Naima Morelli

End of Summer Reflections

It has been such a long time since I last indulged in some personal reflections on this blog, and let you readers know what’s up with my life and my different practices. I felt it was high time, so I have started writing this personal essay on the train ride from Naples to Venice, and I have finished it in my hometown Sorrento, in preparation for being back in my turf, Rome. 

The train journey from Naples to Venice was six hours, which I usually spend reading, listening to music, podcasts, and calling friends sometimes. But six hours of uninterrupted trip, crossing Italy from South to North, are a gift of sorts. You are launched at full speed in a beautiful landscape, there is movement and stillness, a precious time to gather your thoughts, in preparation for a fresh start. A time for aimless pleasure, for allowing reflections to form. What will come will be the time for activity, and both the leisure – the otium of the Romans – and the action-filled, execution part, need to be appreciated fully. If you train your sensitivity, you’ll know when and how to flow from one state to another. This is ultimately the sense I’ve been sharpening these past few months.

I’d say from September last year, right before coming to Sorrento for the summer, I have lived a different life from the one I used to. It was a life when I surrendered more to the flow, and it was a river stream that brought me many nuggets of gold. I let go of my solid structure, which I created to foster discipline, to keep myself accountable, mainly for my journalism and graphic novels, which relied 100% on my willingness and organisation to come to fruition. Definitely having to keep sugars in check, living with type 1 diabetes, was something that encouraged me to build routines, so everything was more predictable. I used to be scolded by some friends for not adapting to their schedules, but always marching to the rhythm of my own drum. Ultimately, I think it just comes down to character and wanting to do things in my own way.

Like those who lived all their life in personal structures, when I started giving I gave them up, I gave them up a big way. So this year I found a lot of adventures, passion, of spontaneity on the other side. While I lived wholeheartedly, with unprecedented freedom, openness to new people, and a sense of adventure and empowerment, I also trained very little – also because of some injuries – and I didn’t really dive deep into my comics as I needed to, if not by small pockets of time in-between eventful weeks. Journalism and work were the only ones who were – by necessity – brought forth. 

I experienced the loss of loved ones, which reconfigured my life back in Sorrento and my emotional constellation. I let go of friendships – at least for a while – that didn’t feel aligned. I realised I didn’t need a guide from the outside anymore, I didn’t need to overanalyse every aspect of my life, or plan ahead with detail, in order to feel safe. I felt somehow safe in the present, I adopted a “You know when you’ll get there” type of mentality. Escaping the destructive, all-encompassing passion which unfolded in Sorrento, I find myself in a new, different passionate story in my neighbourhood in Rome. I find myself born anew in this. I learned and expanded in these findings, I experienced a completely different side of myself. And now that is done, Dionysus is subsiding letting space to a little Apollo, I want to make the most of my learnings. 

And now, at the end of this beautiful summer, I crave to go back a bit to my discipline, but with more openness. Find my structures, but let them air out. Like the Latins taught us, it’s about cultivating a harmonious middle way, a unity, a Kalos kagathos, surely alternated with moments of peaks, of heroism, of adventure.

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Journalism, arts writing, contemporary art

 I have been looking at those “my 33 years old meets my 23 years old” videos on Youtube, and being a few days apart from my 33th birthday, I kind of feel it a lot right now. When I was 23 I really engaged deeply with my journalistic career, making it my number one priority. I was really focused on imposing myself as a reputable arts writer in Italy and the Asia-Pacific region. As I was conducting interviews in Indonesia with contemporary artists, I remember my boyfriend at the time saying: “Imagine that one day you’ll be asked to write in a catalogue for these artists, or curate a show.” Well, ten years later it did happen.

So I just came to curate a solo show of one of my very favourite Indonesian artists, Eddy Susanto, at GAD, Giudecca Art District, in Venice, during the Biennale time. It’s a big deal for Indonesian contemporary art to have more and more presence in Venice, and I’m proud to have somehow contributed to it. I’m eager to bring more artists from Southeast Asia to Italy, my goal is really to create a good channel for exchange. 

