A MUSING

i love
laugh
desire
crash
and break like china
my reward for longing?
the moon
and
stars
“where is paris in this empty place?”
yells a fool to the drunken maitre ‘d
my taxi driver’s lost again
the eyes of st. christopher
stare down on
me
may God forgive

 
(C) Frank Howson 2018

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WHAT IS TRUTH?

I’m at the age when people die. I view life from the cluttered comforting living area of a mystical art space, going from room to room as inspiration strikes me. A song lyric here, a line of dialogue overheard from lunch, a painting or sketch there. It’s a very full solitary life and reduces everything to the minimalists’ joy of simplicity. I suppose I would be just as happy in a jail cell with my necessary tools, although I’d miss the occasional walk in the sun. And impromptu visit from a friend. My life has been crammed with so many adventures, tragedies, faces, external forces, Machiavellian plots, heartaches, silent joys, defeats and comebacks etc., that I sometimes feel I’m five hundred years old. Other times I forget and am back to feeling like that seventeen year old kid with it all before me. Sometimes Hercules, sometimes Norman Maine. Many memories occasionally stampede through my mind from what feels like another life. Friends and lovers long gone, but my heart still carries the weight of their memory. Although death may take a life it seems that the relationship continues for those left behind, excluded from the final mystery. Sometimes I resent the birds who are not chained to the ground like us confused humans. Our only soaring comes in those momentary waves of joy that are so overwhelmingly spectacular and personal that there are no words invented to accurately verbalise them so we walk them away in dark alleyways, alone – as alone as our birth and our death. The magic hours just before dawn. There is an exquisite sweetness in failure, just as there is a sour aftertaste in triumph. Perhaps only General Grant fully understood this when he allowed General Lee to savour the nobility of defeat in all its glory and, as Grant stood in his torn and dusty uniform, head bowed in humility, paying homage to his defeated opponent, denying himself the tacky opportunity to steal the thunder of victory from a long and vicious campaign where young boys died bewildered and despairing on battlefields made muddy from the blood of their comrades.
In my own line of work I too have known long campaigns that have left me too weary to celebrate the victory knowing how much it has cost myself and those that battled alongside to make a dream a reality. “Was it worth it?” The eternal question that is right up with Pilate’s “What is truth?”
David Lynch believes that life is just a dream. And perhaps he is right. And perhaps it does one no good to think too long and deep about such things, for to stare into the abyss too long may be as damaging as staring at the sun. You just become blinded in a different way.
Does it matter how one achieves creativity? Does anyone really care what price is paid for their entertainment? Scott Fitzgerald put something of himself into six novels and over a hundred short stories, until there was nothing left. He died a hollow, weary, flawed man, old before his time. Broken by Hollywood because he took it too seriously and led with his heart. And didn’t realise it was all just a game.
I too have worked for many people in my past that nether understood what I did, or how I did it. But that doesn’t stop them attempting to piss on the tree to claim ownership. A bet each way. If it’s a disaster it’s all my fault. If it’s a smash, it’s because of them. I don’t work for such people anymore, regardless of the dazzling upfront fees that are used to tempt you to go against your instinct. This donkey has been beaten too many times and won’t go down the dark mine shaft anymore. I now only work for people I truly trust and/or admire. I can’t be bought by money because experience has taught me that it’s a false god and to worship at its altar will never fully satisfy your hunger for more and more until there’s nothing of you left. You will die like Elvis having over-eaten, been overworked, misused and misunderstood, devalued, surrounded by carny promoters, backslapping sycophants, con artists and those who want to be you and secretly resent that they can’t be. The most desired man in the world died of loneliness. Now, if that doesn’t tell you something about our society, nothing will.
Success has to come on your terms or else you lose your identity. And to lose sight of who you are is to become a ghost ship wandering lost in that innermost night of the soul. Going through life mimicking the happy-go-lucky person others expect you to be lest you reveal that you’re haunted and thus damned from seeing too much. As my dear ol’ daddy used to tell me, “The best way to lose people is to tell ’em you have a problem.”
Those who don’t understand creativity will seek to belittle your contribution, downplay your involvement, and even humiliate you by praising everyone except you. This is a tactic and you are smart enough to recognise it. And, thankfully, so is the audience.
Wilhelm Reich once said, “The living are always under attack from the dead,” and so it is and will be till the end of days. All I know is this – it’s alright to love something, but you are damned if you love that thing too much.

What is truth? Well you sure as hell won’t find it in your newspaper or favourite news channel or the Internet. These days it seems to only exist in our hearts. Our in-built shit detector. Trust it. It’s all we have.

