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March 07, 2004

Under the Influence

I'm the kind of person who's very much driven by daylight, but every time I cross the Atlantic, I end up seeing an entirely different part of the day. For the first few days that I'm on the East side of the Atlantic, I sleep until 11 am and am shocked to see the bright light of the sun when I roll up the blinds. On the Pacific side, I find myself watching late night reruns of Seinfeld (a show I've never liked) and thinking "God, what a great show!". I loved Lost in Translation with my whole heart, not just for the way it captured the passing intimacies of two strangers, but for the way it contained the feeling of standing next to yourself while adjusting - or not - to a far away place. And I love this article by Pico Iyer in the NY Times magazine for the same reason.

"But for a week -- at least -- after I arrive, I'm not myself. I look like myself, perhaps, I may sound something like myself, but I'm wearing my sweater inside out and leaving the unremarkable movie ''Bounce'' embarrassingly moved. "

I crossed the Atlantic in December 2003. At the recommendation of several seasoned travelers, I spent part of the flight in a quiet sleep facilitated by something called "Ambien." I woke up startled to find we were about an hour from Amsterdam, 7am. I'd arranged to meet a fellow traveler in the lounge and he found me alert, talkative, and thirsty as all get out. The distraction of his company kept my mind off the fact that I was jittery and disoriented. When my connecting flight to Vienna took off, I passed out almost immediately. As I shuffled in to the arrivals terminal, the first thing I saw was the new Starbucks. I did not know where I was.

"Another time, I decided to do my taxes as soon as I got off the plane and, happily ignoring a $40,000 payment I had received, faced month after month of I.R.S. letters and threats."

Just like Iyer, one year I decided to take on a enemy bigger than myself before the jet lag had subsided. I chose my auto insurance carrier and embarked upon a war that took many months to resolve. I still tell everyone I know not to use GEICO, but in retrospect, it may have had something to do with the schizophrenic manner in which I chose to interact with them. Fueled by the success of having the late fees removed from my credit card bills, I decided tackle GEICO next. It was 3 am on my first night back in Seattle, and had I no idea of the state of my finances. Never admit this to your insurance company. (Also, I'm not so sure anymore that 24 hour customer service is a good idea. It's required for emergencies, but for your regular business calls? Think about why you're up before you pick up the phone, okay? And think about who's working the 3am shift.)

I'm a convert to the wonders of Melatonin. It doesn't eliminate jet lag entirely, but it does shortens the amount of time it takes me to get over it. The formula you hear all the time is one day for every hour of time change - with Melatonin it takes me 5 days to adjust to an Atlantic crossing, without, 10. After reading Iyer's poetic prose about jet lag, I'm wondering if I shouldn't toss away the Melatonin crutches. I've seen some interesting late night programming on PBS while jetlagged, and there's something about going to buy groceries when the aisles are blocked with stacks of new merchandise. And the middle of the night silence we have here in Austria is unlike any of the quietest of Seattle nights. The only time I experience those hours of life are when I'm under the influence of jet lag.

"When he was a boy, I recall, Rudyard Kipling woke one night with a start and realized that he had been walking in his sleep. All the way through the dreaming house and out into the garden, as the light came up. ''The night got into my head,'' he later wrote..."

"The night got in to my head." Perfect phrasing for the way I feel when I'm jetlagged. I'm almost looking forward to it.

In the Realm of Jet Lag - Pico Iyer

Posted by pam at March 7, 2004 11:47 PM | TrackBack
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I've never subscribed to the eastbound-is-better-than-westbound for jet lag theory. As someone who travels regularly in both directions crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific as needs dictate, I always find that jet lag is always worse when you get home than when you get to your destination.

The key is sleep, and getting to sleep at the right time. My golden rule is always, ALWAYS, go to bed at the appropriate time when you get to your destination. Sleep on the plane as needed to make sure you can achieve this. Admittedly, I'm blessed by the sound of jet engines -- or the drop in air pressure, I'm not sure which -- having an hypnotic effect on me. I'm usually dead to the world by 15,000 feet, only to be awoken for the meal service. Now that they no longer serve meals on domestic flights I can usually sleep till landing. Setting your watch to the destination time as soon as you board helps too. People usually recommend you stay away from alcohol, too, but personally I find it usually helps. :)

Posted by: david on March 8, 2004 02:13 PM
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