Naima Morelli

Kalos kagathos: harmonious in mind and body, battle and speech, song and action

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Derailing and getting back on track: story of my life. I’m the girl who is most fascinated and enticed by the idea of reinventing herself, of wearing new different clothes, of starting all over again as a blank slate. Thing is we are never a blank slate. And this is good in a way. My core is strong, and like Rogue from the X Men, I can absorb the powers of others, but my own personal power is in fact to absorb other people’s power. A bit of shameless pride: my superpower is imagination and the aesthetic alchemical transformation for things into beauty. It is about seeing the beautiful aspects in joy, pain, everything I decide to give my attentions to – pretty much like Rogue who absorbs the powers and memories of those who she touches.

A few weeks ago, a big change who went almost unnoticed, lost in Ninjutsu demonstration, leaving for the Venice Biennale, deadlines for articles. I have just moved to my new house, my own house where I can finally put all my books, I can hang the paintings I have been gifted, my own watercolour portraits of my friends, my characters, my lovers. Renting since I was nineteen – for almost ten years – I have inhabited spaces which don’t really resemble to me and I ultimately experienced space as a provisory thing. That was fine and also good to learn detachment and minimalism. Now, I start feeling there is a space in Rome to come back to. It is not about possessions. I learned not to care much about material possessions, not even my own work. I’ve no reverence for objects whatsoever – cleaning up the old house I ripped apart a poster of my characters which took me a few days to make. It’s a shame, but there is scotch tape for that. What is really important is not the work, but the imagination who is able to create it all over again. Objects won’t own me. Knowing nothing can own you feels really good. It releases many fears.

And now is high time for another levelling up, not about adding, but rather about subtracting in many areas of my life. This is important to see clearly the skeleton of my life and build my daily architecture accordingly – a building made of bones. I have in my notebook the words by Josh Waitzkin (I’m continuously re-listening to his “ The Art of Learning” audiobook and his two podcast interviews by Tim Ferris). It reads “building a daily architecture which is about understanding your creative process – as opposed to reacting to things, feeling guilty that you’re not working – really teaching people to tap into their internal compass.” Keeping this in mind makes things so much easier for me!

To take stock of my current situation, I will separate three main areas which I’m cultivating in the typical mind, body and spirit categories, though don’t believe in a separation and it is obvious that each one of the activities covers more than one definition. Work and journalism for example are not just a mind thing, but are also about the spirit, and so are martial arts. Comics are not purely spirit, but there are also rational mind-bound considerations involved. However for simplicity I’ll associate every specific activity with the part of my being which is involved the most.

Mind – Strengthen + refuel

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I am just back from the 2017 Venice Biennale, which has proved quite stressing and not particularly motivating. On my end the energy of 2015 Biennale was just not there for some reason. Also, after an illuminating train conversation with my “addentellato” Roberto D’Onorio, I realized it was time to review my work, who is start looking very much like a routine that doesn’t excite me as it used to. For the Singapore book, I will probably put on hold the writing phase and concentrate to send the book proposal around. Most importantly, I will dedicate the next few months in strengthening the freelancing part of my job. I don’t complain, the past few months have proven good: my steady collaboration with CoBo is great, I have started writing for Art Republik, which has been something I coveted since the magazine started a few years ago, and I have been cultivating other collabs like Culture360, Middle East Monitor, along with writing critical essays for shows.

However for the longest time I wanted to have a few months of quiet to just sit and pitch other kind of publications to get the chance to write about other topics I’m very interested in, such as feminism, lifestyle and more narrative-type stories and essays. Also, would love to start doing again some video work such as the one I used to do for Arciragazzi, exploring the Roman borgata. Basically I’m going back to pitching and send letter of introductions, just like when I first started out years ago. It feels refreshing knowing that I have my morning time to completely dedicate to grooming my journalism and fashioning it around my interests, to get the chance to expand my universe.

The bottom line is that I can’t accept, like some friends said, that this will be just work, and work is supposed to be monotonous and unexciting. This is not the path I’m on, neither the direction I want to head to. To me, it feels like paddling against the flow. And what I feel is that now my path requires for me to take a step back and refuel my passion for journalism, while strengthening what I have been building so far. Work is the foundation of my architecture, and foundations must be strong.