 

(C) Frank Howson

THE ASSURANCE OF HEAVEN

I applied for a government grant
But was knocked back on a technicality
They thought I had talent
Some asshole suggested I get a second opinion
I came wanting
Pushed into this world
A dark room
With much huffng and puffing
Blood and tears
Born into a religion
That gave me the assurance of heaven
If I followed the rules
(Made by man
To ingratiate himself to God)
I read much about this God
And learned that in his youth
He was like us
Quick tempered, revengeful, slow to forgive
But, also like us, he mellowed
In later years
And ordained a common man
As his adopted son
To bring us the good news
That God had changed
He was now non-judgmental
Forgiving, compassionate, and
Like your favourite grandfather at a Barbecue
A joy to be around
But when his chosen son
Was railroaded by a fixed jury
Of the envious and the threatened
And was killed in the most agonising and cruel death ever invented by man
God withdrew from the world
He had over estimated us
And like all those that do
We deeply disappointed him
Some say he died
Some say he’d never existed to begin with
Some say he was just sad
And a sad God cannot rule
In his absence we were left lost
And confused
And scared as to how to go on
This manifested itself
In self destruction
And we have since sought many unique ways to achieve this
For those with money
It was drugs
For those without money
It was drugs
The cowards way out
Because the burden of living
And doing the right thing by each other
Was too great a responsibility
So, like God,
We, in our own way,
Have become sad
And withdrawn from the world
Most of us can’t be bothered voting
And then complain about the leaders we are saddled with
Who, in their naive stupidity
Attempt to lead us out of the darkness, and try to sell us some strong medicine to heal our wounds
And, if they don’t succumb to compromise and side deals
The shadow people shoot them
Or they’re found hanging from doorknobs
Their deaths a question mark forevermore
In the file marked
“Believe It Or Not”
The weight of carrying the cross of responsibility
Is indeed great and we are not programmed to stand it long
Falling time and time again
On our lonely agonising walk to our own Calvary
And in those dizzy blindingly excruciating final hours we find ourselves confused and insecure and doubtful
Because we were promised
An assurance of Heaven, you see?
A free ticket
An escape route
A place where we’d be welcomed and loved and held
God shouldn’t be hated or blamed for spreading this dream
He meant well
He just forgot that we are human
Deeply flawed
And always looking for the easiest option
We have no loyalty
Other than to the junk man
And that’s because the junk man has something we want
But unlike heaven
We can see it, feel it, at a cost
It may not be paradise
But in those despairing moments
We have lowered our expectations of miracles
It numbs us and that’s enough
To get through another lonely night
But why burden ourselves
Worrying about it
When it brings momentary relief
Like a happy finish
It ain’t love
But it’ll do
Tomorrow we can wake to the aftermath nightmare
But now
Let us just drift
Into our dreamtime
Our glimpse of grace
The small change
That we don’t deserve
But were born into
Like thieves in the temple
Women are not madonnas
And men are not messiahs
We have more in common with a sewer rat
And just as much cunning
They say rats will survive the end of the world
Perhaps we will too
Having brought about the ultimate destruction
It would be just if we were made to live in it
My own condition is of great concern to no one
Well, maybe someone in Rumania
Frets about me
But if so, I am unaware
And in this state of ignorance
In some year of our Lord
I begin this…

All I know of today
Is that dawn came on time
And that I have ruined dinner
And every chance I had to be free
I mistook sex for love
A handshake as a promise
An enemy as a friend
And money as happiness
Someone more mature
Should’ve had my life
They’d have known what to do with it
But they’d have never known the exquisite bitter sweet taste of loss
Of having no further to fall
Which in fact gives you some real security
I have been betrayed by many friends along the way
But at least I drew evil into the light so that I now recognise its face
If there’s no afterllife then why have we been made to learn all this wisdom that can never be put to use in this world that is built on false values?
But maybe God’s sadness has turned to boredom
And this is some kind of ironic game for his enjoyment
Come to think of it, if there is an afterlife why the fuck would God want us there?
Perhaps we have inherited our self destructiveness from him!
Freud stumbled upon this theory whilst smoking himself to Death on a cocaine binge.
Maybe you have to be stoned in order to see through the surface bullshit and glimpse the truth?
We on earth are angry.
We have awakened to find all our heroes dead. We didn’t win the lottery. Every war fought was just a lie. And the Vatican is run by Satanists.
But apart from that everything’s just fine after a few pills.
The most damaging drug I was addicted to was women. They quite clearly got me up and then nowhere. I’ve come to realise that two people can’t live one life. Unless there’s huge compromise and compromise breeds resentment. Both have to forfeit dreams in order to keep the relationship going. This leads to you both acting roles in each other’s company making out that this dire situation of strangulation is actually bringing each other bliss. After awhile you start telling bigger and bigger lies until you get caught out and it’s over.

As a child I loved the circus. In many ways it tells you everything you need to know about Life.

Cigarettes were my friend right up until the time they weren’t.

You were my friend too. Right up until the time you weren’t.

I die so hard each time I think of you. But never learn the easy route, always doomed to take the long way home. Alone.

Born into a world hellbent on bringing about its own destruction, what hope did we have?

I drive around
At night
Going nowhere
The desert is beautiful
After nightfall
The stars are so clear
The air is so thin
Up here
One can almost forget oneself
Almost

And sometimes on the wind I hear you calling my name. But from your lips it now sounds like a curse word. And in the mist of early winter I sometimes see your vision of who I imagined you were.

And our dissolving future.

So, it’s once around the clock we go. Our history of joy squeezed into a crowded hour, before the sun set for good.

