With all this Beatlemania going around (heavens — I forgot to get my flu shot!) I can’t help but remember that I actually was not as rabid a fan of John, Paul, George and Ringo as I was of Denis, Mike, Rick, Lenny and Dave. What? You don’t remember The Dave Clark Five?
Very possibly their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show — two weeks following the Fab Four’s — marked the moment in my life that I first fell for The Underdog. I was well aware in my 9-year-old brain that The Beatles were “killing it” and I wanted to comfort Dave and his buddies with my support and allegiance. “Dave’s the boy who beat The Beatles” was my war cry, a headline I’d seen in Sixteen Magazine alluding to the fact that the DC5’s hit “Glad All Over” actually knocked “I Want to Hold Your Hand” off the top of the UK charts in January 1964. A small victory, but satisfying nonetheless.
Thus began a lifetime of rooting for non-champions, non-first-place-finishers. Ironically, when our family moved to Chicago I decided to rebel against my new city by becoming a fierce New York fan. (I was born in White Plains, NY, raised in Scarsdale.) As fate would have it, every team from The Big Apple that year was rotten to the core and for quite a few years following. Even the Yankees stunk. But I loved them all to the death.
Underdog love extended into many parts of my life. I favored Hydrox cookies over Oreos. Loved all those weird cars from American Motors like Pacer and Gremlin. Deeply sympathized with the Civil Rights Movement and sweet soul music. My favorite Stooge was Larry.
And then I became an underdog myself. I was an overweight kid and I adopted a comic/tragic personae as the Guy Who’d Never Get a Girlfriend. My grades were mediocre as well. I began to identify with non-conformists. I liked being outrageous and acting crazy. I found I could be a star in my own right. A kind of anti-star.
So I wound up going after a career in show business where everybody starts out an underdog and most stay there. What does this say about me? And if you’re anything like me, what does it say about you?
Here are some observations.
1. Underdog Love supported many years of settling for less, especially in the arena of work.
2. Underdog Love cultivated in me a deep-seated compassion for people with struggles, people in need.
3. Eventually some of my underdogs became winners and it was very healthy for me to gain more identification with being a winner that way. (Joe Namath’s Super Bowl Champ Jets, the Bulls’ double three-peat, Will Champlin’s near victory in The Voiceamong others.)
4. By owning my Underdogness (as opposed to running from it) I see with greater clarity and have become more honest in assessing my own skills and talents. I am only an underdog if I say I am. I went to the Latin School of Chicago, for cripes sake. And I love winning.
5. The truth is this: I am a creation of a Power greater than myself, whether I call it The Universe or Nature or God. As the bumper sticker says “God Don’t Make No Junk.” I believe this applies to you too.
6. Shedding the underdog label, I actually become more responsible for myself and my life. As an underdog I don’t have to expect much. I can take a perverse comfort and safety in being “less than.” I don’t have to try very hard and risk anything. Very dangerous way to live.
7. Living W.I.L.D., doing what I truly love doing — just as Nature herself does — is my best bet. That’s where the real power is. And guess what? It’s already there inside me and you just waiting to be released. That’s what Non-Underdogs do. They do what they love doing.
As Ringo sings, “And all I gotta do is act naturally.”
More than 30 years and two weeks ago my mailbox began to fill up uncharacteristically. They were Valentines. They started coming about 4 or 5 days before The Big Day, and in increasing numbers. On February 14 there must have been 20 cards in the box. All told, maybe 50 over the course of the week. All from the same person.
I was madly in love at the time and those cards transported me into the stratosphere beyond Cloud 9, light years past “over the moon.” It was a crazy onslaught of written affection and it made me crave more. In those days I liked walking on air and being zonked on love. And I wanted it to last. Amazing.
Today, I don’t even know if I still have those cards. I did keep them for a long time, though. Years. But much has happened since that February 14 in the early ’80s. The sender and I parted ways. I got remarried. I changed a lot of things for the better, quit drinking, quit a lot of stuff. I even quit hair. I got bald.
But why did I keep them? In fact, why did I feel the need to save all her letters? And not just hers, but everyone’s I’d ever received since I went off to college?
