Slow Words in Italy

Slow Words founder Diana Marrone
Slow Words founder Diana Marrone seeks the “hidden poetry” in life. Photo courtesy of Danilo Capasso.

Venice-based Diana Marrone started Slow Words in 2012 as a hybrid of literary fanzine and readers club that celebrates poems, songs and a wide range of other creative writing. She describes it as a “very horizontal gathering” where authors share their work and meet their readers live while readers are encouraged to participate and express themselves. Marrone and I recently compared notes on how Slow philosophy influences our respective cultures in Italy and the U.S. In this Q&A, she talks about the Slow Words publishing philosophy, some favorite interviews, and the intriguing notion of “dandy resistance.”

What inspired you to start Slow Words: People and Stories from this World? How does the project relate to your personal identity, your life philosophy, and your other creative work?

I wanted to create a space devoted to the act of reading and exploring, with calm and with slowness. As per trade, I’m a journalist, a design curator and a media officer/PR [specialist]. Knowing the media from the production side of the industry, I’m often horrified to see what happens there. I wanted to stand for the dignity of the reader, for the non-profit side of life.

I wanted to trace the way people dwell at any latitude, to find and tell stories which will never be found in traditional media. I seek the hidden poetry in lives. From the migrant who told us about his path to viable freedom to the choreographer who changed his life as a biologist to follow his dreams… [Slow Words] focus on ‘worlds inventors’ who are turning words and signs into published works: poets, journalists, songwriters, screenplay authors, composers.

These portraits as a whole help me to configure how a ‘lateral’ mankind – buried under an enormous amount of fake models of existence – still persists. In its peculiar treats, two [traits that they hold] in common are slowness and ‘dandy resistance’. (Dandy resistance is a way of opposing something with a certain style, like a dandy. ‘Dandy’ for me is someone who chooses timeless and sometimes priceless options. Someone with a very detailed style coming from the Belle Epoque or a mod or a 1930ish look can be ‘dandy.’ It all depends on the spirit and personality of the person.)

I’m not alone in this venture. Many friends love this scheme of joy/truth dispensation and suggest people to interview. Many of them also conduct interviews themselves, with their own personal touch. A bunch of questions are always present: the book they are reading, the music they are listening to, their secret place where they go to slow down.

The palimpsest of Slow Words is of three types. There is a weekly suggestion (an interview, two poems, a short story — these latter often unpublished; we also launch a newsletter every Thursday). There is self construction via tags; readers can search for ‘American Poetry’ or ‘Readers’ Club’ or ‘Kraftwerk’ to open all the interviews or texts including [those terms]. The last path is a pictorial ‘choice’ which often involves exhibitions I’ve seen or special places I’ve visited. It’s a way to use Slow Words as a travel blog via pics and also to involve people who like long reads less.

Slow Words for me is ‘TV for those who do not watch TV anymore’. My preferred reading diet is to dream and think at the same time. Slowly, once a week: our stories do not have expiration dates.

What are three of your favorite interviews for Slow Words so far? Why did you enjoy talking with and writing about those people?

Let’s try to select a few (three is impossible!) from different continents and genders. From the US: the story of Galen DeKemper, a young indie publisher who comes from the skateboard culture and makes self-printed erotic fanzines of his milieu in his tiny Chinatown room. The interview took place in a very funny, cheap and strictly Muslim NY delicatessen. I had encountered his fanzines – called One Dollar Stories – in Paris in an art exhibition months and months earlier.

From Venice (where I’m based), two stories of unstoppable love seekers and romance addicts: Pascal, a French hairdresser who chose Venice as his ‘home away from home.’ And the story of Marco-Isa, a transexual engineer who changed his and her gender twice. If you follow our tag on ‘Venice’ you will discover a totally differently textured city than you would ever have imagined!

From Australia: the story of Tattoo Tim, a man who turned to be a life-size artwork. [Tim sold his own body to a collector, for display in a gallery both before and after his death.]

The last story is from the Middle East, about a Syrian screenplay writer and director, Soudade Kaadan. It was told during a special month dedicated to the ‘female touch’ in writing for cinema, in which we hosted stories of this kind from other places and genres.

Slow Food is such a popular movement in Italy, as well as throughout the world. What influence do you see Slow philosophy having on Italian cultural production, beyond food?

