An Imperfect Project

About a year ago, Collage Mag was launched for the very first time. During 2015 it had been conceived as an online magazine that would have hosted one new content a day, written in Italian and English. We wanted to show and give space to great writers, artists, photographers and illustrators from all over the world. We wanted to give voice and speak to young people, teens, publishing personal essays, listicles and interviews aimed at them.

The constant comparison with important projects, with a longer history, preeminently coming from the English-speaking world, was asphyxiating for me, even before launching the website. When I talked about the idea with friends, journalists and acquaintances, some of them told me that I was trying to create the “Italian Rookie Mag”, a website that was imagined and launched by Tavi Gevinson when she was only 15. Despite the differences being more than the similarities (one above all: we didn’t intend to create another website targeted to girls), how could I contradict the position of people mentioning one of my most beloved websites and the “celebrity” I was more obsessed with?

Once Collage Mag actually went online, it was never enough. Not enough articles, time, views, likes, patience to edit the content or to write emails.

My body was in here, in Italy, in 2015, in Milan, but my head was somewhere else, somewhere beyond the ocean, staring at projects that were working better than mine, launched and managed by girls that were younger, better-looking, smarter, richer than me. I was observing their life through their essays, their articles, their Instagram accounts.

Even though the quality of the few articles we actually published was in my opinion super high, Collage Mag stopped after a few months and I took a plane to New York City, in order to attend a writing class. To put my body and mind in the same place, at least once.

In comparison to what I was expecting, my reality in New York was a failure. The writing class I was attending was exciting, but not in the way I had imagined back home. I was not able to finish my essay, despite the 10 weeks available. I actually started to see people I was meeting and hanging out with as trapped in a dreadful bubble — I was feeling trapped in there too. My small budget didn’t allow me to get and do the many things I had in mind, therefore I ended up spending more time on Netflix and Hbo Go or reading a book than with real people.

Greta Gerwig in Mistress America

The more I stayed in New York, attending events, talking about writing and hanging out with people, the more I was conscious of the things I was not doing, the people I was not meeting, the essays I was not writing, the events I was not attending.

I was feeling snared in a big prison with the letters F.O.M.O. engraved on the entrance.

A crowded prison, attended by people my age, coming from upper New York State, Australia, Portland, Philippines, Chile, all motivated by wanting to get a bite of the Big Apple but trapped in the constant comparison with others. Trapped in the comparison with people born with privilege (or what we perceived as privilege). A tricky comparison made impossible by its precondition: we had not been conceived or raised in the city, some among us were not even mother tongue English-speakers. We were not them. 
We were us, but we wanted something we couldn’t get. Their identity, their voice, their way of thinking, their culture.

I had taken that flight to find ideas, clarity and myself, to satisfy my thirst of American culture, but the road I found myself walking was even steeper. I was too focused on staring at others (and at their Instagram accounts) to become aware of where I was putting my own feet.

Milan, when I came back, was grayer and uglier than ever before. It was not cool. Why had I desired so intensely to come back home and was now that dissatisfied?

It took me a while before I finally got it.

My life in Milan, in the last few years, especially since I started working on social media full time and then freelancing, has given me an infinite number of opportunities to look for inspiration and ideas that I was not seeing in my daily life.

When I was working as a social media editor behind a desk, 9 to 6, I used to spend every minute, every moment free of work-related duties to read articles and essays written in English and published by English and American magazines. The number of open browser tabs, despite my constant reading and exploring and saving articles on Pocket, has not decreased since then. On the contrary, they have been accumulating over time, slowing down my laptop, fueling my mind and my eyes with situations, images and arguments that didn’t belong to my life. They have kept me company and they have helped me face the boredom of my everyday job.

Without pushing the comparison too far, I got sick of “bovarism”. If Madame Bovary’s addiction was one of love and romantic adventures she wasn’t living, I was addicted to observing young, good-looking and smart young women who always were, to my eyes, perfect. Compared to them, I was just another girl from nowhere who had everything to learn and nothing relevant to say.

Coming back home was hard, dramatic, a harsh return to my everyday life, with all that moments filled of silence and boredom. But it was also my first chance to learn that I’m this thing right here.

An Italian girl, a girl who lives in Milan and was raised in a small town by my family and by a huge quantity of MTV videos and movies (95% of which were American).

An illustration by Veronica Zi

A girl who has always wanted to be perceived (by others and myself) as cool, different, the one who knows more than other people, but who’s actually shy, clumsy and insecure as before.

Since I put these things together, I stopped wearing the makeup I was imitating from Instagram girls and I started looking for inspiration outside of the bubble I trapped myself into in the last years. I consider myself in a detoxification moment. I’m not detoxified yet, but I’m trying to hold less expectations and to stop comparing myself to the too many things I read and images I observed when I still did not have the tools to distinguish fiction from reality, the cautious craft of self-presentation and truth.

I have come to accept that, although my journey was not what I was expecting, without this experience I wouldn’t have understoodthe profound difference between reality and projection of reality, between living and experiencing a place firsthand and seeing it filtered by a screen. Thanks to this experience, I have found ideas, titles, advice, people, whose value I wasn’t 100% aware at the time, but that I now see as essential for my growth. I have understood that the problem is not the place that you find yourself attracted to, but the aim behind the departure. The trip. The sacrifice.

I have found the time and energy and certainty to restart Collage Mag, today.

Without any big pretense.

On Medium, this time, to have as little preoccupation as possible, and to give you the opportunity to follow us without being forced to pass through the messy noise of social media. Without any fixed frequency of publication.

We’ll take on one topic a month, starting from perfection, with a mixture of personal experience and tips that I hope you’ll find useful.

Because everybody has some images in mind, coming from our imagination or a screen or a book, that doesn’t correspond with reality and nevertheless influences us and our actions, distorts our perception of real life, even for a brief moment. It could be the image of our adult selves that we had when we were children, an image that we see changing and transforming and distancing every time we think we’re finally getting there.

It could be the image of the perfect job, that isn’t that satisfying once we finally get it. Or it could even be the image of a body, that we think we should resemble, without even knowing why, without even knowing if getting it means being more happy or just feeling eager to reach a new ideal, a new balance, a new goal.

In the Flow Magazine Mindfulness Workbook, there’s an excerpt that I find meaningful, related to Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection book.

‘Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception — we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable — there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.’

I hope you like this imperfect project. In case you don’t, I can’t help that.

[This personal essay is a translated version of another one, written and published in Italian. You can read the original essay here. Thanks to Brian Grieco for the proofreading]

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