Reflections on seven years as an India traveller and writer
The seven year itch
Follow my South Asia Sojourn from October 2012 to May 2013 — a six-month blogging trip through India, followed by a search for my family roots in Ireland. Subscribe to Breathedreamgo in the “Get updates by email” box to the right. Join the Breathedreamgo Facebook page; and the Breathedreamgo Twitter stream (hashtag #BDGIndia).
Over the course of the last seven years I have gradually and completely changed my life. It now revolves around travel in India and writing about my travels in India. I have discovered I love to tell stories — and India is of course a land of stories — and I have discovered I have an affinity for India. Since landing on December 6, 2005, I have felt a deep and uncanny connection to India. In many ways, it seems more like home than home.
Quite often, especially on social media platforms, people remark to me about how lucky I am to have this lifestyle. And they congratulate me on my “success.” To be honest, I wish I always felt lucky and successful! In fact, sometimes I feel I have worked hard for very little. Like everyone, I have my dark moments, my doubts. Just now, I am writing this in a soulless hotel room, feeling very alone, in a city in India that I don’t feel any love for with no friends close by.
Of course I know I am lucky to have the opportunity and the skills to pursue the life of a professional travel blogger. If seven years of travel in India have taught me anything, it is how lucky I am to have had the upbringing, the parenting, the nutrition, the education and the opportunities I’ve had. To be born a middle-class Canadian in the later years of the 20th century is to have won the lottery of life.
But that’s exactly why I take my life and my responsibilities so seriously; why I see life as precious, and to be valued, not wasted. It’s because I know how lucky I am.
Nevertheless, the road less taken is not always easy. Perhaps it is easier than sitting in an airless office, feeling the life draining from me (which is how I felt when I worked in public relations for a big company).
The truth is that life is an exacting master. If I get to stay in five-star hotels and ride camels in the Indian desert; if I get to see the Taj Mahal at dusk and swim in the warm Arabian Sea; if I get asked to present “felicitations” on stage at a premier dance festival; if I am able to meditate in the cave of one of India’s leading saints — if I am able to have all these amazing adventures, there is a price to be paid.
For those who think I am having a free or easy ride, a reality check is in order. Here are my top three challenges, in no particular order.
Challenge #1: Work
For writers, it is the best of times and the worst of times. There have never been so many opportunities — and neither has there been so much competition, so few barriers to entry, and such low fees. Because of the Internet, the value of writing has basically been driven down to zero. Writers are now mere “content suppliers,” the lowest and least valued women on the digital totem pole.
Luckily or unluckily, I saw this coming. I had an epiphany a few years ago that if I wanted to FINALLY begin pursuing my dreams and becoming the writer I always wanted to be, I had better make a name for myself on the Internet. Aside from writing a best-selling book or a successful screenplay (good luck!), I saw no other way to succeed in this day and age. So I set out to launch Breathedreamgo …. and it has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I have never worked so hard in my life.
I have had to master skills I never thought I could learn; become more technically minded than I thought possible; and put in more hours than is healthy. I have put on weight, developed arthritis, wreaked havoc on my personal life and decimated my finances. And I still don’t know how to make a living as a writer.
If I had a dime for every email I got offering me opportunities to write for free or pennies a word, however …
The truth is, I find it demoralizing in many ways to try and make a living as a writer. To be paid so poorly for something that is frankly very hard to do well. To have editors ignore query letters I have slaved over. To have savvy social media marketers come up with ever-more-clever ways to get travel bloggers to supply content for free. Somedays, it feels like the world is in a conspiracy to screw over writers.
Yet this is what I was put on earth to do. It is not a choice, not a career — it is my vocation. So I feel compelled to find a way to make it work.
Challenge #2: Home
I don’t now about you, but I have never wanted to be homeless. Yet that is how I often feel these days. Yes, it is fun to travel. But it is also fun to come home.
Because I have never married — never found the right person — and never had children; because I have pursued a creative life, which has meant sacrificing income, I don’t really have a home. I rent a small apartment. It has stuff in it. But as of September 20, 2012 it no longer has my cat Sydney in it. After 18 years and 11 days together, my cat died just two weeks before I left Canada on this six-month trip to India. As if she knew. So now I really feel homeless. Sydney was, basically, my family.
Not having a home base makes travel perhaps a bit more carefree on good days; but on bad days, it makes it seem a bit more like a curse than a blessing.
Challenge #3: Money
If I had stayed in the public relations field, I would be making a very healthy six-dollar-figure income by now, and probably own a house and a car. Maybe even a cottage. I am at the age when many Canadians are planning their retirements and carefully assessing their assets and investments — and I don’t have any. My lifestyle, income level and assets/investments are at the level of someone half my age, someone just starting out. This would be fine if I were half my age. But when you can feel your body slowing down and your energy depleting, and you are basically starting over, it can be scary. What if I don’t have the time or energy to do what I need to do to succeed? That is my “dark night of the soul” question.
Leap of faith
Do I have any regrets? No, not really. There is nothing I could have done differently. I wish I had been kinder and more generous with my Mom. That is my only regret in life.
It was basically because of losing my Mom that I set out for India in the first place. I was distraught, inconsolable, over her death. In India, I learned to let go, to a certain extent, and accept her death. I have often felt her cheering me on from the “sidelines.” She always wanted to have adventures, but she never did. So I am having them for the two of us. But sometimes I think it is still my grief that propels me forward. Sometimes I am not sure what is motivating me to live so far out of my comfort zone that I feel dizzy.
I still have faith that I am following the path I am meant to be on; that one way or another it will all work out. But there are times — many times — when the path disappears in front of me, a cloud covers the moon, and I don’t know where to step. Those are the moments when the discomfort of living outside one’s comfort zone is truly felt Those are the moments when faith is truly needed.
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