THE DANGERS OF KINDNESS

I never really thought much about the future. In fact, i wasn’t really ambitious, which may come as a shock to most people who don’t know me. I was always about just getting through today. I think perhaps having been raised in showbiz from an early age I’ve seen ambition break people and destroy marriages, friendships and reputations. I’ve also seen it turn good people into the kind of person they started out loathing.

Dreams are okay. They get most of us through the night. I know I have them, but in my life there has been only a handful I remember. One memorable one was so funny that I awakened myself laughing hysterically only to find that in the clear light of day and consciousness it wasn’t funny at all! Not even remotely. So, how fucked up is our subconscious? Perhaps it’s that weird surreal night world that David Lynch captures so well. Peeking over the wall into the black abyss of madness. But from God’s point of view it may not be mad at all. Maybe that other dimension is the reality of the afterlife and our daily foibles and chores in the civilised world, of a structured life, is the true madness? I’m beginning to think so. If so, then it makes perfect sense that the zombies and vampires and other monsters of our imagination only come out at night. Night falls, indeed.

In our civilised man made conscious world there are indeed zombies and vampires. I know this for fact as I have worked for some of them. But, during the daylight hours in our conscious world, they are heavily disguised. The zombies pass themselves off as normal people and act out basic emotions by rote. They appear, for all intent and purposes, to be functioning adult human beings. But there is nobody home. Scratch the surface and all you get is another surface. Don’t believe me? Well, test it out by hitting any suspect with a question, or idea, or action, out of the box. They will, before your eyes, recoil into what they are – the walking dead. Rigid. Non-functioning. Pale. They may even look like their brains hurt. And after a given amount of time will resume their rote conversation and actions as though you haven’t spoken and the lapsed time has been rewound and erased. Vampires are another kettle of fish. They don’t want your blood, that is a metaphor for sucking your life force out of you. Their goal is higher than blood. Much higher. They are after your spirit. Hence my term “spiritual vampires.” Like the zombies they are drawn to the living. Show any signs of being alive, kind, compassionate, generous, a good listener, and you are a target.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2019

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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

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

 

ANNOUNCING THE OZ INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

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.

Kindest,

Frank Howson
Festival Director.

I WENT TO TOWN

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






(C) Frank Howson 2018

 

MADMEN IN THE WILDERNESS

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.

(c) Frank Howson 2017