If there is a heaven, will you be there? If so, I may have to make other plans.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

SWEET ROSEMARY

My sweet Rosemary
She came to tea
In 1994
She showed me
A thing or two
Before I showed her the door
We met again
By new year’s end
We kissed beneath our tree
Call me a fool
But I ain’t cruel
So once more I set her free

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

My sweet Rosemary
Come back to me
I’m broken and alone
I lay here
Beside you dear
And your grave of icy stone

I remember her words
Devoutly now
She said, “We’ll always be together”
She knew that, somehow
You don’t know the cost
Till you’re hurt this deep
And cannot awaken
From the nightmare sleep

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

(C) Frank Howson 2018

(c) 2018 photograph by Raija Sunshine

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

REMEMBERING

It was one of those days neither here nor there in the life of Felix Appleton. He had experienced the dizzying heights and the devastating plummets of a life lived in the circus ring of the performing arts. He was often praised as a born performer but wasn’t sure of the truth in that. He hadn’t sprung from the womb singing and uttering funny one-liners. Perhaps his screaming was in tune? He didn’t know and was not about to reinvent his life for the joy of some hungry reporter. If he had a talent to amuse, it had come from pain and the ability to live with it. He used to say, “Show me an artist who hasn’t suffered, and I’ll show you a phoney.”

He was born in a public hospital and taken home in a taxi to a single-fronted weatherboard house in a street not many people walked down. It was in this small modest home that he got to know his parents, both workers who had struggled for their existence and carried the scars of their battles and defeats on their faces as proudly as old soldiers displayed their medals. They smiled with sad expressions and their eyes brimmed with the waters of a joy that’d rarely found the opportunity to flow. Felix instantly fell in love with them and knew he’d found the right home. His parents were that dying breed called good people. Yes, they were tremendously flawed if one was to appoint a critic to write a cold and detached review of their lives, but that critic would’ve missed the value entirely. Like the first critics to review “Citizen Kane” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they would’ve been dismissed as “irrelevant,” “a misstep,” “a disaster of epic proportions.” But what do critics know? Because of deadlines they have to rush to judgement and, more times than not, in their haste they miss the point. The true worth of something is judged in time and weighed by the impact it leaves behind in all those changed by having experienced it.

Thus Felix was nurtured through his first steps into this world by two unsung national treasures. He inherited from them the gifts to love with all the loyalty of the poor; the joy in giving away his last coin, cigarette or piece of advice to someone in greater need; the strength to stand by your friend through their mistakes, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. For who among us is not flawed when day is done? As long as there is no meanness in it, all is forgiven. Like the Irish mantra, “No fear, no spite, no envy.”

Oh, and never show your enemies you’re hurting. No one should be
rewarded for their dark actions.

So it was from this environment that Felix went forth into the world. His parents had taken him to Luna Park, and the circus, and to Hollywood movies many times. He had grown to love the lights and the laughter and the collective tears of a reinvented world so much so that he joined it. “Hi diddle-ee dee an actor’s life for me.” He became an actor and acted out all the emotions he had experienced in his little childhood home – all the anger, the heartache, and the humour that can be found in any awkward situation that Life can throw at one.

Felix was praised for his talent to wring insight from any character he portrayed. Was he born with this gift? No, he was born into it. And how could it be called a gift when it comes at such a cost?

He never developed an arrogant ego, for his parents had clothed him in humility. He never cut down a rival due to envy, for he was sure that person’s journey had been as difficult as his. And he never said goodbye to any friend (whether it be man, woman or child) without tagging it with the words “I love you” for he had learnt that in this life we are never guaranteed of seeing that person again.

Felix was now an old man who kept to himself. He hated few things in Life but moving was one of them. It always signalled the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. And as such he not only found it physically exhausting but emotionally draining. He was hoping this recent move would be his last. Not that he was morbid. Far from it. He saw a joke in everything, and put that down to the Irish blood from his mother’s side. The ability to get through even the darkest defeat with a funny line. He thought one shouldn’t take this life too seriously, after all, it’s just a long elongated dream. And dreams come and go. He was just about through this dream and hoped he’d performed as well as he could, given the extraordinary circumstances that had occasionally rained on him. And that he’d given more than he’d taken from this world, for he understood that there was a delicate balance to everything and most of the problems in this world are caused by man’s ego arrogantly tampering with that balance. He’d learnt to let it be. To leave affairs of the heart well enough alone. To respect what you don’t understand. And to do no one any purposeful harm.

When he looked back at his life he was now able to smile at not only the good parts but also the bad. For out of every disaster he had learned a huge lesson. And from great lessons learned comes great wisdom. Yes, if there is a God, Felix thought, he’s a very clever bastard.

Felix didn’t know if he’d be remembered. He felt it didn’t much matter because he’d be dead. And so would all those whose opinions meant something to him. Anyway, who wants a whole bunch of strangers talking about you and dissecting you after you’re gone, and getting it all wrong?

Still, he hoped, if there was another dimension or heaven or universe one goes to, he’d still be able to remember his parents. They were good people. They had given him valuable parts of themselves. And they were worth remembering.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

painting by Frank Howson

 

SORRY FOR NOT SEEING YOU

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?

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018