Naima Morelli

Be Gentle with Yourself: my 2019 in Review

One of my favourite traditions for December is to do the year in review. This 2019 I hardly published introspective essays in this space, which is actually good, meaning the work took over.

Now time’s up to stop and share my self-reflections, acknowledge the achievements, learning from the mistakes, and generally look back in gratitude to the people, the places and the experiences. .

This year there wasn’t anything radically different from the flow I have been riding so far with arts writing, graphic novels, with the yoga and the different practices I explored. I continued to build on these things, getting to a new level so to speak, while also cultivating closer relationships with people and with nature.

This perhaps reached his peak right after my trip back to Italy from Indonesia in September. After this amazing – and challenging also on a personall level – Indonesia trip, I turned 30 in Dubai, crashed on by bed in Rome, then the day after I took a train and a boat to the island of Ponza.

In Ponza summer wasn’t ended. I spent a wonderful week of peace, discussion, peace and love for nature and the universe conjured up by my friend Roberto. Alongside me, he gathered two other incredible, likeminded spirits, for his 40th birthday, and we experienced an unprecedented harmony, coming back home full of ideas and excitement for life ahead.

Walking into my 30s for me meant taking so much more about the impact I’m making in this world. I have started moving from a very self-centered vision of the world, into considering more and more the community and the environment, versus “self-affirmation” and ambition running the game.

I have also finally opened up to embracing the self-care practices I always previously snobbed (because REAL WOMEN are resistant to cold, fatigue and plague, not to mention they hate massages and don’t put any moisturizing on their faces – these are for sissies!) So “Be gentle with yourself” is what I learned this year – which goes for ourselves as well as for the planet.

This year I have spent a very long time in my hometown Sorrento versus my homebase Rome. It was for health reasons – my type 1 diabetes has been a little off track this year for some reason – as well as for a deep longing for the sun, the sea, the trees.

So let me tell you with some more detail about my year, delving into my usual categories of choice: Arts Writing, Graphic Novels, Yoga and Martial Arts

Arts Writing

I can’t start talking about my career in the arts world without acknowledging all the people who supported me with their words and actions, and allowed me to grow in the best way possible. These people I have encountered in my journey have been the true heart of gold. There is no way to thank everyone, so I’ll just share some highlights.

From my father that when I was 7 years old helped me making a printed version of my first self-drawn and glitter-pencil written magazine “Fior di Mela” and keeps supporting me, along with mum, in all my endeavours. To the sleazy editor of a celebrated Italian music magazine who – when I was only 17 – published my article on his magazine under his own name and never paid me for it, strengthening my conviction that I was indeed a writer worth stealing from.

All the way to my editor from Art a Part Barbara Martusciello who published and was happy about everything I have been writing, no matter how crazy it was. To my former partner in crime Lucas, who expanded my thinking, my writing, my life, “raising me up to more that I could be” at the time. To the editor of Art Monthly Australia who published my first English piece when my English was so wobbly.

To all the artists who accepted to see me and share with me time and their work. To my friends who keep on supporting me, travelling with me, enduring the difficulties of months-long travelling, sharing suggestions and cheering me up for my achievement.

And to my partner Alberto, a kind, loyal, beautiful, loving, AND extremely challenging human, whom the universe gave the assignment to trigger me constantly. This handsome man-child has been teaching me when to be soft and when to use some tough love, and as hard as it is at times, it has been important for my personal growth.

For this year in particular, I want to thank my addentellato Roberto, who accepted to get out of his comfort zone for a month, and came with me in my research trip to Singapore and Thailand. This trip was as hard as any – and I was tempted to give up again, but I kept going, (as always). The main issue was the polluted air – I hated it – and I somatised. We endured organisational issues, and at times we couldn’t wait to be back home to breathe fresh air, but we also experienced so much growth.

In Thailand, I met so many generous artists doing great work in the world. Most of my pieces I published on CoBo throughout the year. From the air pollution crisis in Bangkok, I came back sharply aware of the dire direction our planet is going. This made me feel an urge to appreciate the nature, longing for the clean sea air in my hometown Sorrento. I came back a new person, as always, with a newfound appreciation for what I have. And just like every year, I thought about what I could make different the next time to avoid the hardship I encountered.

I did a second trip to SEA – Indonesia this time – in August with Alberto, having the honour to be one of the judges at the Bandung Contemporary Art Awards. I was invited by a generous, incredible soul who is Andonowati. Whoever has met this woman, knows she is an angel, an exceptional person in every sense of the word, a real role model.

I’m grateful for Alberto’s decision to come with me. As I mentioned my situation with type 1 diabetes (a condition I live with since 2005) has become quite difficult to manage at times. He was at my side, making my feel so much safer. Given our personalities, it wasn’t easy to get along and travel together. But I’m so happy we did, for our mutual growth and sharing of experiences. And he’s glad too – I hope!

