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A woman’s voice

Mariellen Ward, travel blogger, blogging in Bhutan and India

Me, on the job as a travel blogger in South Asia (staying at the gorgeous Uma Paro in Paro, Bhutan)

For International Women’s Day: On being a female travel blogger

For International Women’s Day on March 8, which is also my birthday, I have decided to publish a very long post about how it has taken my entire life, an enormous amount of work and all of my savings (and then some) to find my voice and become a writer. And how this journey has been the most important of my life. And why travel blogging has played such a crucial role.

It is a woman’s voice, sire, which dares to utter what many yearn for in silence. – Elizabeth Barrett-Browning

Everyone writes and blogs for different reasons, and they each have different goals. I have always felt a little out of the general stream of travel bloggers, whose concerns seem important and valid, but often secondary to me. For me, travelling in India the first time, for six months back in 2005/6, was about recovering from grief and depression, and trying to restart my life.

International Women's DayIt was on that trip that I started travel blogging. Travel blogging for me is about helping me achieve my most ardent, most pressing dream: to become the writer I have wanted to be since childhood. And to do it in spite of a lack of confidence and support.

So please read on, when you have the time. It’s only one woman’s story, one woman’s voice. I do not mean to write for all women, or to make a political statement. I am not identifying as a “victim” — I think I’m very lucky to have been born in Canada, and I realize that every human on earth has struggles, a journey of life lessons, each unique. Joseph Campbell said, and I agree, “the privilege of a lifetime is being you.”

But if you relate to my journey, and learn something from my story, then it is worth sharing. Women are still struggling, all over the globe, to attain education, equal rights, freedom from abuse. But some of us luckier ones, born in Canada, have still had to struggle to find the confidence to speak up and be heard.

Becoming a professional

I am reading a lot of blogs these days on what it takes to be a professional travel blogger. And it’s great that we, as a group, are at that stage in our evolution when professionalism is such an overarching concern. The Professional Travel Bloggers Association was just launched, and I became a member; and I am an active member of Travel Blog Success, an organization dedicated to helping travel bloggers improve their craft (click on ad in sidebar more for more information). I am also the co-founder of Toronto Travel Massive and Delhi Travel Massive; and more recently, the #WeGoSolo movement to support and encourage female solo travellers. So I’ve definitely thrown myself into this world, and hope I’ve contributed in a positive way.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning female / woman poet and writer

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, writer, poet, traveller

But that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about why I became a travel blogger in the first place. When I look at blogs and bloggers I admire, and read thoughtful expositions on blogging, I don’t fully relate. Yes, I would like to be a better blogger, make more money, become more professional. But all of that is very, very secondary to my original goal and the guiding force behind my motivation: to find my voice.

Younger women may not be able to relate to my struggle; but then again, they might. Though I don’t like revealing my age because I think people tend to judge you, and that we live in an ageist culture, the truth is that I was conceived in the 1950s, and born in early 1960. In fact, I was born on March 8, which is now known as International Women’s Day. But I was born in the pre-women’s liberation era. My family expected my sister and I to clean up after dinner and “get your brother a glass of milk.” My dad taught my brother to skate, play hockey, drive the boat, and all the while neglected me, simply based on my gender. In fact, I developed earlier than my brother and was more capable, willing and interested than him in many of these activities (which may have been why he was more often a tormenter than friend). Of the cousins, I was the youngest: but I was still the one who stood up on water skis first.

Unfortunately, I suffered abuse in the family too, an abuse that took my voice away — because the elder, male relative made it clear that I was not to tell. And when I was a teenager, my father left our family and my mother, for another woman, and I felt deeply abandoned. And not once, but twice: after my dad’s relationship with the dreaded Dorothy failed, we moved in together. But then he left me again, this time for the woman who was to become his second wife — and this time I virtually had no where to live. I camped in my Mom’s basement — she had moved into a much smaller house with my younger siblings — and then quit school and moved downtown where I got a job as a waitress.