I got the answer a couple of years ago while attending a showcase of a couple of motivational speakers. One of them was Brooks Palmer, author ofClutter Busting. About one minute into his talk he nailed me. “So why do we clutter our lives? Why do we hold onto stuff? Here’s what I’ve found: Clutter is the physical manifestation of an unhealthy attachment to the past.” My body began to quake and tears pooled in my eyes. I knew exactly what was happening. It’s an involuntary response I get when I hear a chunk of truth about myself that I haven’t faced fully.
Bottom line: those cards represented proof that I was lovable. Same for all the letters. And all the other stuff in my office including hundreds of videotapes, books and papers. They were the physical evidence that I had friends, lovers and fans. That I mattered. That I did good work. That I was an extraordinarily interesting person.
So what’s so “unhealthy” about that? For me it was clear. My hanging on to that old stuff was a subtle way of saying, “Screw you, Present Day. What you have to offer me is just not as satisfying as the good old days. Never mind that I have a wonderful life now, that I am blessed with excellent health and caring people, a terrific wife, dynamic children who are blossoming so beautifully, and an ever-deepening appreciation for the great mysteries and joys of living. No thank you, Here and Now. I still need to rely on yellowing paper and VHS videotapes to insure that I’m okay.”
The good news is that I feel less dependent on those Valentines and letters and tapes today. It’s as if the past is loosening it’s grip on me. And I am letting go of my grip on it. The clutter has been paralyzing me slowly but surely. And it’s getting in the way of the authentic unfolding of who I am meant to be now, in this present moment. I’m actually excited to get rid of this stuff. Some I’m sure I’ll keep, but it won’t have that strong energy of attachment tied to it as it used to. I’m getting free.
Wednesday Lyn, my Feng Shui consultant, comes over to help me continue to clear away unnecessary stuff and make more room for spirit to move in and do its thing. It’s a Valentine to myself.
There’s been a lot of talk about living in the now, being in the present moment. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now really knocked me out years ago and I find his message as powerful as ever. But what if you’re still hopelessly mired in the past? And what if you don’t even know it?
In the next few posts I want to share with you 3 sneaky ways you may be letting yourself get sucked into the past without even realizing it. These may not be a problem for you, but they sure have been for me. To complicate matters, these activities are almost universally considered pleasurable and very popular. To identify them as unhealthy is going to push some buttons. Relax. Breathe deeply. If you feel angry as you read this list remember I’m not talking about you. But just in case you think I am, please, thank me, and consider maybe I’ve touched on a nerve that may merit further investigation. (That’s where I leave off and your life coach or therapist can step in.)
Sign Number One That You May Be Helplessly Drifting Into a Wasted Life of Living in the Past
You prefer listening to music from your youth (and secretly – or not so secretly – you judge anything produced since as intolerably inferior.)
Steely Dan’s Reeling in the Yearsis my portal to wistful recollection of carefree times in Washington, D.C. right after college. How Longby Ace transports me to slow dancing with Bonnie at Albert’s Plum above the South Kensington tube station during my exhilarating semester abroad in 1975. 10cc’s I’m Not in Love brings home the pain and melancholy of returning to the States later that summer after being blown off by the selfsame Bonnie.
In and of itself this line of thinking is not necessarily bad. However, what I noticed was that I began seeking out older songs in order to create a mood-altering experience that always left me pining for “the good old days.” That’s not helpful if I’m genuinely interested in living now, in this moment. To put it bluntly, it’s insane. Now is all there is. The past doesn’t exist. To believe my life was better in the past is not much different from saying I’d rather live inside a favorite movie. (Like Local Hero or Field of Dreams. Mmm, dreamy.)
What makes listening to these songs more nettlesome is my tendency to view myself in the past through a kind of “sad poet” filter. I go negative and am soon engulfed in self-pity. In this haze I see myself as heroic for soldiering on, but oh so sad. Or I see everything as a rose-colored vignette, tragically beautiful compared to the agony that is my life today as I inch closer to death with every labored breath I take. I forget that I have a wonderful wife, amazing children, a blog that is read by millions and I end up feeling depressed and unhappy with this awesome life I have right in front of my face, here, now. Again, utter insanity. Like super-slow-motion suicide of the soul.
Remedy: Ask somebody younger than you to recommend a new band, prepare your mind to be receptive and welcoming, and give ’em a listen.
