These days life is white-hot, red-hot, glowing, incandescent. This excitement runs all over my body and my mind. It nourishes my spirit. Sometime I feel like those sparkling sticks kids hold in their hands on the first of the year. I feel empowered and harmonious. When I lose balance, I’m able to catch myself and correct course; if I happen to linger there, I try to deal with it with a stoic attitude, meaning, why let yourself be bother by something you can’t change? Or else, I try to convert the energy of rage or indignation into good energy, in the form of animated talks or laughs with friends.
This good energy runs through me while I’m heading towards the coffee shops I work at every morning. This is what was Tiffany for Holly Golightly; except that here they serve real breakfasts. I’m so revitalized getting out of the house in the fresh morning here, coasting the Aurealian walls, walking down the sunlit market of the working-class neighbourhood of Via Del Pigneto, watching kids from many different ethnicities going to school. The hurried or cheerful attitude of the mothers reminds me to the one of my own mother. I recall how was it to go to that terrible and yet so fundamental place which was school. And yet, schoolkids remind me how important is to feel to be on a learning path, and having buddies to share that experience with. I treasure that sensation that I experience elsewhere, walk in the coffee shop, order a cappuccino, and sit to do my work, an independent, solitary but beautiful adventure. Something that I have proudly built from scratches.
Work might mean, like this morning, writing a piece from an interview with the inspiring Singaporean gallerist Audrey Yeo, where we talked about the beauty of having passion and care for one’s home turf. Or it might be tackling a series of bios of artists from Southeast Asia, which allow me to expand my knowledge. I feel there is no more beautiful way to start the day; a cappuccino, soothing music in the background, and a mind wide open to absorb, learn and elaborate. To contribute, out of joy and pure pleasure of doing the work. Absorbed work interrupted only by occasional daydreaming about the boy with perfect cheekbones and intense eyes I would be infatuated of. I’m sitting there surrounded by freelance hipsters with their Apple computers and old people talking about the good old times of the Banda della Magliana and complaining about politics. Because that’s Rome, that’s il Pigneto after all. It is Sunday and I’m still here, here again, because this doesn’t feel like work. It feel like my path. It is what grounds me and what I enjoy doing. A welcoming outlet for my energy which allows me do live adventures.
The energy also sizzles as I stick post its on the wall and sit on the desk connecting thoughts for my Singapore book, which is creating my personal structure and model for thinking about art. I feel that by writing this book, I’m also creating myself. I’m honing my thinking while also giving my small contribution to the wider field of research in Southeast Asia. Whatever the outcome will be, I’m really keen to give back the beauty and complexity I have encountered in through the people I met in my travels. The interestingness of this incredible and problematic country which is Singapore. In my writing, I’m letting these themes reveal their essence, the struggles between polarities. The themes of this book demonstrates me again and again that from every little thing you can get to the essence of life. Everything is a door, and for me art is the best way to get to the roots of the human concerns. To deal with what surrounds me and avoid slipping into dangerous self-absorption.
In the evening, the energy runs through me when I walk down Via La Spezia, and the sun which is setting softens the street, the shops; it softens reality and gives an aura to the passerby. It makes every single element from a street pole to the door of a building appearing glorious. I know I’m on the way to my favourite place, the dojo, where my body awakens and live. It is the place where I learn beyond the words I became so comfortable with. But the life of the body doesn’t allow for justification and excuses. The life of the body is playing, trusting, letting go, expanding, learning concentration, overcoming limits. And I have the good fortune of training with inspiring individuals from all walks of life – so different from me and not really getting what I do for a living and my cultural references – therefore don’t justify me and keep on asking a lot from me. And this is exactly what I needed. Toughness. We all want to be understood, but by putting yourself in a place where you are fundamentally misunderstood and judged from other features which are not your habitual strengths, that is when expansion and growth happen. To prove yourself not to others, but to yourself and become less of a sissy.
Also, this energy runs through me when I work at my graphic novel, the expansion of my inner universe, the way I transform everything in my life, the good and the bad, the success and the failure, into beauty. It is something that absorbs me completely, it is the story of my life and of how I perceive people around me. It is overwhelming and all-engulfing, yet I have finally managed to control it. I have learned to listen to myself more. Stopping being the queen of second-guessing. Understanding what is that I need to do (or not do) in every given moment, the willingness to expand the inner universe today doesn’t take over all the other parts of my life, but works in cooperation with them. Making graphic novels is introverted energy, so it can leave me depleted if I just give up to it. But as long as I listen to it and I’m sensitive in treating it, without constraining it or forcing it, it is the panacea to all emotional unbalances.