The Cinderella complex

I think it has taken my whole life to attempt to recover from these early disappointments, and especially the feeling of having the rug pulled out from underneath. One minute I lived with my family in a big house; and then in seemingly the next moment, I had no where to live. I was a very bright student, I skipped grades 4 and 8, stayed home almost as often as I attended school, and still managed to get some of the highest grades each year. I also was an avid and precocious reader — I was reading through the Charles Dickens oeuvre when I was about 10 or 12 — and showed an early talent for story telling and writing. I dreamed of attending university and studying the romantic poets, and Shakespeare, and comparative religion and mythology. I was always fascinated with the “mysterious east,” and drawn to eastern spirituality and mysticism, and loved reading the Tales of the 1,001 Arabian Nights.

Alexandra David-Neel, female / woman explorer and writer

Alexandra David-Neel, explorer and writer

But in the face of having to survive, and not having any family support, I had to abandon these dreams. I became a waitress at The Peter Pan restaurant on Queen St. W. in Toronto, along with my best friend Pam, and fell in with musicians, party animals and punk rockers. A few years later Pam died by hanging herself with a red scarf from a pipe in the ceiling of her shared basement apartment. Without Pam, the “party life” was over for me. My boyfriend at the time agreed to help pay for me to go back to school for journalism, a compromise field of study that would at least give me writing skills and make me employable. I had no passion for journalism; I enrolled because it seemed practical.

And then I started working. My first job was as an editorial assistant at a leading Canadian fashion magazine where my pride was insulted and my confidence shaken by having to pick up the editor’s dry cleaning and prescriptions. From there I went into public relations, where I made a lot more money and was frankly treated with more respect.

During the next 10-15 years, I worked at good jobs, mostly, but jobs I didn’t care very much about. And I started in therapy to treat chronic anxiety and recurring bouts of depression. Therapy uncovered a deep well of rage and insecurity stemming from my childhood and teenage years; and it also helped me to heal.

But then, in my late 30s, I was hit by a series of losses that left me in the deepest depression of my life. In a few short years: my mother died suddenly and my sister and I found her body (she had died in the night of heart failure); I had a bike accident and broke my elbow; my fiance left me, with an expensive wedding dress hanging in the closet; my dad died of cancer; and my sister married and moved out of town. I lost all of the main supports in my life, and found it very hard going.

To get out of the chronic depression, I threw myself into yoga and became a certified yoga teacher. While in yoga teacher training, I suddenly felt compelled to go to India. And this is where the next chapter of my life started.

The journey begins with a single step

Losing both my parents was a wake-up call. I was living alone, with my cat, in a tiny attic apartment and working as a freelance writer and editor in the financial field. My dreams and hopes were deeply buried. But the effort to get out of the grief depression, and the realization that life was ticking by — I was now in my mid-40s — lit a fire under me.

Freya Stark, female / woman explorer, writer, Arab expert

Freya Stark, explorer, writer, Arab expert

I deliberately started digging up and manifesting my dreams. Dream #1: Become a yoga teacher. Dream #2: Travel in India. Dream #3: FINALLY become a writer. A real writer, not a copywriter. A writer who tries to express what she observes, what she feels, what lies buried in her heart and what is most important to her; a writer who cares passionately about story, and trying to evoke a sense of place and capture a feeling of wonder. (Like Dervla Murphy and Sylvia Fraser, whose birthday is also March 8.) To do the kind of writing I admired, and always wanted to emulate, but never had the time, the support or the confidence to pursue.

All those many years I had writer’s block, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. Plus, I lacked skills and confidence. However, I gained skills from years of copywriting, and I gained confidence from the positive feedback I received about my writing on my first India travel blog, which was on Travelblog.org. My subject matter I found in India.

I finally found the combination I needed to unlock my life-long creative block: travelling in India and blogging. I truly fell in love with India, and India became my muse — the colour and chaos, the challenges of travel, the beauty of the architecture and the people, the heart-breaking scenes of poverty and of course the intense attraction I felt towards Indian spirituality, especially yoga. All of it inspired me, all of it was grist for the mill. And blogging gave me a platform, a means to write unimpeded, to try out ideas, to hone my skills. I didn’t have to rely on getting assignments from over-worked editors offering lower and lower fees, and tougher and tougher contracts.

I did pursue getting assignments for a few years, and was published in a number of leading magazines, newspapers and online travel sites. But over time, I found sending query letters to editors who never responded, coupled with the low pay rates and terrible contracts, demoralizing. I can’t bear to write a query letter now.

But the blogging kept me hooked because when I want to publish something, I write it, format it, add some visuals and hit the PUBLISH button.

