WRITERS

Why would anyone become a writer? Especially in a world that doesn’t seem to read anymore. Or go to the theatre, or go to the movies to see anything other than comic book heroes. Good question.

All the great writers were mostly drunks. Coincidence? Or is there a cost for looking too long into the abyss and reporting back to the good folk what they’re too timid to experience for themselves? Springsteen once wrote that there is a darkness at the edge of town. No, that darkness lies within us all. Each one of us has the latent potential to be a Hitler or a Christ. God has cleverly given us free will to choose our own poison. And the highly sensitive among us reach for the bottle, or the harder stuff, in order to numb ourselves to the responsibilities of that choice.

When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who attempted to teach me anything. Not sure if my undisciplined mind was a result of the trauma I witnessed most nights in my abusive family home, or I had what is now diagnosed as ADD. One day the headmaster of the school phoned my mother for a meeting to question her as to why her son had the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades. She was at a loss for words. But not me. Words always came easy to me. In fact I could talk myself out of any beating I was about to receive from a Christian Brother. That was quite a feat considering the relish they got from handing out such brutal punishment. These guys would’ve been more at home as members of the Third Reich than Jesus’ band of 12. But talk my way out I did. So, words became my friend, my salvation. And humour protected me from the cruel slings of other peer group bullies. I could always hysterically put myself down before anyone else had the chance to. Timing was everything. Playing the court jester got me through my troubled youth and shielded me from revealing my true self. And what was that? I was scared of everything and everyone. I felt like an alien most of the time in a strange world that only threw contradictions at you.

My refuge again and again were words. The only subjects at school that I attained any respectable grades for were Art, English and Religious Knowledge. The latter because I loved hearing all the Biblical stories and for some reason remembered every detail. They were filled with such amazing imagery and drama. Oh, and miracles. I guess I was depending on a miracle to happen in my life that would save me. And this Jesus character sounded like he might’ve been the only person who would’ve taken the time to understand me. Whether he was the Messiah or not is up for debate, but he sure sounded like a nice man. And like me, and all the other loners and misfits in the world, grossly misunderstood. I never forgot those stories and if nothing else they were great morality word plays.

Due to my restless mind I found it too difficult to persevere and read a book through to the end. But I tried again and again to achieve this. Thank God I did because I now must own over a thousand books that I cherish and have taught me more than I ever learnt at school. I always tell people I was self educated and that’s the truth of it. All my education took place in a class of one. In many ways, books saved my life.

My introduction to books began when I was a small child and my Irish grandmother would sit me on her lap and read aloud the adventures of Noddy in Toyland. We bonded through the whole Noddy series until she was taken from me when I was two.

The first book that hooked me enough to finish was, ironically, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I guess it proved that I had a fascination with the mystery of women from an early age. This of course led to much heartache and my premature death but that’s a whole other story. Either that, or Ms. Alcott was one helluva writer that captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I felt I knew all the characters and cared enough about them to shed some tears. The mark of a great writer.

After that I read Enid Blyton’s book series “The Famous Five” followed by “The Secret Seven.” Then I graduated to “Biggles,” and then many books about the Wild West that introduced me to such colourful characters as Davy Crockett. Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy The Kid etc., etc., etc. Yep, who needed to time travel or see the world when you had books?

Then in my late teen years I read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and my life really did change. A book about the ultimate loner always surrounded by a party of people. I savoured every word in that book – it’s prose was exquisite and the story heartbreaking. It foretold me that following the wrong dreams can get you killed. Reading Fitzgerald was like finding a new best friend. I understood him. And from what I read I knew he understood me. After that I read all six of his novels and every short story he ever wrote. I couldn’t get enough of his words and the insight he gave into the human heart. It really was like he’d read my letters or thoughts and knew me intimately. Of course being part Irish, like me, virtually every story ended in death or heartbreak. He painted such a romantic but dangerous world where his characters always paid a high price for caring too much.

