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5 Years of On My Canvas: What I’ve Learned

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Thank you for coming along on this journey with me and supporting me always. 

If I have learned one thing in these five years, it is that the joy of creating should be enough. When we work hard and persist, we arrive at the goal, destination, or prize we have our eyes on. The much-planned trips happen, articles get published, and ideas materialize. Whatever we start, gets over, and we are left to chase, manifest, and learn new things. Throughout the journey, the only thing we can rely on is the process itself. The hoisting of the flag on the summit might take a moment, but the tiny baby steps are ours to savor forever and ever again.

In the past year, my partner and I have driven from the Himalayas to my home in Uttar Pradesh to my partner’s home on the West coast of India to Pondicherry on the east coast where we have been for ten months (unbelievable almost). These journeys have taught me to enjoy the process of getting to one place, finding a roof above our head, and putting in our pants, pillows, and pens. 

If I wait for that perfect moment when everything would be in its place, people will be nice, and I will have a quiet corner, then that perfect moment and days come and go but I am not able to relish them either. Because how you do one thing is how you do everything. If I can’t enjoy the process of making us belong to one place, I can’t enjoy belonging to it.

We have to stick to the path, do what our heart intends for us, believe in ourselves, go on, be patient, polish our work and our art, give it our days and nights, we set our course right if we have to, we make sense and meaning of who we are, and we become the crystal through which light shines through.

a pondicherry woman selling fruits and vegetables on the street
the glory of Pondicherry

That brings me to the burning question. Would I write if no one was reading? Would I write if I couldn’t sustain from writing? Would you do what you are doing if there was no money involved?

I am sure if no one was reading I would have still written an unedited journal. Like the one I buried myself in every night when I was only in fifth grade. Even if there was no money involved, I would have written in the hours left over from earning my sustenance.

Even now my blog doesn’t support me completely, yet. But I am looking at these beginner years as an investment in writing, the blog, and the journey I have embarked upon. After all, I am a computer engineer by education and have no formal training or background in writing. Beyond what I earn through the blog, I make money through freelance projects. I pay my bills, blog’s expenses (which it covers itself), insurance premiums, one-off expenses (such as our car), and keep myself secure through investments. 

Of course, juggling freelance work, On My Canvas, and creative writing isn’t easy. Even individually, on their own, all three are some of the hardest things I have ever done.

Everything I do to keep this blog running — writing, reading, editing, thinking about ideas I want to share, narrating what I have learned or failed at, noting my dreams, conversations, and events, remembering the past to make sense of it now in the present, putting my journeys on paper, and taking photographs — they pull me in immensely. 

But writing is still hard. As hard as it was on the first day. Maybe even harder on some days because once you have dived you know how deep you can go. (What is good writing?) 

I recognize the process, and the familiarity with the process is comforting — I know after hours of staring or scribbling or stressing, the words will take a nameless shape. An idea will be sown in. Hope will trickle in. Life wouldn’t seem so hard anymore. 

But knowing that suffering is inevitable doesn’t lessen the pain. Turning thoughts and experiences and people and landscapes into a few paragraphs and then the first draft and research followed by many many rounds of editing and reading aloud and publishing and so on seems endless (my creative writing tips for travel writers would help).

The path I walk isn’t easy. I hit roadblocks. I get tired every day. I want to run free multiple times in a few hours. The stories don’t want to be told. My memory tricks me. Places lose their impression over time. People don’t seem so interesting. Were they so warming or I have imagined it all? While thinking of the lessons I have learned, I am buried in doubt. Did I learn something or am I making up stuff?

I stutter many more times than you might expect a five-year blogger to. But throughout the climb, the one thing that remains constant is the need to share. That makes me plod along. That keeps me up at night. That wakes me up when the bird calls. That makes me put word after word. That thrusts a book in my hand every night. That pushes me to go deeper and deeper through the layers of my own being. (Here are some other creative rituals I follow). 

I want to write because many things make me stop in my tracks — the little flowers on the grass so tiny that apart from beetles probably no one ever sees them but they are still so perfect; the goosebumps I get when I think of the underwater creature in the movie The Shape of Water falling in love with a human; that poetry about the falling of the leaf and the poet not dying in the many times the leaf shook; the countless moments when someone took my hand in theirs and looked into my eye and my heart jumped up into my throat; when my father extended his index finger toward the little me to hold on our walks — I want to say something about all these things that give this bizarre life some sense while showing how we are part of something much, much larger than us.

Proust once brought home impressions of a roof, the sun’s reflection on a rock, or the scent of a path, they had made him stop in his tracks because of the particular pleasure they gave him, and also because they had the appearance of concealing, beyond what he saw, something they invited him to go take and which he couldn’t, despite his efforts, discover. Although he couldn’t understand why, they had seemed full, ready to burst open, to reveal to him this thing for which they were only a covering, a lid. He was under the moral obligation imposed on him by those things — urging him to try to perceive what lay behind those impressions. 

Much like Proust, the obligation and urge to unravel, see, and share is what got me started and that is what will have me go on.

the bizarre perfection that life is. Eating a pomegranate from a Himalayan orchard around this same time last year.

Day by day, with thicker skin and more confidence we march. And if we fall, we get up. I read somewhere that we have to just get up one more time than we have fallen and there are fewer things I have read more useful and undeniable. Success, whatever that is, is closer than we think it is if we keep going.

When I started I had thought I will have an awesome blog of such and such kind. On My Canvas kept evolving and now I know what I have is what I have always wanted. The past five years — much like the time I had gone to study in the town Kota far from home when I was fifteen — when I had found myself the only girl in the big banking team — when I had been traveling alone through the world— has nothing been like I expected. 

But one thing is common in all these journeys and that is I have emerged stronger out of all of them. And that is the only hope worth having. That the constant beating bends us into any shape that is ready to take us before hardening us into iron again.

5 Lessons from 5 Years of On My Canvas

  1. the joy of creating is the only sustainable, worthy, and progress-inducing joy
  2. judge less, try to understand, and show compassion, always
  3. once, perhaps, I was here to preach my better ways. now I am here to make sense of things, and, in the process, make it a little easier for others. 
  4. patience is the strongest virtue of a human being
  5. I not only write for the joy of creating but I want to give others the joy of reading that so many other writers have bestowed me with. I consider it my payback to the universe. My contribution. The seeds from my being.

Recently someone asked me if I was living joyously from moment to moment. And I said, “I am. I am happy. Once I wasn’t and I made a new life around the things I like and now I wouldn’t change a thing. I am as happy as I could ever be.”

And I was telling the truth. I would do nothing else apart from reading and writing and wandering all day. From where I see, the path ahead is rolling, immersive, and long. And I am buckled down for whatever comes along. 

As Van Gogh asked, what’s more artistic, doing it or not doing it?

Oh, there is also in sight a young tree, hope is smiling at me from bright blooms, life suddenly makes so much sense, for I have finally funneled the burst of words.

writer with her feet on the ground patted with flowers 5 years of on my canvas personal growth and travel blog
Creative Living at its best

What would you like to read more on On My Canvas? Share with me below.

Perhaps this is the perfect time to tell you about my carefully curated weekly newsletter Looking Inwards. Every week I send the best things I have written and read. You will also get personal updates about my life as an itinerant writer with offbeat travel photos and tips. The letter is a behind-the-scenes, if we may call it so. The writings I edit for hours and hours end up on the blog or different platforms on the internet. But in the newsletters, you will find what I read, listen to, or think while getting to the final words. And this process is as important as the result (if not more).

Seriously it is like getting a letter from me every week, except that it is by email. You can subscribe below.

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