Christmas sickness

This time of year is one of mixed emotions for me.

In many ways, I love Christmas. I enjoy the traditional activities: bringing out the advent calendar; making and choosing gifts; filling the house with pretty ornaments we’ve collected over the years; brightening the dark days of winter with carols and shining lights; finding a tree to decorate; baking the naughtily alcoholic cake and mince pies. It is not a religious festival in our house but a special time to spend together; playing games without the everyday rushes and having to be elsewhere. A chance to say thank you to loved ones at the end of the year.

The difficulty for me is that Christmas is also a time of greed on a massive scale. It brings out the very worst of consumerism. The shops are brimming with cheap, useless trinkets that nobody really needs. The adverts encourage us to spend, spend, spend. People get themselves into debt to provide the perfect Christmas for their families. In my nearest large town, a Hawkin’s Bazaar has just opened selling ready-filled stockings – the epitome of thoughtless excess.  Many of the presents bought at Christmas will end up at the rubbish dump. Food will rot and go to waste.

A few years ago, I found the experience of doing my Christmas shop at the supermarket – where I saw a family with three trollies of food, one of which overflowed with sliced bread – so overwhelming that it left me feeling sick and dizzy. We are using up the planet’s resources at a shocking rate to make this throw-away stuff. It may please for a short time but, a few days after Christmas, it will be forgotten and discarded. What has brought us to this? We have become disconnected from what is important, from the message of sharing love and caring for others at Christmas. We have lost our way. Something needs to change. We must stop buying stuff and be more satisfied with what we have.

Although I have always tried to do a small-scale Christmas, we still have far more than we actually need. We end up on Christmas Day bloated on delicious food and wine. We are spoilt for choice. So, Christmas is a time when I feel sick with guilt too.  I am lucky to have done well in the lottery of life; of being born in a country with a democracy, safe from war and famine. At Christmas, I think of the many people with nothing – the homeless, the refugees, those living in war-torn countries like Syria and the Yemen. So many with far too little whilst the rest of us have far too much.

This is a time of year when I can feel despairing, so we try as a family to contribute in a positive way. We choose various charities to support at Christmas. We have given up buying lots of presents and sending out cards in an effort to be less wasteful. Money saved goes to those who need it more than us. We show our love by selecting or making one or two special, useful gifts, something genuinely wanted. We plan what we will eat so there is no food thrown away. We take part in community events. It seems inadequate; I would like to contribute more and in the new year I want to explore what else I can do.

Last year, I wrote this poem to express how Christmas can make me feel.

 

Christmas sickness

 

I’ve got Christmas sickness,

guilty, weeping conscience

pressing on my chest,

heart about to burst.

 

So, what

do I do about it?

 

Engulfed by greedy consumerism,

frenzied buying madness, I

hang twinkling lights while

Aleppo burns,

engorge cupboards with festive feasts while

Yemen children starve,

stuff stockings with unwanted gifts while a

refugee child dreams of tomatoes.

 

Bury my head in the sand of Bethlehem.

 

 

 

How do you cope with Christmas excess? Are you trying to buy less and get back to the true meaning of Christmas?

Be grateful for the small things

I have just returned from visiting my daughter at university. It was wonderful to see her and I felt extremely proud at how well she is coping; living independently and managing the demands of her degree course with confidence. She is adapting to city life, although she misses the quiet and fresh air of the countryside.

Cities tire me out nowadays. It is a long time since I lived in one, or even in a town, so I find the change dramatic and difficult. I feel worn down and frayed at the edges after only a couple of days. My nerves jar with the constant noise, the bright lights, the flow of busy, pushing people. The air chokes with traffic fumes and the pavements are squalid with the grime of vehicle exhausts, chewing gum, dog excrement and dirty litter piling in corners. Heaped up, like the rubbish, are the homeless, pitiful in the freezing weather, wrapped in sleeping bags and inadequate blankets. My daughter finds this the hardest thing to face every day – the growing population of dispossessed individuals, so many victims of austerity.

In cities, far away from my peaceful country existence, I begin to feel desperate and hopeless. I am reminded of the vast mechanisms we humans have created – the buzzing shopping centres, the traffic networks, the huge housing estates and business developments; the concrete, tarmac, plastic and metal. I think about our debt creating consumerism, the easy-come, easy-go, throwaway habits, the pervasive, cynical advertising and longing for a celebrity lifestyle. In cities, I become fully aware of the enormous levels of resources used and waste created. Our disconnection from what is important, from our roots in nature, seems vivid.

