By Trent Rentsch
He was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. A deep thinker, yet incredibly quick on the draw. Always ready with a joke; sometimes absurd, sometimes dirty, often thought-provoking. He was a student of human nature, absorbing the “tells” of another person’s body language and speech as easily as taking a sip of water. In the space of 60 some years, he traveled the world, meeting the rich and powerful, and leading a life few can imagine. And, the same week as Robin Williams, he took his own life.
The irony was not lost on those of us who knew him. He was a huge fan of Robin, and quoted him often. If you wanted to put a smile on his face, all you had to do was walk in his office and greet him with, “Oh Captain, My Captain” (Of course, yelling, “GOOOOD MORNING VIETMAN!” would get a similar reaction). I think that, deep down, he really wanted to be Robin Williams, but his road had taken him down the path of finance and management. He certainly had the Creative chops, even though he would argue that. In brainstorming meetings, he would zero in on an idea, and keep talking it through from every angle, convincing himself as much as the rest of us that it was “thee” answer. “Of course,” he’d end every tirade, “YOU GUYS are the Creative ones.”
He had been ill for a very long time. One issue led to another, and then another, and then, another. He was a tough guy; all the needles and procedures were nothing to a man who “grew up on the mean streets.” I cannot imagine how bad the pain had become in the end.
I’m still trying to find my footing. In one week, I lost my Friend, and then lost another Creative hero in Mr. Williams. I’ve talked in the past about doing what we do, while grappling with “real life,” but when it’s all said and done, the past few weeks of work have been accomplished with a combination of numb focus and unbreakable deadlines.
It’s complicated. As much as I admired my Friend, I am not so blinded by grief that I don’t forget how infuriating he could be. He WAS bullheaded, and often wouldn’t listen to the opinions of others… even while priding himself on his listening skills. We butted heads several times over the years, and now I regret that, despite the fact that he could be a real pain in the ass.
In the weeks before he passed, he didn’t come to the office much, but we would meet for coffee and conversation. For the first time, I began to understand where that pain came from. I won’t share the details; his issues were his and his alone, but the fact is that he had issues beyond his health… old, deep seated pain that became part of who he was. I was honored that he shared with me, and sad when I realized what he had endured.
We all have “stuff,” problems and worries and doubts and fears. Real or imagined, it doesn’t matter… they are real to us. Some are old, faded scars, while others are raw, gaping wounds, recently endured. All of them affect and change us, in ways big and small… often, in ways we’re not even aware of. That account rep that always “snaps” at you? Her Father had a hair-trigger temper, and endlessly lashed out at her as a child. That client that “insists” on repeating his phone number 3 times? He’s been worried that his memory is failing, and has to keep repeating numbers over and over to remember them. And that barista that keeps getting your coffee order wrong? She IS losing her hearing, and is terrified of losing her job because of it.
Since losing my Friend, I’ve been going through some reappraisal of my own, and I’m becoming more aware of my short-comings, especially those that impact other people. I’m also attempting to do something about them and understand where they’re coming from. I have a lot of work to do, but I have noticed that being aware of my emotions and what’s fueling them is giving me more self-control.
As working Creatives in the communications field, we have very personal relationships with co-workers and clients, and we all know the clichés… the difficult customer, the lazy sales person, the cranky Production Director (Really? Did you really think you wouldn’t make the list?). Maybe, just maybe, if we understood the reason behind “the madness,” we could gain some compassion for each other, and get on with the business of Creating great radio, rather than wasting time getting all worked up about all that BS.
Oh Captain, My Captain… thank you for this last lesson.