In the opening scene of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, his character Chayce considers a friend’s theory of jet lag as she confronts her own, recently arrived in London from across the Atlantic. The theory is that the soul can’t keep up with a jet airplane and gets left behind, towed on a stretchy and ethereal connection that ensures a reunion, but not for a while.
I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory but I like the idea of it, and having just returned home after 16 hours of air travel from Buenos Aires it seems easier to consider. I’m sure Gibson’s intent was not to suggest it as a serious proposal, more as just the very kind of slick metaphor that the fictional Chayce’s friend would come up with. I think the idea doesn’t work quite as well for longitudinal travel, especially if the origin and destination have fairly similar time zones, as long as you get enough sleep during the “night” which I didn’t. Five hours difference is still plenty however, so I’m feeling pretty tired.
The odd part is that when I was in Buenos Aires, it was summertime. Every part of me that had adjusted itself to winter and to the long darkness was deeply and unnaturally confused. It was hard to inhabit a world in summer in a way that wasn’t tinged with an ongoing sense of wonder and disturbance; only in a tiny part of human existence has there ever been the possibility of changing seasons in a day. Now that I am home again, it is stranger to think “now it is winter” than it was before I left. Before I left, my life had made the slow and significant adaptation to winter; all my decisions for warm clothes and the cold outdoors, my sensations when waking in the dark mornings, my preferences for foods like winter greens and squashes, so many subtle adjustments that as they slowly manifest determine the obvious answer to the question “what season is it now?”
And here I am, thinking about my new friends and recent adventures in a place where it is still warm outside despite being five hours ahead at two in the morning; they cannot hear the cold rain on my skylights or the pop of the fire next to me as I write. Now, it is winter, but not in the same way as it was before. My answer to the question now is, “where?” which would ordinarily be a pompous and academic response, but it isn’t to me because two days ago I slept with only a sheet and tonight there will be deep covers.
It makes me wonder what would happen if we somehow brought a farmer from ages ago and took him to the other hemisphere. So much impossibility that we take for granted, yet even so causes a visceral disharmony when we really experience the actual sensation of having the world around us so dramatically altered. Seasons are supposed to mark time at a stately and almost imperceptible pace; our bodies are adapted to long cycles.
Now it is winter again, but it is summer too, in a faraway storybook land filled with strange trees and different languages and mysterious customs; now, I am not sure.