But most of all, coming back to Indonesia – the first country I started making research in – felt like coming full circle. I visited in such different conditions so different from the first time I was there in 2002. My career stage is so different. It was like what I could only fantasize back in the day – and now it has come to fruition.

From that trip and my encounters in Jakarta and Bandung, I came back with what my addentellato Roberto calls “an heritage”, meaning seeds of future projects to cultivate. Andonowati inquired for the possibility of doing a show of my very favourite Indonesian artist in 2020 Italy, and I have been working on exploring options with Roberto.

My main focus for next year also comes from the meetings I did in Jakarta and Singapore at the beginning of 2019. I have been commissioned me a book on a young and very intelligent Malaysian artist, and I have been working on it since October.

Because of the book, the writing time for articles has drastically decreased. I have been a writer for CoBo since 2015 and thoroughly loved it. Lately the editorial board has undergone many changes, as my lovely editor left the magazine in August. As the line of the magazine is evolving, when it comes to sporadic collabs, I’m mostly dedicating myself to less demanding pieces for Qantara (a new sweet collab) or writing about Middle East for MEMO and MEE.

Also because of the book, my January trip to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will be much shorter. This time I won’t be doing and entire survey of artists in Malaysia as I usually do, but I’ll be focusing on interviews and studio visit with the artist I’m writing about, and checking out the art week in Singapore. I’m very happy how the situation turned out, and doing more focused work allow me to hone my hone writing on the creative side, more than adapting myself around the style of magazines.

Graphic Novels

In terms of the comic book work, at the beginning of the years I was still publishing my watercolour graphic novel on the martial arts I have realized the previous summer, called “EVENFLOW – Fire” on my instagram and Massimo Capodanno’s blog. I had just left the comics school in Rome in December, and decided to dedicate myself more on building the foundation and structure for a business around the comics. That’s why I enrolled Marie Forleo’s B School, a 8 weeks, interactive video-based training program that teaches online marketing strategies to business owners

The program lasted, from March to April, and gave me a surge of energy and allowed me to think about the different directions in which I could share my graphic novels with the world. While following the prompt of the course – part self-analysis, part organisational, part marketing, 100% good vibes – I felt like a lighting ball. It really lighted me up.

My days in Rome during these two months looked like: morning working on my writing at La Bottiglieria cafè, then propelling myself home to eat and then the exercised for B-School. I felt a sense of direction, while I explored the graphic novel world and connected to different people around me with the comics. I felt very awkward and a bit too self-centered at times, but I conceived all this asking people as a stoic exercise of going beyond shame of resulting too hustling.

People – friends I didn’t connect with from such a long time – were so generous. This made me so happy and confident. At the end of the day I would arrive (half an hour late) to martial arts training, and my friends were baffled that a “marketing course” could put me in such a good mood.

From May on, I started getting a bit slumped down. On one hand, it was the continuous back and forth from Sorrento to Rome – due to the need of clean air and nature (I was still shocked from the air pollution in Thailand, remember? ) – but mostly was because the entire summer I tried to get over some technical issues with Kindle Publishing – which by the way are not sorted yet!

However, in the meantime, I launched my comics website www.rednaima.com, worked on a style for the editorial look of my comic book series, reconstructed my creative process for comics, translated two of my works from Italian to English and had them edited, started building a newsletter and gaining subscribers. To each one of them I gifted a postcard – some were personalized, others I realized en plein air on the different beaches I went to in summer. I was a fun experiment that I’d love to repeat soon.

In terms of style, after the summer I put the watercolours aside for a bit, and went back to the roots, drawing short black and white, ink-based short stories, like Haikus, based on the seasons, my spiritual practices and disciplines, as exercises of style. They are experiments, but I’m happy with many of them, and I already have many idea of how to spread them.

This year I didn’t manage to tick all my boxes for the graphic novel business, but I always go for #progressnotperfection, so I’m happy there has been an evolution. I’m confident that things will pan out in their own best time. I don’t want to force a process, but rather leave myself room to discover myself, both in terms of the graphic novels themselves, and the business part. Again, I’m determined to be gentle with myself, not tossing myself mindlessly into work that doesn’t flow. For the comics in particular, intuition is key.

Yoga and Martial Arts

This year I practiced very little ninjutsu, and after Japan the way I started conceiving it as an integrative discipline to what I practicing the most, which is yoga. In both disciplines, this year wasn’t about embracing big physical challenges, jumping walls, running miles, arms, hands and head balances. It was mostly about being gentle with myself – a mantra I embraced especially after the summer, when I went back to Rome.

