Letter To My 15-Year-Old Self (from my 38-year-old self)

Dear 15-year-old self,

You are cooler than you think.

You ask the teacher to use the bathroom just to wander the high school halls. You peak into classes, wondering what the popular kids are up to like they’re having some kind of a party in class. You think they have something special that you don’t, but the reason why they cling to popularity so much is because they’re scared they have nothing at all. And they’re right to feel that way about themselves. You’re not right to feel that way about yourself at all. You’re already cool. It’ll take years for you to see that.

You are spectacular.

Wait until you’re 35 and see what you can do with any writing tool. Most people won’t be able to express their feelings and ideas the way you’ll be able to, and your hardship will be what allowed you to get to this level. There’ll be few friends and girlfriends and party invites and social circles. You’ll have little to no financial success, but you’ll reach depths of thought and emotion that most writers would kill to get to. And it will fill you up inside.

You are wonderful.

No matter how discouraged you’ll get, you’ll never give up on your dream, because it’s no dream. It’s a reality in your heart and in your mind. And you’re heart and mind is your greatest asset. Not something to be ashamed of.

You are an artist.

Nevermind the ones that dress, walk, talk and body modify the way they think an artist is supposed to. That doesn’t make you an artist. Bleeding makes you an artist. Practice makes you an artist. Love makes you an artist. Everything else just makes you artsy. And that’s not cool.

You are beautiful.

People might not look for you on your phone, but they will trust you and the fact that you do not change for the worst. You are a rock. People you know will express this to you verbally and through their actions. They’ll admire your honesty, compassion and consciousness.

You are industrious. 10-word poems, 15-minute-plays, 100-word stories, 120-page screenplays, you’ll try anything, you’ll fail at most, you’ll succeed at some, you’ll be proud of it all. The skills you’ll develop as an artist, a writer and a human being will be the empire that you build and that empire will be glorious, until you say it is no longer is.

You are perfect the way you are.

I can’t tell you if you’ll have the success that you think you need. I still have more living to do on this end. I’ll tell you that you’ll not be Spielberg by age 30 or have a wife and kids and plenty of money to buy video games with. But you will love yourself more. You will feel more valued. And you will know that you are cool.

Not that you play video games anymore. They’re way too immersive these days, and you have more art to create. So keep producing. But you already known that. Don’t you, Marc?

Sincerely, 38-year-old self

My First Real Book

I never wanted to be a writer first. I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. At age 8, I asked the school librarian if she had a book on Spielberg.

She said, “No, but he’s a very interesting person. I think I’ll look for one and order it.”

I kept going back to the librarian nearly every day to see if she found the book and she eventually ordered it.

“It’ll take two weeks to get here,” she said. Once again, I went to the library every day and asked to see if the book arrived. I thought that maybe asking for it would speed up the process and ever time she told me that it takes two weeks to get to the school.

So as I waited, I tried to imagine what the book would look like and what it would say about Spielberg. I wanted to know about every movie that he made and what it would take to be a movie director. All I knew was that this was the man behind all of my daydream fantasies, and he got paid big houses and cars to make them. Movies allowed me to explore a more courageous side of myself that was not manifested in my interpersonal social life. I could be anyone I wanted after the credits started to roll, and I believed that I had a few characters of my own to share.

When the book arrived it was thinner than I thought, but I opened it and took in the new book smell. I could hear the glue of the bindings and the hard cover crackle. The pictures were in color, and I sat down to take them in.

I can’t remember exactly what was said about him in the book. Over the years I would take in more information about him and all the information seems to conflate to that book. But I do remember that this was the first time that I read a book that was purely informational. Until this day, I’m good at absorbing trivial information and consider myself an info junkie. I have so much data in my head that it fuels my imagination and serves as points of references in my mind. This book started it all.

The book didn’t help me become a filmmaker, but it helped me see the world more critically as non-fiction has allowed me to do. It helped me become a better writer and artist, who work deals with the critical analysis of reality and its nature.

The Writer: A Flash Memoir

“Mr. XYZ?!” Mrs. Cart hollered in front of the seventh grade class, “You want to write about Mr. XYZ?! This is supposed to be a paper about heroes. Do you even know who Mr. XYZ is?!”

. . .

The plan was to write a term paper that made me look cool. I chose an unsavory character from history. One who I’ve referred to as Mr. XYZ. Mrs. Cart didn’t follow the plan.

Back home, I paged through the Encyclopedia Britannica, looking to please her.

George Washington. Boring.

Thomas Jefferson. Boring

Abraham Lincoln. Boring.

Axel Rose. Taken.

John F. Kennedy.

The theme music for the film JFK blared inside my twelve year-old head. Three months earlier, Oliver Stones’ film suggested my first non-fiction idol. I wanted to be him as much as Luke Skywalker. I now had details in my hands to support those feelings.

I wrote the paper on JFK.

I turned it in.

Mrs. Cart read it in front of the class, said something about my turning things around.

I had written every word to get back into her graces and it worked.

I had found an acceptable hero. One that I fantasized about being.

I crafted a narrative. I was adored for it.

. . .

I had sold out, compromised.

But remained true. At least to what I wanted to believe was true.

My journey as a writer began.

The Adventures of Nowhere Kid

The image above is copyrighted ©2016 by Marc Alexander Valle

I finished four screenplays as a teenager while my grades suffered. The first was called Land of the Lost River. It was a Spielberg-inspired story. It involved heroes fighting Nazis and dinosaurs, looking for the fountain of youth and messiah-like aliens saving the day in the end.

