TELL ME STORIES ABOUT OUR LIFE

Tell me stories about our life
Did we have fun?
Were you truly happy when you told me you were?
Because, you see, I was happy when I thought that to be so
And if you take that back now my life suddenly means nothing
And the doctors have nothing to give you to treat wasted years
And it breaks so many
To fall so far
So, let us just sit in the sun
On our favourite bench
Surrounded by the trees we named
And chat
Like we used to
When we held hands
Like each other was the most precious thing in the world
And it was
Or so I thought
Please tell me now
Was it true for you?
Or were you just being kind
When you said you were mine?
Were you settling for less
Than you believed the world owed you?
Do you feel that you threw away your life
And beauty
So I could live?
Because if you did
You have killed us both
And our life was just a one-sided
Delusional dream
Perhaps I worry too much
In these September years
But you’re all I have
My only constant
In a world that has lied about everything we’ve been told
For the last 50 years
A governmental plan to confuse us But enough about lies
I surrender
To whatever it was that got us through
Let us take some time out
And sit in this park
And you do the talking
Hold my hand
And tell me stories about our life

(C) Frank Howson 2018

 

painting by Frank Howson

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THAT LONG TRAIN RIDE

I was right
About all the little things that didn’t matter.
I was wrong about all the big things that did.
But youth is for foolishness and mistakes.
The concept being that you will eventually learn from mistakes and your heart will grow a harder layer of protection. This can be a lifelong education of regrowth if you don’t pay enough attention to details.
One theory is that we keep falling in love with the same person, over and over, like some weird drunkard’s dance in a Groundhog Day scenario. Even if that person was all wrong for us in the first place. So is it familiarity that attracts? The devil we know is better than the saviour we don’t? Perhaps we just tire from the waiting and settle for what we know. Attracted to those who remind us of ourselves? Or marry for money and security even though that brings in its train a lifetime of boredom and unrequited dreams and hopes? But surely that is not a living, but a dying? For money proves to be a cold companion and takes more than it gives. Doomed to buy all the toys and trinkets to impress others whilst your subsequent depression stemming from your inner knowledge that nothing purchased brings any lasting pleasure. You are a compromised person and although you can lie to your conscience your sub-conscious knows the truth, and forces you to spend most of your days sleeping. Hiding from life. Avoiding waking to the horror of who you really are. A prisoner trapped in a cell of your own making. Spending all your approved allowance on the best drugs to dull yourself to the harsh reality that you are already dead.
I took myself to Disneyland today.
Why?
I wanted to return to a simpler, safer time when I believed in dreams and heroes.
All around me was the sound of the laughter of children and the look of wonderment in their eyes.
They are years from cynicism and reducing the world to something they can understand.
I had a photo taken with Mickey but my idol Donald Duck was nowhere to be seen.
Disneyland was conceived and built by a sad and lonely man who acted childish at times. Because the truth is he was still a child and needed to build a romanticised version of his childhood town – a place where it was always clean, and wholesome and safe. And contained no tyrannical father. Ironic huh? Was he insane? In most people’s terms, yes. But at least his dreams were safer than those of young Adolf Hitler, a failed painter from Austria. Y’know, if young Adolf had’ve sold three or four landscape paintings the whole Second World War may have been avoided. I always say, “Be careful about pissing off creative people. That creative light force once turned back on itself can become very dark and destructive.”
On the other hand, all of the world’s great accepted visionaries were a little looney tunes. Some, very much so. Fortunately their insanities were focused towards something more publicly palatable than the Third Reich or the NWO. They risked everything thinking outside the box. Their own lives became secondary to their dream. And many died in their footsteps upon that lonely highway. They sacrificed romantic relationships, friendships, their dignity (as many were publicly ridiculed), their personal happiness, and a comfortable safe life. Why? And what for? A higher calling? Immortality? If there is no God and no afterlife why do people do this to themselves? If we’re just here marking time until the long darkness, why not just put the tools down and embrace the fairly interesting train ride to nowhere?
It’s the same with love. If it’s not a God-given gift to share then what exactly is it? Why care so much about it? Or anyone else?
I pondered all these things as I sat in my chair looking out the window that was shaped like Mickey’s head on the Disneyland Express on my train ride back to somewhere.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

GINGER BISCUITS

We told each other we had a good life full of ginger biscuits and roast dinners. I suppose it reminded me of my youth waking up Sunday mornings to the smell of something cooking and the excited anticipation of a family gathering.

I’m all that exists of that family now. So, in my defence, I will plead guilty to attempting to bring this ritual into our lives in the hope of a shared familiarity or perhaps the conjuring up of ghosts from the past. Futile dreams were our dessert. Big serves to disguise the cold reality that the best in us was gone. All that remains are the broken pieces of empty dishes. And the broken after dinner stories of broken lives that harbour in my memory and things I dream at night.

