it to survive the long hours and (b) because it makes us feel more tired. I’ve been spurning the rice and spaghetti but falling for the bread and warps. “Lunch” is our favourite meal: lots of fresh veges, including avocadoes, and lots of mustard, chilli, pepper, etc. Having no wine or sweet things is making me feel quite abstemious, even though am having more sandwiches than normal. The sweetest thing I’m eating with any regularity is some toasted muesli that has tons of fibre and whatnot but is also loaded with sugars. Yum. But I’ll be glad to get back to my regular diet. At some point on the weekend I’ll have to cook up some sprouts, tofu, fresh chilli and cashews, none of which have appeared here so far.

It occurred to me today that I got the Valentine’s Day wrong in my previous post. It was Wednesday, not Tuesday, right? I offer this as evidence of my earlier confusion. I’m still confused now, but that was a different confusion. (Or maybe it’s just normal.)

I’m slow on the SAS and Stroop test when I’m tired. I’m also slow when I’m thinking about other stuff, like what I’m going to write here or in my story. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about other stuff, but I can’t help it. When my brain should be going “blue – green – red – green – yellow – green” it’s actually going “blue (must remember to transfer those photos from breakfast) – oh, red – green (am I feeling saner today because I’m writing again?) – oh, blue – yellow – no, yellow (why do I always get that wrong?) – oh, green” etc. I guess that’s a form of artistic rebellion, and the truth is that I don’t mind if I’m slow for that reason, but I wish there was some way to tease that influence apart from just being tired. I don’t want them to think I’m a zombie when I’m not. (I also don’t want to think I’m not a zombie when I am, but that’s a whole other issue.)

It interests me in the way we’re finding opportunities to be creative in, or involving, our heavily controlled environment. Jenn and Thom both sketched the cameras; Fee made a literal bolt for the door; I performed my midnight mimes. We would never have done these things if we hadn’t come here. We wouldn’t have had to if we hadn’t come here. Some of these forms of expression might be read as rebellion, or messing about with the data—a bad thing from the centre’s point of view—but this could be one measureable way to track our creative practice while we’re in here. When art and science clash, perhaps that’s a tick in the “progress” box.

Three of us are working in a text-based medium, so sharing is hard. I’m dying to read all our posts when we’re out the other end. How different will they be? Memory is so fluid; I have no doubt that we’ll disagree on some of our shared experiences. But that’s awesome. We’re not in here to be journalists (not that there’s anything wrong with being a journalist). The more our takes differ the better, I say.

I have a new approach to the PVT. If I force myself to smile while I’m doing it, my reaction times improve dramatically. But I trigger more false starts, too. And it hurts more. But that interests me. I feel like I’ve hacked a bit of myself that I was never aware of before. Always a good thing, as long as you can reboot properly afterwards.

For all that I say I love the low light in here, certain things are much harder to do than they would be outside. Cleaning your glasses, for example. Shaving. Wiping your arse. And taking a decent photo. Fee has an awesome camera: everything she’s done looks fantastic. The camera I brought with me is no slouch, but it’s struggling in this light. This time I’m pretty sure I’ve put the photos where they need to be so you can get a better idea of how dim it is. In the interest of true reporting, I haven’t touched up any of these snaps (also because I have no idea how to do it).

Just had some testing. Our second round for the day. Or is it the third? I’ve lost count, which sounds freaking ludicrous since it’s the main thing punctuating our day, but these are the details that trip me up. For all that I still feel awake, I know I’m failing fast, like HAL at the end of 2001. My sight was phasing during PVT just then, but a least I wasn’t hallucinating like I was last night. (Vivid stencil letters and numbers, like something out of Thom’s art. Trippy.) I couldn’t bring myself to smile this time. One can only fake it so long. Or care.

I wonder how the data is being processed out there. It could just be aggregated into correct/incorrect data with response times for each of us as individuals. That would be a simple approach, with few variables. But this would miss rich information buried in the data, like how a person’s performance various through the test itself. Here Sean started badly but rallied. Here he gave up and pushed only Red. It’s a shame to lose that narrative, I reckon, but how hard would it be to go that deep? Maybe too hard for humans. Maybe this is a job artificial intelligences would be just super at. I dream sometimes that the minds we’re making will one day be better at understanding us than we’ll ever be. I have nightmares sometimes that they just won’t give a damn.