Fitzgerald’s own life was cut short by too much booze and heartbreak topped off by rejection in Hollywood. But he remains my friend and I reread “Gatsby” every couple of years. It never fails to move me. Hollywood has never been able to pull off a wholly successful film treatment of it for the simple reason that most of the truly beautiful stuff in the book are the thoughts in the characters heads, and that’s impossible to shoot. Films are about action. Fitzgerald’s writing is about emotions. Unless you do endless voice-overs and that usually renders your movie as exciting as porridge. That’s why the great Fitzgerald had such a hard time of it in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter in order to net enough money to keep his wife Zelda in a mental home and pay for his daughter’s schooling. He died a broken, despairing, weary man old before his time.

Like Gatsby, killed by the wrong dream.

I came to Charles Dickens late. Not sure why that was but come to him I did. The first book of his I chose to read was “Great Expectations” and was astounded. To me it remains one of the greatest novels of all time. And in my opinion he is right up there with Shakespeare.

I heard that Dickens original ending to “Great Expectations” was tragic and certainly all roads in the book are leading there. But his publisher leaned on him to come up with a more upbeat ending. Dickens listened, went away and rewrote it, and what he does is simply sublime. He gives it a happy ending that is so bitter sweet he moves us to tears as our damaged leading characters come together to try and seek a way forward, and into the sunlight. It is so beautiful my hands trembled as I read the final pages. This novel alone would’ve assured his place among the giants of literature, but he did it again and again, novel after novel – “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Hard Times,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (another ending that is so exquisitely executed as our flawed hero rises to the most noble of acts, laying down his wasted life so that others may live and find the joy that had always eluded him. Death giving his meaningless life a meaning. If there’s a better speech than his final words, I would surely love to know about it.

After Dickens I discovered Hemingway, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Shakespeare, O’Hara, Maugham, Hammett, Greene, Wilde, Twain, Isherwood, Chandler, Huxley, Ephron and many others.

All complex people, flawed, contradictory, confused, and yet so much wiser in their work than in life. Perhaps the writing down of stories and emotions helped them understand themselves.

It’s interesting how great writing never dates. You may think that picking up something that was written a hundred years ago or, in some cases longer, couldn’t possibly be relevant to your life. But the surprising revelation is that the emotions felt are timeless. Just different scenery and choice of words. But at the heart of every great story is just another human being trying to solve the same problems, whilst dealing with the same heartaches, pressures and obstacles. The universal human emotion. If you write the truth in its naked honesty it will always connect – now, tomorrow, a thousand years from now.

It teaches us that we are not alone. We are all in this together, wandering around a desert seeking an answer to why we are here. And awaiting that opportunity to rise to the potential of who we could be.

John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”

A person with books is never alone.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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OUR HEALTHY LIFE

I have seen it all
But missed so much
What happened to our healthy life?
Did we lose our touch?
There are women out there
That want to thrill ya
There are men who stare
That want to kill ya
I'm living in a two room condo
In Clownsville
I think I may've died but
The stubborn part is living still
Love is not for wimps
Or just a point of view
It waivers in the wind
When it doesn't ring true
I've been to hell
They know me there
Tell 'em Frankie boy says hello
If you dare
Everyone I meet
Is somebody's girl
My dad was Jack
My mother was Pearl
They taught me how
To survive our street
And to see the beauty
That comes with defeat


