At a screen, I sit and stare.
I think and think, and despair.
Life, it falls in disrepair.
I have lost my mojo.
Topics, themes, I have many
Yet put in words, I can't find any
Even if, in rhyme, if only
I could find my mojo.
Worried 'bout my health, which fails me
Stressing over work that ails me
Restless nights that creep like snails be
Finding me my mojo.
I need something good and new,
Something pure and something true.
'Fore this doldrum makes me blue,
Forever takes my mojo.
(A poet, as you can see, I am not.)
In the past, writing has come naturally to me. I'm not a great writer, but I have been able to string more than two words together to convey a thought or an image. Lately, it's been a challenge.
For as long as I can remember, I've been able to tell stories, whether by fiction or by stretching the truth, to telling it like it is. From early memories of elementary school, where my creative writing had me reading stories to the younger grades, to being called upon each week, in sixth grade, to head to the front of the room to share my words.
In journalism school, I could succinctly report on current events and provide details of the news, but I seemed to thrive when it came to writing human-interest pieces. I wrote a three-part serial about a person living with—and later dying from—AIDS. Another teacher, not one of my own, read it and said to me, "if this doesn't get you an A+, I don't know what would."
The Ottawa Citizen asked to run the story.
When I joined a Centretown branch of Toastmasters, I wrote more than 50 speeches in my nine years at the club. The ones that I enjoyed creating the most, the ones that gave me pure pleasure in presenting, were the ones that enabled more creativity, that told stories, rather than just covered a topic. Years before my first blog post, I would create these narratives and give them out loud—not read from a page but performed, like a one-man show.
One year, when I had entered a speech contest, I had one of my only writers' blocks in Toastmasters. I couldn't come up with an idea for a speech. On the very night of the contest, a fellow TM asked me, as we were taking our seats, what I would be talking about.
"I have no idea," was my answer.
I was called up to the front of the room, and I was nervous. At least this will be a teaching moment, I thought: I can show the club members what it's like to crash and burn in a roomful of people.
The timer would begin at the first utterance or gesture, so I made sure to stand still while I thought of something to say. Jesus, Ross, you've never humiliated yourself in front of these people before. Don't do it now. You're a grown man: say something.
Only three days before this contest, I had celebrated my 40th birthday. I had been surrounded by friends from my early childhood days, from high school, and adulthood. A couple of people in this room, the people looking into my eyes, smiling, wordlessly encouraging me to speak, had been at that party. Forty years, come and gone.
"I'm 40 years old," I said, softly, almost imperceptibly. Only, the timer would have noticed. "Oh my God, I'm 40 years old," I repeated, louder, as the realization hit me. "What have I done with my life?"
I told them how, on my 20th birthday, a friend and I sat in a bar, celebrating, speculating on where we saw ourselves another 10 years down the road: a published author, married, possibly with kids, successful.
On my 30th birthday, I met with the same friend and we talked about how our lives had actually progressed in those 10 years. I had written books but had never had them published. I was married but without kids. I worked at the job that I had through university, that hardly matched what I saw myself doing, was hardly, by my estimation, successful.
At 31, I was depressed, because not only had I not accomplished many of the things I had set out to do at 20, but an entire year had elapsed since I had come to that realization, only to have done even less, since.
"Something has to change," I said. I needed to go down a new path, take a risk, flirt with failure. I left my job, moved to a foreign country (foreign in almost every way), a placed myself in a job that I had never tried before. I wrote, travelled, photographed, learned, and grew. I returned to Canada a different person than I was before I left. I sought a writing job in a high-tech company, bought a house, had kids, began to write more fiction. Joined Toastmasters.
Life hadn't turned out as I had planned, I told the staring faces, but it turned out in a way that made those young plans pretty shallow. My life was deep, rich.
I came in second place in the contest.
I had lost my mojo in the weeks leading up to that speech contest, but when things came down to the wire, I had found it again. It took the fear of failure, of utter humiliation, to bring it back.
In these past few weeks, I seem to have lost it again (just look at my blog posts from last week for proof, and did you see how much that poem sucked?). And, just as in my 31st year, as I realized that something needed to change to help me rise above my current state, to find that mojo, I now find myself in need to do something different, again. I need to take a new direction. Twenty years later, new directions are more frightening than they were when more options presented themself.
But I'm willing to try.
I need to find my mojo again: please stand by...