Received questions from the outside. Will work on them now, then maybe bounce back to the story. I need some time to fake objectivity, but there’s precious little of that in here. Lunch will be along soon, then more testing. Or perhaps the other way around. (You think I’d know by now. Poor frazzled Pavlovian dog, too tired to know, too conditioned not to realise it doesn’t matter.)

If I sound grouchy, I’m not. I feel jazzed in an unreliable way. Not entirely sure what’s going to happen when I open my mouth or start writing a sentence. It’s disconcerting and exciting at the same time. I’m reminded (like I should ever have forgotten) that the best entertainment experience available comes from between my ears.

Outside my ears, early punk Gary Numan is speaking to me from down the years: “Sometimes I feel like leaving this room I’m in.” Yeah, man. I hear you. Hope no one watching on the camera minds me head-banging in my office chair. I must look like a total dork. True to my philosophy that privacy is overrated, I don’t stop. This account is already more “warts” than “and all”. I’m not fooling anyone.

Maybe I’ll lie on the floor for a bit, see how long it takes them to come tell me off.

They didn’t. I very quickly started to feel tired so got up. Good dog.

Still hysterical. This is Stage 4 of the Sleep Deprivation Cycle. (Sounds dangerous. Don’t forget to wear your helmet.) I’m tired, but I’m not hating it. There’s a huge difference between being tired and bored, and tired and busy. Some of my busy-ness is productive; some of it is imposed from the outside. Until I hit the wall, it’s bearable, even enjoyable, if occasionally a tad embarrassing.

But I figure I’m allowed to be unselfconscious in this space. That’s the upside of submitting to the all-encompassing observer. There are no consequences of acting like a dork in here. Just for lying on the floor or chatting too long.

No new thoughts have surfaced for the story, alas. But I thought I would explain why I’m setting it in the Twinmaker universe. It’s a world dominated by the matter transmitter (a.k.a d-mat, like the transporter from Star Trek), a technology that has had as profound an impact on everyone in the near future as the car, electricity, and the internet has had in our recent past. One implication of being able to step anywhere at any time is that it’s easier to give the world just one time zone and to let people work out whether 6am in Zurich means it’s the middle of the night or not. (There are already people advocating this. I’m all for it.) It’s also a world ruled by a crowd-sourced government called OneEarth that uses a system of drones operated by everyday people to watch what’s going on. So time and observation speaks to my experience in here. Then there’s the idea that if you travel everywhere by stepping into and out of a small booth, you could feasibly forego the outside world entirely. Confinement, then, works too.

This new story imagines what it’s like to be someone with a mental illness in this world. It looks at the lengths people will go to to do their own thing. It’s on one level nostalgic about our era, but on another is also a requiem for this age of excess, which must surely end soon. It’s about family and loss, and I think is in a large part fuelled by the fact that my time here is coming to an end.

He was a hobbyist, he explained. He loved boats. Where some people dabbled in tiny sloops or yachts, taking joyrides in secluded bays, his interest lay in the big ships that had once plied the oceans. The outriggers, the tankers, the icebreakers. The whaling vessels that had driven whole species to the brink of extinction. The destroyers that the navy of one nation sent to do war with another on the other side of the world. Humanity had once ruled the oceans by means of such things. That there was no need for them anymore didn’t stop Andre from obsessing about the way things had once been.

Still no proper title. Maybe that’ll come to me tonight. Perchance to dream, all that.

“Tonight” is looming. Today Jenn created a new, improved test for us to grapple with, but not even the good feelings provoked by this could last long against our “beige best friend”, as Melissa calls the PVT box. One more round of tests to go then . . . well, I assume it’s sleep, but who knows? We’ve each at this week been kept up late, experienced interrupted sleep, and been woken up early. What new treat do our friends outside have in store for us? Like so many things in here, it’s impossible to tell.

I’m going to sign this off now. The raucous squawk of Frank Zappa’s guitar is keeping me awake, as is a tiny packet of salt and vinegar chips. Life is so simple here. It’s like being inside a 1990s computer game. There are only so many variations, and the levels are really, really short. That thought gives me hope. I used to be good at computer games, twenty years ago. (And here I still learning important new skills like the Stroop test. Go me.)

Sean Williams

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