Getting Personal: Jennifer Bechtel

Getting Personal: Jennifer Bechtel

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Paul Wood talks with Jennifer Bechtel, a moviemaker, mother and educator. Getting Personal appears first in print, in Sunday's newspaper. In the May 13 newspaper, we'll have a chat with former broadcaster Mike Sola.  

Explain in one sentence what it is you do.

I am the program specialist for the Innovation Living-Learning Community at the University of Illinois (, and I am an independent theater/film director/producer/writer (current project:

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I get up at 6 a.m., by necessity, not choice. I pretty much grunt for the first hour or so, while helping to get our family of four out the door without incident.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

Leftover pasta with my 5-year-old daughter at her school. I try to eat lunch with her at school about once a week.

Best high school memory.

Winning the sectional speech tournament in dramatic interpretation.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

That's like asking me to pick my favorite child. They are all special in their own way. I don't own very many shoes, but I have three pairs that I alternate that are virtually the same except for color ... very comfy, practical Bass dress shoes, all with a small heel so that I can wear regular-length pants. One pair is black, one is gray and one is red. The black ones are the most practical. The gray ones are the most comfortable and the red ones are the most fun. I also have a pair of basic Nike running shoes that have sentimental value, because I wore them in the Avon two-day walk in Chicago a few years ago. It was a good cause and the most difficult and exhilarating physical accomplishment of my life, completed with one of my very best friends. So, those are my all-comfort, totally broken in weekend shoes. In summer, I wear almost exclusively Bass flat sandals ... have been replacing with the same basic design every few years since about 1990 or so.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Time with our ample extended family in C-U, both biological and family of choice.

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

I read with my kids all the time, and I feel like there are so many amazing new authors, but there are definitely a few classics that rise to the top: Shel Silverstein's "A Light in the Attic" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends"; pretty much anything that Dr. Seuss ever touched, but especially "Green Eggs and Ham," "The Sneetches" and "A B C"; and Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." Once again, you cannot make me pick just one.

Where on earth are you dying to go? Why?

New Orleans. It is one of my very favorite places, and I have not been able to make it back since Katrina.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

We had a cat when I was growing up who thought that she was a dog. She would wait for us at the window and rush to meet us when the car pulled in the garage. She played catch with my stepdad and slept wrapped around my head every night. Best pet ever. We got her when I was 5 and she was 5. She died when I was 16. I was absolutely heartbroken. Our whole family was.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

I am becoming more and more like my dad. I have his love for endless intellectual musings, his political leanings and fire for justice, his dry sense of humor, and much of his taste in music. I also inherited many of his more introverted tendencies, along with his Midwestern inclination to talk to random people on the street and in grocery stores about whatever we seem to have in common. We both seem to find it much easier to talk to people who we see in passing than at parties or other big gatherings. We can both sometimes be a little messy, as well.

What would you order for your last meal?

Pasta arrabiatta made by Mary Minneci.

What can you not live without?

My family, of course. Good food. Sleep. Photographs, music and something to write on/with.

Who do you have on your iPod?

So much music! Our family's go-tos include Elvis Costello, The Beatles, Barenaked Ladies, They Might Be Giants, The Rolling Stones (who I just recently developed a taste for when I realized that I didn't have to dislike them just because I liked The Beatles better), The Ramones, Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Jack Johnson, on and on .... mostly guys, because my husband usually beats me to the iPod (he's a morning person). If I'm listening on my own, it's all women all the time, though. Ani DiFranco, The Grates, Kate Micucci, Elizabeth and the Catapult, my cuz Angie Heaton, Regina Spektor, Adele, Kate Nash, Laura Marling, Nellie McCay, Madeline Peyroux, Rachael Yamagata, Jill Sobule and lots more.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

My son was born 5 1/2 weeks early and spent two weeks in the NICU, where my daughter was not allowed to meet him right away (she was 4 at the time), so my happiest memory was the moment that she joyfully ran down the hospital hallway to meet him when he was finally being released. We caught it on video, but I will never need the video to remember that beautiful moment of pure joy.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

Jon Stewart, Ellen Degeneres and James Franco.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

You never know what goes on in other people's relationships.

What's your best piece of advice?

Don't wait to have all of the answers, permission, money, etc., before you chase your dreams. The circumstances will never be perfect. Find a way to make it happen.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I worked as a baby sitter growing up. I believe I made about $2 an hour, and I had tons of business, because I was about 5 to 12 years older than all of the other kids in my neighborhood.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

In 2004, my husband, Dan, and I opened a toy and novelty gift shop called Hot Diggity! in downtown Champaign, because I had always wanted to own a business and we had an idea for this quirky high school/college hot spot. We had little to no business knowledge or experience, and we opened just in time for the economy to start tanking. In less than two years, we discovered that we were exceptionally good at liquidating (thankfully). Even though the venture didn't turn out as planned, I will forever be thankful that we took the plunge. There, I learned a lot about business, made many great friends (including Erika Randall-Beahm, co-writer on my first screenplay) and was inspired to explore film as a medium. So, now instead of Hot Diggity! toys and novelty gifts, we have Hot Diggity Productions, named for the place where it all started.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

I bite my cuticles when I am stressed or bored.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I remind myself that it will work out, and someday we will be able to look back and say, "Hey, remember how bad that one time was. Glad that's over." It sounds silly, but it really helps to give me perspective.

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