Creative Asphyxiation

by Rod Rodriguez

“What’s the point of going out? We’re just gonna wind up back here anyway.” 
Homer Simpson

Lately my creativity bandwidth has been about as strong as the Starbucks WiFi sitting outside in that little spot where the sun’s glare always manages to reflect off your computer screen an all you want to do is update your Facebook status but your downloading at speeds a 1992 version of you would be frustrated at. My creativity choke point isn’t for a lack of trying, but attributable to what I believe is a whole lot of exposure to nothing. Not nothing, but the same kind of everything for 14 months can feel like a whole lot of nothing.

I’ve been deployed as a contractor overseas for about 14 months with two very short breaks. During those breaks, I found myself motivated and focused to do big things with my business, my podcast, my relationships, my partnerships, it was like a veritable explosion of these needs to create and grow. Then I go overseas and I find myself in this pattern of daily life that consists of going back and forth to work for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and living in an area the size of a city block. The most stimulating part of my week is Sundays when the dining facility serves mixed fresh fruit. I’m almost ashamed of how giddy I am to eat the melon, grape, blueberry, and strawberry medley every week, it’s become my equivalent of tally marks on the wall counting the weeks.

The monotony and repetition goes beyond stifling. It’s like slowly drowning your creativity; sometimes it claws its way to the surface and gets a big breath full of air but then the environment pushes it back underwater and you know that you can only do this so many times before it dies…or gets permanent brain damage and now your idea of creativity is humming a familiar tune in a different key. This creativity asphyxiation for lack of a better adjective sucks. It sucks the life out of you, it sucks the energy out of you, it sucks the fun out of you. Sucks.

Don’t think I haven’t tried reading books, surfing the internet, finding quotes, or appreciating the sunrise and sunsets over the barren landscape of the Kuwaiti desert or marveling at the snowcapped mountains of Afghanistan. Sure, there’s beauty and inspiration in a lot of places but those places turn on you after a while. When you’ve seen the sunset for the 30th time over the exact same horizon or walked down icy steps and peered up at the same white snow-covered mountain for the 100th time, it loses its majesty. It begins to feel like these sights that should evoke wonder are now mocking you, taunting you with every new person that comes up beside you and says, “aint that beautiful?” and you have to resist the urge to tell them to shut up. Looking for inspiration is like going out to find a surprise, it’s not really a surprise if you’re looking for it. Inspiration is in its best form when it just happens and that at least for me requires movement, freedom, people, places, new experiences.

So now I’m a few weeks from returning home and I’ve been feeling the gears turn again. It’s like an old rusting machine that’s slowly turning back on and moving in that way old machines do with the sound of scraping metal and a deep clunking that resonates down to your bones. This writing entry is evidence of my surging creativity, proof that my mind is coming back to the frame of creating, imagining, goal focusing. Maybe this is the mental equivalent of getting your head kicked in at one of those martial arts monasteries where the monks beat you with sticks, make you climb icy peaks, and try to convince you that Gotham City is in need of a culling and only you can lead the League of Shadows…that’s probably the plot to Batman, but you get the point.

Maybe hardship is good for creativity, maybe what didn’t kill it will make it stronger. I like to think that my return will ignite a string of innovation, projects, and new ideas. At the least I look forward to a sunset over a different horizon, a sunset that doesn’t make me want to punch people in the face when they wax poetic about its beauty. I’ll probably still want to punch them in the face, but I hope to find creative reasons for wanting to do so.

Rod Rodriguez is a 13 year combat Veteran of the US Army. He holds a B.S. in US Intelligence Studies and an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling. Rod is also the host of The After Action Review (AAR) Podcast, a show dedicated to Veteran entrepreneurship. Visit the The AAR Podcast Facebook page and