Naima Morelli

Back into a different world after 50 days of stillness

Since last time I have stopped to write my reflections here on my blog, the world has changed. This is something I wouldn’t ever expected to live during my lifetime, but here we are. The pandemic, the quarantine. And now slowly resurfacing from it, everything looking so different.

Back from my trip in Malaysia in early January, I had just started a personal process of moving forward. On a personal level, this consisted into re-acclimatizing myself to living alone – having recently experienced health challenges and having left my boyfriend. It consisted into learning to drive a scooter and a car, and starting to approach a new martial art called Systema, along with deepening my yoga practice I started 5-years ago.

On a professional level, the process looked like bringing to fruition my third book, a monography on a Malaysian artist I have been working with for a prestigious gallery in Southeast Asia. I have been writing with more heart and stylistic freedom that ever – slowing down consistently on the journalism to devote to the book only. And – quite crucially – I have been publishing under my own imprint “Red Naima” my “origin” graphic novels from 2009 to 2011.

But, just like everyone was stopped in their tracks by the pandemic, I was forced to go back to my hometown Sorrento, where risk was mitigated. The feeling was initially confusion. Then I went finally back in Sorrento, I was taken over by a wave of excitement for the change the unknown. Then I settled into a new routine, adjusting to the new working demands, conditions, and spaces in the house. And since Italy has started to re-opening again, I’m getting back into my regular work, treasuring the lessons and discoveries from these 50 days of stillness.

Strangely enough, in the space of the clear hardships, I have found a great spiritual freedom. Freedom in confinement. Freedom in the lack of choices. Sounds a bit crazy and Stockholm syndrome, I know, but it’s like when writer Goliarda Sapienza managed to get herself behind bars in the Rebibbia prison, and finally found the time and space to write. Constriction removed a lot of false needs for me, and now the challenge is to bring this newfound truths to the next phase.

Arts writing

As I mentioned, since October I have slowed down consistently on journalism and articles, in order to focus on the book about this young Malaysian artist commissioned by the gallery. My trip to Kuala Lumpur at the beginning of January was precisely to do some ground research, have interviews with the artist, understand his environment and most importantly seeing the works in person.

Back to Rome in February, I experienced a massive surge of energy and inspiration that brought me to finish a second draft of the book. It was really deep-felt work, as I weaved interviews and the ideas and feelings elicited by the artwork themselves, propelled with the strength of the emotions I was myself experiencing during that month-long period. In a way feel I have a sensitivity somehow similar to the artist I’m writing about – even though the life circumstances and culture of reference is different. And it’s precisely in these differences that the book is finding its life-blood.

Having a singular focus and removing distractions such as other writing assignment, made it a beautiful experience of flow. Every morning, after breakfast with some poetry, meditation and yoga, I would go down at the café with my computer. I wouldn’t even check emails, but rather used my clearest and sharpest mind to plunge into the book. I’m determined to re-create these condition of razor-sharp mind and total concentration, as I’m sitting down to work on the final draft of the book. The global lockdown had me putting the book on hold for a couple of weeks for practical reasons, but this was in a way good too, because I’m getting to this new draft refreshed.

I have no idea yet of how my writing and journalism will unfold after I will send in the final draft. But for now it’s good to simplify and just holding this one singular goal of deliver my best work. “Do the task at hand as if nothing else existed.” This is what the next three weeks will be about!

Movement and stillness

The first weeks of quarantine have been all about following different yoga “lives” on Zoom or Instagram, and it was really fun to experience different styles and meet my favourite teachers for online sessions. However, my practice has become much more oriented to a particular style of Vinyasa explored by Meghan Currie and Kayla Nielsen in particular. Meghan Currie has been offering on-donation classes to collect funds for the Balinese affected by the pandemic every Thursday and along with that, I have been following her and Kayla Nielsen on the Alo Yoga app.

So a lot of spinal rolls, non-conventional shapes, really playful, strong, silky movements, playing with sometimes a slower, sometimes faster rhythm. The focus is the spine, and I’m learning to articulate it more and more.

In terms of meditation, I have been a bit less concentrated in general, though some of the first days during the quarantine, when everything was so silent, I was hyper-aware of all the sounds of the birds, the lights of the day and so on. Some days I even skipped medi, which is really rare for me.

For four weeks in a row I took the Sundays off for a digital detox, which proved an awesome way to find awareness an freedom from technology. I read and created a lot during those days. I made an habit to read the quarantine mails on the magazine Io Donna, while sitting on the terrace in the sun.

Because I couldn’t go for a walk in the afternoon – neither train three times a week as usual, I have been practicing a lot of bo staff on the condominium’s terrace. Not sure if I made any significant improvement, but I definitely started gaining more familiarity with the bo staff.

Back in Rome –  few weeks before the lockdown – I was introduced to the Russian martial art called: Systema by a friend – who claimed it was similar to yoga. It’s something my Bujinkan teacher also teaches, and while I liked the concept, I didn’t like at all how it looked. Too militaresque, even awkward from the outside. But I enjoyed the emphasis on breathing, the principles of releasing tension and cultivate relaxation in stressful situations. I then decided to gave it a go by following the Zoom lesson that the head of the Toronto school, Vladimir Vasiliev, is offering online. After a few lesson I’m starting to get the hang of it. Perhaps this can be the point of contact between my yoga practice and my need of a more martial form of expression.

Graphic Novels

Lots of interesting news from the graphic novels front, where things didn’t go as planned, but that has revealed again beautiful gifts too. Thanks to two wonderful graphic designers, and the help of the Amazon KDP team, I managed to publish the Italian and English version of Fronn ‘e Limon, Desire for Victory and the Italian version of TUFO. I got a great feedback from both readers and the local press.

However, I was planning to hone my marketing skills in March. Marie Forleo’s B-School, the online creative business course I undertook last year, was opening its doors again on that month – but honestly in the middle on the quarantine my spirit called for a quiet, introspective time, rather than for reaching out and make connections.

So what I did instead was going deep into creation work, deciding on what comic book to focus on and devoting to it. I subscribed to another online platform called Masterclass, and took two online courses with Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood. I did the exercises for a couple of weeks, applying it to the different works I had at hand, and in the end what called to be realized was the prequel of Desire for Victory, called “Virgin of the Rocks, Virgin of the Sand”.

I’m realizing the pages with a different technique compared to my newest work. It’s the watercolour-and-ink which is quite time-consuming, but this very feature allow me to feel the story and its character at a much deeper level. It’s all a work in progress and a big experiment, and that’s where my heart is at the moment.

This quarantine created the conditions to nurture my comics in a way similar to the one I experienced when I used to live in the countryside as a child and teenager. Not many friends around, no place to go outside of the house; back from school and finished the homework, the drawing board was where I could finally express myself.

While drawing and painting, I have been listening to France Culture, my favourite French radio – and decided to dust off my French. I’m hearing a lot of specials on writers, and to get back into the depth of the European mindset is a great counterbalance to the simplify-to-amplify American mindset that I love, but I acknowledge in all its limitations.

The challenge now that we are in the second week of the “phase 2”, is how to carry this dimension of depth going forward – in my comics, in my arts writing, my movement and my stillness – as well as in my relationships. I think the key here is presence. Singular attention to the task at hand. Of course, good routines helps, but also having a lot of flexibility within them. Presence. Having clear what’s important, remove the weeds, cultivating the goodness, avoid dwelling on the non-essential.