Slow Food is now a bit of an ‘emperor’ here in food and general lifestyle trends — including the learning system, with dedicated courses and universities. It has been great to instill in people the value of forgotten produce and to boost preservation of local food traditions. We hope it will not be too over-merchandised in the future.

There is a strong need for this approach in some areas of the world. Some European Union laws are de facto destroying local food traditions for the sake of a more standardized (aka industrialized) approach in the food industry. We stand against that!

‘Slow’ culture outside the Slow Food path and industry is still a niche. Of course, the slow aptitude is very far from mainstream in the news industry, too. There is something good arising from tour operators promoting the ‘slow’ approach in contrast with fast-mass tourism. Especially in lands like Italy, this choice helps preserve the beauty and livability of small centers.

Slow Words, like most Slow projects, is founded on the Internet and promoted through social media. Yet some people think Slowness is opposed to digital media, that it’s nostalgic or backwards-looking. How do you view the relationship between Slow Words and new technology?

Paper and distribution are really very expensive, whereas the Internet can give voice to many little makers.

Our online philosophy is far from the dominant internet advertising ‘chain.’ We do not advertise ourselves, except through word of mouth and genuine links with foundations, places, bars, theatres and festivals.

We’re on social networks but we never ask people to ‘like’ our page. We personally write to anyone who does like it, talking with them and asking why. It’s a lot of work. Why are we still present on social networks? We fish for readers: not for our metrics but for our core business, which is to restore the dignity of quality reading. We are glad for casual, slow encounters happening in a slow way through our website.

For example: An American nun who took care of a dying British soldier in a military base in Afghanistan found out he was still alive via our pages. He turned out to have become a successful writer, after healing: Harry Parker. She wrote him a fantastic letter after the interview was published because she wanted to find out about his upcoming book launch.

There was also a French publisher who read an unpublished set of poems by an US-French writer based in Italy whom we had interviewed. Months and months later they published the poems in a nice book.

The list is long. We are slowly enjoying such sparks of hope from our little, real, tireless window on this world.

Arianna Huffington Espouses Slow News Movement

First Slow Media, Slow Communication, Slow Reading… now Slow News and Slow Blogging?

"A world of too much data, too many choices, too many possibilities and too little time is forcing us to decide what we really value," Arianna Huffington writes in a recent post. "And, more and more, people and innovative companies are recognizing that we actually have a life beyond our gadgets."

It's telling–and no, not ironic–that a blogging behemoth like the Huffington Post recognizes the "longing to disconnect" from our "hyperconnected lives." Arianna suggests that an iPhone feature called Do Not Disturb designed to get you off your iPhone (?!) might offer some relief. (I'm a fan of just hitting the off button, myself…)

To give all props where due, let's also note that Politics Daily correspondent Walter Shapiro wrote an article a couple of years ago calling for a "Slow News Movement" as a "form of reader rebellion." Shapiro argues that meaning and context suffer in our faster-faster media culture, where people don't really have time to contemplate the information thrown at them.

"The news of government, politics and the world is too important to be instantly consumed like a shopaholic racing through a mall," he says. "Our democracy simply cannot survive if we fail to see the forest for the tweets."

Shapiro, who also clued me in to a hitherto-unfamiliar Slow Blogging proposal from Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post, concludes by asking readers if they really understand the world better by getting their news constantly in brief staccato bursts than they did 10 or 15 years ago, when news (even on cable TV) was packaged by editors.

So, do you?

The discovery of the digital tardiness (and my new nom-de-plume, Jennifer Smoke)

The German public radio network, ZDF, ran this great snail photo with its recent story about Slow Media, which follows below (as translated by Babel Fish).

On-line Filmer Kirby Ferguson wanted to deslag – mentally. Thus he did
not meals or alcohol, but without speed in the Internet. Slow Media is
called the movement from the USA, which sloshes now also to Germany.

The rules are clear: In the Internet surf is forbidden – exactly the
same as blog, News feeds, television YouTube, DVDs and Twitter. The
computer use and the multitasking are reduced. Maximally 30 minutes
private emails per day are permitted. Okay is " everything that ist" on
paper; , as well as radio, Podcasts, cinema. And a Hintertürchen gives
it: A daily Blog and Facebook update are permitted.