Back home, sitting in a café overlooking a pretty little harbour on this bright, cold winter’s day, I think I must be one of the luckiest people on Earth. Reflections ripple on the sea, green like a gull’s egg. The vast sky is baby-blue with perfect fluffy mountains of cloud. Pale, winter sunlight casts clear light over hills that stretch for miles around the coastline, folding into mist in the distance. Earlier, I stood on the harbour wall and watched a pod of dolphins feeding in the bay. Darting arcs of darkness in the water, then flashes of white and pointed blades of tails slicing the waves as fins disappeared into the depths. Gulls tumbled and called sharply above betraying the visitors. An awe-inspiring sight, a glimpse into another, unknown world, and rare for me to see them so close in.

As I sit with my pot of earl grey tea, the realization overcomes me that I am privileged to witness these wonders. I am lucky to live where I do, to have the time and enough money to gaze at this picturesque scene. Not everyone has the opportunity and I worry that I have been a snob; smug and patronising in my attitude towards city life. I think I have been too hard on cities and their occupants. It’s easy for me, tucked away on my smallholding, to be negative about cities and to extol the virtues of the countryside with its space, peace and clean air. Yes, cities highlight the problems we humans have created but the countryside is not a total idyll either. Perhaps the truth is that I’ve hidden myself away from the realities of life. The countryside has its issues. Looking around me, I see other customers engrossed in phone screens, unaware of what they have around them. People here have become disconnected too; they have the same obsessions with quick, fake news stories and social media. They are wrapped up in the mundane, every day of their lives. There is litter here, I pick it up with growing irritation as I walk my dogs. Farms cause environmental problems with their abundant use of fertilizers and pesticides. Animals are often treated as commodities in the countryside, not living creatures deserving our respect. There is homelessness and poverty too, though it may be less obvious. Last week, I bought a copy of The Big Issue from a young woman who has recently started selling it in my nearest small town.

When I feel despair overtake me, I try to stop and be positive. Yes, we humans have made a mess of some things but we are capable of great things too. I try to remember these great things. They may be small but they are there, in the cities and in the countryside. People are inherently good. It is up to us, no matter where we live, to put things right. Steps are being taken in our communities by caring individuals. Those small steps make a difference; a slow but continuing change for the better. Visiting my daughter in the city, I saw evidence of these good things: a young man giving money to a homeless man and having a conversation to show someone cared; a food bank project for those in poverty, my daughter collecting unwanted items from her student friends to donate; a nature reserve in the middle of the city mayhem; a vegetarian restaurant with Hindi temple, education centre and hostel; an allotment project for those who have experienced homelessness, drug misuse and mental health problems. Here in the countryside too, people are working to make life better: my nearest town is a fair-trade town; there is a permaculture centre up the hill from me; organic and local food initiatives are growing; the vegetarian café is running a Christmas shoebox scheme for the homeless.

We must be glad of these small steps. We can find hope in them. In our crazy, chaotic world where sometimes our lives can seem pointless or we can feel powerless, we can make a difference. I’ve come to the conclusion that life isn’t really about striving for a purpose or about making or achieving great changes in the grand scheme of things, though of course there are those that will. The point is, we all can make some difference by living our lives in the best way we can. We must be kind, loving and caring. We must treat all living creatures and our environment as we would wish to be treated. We must make the most of every day and look for the good things. We must live simply and not selfishly. Yes, at times it is hard – the bad stuff that goes on will hurt, my experience in the city left me feeling bruised for a while, but I think we must keep spreading, communicating and sharing our feelings, our beliefs and our love. That way we can make a difference in some way to the world, and that is a special thing to achieve.

The wind calls for you

The recent windy weather has awakened memories of childhood. Looking out of my window at the raging gale tossing the trees and pulling at the hedge, I am transported to my old room. I am a girl, hiding under the bed covers, terrified of the wind’s mournful cries. Fueled by bible stories at school, and my own interest in Greek and Norse mythology, I was convinced some incensed God was metering out punishment for a sin committed. Although a fairly well-behaved child, I often felt guilty; any mischief or misdemeanour would burden my mind for days. I still have a tendency to overthink things.