My summer was very much enhanced by my brother’s vinyasa lessons in Sorrento and Positano. To witness my brother transformation was nothing short of miraculous. The universe helped him – and the entire community in Sorrento in the form of Toonado, an outdoor sports start up lead by an incredible individual, Ivana, who organized the lessons and gathered a beautiful community of locals and travellers.

My habit of the Mondays and Fridays was to run from my wild beach of choice, to rush down the more colonized Peter’s Beach, and there meeting my mum and the other friends, all ready to roll. The lessons were intense and we all felt so connected with the surroundings. It was fun and comfy to hang at the beach at sunset with friends over a cup of tea. These were fun times, especially when my mum, my brother Leandro, his German yogini girlfriend and I would go back home happy and sweaty from a strong vinyasa, and eat all together – with my non-yogi dad also – on the terrace.

And then there were the yoga classes in Positano. Being my heart so close to this place, it was pure wonder to experience and reinventing it in a different way. The classes were by the sea on the terrace of the Hotel Pupetto in Fornillo, in such a friendly atmosphere, welcoming everyone, to kids to 80 years old local women with a strong temper, to the hosts from the hotel. Before the lessons, I could visit my friend photographer Massimo Capodanno to talk about the comics, say hi to my painters friend in Positano’s square, maybe do a quick dive into the sea and sip some hot tea like the surfers, and then go to lesson. It was magic, a time that I will forever treasure in my heart and soul.

In autumn Leandro had to stop the beach lessons, and moved onto teaching in a dance school and for a short while with Toonado in a hatchery. When in Sorrento I would alternate Ashtanga lessons at the Hot Yoga studio in Sorrento with the wonderful Peppe, to the ones of my brother. I can’t be happier than the yoga community in Sorrento is growing, and started to include also some old-time friends.

I didn’t give up the yoga while travelling. When I was in Chiang Mai, I went almost daily to the Vinyasa lessons at Yoga Ananda. There were really rewarding, considering that they were followed by a Thai massage and then a vegetarian healthy meal with Roberto. It’s quite wonderful to have the chance to connect with the local atmosphere through yoga.

In October, when I got back to Rome, I tried a few lessons around Rome for a month or so, but couldn’t find the right fit, so I happily went back to my martial arts community of Kokorozashi. I can see how I need martial arts in my life, although Bujinkan ninjutsu always poses the same usual challenges, the friends I have there are invaluable.

Other than that, I kept practicing martial arts, mostly the bo and jo staff, on the regular by myself. Now I feel more confident in working by myself on small details and tips I have been given in the lessons. And if anything, it’s just so fun to practice in the open air with some 80s music as background!

All this movement is always paired with a good dose of stillness. My routine over the years has consistently incorporated 10 to 20 minutes meditation after breakfast and few lines of a book tuning with the things of the spirit (a wide range going from the Course in Miracles to Zerocalcare), then 30-45 minutes yoga every morning, and half an hour to an hour and a half of intense movement, either ninjutsu, ashtanga yoga or a fast-paced walk.

In the morning I usually explore different styles with the app Alo Moves. I tried to move away just a little from my favourite teacher, Talia Sutra, to explore also other things. Melini Jetsundanson has a similar hatha-based, backbending-and-hip-opening-leaning style. This year I practiced a lot with Jade Alectra – I loved her series which mixed boxing and yoga somehow, I feel she has a similar spirit to mine, combative, poetic and strong. I have been exploring also Kayla Nielsen’s flows and loved Meghan Currie pranayama series and generally her teaching voice and style, even though her flows in particular don’t speak to me that much right now.

Beside meditation, also have cultivated other stillness practices. I finished the workbook of A Course in Miracles around my 30th birthday, but kept reading the consistently the theoric part, until I decided to take a break and read Pippi Calzelunghe and other childhood books with badass protagonists. Actually, my readings have come back in a big way this year, and I can’t be happier to have a more nuanced vision of reality to empathize with, while also learning (and do my best to practice) spiritual tenets.

Since I have almost finished the Course of Miracles, I also switched my evening showering listenings from Marianne Williamson to Byron Katie. At the moment, I’m experimenting a lot with her process of inquiry based on 4 questions and the turnarounds. It’s an interesting method, somewhat Socratic, however Love-biased. But making the decision of going for the Love, I am determined to apply her method to the three stronger features of my character that I wish to “upcycle” my personal “character Cerberus”, namely three excess of my personality which have hindered me over the years.

In experimenting all these different tenets, world visions and theories, there are two quotes that resonated with me throughout the entire year: “Only what you are not giving can be lacking from every situation.” The second resonates even more strongly: “You think you have many different problems, but you only have one, and that’s your disconnection from Love.” I have a feeling this worldview will stay with me from well beyond this 2019.

If you are curious to see my year in images, hop on my fashion blog Gioco di Donne