Day 6.5 :: Jen :: Honest Clocks

If I’m not trapped in a time loop, there will be soon be a when. A when of time words, honest clocks, the polite consensus of day and night. It will also be the when of schedules, demands, deadlines, appointments and being pressed for time. And I’ll be grateful for all of it. The eternal moment of self-help gurus now seems truly dystopian.

When I do go outside, sniffing and blinking like a mole, I’ll carry some essential experiential research with me about time, mortality, the creative impulse, and collaboration. Being a Subject has jolted me right out of my comfort zone. I’ve recalibrated. I think that’s an important part of any creative process – to turn the world on its head and shake it until you see what falls out. IXt’s that essential curiosity that keeps me coming back to writing, and I think that’s what keeps people coming back to science too. It’s certainly not the Psychomotor Vigilance Test.

Soon, my days will be my own again, and I’ll have only the tests I set myself to face. I’ve gained excellent friends and a whole lot of new understanding about my own psychology and physiology. My body and brain can be manipulated through sleep, but they put their feet down when they reach their limits. It’s humbling to realise that my internal chemistry obeys a higher law.

I am looking forward to seeing the data and how it’s changed over the week. The scientists will be looking at the footage and brainwave patterns, comparing the test results, and reading our absurd answers to their questions about ordinary household objects. I’m interested in how they will interpret/justify all of this, if it ever ends up in a journal. What an amazing opportunity this has been to read each other: an encounter between the four of us, and an encounter between art and science. I know I can work on less sleep than I grant myself in ordinary life, and that sleep deprivation can turn down the critical judgement and let ideas and impulses flow – but I have also learned that that doesn’t equal good work. Although this knowledge can’t explain the mystery of creativity, it does arm me creatively, and ultimately makes this experience of confinement, captivity, surveillance and restraint a liberating one.

Thom left a day early to do some live drawing for Fringe, so we knew it was Friday, though his departure was a sad shock. Envy mixed with not wanting to let go of a member of our band, and it was quiet without him. The close bonds we formed inside the lab were a startling demonstration of our evolutionary need for human company and co-operation: a good reminder for writers in particular, and a stimulator of much conversation about political activism, relationships and art-making. Ideas might have happened in our rooms but they came to life in the corridor, in the energy between us, and it’s burst any arrogant illusions of self-containment to realise that my work and my sanity and my survival are entirely dependent on my relationships with others.

The first four paragraphs of this post were written inside the lab, before the kitchen door opened and Vicki from ANAT walked in bearing chocolate, coffee, champagne and Thom. I still thought we had another eight to twelve hours to go at that point, but I was ready to leave. Emerging into a steamy Adelaide day, the light was overwhelming – I am amazed at how easily I had acclimatised to the dimness in the lab. I was also overwhelmed by the loveliness of my wife. The four Subjects clung on, reluctant to leave the place we’d begun to feel was home. Finally the wife and I headed for coffee. The world looked busy and wonderful, human faces infinitely varied. I bounced between euphoria and confusion. My short term memory was shot to pieces – I repeated a couple of anecdotes and almost forgot to pay for my coffee. When choice paralysis hit me at the ice cream fridge, I thought of Frank, the protagonist of Gone, and all those released from prison or detention, trying to make their way in the world again. I hope this empathy never leaves me. How fortunate we are to be able to write and live in safety and relative freedom.

It’s now four o’clock Sunday morning (clocks!), so I guess my sleep patterns are going to take some time to re-adjust. The demands of life have fallen upon me with a vengeance as I prepare for family business interstate.  I wanted to get this post finished before I go back and read the others’ impressions. We’re planning to keep this conversation rolling as we reflect on this experiment, and I’m intrigued to find out how the experience impacts my creative practice at home. I was so happy to fall asleep in my own bed without electrodes, without anyone telling me when to open or close my eyes, when to blink or lie down, when to wake. I was really enjoying sleeping, but I’m also enjoying being awake writing, and the luxury of being alone with my uninterrupted thoughts. And the pleasure of having a place to share them.

What I want to do with what I’ve learned is what I have always wanted to do: write, and write better. In the weeks before the Subjects began, I joked about how I was going to rehab. And maybe the analogy fits, because I feel like my writing mind has been flushed of a lot of preciousness and useless anxiety about space and time, and a lot of habits of dependence that I have now learned I can do without – even, astonishingly, coffee. I feel tougher.

The struggle of writing is an endurance struggle, and part of that is learning to extend yourself. To push against the limits of a mystery that may well disappear if you take it for granted. I said this was an exercise in trust and it is also about trusting my own mind. I can haul my creativity to the edge of exhaustion and it will still be there, some part of me that refuses to shut up, some track in the brain that never knows when to sleep. Creating is a source of resilience. The extreme conditions of this experiment have showed me that the writing/making impulse is as necessary to my survival as eating, sleeping and other people. Now that I have my comfort zone back, I don’t want to be lazy. I want to find out what I’m really capable of.

Jennifer Mills

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