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Ari Halbkram is an entertainment and business brand consultant, A&R manager, podcaster, filmmaker, and writer. Visit his site to learn more.

Have We Met?

Originally published on Medium:

Have we met? I’m not sure. You’ll have to forgive my uncertainy; it’s not that I don’t find you…familar…but, you see, I’m doing this all again for the first time.

Or…I guess it’s technically the second time? They say you never get a second chance at a first impression, but I disagree, and I never much cared for “they” anyway.

I’m not sure when exactly I noticed it, and it definitely crept up on me. Turns out I’m kind of redoing the last ten years of my life — a do-over of sorts, and so far it’s going pretty well. Surprisingly well.

I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger. And now, I feel like I kinda do.

I’ve started watching some of my old, favorite films again recently; not the guilty pleasure stuff or the stuff you can have on mindlessly in the background, but really reivisiting older cinema. Cinema from a time when there wasn’t a glut of things to watch. A time when choosing a movie wasn’t a slog through a side-scrolling conveyer belt of vaguely recognizable colors and shapes. Really, haven’t we already seen that one in dozens of configurations and probably starring a pre-renassaince McConaughey, or whomever the newer McConaughey is now…Harry Styles? I mean, I know he’s really new, but he was pretty good in Dunkirk. You guys have seen Dunkirk, Right?

OK, quick tangent. Lots of folks saying Dunkirk doesn’t have a story. How is the evacuation of 400,000 people from a small beach in France, where they were surrounded by Nazis, at a time when the English military didn’t have low-latency SATNAV data, or any modern communication technology, not a story? Is a dedicated patriot, who sets out on a rescue mission without any time to provide paternal guidance to his child; who recognizes that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few; who forces a soldier on the brink of meltdown to return directly to the source of his anguish —how is that not a story? It’s OK…we all need to remember that not every story needs a twist ending or a series of evenly spaced scenes of dialouge and action, and dialogue and action, to be considered a story. Life doesn’t work that way, and for his first historical epic, Nolan decided to get as close to life as he could. I’d say I digress, but really this was what I was talking about anyway. I’ve started watching stuff that gets my dander up, not because I need to disect the multiverse connections or analyze the dialogue for signs of the familiar or of new chapters to come. I’m talking about films made well; the kind that found an audience without necessarily being predicated on one specific demographic with a high Q score.

And ya know, the more I revisit the stuff from the past, the more I find myself remembering what I wanted to do in film in the first place. My sense of plot is better; my ear for dialogue, sharper. But I’m also skipping the analysis altogether and I’m finding myself in love with cinema as an art form all over again. And I’ve realized that we did this to ourselves. We nerded out on things, built our own mythologies around them, spent hours dissecting minute details with our friends in parking lots, and cars, and houses, and chat rooms, and forums, and comment sections, and texts, tweets, social media and now, self-destructing messages adorned with kitten ears. We loved the details, loved the textures we uncovered, and so now, that’s what they make for us. They make us the same stuff we always enjoyed because they watched us study the details, and then they just…remade the details. When that well ran dry, they rebooted the details. And now…well…now everyone complains on the internet about how no one makes anything original anymore, and I think it’s because we killed the originality with overanalysis. It’s what we do.

I’m listening to a lot of old music too, but this is nothing surprising. What was shocking, though, was when Radiohead’s “OK Computer” turned 20 and I went to the record store the day before my 34th birthday to buy the new reissued version and I realized that it was the first time an album existed in my lifetime where I returned to a record store to buy the re-issue of an album I also bought in a record store when it first came out. I don’t discount new music; some of it really, truly blows me away. People are painting with very different brushes these days…new sounds, new techniques…it’s all pretty amazing. But I’m also getting let down by new music these days, or I should say I’m getting let down by the musicians. I’ve discovered a trove of extraordinary, almost earth-shaking new albums this year, but for each lesser-known act like Valarie June or Tinariwen, there’s an album I was absolutely clammoring for, which let me down: Lorde, Lana del Rey, Arcade Fire (so far). Overanalysis. It’s what we do.

It’s not just that I’m finding comfort in the nostalgic and the familiar. I’m also subscribing to magazines I used to read religously; I’m reading new books about old things and old books about new things. I’m trying to practice a social existence before I had an iPhone, so I’m intentionally putting it away, or not taking it with me. And ya know what…I’m seeing the world with the same kinds of details that I used to see over a decade ago.

I’m trying more often to talk with family and friends without the pretense of I/me. I think we used to do this before we started defending our stances and positions in status updates and replies, whether they were being challenged or not. We weren’t always the center of the story, and I’ve found that when you ask a friend or family member something direct and sincere, something that shows your genuine familiarity with them, and your genuine interest, that they have to pause a moment to really think, because we’re all so used to grunting things and hitting send.

I’m teaching myself that it’s OK to vent, but really, just get to the point. We all have places to go and things to do…except that we also need to take some good, serious, devoted time to just be, and think, and also to talk to our loved ones, and see movies, and go to concerts out of desire and not reflex.

I’m reminding myself that life’s been around a lot longer than Instagram, and Instagram was intended to reflect life, not the other way around. We got trained to capture a moment of our lives and put a filter and a hashtag on it because it was more important for strangers to validate us than to share life with our friends. Now I post long diatribes about records I love. I don’t care for every lesson.

Things weren’t necessarily better ten years ago, and I don’t know where that number came from anyway. I think enough dates lined up in 5s and 10s that I just thought everything so far in 2017 has felt awfully 2007. But ten years ago, in the idyls of youth and the naïveté of the age, it felt like it was easier to feel inspired. It felt lighter to take bold pathways in strange and unfamiliar directions. It was filled with so much less confidence and assurance, but such greater hunger. Now, I realize how the two catalyze and stunt each other.

I overheard someone today saying that his body got old while his mind stayed young. I think I’ve figured out that it’s all kind of like a carwash. You can take your car to the best one in town, with the $14 deluxe package, and the state-of-the-art cleaning system, but you can still pull over to the side and wipe up unseen dirt from the car just as soon as you roll out, shiny and damp. And no matter how often you get your car cleaned, it just gets dirty again. This is what happens when our bodies are aging and our minds are lying to us: we build up with soot. Those moments where we’re forced to grow up — the end of a business (or four); the failure of a project; the dissolution of a friendship; the sickness of a parent; things not going the way you’d wanted or hoped — these things make it hard to tell just how much dirt has built up around us. It’s true for us all. Life really is what happens when we’re all too busy looking the other way, and maybe everyone eventually gets this memo, maybe I’ve gotten it late, but I finally got it and now I’m going back around again.

This isn’t some journey of denial — I’m fully aware of my age. But I just kind of realized that maybe the idea that you can’t go back again is a lie. Why can’t we? We convince ourselves of absolutes and condition ourselves to adopt a sameness. We reboot the details. But think of things that change our lives — big life events, huge historical moments — and they’re either things that upend the sameness because we work so hard to keep things repeating, persisting and familiar, or they’re things that break the illusion of “infallable” and “unmoving.”

I’m experiminting with the notion that the absolutes are not so absolute. I’m taking the things that made me fall in love with everything around me, before the homogenization and over-processing and paralysis of too much option and not enough tangibility, and I’m reminding myself that there was a time when the car was clean and fresh and new; fewer miles, and a lot less soot. This is a second chance at a first impression, but the person I’m meeting now, is me.

Have we met? I’m not sure. You’ll have to forgive my uncertainy. I know that you’re familar, but, you see, I’m not. I’m brand new. I’m doing this all again for the first time.