Dervla Murphy author of Full Tilt on her bicycle

Dervla Murphy, traveller, adventurer, writer

Dharma bums

There’s a concept in therapy called “unfinished business.” If you don’t attend to it, unfinished business may create problems for you. At best, you may always find satisfaction elusive; at worst, you could suffer more serious consequences such as anxiety and depression; or physical problems, like the degenerative disc disease I have in my neck, the 5th Chakra, which is the Chakra of self-expression.

For me, finding my voice and becoming an accomplished writer was a huge piece of unfinished business. I had wanted to be a writer since childhood: I remember my mom saying, “I can see your name on a book jacket, just Mariellen, one word!” I had to do it, no matter what. Had to try. It felt like my life depended on it; that without overcoming the inner challenges, especially the challenge to find my confidence, my life would not be worth living. And when I discovered my love and talent for writing about India, it felt like dharma — like a sacred duty, what I was put here to do.

So I pursued it, with all my heart and everything I’ve got — to the point where I was so far out of my comfort zone I felt dizzy. And very vulnerable. I dedicated everything I had to this pursuit, all of my time and energy over the last few years, all of my money and resources. It took a huge amount of PUSH to get my creative juices flowing; it took everything I’ve got.

Then, suddenly, when I was in India in December 2012, I reached the end of the road. I went as far as I could on my own steam, and I felt largely satisfied. I suddenly knew I was not living a sustainable life, and I had to come home and face the many things I have been avoiding (such as an unstable financial situation and some unresolved grief) since dedicating myself to this somewhat quixotic mission.

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. – Mahatma Gandhi

My new challenge is to find a way to put a more solid foundation under me, though I haven’t felt like I’ve had a solid foundation since about the age of 15. I can try and build on what I have, a reasonably successful blog and a social media following — in fact, I have plans to remake my blog and create a travel & tour business. Or I can start new, with (I hope) a well-paying job as a copywriter, web editor or social media manager. Or perhaps another opportunity that I currently don’t foresee.

Author of The Rope in the Water sylvia Fraser traveling in India

Sylvia Fraser, writer and traveller, with friends in India

Keeping the dream alive

Do I regret running after a dream without proper funding or support; do I regret the enormous amount of my life force energy I have put into becoming a writer? Not a bit. But if I hadn’t done it, my regrets would be bitter indeed. I would always wonder, “What if ….”

I just wish I didn’t need to work so hard to release my voice in the first place. I wish I’d had the support I needed. And I wish the same for all girls.

So, on International Women’s Day 2013, my wish and hope for the girls and women of this earth is to speak up and be heard, to make yourself heard. Though you contribute just one small voice, every voice is important.

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31 Responses to A woman’s voice

  1. Neilanjeev Roy March 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Loved it…

  2. Andrea March 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Mariellen, what an inspiring and revealing post! Thank you for sharing so openly! I’m always amazed by people who are compelled to follow their dreams, despite their hardships, insecurities and lack of confidence. I think creative people just do it, no matter the consequences. The “maybe I’ll fail” is a constant voice in my head, but we power on, don’t we? I love your story of how you went to India and it changed your life and helped propel the life you’re now living. Happy birthday to you, I’m glad we’ve connected!
    Andrea (oh and by the way, I thought you were around my age…41)
    Andrea recently posted..Seriously the best peanut butter cookies in the worldMy Profile

  3. Amy March 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    This is fabulous. Thank you for sharing! I’m in my mid-40s and looking for my muse too, as I have sort of the opposite problem. Too much stability with a well paying job, big mortgage and teenage daughter. My short solo trips are my attempts now to find that muse, but like you, I’m looking for a new start. I just don’t know when I will have the courage to make a change.
    Amy recently posted..Dubai: Down Memory LaneMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 7, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

      We all have our own journey! A well-paying job and a teenage daughter sounds like heaven to me. Trust in the process, Amy; trust that if you open yourself up, and set your intention, the right time will come along … and then your job will just be to JUMP!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Finally, a perfect small hotel in DelhiMy Profile

  4. Shalu Sharma March 7, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Very inspirational story about you and your life. Its great that you are following your dreams and travelling and writing about it. You don’t have to reveal your age if you don’t want to. I am not in my 40′s yet but I don’t talk about my age. No one should ask you anyway.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Holi – Festival of ColorsMy Profile

