Author: Sheila Kavanagh

How I lost my mojo and gained the world

‘Snap out of it’!

I’d had it said to me so many times, said it so many times to myself, too. My face always gave away how I felt, and even strangers in the street felt entitled to joke that ‘It’ll never happen’. The little observer who constantly sat on my shoulder used to whisper the response back, ‘It already has’. Everywhere I went, and let’s face it, you don’t go to too many places when you’re depressed, because everywhere leads to the same dead-end, and you always end up right back where you were before you set out, people were getting along with the ordinary ups-and-downs of daily living, and getting along with each other, joking casually with a stranger in the street, perhaps feeling entitled because the world was theirs. They communicated with anyone they liked, talked about the weather, joked about how what an awful day at work they had. Sometimes I listened to the hum of voices in cafes, buses, out on the street while I walked around, trying to find where I’d left my mojo. It had deserted me a couple of years previously.

I had been working as an artist, with some success. I’d had a couple of shows that had gotten good reviews in the press, sold nearly everything I painted, and was critical of, but fairly happy with how the work was turning out. Then things started going in the wrong direction. The muse just wasn’t visiting me anymore and the quality of the work was taking a nosedive. I painted away regardless, producing work that I could see was rubbish, flat and uninspired, with none of the spark of the paintings I had been doing when I was ‘on a roll’. The roll had rolled away somewhere and I began to wish I could roll away too, under a stone somewhere to rest up until my mojo came back. But I kept at it, hoping to force myself past the bad patch, hating everything I produced and hating myself for not doing better.

I had a show coming up, and it sold badly; the gallery’s clients obviously were as discerning about art as I was myself, and could tell the work was shit. The gallery closed up shortly afterwards, and I was left suspended, waiting for my muse to show up again.

There was no point to continue painting while I was feeling this way, I could clearly see that, and I thought perhaps I needed the rest, needed to get out and about in the world and have more experiences I could draw on before I could be creative again. I badly wanted to be a painter again though, and couldn’t see myself as anything else but an artist, and what is an artist good for if they can’t create art?

I lay in bed trying to sleep, and when I couldn’t stand the boredom of the bed, got up and walked around the city. I seemed to be behind thick glass, separated from other people, frozen in the same moment of time, while everyone else moved forward. I got further and further away from myself, as well as other people, as time went on, and the little person on my shoulder was the one who issued the instructions that kept me able to do an impression of a human being. It went on and on, and part of me grew more and more numb to the possibility of taking pleasure in anything, while another part moved further into pain. I cried constantly, and became afraid to have any contact at all with other people in case I’d start crying all over them. I not only couldn’t enjoy anything in my life, I couldn’t connect with anything, couldn’t make sense of anything, and couldn’t carry on. I thought about killing myself a lot, and tried to keep going by promising myself that if things didn’t improve I at least had a way out.

An acquaintance said to me once that being happy isn’t everything. It was a silly thing to say, since anybody who has ever been unhappy knows, you have nothing left once happiness is gone. As I was out on one of my aimless walks one day it struck me forcibly that I held a lot of beliefs about myself and my relationship to the world that were getting in the way of the happiness that should come naturally, and that if these things were getting in the way of it, they must be bullshit. The first bullshit belief I dropped immediately was that I was an artist. Yes, I’ve done some painting in the past, but am I an artist, or just a person who sometimes paints? All the other beliefs about myself dropped away as suddenly then as this first one.

By the time I got back home that day I was carrying nothing in my bag of beliefs about myself. The bullshit bag was empty, and my mind felt a lot lighter. It took me another thirteen years to be the happy person I am now, but getting rid of that useless bag of beliefs was the beginning.

I don’t paint too much anymore, but I enjoy looking at things, without the overlay of sadness that used to obscure them. Each day is a work of art, made without effort on my part, and I am part of that beautiful picture that life paints.

It’s a manic world. 

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