Ferguson brakes

It is an experiment, which Kirby Ferguson at the beginning of the yearly places itself. On-line
Filmer made of New York is " Digitally Native". He says of itself: "
Most of all I make everything gleichzeitig."

Facebook, Twitter, a blog,
YouTube, RSS feed – Ferguson goes through everywhere. And as like that
is in a Blog Facebook Nabelschauwelt: He observes himself thereby. And
it states that its concentration frays that its thoughts constantly fly
away to him.

Continue reading “The discovery of the digital tardiness (and my new nom-de-plume, Jennifer Smoke)”

I heart digital media. Really!

Somehow, people have gotten the idea that I hate digital media. I'm not exactly sure how this happened. Maybe it's because I write a blog about digital disenchantment. Maybe it's because I teach a class questioning the inflated role of communication technologies in our culture. Maybe it's because they heard my interview with Sally Herships on NPR about how I'm fostering a movement that encourages people to re-value offline media and get disconnected more.

For the record: I think the Internet is pretty neat. I remember the moment a few years ago when I looked at Google Earth for the first time, and felt dizzy. I just had fun launching a new website-slash-business-card. I did a video chat via Skype with my boyfriend the other night, and it was way cool. I'm even into online shopping, and e-banking, and streaming videos from Netflix and Hulu and YouTube, and all that jive.

Plus, I'm sort of addicted to this blog of mine. I have good discipline
and a busy life, so I spend most of my time doing things offline. But
if I were getting paid (conditional contrary to fact) to write about
Slow Media, I would totally love doing this every day.

Especially since one of my dearest friends just sold everything she owned and moved to Paris, I realize that we're lucky to have digital technology now for staying in contact. I lived in the south of France for a while in the 1980s and was really lonely, being completely out of touch with all my friends and family for long stretches. I also lived in Beijing for a while in the 1990s, and although there was an Internet, it was really slow (especially in China at that time) and phone calls back to the States cost $3… per minute. Living abroad must be easier now with e-mail, Skype, blogs, online photo sharing, iPhones, etc.

So don't think I'm hating on new communication technologies. They're super! I just think it's healthy to disconnect once in a while, to keep a good online-offline balance, and to be conscientious about the burdens that accompany these blessings and the analog losses entailed by digital gains.

My Slow Media diet: How will it work? For how long?

I've been referring to my pending experiment as a digital media fast, or something like that. I'm thinking, though, that terms like "abstinence," "avoidance" and "fast" focus too much on what's lost instead of calling attention to what's gained. Namely, the time to pursue a host of other things. It's been a long time since I read a novel… or practiced Chinese calligraphy… or baked a pear pie… or used my watercolor set… or went hiking on the Appalachian trail.

So why not a "Slow Media diet"? This phrase captures the idea of a regimen that excludes many convenient things, but includes many better things that involve some effort and imagination. It could be like giving up Cosi and making your own sandwiches or having one at a friend's house, instead — to stretch the food metaphor perhaps a bit too far.

I imagine that for purposes of the experiment, I'll pretend that
it's 1989 (one of my formative years, naturally) and permit myself to
use whatever media were available in that communication environment of
two decades ago. This includes landlines, faxes, printed newspapers and
magazines, books, radio, VHS tapes, records and cassettes, television
(provided its still broadcast), etc. — along with anything unmediated. Still a lot of details to work out here regarding how to define and delimit digital media, a tricky task since they've encroached on every facet of our lives.

As for the timeframe: I initially thought I would do this for just a
month, maybe over the summer break when it would be easier to "clear my
plate" of work obligations that require computer use. Lately, I've been
talking to some people who urge me to be more ambitious and give up
digital media for a year (easy for them to say! Maybe they enjoy the prospect of living vicariously through me).

really, the year-long "lifestyle experiment" has become pretty standard
in our culture. A year in Provence. A year of living dangerously, and
also of living biblically (that guy A.J. Jacobs has single-handedly built a cottage
industry of doing odd things and keeping diaries). There's the woman that didn't buy
for a year, the family that didn't use toilet paper for a year, and the woman who cooked Julia Child every day for
a year (leading to a book, movie, and long Netflix queue for The French Chef). I wonder just how closely they hewed to their own rules.

Could I avoid using any cellphones, computers or other digital
media for a whole year? Could you?

Continue reading “My Slow Media diet: How will it work? For how long?”