Mental strength, and an exhibition

I enjoy the drawn-out psychological quagmire that is cricket, both one-day games and test matches. One of the appeals is in the equivalent of watching a train wreck in slow motion: the mental disintegration of a team or an individual player over the five days of a test match, or, even better, over a whole series. It is at this point that fellow players, commentators, coaches and critics bring out the phrase ‘mental strength’ (close cousin to the critical BMT, or ‘big match temperament’).

It must take an astonishing amount of mental strength to go through a bad patch in your chosen profession in plain view of everyone who follows the game. How you don’t break down and say “Oh god, I can’t handle this. I’m no good at this and what the hell was I thinking?” is beyond me. I say this because I’ve booked  an exhibition that is scheduled to open on November 20 at the Everard Read Gallery in Cape Town. Now this is, of course, jolly exciting and huzzah! for me for getting my painting career on track. This week, however, as the days count down (in my head anyway) and I think about how many paintings I have to get done by then (16 at present), my wheels have started to spin.

Most of all it feels as if a cold grey mist has enwrapped my cerebellum, muffling it in a pall of uncertainty, fear and anxiety and preventing any of my normal cheery and generally anxiety-free thoughts from getting through to me. I can’t quite tell if it’s my fear of success or its partner-in-crime, fear of failure (and I don’t know if I can distinguish between the two). But whatever it is, it’s an immobilizer. I sit down, I paint for 30 mins, I get up, I fidget, I eat something, I stare at my paintings, start something new, fold laundry, check a cricket score, look at the paintings, go for a walk, paint for an hour, start supper, paint … I’m uncharacteristically nervous and I don’t know what the right way to channel that energy is.

I swear this is the same as professional sport, when you can (presumably) get so caught up in the need to take wickets/score consistently that you lose sight of why you chose to take up your profession: loads of travel, outdoor time, test yourself physically, generate a good income, chance of success in the public eye and, of course, sheer enjoyment of the game. You might get so caught up in the pursuit of your career goals that at some point you could easily lose sight of why you took it up in the first place (the pleasure). This is the mental toughness bit. Because right now, I can see how giving up would make my present discomfort go away. Fuck the deadline, I am free! Born free, you cannot shackle me!

Of course, in the long run that won’t work out too well because I will have proven to myself that I am incapable of achieving a goal as simple as having a solo exhibition. When I say simple, of course, I don’t mean simple. I mean it seems like it must be simple because people are doing it all the time, all over the place and I keep getting invited to more exhibition openings. So it can’t be that hard, right?