In this article, we thought to share these words by highly talented and productive graphical designer, sound designer, composer and former Marine – Darin Leach from the US. Having fought in the Iraq war, back and forth two tours, there was one thing that kept him going, his deep thirst for creative expression. In the middle of the war, Darin would listen to music and create it, constantly taking him back to a world of creation and not of chaos and war.
Here are his words on why, exactly, creativity matters.
It has helped me get through war (twice) and work in the careers I’ve always dreamed of.
What was on the musical menu for tonight? Maybe some drum and bass? Or perhaps The Chemical Brothers or The Animatrix soundtrack (watch this movie if you have not seen it!). Pressing play would suck me out of reality and place me into a world of my own design. This time was also heavily used for study. What sounds, synths, chord arrangements, etc are my favorite artists using? I would take a mental note of each sound that inspired me and make it a point to try and recreate them on my banged up laptop which was waiting under my bunk back at base. It was missing half its keys and every crevice was filled with sand but it got the job done. I’d spend those passing hours in my turret reconstructing soundscapes, envisioning the knobs and parameters that I would need to manipulate in my favorite music production software in order to achieve such sonic elements.
Here’s an example of the music I made while in the sand pit, but did not release until years later:
A little backstory: I’ve been completely passionate about electronic music since I was a preteen, it was the only skill I was semi-decent at for a very long time. But most importantly, it was my escape. I hated school, was not athletically inclined, and lived in a small town. So options for mentally stimulating activities were limited. Music was the sole purpose I joined the Marines. I wanted to go to music school and the G.I. bill was my best option for doing that (at the time). My main motivations for joining were not patriotism, anger, or a sense of duty. We can go into my disapproving views of the military, war, and government later, one does not truly appreciate the idiocy of it all until you are part of it. Without having my inner musical world as a distraction, I would have left the Marines and two tours to Iraq a much different person, in all the worst ways. War is 90% soul-sucking boredom and 10% panic-filled chaos. Not surprisingly the boredom can wreak just as much, if not more, havoc on one’s mental well being.
There were many of these nights filled with ipod listening, stargazing, sessions from my turret. Some ended with me accidentally falling asleep and smashing my front teeth on the cold steel of my machine gun. But others were more drastically interrupted with moments of pure adrenaline, and thoughts of “will I make it?”. The good news is I did make it and more or less unscathed.
So what’s the thing that saved my life? Creativity. My ability to mentally withdraw from my current surroundings and be engulfed in an environment of happiness, focus, and mystery. If you can learn this skill, the art of letting go of your current emotions/thoughts and focus your attention on a creative task, then you will have achieved a state of enlightenment in a sense. Being creative builds new neural pathways in your brain, helps in overcoming trauma and pain, teaches you to express your individuality, and fills your life with a sense of purpose. Many reading this including myself, have, for most of our lives, been taught that creativity is a trait that one is mostly born with and some things just can’t be taught. This idea is shockingly incorrect and destructive. This newsletter is aimed towards helping you connect with your inner creative. Just like math, football, and chess, creativity is an acquired skill that is trained and nurtured. Noticeable creativity is not devoid of hard work. If you want to be recognized for your talents and skills then it requires sweat and elbow grease. You have to put in the countless hours refining the perfect poem, rearranging the chord structure of a timeless song, adding the final brush strokes to your Mona Lisa, assembling a movie set, developing a scientific theory, writing the next best selling novel, starting a business from scratch, inventing a new product, and so on. Yes, all of which require a massive amount of creativity. So many people’s excuse for not pursuing a creative lifestyle can simply be attributed to laziness. Isn’t it more probable that the track you uploaded to SoundCloud did not get 10k plays because your marketing skills were lacking, not because your talents and creativity are inadequate?
What’s the biggest hindrance for people when thinking about trying out a new creative skill?
Themselves. We all have the shoulder gremlin that says,
– I could never do that.
– I’ll never be as good as “insert name” so whats the point.
– My painting got laughed at in middle school. I don’t want to be embarrassed again.
– I was told that being an artist is an irresponsible pipe dream and to focus on getting a real job.
Let’s address these.
I could never do that.
Why not? I can confidently say that 99% of the time you will invent excuses for not doing something rather than having legitimate reasons. Do some self analysis into why you may think that and typically you’ll be able to trace it back to a person or event that affected you negatively. Once you identify the source of this self-defeating mentality then you’ll be able to discard it and start creating without holding yourself back.
I’ll never be as good as “insert name” so what’s the point.
The only one you should ever genuinely compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday. Are you better today at your craft of choice than you were yesterday, last week, last month? There will ALWAYS be someone that has been doing it better and longer than you. Use them as inspiration instead of a reason not to continue trying.
I don’t want to be embarrassed again.
EVERYONE has an opinion and are anxiously dangling off the edge of their seats in the hopes of having a platform to express them. One thing I did which made the public reveal of my work more bearable was to analyze whatever critique I was given and determine if it was constructive or useless babble. Comments in the realm of “that’s stupid” or “I don’t like it” are meaningless. Unless I get actual advice on how to fix whatever the issue in question is then I don’t give it the time of day. Even something along the lines of “that lead synth is like an icepick in my brain” or “your drums are off time in this section”. Pick any insanely popular YouTube video and scroll through the comments. Guaranteed it will be jam packed with negative reviews, anger and disgust, but yet somehow the creators of these videos continue to press on and release more amazing and popular content. You’ll never be able to please everyone all the time. Just do you, booboo.
Being an artist is an unrealistic/irresponsible dream and you should focus on getting a real job.
What is this, the 1960s? This typically comes from the mouths of people who have “real jobs” and are miserable with their cookie cutter, assembly line, 9-5 existence. Jealousy and fear of the unknown are the only factors behind this type of mentality. We live in a rare moment of time where we don’t have to do what our parents did. Getting a “real job” didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel, predict string theory, or swim from Cuba to Florida nonstop (Diana Nyad).
Long story long, if you haven’t pushed yourself to learn something new in the creative realms recently… go do it. Even if you’re a seasoned musician/artist/coder/graphic designer, it’s amazing to discover how much your main craft will benefit by learning other creative skills.
Hope you guys can relate to some of these things in your daily battles in life. Always remember to never lose faith in yourself and keep creating – even if you find yourself in the sandpits of a real war.
Until next time!