Nathan Hegedus: Eyes Wide Open


Hegedus explores the "wobbly, deceitful dust" of jet lag @ The Morning News.

It is hard going east. It is harder going east with small children. It is hardest going east with small children into the gloom of a Swedish winter.

The planes are fast but the adjustment is slow, and I get caught in the gap between. This seems true of so much of modern connected life, but especially with kids, who ground me in their urgent and eternal needs, and in Sweden, with its fundamental tyranny of light and dark.

I’ve always taken jet lag as something to either cure or endure. But this proves impossible with my children, who cannot, or will not, fight the time shift. Instead, we linger in our altered state, and it is not fun, and it evokes death and madness but also transcendence, all at 2 a.m. as the little ones jump off the couch on a dangerous quest for buried pirate treasure.

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In mid-January, for the fourth time in five months, my wife and I dragged our five- and three-year-old children across nine time zones. On this last leg, we flew from the Pacific to the Central European, meaning from Oakland to Seattle and then Seattle to Reykjavík and then Reykjavík to Stockholm, 24 hours door to door.

We're a good traveling clan by now: The kids sleep (though fight for leg room), they are good in the security lines (they play TSA guard when they get home), and they love the rare treat of Happy Meals and Happy Meal toys (as many as they want if it gets us home in one piece).

No, it is not the trip but the circadian rhythm sleep disorder that we dread, the jet lag. Traveling west simply means we wake up early—perhaps obscenely early, like 1 a.m.—but with our day intact. But going east we sleep when we are not sleepy and wake in the middle of the night. Then our bodies scream for the deepest, dream-producing REM slumber. We wake, or try to, and float through the day hungry, sleepy, wired, and nauseated.

The first days recovering from an eastbound flight are like molding a new reality out of pancake batter. Take one nap and you’ve missed the short Scandinavian winter day, only six, seven hours, with faint light often hidden behind deep clusters and walls of gray.

In this wobbly, deceitful dusk, reality gets thin, or maybe stretched. It is nothing conscious or concrete, but I am enveloped by a sense of foreboding quiet, no matter how noisy it is, and I see risk everywhere—fire, ice, water—even though Sweden may be the safest place on earth, even in winter. It seems clear that our bodies are not made for jet travel and that we should not be flying 35,000 feet over Hudson Bay at midnight, but instead running across a heath or, at most, sailing slowly across the North Atlantic in wooden boats.

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