Last night, at approximately 2 a.m., I awoke to a sudden and sharp state of alertness. This morning, at approximately 10 a.m., I shuddered from the waves of a deep and nauseating state of exhaustion. Diagnosis: Jet lag.
Some people travel a lot for work. I travel a lot because my life -- and loved ones -- straddle two continents. Thus, I frequently suffer from the physical and cultural effects of lurching too quickly from one state of mind and being to another.
Last night, as I was lying relentlessly awake, I remembered a line from a Laurie Colwin short story called "Passion and Affect." Jet lag is the true disease of the late twentieth century. There are the physical manifestations of the screwed-up body clock, of course, but then there is also the strange emotional disconnect brought on by traveling too quickly through time and space.
On Saturday, I was trudging through snow and eating cajun chicken wings in a sports bar inhabited by hockey-mad New Yorkers. By the next day, I was inhaling the unmistakable whiff of damp English spring and roasting chicken and the only sound was the faint chirr-churping of birds. I'm sure that I would have been happy to be home -- if only I hadn't felt quite so ill.
In the days before the miracle of airplanes, when would-be travelers made their slow and stately progression across the Atlantic by ship, there was no such disease as jet lag. I assume that the long watery passage became the link -- the substantial segue -- between two disparate modes of being. The traveler was thus prepared by the long delivery and the gradually changing sky.
Modern travel is both too quick and too slow. No matter where I go, it seems to take about 19 hours from English door to American door. The flight time is somewhat irrelevant to the transit time as a whole as delays, queues and dead bits of time are an unavoidable part of the process. For instance, the 45 minutes spent on the Toronto runway, waiting for the plane's wings to be de-iced while we choked inside in the suffocatingly hot air, seemed interminable. Skin cells die on double-time in that oxygen-deprived shuttle. But on the other hand, what is 24 hours when it can catapult you suddenly from winter to spring? Or summer, for that matter. (Most of the Canadian planes seemed to be heading south to Mexico.)
If jet lag is the disease, then water is the only cure I've found. You have to drink it, scrub up with it, and perform the kind of ceremonial cleansings made possible with a washing machine. I don't know why, but I can never successfully transition until every stitch of clothing has been washed, dried, ironed and put away. I perform these chores and wait for my emotions (always a little slow on the uptake) to catch up.
My skin is still looking a bit gray, but at least I can feast my eyes on this green deliciousness. It is/will be good to be home.