Brownie points: If you do see that you’re inclined to romance the past, ask yourself “why?” Are you avoiding something? (I’ll tell you more about my deal a little later.)
In posts ahead: Craving old movies, wallowing in ancient love letters, getting hooked on black and white TV, and my journey back to the present.
I begin today’s venture by assuming that many of you are already familiar with the public aspect of my working life, being the original host of Wild Chicago on WTTW, Channel 11, the major PBS station in Chicago. You know me as the high energy, semi-frantic urban adventurer gallivanting about the city and suburbs in my signature safari suit and pith helmet, bringing to your TV screen amazing and surprising people, places and things you had had no knowledge of previous to watching. I was your tour guide to a place I called “Wild Chicago,” off the beaten track, away from the press releases churned out by PR firms, away from the already tried and true establishments of the Loop, Lincoln Park and Gold Coast, off Michigan Avenue, way off Michigan Avenue, and into the “natural habitats” where most Chicagoans live and work.
Through me and my crew, you visited The Institute of Lie Detection, The Pink Palace Fantasy Suites, and Elmo’s Tombstones – Made While You Wait. I introduced you to a man who gives tours under the bridges of Chicago. Through me you’ve met a woman named Samantha who trains rats to answer the telephone, and a South Side Guy named Vlad with very sharp teeth and an appetite for blood. One guy even sat on a pound of dynamite in a South Side forest preserve, absorbed the explosion, then staggered to meet me amidst the smoke and debris for his interview.
But it wasn’t always the sensational I wanted you to see. In fact, I would sometimes get annoyed when some of you would say things like, “What a bunch of weirdos on your show!” Or “How’d you keep a straight face listening to that nut go on and on with that one-thousand-page poem that made absolutely no sense?” For you, I suppose, watching the show was like going to a freak show.
Or maybe, just maybe, you saw something else going on there. Maybe you noticed something surprising in my interactions with my guests, however unconventional they were. You saw that I actually seemed to like these folks.
Remember performance artist Brendan DeVallance, with the half mustache, who duct-taped a chainsaw to his head and ranted about Oprah being too pudgy, while his two bald, stick thin assistants in the black shades and hot pants gestured in his direction as if they were on Wheel of Fortune? I liked that guy. In my mind he had courage to do stuff like that. Then I learned that the young woman skirting about the scene, avoiding the camera, was his wife. This guy was married! And when I asked Mrs. DeVallance what she thought of her husband’s act, what wacky, weird, oddball thing did she say?
‘I get scared whenever he puts on the chainsaw hat.” Goodness. A wife concerned for her hubby’s safety. How normal can you get? Bless ‘em both.
And bless you too, who watched me over the years, not only on Wild Chicago, but on Ben Loves Chicago, Ben Around Town, 190 North and Wild Chicago’s Illinois Road Trip. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me on those adventures. Today I invite you to join me on what I expect to be more great adventures, in this blog. Space does not permit me to lay everything out here for you now, but let me just say this: All these days roaming the wilds of Chicago and environs have ultimately shown me a great big full length mirror, bringing me face to face with…what? I’ll tell you. The Wild Within. Whoa! Very scary. (Thank you, Count Floyd of SCTV.)
So what the heck am I talking about with this Wild Within?
What I mean is I want to take you deeper into the brain what showed you the city in a way you’d never seen it before. For example…
I want to invite you to take in the imagery on display in the big windows of Victoria’s Secret and consider the message being projected into the atmosphere.
I want to encourage you to fully embrace your own brilliance even as you deal with the pain of being a Cub fan. Or a Sox fan. Or a Bears fan. Or a Bulls fan. (Blackhawk fan? Enjoy the ride while you can).
I want to share with you the horrors of being addicted to coke. Not the kind that goes up your nose but the kind that goes down your throat, the sweet, fizzy, fructose corn syrup laden kind.
And I want to make the argument that “dating” is one the worst things you can do for yourself, even if you’re single.
See what I mean? The uncharted wilderness of this brain can still conjure up some pretty outre ideas that just have to come out.
Curious? God, I hope so.
To wind up today’s visit, let me ask you a question: You know that blue, low-down, washed-up, “Is- that-all-there-is?” kind of thinking that can practically swallow you whole, especially in these wildly bleaker-than-bleak Chicago winter days?