Body – Clean your movements + everything is ninjutsu

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My sensei is off to Japan for a couple of weeks with a bunch of our best ninjas, so this is the best time for me to “brush off the basis”. As sensei said, our martial practice must be like a car – it needs revision from time to time. This consists in repeating the very basis to make sure we will be then able to perform more difficult tasks in the right way. A few things happened in the past few months. I realized that in order to make those alien movements of ninjutsu becoming part of myself, I must really believe that what I’m doing really makes sense and ultimately works. To be honest, I never looked for the St. Thomas proof. I was happy doing ninjutsu for the aesthetical suggestion alone, for the sheer narrative of it. I was after all content with not being really good at it or concentrating on other minor details – some young ninja’s cheekbones for example – because ultimately I was in for the story, right? “Justifications” as my sensei would put it. Now I recognize it, that mentality really hinders me.

These days saw a switch from aesthetic to ethic for me. I’m became really interested in integrating these movements in myself, really committing to a way of moving not just in fighting, but in the world. Like one of our black belts said to me: “Take every chance to clean your movements. When you walk on a crowded sidewalk for example, practice your profile. Clean your movements, even while you are standing up and even when you pour water or steal a piece of cake from your mother’s oven.” This idea of changing my way of moving is also a core concept in a book on the Alexander Technique I have been recommended. Aside from the technique that I might or might not decide to use, it is extremely interesting to learn about how much our moving and thinking are mutually dependent, and the fact that there are many different way of thinking that we label under one single word.

At a dinner right before leaving, sensei told me another important thing which the wife of his own master in Japan once told him, when he confessed his guilt in spending time diving and adventuring into nature instead of practicing his kamae and kata. She said: “Ninjutsu is a discipline for survival, so it goes without saying that all those other things you are doing are in a way part of it. You shouldn’t perceive them as separate.” So unabashed adventures into nature, meditation, stretching, swimming, all of that is all part of a bigger plan; becoming a ninja-superheroine. Revealing it.
Spirit – answering the call + work towards professional standards

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Since I have decided to hold on the writing part of the Singapore book, I can finally be serious with the graphic novel I’m working on – making it professional and not only an unashamed personal expression. I’ll have the chance to think more cohesively about the three main storylines (Kade and Luca pursuing the dream of the Greek gymnasium, Andreas overcoming her limits, Kade’s dealing with guilt and control). Now I have the time and mental space to feel I can be more accurate with the style and do my very best, not simply something that I need to get done as soon as possible, in the snippets of time. After all, this the most natural extension of myself and definitely the most precious.

As Zio Bruno pointed out, it is really important to carry on with my art as long as I’m young and not disillusioned with life. Today the world looks to me full of promises and possibilities. After all, our perception of reality is influenced by our experience and this is in return influenced by the choices we make. If we give up on something we really deeply love, our confirmation bias will tell us that the world wouldn’t have allowed us to pursue it anyways. But this belief might not be true at all. So yeah, with comics for me is keep on keeping on. Also summer is coming, so I’m naturally drawn to go around and search for beauty to capture in watercolours.

Yesterday my ninja friend Giovanna asked if I would come back to the Singapore book once I was done with the comic book. “You don’t understand Giovanna… this specific graphic novel is just the tip of the iceberg. It is not something I need to get done with. Once the levees are broken, the Pandora box is opened, my entire inner universe is alive again. It changes my way of looking at the world. It is not just a story. It is an extension of myself. It is what I need to do. Sure, I can live without, as I have done so far, but then I would have lucidly repressed the one thing I believe to be more valuable in myself, most rich, most important. Giovanna urged me to find a balance between all these activities, and I agreed. This is indeed my objective. To find cohesion, unity, a form of ever-changing balance between my Kalos kagathos, as the greek would put it, a complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action.

Bringing it all together through practice

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The most important thing I have learned is that if I really trust myself, everything will be fine. I know that if I can find calm and stillness, I know what is the best thing to do. Over thinking things most of the times won’t push me to better decisions; conversely, the emotional factor of over thinking decisions drives me to a mood that pollutes waters.

Also I’ll practice every day the idea of livingliving on the other side of pain (still a Josh Waitzkin’s one – need to interview the guy one day). This idea is beautiful stoicism to counterbalance the hedonistic ethos my parents didn’t model but taught me (Gen Y anyone?) Pushing it to the limits Yukio’s style – more X Men. It is about knowing your limits, as the Greek advice, and push it little bit further every day, with conscience, presence, concentration, to expand my universe.

All these modes I want to become defaults, habits, so I don’t have to think about it that much anymore. The good part of that, is that I can also cultivate pleasure in presence, something that Italians in particular and us sea people on Positano beaches can do very well. But of course, sometimes you forgot. All that I have described so far I want to become my direction, but really, it just a vector. There is no final destination, nothing to lose, nothing to prove. This is something that is embedded in me. But there is something I’m still grappling with. How to make your work and your art as everything was on the line, when you deeply down know that not everything is on the line? I know I’ll find it by myself, if I keep living and telling the story.