I’m delighted to have writer and podcaster Susan Mathews as guest for this week’s newsletter. Season 2 of Susan’s podcast The Subverse has been my ‘go-to’ listening recently, and her thoughtful conversations around water have helped to shape my own response to this fundamental element and creative inspiration. 

But I’ll let Susan tell you about it in her own words. 


Dreaming with my eyes open: watery pursuits and surges of heart-voltage

Susan Mathews


In her graphic novel Incantations over Water, Sharanya Manivannan writes “All waves are like this. Groundswell of conflict. Undulation of instinct. Surge of heart-voltage.”  These words came to my mind when I discovered Sam Clark’s amazing art a few months ago on social media. Fortuitously, it was at a time I was immersed in a water pilgrimage of my own.  

A pilgrimage that had its origins back in May 2021 when I started a digital magazine Dark ‘n’ Light. As a former human rights lawyer with the United Nations, who left the bureaucratic maze, I left my former career in search of what the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert calls Big Magic.

What is Dark ‘n’ Light? It’s a riddle, a koan, embodying dancing and stillness. Our projects are odes to nature, the arts, science, social justice and culture. We celebrate experimental entanglements, Keats’ negative capability, eschew binaries and rigid classifications and are drawn to the offbeat and zany. While a large part of our work is focused on India (almost the entire team works out of Bangalore) based stories, given our backgrounds, we tend to be nomadic in our pursuits and our minds often travel all over as do our stories. 

A podcast soon followed. The Subverse was born out of a desire to create a space where we could explore the stories that lie in the margin and ‘the liminal’. The name of the podcast The Subverse is also “partly a take on the uses of subversion to thwart power, to chip away at its edges…(i)t also serves to display the practices of fluid, elusive and secret arts to erode rigid boundaries and divisions.” Across two seasons The Subverse has also focused on the marginal in terms of identity, voice, approach, perspective, and structure.”


Season 2 of The Subverse (2022) explored the theme of ‘water’ and across ten episodes, writers, artists, activists, oral historians and academics illuminated my own understanding of environmental history, dams and development, climate change, lessons from marine mammals, mermaid folklore, the first colonisation of land over water, and the erasure of rain. In my own exploration of ‘water’ for the podcast, I was at times so taken aback by what I did not know about this life-giving molecule, my own ignorance of its facets. This gave me a chance to examine its mutability, porosity, its seep, excess, containment, and its symbolism.


These discoveries spurred me to write as a way of understanding and to articulate the many questions I had swirling inside me. In my first blog, I ask.

“How can we reconcile water, this quotidian thing, with what we truly know is stellar happenstance, an accidental tourist on our planet that has forever changed its shape with its life-giving chemistry? How are becoming water and being water related, and what do they portend and signify?” 

My words were very much inspired by Bruce Lee, the tao of water aided by Ursula K. Guin’s rendition of Tao Te Ching, Astrida Neimanis and her Bodies of Water (2017), and the inimitable and wonderful Virginia Woolf.


Birsay Shore

Another aspect of this exploration that I enjoyed was collaborating with artist Adrija Ghosh who so beautifully and evocatively captured all the messages and lessons we learned from water. 

Much of my writing in this second blog was also driven by my love of Douglas Adams, and the title ‘The Beach House: Watery Transits and Muddy Logics’   was inspired by his quote on beach houses and boundary conditions. I wrote that “while I followed some dimensions of water in this podcast series, there are still libraries of clouds and ice to pore through and research. Not to mention other crossings, the beach house as a wormhole to other elements, to air, earth, and fire – all elements looking at the other and embracing them within.” 

And though the season has concluded, there are still some watery preoccupations floating around. In March and April of this year, we’re bringing out two audio stories around the theme of water and caste through our Stories from The Subverse, which focuses on storytelling through a more personal lens. 

Fire is next on our podcast radar, and I am feverishly working on the same, with explorations around fire and Frankenstein, divining Dante, and the inferno, examining the Pyrocene, Greek myths and cosmic dances. We do hope you’ll join us on this journey.

Thanks to Dark ‘n’ Light and The Subverse, the past two years for me have really been about dreaming with my eyes open, seeking these surges in heart-voltage, which often really come about by just embracing the inherent wonder and surprise of each moment and letting those tides just wash all over me. There is so much deep and dark magic just in that and as Glibert says in Big Magic, “Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest will take care of itself.”

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