There were glimpses of great love in my family but thinly wedged between slabs of anger, recriminations, abuse, guilt and tears. Perhaps that’s what makes those glimpses glow so warmly in my heart.

You wanted a feeling of family and so did I but we were loveless refugees on the run and our pantomime of make-believe was a farce that didn’t hold up to intelligent scrutiny. But the first thing to die in such a delusion is intelligence. We played our roles with conviction but were hopelessly miscast, or perhaps just too old for believability.

We had a life of ginger biscuits and roast dinners but that was all. There we were, unarmed, falling where we stood in the small talk and repressed resentment that neither of us got what we had wanted. The past can’t be repeated, excluding the bad bits, by acting out the good. There is no cutting room floor anymore. Gone. All gone. My youth. My dreams of love. My good will to others. My mistakes of the heart. My misplaced loyalty to all the wrong people. Gone. And soon I will be gone, and all that will remain will be words. And people’s rushed and conflicting judgement of who they thought I was.

Fortunately there will be no one to play act the glimpses of my failed Quixotic quests to harness some joy in myself, and in others.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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.

A YOUTH OF SORTS

 

The following recollections are of a childhood. They are painful to have to regurgitate and I’ve spent most of my life since trying to overcome their scars and move on. Most of these traits in my behaviour I always interpreted as a result of the verbal and physical violence I witnessed in my childhood home.  My dad was an alcoholic and his painfully cruel verbal abuse directed at my Mum mostly, although not confined to her, was soul and ego destroying. When the words failed to crumble their target it was not uncommon for physical violence to follow.

Perhaps my sense of alienation was already genetically ordained and the abuse I witnessed was merely the topping on the cake. I don’t know and will leave that intellectual prognosis to others more learned than myself.

I always had an overpowering feeling of being alienated from others.  My mother used to smother me with praise and affection. My father, when sober, was a kind and loving man, who also dotted on me. Whereas my mum was very touchy feely, verbal and open in her display of affection, my dad was a complete contrast. He was a man of few words and I don’t ever recall him ever saying “I love you” or giving a hug. He was of another time of men and he too carried the scars of his childhood having lost his mother when he was but two years of age. He’d grown up without any maternal love. .

My sisters were openly jealous of my mother’s affection for the “baby” of the family. When I was a toddler they were already teenagers.  I always remember them being very critical and saying a lot of sarcastic things about me in front of guests and boyfriends in order to humiliate me. Most times they simply ignored me. This resulted in me purposely trying to annoy them to grab their attention and validate my existence. This childish plan of mine didn’t work and resulted in me being type-cast as “spoiled”. I probably was. But spoiled in the true sense of the word from what I saw and heard around me. It was a confusing world for an over-sensitive soul.

As a child with no siblings to play with and two much older sisters who couldn’t be bothered, I had lots of times of feeling alone. I used to play soldiers and would act out both sides of the fight.  Games of imagination became a big part of my existence, as well as listening to the radio. My mother said that by the age of three and four I could name just about every singer on the radio just by hearing them sing a couple of words. I recall many hours of listening to the radiogram with my ear up against the speaker.  This love of music and studying singers would become a lifelong obsession of mine. To this day I can just about name any hit record of the sixties and late fifties. In many cases I can even name the “B” sides of the singles.

I used to wet the bed almost every night. It became a ritual. I hated the feeling of waking in a cold bed in the middle of the night but I didn’t seem to be able to stop or control it.  I’d wake and go into my parent’s room. They would get me dry pajamas, strip my bed of its wet sheets, and I would get in with them.

My earliest memory is of someone screaming at our front door and my parents and I running down the street in a panic. We got to my grandmother’s place and I recall looking into her room as my Uncle Alf soaped her fingers trying to get her rings off as she lay unconscious on her bed. She was dead. I was two years of age but I remember it clearly.

I always felt painfully shy with other kids.  I would wait to be invited to play. I didn’t have the nerve to just stroll up and take part in any existing cliques.  Yet, this shyness didn’t translate to performing. I knew all the words to Tommy Steele’s hit “The Little White Bull” and if I was invited to a birthday party I would nag my mother to ask if I could sing the song for everyone. It was easier for me to perform to strangers than to talk to them.

When I was embarrassed, I would talk in a falsetto voice. Almost like I was too exposed if I used my “real” voice. I would also not look people in the eyes. I always thought that this was because I was very shy. I only overcame this because someone I worked with at my first job, noticed this and brought it to my attention. He used to make me look people in the eyes. I concentrated on this and overcame this lack of self-esteem with practice.

