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  • Writer's pictureVidya Shyamsundar

Finding My Way

Based upon the book that I read recently, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, I am working to create space every day by asking myself: What is important to me today, and which problem do I want to solve today?. Choosing and focusing on addressing that one thing from several items on my everyday to-do list has been rewarding. The thought “I do not have enough time” makes me anxious and overwhelmed. I am practicing prioritizing that one important thing, which helps me align my thoughts with clarity and focus. The rest I accomplish during the day is a bonus! For example, that one important thing could be setting aside a couple of hours to generate ideas for my new body of work, writing them on paper, and creating a design sketch. I could make a weekly meal plan, run errands and groceries, organize, and put them away. I could meet a friend at a restaurant and have a guilt-free two-hour lunch. Finding that one important thing is working well for me. I take a moment to celebrate it with gratitude and a smile rather than rushing to strike off the next thing on my to-do list. I want to stay consistent with this practice before I jump to introduce another one. I am finally accepting that the “either all or none” approach of mine does not serve me well in the long run. I am finding my way.

Savoring Moments

One of the things that I missed the most during the pandemic was the time that my teenage daughter and I had when I drove her back and forth between after-school activities. I was always fully present since there was no other noise around me except our interactions. I wouldn’t say that we had a pleasant conversation in the car together every time. Sometimes our chat resulted in arguments—other times, laughter and pure fun. No matter the issue, our principle was to apologize and make up before leaving the car. Some of our great memories include my daughter introducing me to her French song playlist, listening to a chapter or two of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and sharing our thoughts, talking about school drama, gender identity issues among high schoolers, and much more.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed the ride we had together on the way to her Wellness Check at CHOP. Her eyes lit up when I asked her to narrate the Netflix K-drama, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha since I had only watched it in bits and pieces. My daughter is a great storyteller, and we shared some beautiful moments talking about Hye-jin and Du-sik. I bought her favorite iced cold brew black coffee and dropped her off at school after that.


If I had the choice to watch a Netflix Series, a K-drama, or an Indian movie, my first instinct would be to pick the latter because of my cultural roots. If I were to go with the former, I might initially show some resistance, but I don’t shut myself off. As a matter of fact, I binge-watched the rest of the episodes of Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha with my daughter and my husband, and the characters and the town lingered in my mind for a while. As a child born in America, interacting with children from multi-cultural backgrounds at a young age made my daughter accustomed to different cultures, engaging with ease.

When I came to the United States two decades ago, I was afraid, insecure, and had low self-esteem -- a radical cultural change for a small-town girl from Southern India who was starting a new life in a foreign land. My husband always had my back and was supportive and patient. Being a vegetarian, it took me years to overcome my hesitancy to try and enjoy delicacies from various cuisines. However, my experience as a student pursuing a finance degree and working in the business industry created a learning opportunity for me to understand and integrate with the culture in the United States. A few years later, I encountered the joy of seeing the world with an artist's eye when I picked up my paintbrush for the first time in my mid-30s. I came to recognize that art has no barriers. Being a first-generation Indian American, I still fight hard to overcome my assumptions and judgments about how others perceive my work.


The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word perception as

Perception noun (BELIEF)

a belief or opinion, often held by many people and based on how things seem

Perception noun (SIGHT)

the quality of being aware of things through the physical senses, especially sight

Our childhood experiences, family, culture, and social norms shape our beliefs and how we perceive the world. I vividly recall my first attempt at painting mandalas. A few weeks after my decoupage class at the local art center, I picked up a paintbrush and began drawing symmetrical patterns in a set of 4”x4” canvas. It was simply the joy of creative burst that I experienced in mimicking the style of my mother drawing mandalas at the threshold of my childhood home.

“It is around 5.30 a.m. I hear the water sprinkles, followed by the gentle echoing of the straw broomstick striking the threshold of my childhood home. She is getting ready for her first-morning ritual before the first rays of the sun touch the ground. I walk to the front porch and lay my right bony shoulder blade against the frayed trim of our doorway with my arms crossed beneath my chest and lean my head over to see her make Kōlam designs. I watch her pinch rice flour deftly between her thumb and index fingers from a stainless-steel bowl creating intuitive patterns by joining lines, loops, and curves while the flour slips through her poised fingertips. I watch her body sway diagonally, bending her spine and face forward, and her arms stretch out to finesse her design with spontaneity and grace. The activity of making the Kōlam emanated a charisma that drew my eye into the Kōlam. I admire her creativity, patience, and the beauty of her flawless Kōlam design drawn with extreme precision and symmetry. She is the artist of our home, my mom.”

The past seven years of my painting life have been a blessing. During my short-term work experience as a part-time administrative assistant at the local art center, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe the different genres of art. I learned how an art show was curated, what was entailed in an opening reception, how people perceived art, and how artists shared their stories. It opened a whole new world inside me. I enjoyed art being a part of my life. I cultivated relationships with amazing artists who inspired me. Their support and encouragement kept me going, and I taught myself to paint. I am grateful for my experience as an artist showing and sharing my work, every art show I have been at, every new collector who walked into my life, and every viewer who enjoyed looking at my artwork. I have evolved and grown as an artist, exploring mediums, styles, and subject matter. I am where I want to be now. Although it took me time to listen to my voice, all the twists and turns I made during these years taught me valuable lessons. I have begun to recognize and celebrate my small wins.

Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. - Doug Firebaugh

Finding Wholeness, Mixed Media, 2022

Vidya Shyamsundar

Photo by: Michael Fleck

As the rain on a mountain peak runs off

The slopes on all sides, so those who see

Only the seeming multiplicity of life

Run after things on every side.

- The Upanishads (Katha II.1.14)

Peace & Namaste!


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