(c) Frank Howson 2018

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017

THE HUMBLED

I stumbled and fell into this. It was not of my doing as the road 
I was forging went in a different direction to the dreams of the boy 
I was. This caused me great confusion and suffering as I wandered
lonely as a cloud through school poetry and beatings. My pain became
my shield and protected me from the salt of their laughter. I learned to 
make them laugh before they had the chance to laugh first. Several women 
attempted to wash my feet before my crucifixion one grey day in history
when our father forsaken me because of his drinking. I cried in agony with
a thief each side of me, one believing in me, and one to ridicule me for a
life that ended so. Somehow I rose from the dead and since then I have had 
several resurrections. In fact, the more times people write me off, the 
stronger I come back. My enemies have unwittingly made me indestructible. The shock 
realisation of this has killed many of them. The rest I have dealt with. 
People now stop me in the street and ask for my wisdom. But this wisdom was 
not my doing, and has come from the undoing of everything I wanted and loved.
It was fired by pain and made as strong as steel through humiliation and 
injustice. But still I go on. And those who have spoken against me have
been struck down by God or are dying in the poisoned bile of their lies.
I visit their graves at night to laugh. For nothing is forgotten or 
forgiven at this train stop on the way to Armageddon. I choose to travel
economy for my instinct tells me that God only welcomes the humbled. The man
who brags may get ahead in this life, but suffers a thousand years in the
next. The ignorant fool who never stops talking and always distorts the
third hand facts will be the next to fall on his sword and death
waits patiently in his gallery of art to silence his unrepentant and envious
ways. I am coming for him. Coming in the night. Coming in the dead end
street. Coming in his busy schedule. Coming for rightful correction. Coming.
Every hurtful snide remark is etched on my heart. Every belittling lie
is another stab wound he will suffer. Another thousand years to linger 
at the abyss. And the hellish realisation that it was all for nothing. 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

Photograph by Raija Sunshine (c) 2017



SPIRITUAL VAMPIRES

So many fucked up people in the world
Monstrously negative feelings about every living person
Every word from their mouths another poison bullet
Aimed at someone, anyone
Most times they actually kill the person who was attempting 
To help them
But I guess to them we all look the same
Eventually they implode and eat themselves
But don't breathe easy
There are many who will follow
They weren't loved enough by daddy
So now they reach out frantically to everyone they meet
To give them the loving family they were denied
But when such immediate desperation hits 
They frighten off their targets
And their baby love turns to a cold-hearted hate 
Within a blink of an eye
They hit out at the world 
For not giving them what they wanted
Yet they can't tell you what that is
They want to be celebrities 
Without doing the hard work
They want to be successful writers 
Without facing the pain
They want to top the charts with songs
That touch us without ever exploring themselves
They want babies 
But marry those who don't
Almost as though this self-fulfilling prophecy
Will forever more be their excuse 
For not having to love anyone
Or give of themselves
Or try
If you are trapped by them
There is no escape
Only a small room where death awaits
The living are always under attack from the dead
The spiritual vampires
Of the new millennium
Sucking off your light force
Until you are done
And then they will mourn you
Because now you are safe to be
Whoever they choose to invent
As their next excuse


(c) Frank Howson 2017




NEW IDEA FOR MOVIE

A new film about giant dildos taking over the world. People running terrified through the streets because if they get you they fuck you up real bad.

(C) Frank Howson 2017

THE MAN IN THE BLACK HAT AND THE LONG BLACK COAT.

When I was a small boy living in St. Kilda, both my dad and mum would point out a man in a black hat and a long black coat to me. “You see that man, son?…Well he has been walking around St. Kilda for years. Long as we can remember. And he never seems to age. He must be a hundred years old!” Always intrigued by a good mystery, I from then on took great notice of this man. Over the years, as I grew to be a man, I would always look around at local markets, street performances, Luna Park, crowded Saturday night boulevards, and sure enough, there he would be. And as I aged, he always appeared to look the same. A middle aged man, neither smiling or frowning, just there. A face in the crowd. Being a romantic, I thought maybe he was the eternal wanderer. A soul who was chained to this life and the suburb he loved, and his limbo was to forevermore, or until God’s forgiveness was granted, wander aimlessly these streets in search of a meaning he had failed to dis-cipher in his life here.

When I’d see him, I’d always stand transfixed waiting to see if he’d return a smile, or a nod of the head, or just an icy stare. But no. Nothing. Expressionless. No eye contact. This was a man well used to being alone. His face looked like he was a foreigner. Perhaps from somewhere in Europe. Germany?…France?…Vienna?…Maybe he’d escaped the war and had left behind his loved ones, his home, his belongings…and like his friends he too had become a ghost. A shadow. A man cursed to wander this life as punishment for running away from his true destiny.