On the book end, when I was 23 I had just published my first book on Indonesian contemporary art in Italian, and in the last few years I have been commissioned a monography of Malaysian artist Yeoh Choo Kuan by the gallery Richard Koh Fine Arts. Would definitely love to write more, I like these kinds of projects.

As for my journalism, I have been loving writing for such great magazines I had long collabs with, Middle East Monitor, Middle East Eye, Plural Art Mag, and Cobo, which sadly is closing this year! 

 But the highlights are definitely two new very prestigious collaborations: I have started freelancing with Art Asia Pacific, which has been a goal of mine for a long time, being one of the most respectable publications on art from the Asia-Pacific region, and I have written a piece on Libyan literature for Al-Jazeera. That’s also something quite amazing to level up my journalistic portfolio! I also liked that they allow me for a more literary style, suited for longform. Fingers crossed for more of these collaborations going forward!

What I’m planning to do as a freelancer, is teaming up with colleagues and journalists, and building around me a supportive community. The legal side of this business is still something I haven’t still wrapped my head around, and I think it’s only good to get into the nitty gritty of freelancer journalism – it’s really high time – to make sure to optimise the work and write more of the story that I like, in the style that I enjoy the most (that’s longform and gonzo journalism basically.) I want to work on the community side also in terms of the arts. Nothing nurtures thought – and consequentially my work – as conversations with passionate people working in the same field.

Potrebbe essere un disegno

Graphic Novels

Finishing my most ambitious graphic novel to date “Two Suns” was my most important goal for 2022. This is the fourth chapter of my series called “Desire for Victory”. It’s bigger pages full of vignettes, and it covers a lot of ground, I mean literally! It’s the story of two parallel round-the-world trips, and what’s more, it’s set in the 1930s. It’s an ambitious work, perhaps too ambitious, but living in a space of challenge is always the way to go. This time I have experimented a lot with narrative rhythm, the structure of the pages, and balancing synthesis with graphic pleasantness. But most of all, I have tried all sorts of solutions with colours, namely watercolours. 

It’s around 70 pages, and I have another 10-13 or so to go. I won’t lie, life interfered a lot with the making of this work, so it was a continuous struggle to force myself at the drawing board when my emotions and my head were clearly someplace else. And this for a good part of the year. But in different bursts, I found out very enlightened moments, which even changed a bit the storyline with sudden intuitions. A young Italian sailor on a ship headed to New Zealand, an Afghan guide in Babylon, a stern Indian yogi… many characters which were undefined in the beginning took the face and personality of people I met along the way this year. Some pages look very good, and looking back it’s unbelievable how I even get here.

On the subject of letting life be re-elaborated in my stories, I have also spent the first few weeks in Sorrento into a whirlwind of inspiration for the next comic book, which will be called “Via del Pigneto”, and will be set in Rome. It has been a long time since I didn’t felt so synesthetic, in terms of having music inspire my drawings, letting it all flow in the story. It’s still all a work in progress, in its infant stages. But something tells me that my deep dive into rock music from the ‘90s, especially Skunk Anansie, PJ Harvey, Bjork, Faith No More, will show through the pages. It was all kickstarted by one concert – yes, it was Skunk Anansie – that I saw just before being back to Sorrento, and it was nourished by music suggestions from friends. 

I also found great excitement and rebuilt trust in my own creative process by reading the first diary of Anais Nin, a book I had on my list for a long time. This summer was precisely the right time to read them, it felt 100% aligned. I’m currently at Diary number 2, and very much into it. There are a number of interesting reflections in the book, among them the fact that neurosis is actually a creative process that wasn’t channeled properly. This is something I needed to hear. After years of “living in the present”, and practicing all the yoga and meditation prompts, which provided a different sort of solace for my super-active mind and imagination, I can re-integrate the creative process, acknowledging the necessity of it. Anais reminded me that life and art are not separate at all, it’s not that sitting at a table you are escaping life necessarily. Art is a tool to go through life in a richer way. For the creatives, not letting the beauty of life traverse them, and giving it back through a process of transformation, doesn’t feel right. The artist and the people. But I feel this deserves an essay of its own. Just read the diary, it’s good!

