11 things you (probably) didn’t know about Ben Mackie…

27th July, 2022Storytime

As any member of the bX business network knows (past or present), every member xCite presentation during the presenter’s introduction they share two stories about themselves, true or false. The audience then has to identify which story is actually true- story a or story b? This is where it gets interesting because either a unanimous show of hands goes up in support of one story, or the audience is divided-

Maybe the person presenting is a good storyteller?

Maybe they’re a good liar?

Or maybe there’s just something about them that leaves you thinking either story could well be true!

Ultimately, the aim is to break the ice and get to know that professional under the spotlight a little better. If you’ve followed me a while now, you’ve come to know me through talking about copy, talking about marketing and sharing different stories from my life in relation to doing both of these better, while getting more appreciation and value from everything else that comes along the way.

But today I’m changing things up- and this might just serve as your “cheat sheet” should I play true or false with the audience…

So here’s 11 random things you might not have known about me:

 

#1. I’ve got up close and personal with Australian cinematic history…

 

Based on the accounts of people who went to other schools, it seems that typically kids do the obligatory excursion to our nations’ capital in Year 6, and stay for the week. Some are even lucky enough to day-trip it down to the snowfields. That must be a memorable experience, especially if you’ve never seen snow before in your life- let alone gone skiing. But my school excursion to Canberra happened in Year 5 and (like every camp in my entire schooling life bar Year 6) we were there just 3 days. Congregate at school at the crack of dawn on Monday, head down on the bus, tour of the major landmarks that afternoon, do a tonne of stuff Tuesday, head back home Wednesday afternoon. They took us down in the middle of winter and didn’t even have the decency to let us see the snow- bastards!

But one of the things we did get to see was the National Sound and Film Archives. I don’t recall exactly how it came about, but as our grade sat in the theatre, the curator asked for a volunteer and a sea of hands went up. Amongst all the eager hands raised, he picked mine. So up I went on stage. A leather jacket with a metal plate on one shoulder was brought out for me to put on. A mock double-barrelled pistol was placed in one hand, then a hunting knife with a serrated edge was placed in the other (it’s admirable they put so much trust in a 10 year old boy to not do something stupid with such weapons!) We then discovered the significance of these items: the jacket I wore and the pistol in my hand were both used by Mel Gibson in the original ‘Mad Max‘.

As for the knife? The answer came as this clip started rolling on the big screen behind me:

 

#2. I illustrated our Year 6 page in the camp guest book…

 

As I’ve already mentioned, in Year 6 we had the traditional camp that went for a week. If you ask me, all school camps should last a week. 3 days is too short. The first day is travelling there, getting set up, getting acquainted and the third day always feels rushed. But a full week? You have more time to settle in and enjoy the break away from the monotony of school life.

At my school, the 6th graders traditionally spent a week at Point Wolstonecroft, a campsite up on Lake Macquarie. It was a memorable week and (in the context of my life) I look back on it as one of the last good memories from my innocent primary school days before the onset of adolescence, a new school environment and all the realisations that were to follow. The campsite had a library with shelves lined with old guest books, and in these A4-sized guest books were pages decorated by past schools, commemorating their stay at Pt. Wolstonecroft. Towards the end of our week there, my class teacher asked if I would illustrate the page on behalf of our grade?

Of course, I said yes. Around the big lettering commemorating our school, grade and the year we stayed, I drew cartoon illustrations depicting random students partaking in various activities. I’m blurry now as to what exactly I drew, except one thing- a guy abseiling who’d got himself tangled up in the ropes. I was unhappy with how it looked, because I realised it was logically impossible for him to be tied up based on how I’d depicted the angles of the ropes. I was frustrated I couldn’t go back and fix this error. But for what it’s worth, if you go to Point Wolstonecroft and look through the albums, you can find the page I illustrated on behalf of our Year 6 class, commemorating our stay that week.

I haven’t been back since, but I might take my kids one day and show them Dad’s lasting impression of Year 6 camp. Maybe…

 

#3. I talk to myself…

 

I don’t have voices in my head. Neither do I see people who aren’t there. But often, when working on a project alone, I’ll start talking out loud about what I’m doing and the thinking behind it. I imagine I’m recording a video or doing a live demonstration, and I challenge myself to make my dialogue as engaging and informative as possible. I’ve found it’s handy practice for recording video content or doing a live presentation, and it’s made me better at talking on my feet without getting bogged down in ummm’s, ahhhh’s or pointless details. 

