By Trent Rentsch
The ants were all traveling alone down their invisible path. There was a definite line they followed across the rail, but none of them walked it side by side. In fact, there was quite a distance between them, by ant standards. The only contact they seemed to have came when they would meet head to head, moving in opposite directions. They would pause at this impasse, look each other over, then do their best to continue around the other without deviating from the path. These were solitary ants, seemingly with no interest in socializing, working together for whatever unknown goal they all appeared to share. Maybe this is typical of ants these days. Lord knows that it’s been years since I had time to stop and watch the ants go by.
It was my first trip to Los Angeles and there were probably a billion new and exciting things I could experience. My fiancée and I had already explored the decadence that is Rodeo Drive, had enjoyed a cool one at Spago’s on the same bar stools where many celebrities had rested their best sides. We had even gotten tickets to a taping of Politically Incorrect to watch former Superman Dean Cain battle it out with Jerry Falwell. But the fact was that this was a business trip for Lori, and there were several hours for a couple of days when I would be entertaining myself. So, I’m sitting on the deck of our hotel room, watching the world and the ants go by, simply because I never have the downtime to “waste” any more.
Maybe it was the fact that these were California ants. From what I can remember as a kid in South Dakota, the ants were falling all over each other, 100’s thick, all trying to get to… wherever, to do whatever. Teamwork gone overboard, redundancies by design in a world filled with peril, where the odds are that if you send fifty to do a job at least 1 or 2 might survive to accomplish it. What was it that made these LA ants so independent, even when all the goals seemed the same? Why the isolation? Had it somehow become every ant for itself, and God against all?
I’ve usually noticed that creating is a lonely business, but now, as a freelancer with no real connection to any one radio station, I’ve found the true meaning of solitary refinement. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me—no scapegoats; no passing the buck. This is where it stops. I must admit, I don’t mind it. I never was good at being a part of a team. I was the last choice when choosing teams in gym—that’s probably where it started. It’s a short trip from the fat kid no one wants on their dodge ball team to the outside kid looking in come Junior High and High School time. The point is not poor, poor pitiful me. I just found myself dealing with most of life solo. It was what I knew, what I became comfortable with. So now, when I’m salesperson, writer, producer, talent, it’s a chorus of one that I can live with.
I remember the look on his face when I asked him how he got that weird effect on his voice in the commercial. I was brand new at radio, but my frequent trips to the music store had taught me that there were magic boxes available that could twist a sound into something totally new, and I hadn’t noticed one of these little wonders in the station’s production studio. Yet, somehow, the morning guy had created this weird, swishy effect on his voice for a promo. I had to know how! That look told me that either A) I had made him angry by asking, or B) a skunk had kicked in the studio a month before and the smell had just caught up with his nose. Finally, he just shrugged and said, “audio trick.” And that was that. The next few weeks I would waste hours trying to deduce his method, when all it would’ve taken was a sentence about two decks running at once… flanging, rookie, FLANGING!!!
Whether driven to it or choosing it as a way to maintain power, Creatives tend to go about their business alone. There are some acts of comradeship—this magazine is a fine example of that—but generally, the word sharing is not in the vocabulary of Creatives in this business. A chance meeting with a kindred soul rarely goes deeper than what mic they use in their studio… if that. There are those who are willing to let you tap into their fountain of knowledge… for a price. I don’t begrudge them that, but I also think that there’s room in our Creative Community for some friendly sharing of the wealth.
Guarding the secrets one has spent a career mastering is natural, but limiting. If you have a good idea and you meet another Creative with a good idea of their own, doesn’t it make sense to share, so you both leave with twice what you walked in with? I’ve been lucky to have a very good graphics intern this summer at my TV gig. As our station is 70% slideshow, we spend a lot of time doing graphic design. As usual, I’ve been mostly self-taught on the design software we use, while my intern has taken entire classes on it. It’s been a growing experience for us both. The program is huge, and we’ve both learned many tricks and tips about it from the other. I know it’s made me much better at the program, and I’d like to think that I’ve helped her learn more about it too.
We all march down the same path, all head toward the same goal. The great thing is that we’ve all found different ways to get there. The terrible thing is that we walk alone. When we do have the chance to meet at some invisible intersection, don’t be afraid to share.