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.”
Sorry for not seeing you but your beauty blinded me to who you really are. With each feature vying for attention it is easy to lose focus as to where perfection ends and heaven begins. Perhaps your beauty just confirms that there is such a thing as heaven, as well as the painful realisation that it will be denied to us on this earth. God allows us to make fools of ourselves in your presence by uttering the wrong word killing every perfect moment, and our chance to have had you. For the way to Him must truly be paved by our humility.
I have walked with wise men and none told how to handle you. Perhaps they were wise enough to know that such a thing cannot be handled as that would reduce it to the grubby conversations of hungry men. Like knowing dissipates the magic from a Houdini trick. But perhaps the truth to why they never prepared me for you was because you had broken them too on their journey to wisdom, stopping only briefly in bitterness – the platform on which we must all kill time, frantically searching the night for any sign of approaching light, waiting for a train that never comes.
I check my ticket stub and notice that I will be seated in carriage D with all the sad men. Old before their time, wearied to exhaustion from striving too hard and too long to have it all.
Why didn’t my mother warn me that I would always end up alone and that my mission in life was not to have love, but to write about it?
I went to town
And had some fun
I'd spent all my money
Before day was done
The buildings were tall
And they blocked the sun
I went to town
And had some fun
I returned home
Before night fell
I kissed all the women
But I won't tell
They said they loved me
Must've thought I was dumb
I went to town
And had some fun
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
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
I saw a crazy man in the heart of the city cursing the people he passed, cursing the buildings, cursing someone long gone, cursing God for this Purgatory.
People reacted in different ways. Some froze and willed themselves to be invisible, some scurried away in the opposite direction, some watched in that detached zombie way people stand transfixed at car crash sites, fascinated by the sight of real disaster and yet non-reacting as though watching a movie play out.
So what does it take to make someone just crack one day? One huge life tragedy too much, or a series of small ones too close together that defy our idea of logic and fairness? Perhaps if we raise our voices above the rumbling wearing down drone sound of the busy city traffic, God will hear us?
Why does our Maker withdraw his grace and allow us to free fall through darkness and scorn so far from home? Or are we meant to always be alone in search of ourselves in others, a perilous journey not for the fainthearted. Or the dreamers.
Maybe the crazy man in the street had been chosen to heed his inner calling to join the wild throng and it is therefore in the madness that lies the ultimate truth?
Was Don Quixote mad because he chose to see the world as it should be? Or were the people who gathered to ridicule and laugh at his expense the mad ones?
John Lennon, during his time, was called mad by many, especially the press and the conservative establishment. But his brutal death at the hands of, ironically, a mad man has now elevated him to the status of martyr and messiah. Today, his human flaws have been sanitised to fit what is acceptable in the gospel of his life. The nobody mad man who shot him for a shot at immortality got a life sentence, while the famous mad man got death. And then in death, rose again.
When you look closely at it, most of our true heroes in history were called mad during their lifetimes because they attempted to do something different. To shine a light into the darkness that most of us are afraid to acknowledge. To take us where we would never have dared go if not for them. To make us think and, more importantly, to make us feel. In achieving this, a great many of them paid with their lives so that we may live.
So next time you see a mad man or woman in the street, spare a few seconds to ponder the forces that shaped them. And perhaps in those seconds we may awaken the humanity in ourselves.
I cried when they took away all the things I had loved and lived for.
My voice became ravaged and ragged when my spirit was broken and the walls came down to reveal my soul was really 500 years old. It was God’s way of humbling me which is the only way to Him/Her.
I wandered the wastelands in search of a reason to find a way out. It took years to think of one. But I thought of you long before I met you.
I have no agenda other than to do my work and treat other humans with kindness and respect. I will be damned for this and smirked at by those with no backbone or chins.
I look around at all the lost souls who act in an arrogant way, telling you things that are not true in order to impress, swearing on bibles that simple songs are too complex to play, manipulating situations that are really of no importance, protecting their over-inflated egos at any cost, convincing themselves that guests arrive to see them and not the hosts and, still, I feel sorrow at their ignorant pathetic-ness. Wasting their lives and their opportunities for inner peace by waging a war to defend their hollow delusions which are, and always were, meaningless.
We live in a world where the banks own you now. They can afford to be arrogant and rude to their customers because they need no longer keep up the pretence of performing a service.
I hope in my time I live to see the public rise up against them. Yes, there will be blood, long time coming.
The plague will descend from ourselves and inhabit the dull-eyed crowds that linger in the shadows of that which cannot be spoken. Friends, whom we thought were friends, will try and entice us to visit them whilst they are contagious so that they can infect us and watch us weaken and die as they feast on our souls. Spiritual vampires pretending to be human will survive by repeating things they have overheard in order to make small talk and fade into the scenery undetected. No empathy. No conscience. They will devour anything, anyone that gets in their way. For the mere existence of real people will torture them until they have succeeded in extinguishing the flame.
I feel like I’m dying as a result of the most selfish man in the world who gives you guilt trips if you don’t risk your life paying homage to him by breathing in his environment – and his disease. Nothing you offer as a sacrifice is good enough because he has been denied attention for 40 years and his desert is calling.
“Thou shalt not worship false gods!” I scream as I destroy his overcrowded temple to his own ego.
His family call him their stalker as they continue to feed his insatiable hunger for attention and a limelight that no longer shines and in fact only ever did in his dreams.
Thank you for weakening my already troubled heart. Your play acting concern was less than convincing to the children present and has been noted in the Book of the Dead.
My last glimpse of this world will be of my best friends clammering to be photographed with the man who destroyed me. I see they are all smiling.