Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Matter of Dreams: Chapter 1.3

Matthew
            Some of the questions were uncomfortable to answer.  I decided to leave the section on medications blank; I had been prescribed pills for the insomnia, but I never filled the scrip.  My health insurance had long since lapsed, a fact I had been keeping from the University so that I wasn’t forced to pay for their mandatory, and expensive, student coverage.  Filling out my family history was awkward as well.  Both of my parents had died in a car accident when I was young, and I hadn’t seen my sister in so long I had no idea what to say about her.
            The questions about insomnia (fill in “1” for “Not at all” and “5” for “All the time”) made me feel like someone had been spying on me.  Do you have difficulty being on time for appointments or work commitments?  Kathleen, my boss at the library, would have had a volume to say about that one.  To what extent do your social relationships suffer because of your condition?  How often have you overstayed your welcome at a nighttime event?  How often do you use alcohol to induce sleep?  I just filled in the “5” column all the way down.
            When I finally got to the multiple choice questions, though, I realized that they weren’t like the ones on the SATs.  Those had right answers.  These questions read like the drafter had suffered a psychotic break in fourteen-point Courier New:
1.     APPLE is to YELLOW as SERENITY is to:
(a) MOCKINGBIRD
(b) LOUIS BRANDEIS
(c) HELLO
(d) ADVERB
Next:
2.     In the paragraph above, was the narrator:
(a) your cousin’s ex-girlfriend
(b) my best friend in the whole wide world (I’m just
saying that, you are, really, I mean it)
(c) the owner of a small parakeet that answers to the 
name Lucrezia, except on Tuesdays, when it is dead
(d) Salvador Dali’s older brother, Salvador
            I double-checked – in my state of mind I could have missed something like this – but there was no paragraph above Question 2. 
            The next eighteen questions were no less bizarre.  I stared at the page for a minute, looking for that tell-tale flicker that would indicate that my eyes were playing tricks on me.  Nothing.  Had I done any drugs recently?  Didn’t think so.  I already felt disconnected enough with the world, thanks to the insomnia.  Not that I hadn’t tried hallucinogens, there was that brief and foolish period when I thought it might enhance my creativity and prove me to be a “real artist.”  All it actually resulted in were some pointed questions from law enforcement after my impromptu naked traffic cop performance piece. 
            I stuck to the studio for my creative urges after that.  Recently, though, I’d been hearing things every so often, random voices or snatches of sounds that didn’t have a source.  Just in the past day or two.  Like I thought I’d heard a sudden burst of classical music just a few seconds ago.  And my vision had started to play up a little, corner-of-the-eye kind of stuff. 
            I had already been losing track of time by that point; without sleep, the hours bled together like spilled paint.  Kathleen was just about out of patience with me always showing up late.  With the noises and the sight thing on top of that, it was beginning to be just a bit scary. 
            But I had no idea what to make of these weird questions.  I spent time trying to figure out what they were getting at.  Then I spent a minute feeling like an idiot for trying to make sense out of them, and decided I wasn’t going to answer at all.  Then, I thought that this must be a joke, or some bait-and-switch stress test, and considered telling whoever was behind the glass that they could shove their questionnaire.  Finally, I decided they wouldn’t pay me if I didn’t play along, so I filled the answers in at random: (a) for Question 1, (c) for Question 2, and so on.
            I didn’t know if she was watching me through the mirror, or if it was just a coincidence, but Lily came back into the room almost as soon as I put my pen down.  That was another reason I didn’t like being a test subject – the feeling that I was being manipulated.
            “All set?” she asked, sitting back down.
            I flipped the form back to her, and she started looking through it.  “Just tell me.  Are you studying insomnia or not?  I came here for help, not mind games.”
            She put the paper down.  “Professor Harte is testing a cutting-edge treatment for sleep-related disorders that relies heavily on examination of the patient’s cognitive function during a dream state.  In order to select the best participants for the project, it’s necessary for us not only to evaluate your medical condition, but some aspects of how your conscious and subconscious perceptual systems work.”
            “Wait a minute...how are you going to study my dreams when I can’t sleep?”
            “That’s the cutting-edge part.  Professor Harte can explain that better than I can, and if you join the project, he will.”
            “And all of this has to do with nonsense questions how?”
            “Did you notice that in all of the questions one of the answers mentioned a bird or an airplane or something to do with flying?”
            “I guess I’m out.  I just filled in the answers randomly.” 
            “Don’t be so sure.”  She handed the form back to me.  “You picked the flight-related answer in nineteen out of the twenty questions.”
            I looked through the test again, and found the only question where I didn’t answer “correctly”:
          14.  I’m sorry, did you just say something?
(a) Don’t talk to me that way, Gerald!
(b) Which one was it with General Zod?  Superman II 
or III?  Wait, wasn’t he in the first movie for a 
second too?  Zod, I mean, not Superman.  Well, 
yes, obviously Superman was there too.
(c) 2009 Driving to Connecticut Productions, all 
rights reserved.
(d) Six points!  That’s heavy, heavy enough to kill 
it, in fact.
            I had picked (c) instead of, I guess, the one about Superman.  Artists can be sensitive to copyright.  But the rest of it was eerie as hell.
            I looked across the table at Lily, and she nodded.  “Those questions were carefully calibrated so that there was only one pattern throughout,” she said.  “Everything else really was nonsense, complete static, to see if you’d either consciously or subconsciously pick up on the pattern.  And you did.”  She sounded impressed.  Good, impressed is a good start, I thought.
            “So does this mean I’m in?”
            “Well, Professor Harte gets the final say, but I’d say the signs are encouraging.”  She smiled again, and I thought I could get used to it.  “Congratulations.”
            Lily let me go, telling me that someone would be back to me within a day with the final decision on whether I’d be accepted.  She gave me a sheet describing a little more about the time requirements for the project.  For the duration of the study, I’d need to report to the hospital by 10 p.m. each night, and would stay there until 8 a.m. the next morning.  There were also supposed to be one hour counseling sessions every three days.  There wouldn’t be a problem with the schedule...it’s not as if I had other pressing engagements.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 2.1]

3 comments:

  1. I laughed at the snatch of classical music he thought he heard (her ring-tone) and at DTConn productions. This is a lot of fun so far.

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  2. loved the questions & answers, very amusing. all the wit so far is nicely placed. the images I have been getting are really clean, even when the qualities are surreal (which I see as a good thing, btw)

    ~L

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