Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sometimes We're All That Person

Since yesterday was Saturday, I found myself wandering the stacks of my local library.  Due to time constraints, I'd only allowed myself a half an hour for book selection. With the clock ticking, I skimmed spines, flicked open covers to peruse blurbs, and slowly accumulated a trio of books in the crook of my left arm.

So far so good.

Then, suddenly, I became That Person.  

I started off small by dropping a book, which fell to the ground with a sharp thwack! As I leaned to pick the book up, I felt my sunglasses slip from where I'd hooked them into the front of my green v-neck tee.1 They clattered noisily to the floor to join the book that I was in the process of scooping up. Grabbing involuntarily to catch the glasses, I felt the books in the crook of my arm slipping. Instinctively, I brought my left leg up to block them, precipitating a sort of awkward hop, and becoming aware that I was making little grunting noises.

I looked up and gave an embarrassed sort of smirk to the people who had, moments before, been working steadily on their laptops at nearby work stations, but who were now staring at me, concentration shattered, hands hovering above their keypads, waiting to see what I would do next.

I smiled and shrugged in a "what can you do?" sort of way, hoping for a bit of sympathetic commiseration. 

Expressionless, they returned to their work. 

I replaced the dropped book, sliding it one-handed into the empty space on the shelf, stopping at just the right place lest I knock books on the other side of the stack to the floor. 

Snugging my books more securely against my rib cage, I wandered across the aisle to the opposite stack in order to peruse an artful display of new, glossy-covered paranormal teen romances propped up on little wire holders.  Stupid things, I thought darkly. As I lifted one up to flip open the cover and read (judge) the inside of the dust jacket, I heard a horrible clatter, realizing belatedly that I'd failed to disengage the book properly from its little holder. The metal holder, making a horrible clanging as it succumbed to gravity, hit all three metal shelves on its way down before pinging angrily against the floor.

I stooped to pick it up with my right hand, while my left hand lifted involuntarily to block the sunglasses from falling. This, of course, gave the books in the crook of my left elbow an opportunity to make another bid for freedom. 

"Dang it!" I hissed to nobody in particular, fumbling around noisily, for all the world as if I'd woken up that morning with my hands on backwards. 

Taking no chances this time, I set my little stack of books onto the floor and perched my sunglasses on top of them before turning my attention to the display.  Once the book was back in its holder on the shelf, I stepped back with my hands slightly upraised, just watching for a moment to be sure that everything was secure before I backed away. 

I shoved back the corkscrew spirals of hair which had flopped forward over my face during my maneuverings and felt them waving around on their own as they attempted to reach some level of bouffant equilibrium. 

Then I risked a peek at the laptop crew in the work station. True to my expectation, they had again paused working to watch the show, and were now staring at me with the flat, expressionless eyes of true judgment.  

Were I to have glanced down and found the words Hot Mess embroidered in scarlet across my chest, I would not have been at all surprised. 

"Look. I'm really not as much of an idiot as I look. I have a Master's Degree, I'm a published writer, and I've earned full marks for professionalism on every single employee evaluation I've had in my thirteen-year career. Not only do I come here almost every weekend, but I also generally manage to come and go with no mishaps whatsoever. I'm not usually like this! Really!" 

Except that I didn't say any of that. I just picked up my books, hooked my sunglasses down the front of my top, and quick-stepped to the self-checkout with my head held high and my wild hair flapping. 

This has served as an excellent reminder, I told myself as I attempted to get the scanner to acknowledge the bar code on my beat-up plastic library key-chain tag, that sometimes we're all That Person.

You know the type of person that I mean: the one who causes the ruckus, backs up the line, blocks traffic, runs into things, and knocks over displays. The person who can't read the map, who gets stuck in the turnstile, who drives the wrong way up the exit ramp, and who can't figure out how to pay with cash at the self-checkout counter. The one who stops at a flashing red light and then zones out, subconsciously waiting for the light to turn green.  The person who doesn't realize that it's her cell phone going off in the middle of church; and then, when she does, can't seem to figure out how to turn the ringer off.

You know. THAT kind of person.

We like to think that people guilty of these ridiculous shenanigans are somehow less intellectually advanced than we are: that they are just the unfortunate sort of troglodyte that it's our lot to be cursed to walk alongside through this life. 