If look at myself, and I’m very happy about how I am. This doesn’t mean I correspond to my own ideal of perfection, neither I’m convinced this condition of grace would last forever. It is a balance which has to be fuelled, renovated and re-worked all the time. With all the different weathers in life. But a state of grace do exists. It is possible to find it. I have lived it before, for extended periods of time. And knowing it is a beacon of light for all the dark times in life.
What is important for me today is to be orientated to the right direction. I don’t care about the end result, I care about the process, and about constantly living – to use a truism – outside my comfort zone. Constantly a beginner, constantly losing face, and be ok with making mistakes and even a fool of oneself. Because it means you’re trying. Invest in loss, as some tai chi practitioner might put it. Knowing myself and my limits – as the Delphi’s oracle and any Greek myth would advise – I am confident that I can do everything if I really put myself to it. If I follow commitment and abandon second-guessing. And the beauty of having so many sides to reality, and having the emotional, physical and mental tools for the job, is that you can appreciate reality on so many different levels.
Perhaps, one trait I came to indentify with is openness to everything coming my way – with the confidence that in some way, in the end, I’ll be able to deal with it with the many instruments I’m given. That doesn’t make me very opinionated, and some people – it always “some people”, right? In Italian “la gente!” – would think I’m too relativist, too condescending. When I am asked about struggles or moments of deep fear, I have to think about it quite a while. The truth is that I had similar experiences to other people who make a big fuss about everything happening to them, but I generally don’t leave them with anxiety or fear. And even if I did, they don’t have this big emotional weight for me now. Just like everyone, in love and life I did my little share of suffering, I have lost my centre countless times, and became accustomed with confusion. But now I remember the bad as funny stories, the good as beauty. I also feel almost ashamed of magnify my suffering, which are non-existent compared to what happens to so many other people in the world. That goes also for my medical condition, which of course put myself in a kind of frailer position compared to perfectly healthy 20-somethings. Still though I don’t think it’s the case to complain about it. If you can’t change it, what’s the point of crying about it? Instead, push to overcome limitations.
As someone who never cared much about other people’s opinion, I acknowledge the huge advantage of being “soft” in your opinions and in discussion. The price for being open is connection, understanding and appreciation for something that can be very far from your personal experience and perspective. This doesn’t mean compromise on what are your tenants coming from a deeper personal experience, but acknowledge your position as personal and not universal. This way, you won’t ever look down to people, and if you decide to cut someone out is not because of hard feeling on your part, but a section made out of following what you love rather that what it doesn’t do good to you. And what doesn’t do good to you, can be encountered and deal with on small, incremental doses to become stronger anyways. So wherever you look, there is nothing you to fear or you that can’t deal with in a way or another. I’m trying to improve my attitude learning from two main sources these days: western stoicism and eastern Taoism. More importantly, I’m trying to apply those teachings in my everyday life.
Sometimes I have a bit of a hard time advising friends that suffer from a bit of depression or confusion, losing sight of what they want in their life. Because I know that for me today Taoism and Stoicism are simply momentary frames to interpret this energy that has always been present in me. I interpreted this energy in different ways throughout my life (and of course transforming it in “aesthetics” – the all-encompassing sense of the world, as carrier of values – to use in comics). When I was making the Fronn’ ‘e Limon’ comic book, I called it joy and it took the shape of Jorge Amado’s evocations, or Pane Amore e… and the hearty and genuine spirit from those other Italian movies from the ‘60s. Before then it was the rioty ethos of Punk Rock. Then it was embodied in the fighting spirit of two ambitious individuals in Vince Chi Dimentica, partially inspired by D’Annunzio reveries and Palma Bucarelli’s determination. I have friends who understand part of what I’m trying to convey, but I don’t need one single interlocutor to get everything, because the reason I create all these things I primarily for myself. I don’t really need pats on the backs, though I welcome any connection, anyone seeing their story into my story.
My spirit has always been there. Looking for beauty in both joy and pain has always been kind of my superpower, along with my imagination. This is the biggest gift I have been given among the many I have received. The power to listen and create stories, which is so fundamental to all humanity as well. To run with it is my responsibility. I thank my parents who in my upbringing never forced me to live up to their ambitions. They allowed me to be free to do what wanted to do, to create my own reality which I today so joyfully inhabit. It is part luck, part drive and the willingness to always learn, evolve, be open, expand. Destiny or choice, I embrace it fully. The world is my playground. I’m moving in it like that wave, I’m moving in it like that lighting bolt.