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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.

Get Busy Dying

 
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When I was younger and full of boundless creative enthusiasm, I took on the task of unit publicist for a small indie movie being filmed in rural, suburban Philadelphia. I accepted the job willingly and without guaranteed payment, while only having a tenuous grasp of the role. To absolutely no one’s surprise, my business partner and I never got paid due to a disagreement we had with the filmmakers over our respective descriptions for the job. 

The plot of that film centered around a listless young man in the throes of a quarter-life crisis - a turn-of-the-aughts companion phrase to “millennial,” but with lower placement in the YOLO dictionary app.  The quarter-life crisis is exactly identical to the mid-life crisis, only its victims are obviously younger, and have traded sports cars and weekend benders in Vegas, for next-gen PlayStations and weekend benders in Vegas where what happens there never lasts longer than a Snapchat story.

The more I reflect on the aforementioned film client situation, the more I recognize it as a time when my career first halved, and things went from ongoing (but directionless) momentum, to a little bit more rigidity. Following that debacle, things demanded more adherence to a path. It was perhaps the first moment my career grew up. 

All of this has been on my mind lately, and especially over the past few days, elongating the kind of week that already felt like it was lasting an entire month. It’s been so totally and completely disorienting that it never even occurred to me that I had to pay my rent. In fact, it’s the first time in my grown up life when I actually needed the useless first-of-the-month PAY RENT reminder I set on my phone five years ago - the one I’ve ignored for the past sixty-plus months. It’s the kind of week where I've had to manage my to-do list while a single, devastating thought kept rolling around my mind: putting oneself together emotionally, mentally, and intellectually, is nasty business, especially if you’ve never had the right self image to compare it to.

Suddenly, I was having another bout of my own identity crisis, only now it’s compounded by being too old for quarter-life, and too young for mid-life. I can’t even do existential angst at the right times.

In those younger years of jumping in with both feet, I was less aware of my failures and my limitations, and less aware of my strengths, too. I was less aware of mortality, and more scared of it, and I treated possibilities as fear-of-missing-out opportunities, instead of risks needing to be mitigated. It’s ironic that my crumbled relationship with the film clients became a kind of unconscious demarcation line for me, where suddenly each new project felt like a threat. 

And then somewhere along the line, after other work relationships crumbled, and then, also personal relationships crumbled, I realized I’d been treating many things as threats and playing everything on the offensive. Everything became about justification and strategy, and I think I probably believed that things would work out if I had enough explanations and faith in the laws of nature. I was wrong. This is the danger of non-conscious decision making.

But, to borrow a phrase, I think I’ve encountered my destiny on the path I’ve taken to avoid it. Turns out that demanding so many controlled risks in life was a surefire way to gain some weight, spin my creative wheels off their axles, and coast by at self-improvement by doing the bare minimum. Now that I’ve learned that lesson, I find myself at another crossroads - a moment where my life will be halved yet again by everything that led up to now, juxtaposed against everything that comes next. It’s not the first halving since the film experience - there have been maybe three of four since - but this one is different because it’s a conscious decision instead of a non-conscious one. Everything from this moment forward is more aware, more present, and more mindful than everything that came before it.

So whenever I find myself mid-identity-crisis, it seems born from an ongoing search for the missing puzzle image; the guide telling me how to arrange the pieces of myself. The answer to “What am I?”

For almost two years I described myself with a short and somewhat pithy list of half-truths: writer, journalist, podcaster, filmmaker, tour manager, etc. All of these things are accurate - I have written, and reported, and podcasted, and made films, and tour managed, and lots of other things, but they don’t answer the question of who I am, only what I do. The last iteration of me still thought those two pieces were the same thing. 

What is the opposite of a silver lining?

So....what am I? To be, or not to be. That literally is the question here. What do I be? I really am starting to figure that out, or at least it’s coming a bit more into view. For too long, I tried answering that question with the negatives, or the inverses. Instead of seeing the forest for the trees, beautiful in their order and their chaos, I confused chaos for order. What’s the opposite of a silver lining? That white crud that forms on your car after it snows, and melts, and everything has that dry cold? Everything was viewed through a thin coating of that white dehydrated snow dust - an inconvenience of time. Now things feel a bit more like a late winter morning, where the air is crisp and it’s finally safe enough to take the car for a wash and wax for the first time of the year. I’m starting to make out the linings.

I’ve created a new reminder in my phone - a daily reminder - BE GRATEFUL. I wish its delivery could be randomized, because I’ve found that gratitude is an emotion best expressed at unpredictable moments, but for now I’ll take the reminders wherever and whenever I can get them.