[Sarah Dawson & JD Howse]
You have been prescribed the use of an eye-contact simulator, as our society, like all societies, values interpersonal connections. There are observations everywhere; sometimes still and sometimes moving, with what you perceive to be hostility. You recoil from unexpected touch, no matter how gentle, incidental, or well intentioned. You must learn to take constructive criticism of the failings at the core of your being in good spirits; to think of yourself in a positive sense, opening doors and removing your eccentricities. This sprite is too small to have an expression.
You call this intimacy? You cannot be helped in profile. In the therapeutic sector, we demonstrate commitment through the eyes. There is no intimacy in right angles. I must be able to recall you at any time, in situations imagined as well as real. You describe the antagonist: a composite of facial features. Do you think I’m the antagonist? An observation: you are scared. You hinder the production of marketing images, believing your likeness is used to sell careers in finance. In the photo, your eyes say you are working on a task together. An observation: you pull at peeling lip skin with your teeth.
You can never be sure what is a door. You feel the air from your balcony, the roar of the air conditioners, and the solidity of the railings. Eyeball, arm, knife, coin. Shake your head as your hand refuses to reach towards the door. I would rather be endless static ladders, ascending and descending. Object to your objection of an object. There is now only one object with colour, as the world is white but it is not snowing. This is perfect isolation. There is little pleasure or interest to be gained in doing things; your bed is soft and your carpet is rough, and the door is heavier than either one. You are a nascar line suspended below yourself; you are a plucked eyeball, a dismembered hand, a tomb engraving animated and shuddering across the nothingness. You find the ghost in the sewer and remove your face. A thing with a quivering jaw, a forest of grasping arms. You exist, aghast, in the strenuous moments of this rhythmic clicking. You are a building with only doors, corridors, staircases, and endless walls of blackness flecked with sparkling rain.
You are a pair of eyes above water level. Shifting your weight to where it can be forgotten, you sacrifice your power to break the ice. Your icon is too small to display fear. Forgetting that the self should reside in the toe as much as the eye, you scan the snow for effects. You apply the bicycle to accelerate across the snow. You prefer auditory temperature, which cannot cause pain in your feet. Your icon is too small to have a gait, freeing you from the pursuit of elegant movement. So relieved to sacrifice your power to test each muscle.
You had a job interview at a company that makes artificial intelligence systems on June 14th 2017; they took you onto the roof where you were served macarons as a black haze drifted across the city. How fresh did the air feel on the roof of the Google building in King’s Cross? How clear would the sky have been if it weren’t for the fire? The recruitment consultant said that her phone had woken her up with an urgent news alert at 4am, but she had gone back to sleep immediately. You experience horrifying, repetitive dreams in which you are always running and yet never truly move. You open a door, and behind a door there are other doors; eyes on the tv screen, girls with beaks, and intestinal corridors. You are always alone, until you are not alone, and yet there is never another human, even then. You sit down at the desk and firmly lock eyes with the people across from you; this violation is evidence of your worth to them. This loneliness comes because the internet is full of eyes, dreaming back at you.
Your job is to rephrase the request – to remove all traces of the imperative. Sentences starting ‘when you have children.’ You understand that she touches your forearm in search of connection. The eyeball says she doesn’t do smalltalk. You are so funny sometimes you don’t even realise how funny you are. You believe that she wants you to ask her why she is laughing. You are one of the ones we don’t have to worry about, we know you are always two eyes and two hands.
You know that only six weeks are funded. You know that your current food supplies will last a few months, at best. You expressed concern about the ‘reasonable chance of recovery’ clause. You know where you can find a convenience store to spend the mouldy money in your wallet. Your proposal must include a timeline. You are on a very long road trip. You told me that the red pulsing maze was really helping but I couldn’t observe anything that would verify this. You first go south, then return north. You spoke about how music could be a throb and did not require progression. You drive upon progressively smaller roads, until eventually you abandon your truck and withdraw into the trees. Your target is to locate household objects that resemble faces. You watch people from the edge of the forest, or floating at the shoreline. Your target is to trigger the grass rustle sound effect twenty times. You learn their patterns then steal food from their kitchens at night.
You know of the phenomenon of solo diners? You make yourself the object of the restaurant window: a topical photo is published. Readers observe that you upturn the spoon instead of sipping. You must remember that solitude amplifies saliva. The ruminator hops on his lower jaw and smiles insincerely. The problem is finding a below that hasn’t worms or roots. Your goal for this session is to smile back at the ruminator, knowing he licks his lips while your eyes are closed.
You pay online, and so the only exchange you have with the delivery man is food, passing between hands. The exchange is silent, but you feel some shallow shame for not saying thank you. You know how the exchanges work; that you can get a baguette in Tesco for 50p and use the self service check out; that you can use the self service soup station in the canteen for £1.20; that you can top up your oyster card online and attempt to avoid eye contact/body contact/the exchange of breath as you slump into the corner of a carriage. You know that as a system circulates, it contracts, like the air leaving the carriage, like the sky moving down, like the people coming in too close, like the door offering safety, like silence offering safety, like the want to be alone becoming a need, like the outside world closing in against the door as you shake your head and go to sleep.
You try googling ‘how to get lost’ but the results are spiritual not practical. Not caring to become a better tourist. Your problem is how to go further inside when you are already inside. How to excavate a basement when you live on the nineteenth floor. A basement with rain and no antagonists. How do your dreams programme those loops in the shopping centre loading bay? How do you make it generic? You are late for your job from five years ago.
You equate loss of location with a sense of hopelessness. Once, home was something that you felt to be hermetically sealed, but this sense of stability has been replaced by an intangible vulnerability. Here, the ceiling is too low. Here, the walls close in on you. Here, there is no allowance made by the provided furniture for a desk, or for books. You feel these things are more necessary than a window, or a balcony. What are your intentions for this place? How long do you intend to stay before you will leave?
Your upstairs neighbours cannot hear the furnace at the bottom of the escalator. But if you turn in bed, it may upset their internal monologue. How do you know that the pacing is sentient? You believe they still walk out into overhearing city wind. You cannot hear each other eating, but you can influence the other’s temperament through gait. You should knock on the ceiling to form a relationship you cannot hide from. You should respond to ceiling knocks promptly and at all hours. You will find that you wish to progress to reading eyes and posture.
You don’t know what to make of these small moments of connection, which are not unpleasant, as you might have come to expect them to be. You hear breathing from behind the wall and breathing from in front of the wall. Your dream diary, open for exploration, is uploaded to the internet. Every day, twice a day, you catch a train. You know that if you equip the frog, you will be able the move quickly through the water to a balloon, and enter a house where the light switch will cause a sudden change in a body. From the audience, you observe the sound, and plug your ears. You have come to understand why you do not understand. You will find that you wish to progress to reading eyes and posture. You have been prescribed the use of an eye-contact simulator, as our society, like all societies, values interpersonal connections.
Sarah Dawson creates interconnected poetry, drawings and performances. Her debut artist’s book expecting a different result can be ordered from HVTN. Her work has previously been published in The Interpreter’s House, Datableed, para-text and Burning House Press, and exhibited at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, the Poetry Cafe and the Museum of Futures.
JD Howse is a poet who works across text, collage, and film. He curates PermeableBarrier.com, an online journal for film poetry, video art, and related material. With Sarah Dawson he runs Theatre of Failure, a new-writing night for experimental writing by LGBT+ people. His work has appeared in HOLD, A Queer Anthology of Sickness, Out of Nowhere, and Reliquæ.