Dear friend, consider this salve from my pal, Henry David Thoreau, the guy who wrote Walden: “In wildness is the preservation of all things.”
Maybe these days are here for the expressed purpose of getting us to slow down, reflect, and discover our own life-saving wildness within. I’ll show you mine if you show me you yours. Deal?
Boy does it feel good to push away from the computer and let go of trying to manage the Universe with a mouse.
A few days ago I’d gotten myself into a stretch of three or four hours of nonstop pumping out of various links, messages, exhortations and tweets all designed to move the masses to the the Patio Theater a couple Sundays from now to celebrate the premiere of The Golden Age of Wild Chicagodigital release and DVD. Adrenaline was rushing through my body as new ideas flashed in my brain every two seconds: Where should I send this link, which Facebook fan page would best respond to this testimonial video, what next great turn of phrase will be the perfect motivator to get those butts in the seats? My heart was pounding. The sensation was not pleasurable. I felt as if I had blinders on and I couldn’t get off the ride. Then something caught my eye. Oh look! A message!
It was from my friend Valerie. I click on it. Boom. The simplicity of her message was stunning: “Chill, Ben,” it read. “We’re going to pack the house.”
Wow. Could it be that she had picked up on that manic energy in my electronic missives? That perhaps she had even smelt ever so faintly that which I would never want anyone to smell on me – desperation? Why else would she have implored me to “chill”? That’s what you say to someone who’s freaking out, right? To someone who’s panicking, obsessing, spinning, flailing.
Valerie, you busted me.
And with that admission came peace. I immediately knew I’d been touched by an angel. (Loved that show back in the 90s.) As hard as I’d tried during this DVD launch to stay centered, calm, measured, I had slipped into that nasty old place of being motivated by fear. You can call it “stress” if you like, but for me – in my quest to continuously boil a thing down to its essence – it’s fear. Fear that I won’t have a “big enough” crowd there. Fear that a small audience will reflect poorly on me. Fear that I’m ridiculous in trying to foist this dusty old TV show onto an uninterested, indifferent public. And the list goes on. Fear comes in many flavors.
Better to chill. Because for me, chill means relax, breathe deeply and have faith.
Shortly after taking some time away from the campaign to hang on my bed with Walker the cat, I returned to the computer. There, on the Patio Theater Facebook page was a posting specifically promoting our Wild Chicago event. I’d seen it before but there was something new I hadn’t noticed before. It was this: the posting had collected 78 “Likes” and 40 “Shares.”
I took it in slowly and smiled. I took in another deep, healing breath.
What I was looking at was evidence that I was not in charge of the Universe after all. Things were happening, good things, without my unrelenting clicking, copying and pasting. Hundreds, if not thousands, of eyeballs were seeing my message thanks to the helpful hands of others. Perhaps Valerie was right. Maybe we would fill the place. 500 butts is what I’d been talking about wanting in those seats. I didn’t dare think we could fill all 1000 seats. But why the heck not?! That truly would be an Act of God.
So what’s the lesson? Worry, fear, stress – it matters not what you call it – the results are the same: fatigue, tightness, constraint, dis-ease. That’s not living the W.I.L.D. Life. The W.I.L.D. Life – the “What I love doing” life – means going with the flow. Just like in Nature. And I can trust that that’s exactly the best course of action I can take, as long as I show up and do my part to the best of my ability. The outcome is not in my hands. Even if only 10 butts show up, they will be the perfect butts, the ones that were meant to be there. And all will be good.
So thanks, Valerie, for so directly suggesting I chill. And feel free to send me a reminder next time you pick up that nasty scent of fear again.
I must admit it’s always a thrill to make my initial call to set up a new W.I.L.D. business video shoot and the owner gets all excited and proclaims that he or she is “a big Wild Chicago fan” and “never missed a show!”
It is at this point that I relax, knowing that they already “get” the W.I.L.D. concept and are up for having fun in letting me help them promote their business. In the ensuing conversation it becomes clear that they are going to trust me to do what I do best. (Don’t you just love when that happens?)
