Tomorrow, I’ll be flying to Chicago and then on to Barcelona, for 12 days submerged in a Flavors of Spain experience, a custom-designed trip developed by some very fine folks at KJZZ Radio in Phoenix.
From moment to moment, I’m very excited and slightly terrified. Mostly because flying alone makes me crazy and unusually religious. But really because I know this is a life-changing trip. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. I could spend a lot less money eating and drinking in lots of fine cities for far less money.
Instead, something urged me to sign up for this trip.
Was it just to get out of vegetable gardening for two weeks? Perhaps, in some small way. As I sipped a purely-medicinal Perfect Manhattan last weekend, after six hours of gardening, I have to admit that bourbon has an unearthly ability to heal lower back pain. But is that why? Nope.
Was it just to get out of soul-crushing work for two weeks? Well, yes, but no, I could think of easier and cheaper ways to do that.
So, then, why am I going on this trip?
Pure and simple: I’ve just gotta get away. From work. From life. From everything. For just a short while. I have to remove myself from all that I love and hate and tolerate in order to encourage Clarity to take shape. There’s something magical about travel; it removes you from the energy you are in and makes room for something new.
In short: Travel reshuffles the deck.
It’s been 23 years since I’ve last traveled overseas. Back then, in 1994, I never could have imagined living in Santiago, Chile for four months and then in Christchurch, New Zealand for almost nine months. I came back from that year with the remarkable Clarity to get an advanced degree that, for better or worse, completely changed the trajectory of my life.
And here I am again: I never could have imagined traveling to Spain for 12 days, to learn, appreciate, experiment, taste, and indulge myself in Spanish cuisine, and make a bunch of new friends.
On a related note, believe it or not, I recently read a very funny article about the Muppet Chaos Theory, about how we either are a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet.
Ready? Here’s a summary of the Muppet Chaos Theory, which I seriously wish I had been clever enough to think of – thank you, Dahlia Lithwick!
“Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and—paradigmatically—Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet.
Order Muppets—and I’m thinking about Bert, Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Kermit the Frog, and the blue guy who is perennially harassed by Grover at restaurants (the Order Muppet Everyman)—tend to be neurotic, highly regimented, averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, but they secretly revel in the knowledge that they keep the show running. Your first grade teacher was probably an Order Muppet.“
It’s no surprise or secret that I am an Order Muppet, without the eyebrows. But deep down, lurking in the recesses of my soul, is a Chaos Muppet. I yearn to be the person on the airplane who enjoys every cloud, lousy glass of wine, the overweight, aluminum siding salesman from Topeka in the middle seat, and turbulence.
But no, I’m an Order Muppet, who faces perfectly forward, feet flat on the floor, with perfect posture during landing, just in case. Who pursues self-induced dehydration to minimize trips to that awful, little bathroom.
It’s the Order Muppet in me who started a pack list for this trip two months ago. And who has been checking the weather in Spain for a week now; it looks like it’ll be in the low 70s when I land, in case you’re interested. Who’s been worrying if the Spanish coffee will be strong enough. And this Order Muppet, by the way, makes it possible for me to do my job, pay the bills, and keep an ongoing Costco list. I’m not a nut about it, though; I don’t vacuum every day or keep a perfectly tidy house. However, I do seem to require certain types and amount of Order above all else.
But, I’m sick of it and have to turn it off for a while. The problem with being an Order Muppet is that it thinks it’s über-important and forgets to let the Chaos Muppet out once in a while to play, dream, and feel my way through life.
As the Muppet article goes on to claim:
“Perhaps the best determinant of your Muppet Classification however, is your partner: Order Muppets tend to pick Chaos Muppets for their life partners, cookies notwithstanding. Thus, if you’re in a long-term relationship with a Chaos Muppet, there’s a pretty good chance you’re Bert. If you’re married to an Order Muppet, you may well be the Swedish Chef. And by all that is holy, don’t marry your same type if you can help it. That’s where Baby Elmos come from.”
Again, this theory is correct: I am married to a Chaos Muppet, who yearns occasionally for Order, but mostly prefers Chaos. How else do you explain the dichotomy of Gary’s genuine desire to be healthy while pushing a grocery cart full of tortilla chips and Ben & Jerry’s? I used to chalk it up to being a Gemini, but I see now that it’s just his Chaos Muppet running things.
Maureen says that this trip is my “Camino de Santiago,” and I think she’s right. Regardless of the reason why people walk it, I think everyone who does it hopes they are different at the end of it than they were when they started. And that is the very essence of why I am going to Spain, although I much prefer eating and drinking my way through Spain with a dozen other delightful people than backpacking for weeks on end. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
For once, I can delegate most of my Order Muppet mania to those in charge, who have planned this completely unique and fascinating itinerary. I just have to be at the right place at the right time, say YES! to everything, and let it all unfold. And see if my inner Chaos Muppet can order my Order Muppet to eff off for once.
You’d think by the time I got to this not-so-tender age of 61, I’d have this Life Thing figured out. That I know exactly who I am and what I want. That the only goal should be Retirement and then a slow wind-down to The Inevitable.
Well, instead, some say there is a Third Life crisis. Mine seems to be how to deal with my Chaos Muppet, who is a night owl and whom I’ve decided to name Loretta. She comes out around 3:15 am, like a cat, to climb the drapes, turn over my houseplants, and mess with my head. This Third Life crisis thing is not just a phase, like wearing tube tops, god forbid. Loretta demands to be heard.
While sometimes a Chaos Muppet can lead you to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, that’s not me. Being averse to physical danger, I instead let Loretta take the Big Risk and not wear sunblock when she should. Loretta also wants to take these Third Life urges and write a very bad country/western song, but don’t worry; I’ll keep her at bay.
Another interesting thing about being 61 is that I’ve started to sense that there is a large digital clock poised over my head, counting down to the inevitable End of Things. And then I see my meager headstone, with the words “She was an organized person” on it.
That’s just not going to work for me.
So, off to Spain I go, deeply grateful for the opportunity and with Loretta, for the first time, leading the way. I’ll let you know how it goes. I think she’s a bit of a handful. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.