Most of all, when we observe others having these cheek-warming moments of public, soul-crushing humility, what we like best is to stop and congratulate ourselves that it's not us.

That it's never us.

That, thank God, we are just not like that.

But that's not the case. The truth is that no matter how smart, how smooth, how articulate, and how nimble we generally believe ourselves to be, well... 

The truth is that sometimes we're all That Person.

1. With hair like mine, using anything with hinges as a head band has led to more painful, eye-watering, accidental hair yanking episodes than I'd like to recall.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to Handle Jet Lag

One of the worst side effects to travel would have to be jet lag1

In the unlikely event that you've never actually experienced jet lag, allow me to inform you as to what it feels like. You will be going about your business in the middle of the day, when suddenly, you will hit an invisible wall.  Words will stop making sense, all of the thoughts you've ever had will fall out of your head, and your skeleton turns to jelly. Even if, moments before, you had been fully engaged in a stimulating activity or an interesting conversation, you will instantly be overcome with complete ambivalence. A feeling of hopelessness washes over you. Nothing feels better than to stare straight ahead at nothing, and woe betide anyone who dares talk to you once this stage is reached.  The best thing for it is a dark, quiet room.

Alternately, you may find yourself awake in the dead of night racked with starvation-style hunger cramps which threaten to turn your abdomen inside-out.  Ignoring this feeling and trying to go back to sleep only results in intensifying pains akin to having your stomach chewed from the inside out by an army of tiny ferrets. Thus, having jet lag tends to feel a lot like having the flu, sleep apnea, insomnia, bipolar disorder, and a spastic colon all rolled into one.2

FUN! ... or not so much.

Over the years, I've witnessed various schools of thought regarding how to deal with jet lag.  Below are some of the more common approaches.

How to Handle Jet Lag:

Option One: Don't go on any trips. Although this solution may be mind-blowing in its elegant simplicity, there are--of course--downsides to this approach.  The most obvious downside to not going on any trips is that you will miss out on actually traveling. And let's be honest here. Traveling is just really, really fun.  

Option Two: Start adjusting your body clock well ahead of time. Beginning at least ten days in advance, incrementally adjust your sleeping schedule to match that of your target time zone. If this requires you to take ten extra days off work so that you can stay up all night and then sleep through the day in order to better prepare for your trip, then so be it. No price is too heavy to pay.

Option Three: Plan to ignore all symptoms and power through. Those of this school like to pretend that jet lag doesn't actually exist. My sister/roommate and I tend to adhere to this approach exclusively, although it doesn't always work out as well as we would hope.3 One trick to powering through is to plan to keep yourself busy enough that even if you hit that mind-melting wall of ridiculous exhaustion, you aren't in a place that actually allows you to succumb.4 Another trick is to keep food available at ALL TIMES.  If you are a guest in someone's home, plan to keep food in your room for emergency, dead-of-night munch-a-thons that won't involve clattering around in the kitchen and waking the rest of the house in your panic to appease the stomach-chewing ferrets.

The honest truth is that some people tend to suffer from jet lag more than others.  The only real way to know how badly you will suffer and how best to combat your symptoms is to conduct some field testing. I recommend a week each in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific in order to gather enough raw data for an effective analysis.

Therefore, I call upon you to turn in your leave-of-absence forms, liquidate your assets, and strike forth to see the world.

All in the name of science, of course.

1. Other adverse side effects include mysterious rashes, occasional intestinal distress, and having to unpack.
2. Or, as I like to call it, Acute Gastroapnespazinomnia.
3. Hence that one night in Shanghai during which she spent our entire dinner out with friends with her head down, fully asleep at the table in the midst of a busy restaurant. And that other time that I accidentally went forty-eight hours without sleep while flying cross-country to start an epic road trip.
4. Ergo our request on our most recent trip that our hostess take us out and drive/walk us around on the afternoon of our 7:00a.m.-arrival day so that we would't be in bed by 3:00p.m. local time and then fully awake and ready for a new day by midnight. We ended up being really glad to be out and about that afternoon, not only because of the lovely walk and chat we had in the beautiful afternoon sun, but also because it was during this walk that we witnessed a city bus drive directly into a bush shelter, much to the chagrin of the bus driver and the shock of the bystanders.