Great fans make great clients. Great clients make for great work. Keep this in mind as you watch this “W.I.L.D. LAKEVIEW” video we did for On the Route Bicycles on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Joanne McSweeney’s on camera greeting is truly welcoming, energized, enthused. We know this is going to be a ball! No caution, no holding back.
Why is this so important? Besides the nice blast to the ego, I think it’s important because it demonstrates what’s possible in an environment of — dare I say it? — Love. Here, where there is total acceptance, total openness, creativity blossoms. New ideas percolate. Happy, unexpected surprises pop up. People start singing, for God’s sake.
Watch the video and see if you agree. Can you point to any one particular thing that happened here that seemed especially inspired? You’ll probably be right. And even if you don’t see a moment or hear a soundbite that exemplifies what I’m talking about, what about the vibe? I mean, isn’t it just fun to see these folks having such a good time doing what they love doing?
Ah, but about those times when you’re not greeted like a bloomin’ TV star? What if you come face to face with downright grumpiness or worse, contempt? There’s the challenge. I’d really, really like to be able to carry that free spirit of fun wherever I go, ready to share it, even when I’m not treated specially. That’s the trick, don’t you think? And get this. The sourpuss or meanie who seems to hate the world is actually the person who needs to be lightened up the most. I try to remember that more and more as I go forth, carrying the W.I.L.D. banner. It’s part of my job, really.
But on days like the day I met Joanne and the crew at On the Route, it came easy, like riding a bike.
Dr. Julia Rahn definitely had her doubts as I explained to her over the phone how the W.I.L.D. Business Video process usually works. And her reservations made sense. Using “customer” testimonials for her Flourish Studios therapy practice was not doing to work. Nor would she make claims of her effectiveness as a therapist. Talking about what makes her approach unique didn’t make her feel comfortable either. She seemed discouraged. What were we going to do?
And then the idea just floated into my head. “How about we think of this video as a public service? How about giving the viewer a handful of mental health tips that tie into some of the products you have for sale here?”
Oh, didn’t I mention that Flourish Studios is not just a place to go for therapy and counseling? It’s also a store. With lots of books and cards and healthy toys and art materials and more, all geared to helping her clientele do and be their very best. I’ve never seen anything like it. A big, beautiful, warm space with lots of light and room to spread out. That was going to be easy to show off on video. And now we had something for Julia to say, some useful content for the viewer to take away.
Julia loved the idea. It changed her mood from consternation to that of excited anticipation. And it freed her up to demonstrate her joy in what she did without worrying about violating professional standards. The shoot was fun and it showed. Dr. Julia’s 5 Mental Health Tips were excellent and easy to digest. What I thought was even better was Julia’s spirit and enthusiasm. How she expressed herself was equally compelling as what she expressed.
That’s what makes these W.I.L.D. videos so effective. I think they make you think, “Hey, this place looks like fun. I want in!” By bringing out Julia’s W.I.L.D. side — her “What I Love Doing” side — I gave her a solution that let her come alive. And everything else fell into place.
(Hecky Powell of Hecky’s BBQ in Evanston (IL), experiences the joy of making WILD video with Ben Hollis.)
Video is an entertainment medium. To succeed, it must, on some level, entertain. The viewer must be engaged and have a reason to keep watching.
When a television show bores you, you change channels. Ratings tank. Advertisers flee. The show gets canned. Somebody stops making money.
The same is true for your web video. Let’s say a prospective customer clicks on it (if you have a video), watches for a few seconds, gets bored, leaves the website. You’ve lost the chance to earn a new customer.
So if you really respect your customers’ time, give them reason to keep watching. Entertain them.
I can hear you already: “But I’m not in show biz. I don’t know the first thing about being entertaining.” Relax. And don’t be spooked by the word “entertain.” It’s easier than you think. Webster defines “entertain” this way: To hold the attention of. You know how to do that. I think most of us do. We’re good at holding people’s attention. We speak up. We smile. We express interest in others. Some of us take a chance and inject a little humor into the situation. Or tell a story, share a fact. It’s not rocket science. In fact, here are two things I’ve found in my experience creating attention-holding (and Emmy award-winning) video over two decades interviewing non-show business people like you:
1. People hold our interest most when they are simply being themselves, exactly as they are.
2. When people share their passion and enthusiasm for what they do, this authentic self emerges effortlessly — and we enjoy watching and giving our attention to them.
