Prompt: What did you learn from your first job?

I worked at a movie theater when I was 16. I don’t have many good memories of it, because I don’t have many good memories from my teen years at all. But this prompt wants me to find something that I learned. After 22 years to reflect, I think I have something.

Show up on time to your minimum wage job and work hard. You’ll usually have a job and few problems.

I was nominated for an employee of the month the first month that I was there. I asked the manager why I was nominated. I had thought you needed to do more than clean a theater. He said that I was a good worker and caused no problems. For this reason, I was given more hours than most of the teens there.

“Is that all it takes?” I thought. “Is Woody Allen right about successes and how most of it is just showing up?”

As I got older, I dropped out of college and worked crappy jobs, I realized the importance of just showing up and working. Most workers in these jobs won’t show up and work. They give excuses to not be there, and they try to get out of some of the worst tasks of their shift. They’re often involved in drama, and many of them can’t be trusted. A good worker is hard to find and managers know this. This is not to say that showing up and working hard will make you a manager. Most likely you will be taken advantage of if you work too hard. But I’ve been able to hold on to these types of jobs because others do not have any standards for themselves.

This leads me to the real lesson.

Where did I get this ethic from?

My parents worked constantly when I grew up. This rubbed off. But more importantly, my parents weren’t phonies and showed me that it’s more important to express yourself with actions before words. My first job showed me the importance of a reputation. Your reputation is other people’s perception of who you are. And perception is everything. My mom and dad had a good reputation with me and my brother. They give us what we needed, and they were consistent about it. In turn, I decided to be as dependable as they were.

Show who you are, don’t tell. This is what I learned from my first job and other crappy jobs to follow.

And what did you learn from your first job?

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

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.

The Valle Cinema Ramblings Vol. 2: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The modern interpretation of any story analysis these days is that the hero is a sociopath. An analysis of Ferris Buller should be no different. But I won’t go down that path. Calling our heroes (or anti-heroes) sociopaths is dismissive and keeps us from digging deeper. So instead, I’ll say that Ferris Buller is a fake.

He fakes his sickness to get out of school. He changes his cloths to fit into any situation that he needs to manipulate. He pretends to be someone that he’s not (Abe Froman) just for a seat at a restaurant. Then when the restaurant host sees past his disguise, he refuses to admit that he’s just a high school kid. He takes the risk of getting into further trouble by playing with the restaurant phone lines in an attempt to look like the person he claims to be. A scene later, when he leaves the restaurant, he sneaks past his father and steals his cab when he’s not looking rather than taking the less risky move of walking away. He still believes that he’s the Abe Froman he claimed to be.

I found it hard to connect with Ferris Buller in the end. There’s only so much I have to say about him, because he only reveals so much about himself. I don’t find him to be a likable character, and that might be the point. But how can we respect anyone that wants to be anyone but himself?

Redemption is found in characters like Cameron and Jean, who make the decision to change when they hit rock bottom.

This has been a very hard film for me to break down and write about. I couldn’t wrap my head around one theme like I can with many other films. But I do feel that the filmmaker used Ferris to make two critiques on the world:

  1. People believe what they want to believe just as they believed that Ferris was whoever he said he was.

 

  1. The world is a prison of rules and responsibilities that keep us from feeling freedom and happiness.

But then those are the life discoveries of a sociopath, aren’t they?

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? ”

High School: The Dating Sign-up Sheet

In high school, I wondered where the dating sign-up sheet was. I had a thought-feeling that there was a system that paired up one person with the other for a few weeks. The worst thought-feeling was the Friday night party. Upon entering this party any notion of Marc’s existence would be erased from people’s mind. They were having too much fun.

My Friday night was spent watching the films of Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Kurosawa and writing Tarantino-inspired screenplays. I was going to be the next Spielberg, and it would take me to the top of the dating sign-up sheet.  Questions would haunt me those nights, “What are they doing?”, “How does a guy talk to a girl?”, “Are they making out?, “Is the girl I have a crush on there?”

We spend too much time in those years worrying about people that we will never see afterward, and we spend too much time after wondering what we would have done instead of worrying about those people.

I would have read more prose and I would have written more prose. That’s all I can think of. It might or might not have changed my life, but I know now that’s what I should have been doing. Ironically, I struggle to do those things even more so today. The dating sign-up sheet reincarnates again and again.

Screenwriting as Teenage Therapy

At 15, I wrote a screenplay intended for Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The title, Word to Perfection, was the tagline for Paul Newman’s most recent film, Nobody’s Fool. It was about two aging bank robbers getting together for one last job.

I realize now that it was actually about the absence of grandparents in my life. Not that I didn’t have grandparents, but there wasn’t a relationship from either the maternal or paternal side. I needed someone else to go to with my problems, and I subconsciously thought that they could help.

Many of my high school and community college era screenplays were about needing help and hoping that someone could give me an outlet other than writing. Writing just wasn’t enough to deal with feelings of alienation at that time.

Fortunately, I discovered the likes of Bob Dylan and The Beatles. They gave me another world to step into. I got a message from that music: You’re just fine being you. Marc the writer is just the tip of the iceberg.

It would still take me years to find the courage to dive into the ocean and explore that iceberg. But inch by inch (with school, meditation and social events) I did. Now, I’m at a time where I can see what function each screenplay was trying to perform. It makes me wonder what my present day writings are trying to say.