Tag Archives: Livingston Manor

Traveling is Lovemaking

I’ve used the term Wabi-Sabi in a previous post. There’s something about Japanese philosophies that attract me. Perhaps, it was my early karate training. Perhaps, it’s just one of those past life “things”. They say when we’ve left something unresolved in a previous life that it affects us in our current life. Ask most people and they’ll claim they were a Queen or some such other royal figure. Me? I probably picked up the horse shit from riding Samurais for fertilizer.

In any case, it’s ironic that on our journey south from Toronto, we ended up couchsurfing in Livingston Manor with a poet that also has a love of Wabi-Sabi, Susan Deer Cloud. Susan is mixed Native American heritage and discovered that she’s part Jewish too. Native and Jewish with an attraction to a Japanese aesthetic makes perfect sense, right?

The term wabi may have once meant poor or lonely, but poetically, it has come to mean simplicity and peace. When the judgement about possessing little is removed (a task that is quite foreign to our Western minds), the term is elevated to the Zen status of peace with what exists, a monk that has little and needs little. Sabi implies the effect of time or age. It is the patina on an antique desk, or the weathered look of an old temple.

Somewhere along the line, Japanese artists put the two words together because it has a catching prosody. It sounds nice together, and it ties together “simple” with “time”. The school of wabi-sabi appreciates simplicity, imperfection and impermanence. It finds beauty in the ephemeral designs of nature and imitates that. It appreciates art that is in tune with Nature, the true Mistress of Time.

Google searches in the English language turn up articles on how to make your house wabi-sabi. In the Western world apparently, it’s replaced feng-shui as the new fad among interior decorators. This is not the wabi-sabi I was looking for.

Reducing everything we owned into a portable life is an exercise in wabi-sabi. Simplicity is key to packing. One traveling couple we met never unpacked their bags. Their theory was that if you take out what you need and put it back at the end of the day, you always know where it is.

For the moment, we don’t have it quite right. Currently, we’re traveling in our van, and it has
more than enough room to store what’s left of our possessions. Humans that we are, we’re not motivated to scrunch down even further as long as we have that roomy van. Someday, it will die on the road and we’ll be faced with the decision of what to jettison. That day, we’ll hone our packing skills with the sabi of world traveling, the patina of experience.

Susan has published a beautiful poem called Place of Blue Smoke, in which she writes this beautiful traveling metaphor:

The Great Smoky Mountains
Place of Blue Smoke – The Great Smoky Mountains as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway

 “But once when I said lovemaking
is a kind of traveling, you half-echoed traveling is lovemaking.
(Susan Deer Cloud)


Yes, and …

When I was training for theater, there was an improvisational exercise that changed forever the way I live my life. It was called the “Yes, and …” game.

It goes like this. Actor A makes an imaginary, possibly ridiculous statement of fact. Actor B cannot deny the statement of fact in any negative way whatsoever. He has to accept its reality and continue the scene with “Yes, and …” adding his own perspective to the fact.

A typical encounter might go like this: “I got picked up by the Aliens last night. They want you to return their spaceship.” “Yes, and they must realize by now that I’m not moving on this. Did they really think that threatening my brother was going to help?” “Yes, and they even offered Joan and me a nice cushy spot on the mother ship. You know how much that means to us, right?” And so on.

On stage, “Yes, and …” is important for an actor because it keeps the suspended disbelief alive. As soon as one actor denies the other’s reality, the scene will come screeching to a halt. There’s nothing left to talk about. Imagine how different Shakespeare’s Hamlet would be if Horatio does not in earnest accept the real pain of the King’s ghost. When actors are not grounded in the imaginary reality of the play, the audience will not enjoy the play, even if they don’t sense exactly why.

The Metaphor

I came to understand how this particular acting game is a metaphor for living. When we approach any situation with a denial, however slight or couched, our connection and communication comes to a screeching halt, just like on stage. Negativity stops creativity. The same truth holds for listening to our lover, friend, parent or child. We cannot help or connect with them, unless we first manage to truly accept their reality.

From that time on, I started living my life as if I were playing the “Yes, and …” game. It was one of the most positive things I ever did for myself. Ironically, many years later, Jim Carrey starred in a film in which he lived exactly this philosophy.

I Forgot to Say Yes

On our way south from Toronto, we couchsurfed with BeWelcome hosts, John Gunther and Susan Deer Cloud. John was excited to have some hiking buddies and had planned a Sunday hike for us.

When we awoke in the morning there were snow flurries coming down. Two Floridians hiking in the cold and snow was just not going to happen. Boy, did we ever say “no”. It’s a very good thing that John was persuasive. In the end, we reluctantly said “Yes, and …”.

The day warmed a little and the 1100 foot ascent from the trailhead was enough exertion that we had to shed layers on the way up. In the end, we were glad we did the hike. We climbed the Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower. It’s not something everyone has done, and fire towers are mostly not used anymore. Along the trail, the forest dressed in white chiffon was indeed very beautiful.

The hike reminded me that most pleasant memories, and all great adventures, start with “Yes, and …”.

Balsam Lake Mountain TrailBalsam Lake Mountain Trail

Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower
Ivan scaling the Balsam Lake Mountain fire tower.
Balsam Lake Mountain Trail
Balsam Lake Mountain Trail near the lean-to.
Lunch is ready
Lunch is ready! Deena with our guide and host John Gunther.

More pictures are available here.