Have You Been Saved (by art)?

Art has been a toy to me, like an extra-dimensional rubrics cube in the mind. I didn’t know that I was an artist until my 30’s, after years of actually being an artist through writing, photography, and other mediums. Art is a compulsion, an impulse inside the body that manifests itself when we wake up from the auto-pilot of day-to-day life and realize that the world is 10,000 miles away from how we actually feel inside. It’s an attempt to get hold of the wild horse called our life and steer it in a direction that accurately expresses who we are or at least how we feel about who we are.

When I wrote those first screenplays in high school, I thought I’d be Spielberg by senior year. What the heck did I know about life and setting realistic goal? I thought the answer was a grandiose level of success. What I didn’t realize is that I was doing the most fundamental and bravest thing. I was saving my life.

Art saved my life. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but at very least psychologically. And psychological survival is often overlooked. I would have cracked inside as a teenager. I don’t know how this would have looked, but I had a steam pipes inside my mind and it needed release. Nothing else could do that for me those days. I barely knew how to talk to people, and I thought that being noticed and liked was everything. And for something that was everything to me, I barely felt that I was noticed at all, sitting at the lunch table by myself.

This thing called art, this puzzle in the seat of the creative mind distracted me from suffering, self-inflicted suffering, as it always is self-inflicted. Art became a place. Like a child going to her or his grandparents in order to relax from the overbearing nature of parents. Except myself and my value system were the overbearing parents, believing that if everyone loved me, all would be normal.

Art snapped me out of this. It was a long drawn out snap, one where I fought back, but art eventually won. “Who do you think you are?” it said to me. “I’ve been here before you and will be here after.” And then you see the greats. Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Mozart, Kubrick, Mary Shelly, those people that wrote on cave walls in France. Death didn’t care what they did for art’s sake. Death took them as quick as Death takes everyone else. Time doesn’t care either, because everything they did could one day be gone, will be gone when the universe ends.

We must treat ideas as though they are real and can grow if we feed them thoughts, positive or negative thoughts. “Art saved my life.” It’s not the hungriest idea I’ve ever conjured, but it has had the power to humble me. But I’ve come up with a better idea since getting older. “Art had and still has the power to save my life.” There’s a big difference, and I won’t insult your intelligence with an explanation. But I will tell you to find something to be a nerd about and geek out over it. Knit sweaters, catch crawfish, paint a portrait, collect coins, race go-karts, anything as long as it’s positive. Do it well and know it well and do it again. The skills that we gain through practice is the empire that we build within ourselves. Practice often and practice well. It may save your life or at least your sanity.

©2019 Marc Alexander Valle

Seed: A Poem by Marc Alexander Valle

You have to bleed it out. Art, truth, beauty.

Art.

Craftsmanship and hard work are effective, but it’s not what the body needs.

The mirrors of self-reflection reside in the gut, the solar plexus, the basement.

I used to fear the basement of my parents first house as a kid. It smelled of 100-year-old walls. I could touch the damp air with my fingers. For whatever reason I walked down, I always came running back up, imagining a zombie giving chase. I’d slam the door behind me.

You have to let it bleed. Art, truth, beauty.

Beauty is the circle and there are no shortcuts.

I once took a shortcut to the park with some friends through an abandoned factory lot. I walked on a steel beam pretending that I was 100 stories up in the air. My brother told me to get off. I kept walking, laughing. I tripped and fell on the next beam. It took a chunk of skin on my leg.

I thought I was going to die, it hurt so much. Blood poured down to my white sock and made its way down to my sneakers.

You have to let it bleed out of you. Art, beauty, truth.

Truth is the slow burn of the universe and the universe is a cold joke where reality uncovers itself at the punchline.

I once brought a dirty joke book to my sixth grade class. I showed everyone, thinking it would make me look cool. The teacher found it on me. I had to explain why I had it, and when he questioned me, I cried. Two girls in detention saw my tears, and I turned my face in embarrassment.

You have to bleed it out. Art, truth, beauty. It doesn’t even really like you or trust your humanity. But it needs you. And if you trust all three enough to let it pour out of your wounds, you’ll be rewarded with a feeling of pride, like you did something special. And we all need to feel like we’ve done something special. Even if it’s forgotten. And we will be forgotten. Right?

©2019 Marc Alexander Valle

Oscar Season and Me

Starting in 8th grade, I made it my job to see any fall film that I thought would be an Oscar contender. When the awards show was telecast, I wanted to be able to judge for myself who was robbed or not. Some kids were jocks. Some kids were stoners. Some kids were nerds. But I knew what movies were nominated for best picture all through the 1970’s.

I can remember dragging my best friend to see Columbus: The Discovery, assuming that an historical film released in October was a shoe-in for a nomination. The film now has a 7% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. At 17, I even walked several miles to the only theater that was showing Breaking the Waves.

The last Oscar push I tasked myself with, was in the 2002/2003 Oscar season. I would leave my grocery job at 10pm, drive to the nearby theater and fit in films like Gangs of New York, Adaptation, The 25th Hour and Chicago (The only film that I ever walked out of.)

I can’t tell you what films won for best picture after those years. I started to get out more in life, and became tired of getting the potential nominees wrong. Over the years, I’ve waited for their video release, and have enjoyed watching them at home.

Last Oscar video release season (spring of 2015), I managed to sit through only 3 out of roughly 10 Oscar contenders. I saw the first half hour of Foxcatcher and skipped through scenes. I saw all of The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game the same way, but actually got to the ending. I started Selma and American Sniper, but turned it off after a half hour. I saw a half hour of Whiplash and skipped to the ending.

The only films I did sit though were Boyhood and Birdman. I was tempted to turn off Birdman. In fact, the only nominated film to capture my complete attention was Nightcrawler.

This is largely due to my lack of interests in features these days. Documentaries seem to be doing more for me at this point in my life.

Then there’s the fact that these films are artistic ‘drama queens’. They kick and scream, “Don’t you see? I have everything needed for an Oscar. A great cast, a talented director, gorgeous photography and a sparkling script. Just nominate me. That’s all I ask for.”

With the exception of Nightcrawler, I saw little or no edge to those films in the first half hour. Nothing fearless. Nothing raw. Nothing unadulterated. Talented directors just don’t take chances anymore. The Joseph Campbell heroes’ journey arc has infested its way into the Oscar season film.

Leaving Las Vegas, Dead Man Walking, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Wild at Heart. This is what I want my writing to be. A chance that’s been taken.

A lonely teenager might never walk several miles for my book in a digital age, but I want that kid to feel what I felt before I made it to the theater in the fall and winter of the 1990s, “This is what real art is supposed to be. Right? ”