My mother said that I virtually had an in-built aversion to school even before I understood what it meant. She said she’d wheel me past the local school in my stroller and I would start crying and screaming.

Being sent to school was very traumatic for me. I had to leave the protective shell of my parents and spend the whole day with strangers my own age. I felt alienated, stupid and useless at school from the very beginning and it never got much better.

I showed ability for drawing and religious study. The latter because I had the knack of always remembering a story once it had been told to me.  The bible stories were full of imagery and danger and they stuck in my memory in all their detail. With every other subject I was hopeless. Mathematics was gibberish to me. To this day I still have no concept of what Algebra is other than a headache.  I used to sit in class and count the minutes to home time. Hoping I wouldn’t be noticed by the teacher and asked a question.  In my later years I learned to use humour as a shield and would, when questioned and out of my depth, I would answer with something so inane that it would make the class and even the teacher laugh. If I was going to be a fool I opted for being an entertaining one.

I hated the discipline and boring ritual of school.  I remember trying to concentrate and study in class but it was difficult for me to stay “focussed” and not daydream or become sleepy. Sleep has always been my welcome escape. The more problems I have, the deeper I sleep.

My mother transferred me to a better school. In her mind anyway. Christian Brothers College. In those days CBC was very strict and big on punishment. If her idea was that fear would propel me to learn more, she was grossly off target. This “fear” of being punished for uttering a wrong answer only succeeded in dragging me further into my inner world. I was weary from the fear I witnessed every night in our lounge room with my parents raging World War 3 and then sent off to school in the morning to face another fear.

I remember always feeling mentally tired as though my mind was on overload. And continual daydreams which I couldn’t seem to overcome no matter how much I tried to concentrate on the subject at hand.  I struggled very badly.  Homework was a nightmare. Most times I couldn’t do it and would wake in the morning sick to my stomach knowing if I didn’t come up with some excuse I would be beaten in front of the class for having not done it.  Usually I developed breathing problems and would be kept home from school due to ill health.

One day the headmaster Brother McCartney asked my mother, “How come your son has the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades?” She didn’t know the answer anymore than he did.  Or I did.

At playtime I gravitated to the kids no one else wanted to play with. The outcasts. We had much in common and they were grateful for my friendship. As I was grateful for theirs.

I stayed away from school a great deal with illness.  The grades got even worse. Finally, I was kept down a year, which lost me the few friends I had made in my class.

I tried to learn but my mind wandered too much. It was restless with anything it couldn’t immediately understand. Also, anything I couldn’t master straight away I tended to give up on and blame myself for being stupid. I was also mad keen to have a life in show business and kept thinking that it was no use wasting all this time learning boring school stuff that wasn’t going to be any use to me in my real career.

At home I kept lists. I had an exercise book and I would write in it lists of all the number one records on the charts.  A separate list of all the records I wanted to buy. A list of all the bands I enjoyed. A list of all my favourite films. A list of books I wanted to read. I recently found this book and it filled me with such sadness for that lonely, frightened boy who wrote it.

I was very quiet in the presence of anyone I didn’t know. Didn’t want to say anything that may be considered “inappropriate” so I would sit back and wait for others to talk. Once I felt that I knew what the other person was all about I’d then begin to open up and talk about things they were interested in.

I hated anyone to see me hurt. Hated looking vulnerable in front of others. If I fell over my mother would tell people not to go to me or acknowledge it in any way. If they did I was liable to get up and kick them in the shins. If they ignored me, I would get up in silence, no matter in how much pain, and go on.

For most of my life I’ve detested being laughed at. It’s okay if I send myself up and others laugh at me, because then I’m in “control” of the situation even if it’s self-depreciating. But if I was laughed at it made me feel like the frightened, vulnerable, stupid school student. So I usually tried to get in first to laugh at myself. Beat others to the punch, so to speak.

I think I’ve succeeded in overcoming most of these traits, but it has been a lifelong struggle. Somewhere along the journey, the fear washed away, or perhaps I just got tired of carrying it, and I became fearless. That too brought its own price. Funny, I’ve finally found myself and feel comfortable just as the light is ebbing.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2013

THE ONLY SON

There’s the room second to the left
Just down the hallway before the light
From the window throws everything into a blur
Like my memory
Of that house where my father fought
World World Three every night
The only survivors of that holocaust
My sisters and I
Sometimes I stumble back
Into the land of what may have been
Through those fields of strikes
And ambitions run out before their time
The only son
In the empty stadium
The bleachers filled with ghosts
Each one an expert on the game
Their hearts broken their heroes gone
On the wind their mothers voices
Calling them home before dark

 

 

(c) Frank Howson 2006.