Then there was An Unserialed Surreal Christmas Carol. It took place in a small mid-west city. The main character, who attempted to move to Hollywood to make movies, got stuck in this city on his way there. No need to get into detail. Nearly all other elements resembled Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

Worn to Perfection was a script that I wrote for Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It was about two aging con-artists bonding together for one last heist.

Finally, there was Abduction. It was about a teenager who abducts the man that he believes molested him.

This is what I see now:

Land of the Lost River was about being saved from myself.

An Unserialed Surreal Christmas Carol was about being lost

Worn to Perfection was actually about the pain of absent grandparents. Elderly relatives that would have put my household’s anxiety in balance had they been present.

Abduction was about anxiety, depression, mental illness and my desire to be diagnosed with one. Because if you were as strange as I believed people saw me, and if you were alienated as I felt, than you’d want a mental illness to explain it too.

But like many teens did with their comic books and baseball cards, I threw out all of those pre-graduation drafts. The only thing I bothered to continue to work on for years was Abduction.

I cringe at the thought of reading a draft of that. And hope that I always will.

Holographic Universe Theory, Debunked

“Everything is small,” I said to Mrs. Reed, my second grade teacher.

“What do you mean, hun?” she said.

“Like everything I see is small.”

“What do you mean by small, sweetheart?”

“Like. . .I don’t know…small.”

“Well, does your head hurt?”

“No.”

“Are you dizzy?”

“No.”

“Is your belly achy?”

“No.”

“Do you have to do a number 2?”

“No.”

“Then I can’t send you to the nurse, hun. Sit down.”

The entire world looked like a miniature model. Whenever I experienced this state of consciousness, I told myself, “I’m really here. I’m really here. I’m really here. I’m really here. . .”Supposedly, the name of this neurological condition is called Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome, or Lilliputian hallucinations. The condition is marked by the feeling that the physical environment around the individual has shrunk. It’s usually experienced in childhood and passes in time as was the case for me.

Scientist are now starting to express the theory that reality is a hologram and that we are not really here. Try telling that to Mrs. Reed. She’ll send you to get a drink of water and sit you out for recess.

 

Why I Write, Part 2

Sequel to sci-fi film. Crowded audience. The movie previews play. One after the other, it’s a preview for an animated kids film.

The animated animals do silly things. Make silly jokes. A man, three seats down, laughs. He laughs with his mouth wide open. I don’t find any of this funny. They’re jokes for kids, but somehow it tickles his belly. He sounds like Santa Claus ho-ho-ho-ing at a bar with friends. The lady he’s with laughs too. She’s not as loud, but she sounds like she’s enjoying herself just as much as he is. I’m disgusted. Is this all it takes for some people?

After several animated film previews, a preview for a superhero film comes on. I’m not a fan of these recent superhero films. They’re candy for tweens and fanboys. But I’m enjoying the preview for this one. It involves the government and the superheroes.

This can be good. Very philosophical. Risky even. I want to see it.

“I don’t get it,” the guy says.

“I don’t get it either,” she says.

Is this it? Is this the top of pops when it comes to being a successful artist? Entertaining this guy and his wife? Could I even have a conversation with them about anything other than football scores? I will not write for these people.

. . .

It’s not about writing for yourself. It’s about writing from yourself. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about perfectly expressing who you are.

I still entertain thoughts of being widely accepted by the public. But the style of my artistic output says that it won’t happen.

It’s hard to accept, but liberating in those moments when you do accept it.

Why is it hard to accept?

We have no right to see ourselves the way we want to. It violates who we actually are. And who we are is not always beautiful. It’s rough, it’s twisted, it’s a weirdo. But if we can express those things than we can create beauty.

. . .

The movie ended. It liked it. I went home. I sat down to write.

Nothing came out.

Meditation and Writing

Meditation has taught me to forgive myself. When you have your eyes closed and you’re trying to concentrate on breathing, your mind drifts towards thoughts. It’s like trying to stare at the constellation, but the shooting stars catch your attention. You try to follow everyone to the Earth. Then you remember to look only at the constellation, but you’re hard on yourself for having taken your attention away from it. You tell yourself that it was alright to do that and you move on, staring at the constellation.

I want to apply this to writing. As I write, I feel a critic standing over my shoulder, telling me what’s wrong with my work. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s only a first draft and it will be better. I go back to the constellation of words before me, but he shows up eventually.

A writer friend of mine once said that Aikido is the most beautiful art form he’s studied. Ironically, he and I are involved in the one of the ugliest forms of expression there is. Writing.

Writing is a war with oneself measured by the character. No wonder it’s so unforgiving. No wonder it’s so rewarding.

Does ‘word count’ count?

I’ve decided to write 250 words a day for my novel. This number might change, but right now it seems right. This means that it will take longer than I hoped to finish a rough draft. I don’t want to push myself for some reason. Maybe I don’t want to get discouraged with the pressure of 500-1000 words a day.

So here’s my metaphor of the day. I’m in a dark castle at night, and I have only a box of matches to help me find a magical sword. I have to use any and every clue and mental faculty I have to discern where the sword might be.  This is how this rough draft feels. And in the end, that’s what it will be. Very, very rough. It’s hard to get over the fact that it won’t be pristine, but I’m trying to enjoy the journey.

So any thoughts on a 250 word a day count for what might be a 100 word book?