Under Pressure 1.09 - The Old Man Under the Sea
Margaret Clark & Phoebe Seiders
DR JAMIE MACMILLAN-BARRIE
CPT PHAEDRA ASPROS
ERRAS COMMS OFFICER
DR RAMONA RAMIREZ
SCENE ONE: Jamie’s Office– Day
JAMIE MACMILLAN-BARRIE I’m-- Hi. These are, well, this is actually the final audio notes transmission of Dr Jamie MacMillan-Barrie aboard the DSS Amphitrite. This is being recorded for review by the board of the Cassida Memorial Research Fund.
SOUND INTRO MUSIC
My residency down here is up in weeks, so today I’m planning to outline my paper and then summarize my research that I’m not using in the paper. I do have most of a draft at this point, I am capable of doing actual work down here.
JAMIE So I want to start out by talking about time. There’s a sense I get, having been down here for a while, that we hold onto time because we need to.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D There’s no great conduit down here, nothing that makes us a community except sheer proximity, the fear of death, and time. Topside, it's likely none of us would have ever even met, much less gotten to know each other in such intimate detail. But we’re connected at dinner time. The lights come up at the same time every day, and it’s morning, despite the fact that we’re much too far from the surface for the concept to have any real meaning. And then when the lights go down, it’s night. The very concept of time passing is based in nothing. It doesn’t mean but what we say it does.
JAMIE Just as an aside, I’m actually quite ambivalent--I’ve been primarily working in the so-called “western” philosophical canon thus far, but there’s quite a bit that’s worthy of discussion with regards to religion. Specifically, my religion. It’s not as if religion isn’t a viable philosophical framework, but the Greeks, the Enlightenment thinkers--that through line doesn't involve Judaism at all. The connection I feel with my religious community is fully ensconced in the fact that we share time; Shabbos is always at sundown on Fridays, even if what “sundown” and “Friday” mean changes. However. However, I am not a Rabbi, and I am nowhere near an expert in the Talmudic discussions of this particular topic. So I might use it, but I might not. Probably won’t. Like I said: ambivalent.
JAMIE Going back a couple steps, though, I think that the discussion of time being such a nebulous concept is something I can tie back into the Allegory of the Cave. I remember talking to Hamish about this...months ago, now, about how when you’re so far away from light--that is, the source of reason, and truth--everything gets distorted.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D I think this is true, and I want to take it a step further: I think we create the bulk of the distortion. I cannot remember exactly what the sunrise looks like. I just can’t do it; I’ve tried, but whenever I try it bleeds into watercolor. (PAUSE) That pun was multifaceted and completely unintentional. Point being: I remember artists’ interpretations of the sky and the sunrise and Philadelphia better than I remember the real things, which is because living in this environment has pushed me into the realm of what feels like hyperreality.
JAMIE I don’t want to seem pessimistic here, but this is not a hospitable place to live. And when the only thing you know, the only thing you can prove with what you can observe around you, the only thing that can’t be doubted away in the Descartian sense, is the Station...(PAUSE) With all this ugliness around you, it’s quite easy to assume, to start to believe, even, that the whole world is this ugly.
JAMIE But then I remember the little pieces of wonder. The bioluminescent nematodes that make the ocean floor look like the night sky. The fact that you can get them to move, if you have the know-how. And even the eldritch horrors: there’s a strange, unreal, alien beauty to them. They seem wrong, from an evolutionary standpoint, but they are so perfectly suited to where they live and what they do that it makes them elegant anyway.
JAMIE This brings me, in a very roundabout way, to my third point. Three is a good number, I think, three very broad and complex topics that I’ve narrowed down to usability. Anyway: the third thing I want to harken back to is the Verne.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D This idea that the sea is the great creator; all things come from it, everything will eventually go back to it. It’s completely egalitarian in its destruction and what it gives birth to. It’s sublime, in the Romantic sense, a perfect combination of the beautiful and the grotesque. In a very real way, it gave life to you, but it will kill you without regard and without mercy and without care. The sea is a microcosm of the whole universe, in that way.
JAMIE In another sense, the sea is a reminder to the human race of our own futile wrestling with our hubris. The world, the western world at least--and I realize that’s a nebulous term, but as I said I’ve been primarily looking at the western philosophical tradition--has pretty successfully tricked itself into thinking that we’ve tamed nature.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D Living in the depths of the ocean, seeing, feeling, how powerful it can be is a reminder of the fact that we are basically ants in the grand scheme of things. It’s not even a reminder of a higher power, just of the fact that you yourself, despite what every written text might say, are so very very low, comparatively speaking.
SOUND COMM BUZZES TO LIFE
PHAEDRA (OVER COMM) Dr MacMillan-Barrie, could you please come see me on the comm deck? I’ve got a somewhat important matter to discuss with you.
