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.”
I wish you could’ve caught me in my prime. I cared. If you’d known me then you may have stayed. But I ripped my heart out and gave it to others. And they never returned it. Proving they didn’t have one of their own.
Like many young male idiots I was driven by sex to destinations unknown. Then one day I grew up to realise that a lot of energy is expended on so little in return. Kings have abdicated their kingdoms, presidents have lost their power, and mere mortals have squandered their wealth, their homes, their families, their reputations, their sanity – for what? Sexual relief in the arms of someone you will lose along with everything else you held so dear. It’s a funny little game isn’t it? But if it grants you a brief solace in a mad world I won’t be throwing the first stone. Or the last.
There are those who gain power by being desired. For a time, until gravity ends their reign. I no longer play the game so I can objectively appreciate their performance for what it is.
“It done been beaten outta me, masta, and you can have your heavyweight crown back while I lay on this canvas and block the sun from my eyes.”
It seems the path to God is through defeat and humility. So having all our childish dreams killed one by one is ultimately good for us. Is that how it works?
There are those of us who evolve, painfully, past this. But all wisdom comes at a cost. Those who resist it are forevermore locked in a futile dance finding comfort in the all too familiar steps but haunted by the sad drum beat realisation that it all means nothing and nobody really cares anymore.
In fact you may as well be speaking about the sex lives of monkeys for all anybody cares.
I was reluctantly and violently thrust into this world. Welcomed into this cold unfriendly place with huffs and puffs and blood and screaming. I didn’t ask for all this fuss and, if the truth be known, have spent most of this life looking for an exit door. At parties or events I never say goodbye. I like to just slip away. Like my mother before me. No prolonged goodbyes or grand farewells. No fuss.
When my time comes and the lights dim on whatever this was, I may look around with the excited expectancy of a child on Christmas morn, to see if you’re there. Of course, you won’t be. But it’s okay as you have hardened my heart to disappointment. I guess that was the lesson you brought me. All is forgiven. All is forgiven. For it was hard to be wise and in love at the same time, wasn’t it? Let’s just say we played our parts well in this fucked scenario written and conceived by a higher power when they were drunk. The plot had its holes and we fell through most of them and landed, arguably, as better people. Broken, but better. Maybe we will meet again on another stage and realise that everything that went before was just a rehearsal and that this time we’ll get it right, performing without masks or baggage or ego or all those things that got in the way of who we really were.
“What if you could have any woman in the world but you only wanted one and without her Life wasn’t much good anymore?”
Well buddy, to put it bluntly, you’re fucked. Humbled, but fucked. But come on in the water’s fine and you’ll find most of us here. Trapped in the stilted delusional conversations about something and someone that wasn’t real. You’ll find that your mind has worked overtime adapting what really happened to something you can vaguely live with. Repairing the stab wounds to your heart, and back, and ensuring that you only remember the good parts from a movie that at the time proved to be unsatisfactory and a time waster, but has grown in stature through repeated viewing. If you allow your mind to rewrite too much you will eventually cross over into insanity from whence there is no return. So forget your troubles come on get happy and join all the sad old men at the far end of the alley. We have no families anymore other than the family of man. No one seeks anything in our eyes and in return we search for nothing in theirs. Accept the truth and you are free of the chains that bind us to this groundhog existence. Being alone will not kill you. Being lonely will. And all that uncashed joy you held in reserve for that mirror partner that never came, try and spend it finding small joys in the simplest of things. A cup of coffee, a conversation with an old loyal friend, the smile from a child, an act of kindness, a sunny day, and a pretty young woman that you want nothing from other than her faith that are one of the good guys.
Yes, all is forgiven. But take the time to forgive yourself too. You owe it to your mind and your spirit to do that.
And as for that delusional movie that you keep replaying in your mind? In reality it wasn’t that good. Tape over it.
In November of last year Richard Wolstencroft felt it necessary to resign as Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. At that time he asked me to take the reins and chart M.U.F.F’s overhaul and new direction. I accepted because I felt that the festival is an important outlet for emerging film makers to find their feet and their audience.
My acceptance of the top position was on the basis that I would have total autonomy to make changes and lead the festival into a brave new future.
Unfortunately after prolonged negotiations it has become apparent that the severing of the past and what is needed to create a totally free new system proved more complex and time consuming than either Richard nor I could have possibly envisaged.
So, it is my decision to not continue as my feeling is that M.U.F.F should be handed back to Richard, its creator, who will run it as a free speech absolutist event.
But, on the other hand, having put a lot of time and energy into a new look festival, as well as commencing negotiations with several legendary international film identities to visit our shores to as festival guests and share their experience and wisdom with us, I have decided to go ahead with a totally new film festival that will be clear to create its own identity and reputation as well as serve as another much needed outlet for young local and international film-makers. This I hope is not seen to be in any way competition with M.U.F.F but quite the opposite, another important spotlight that will include some categories not covered by M.U.F.F. It will also be run at a later date, in our summer months, at some very prestigious venues already locked in.
The Oz International Film Festival can assure you of a very exciting premiere season.
We welcome film-makers here and abroad to visit our website and submit their latest works for consideration of inclusion in our inaugural festival. Your films will not be judged on any bias to politics, race, gender, sexual preference or content, but purely on the execution of your film-making abilities, and a diverse and experienced jury of industry veterans will be announced within the next few weeks.