Potrebbe essere un'immagine raffigurante 10 persone, persone in piedi e attività all'aperto

Practice

So, I have been practicing yoga and martial arts since 2015. As for yoga, in the beginning, I was mostly stretching but quickly got to the point when I seldom skipped a morning, even when I was travelling. Breakfast, and then yoga and meditation, that’s my baseline always. But going with the flow, waking up much later than I used to, this year I have skipped all of this, perhaps jumping right at the local café, and eating a cornetto while turning on the computer. I was saving time, yes. I wanted to do things differently. For sure. I wanted to live a completely different life from the one I used to, mostly to produce different results and to change in order to move forward. 

I always knew the healthy habits were the ones I was already practicing: a healthy breakfast, reading a few lines from a book, yoga, meditation, and then going off to work at the café. But I really wanted to shake things up after seven years of this routine, just doing mornings differently. Plus, this surrender to life circumstances meant that if I was hanging out with friends until midnight, I went to bed late, and I woke up later than usual, 8 pm or so, which for me is quite late! Really, a few months ago the only way to shake things up was not fighting against the reality of Rome – which meant late nights, eating a slice of pizza on the street instead of an actual meal, and even skipping yoga and training. I just wanted to try to adapt to the reality around me, functioning alongside what everyone was doing, synchronising with the people and friends around me, instead of asking them to adapt to my own rhythms. It worked very well socially. Healthwise, discipline-wise, it wasn’t great. 

Again, I’m rebalancing all out right now. So what I’m doing moving forward with the yoga is just around 30 mins in the morning, as a baseline that makes me feel good, while not consuming too much of my morning concentrated time. Kayla Nielsen is the teacher whose movements my body seeks more at the moment. She has her own app, and I’m following mostly her right now. Two times a week I have been also going to evening yoga lessons with my brother, who teaches Vinyasa, in Sorrento, at the local beach club.  

As for the martial arts, this year wasn’t the best. I still went to my local dojo, but mostly trained the last 40 minutes, generally having fun with fighting and wrestling a bit, getting a bit of my fighting spirit going, but no serious practice. But now I long for a martial spirit, the lessons of training with one’s entire heart in it. In the summer I also haven’t been practicing my freestyle staff, something I learned during the lockdowns, because I have kind of exhausted the training material, and haven’t found new stimuli to move forward. That goes also for the martial arts, ninjutsu (aka Bujinkan) is not as stimulating for me as it used to be. That kind of martiality has been lost in my dojo in the last few years. So while the remaining evenings of this summer will be devoted to catching the last summer rays at the beach – a long long walk there, that’s physical activity also – I’m planning to go back to Rome in September and either take up a fighting sport, like a straightforward Muay Thai, or a traditional, codified martial art. Aikido could be ideal. I do feel whole when the warrior in me is well and alive. I feel so much stronger, so much into myself. Discipline, dedication, strength, softness… I want to go back to what martial arts have taught me in a big way. The amazon self which always been such a big part of what I have been identifying with since childhood, of what my personality is about, of what has built my character.

Daily training Monday to Friday keeps my mind stable, my body happy, and my sugars levels steady. Training daily, that’s true, is a bit detrimental for all other social activities, which I might pack on the weekend. But training is a way to be social also, in a way. Again, that’s another thing I’d need to integrate moving forward. Being committed to regular training, while also keeping on widening my social life. Is it possible to do a bit of both? Only with experimentation, opening up little by little, it’s possible to find out.

