6 months at sea
with compass and rudder
I am writing to you from the Shiele Museum in Gastonia, NC, USA, sitting in an 18th Century cabin relocated here and restored in the 20th Century. I have spent the day sharing inks, reed and quill pens, and improvised brushes (made from pine needles, fox fur, straws, sticks, and more), and tomorrow we’ll make paint from ochres, gums and eggs. Then on Monday, Theresa and I will head home to Blighty. What a great trip.
This weekend sees 6 months since I began to write here on SubStack. You can read my first post again as to why I started, but why I’ll continue, and what I hope to cover, is the subject of this post. First I’d like to thank all of you who read this and subscribe, whether paid or free, and to all of you who post such interesting comments. I always read them all. I had no idea that I would find a readership of even 150 people, let alone 1500, so thanks again for your continued interest in my obscure Venn diagram of subject matter.
The chi kung videos for my paid subscribers are a whole month behind and will be my first priority on returning home next week. Apologies, it turns out one cannot travel across the world at the same time as doing all the things you do while sitting peacefully at home. Who knew?
The first time I went to a T’ai Chi class I was 14 or 15 years old. A friend of my first boyfriend was going to try out the class at our local community arts centre in Boscombe, and asked if I wanted to go along. I had no idea what T’ai Chi was, but as I really wanted to impress my friends, I said that I’d come along. As we entered the room, there were about 14 adults all quietly moving, facing each other in pairs, matching each other’s movements back and forth. There were gentle laughs and snatches of friendly conversation. What strange and lovely alternative universe had I stumbled upon? I had never seen grown ups, or children for that matter, relating in such an intriguing and engaging way. The lesson involved sticking hands, solo warmups, partner exercises, breath work, form (which is what most people think of as ‘T’ai Chi’) and finished with us all doing a bit of shoulder massage for each other standing in a circle, then turning round and returning the favour to the person behind us.
On leaving the session, my friend said, ‘Well that was airy fairy'.’ I said nothing, but thought to myself, ‘No, you are airy fairy, that was really excellent, and totally down to earth.’
The following week I went along to the lesson on my own, and continued for over two years in the Yang Style class run by Richard Siwiak. Though I had started T’ai Chi for all the wrong reasons, I stayed because I loved the company, I liked what it did to my posture, my state of mind. I am still doing T’ai Chi to this day.
I started a SubStack because my friends asked me along, although I didn’t accept because I was trying to impress anyone, as thankfully I grew out of that by about age 35… Why I have stayed is, again, the great company I found, and because I like what writing here does for my mind. As for my posture, well, the small harm caused by me typing at this laptop even more than usual is hopefully offset by the chi kung I do for the videos. (I may be kidding myself on that one small point, but I am sure about the rest.) Reading a broader variety of writers and artists on here has been like seeing far more stars in the night sky, like when I am down at the shore night-fishing. At first it was a little disorienting, but after a while and some time spent gazing at the Milky Way, I would find the Plough and the North Star again, and get my bearings. It was similar at first here online, a sense of vertigo and unfamiliarity in my own thinking, as I surveyed the bright points of light newly visible to me. Now, I still look with wonder and pleasure at all that can be seen, but I always know which way is North.
Over the coming months I’ll be diving into Iain McGilchrist’s latest book and hopefully returning to see him in person to talk about that and more. Then I will return to the Taoist Classics 6 months later than planned and report back to you from my decade old notes and new thoughts on how ancient Taoist thought and insights from modern neuroscience may both be fingers pointing at the same moon. I’ll be writing more about heart-mind, intention, thought that doesn’t wear out the mind, the hemispheres, wu wei and embodiment. In short, all the things I love to dig into deeply. I’ll be sharing an invitation to my in-person and online book launches, opportunities to come study with me, and for an online get together for my paying subscribers this summer. There’s lots more to share too, from the peace of my writing desk back in Dorset.
I am finishing this short post while sitting up in bed back in Kannapolis, North Carolina, at midnight EST before leaving for the plane a few hours after I get up tomorrow. I hope you’ll forgive me for a short post this week, as I have bags to pack and a thankyou card to paint for my hosts, made with turquoise watercolour ground from a slice of malachite my host gave me. This week you’ll get extra things from me midweek, when I surface from jetlag.
I am going to leave you with a rather lovely sight, for this week’s good thing: dendritic (branching tree-like patterns) from that incredible turquoise paint, fresh on the slab and muller. I have to admit, it’s currently my favourite paint.
Many good wishes to all of you who read this, for your encouragement, support and communications. They are greatly appreciated. See you later this week!