The festival will honour the bold, brave and adventurous new voices in the world of cinema and hopefully help some go on to be the new vanguard of the next generation of important film-makers.
I will be the Festival Director and ably assisted by Executive Producer Barry Robinson. Other appointments will be announced shortly.
Good luck and welcome aboard what we feel will be an exciting new chapter. We look forward to your submissions and you can trust that they will be very carefully considered, each and every one.
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 don’t usually remember my dreams, well the in-your-sleep dreams I mean. Maybe three in my life. But the other night I was awakened in the middle of one and it’s a little bizarre to say the least.
Anyway, in this particular dream I am arrested for killing Ayn Rand. Still with me? Not sure if I actually did it or not but as we know newspapers are only interested in the charges and not so much in the final judgement, so, pretty soon I am in big hot water. Boiling in fact. And as if that wasn’t uncomfortable enough they are throwing the book at me. Perhaps The Fountainhead, I was too busy ducking to check. I then remember going through a very lengthy trial that was straight out of Kafka. I have to say things weren’t going well for me as the cavalcade of witnesses were called. Drunks, the heavily medicated self-published, real estate agents, Mormons, one armed guitarists, fortune tellers, gypsies, tramps and thieves.
My court appointed lawyer was an elderly Chinese gentleman who appeared to be about 500 years old and dribbled from the mouth when he got excited. Still, he had his wits about him and had he been able to speak or understand English he may have been quite effective. His cross-examination of the witnesses had to be seen to be believed. If the Judge had’ve been awake at the time I’m sure he’d have called a halt to the circus. He did wake a few minutes before the end of proceedings and grumpily pronounced Hemingway to be “…a cunt!” I wasn’t quite sure how this applied to me or my case but was too intimidated to enquire. My Chinese representative seemed to take it in his stride and smiled in a knowing way. Perhaps this was a good sign? Taking the positive angle I smiled at the Judge who smiled back at me. He then announced in a disappointed tone that the jury weren’t very well hung and adjourned the case until they could be re-cast. On that note everyone went home to be greeted by their loved ones and a hot meal, followed by re-runs of classic football matches, while I was beaten to a pulp in my holding cell which the guards took literally and, having no TV set to watch football, they attempted to kick a goal with my head. In all objectivity some of them did show promise as league players. I did at one point attempt to convey the news that the football they were using had a migraine but this was met with increased hostility and I was accused of using too many big words.
Hence another three quarters were played. This time I kept quiet and assumed my role. Finally I threw my voice and did a very convincing imitation of the final siren which they bought, hugged each other, shook hands, copped a feel of each other’s bums, and left the field complaining about the lack of good umpiring decisions these days. I couldn’t, in spite of my intense pain, help thinking what great sportsmen they were. Dreadful human beings – but great sportsmen. This was the last thought that stampeded through my mind before I lost consciousness.
I was shaken back into this world bright and early the next morning, in dream time, in order to return to court. I told the guard, who smelled of cheap bourbon and herbal cigarettes, that I had to postpone my court appearance before our esteemed Judge as I was fairly convinced I was in the initial stages of a brain hemorrhage, but this was met with “well who gives a fuck you dumb fucker fucking your way through life and fucking every fucking thing up for every other fucking dumb fuck!”
I took that as a “no”.
I found that if I tilted my head till it was resting sideways on one shoulder it relieved some of the pain. So, that’s how I appeared back in court. Looking like an amateur theatre version of Quasimodo. I’d fretted needlessly over my appearance as the Judge looked past me and mistook a nun in the next row to be me, stating that he was going to take into account that I was a lady of the cloth and not to worry.
My lawyer, the very learned Mr. Dim Sim, gave his final impassioned summation, in Cantonese, to a silent ovation from nonplussed creatures inhabiting human-like bodies. The Judge finally broke the stunned silence by burping and muttered, “Better out than in” and the really hung jury and those in attendance took this to be the final judgement and a deafening uproar broke out in the courtroom, along with several fistfights, a rape, a child birth, and a scattering of small time thefts.
As everyone had lost interest in me, and noticing the open door, I slowly made my way best as I could, considering my head was still laying sideways on my left shoulder, through the crowd of rioters and those with an axe to grind. Soon enough I found the sunshine and a busy city street awaiting me.
Within seconds I was lost in the crowd. Well, as lost as I could be given my new appearance.
I bear no grudge against anyone who mistreated me, but if Ayn Rand was still alive, I’d kill her.
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.
And was conquered
So many roads to choose
But they all became the same
I was driven
Before being driven mad
To seek a meaning to it all
Or at least some of it
But you clouded the issue
Appearing quite a few times in my life
In the guise of different women
Always fooling me
As I laughed into my drink
Thinking I’d seen it all
You were an exquisite distraction
To my work
But God always removed you
Leaving me with just enough pain
To be able to write about it
So there you live
In my work
Always intoxicatingly crazy
To us mere mortals
Who worshipped at your throne
Thinking we had the time
To make a clean getaway
Before the fall
But it came
And now old men
Aged before their time by you
Stand on street corners
And reminisce about their broken hearts
Take the easy way out
By writing about it
God tells me if I write it enough times
Eventually it’ll all make sense
But I have my doubts
And life is short