JAMIE I-- sure, I guess, I mean I was working on something but I can stop it for a few minutes to come to the comm deck (????)
PHAEDRA (OVER COMM) Excellent.
SOUND COMM DIES
JAMIE Odd. SIGHS (GETS UP)
SOUND JAMIE COLLECTS HER THINGS AND HEADS TO THE COMM DECK
PHAEDRA, OFF MIKE, THROUGH DOOR All right, Erras, we hear you--
SOUND COMM DECK DOOR OPENS
PHAEDRA (CONT’D) I’m approving your request for docking and medical assistance.
ERRAS COMMS OFFICER Thank you, Amphitrite.
PHAEDRA You’re welcome. We’ll see you soon.
SOUND COMM DIES
PHAEDRA Jamie. Thanks for coming by.
JAMIE I didn't really get the impression it was a "come by at my leisure" kind of request.
PHAEDRA True. I do genuinely regret interrupting your work, but in this case I thought it better we had this conversation sooner rather than later -- and, in fact, before you got too involved in wrapping up your time here and getting ready to return topside.
JAMIE Uh. I'm-- not really following. Do you need to conduct some kind of exit interview before I go, or something?
PHAEDRA Let me...work my way around to what I want to say.
PHAEDRA By now you've gotten a taste of what kinds of things can go wrong on this station.
JAMIE (SHORT LAUGH) Yeah, you could say that.
PHAEDRA And you've handled yourself, I have to say, quite well. You followed instructions, you pitched in and helped me focus my attention where it was needed most, and you didn't let your fear get the better of you.
JAMIE (A LITTLE EMBARRASSED/TAKEN ABACK, BUT NOT IN A BAD WAY) ...Thanks, Captain Aspros.
PHAEDRA Which brings me around to my point. PanOpt would like to expand the long-term crew contingent on the station. There are berths and lab spaces going unused, and unused space means space that's not making PanOpt any money.
JAMIE Oh! I'm sure it'll be...nice to have a few more faces down here, at least.
PHAEDRA (DUBIOUS NOISE) Mmmm. One thing it will definitely be is more logistical and administrative work.
PHAEDRA CONT’D OVER
PHAEDRA CONT’D More than I can really handle on my own -- so PanOpt has just authorized an additional staff position to help support the additional science work. Long story short: I'd like to offer that position to you.
JAMIE (SO MUCH LEAD-UP AND YET: STILL DID NOT SEE THIS COMING) Me?! But--I--Wh--(PAUSE) You just explained why. That's what was happening.
PHAEDRA (AMUSED) Mmm-hmm.
JAMIE And if I don't want to? If I say no?
PHAEDRA Then you go. This isn't an order, I'd never try to force you to stay. I'm just offering you right of first refusal -- and saving myself a lot of time sorting resumes and conducting interviews.
JAMIE Would I be going back topside, then returning with-- with the new kids, or something?
PHAEDRA No, we don't know when the new slots would be filled and when people would be coming down. You'd file your work with the Cassida Memorial Research Fund, as previously arranged, and then transition to working directly for PanOpt.
JAMIE I-- I was kind of planning on being back topside for the holidays, but I guess--
PHAEDRA The holidays?
JAMIE The jewish high holidays. Rosh Hashanah, the first one, starts on September 20th this year.
PHAEDRA Ah. Pardon me.
JAMIE It’s fine. I just-- I don't know. Do you need an answer right now?
PHAEDRA No, by all means, take some time to think about it. Let me know what you've decided by the end of the week.
JAMIE I...will. Thank you, Captain Aspros.
SOUND DOOR OPENS, JAMIE LEAVES, RUNS DIRECTLY INTO RAMONA
JAMIE (OVERLAPPING) Oh, shi-- I’m sorry, that was--
RAMONA (OVERLAPPING) God, I didn’t mean to-- are you-- Jamie!
SOUND A BRIEF SILENCE
JAMIE What brings you to the comms room, Doctor?
RAMONA I was just wandering the halls looking for my favorite Romantic literature specialist. What are you doing here?
JAMIE (SIGHS) I think I just got a job offer.
RAMONA And you had to go to the comms room to get it?
JAMIE Well, it was an offer from Captain Aspros, to work...here. I would be like, Phaedra-lite.
RAMONA Nice! (PAUSE, A LITTLE UNSURE) Are you gonna take it?
JAMIE I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet; I’ve got the rest of the week to think about it.
RAMONA Well...I hope you stay.
JAMIE I-- (BLUSHING) thanks. (PAUSE) Want me to walk you back to the lab?
RAMONA Tempting, but nah, I actually also needed to talk to the good captain. I’ll see you later, Jamie.