 

#4. So you’re a rooster who crows at sunrise? Count me out…

I’m not a morning person. In fact, I find that as the day goes on my creative energies increase and it’s more common to find me working away on a project into the evening. Some people insist on 5am rises every day, going for an hours’ walk and listing their 3 biggest goals for the day and meditating and if that works for them, great! I tried the setting my alarm for 5:30 each morning thing a few years ago and while it struck me how long the morning seemed to last until midday, I found I had less energy later in the afternoon than I was used to. Instead, I sleep without the curtains/ blinds pulled and awaken naturally as the sun comes up- unless there’s something I have to get to early for, then this is my routine.

 

#5. I can freestyle rap

 

I don’t recall exactly when I made this discovery, but it was sometime in my late teens. I’m not saying I am the king of being able to think on my feet like the elite when they’re standing and rapping out bars to a beat. But let it hang loose and the words that I choose they link together, punching out in sets like Connor McGregor, verses silly or clever and no beat to tie to, see what I come out with and it may just surprise you. WIth mates on a weekend or the guests at a wedding, sometimes I just rhyme and there’s no clue where I’m heading. And if you want to know?

 

#6. Yes, I do weddings

 

In fact, one time I was the MC at a wedding and (upon the encouragement of some friends sitting at my table during an interval) I proceeded to get up and freestyle in the midst of introducing the bride and the groom. Over the years I have also served as:

  • The pageboy
  • The mini-bus driver taking the wedding party around all day for the photoshoot
  • A groomsman
  • The unofficial videographer and
  • Just your standard wedding guest.

It feels as if I’m becoming the male version of Katherine Heigl’s character in ‘27 Dresses‘, where I’ve played every role at a wedding apart from the person actually getting married. But if you know a girl whose hobbies include dancing on tabletops while singing ‘Benny & The Jets’ then things could get interesting…

 

#7. I train martial arts

 

Since 2014 I have trained in Goju Kai Karate, working my way through the belts up to the current day where I am 7th Kyu (a red belt or an orange belt with green tips, depending upon where you train). Like many things, it’s funny how the stuff I’ve learned in the dojo translates to real life, like the “why” for doing what you do making a big difference in how well you train, understanding that it’s often the little subtleties in how you do what you do that makes all the difference between average and awesome, even just how a change in attitude leads to a change in your ability. When I started out in Brisbane, I was training two nights a week while these days (unfortunately due to scheduling) I can generally manage just one night a week. But I highly recommend people learn a martial art at some point in their life, even if they don’t go all the way to the highest grading. It’s what you don’t expect to learn that makes all the difference…

 

#8. Art is a side hobby of mine

 

I did art as a senior elective in high school and I always looked forward to our classes. It was fairly light on theory, the majority of the time we spent working on our pieces, conversing with the teacher and our classmates. Completing a painting or drawing takes a commitment of time and energy- two things you come to appreciate even more when you’re directing the path of a business. So if I go ahead and paint a new canvas, it’s usually an idea I’ve had for a while and painting it is how I get ‘closure’ on the unanswered questions- how accurately can I get what manifests on the canvas to match up with my vision, what new styles of brushwork can I experiment with? I set up the easel in my living room, find a podcast or two as background noise and then away I go over several days/ months even (I don’t paint every day necessarily) until I’m satisfied that what I’ve painted is finished. I prefer to paint using acrylics as they’re less hassle to worth with than oil paints, but one day I might have a change of heart and delve further into oil-based paints. Writing these words, I’ve just finished a series of watercolours I worked on over the past month and a bit. I’ve had watercolour pencils for years but hardly used them to their full capabilities, until now. 

The feeling upon completion (in all there are 12 drawings) wasn’t one of pride or achievement. It was more akin to a relief that these ideas were “out” and instead of them being constrained to my imagination, I can see them right in front of me and other people can see them too, free to get their own impressions. In a sense, art is freedom.

 

#9. I have kept a journal consistently for the past decade

 

Growing up, I would usually travel to my grandparents’ place in Taree with my family and we’d stay for a few days over Easter. One year back in high school, in the study I found a bunch of old notebooks grandad had kept as journals, sitting on the lower rung of the bookshelf with the years written on the spine. I opened one and flicked through the pages to find recounts of days gone by from a decade before or even earlier. Of what I saw, there was nothing particularly amazing. Just a dry recount in my grandfather’s signature calligraphic handwriting of the weather on that particular day, helping neighbours with different maintenance jobs, family members who’d called to chat on the phone or the details of errands (usually to the hardware store or the nursery). I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to record such bland details about their lives?

