THE DEAD SHALL NEVER AGE (for my father)

I was awakened to the end
From our waiting sleep.
He was going and it wasn’t long.
Sitting in his chair,
He bid us all farewell.
We were too scared to cry,
Too lonely to try,
Though we sat at his side.
Death left its calling cards years before,
But in morning’s safety had waited.
Gasping for breath that wasn’t there,
Holding our hands that were.
He never cried a lonely tear
Or closed eyes that knew only hope,
To those past long nights
When nightmares were life.
They came for him, ready as he was.
We brushed his hair and washed his face.
He knew, and we knew,
Though nothing did we say
Lest we frighten the other.
Yet I screamed so loud in my silence
And cried so long in my pain.
So many things left unsaid,
But, oh, think of the times we spent,
And don’t bring flowers for the dead
Unless he saw them in life.
Just think of his humour as dry as the sand,
And his smile as big as his heart,
And those eyes as blue as the sky
And twice as wise.
Even now we miss him,
Every day I’ll wish he were here.
He loved us more than he loved himself.
We loved him back as much.
Something’s gone now forever,
Part of us is gone with him,
And in the still of things a night voice screams — “God, I’m as lonely as hell.”

Dedicated to Henry (Jack) Francis Howson

By Frank Howson (c) November 1974

 

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THE ASSURANCE OF HEAVEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And our dissolving future.

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

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

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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

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.