Choosing Our Canvas
I think people are born as blank canvases. As we grow up every decision we make is reflected onto those canvases. It isn't always a perfect picture. Sometimes we make mistakes and we have to fix them. The pictures we paint improve with age, our talents get increasingly better and then, when we die, it is because we have finally finished the masterpiece we have spent our entire lives creating.
I think life is supposed to make you feel something, to paint glorious picture about the person you are and the places you’ve seen and the people you’ve met, about the feelings they gave you, the ideas that could change the world, the battles you fought and the things you sold your soul for. One of the reasons I started A Portrait Of Youth, was that I was becoming increasingly aware that the portrait on my canvas, the portrait the world could see, wasn't the one I had in mind. I used this blog as a way to combine those pictures - who I was and who I wanted to be.
Do you know that feeling? The feeling of wanting to be one way, but everyone seeing you as someone else? I feel like we all have these ideas of who we are but that doesn't mean we can control the thoughts other people have about us. There are times in our lives that we want to change, to grow, to finally become the person we have been dreaming of being. But we have already created an identify for ourselves (or society has) and we find ourselves unable to embody the future version. We forget that at any given moment we have the choice to repaint our canvas, to paint over certain stories and create new ones. We are pigeonholed and molded into what we feel our canvas “should” look like instead of what we would like it to become.
For me, coming to India changed that. Being somewhere entirely new and foreign, a place where even the most basic actions – a trip to the supermarket or the pharmacy, ordering at a restaurant, or even negotiating the language – became deeply fascinating, trying, difficult. I became a total master of myself where no one knew me – I had no background or reputation in India. The eighteen years of identity I had painted for myself back home whether intentionally or unintentionally, were entirely null, my life a notebook with all its pages torn out.
It was only when I was given that blank canvas, and the choice to re-paint who I was that I was clearly able to see exactly what I wanted in my life. For the first time I could clearly see what I wanted my masterpiece to look like. I wanted my family. I wanted my friends. I wanted my faith. These three big Fs became the backbone of the portrait I started painting for myself. I'm pretty much who I was before; except for the crucial difference that these days, I look at my canvas - still far from being finished- and I think, yes, you're going to look wonderful someday.
Yet, now when I look at my canvas, I see a gaping blank space that should already be filled. I want to write about my faith. It's something that's been playing on my mind for a little while now; should I or shouldn't I? I've thought a lot, and I'm thinking yes, but honestly, I’m not sure how. I say I want to share a portrait of my youth on here, and now I'm realising I've been so, so neglectful in writing about one huge aspect of my youth. I simply haven't written about my faith at all. Maybe, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I started blogging aged 11, and honestly? I simply didn't know enough back then to feel okay talking about it. Growing up, I used to struggle with that age old question- who am I? I tried and tried and tried, and yet I could never quite find an answer. I was never 100% sure of who I was. What it was I believed in, what I held dear, what mattered most to me. I always came close to thinking I knew, but I could never quite speak with certainty about those things. My canvas was a mess of colours and the picture was blurry back then.
The moving away experience, although rife with existential crises and constant second-guessing, was possibly the best decision I ever made in terms of finding out who I was and what I wanted in life. I didn't realise how important my faith was to me until I found myself awaking early on Sunday mornings, not just because my mother was forcing me, but because I actively wanted to go to church. I didn't realise how much I needed my family until they weren't just down the hall from me and I had to repeatedly reach out. I didn't realise who my friends were until being in contact with them wasn't as easy as it always had been. Some made the effort,others did not. It was a valuable lesson in who was worth a place on my canvas. Only this year do I feel like the picture I'm painting has really become mine.
Often, it can feel as though we’ve no longer control of our own canvas, and although we know we can always paint over our canvas at any given time, we never do. Instead we pine for a different canvas, for the canvas we dream of. We're never sure how to do it, and yet we endeavour to paint a scene that’s inherently unique.
If that is how you feel - get away. Not everyone was born in the place they want to forever live and some were not even born in the same country. But you will never know if you are one of those people if you never take that risk. Go somewhere with nothing but your open mind and your canvas, somewhere where you are free from your reputation, your identity, and the circumstances you were born into. Go somewhere where you can control how you interact with the world. Through literature, journalling, exploring, learning the language, and befriending those who think about things in different ways from you, your canvas will come to life again. You won't even realise it, but soon you'll be painting the sort of canvas that you desired in the first place.
It is here, where loneliness gives way to freedom, where your imagination of the canvas you always desired coincides with reality, that you find that while loneliness is ever present, while freedom is ghost-like, and while it may be impossible to re-paint who you are, your worries, and your insecurities, you can, in fact, chose your canvas.