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

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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

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.

THE PAINTER

Out of the darkness
And into light
We face a blank canvas
And call it a life
Our hand tracing lines
Adding colour here and there
Some of us choose to be bold
While some of us never dare

So how much am I bid
For this crazy life I've lived?
Do you find it too frivolous or too bleak?
Does it move you to tears?
Or does it look like wasted years?
This painting has cost me more than I dare speak

Lost in a city
Lost in a crowd
I don't speak till I get drunk
And then I get too loud
Your beautiful face
I have captured it by hand
But you denied me your heart
And cut me down where I stand

I have painted sorrow
And sometimes joy
But cocktails in a gallery
Won't bring back my boy
So I'll paint him from memory
From the time he called me dad
Some of us paint our mistakes
While some of us just go mad


(c) Frank Howson 2018

Painting by Frank Howson. 

THE PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

The living are always under attack from the dead. As night follows day so do those of darkness target those of light and stalk them with words of hero worship when,  the truth is, the mere existence of those with a spark irritates them and they consciously or, in some cases, subconsciously,  work toward the extinguishment of that flame. Wilhelm Reich writes about this condition in detail in his book The Murder of Christ.

The people of darkness use many tools to bring down the envied. Negative rumours, stories that are unfounded in fact, and a whole range of politically acceptable words to discredit their target i.e., Narcissist (this applies to anyone who is successful in showbiz who uses social media to promote their latest ventures) because the fact that someone may actually be getting off their fat ass and doing something reminds the person of darkness how meaningless and unfocused their own life is; Nazi (it is acceptable in today’s politically correct world to call anyone with an opposing opinion this and get away with it. This is disgustingly outrageous and unfair to their target whose only crime may be to have an original thought, as well as, obviously, making light of what the real Nazis did). But let me not bring logic into this lest I be called names. Anti-Semitic is a good one too in some cases. I have even witnessed Jewish people being called anti-Semitic because they dared to have an opinion that didn’t sit comfortably with the party line. Such is the out of control world we live in where the militant wheel gets oiled first and the logical debate is not only not considered it is condemned. Here we have a perfect storm for the people of darkness to not only hide within, but thrive.

Bob Dylan has predicted for some time now that we have entered the end game. Anyone who has studied theology and the predictions of the old prophets would have to concur. In my opinion we are currently engaged in the final war between good and evil, darkness and light, and the shadow people are only going to get more and more hysterical as things don’t go their way. They are currently very confused as to why things aren’t going the way of the Polls. Could it be divine intervention?

It is difficult to untangle yourself from a person of darkness because they are cling ons – spiritual vampires sucking your energy. And the more you give them the more resentful they will become towards you. For even your kindness is an irritation. A reminder of what they are not. They will insult you by praising strangers and even abusing and opportunistic ex-partners above your efforts to help, give and support. This is to make you crazy and so confused you will cease to be able to function and end up zombie like staring out a window into the light that was once your source. Do not under any circumstances feed them. Let well enough alone. Danger and madness this way comes.

(C) Frank Howson 2017

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

I’ve been asked by my dear friend Mark Richardson to write something about the spirit of Christmas for Ash Long’s Melbourne Observer.

Christmas lives in the hearts of children and the child inside us all. It also lives on because of writers such as Francis Church, Irving Berlin (who penned a little ditty called White Christmas), Charles Dickens (in his sublime novel A Christmas Carol), and Frank Capra’s screenplay of It’s A Wonderful Life. The latter was a flop at its initial release, but like Christmas it is still with us.

It seems it doesn’t much matter whether you tell the story of a pauper child born in a stable, or a jolly chubby white-bearded man in a Coca-Cola suit, or of a husband/father from Bedford Falls who forgets just how many friends he has. The spirit lives on in the telling.

This is a true story I heard many years ago, perhaps when I was a child. It touched me then as it touches me now.

On September 21, 1897, the New York Sun published a letter from a young girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. It read…

Dear Editor,
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in the Sun it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

One of the paper’s editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, decided to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it. Church, son of a Baptist minister, had been a war correspondent during the American Civil War, and had witnessed first-hand the great suffering and resultant decline of hope and faith in much of society.

His printed response was so moving that over a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exists, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sight and sound. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest of men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith. poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

And so he does to this day.

For me the spirit of Christmas was the generosity and joy of giving I saw in my mother, Pearl.

Christmas was her favourite time of year and she’d begin shopping for it early January.

I’d always wake early Christmas morning to see a mountain of presents under the tree. Gifts for me, my sisters, my aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and some mere acquaintances.

We were a working class family and to this day I’ve no idea how her meager budget stretched to accommodate all those gifts. No doubt she denied herself many things in order to work her miracle. And although we gave her our gifts in return it was not the receiving that mattered to her, but rather the joy of giving. I’ll always remember the blissful sparkle in her eyes as she watched us excitedly opening our presents.

Since her death, and my son growing up and growing away, Christmas is no longer the same for me. It can be a lonely and hollow time for single people. But, come December, I smile in remembrance, because once I was blessed to have witnessed the spirit of Christmas.

It was not found in the gifts. But in my mother’s eyes.

(c) Frank Howson 2013.