Welcome to Uncivil Savant
Writing on the embodied life, the Way, and art where Earth matters
Hello and welcome! This first post is a short introduction to me, my work and writing, and an orientation into what you might find here.
The externals: I am an artist, teacher and author of a book about natural art materials called ‘Found and Ground’, published June 2023. From 2002 I have been teaching Classical Yang Style T’ai Chi across London, Scotland and Sweden, as well as online. Since March 2020 I have been on sabbatical from teaching martial arts, while I rest from many years of studying-to-teach and return my internal arts and practices into something of a well-spring for my own life, rather than trying to work the pump at a rate that depletes the groundwater. I make drawings, paintings and objects from wild, ancient and foraged materials, and teach these skills in many contexts all over UK and Europe, and America. From 2018 – 2020 I co-taught the Wild Twins course which Paul Kingsnorth and I created for artists and writers. I am a regular contributor to the Dark Mountain books, courses and website, and am a member of The Wilderness Art Collective.
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Why ‘Uncivil Savant’? It was a nickname that came up when writing to a friend for many years, a nod to the Uncivilisation festivals of the early Dark Mountain Project, (to which I arrived too late to attend). It’s also a reference to my deep respect both for Tao (the Way), and for the extant (and erased) hunter-gatherer societies who still have or once had incredibly rich societies and cultures, managed their ecological locales for thousands of years without wrecking them, and never once felt the urge to build a city state – so-called ‘civilisation’. As for savant, well, one of the joys of having many writers for friends is turning up in their books as ‘that woman who knows and does unusual things’. I thought perhaps it was time to show up in my own writing and see what I wanted to say when not being paraphrased.
The internals: I think best in relationship. When in dialogue with my friends, teachers and colleagues in person, by telephone, or in emails which range over years. In conversation with the landscape, oak trees, a small cove in Dorset, a 7-mile strip of golden sand only a few hundred metres from where I write this to you. In communion with people I loved who are now gone, trees that have been felled, brooks that no longer run. I can tell you where I am writing from, rather than what my specific course will be. I will circle themes that are dear to me and that I find important, things that have arisen though my work, teaching, and experience.
I am a tributarian. I was told, erroneously, more than once, that I was many different streams, only to find out that I was a watershed, the apparently separate tributaries of which all drain into one watercourse, which on reaching the sea, diverge and spread via distributaries in an unruly but fertile delta, (occasionally prone to floods...) I accept this now, and after enough epistolary partners told me to look to Substack as a place where one could write and just be oneself, I finally came here where I follow about 30 writers regularly and find it genuinely enriching. I wish to write to you how I do with these friends: with honesty, openness, humour, in good faith, without fear of ambush; in short, in conviviality. Perhaps this is not currently the default way of the internet. But I trust we can create another corner here where we may discuss all matters soulfully, without ever dehumanising each other, nor descending into pointless conflict.
The main body of Uncivil Savant is essays, and I almost always publish an audio version of each, both for increased accessibility and ease for you, but also for my own deeper expression. I enjoy recording, and these days it is infinitely easier than it was during my decade in bands, recording studios and touring gigs. Strangely, arriving late to the corner of social media which is the natural arts materials and craft people’s glade in Instagram, I have learned to appreciate the generous sharing of practical skills and wisdom, and have taken it as inspiration for this newsletter, even though the medium here is largely words. I will write about and point you towards what embodied practice might be right now, when all around us is in total flux, and central earth is often hard to find. I mainly avoid the word ‘spirituality’, but for lack of a better one, that’s part of this, too, with the caveat: ‘If it ain’t practical, it ain’t spiritual.’
I will sometimes draw on The Taoist Classics, as translated by Thomas Cleary (1949-2021) for Shambala editions, and many other excellent books on Tao, Zen, T’ai Chi and the natural process that have been my companions in 25 years of practice. Iain McGilchrist’s incomparable ‘The Master and His Emissary’ has been one of the most influential books in my life, and I hope to be able to gather together some of our conversations over the years about how his work sheds light on life, Tao and T’ai Chi, from a western perspective, where we had only the traditional eastern alchemical terminology before. Iain’s work has profoundly illuminated the inner workings of mind and body. In my future essays, I’ll be writing about internal alchemy, sense and thought, in relation to the modes of the left and right hemispheres, as well as proposing resistance to the machine, whether the one in our own minds, or the infernal meta system of late modernity that we find ourselves in.
The books of Ursula LeGuin, the writings of my late Grand Master Dr John Kells and the rich oral tradition and teaching stories of our T’ai Chi lineage also appear from time to time. As will gleanings directly from the land and living beings, who for me are as teachers, elders, books and kin. I’ll refer you as often to rocks and leaves as I will to page numbers. Much of what I write first happened in, or to, my body, which is where any knowledge worth its salt resides. It has taken many years to hone an ability to translate what my organism knows into what can be said in English on a glowing screen or audio recording. Twenty years attempting to teach subtle movement, while making sure my words were congruent with what my body conveyed, has gone a long way to educate me about what is essential, what is indulgent, and what is just plain getting in the way.
Writing is not only for writers, language is for us all, the makers, the movers, the quiet ones and the prophets. When language works at its best it embraces the real, has its feet on the ground and is not full of tricks. I hope you will find my words anchored in the hips, galls, ochres and pushes that are my embodied life. That is not to say there won’t occasionally be rushing sections, where sense rolls with ecstatic creatures in the rapids. Sometimes there will be very short stories, often some photographs, but each week images, sometimes of a painting or drawing, almost always my own. My words exist with the images, sounds, flavours, textures and smells of the changing seasons. If I am to find a way to write truthfully for you of my Way, I cannot have these words exist alone in a newsletter-silo, they have asked to bring their friends.
At the end of each post I will also sometimes link you to music, verse, a plant that you will be able to find right now: or something else medicinal. I want to offer you what I most want to receive: wholehearted communication.
Almost all my regular writing will be free. If you’d already like to support me, then I would appreciate any paid subscriptions, as my art, craft, writing and teaching are currently how I make a very modest living. Paid subscribers received six monthly simple chi kung tuition videos and there will be invitation to a Zoom class when I can answer questions and where we can practice these wonderful movements together.
Paid subscribers can also leave comments on each post and in 2024, they will receive at least one dedicated monthly post.
Founder members also receive a small original art work on paper from me through the mail.
But for now, I’d just like to bid you a warm welcome to Uncivil Savant. If you have any queries or comments, please do get in touch. Thank you for reading or listening. Greetings from my writing desk, facing south, on a clear cold night, Caro.
This week I’d like to share some incredible music that I discovered in 1986, when 4AD re-released this as ‘Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares’. I have sung along with this more times than I can count, loudly in bedsits, on headphones in back gardens, and even once with Iain in Skye. Dougald’s 2022 post prompted me to dive back into it.