  5. Vikram Gulati March 8, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    Beautiful post…..travelling truly broadens one’s horizon….good to learn about your positive experiences in India. Looking forward to reading more of your posts

  6. Merle Rosenstein March 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Hi Mariellen,
    Your story is truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing. Hope to see you at the next Travel Massive event or TBEX.
    Merle Rosenstein recently posted..Something Old – Something New – in CubaMy Profile

  7. Susan McNicoll March 8, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Thank you Mariellen. Every time one of us tells their story it becomes easier and easier for others to tell theirs, to understand we are not alone. We all have our journey and our struggles. I have not yet been able to get out there the kind of writing that I always thought I was meant to do. I somehow end up putting my energies to other projects, all important and necessary in my evolution, but not yet feeding my soul the way the other writing I am trying to do does. There are days when I still think I should just give up writing. I have been thinking this for decades. I am already in my sixties. One day I will die and the decision will be made for me! Until then I suspect I will just keep going towards the dream of the kind of writing I really want to do. Maybe I will get there and maybe I won’t but each step is one step closer. Good luck continuing on your journey. You have travelled far, figuratively and literally. You probably will always be fighting some remnant from the abuse and depression. I know I do. But keep fighting anyway. Every one of us has the ability to change someone else’s life. It is important to remember that.
    Susan McNicoll recently posted..Chronic PainMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 9, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Thanks so much for your comment, Susan, I really appreciate, and I can tell you understand. I totally agree that the more people speak up and are authentic about their journey, the easier it is for everyone. Also, I don’t think ti ultimately matters if you get to express your dreams of writing — though I hope you — what really matters is that you keep putting one step in front of the other, as consciously as possible.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  8. Vasu March 8, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    Hi ladies,

    Thought you’d find it interesting that Canada ranks 4th in the world in terms of a ” best places to be a woman”.

    http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/the-best-places-to-be-a-woman-right-now-055809809.html

    Bravo, Canada !

    How about the almighty US of A?? Waaay behind !

    “So how does the United States compare? While five of the world’s top 10 highest-paid female athletes are from the U.S., here women make up just 17 percent of Congress, and while government spending on healthcare is among the highest in the world, 22.9 million women still did not have access to health insurance in 2012 and 92 anti-abortion provisions were enacted at the state level in 2011. Approximately 24 out of every 500,000 women die in childbirth in the United states — nearly four times as many as in Norway.”

    How about India? As an Indian guy, makes me want to cry and hang my head in shame!

    • Mariellen Ward March 9, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Vasu. Women are slowly making strides forward just about everywhere, but sometimes it seems they are going backwards in the USA. I don’t understand.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  9. Kathy Mercure March 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Thank you Mariellen, I’m so glad to hear you have no regrets about your decision. It takes tremendous strength of self to know when it’s the end of the line.

    I too dream of India, sometimes so strongly it leaves me breathless. And I am also a storyteller who is a copywriter that for the first time in my five decades on this plain, understands there are books inside me waiting to get out. Maybe one day you will guide me in India and we will sit under a tree together and talk about how we got to this place.

    I look forward to continued reading of your blog.

    • Mariellen Ward March 9, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Kathy, that is a wonderful image you have painted with words, and I will pray that it happens! I know just the tree, too :)
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  10. Kathleen March 9, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    This is a wonderful post and the photos are all women I know and respect. I too had a dream when I was a girl to write a book. I told everybody I would. Then life got in the way and I did not write. Last year I started blogging and published my first book. That opened other doors for me and one day I hope to travel and write like you do. Like you say, I need to Jump! :)
    Kathleen recently posted..Food Friday: Women’s Day and PirozhkiMy Profile

  11. Ilona March 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Very brave writing and a gift to all of us who have much to say but haven’t yet found the courage or support to do so. I wish you all the best in this next phase and look forward to meeting up again.