 General lessons to go into the future

1 – I was always one looking to kill two birds with one stone. Which is good sometimes, it feels good when things align and come together naturally. But most of the time it’s just best to tackle each problem separately. Optimising resources might be good, but one had to be very mindful of the intention behind it. Are you really serving the solution to the problem, or just serving your personal needs? Or, are you sure issue A is really the cure for issue C, or they would need to keep separated to minimise confusion and overlapping and clumping problems on top of other problems? In terms of human relationships, this is something I had to learn the hard way. 

Sometimes minimalism, sharp focus, and clear and pure intentions are the way to go. 

2 – Words will get you only so far. I have written so many words this year, in articles, in my notebooks, in messages, to myself, to people, of love, apologies, promises, eulogies. Words, words, words. Action however is where it’s all at. Sometimes it’s not enough to think your way into the right action, you have to act your way in the right thinking. And action, building new habits, sustaining them, choosing them over and over again in the present moment, rather than writing them down and feeling it’s done, well, that’s much harder. But that’s what it’s all about in the end. How you show up. 

3 – This is from Anais Nin, and I mentioned it before; you live more fully with creativity. It’s not something that takes you away from life, but something that enhances your life. It’s not life versus art. It’s going through life with art as a tool, as your medieval sword. It might not be your main form of adaptation as it used to be, but it’s still your superpower, the torch that shows you the way. 

4 – Oversharing no more. Been there, done that. Way too much. Not willing to do it anymore. Don’t need to tell everything to everyone. I’ll be more mindful of what you get out into the world from now on. 

The strange thing is that I used to be a very private teenager, and I wouldn’t share much even with my close friends. I wanted to look tough, not look vulnerable. If I had something pressing in my heart, I would use my writing and comics as an alley where those feelings, the good and the bad ones, will take shape.

Perhaps that was too extreme, there is real beauty in discussing one’s interior life. But lately, I have been doing this way too much, with too many people, burdening close friends with way too frequent emotional venting, or using what happened in my life almost as entertainment of sorts for people that was probably too early to call friends. 

I have learned that one’s personal life is not a value to exchange in return for immediate closeness. Truth, vulnerability is something of value, something that can be distorted in the wrong hands, and that can hurt the relationships around you, fuelling gossip and all. Also, while there is value in opening up, showing yourself to others constantly as someone swept away by emotions will make you and others believe that’s all of who you are. And it’s not. So while you grew up to the tough punk façade of your teens, recovering some of that tough girl ethos again won’t be that detrimental after all. 

So while I will always keep an open channel, I’ll keep deep in myself, self-analysing and all, I won’t allow anymore for my personal life to circulate freely. I’ll keep sharing with the very few people that I know are a safe space. I’ll learn to restrain myself with unsafe people that happen to be in my space when I’m caught by an emotional storm. If my personal life will show through, it will be transformed into an art form, either my writing or comics. 

4 – Finally, you are what you do repeatedly, and what you think repeatedly also. It’s about how you’re nurturing your mind space and heart space on the daily. The more time you spend dwelling, obsessing over and over on what you can’t change or act upon whatsoever, the most this will monopolise your life to no avail. Every moment, you can choose to focus on what matters most. It’s not just about forcing yourself into good habits but also moment to moment steering your boat towards your values, your art, your writing, and less into repetitive patterns. It’s a practice, like meditation.

 So, preparing to be back in Rome in a short while, I’m really meditating on those lessons, as well as opening up again to new experiences, allowing them to transform me once again. Taking, the best from the last school year, and ditching what didn’t work. 

I’ll probably be in some capacity back into the trials, in terms of trying new sports and disciplines to practice consistently, and definitely will keep on exploring new music trails and allow it to renovate my spirit. I will keep fuelling the heart-side of my work, of my creative process, through conversations with friends and colleagues, and cultivate good habits and good boundaries on a daily basis, as well as keep open to new people, and experiences to flow in. These are the intentions going forward. Of course, I’ll let you know how it goes!

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