Thursday, February 26, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Sunrise over Dubai

"This is the story of the musician Johannes Elias Alder, who took his own life at the age of twenty-two, after he had resolved never to sleep again."

And thus begins the classic Austrian novel Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider. When Johannes falls in love with his cousin Elsbeth (ew!), he resolves never to sleep again until he had "plumbed the mystery of his impossible love," for time spent sleeping was time wasted by not loving. And as warped as this character may be, I can identify with him in my own particular way.

I just arrived back in Austria from Australia on Monday evening. It was a roughly 35-hour journey from Melbourne back to Graz, and due to my evening departure, I'd been up a good 40+ hours before climbing into my own bed. It's a time difference of 10 hours, and by all accounts, coming back home to Europe is supposed to be the killer leg of the journey. It's safe to say that I was pretty tired by the time I got home...and I looked like a strung out druggie with my watery red eyes and glassy gaze. But I was fine. Really.

You see, I have a bizarre immunity to jetlag.

It's largely inexplicable why I have this Gift of Travel, but as far as I can figure it boils down to this: I cannot sleep in moving vehicles of any kind. Train, plane, automobile, you name it--nary a wink of sleep. All those cheap overnight train rides through Europe: nada. All of my international flights: zilch. And somehow my body compensates for it. Whether it's adrenaline or simply a lesser need for shut-eye than the rest of my fellow man, somehow my body trudges through and still manages to perform on par. It's freakish.

The first time I travelled abroad was to Vienna, in the summer of 2000 at the tender age of 18. I remember experiencing jetlag for the first three days of being in Vienna--I had moments where I simply HAD to take a nap or collapse, my eating schedule was warped, and I don't really remember much of those first few days. But the au pair experience was so traumatic that on the flight home only three months later, I simply sat in my seat and stared blankly into the seatback in front of me, my mind racing. For the whole trip back from Vienna to Denver, I did not read, I did not watch movies, and I did not sleep. I simply stared, shell-shocked. And from that moment on, I've never exerienced jetlag again.

When I graduated from college in 2005 and took a trip to Australia to visit a friend, I thought that surely this jetlag thing would catch up with me. I'd already studied abroad for a year and had no problems, but that was merely a hop across the Altantic. Surely on the other end of the world, with a 16-hour time difference, I would be suffering. As a precaution for sleep, I drank two glasses of wine, took two sleeping pills (I'd heard second-hand that a doctor had said this wouldn't have any dire consequences!), stuffed my ears with earplugs and covered my eyes with the eye mask provided...and nothing happened. In spite of all that, I couldn't sleep a wink. So instead, I read 3 chronicles of Narnia and watched a few movies. I had no problems arriving in Australia, and no problems even on the return trip. And this convinced me: I simply don't get jetlag.

Even on my hellish return trip from Australia last year, where cancelled, delayed, and rerouted flights forced my trip home into a terrible 40-hour journey in which I arrived home at midnight and had to wake up at 5 a.m. the next morning for my first day of teaching at a new school, I bounced back with only the normal fatigue of a night out on the town. What's wrong with me??

It's a brilliant scheme, really: don't sleep on the journey, go to bed at a decent local time, sleep 8-10 hours, and then wake up adjusted to local time. If you can manage to NOT sleep on the plane, this is the anti-jetlag plan I strongly recommend for you! And having now conquered three trips to Australia and quite a few trips to and from Europe, it's my proven method...whether I like it or not.

So in my own way, I can identify with Johannes Elias Alder. It works. You can get a lot of ruminating done if you forgo slumber--whether because you're on an international flight or because you're incestuously obsessed with your cousin. Simply don't sleep till you're dead. ...Or at least until 10 p.m. local time.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

Hahaha... "simply don't fall asleep til you're dead." Brilliant. If I die from lack of sleep, I want epitaph to reflect that small detail.

Against you I will fling myself,
unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!
— Virginia Woolf

Against you I will fling myself,
sleepless and a bit delerious, O Death!
– Kristin Spix