I too ran away from my loved ones, my home, my belongings…and for the same reason, perhaps. There were dark clouds forming and I’d been advised that I could be dragged into a swamp that, although masterminded by others, justice could be blind in such circumstances. I went to Los Angeles as, in some circles, my work was still respected there and possibly some jobs could come my way, which they did. For nine years. I became a physician. A script doctor. Re-writing other people’s screenplays to make them better. No credit but the money was a living. Occasionally writing some songs that got into some movies. Writing my memoirs on my life in the movie business, well, all the parts that weren’t too painful to regurgitate at that time. The wounds were still too open and although time does heal, one’s heart does remain bruised. It’s stated in the small print when we signed on for this life but one is always too preoccupied with excitement and hope to notice.

Although I had amassed a great deal of experience making 12 movies in Australia, the experience I received in L.A working with the legendary Arthur Hiller, Joe Eszterhas, Amy Ephron, Michael Richards, Martin Landau, Mark Rydell, Sally Kirkland, P.F. Sloan, John Grimaldi, Heath Ledger, Eric Burden, Bernard Fowler, Terry Reid, Waddy Wachtel, Rick Rosas, Sherry Lansing, Phil Jones, Michael J. Pollard, Stacy Michelle, John Savage, Helen Mirren, Jackie Lomax, Wade Preston, Creed Bratton, Damion Damizza Young, Peter Burke, Eric Idle, John Capek, Barry Robinson, Mike Smith, William Friedkin, Thea Gill, Jack Tempchin, Patricia Clarkson, etc., etc., etc., took me to a whole other level. How could you not learn something?

Nine years went by like nine months. The last two years in a haze of a personal heartache, the theft of an idea that I lived to see the thief make millions from as well as get honoured with the highest award a country can give for such an original idea, and the subsequent spiral from meeting too many people who weren’t really there.

If it hadn’t been for the kindness and humanity of Barry Robinson and Mike Smith, I most likely wouldn’t be here today. So if you want to blame anyone, you have their names.

So one day,  as the result of a turn of events, I returned from across the sea to my birthplace, St. Kilda. The first lyric I wrote as a result was…

This is my country, these are my friends, this is the place my journey ends, I stand before you my heart in my hand, a refugee in my homeland, I did my best, I fought my war, I’ve seen enough to want no more, May I lay my weary baggage down to walk inside your door? Send out the word that I’ve returned, my face is lined with lessons learned, I thought my day was almost done, but here I am, your prodigal son…”

Some time later, encouraged by my friend Richard Wolstencroft to dip my toe into the icy water again, I began a new film, “Remembering Nigel” – a film about a group of people remembering a man they once knew who is now deceased. Trouble is, everyone’s opinion of this man and their recollections of him are so diverse and conflicting you soon realise nobody knew the poor bastard at all! And the more they speak of him, the more they reveal about themselves. It is still deemed too original for most distributors to release into a marketplace filled with movies for 14 year olds.  It is an epic account loosely based on my life, heightened here and there for either comedy relief or dramatic punch. It is also a movie that connects with most people on a very deep, profound spiritual level. Well, that is, if you still have a spirit in this mad world we survive in.

When making this film, it became obvious that we’d have to see some funny flashbacks of Nigel. But in order to retain that underlying message that we are all Nigel, how best to capture that? Well, seeing I was directing, it was easier for me to portray Nigel as I was obviously on set all the time, so, whenever we had some downtime or an actor was running late, the crew and I would knock off some Nigel flashbacks.

