On a rainy evening just before Thanksgiving, I found myself in a dark kitchen lined with linoleum flooring. Here sat all the familiar signifiers of white-suburban America of a previous era, complete with a daily newspaper strewn across a generic wood dining table, a table that could have been purchased at Sears in the 1970s.
I wasn’t really sure where I was or where I was going, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to look in the fridge.
I opened the fridge door to discover a gateway to another dimension.
Specifically, it was a dimension that may or may have not be Bermuda, according to the neon sign that greeted me. A Bermuda Triangle, indeed. I had entered a space removed from time, geography, and linear cohesion.
But was I lost?
I wondered this as I continued moving through the psychological and narrative mystery that is the permanent exhibit of the Santa Fe art collective Meow Wolf, “The House of Eternal Return,” which opened in March 2016 with financial backing from “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin. Traveling through the sturdy structure of the Victorian family house into the fantastical hidden spaces of dream-work and imagination, I thought about the travel so many others were doing and have been doing this holiday season to visit family and friends.
Whether chalked up to nostalgia or the embedded narratives of popular culture – see any entry listed under Netflix’s “Holiday Movies” – we think about holiday travel as a return; we imagine it as traveling back to something. But travel, our physical and existential journeying, always moves us forward.
So yeah, in that Freudian wonderland of forgotten arcade games and yellow-brick roads of life-sized aquarium flora, I found connection to those Calvinist inspirations for our modern-day November feast, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and the canon of Christmas-vacation cultural tropes. That brief cosmic dislocation experienced during my passage through Meow Wolf has forced continued consideration in regard to all the implications of physical and metaphorical travel, even more so now that all the talk of new year resolutions and fresh beginnings now shapes conversations and social-media feeds.
Namely, I keep coming back to the notion that we are all pilgrims – or, perhaps, we should always aspire to be pilgrims.
As we voyage into a new year – or, I perhaps here should avoid the royal “we” and just make assumptions for myself. As I voyage into a new year, I want to continue to challenge myself to move from spaces of utter familiarity to those which seem strange and new.
Even the smallest “travel” choices can bring us into those genuine moments that remind us we’re all on this crazy trip together. For instance, during my same trip to Santa Fe, instead of staying at a conventional hotel, a friend and I opted to stay at a hostel. This brought us into communion and conversation with other fascinating wanderers, and reminded us of the pleasures of bunkbeds (and the responsibilities of morning chores). On Christmas Eve, I went to a service at an unfamiliar church, but left feeling welcomed.
(And somewhat entertained. As the service ended, the older gentlemen next to me said I needed to sit beside him next time as well because I had a lovely voice. I’m not so sure about that, but I am sure that he wasn’t the most in-tune Christmas caroler.)
So my vision of the life-as-pilgrim is much less austere than those images that pop into your head when I mention the word. I’m reclaiming the term for my new year.
For when we cease to travel – spiritually, psychically, or physically – we lose connection to ourselves, with one another. We refuse to journey into the realms of other realities. Whether comforted by our secure positions or frightened of what we may discover if we look, the acceptance of a stationary position, literal or figurative, relinquishes the acquisition of new knowledge.
We’re all pilgrims, traveling through to make sense of the unfamiliar –
trying to connect,
to find one another’s humanity,
which we, too often, repress and hide and transform,
only to find it again in our art, in our Meow Wolf dream worlds
in our pilgrimages.
Paige Gray is a visiting assistant professor in the English Department at Fort Lewis College. She fiercely contends that George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90” belongs in the music-video pantheon, but believes the earworm that is “Last Christmas” holds a special place in Hell.