    • Mariellen Ward March 11, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      Thanks for commenting Ilona, I appreciate it. I think since my birthday is on International Women’s Day, and because I live in a free country, that it behooves me to speak up about my real experiences as woman. Every voice makes the chorus lounder :)
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Life of Pi: Film and music shimmerMy Profile

  12. Thommen Jose March 10, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    Mariellen, I grew up with four sisters, was made to kneel down in the neat sun in Nigeria if I ever hit any of them. For whatever I eventually turned up to be, the biggest value my dad taught me was to be nice to women (even if they dumped me by the dozen!). I believe in opening doors for my wife and (step) daughter, pulling out chairs for colleagues, hazarding even getting laughed at, even by women, at times. Then, call it my kick, my cheap thrill. And frankly, it was really a rude awakening for me when I came back to India post-school.
    I have encountered sexual abuse in family, though I came to know of it later. As a grown up, I read about it every day; as a resident of New Delhi, I know today that two women are assaulted or raped every hour here. Then came the December 16th incident, seemed like most of Delhi woke up. The response fascinated me and I blogged about it, ‘Tracking the conscience tidal’ on Wanderink.com. Was it my way of getting over it? Coming to terms with it? Learning to live wiith it? I am yet to figure.
    Mariellen, you have done a fab job of getting a grip on your life, despite all that happened. I am not / never one for advice. Look at it this way: Feel sorry for your dad and brother who really missed an opportunity to know a fabulous, talented, warm person like you. Who lost! You should feel sorry for them, really.
    Okay, okay, am winding up. Nice posts… nice blog. I love it all. I particularly loved the use of women travellers, writers, of yore. Quite an inspiring device.
    Lets try and meet up next time you are in India.
    Thommen Jose
    New Delhi, India
    Thommen Jose recently posted..The Smart Traveller: Roam freeMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 11, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      Thanks so much for your comment Thommen. I was in India this winter, too, partially in Delhi, when the gang rape and protests happened. It was an awful time, and also exciting and heartening to see the societal response, that women (and men) are getting fed up of the misogynistic attitudes. I hope and pray daily that things will improve for the women of India.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Finally, a perfect small hotel in DelhiMy Profile

  13. Ruth March 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    Hi,
    Thanks for writing this post. I can really identify with a lot of what you expose hear. It is not easy to discover what you really want to do or a sustainable way to do it. Last year, I lost my job of 8 years and I am trying to find something different to do while working on some personal projects. I am trying hard to find something where I can use 100% percent of my abilities even when I feel pressured by other responsibilities. There is always light at the end of the tunnel so I keep working on what I feel passionate about. Hope you can develop more of your voice.
    Ruth recently posted..Discovery of the Week: Rocamadour, FranceMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 11, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      Thanks for sharing your struggles, Ruth. We do have to continue to feel positive, to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to never let go of our dreams. I went to see Life of Pi for the second time this weekend, and one of the strongest messages of that film (and book) for me is: never give up hope.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Life of Pi: Film and music shimmerMy Profile

  14. Shivya March 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    I admire the long road you’ve followed to get here, and your conviction. You are special, and this beautifully penned piece says it all. The end of the road (that December 2012 seemed to be) is just another beginning; you just don’t know it yet. I hope I’ll see you in India soon again.
    Shivya recently posted..Why I’m Not Celebrating International Women’s Day.My Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      I am very lucky and very rich in at least one regard. I have the best online friends and commenters of any blogger I know; and this is one of the best comments of all. And from someone who is a truly inspirational, too! Thank you Shivya. And of course, in your case, we are friends in real life too … and I have a strong hunch we are going to remain friends for a long, long time. I feel it in my bones.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Finally, a perfect small hotel in DelhiMy Profile

  15. Amie Michele Leroy March 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Thanks for this great post. As a woman living in Africa working to help women find their voices and speak up, I truly appreciate your words. Finding your voice as a woman can be difficult no matter where you are in the world. The only way to help other women find their voice is to find ours first.

    Thanks!

    Your voice is beautiful.and honest.
    Amie Michele Leroy recently posted..Stranded with God’s MessangerMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward March 12, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

      Amie, Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate it. It makes me want to do more — I would like to help other women speak up, too. Not aure what to do yet … I will think about it. Thank you for inspiring me!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Life of Pi: Film and music shimmerMy Profile

  16. Yesh March 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    Hi Mariellen,

    Your article really resonated with me. I grew up being abused by family too.I am now working on finding my voice and confidence. I realize this lack of realizing my own value is hindering me in becoming a successful writer and artist.

    Thank you for your article and blog. It is wonderful to read it.

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