Whilst in preproduction, I was out in Chapel Street one day and saw a shop with a huge half price sale on. Not intending to buy anything but a bit of time on my hands, my instinct steered me into the store to browse. And there it was. Only one left. And miraculously in my size. A rather uniquely cut long black coat. I knew instantly this was Nigel’s everyman attire. I scooped it up, and then it became obvious a black hat was needed, and that we’d only ever shoot Nigel from behind and never see his face. The black hat and the long black coat would be to Nigel what the Lone Ranger’s blue suit, white hat and mask were to him. As Martin Landau summed up when he saw the rough cut, “Everyone who’s ever felt misunderstood in their life, will see themselves as Nigel”.

Which brings me back to the man in the black hat and the long black coat who wandered St. Kilda for years, and who I actually saw again whilst filming Nigel’s death on St. Kilda beach one rainy overcast day. Or perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me. But I swear I saw him in the distance walking away along Jacka Boulevard that grey misty late afternoon.

After we wrapped the filming and it was all in the can, as they say, I, in the habit of wearing the black hat and coat, continued to do so. Only recently did I have the epiphany that I have become, around St. Kilda, the man in the black hat and the long black coat. Sometimes I see people pointing me out, perhaps a few here and there know of me or my work, or maybe a father or mother are saying to their child, “You see that man?…Well he has been walking around St. Kilda for years. Long as we can remember. And he never seems to age. He must be a hundred years old!”

So perhaps I have been recast as the eternal wanderer. And my journey has a long way to go.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

 

photograph by Vanessa Allan.

THE HOPE

When I was a small boy, shortly after being pushed into this world through blood and tears, I  began to dream. These dreams weren’t like normal ones in my sleep but rather, much to the consternation of my teachers, during my awake hours. Some of these dreams were bigger than me. And a few would turn out to be so big they would eventually run me down. In time I took this to be a sign from God who lets us know, now and again, that there is a price for everything in this world.

I would pay for mine with a broken spirit reflected in a broken voice. A humbling condition that also teaches one that the true road to God is through humility.  It seems that you can only reach Him by looking up.

I strolled the dirty, broken streets of my youth looking down at the pavement locked in these dreams. In some of them I was Davy Crockett laying down my life for a noble cause.  In others, I was Zorro and my hair was perfect and I always got away unharmed to fight another day.  I found that these dreams could actually get you through your life, even on a zero budget. All you had to do was find a park bench, close your eyes, lift your head until you felt the warm comforting rays of the sun, and let your mind go off to exotic locations and scenarios.

It was good to be young in those days. Without TV and the internet and (c)rap and the Kardashians we had no idea what we were missing. Or how good we had it. Each day was all we owned and it was amazing how much we could fit into it.

I dreamed that I would be bigger than my dad in height and temperament and wealth, and I lived to achieve all that and to discover how meaningless it was. Especially the wealth. It is only in the hard wisdom that I fully see how big was father was. In spite of all his flaws, or maybe as a result of them. For no one gets to be perfect on this lonely journey and to attempt the conceit of striving for it will break you and those you love until you all splinter and disappear in different directions. Take it from one who tried.

So many were lost in action by my failed campaign.

Like a war, some dreams can kill you, maim you, or render you insane from shell shock. There is only so much horror one can witness. Some of us are so mad we get up, dust ourselves off and go on, no matter what we have lost. For to look back at what we have sacrificed following our dream may render us rigid with fear from the monstrous wrecks we have left strewn in our wake.

Over the years our dreams, like us, become less complex and more realistic. And, if we have learned anything at all, we have learned to say thanks for each simple one that comes true.

These days I do feel like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, weary from a very long battle that one can’t run from as there are too many eyes looking our way for direction and an example. But like Davy must’ve learned in those final lonely hours, there is no glory, that comes much later and is spun by the myth makers, there is only blood, sweat and tears. And an intense feeling of loss paid for those fleeting moments of inner warmth that made us feel one with the universe. Perhaps that warmth was hope. A hope that maybe some of it meant something to someone. And if so, maybe we were for a time bigger than ourselves and perhaps, if that’s the case, the dream will go on. And maybe someone much wiser and stronger will one day clench in the palm of their calloused hand the golden ring. I truly hope so.

 

(c) Frank Howson