In short, if you are going to make an effective, entertaining video to market your business, let it be fueled by your passion for what you love doing. Go a little W.I.L.D.
W.I.L.D.? Yes, W.I.L.D. Because W.I.L.D. stands for “What I Love Doing.” When you’re doing your W.I.L.D. thing – doing what you love doing – you are fully alive, at your best, in “The Zone.” And your job on video is to share that love, tell the world why you love doing it, and how that passion benefits your customers.
Think of it this way: when a viewer clicks on your video it’s like she’s walking into your store for the first time. You want to make a positive and appealing first impression. Let your enthusiasm and love for what you do act as a magnet to pull your visitor in. It’s about attraction more than it is promotion.
A good example of this is a recent video my company produced for the Berwyn (IL) Development Corporation Chamber Services at The World’s Largest Laundromat in Berwyn. My interview with co-owner Tom Benson was informal. He proudly showed me around the place (300 machines), pointing out all the special touches he’d put in to make his customers happy: free pizza on Wednesday nights, a professionally designed play area for kids (including a bi-lingual clown), high-powered washers that spin faster to save drying time and money, free computers, and a rooftop solar energy system to keep things Green. Tom spoke from the heart because his heart was in his business. It showed.
“If I need to spend a little more money to make my customers happy, I’ll do it,” he said. Brief testimonials from his lively clientele backed him up. The result was a video piece that made you smile and want to see the place for yourself.
W.I.L.D. video brings to life the personality and passion of your business, no matter how “unsexy” you think it is. W.I.L.D. video goes beyond “what” you do and gets into the far meatier subject of “why” you do what you do — and how that’s good for your customer.
Everybody needs video on their website today. It’s an essential ingredient in your social media mix. And your customers expect it. Do yourself — and them — a favor: Entertain them with a video inspired by your W.I.L.D. side, your “What I Love Doing” side. They’ll be glad you did.
River Slim is telling me where his live catfish come from and how they get to his store here on Pulaski Avenue on Chicago’s West Side.“They’re not from around here?” I ask.“Nope,” says Slim.“We raise ‘em in Mississippi, then drive ‘em up in a big truck.”
It’s a good line of inquiry, revealing some surprising facts.But then I remember it didn’t come from my questioning of River Slim.It had been fed to me by my director and co-producer, John Davies.I’m watching show #102 of Wild Chicago, shot in May of 1988.I’m selecting segments from the show to include in a DVD I’m planning to release in the coming months: Wild Chicago, The Early Years. (Working title, mind you.)
Not every one gets to see what they looked like on a given day, doing their job 23 years ago.That’s one of the pleasures of working in visual media for a while.(And it is a pleasure – I am unabashedly enamored of seeing myself on the screen.)
That day at River Slim’s Live Fish, however, was not a happy one.At home, my wife and I were drifting apart and our recent move to a slick downtown high-rise had proven not to be the magic elixir to save our marriage.We were both hurting.But only one of us was on camera.Fortunately the editing process had erased any hint of trouble with the pith-helmeted host.But my memory could not be covered with b-roll.
Here’s the backstory.I’d arrived at the shoot after a morning of particularly acute psychic pain over my domestic situation.I had considered canceling but chose instead to show up.Unprepared.
After the first 10 minutes of the shoot, John Davies, my director, pulled me aside with urgency and said, “Ben, you’ve got to be more prepared for these shoots.You can’t just wing it.I saw your eyes roll up into your head and I knew you didn’t have any idea what to ask next.”He was right. TV veteran that he was, John took over, fired off a bunch of questions to River Slim, got a handful of funny answers and quickly we had all the material we needed to make a good segment.Though embarrassed, I was present enough to be impressed with John’s prowess.I’d like to say some of it rubbed off on me, however painful it was to my ego.
And truth be told, that day was a turning point for me and my career in television.I never came unprepared to a shoot again.And I’ll forever be grateful to John for calling me out.
I’ll be sure to include the River Slim segment in the DVD.And some still shots of my reporter’s notepad from later Wild Chicago shoots so you can see how writing questions in advance became paramount in my development as a TV interviewer.
Next time:How cool it is to see the show evolve, along with my confidence, as I watch the first season unfold, episode by episode.