SOUND HATCH OPENS AGAIN, RAMONA WALKS INTO THE COMM DECK
SOUND JAMIE STARTS BACK TO HER OFFICE
SOUND JACK WALKS ON CRUTCHES DOWN THE HALL
JACK (EXERTION NOISES)
JAMIE (SOME GENUINE CONCERN) Jack, are you okay? What are you doing?
JACK (IN A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF PAIN) Right as rain, Doc Barrie, just gotta (PAUSE) just doing a walk through. Gotta see the station.
JAMIE Cabin fever, huh.
JACK Been cooped up in there way too long.
JAMIE You know, usually that phrase is a little more...metaphorical. Jack, does Petersen know you’re out of med bay?
JACK Not (PAUSE) as far as I know. Made sure to leave when they were gone.
JAMIE (OVERLAPPING) Okay, you need to rest that leg. Here, let’s get you down.
SOUND (OVERLAPPING) JAMIE HELPS JACK SIT AGAINST THE WALL
JAMIE Do you want me to go get Petersen?
JACK No, no. I just need to sit for a minute.
SOUND AN AWKWARD PAUSE
JAMIE Uh. How is the leg?
JACK (GOOD HUMORED) Hurts like hell. Was a lot more fun when I was high as a kite.
JAMIE (SCOFFS) I can imagine. (PAUSE, THEN: TEASING) I'm a little surprised you didn't lose your voice after all that singing though.
JACK (SURLY GRUMBLE)
JAMIE Somehow I thought "every Australian knows the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda by heart" was an overly stereotypical assumption.
JACK Not that much. 'S practically the national anthem. (BEAT) Made up so many new verses in the Navy I just about forgot the real ones, though.
JAMIE Did you like it?
JACK Like what? Singing Waltzing Matilda for hours while I was drugged to the gills?
JAMIE Being in the military.
JACK Why do you want to know? Thinking of joining the service?
JAMIE (HAHAHA NO) No, but I-- might end up down here longer than I was originally anticipating, and I'm curious.
JACK Huh. (PAUSE) It was alright. Not in the military anymore, though, am I?
JAMIE No, you're not. How come? What brought you down here instead?
JACK (UNCOMFORTABLE, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE LEG) Just another job. I worked with Captain Aspros on a commercial sub a few years back, so when the position here came up I tossed my hat into the ring.
JAMIE (THIS IS AN UNSATISFACTORY EXPLANATION) And here you are.
JACK Here I am.
JAMIE You didn't say why you left the military.
JACK No, I didn't.
JAMIE Are you gonna?
JACK (SILENCE IS THE ANSWER)
JAMIE So why'd you go into the military in the first place if it wasn't your thing?
JACK What, you've never taken a job that ended up being a bad fit?
JAMIE Sure, but my poor life choices didn't involve swearing an oath to defend the Constitution--or, uh, whatever the equivalent is that you swear when you join the Australian Navy.
JACK What do you need to know all this for? Even if you are going to be down here a while longer? (PAUSES, NOT LONG ENOUGH FOR HER TO RESPOND) It runs in the family. My grandad served, my dad served, my brother serves. I served.
JAMIE You have a brother?
JAMIE Older or younger?
JAMIE (PAUSE) My sister is older than me, too. She still lives in Philadelphia, she’s a housewife.
JACK What’s her name?
JAMIE Hannah. (PAUSE) Is he still in the Navy?
JAMIE Your brother -- you said he "serves," present tense. Your brother's still in the navy?
JAMIE But you're not?
JACK No. (SUDDENLY SNAPS) Look, what does this have to do with anything? How'd you like it if someone came along and started playing twenty bloody questions with you about your life? How'd you end up down here at the bottom of the ocean? What does your family think about it?
SOUND (JACK STRUGGLES TO GET BACK UP ON HIS FEET)
JAMIE Jack, wait, hang on, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-- okay, no, that's a lie, I absolutely did mean to pry. But I didn't mean to upset you so much.
JACK I'm fine. I'd better get back to medical before Petersen finds me gone and starts shouting. Again.
JAMIE Do you-- do you need a hand or something?
JACK No. Go find someone else to pester.
SOUND JAMIE RETURNS TO HER OFFICE
SOUND JAMIE SITS WITH A SIGH
JAMIE So I think I’m going to take the job. (PAUSE) Yeah, I’m gonna take the job. I don’t have much else in the way of job prospects, and I’ve always been a jump first, ask questions later type of person, where major life decisions are concerned. This is not my best quality, I will admit. And I guess I...actually do like it down here. I’m gonna let Phaedra sweat about it a little, though, I’ll tell her in a few days.
JAMIE Here’s another decision: I’m going to leave the bit about time and religious connection out. It’s too-- it hits too close to home, I guess, for a research paper.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D I don’t know that I want the Cassida Board to know that much about me, or that I even could write it out for all of them to see.