Skip forward 12 years later at a mates’ place and I began reading his copy of ‘The Heroin Diaries‘ by Nikki Sixx, sitting there on his bookshelf. The title of the book is pretty self-explanatory, but there’s all these other insights that went along with it, covering a crazy year in the life of Nikki Sixx when Motley Crue were at the height of their fame while Nikki descended into a near-fatal overdose. Something about reading this got me thinking:

 

What if I started keeping a journal of my life, something I can reflect on one day in case I ever try to recall how things really were in the “good old days” and I start viewing the past through rose-coloured glasses?

 

So a couple of months later, on New Years’ Day, I started a journal. It’s changed a fair bit over the years (as have I). I now start each year as a fresh Word document with its own title page and an image, similar to how musicians create a title/ cover for their new album. I’ve started journalling more consistently than I used to as well. Where sometimes I’d go 2 weeks or more without a single entry, now it’s rare for me to skip a few days. I’d got to a point where if nothing major happened, I didn’t see a reason to write about it. Why waste my time typing out an entry that I’d probably written half a dozen times before?

Then one day I was flicking through my copy of Austin Kleon’s great little coffee table book ‘Steal Like An Artist‘ and one of the things he recommends is to keep a logbook- “a little book in which you list the things you do every day. What project you worked on, where you went to lunch, what movie you saw…The small details help you remember the big details”. I realised the sense in this, and that by simply mentioning a few (seemingly) mundane details in a given day, that could be all the details I needed for my memory to fill in the blanks years later. In the same way a particular scent or a song can bring on a vivid, rapid fire montage of your life in a certain era, reading just a few details can bring back the entire picture. As a result, my journal entries these days bear a stronger resemblance to my grandfathers’ than I could ever have imagined. Maybe he had the right idea all along?

 

#10. I didn’t realise I was naturally extroverted until I was in my 30’s

 

Yet there were plenty of signs before I had this realisation-

Like the time Dad picked me up from the birthday party of a school friend when I was in kindergarten and the boys’ dad told my old man that “I was the life of the party” (all I remember is winning this hot pink toy car in a game and some other kids playing with a slot car set in the garage, not being the life of the party).

Or the other comments from friends or colleagues after various nights out through the years. The particular pattens that seemed to form again and again.

Yet I never considered myself an extrovert. This probably had to do with a certain reserved nature I adopted in my early years of high school (part of that awkward conspicuousness most people feel at that age but you think is distinctive to yourself). I thought that was the “real” me as I left my childhood behind and gained a new sense of self-awareness in its’ place. It was also to do with other friends I had over the years who were louder, bolder and more gregarious than I perceived myself. Those guys were extroverts- no wonder they were so popular and dated so many girls!

Skip forward to my 30’s and professional colleagues would (again) mention my extrovert qualities while (in turn) people I thought were extrovert would refer to themselves as naturally introverted. Huh?

But then one night I sat in the bar of my local beer garden, enjoying a drink and watching the footy on the big screen, solo. People all around me. I wondered: why was it that (were I with a group of mates or even just one single friend of mine) I’d be more naturally inclined to be up and about, chatting to randoms (guys and girls) like it was no big deal yet sitting here alone had me in my own world with nothing to say to anybody? Back in my younger years, it felt so much easier going up to a girl at a night-spot and starting a conversation with her, knowing my mates could see the whole thing unfold. I felt zero pressure in that scenario, if anything I felt emboldened with an audience. Yet if I was alone and saw a girl who took my fancy I wasn’t even half as bold. Why did my behaviour at weddings or on bucks’ weekends follow a similar pattern?

As I sat in the bar, it occurred to me: I pick up on the energy of other people.

The company of others (especially if those others are people I like or am close to) serve as my batteries. They power the social beast I am, especially if the others are in the mood for a good time. I draw from this like an invisible vacuum, then want to turn it up to 11. This, in and of itself, is the root of extroversion. So I stopped feeling bad for sitting there by myself, feeling distanced from the world and instead enjoyed the rest of my beer. They say you learn something new every day- and this was definitely one such occasion.

 

#11. ‘Noddy‘ and ‘Thomas The Tank Engine‘ inspired my earliest forays into creative writing. Here’s how:

 

I started writing this part and then it turned into a whole blog article in and of itself- and I’ve already shared enough for today. So yes, the popular ‘Noddy‘ series by Enid Blyton and the ‘Thomas The Tank Engine‘ series created by the Rev. W. Awdry were two of the earliest signs that writing creatively was something I might have a future in- but that’s a story that’ll have to wait for now…

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