2020 was a hard year for many — one can even go as far as to say: for most. Although the « artistic coverage » of this apocalyptic climate has been ever present, italian writer Martina Peruzza decided to take a step back before using the pandemic as a headliner. A nonfiction storyteller and part-time collage artist, Peruzza is ready to embrace the ugliness within. CultureXChange asked her to share about the importance of social media to her art, mental health, and why she took a while before deciding to tackle the recent historical events.
CultureXChange: What do you prefer to write about?
Martina Peruzza: I prefer to write non-fiction about things that happen to me, everyday life. I need to write about things I know, I’d say I cover almost every aspect of my daily life. I don’t feel like avoiding anything on purpose, my style of writing leans more towards the spontaneous, so it’s about whatever comes to my mind.
CXC: Would you say you write for pleasure or because you have to?
MP: It’s a mix of the two. I write for pleasure, but I don’t always find it pleasurable. Sometimes I find it very hard, most of all during quarantine. I do it because I want to do it and I like to do it, but sometimes it’s really difficult. I don’t feel it as an obligation but in a sense it is, because otherwise I cannot express myself. You have to get things out. It’s something I need — and when I really need it, it’s much worse. There’s a lot more pressure involved. For example: last year, [summer of 2019] I really wanted to write about something that happened to me — so I forced myself to do it, probably to make sense of the whole situation. Much like a story which could have a structure and an ending — when in reality it didn’t have one yet. I found it very difficult and what I wrote was bad. I guess that something I’ve learned this year about writing is that you have to let things slow down before writing about them. Right now it’s really easy for me to write about a year ago, because a lot of it was ‘metabolized’ already. There’s a sense that the writing gets better as well.
CXC: Do you have a routine associated with writing?
MP: Actually, no. I never had one. I should probably dedicate some specific time slot to writing everyday. But it’s a general organizing issue — I’m not yet one of those writers who need to write a minimum of words per day, I can’t do that. I do believe that writing is an ongoing training, but you can also do it by practicing what I consider daily writing: talking to people, emailing, actively using social media. That’s more of my jam [laughs]. What is useful to me is writing something and then posting it online, that way you have the immediate feedback on it — also because I feel like writing needs an audience to have a sense to it. I find it hard to write and then to just keep it all to myself.
CXC: Besides writing, you have recently published a few of your collage work online. Do you find that other art forms influence your writing — like other creative exercises and expressions?
MP: Obviously there’s art that influences my art. I’m not sure if the other forms of art I practice myself are directly related to my writing. They express two different needs, the collages are more towards the non-mediated practices. They’re much more intuitive and about letting oneself go, rather than thinking and reflecting about things. I like to write about my life — and one could say that my collages are about everything else. I don’t exclude the possibility of deliberately mixing the two things one day. Sometimes before going to bed I try to come up with stories from the collages — I’ve hung them in a sort of rack in front of my bed. These stories are not yet working out very well [laughs], but the collages are still telling something about myself which I probably put in my writing too. But they’re so intuitive that I wouldn’t know what. I feel like my writing is spontaneous in form but not in process — which has more to do with how I digest things. I like writing daily little pieces: messages, texts, captions. It really helps me to strengthen a voice for myself, a way of writing. It’s a real exercise in which you get used to yourself and your voice. It’s like trying to think and make sense of what happens to you, and when you’re ready, you write. I found that some time ago I had the tendency to replicate an author I had just read. Now that I know a bit more about myself and my process, it’s easier to not unconsciously emulate other people’s writing, which is one of the most important things for a writer — to find your voice. The same goes for other forms of art. I feel that sometimes you like things, and you try to incorporate them in your writing, but if it’s not representative of yourself you end up just losing touch with what writing is about.
CXC: How has 2020 been for you personally since quarantine started in Italy (which was amongst the first ones in the world)?
MP: It’s been hard. It was the conjunction of many things that made it so hard to cope with. The main issues apart from the pandemic was the fact that I started living alone. The first lockdown we had was really strict, so basically I didn’t see people at all for many many weeks, which was really bad. I think the pandemic really slowed down the process of healing in terms of mental health all around. This gets you angry — but it’s also just part of life. It has also been a big year for public consciousness, politics-wise. Italy didn’t cope well with the pandemic, and it’s pretty clear that there is a fracture between generations and that ours doesn’t have so many possibilities ahead, which was hard to face.
CXC: How has all of this affected your practice of writing?
MP: To be honest, quarantine itself completely blocked me. During the first lockdown I had nothing to say at all. Or I didn’t want to, anyway. I tried, but I just understood that it was too soon. I couldn’t feel creative nor could I focus — and it was also bad for reading. I don’t know what I was doing, really — that’s probably a lot of people’s cases. Thinking in retrospect, I was doing my collages and short videos and that was basically it. Focusing on very concrete, manual activities to get by. Then I started writing again, not too long ago. Since I was alone, I used social media a lot to communicate. It’s not the best because you obviously waste a lot of time, but it was my way of connecting with people — and I found myself needing company. I started doing that in a very personal way and writing more and more. So once I realized I was getting some positive feedback, I just unlocked something and started writing small personal essays, which made my writing go back to flowing easily again. You could say that social media ended up really helping me with creativity and my voice. Since a lot of writing is about communicating, you have to find your way to do it. I had more or less one year to figure out what my own mental health is: how it works, how my crises are, how to cope. Thinking about myself from one year ago, I feel so changed. So I feel ready to write about some mental-health-related topics now. To me it’s important to process it like this because it’s a big part of my daily life, so there’s no avoiding it — I cope with it along with everything I do. If I write about an episode of my life, there will probably be these issues playing a force there somehow. Also, talking about it normalizes it a lot for me and as an issue altogether. Sometimes I feel like I’m oversharing, but it helps me to just understand that it’s my life, and it’s normal. In a sense, it’s a way to have control over it. Normally I don’t think about readers and what they’ll get, I think about what I want to write about. I would say that people are not that used to facing the existence of mental illnesses — and at this point, so many people have it harder because of this general denial. I know it helped me reading these personal essays about depression and anxiety. I guess that telling a personal story of it can sometimes be much more effective than reading about it in a scientific way. It starts to feel like it’s part of life — which it is.
CXC: Overall, if you had a message for yourself for the beginning of 2020, what would it be?
MP: I’d just tell myself to just be more accepting of what is happening, because I can’t change it. And it’s a big metaphor for life, I guess. You can change something and work towards your future, but you have to accept that there will be obstacles. The pandemic was one, depression was one. Also to be less hard with myself in general.
Written by Amanda Cunha Batista
® Cover Photo/Art by Martina Peruzza