JAMIE It’s-- I think this is going to be the first time ever that I don’t go to synagogue for the holidays. I feel a little weird about it, a little transgressive. Like the first time I had pizza with meat on it. But it’s not like I can take a month long sabbatical right after starting a new job. I suppose I can do most of it myself, but it goes back to what I was saying before, that feeling of connection. You can’t simulate the feeling of hearing the Shofar. It’s just not possible. And you’re supposed to start the year the way you mean to go on. If I take the job, I suppose that it’s appropriate for me to be here for the holidays.
JAMIE Honestly, the fact that I even have a job offer is...kind of a huge relief.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D OVER There aren’t a lot of prospects in my field other than associate professorships or trying to cut my teeth in the publishing business. And I don’t write fiction, so being a novelist or something is also out. And, to level with...whomever is on the other end of these audio notes, my performance in this residency has been somewhat lackluster. I mean my audio notes have not even been in the same timezone as professional, not that anyone at the fund has been listening to them. I think I would have gotten a passive aggressive email about content or something if they were.
JAMIE (LOW, CONSPIRATORIAL) You know I wonder if I'd still have gotten the job offer if anyone had been listening to these notes? It’s kind of hard to say, but...I haven’t exactly been the most complimentary of historians where Phaedra’s concerned.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D Or the most truthful, if I’m honest. But I guess Phaedra must keep her own counsel when it comes to these things. I mean, there's no way the station hasn't gotten any complaints about Sidney, and they're still here. I wouldn’t bet on Sidney having said anything personally offensive about the captain, though. That doesn’t really seem their speed.
JAMIE So the thing--to go back to what I was saying before I went and got offered a new job--the thing about the paper I’ve outlined is that it feels quite...unfinished, I guess you could say. I don’t really have a point, and I’m not making any particular argument about any of the texts I’m interacting with. My notes, such as they are, are structured more like I’m going to be writing a report, and less like I actually have anything meaningful to say on any of these topics.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D And I suppose that makes some sense--with all the distractions I have not really been doing the research that they sent me down here to do. I have been distracted by how the station tried really hard to fall off the face of the earth...trench...whatever. And by Mona’s grief. And by my own grief. My thoughts have been elsewhere, and my research has suffered for it. If I had more time before I needed to submit something final I’d find a way to connect all this death and loss and pain, all these human tragedies, to the sea. To being down so deep. But the problem is that the only way I can think to do that is to take the cynical assumption as-read. To see the ocean--hell, the universe--as this great indifferent destroyer of worlds, of lives. And I can’t-- do that. I can’t bring myself to do that.
JAMIE (SIGHS) At the outset of this residency I expressed a good deal of disdain for the study of philosophy.
JAMIE CONT’D My overall opinion has not changed. I still don’t care for it. What I can say, definitively, is that I have not come to any meaningful conclusion about the nature of the ocean. I have not satisfied my own intellectual curiosity. So I think I’m going to continue to try to do some philosophical research. To study on my own, depending on how much work Phaedra has me doing. I want to answer this question. I want to figure out what this place means to me. And that’s gonna take some time--more than the six months I was given. I don’t know if I’m gonna continue this format though. Talking to myself, even though a recorder is, well, recording, is a bit weird after a while. I feel a little crazy doing it. So after I end my stint as a legit, university funded philosophical researcher, I kind of doubt that I’ll keep it up.
JAMIE (PAUSE) I guess that's about it.
JAMIE CONT’D OVER
JAMIE CONT’D So end the audio notes of Cassida Memorial Fund research fellow Jamie MacMillan-Barrie. In a few days, I'll be Research Administration Associate Jamie MacMillan-Barrie. For the last time, I guess that I’m signing off.
SOUND (RUSTLE AS JAMIE PUTS IN EARBUDS, IPOD CLICKING. 'UNDER PRESSURE' FAINTLY AUDIBLE, JAMIE HUMMING ALONG IN AND OUT, UNTIL...)
SOUND (IMMENSE CRASH/GROAN/TWISTING METAL--JAMIE CRIES OUT IN SURPRISE)
JAMIE What the hell was that?!
CREDITS Under Pressure is a production of the Procyon Podcast Network. This episode was written and directed by Margaret Clark and Phoebe Seiders. The episode was mixed by Erin S. Dominic Wright composed our theme. Madison Schaeffer played Jamie, Danielle Shemaiah played Captain Aspros, Zach Valenti played Jack Vernon, and Thea Rodgers played Mona. You can find us at underpressurepodcast.com, on tumblr at underpressurepodcast.tumblr.com, and on twitter @U_P_podcast or @ProcyonPodcasts.