 

 

Today the wind howls

from the heavens,

thumping roofs,

bending branches groundward,

sending clouds scuttling

across an insipid sky.

And I am lying in bed;

a child again,

fearful, enshrouded in nylon

sheets prickling static.

Ears strained for parental voices; a

muffled reassurance below.

Am I alone listening to the

wail and roar? Blustering

divine judgement crashes

around me. A

monstrous anger gathers

as I await retribution.

 

 

What sends you back to your childhood?

 

 

We must speak out

Nearly every day, a new story of sexual harassment or assault comes to light. In politics, in the media and in the film industry, people are coming forward to claim they have been abused by those holding positions of power. These brave individuals, willing to tell their very personal stories, are changing an unacceptable situation that has gone on for too long in our society. Women, and men, will finally feel they can speak out without fear of reprisal. The culture of shutting up and putting up; the idea that this is just something that happens or is to be expected, especially if you are a woman, will no longer be tolerated. New mechanisms will be put in place in the highest establishments to ensure complaints are taken seriously and action taken. This will filter down into all walks of life. There have been complaints of witch hunts and unfair accusations, and indeed all claims must be investigated, but highlighting this issue will ensure disgraceful behaviour of this kind will not be ignored in future.

I welcome these stories. I want my daughter, and son, to live in a world where they can feel safe in the workplace, or on public transport, or in the street. I want them to know they can speak out with confidence if an incident occurs; that it will not mean the loss of their job or reputation and that they will be listened to. I want the perpetrators of such abuse to understand they cannot get away with it. The issue is out in the open. People are talking and sharing experiences. These stories have given me courage. We must always speak out about such behaviour.

 

Unexpectedly,

his hands are

on my shoulders; I

tense as his fingers

probe bone and

skin. An

unwanted intimacy,

discomfort spreading, he

casually says, “You’re

knotted up.” He has

tied them tight; they

cannot be undone.

Inside I scream,

“Don’t touch me.”

My flesh crawls and creeps,

awkwardness seeps

from my pores, as

his thumbs press and squeeze; I

suffer silently,

ashamed that

no words pass my lips.

Some absurd sense of

politeness prevents me;

indignant in

mute humiliation when the

shame is all his.

Stan Green’s Secret #FridayReads #shortstories

A very moving story to make us think on this important day.

Judith Barrow

‘How old are you, son?’

 Stan straightened his spine and stretched his shoulders back, looking beyond the man to the recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, on the wall.  ‘Eighteen, sir.’

‘Hmm. Date of birth?’ The captain studied Stan.

‘October 3rd, 1896, sir.’

‘Okay, lad, you’re in. Report to the sergeant over there.’ He dismissed Stan by shouting, ‘Next!’

 Stan grinned and gave the thumbs up to his mate, Ernest Sharp who stood, behind him. He turned and marched as best he could to the other side of the room to the serveant.

‘If that’s the best you can do as a march lad, I’ve got some work cut out for me.’ But the recruiting sergeant, tall and moustached, gave Stan a grin. ‘Welcome to the East Lancashire Regiment. ‘He winked. ‘We’re doin’ well; you’re the tenth recruit today, so that’s ten half-crowns we’ve earned. We’ll be ‘aving a few pints…

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A meeting in the garden

Recently, I have returned to a childhood favourite, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My copy is tatty and falling to pieces as I’ve read it many, many times over the years. I remember receiving it for Christmas when I was ten, and being very excited. It was my best present that year. As a child, I devoured books and was always in need of something new to read. Both my children enjoyed the book as their bedtime story when they were small, so it is special to me and my family.

Revisiting The Secret Garden is like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I know the story so well I can relax completely into it; comforted in the familiar. I meet up with old friends and reacquaint myself with their personalities. There is Mary, spoilt and selfish, with a tragic past. There is Martha, with her sunny disposition and optimistic outlook. There is Ben Weatherstaff, grumpy and cross, with a hidden, soft heart. There is Colin, crippled by his heart-broken father’s rejection. There is the bright, beady-eyed robin, intelligent and all-seeing. Finally, there is Dickon, a breath of fresh, untamed air, bringing nature and wild things with him.

For an ordinary girl, living on a dreary council estate in the 1970s, an isolated manor house set on a beautiful, unpredictable moor provided the perfect backdrop for the story. The idea of a secret, walled garden opened exciting, romantic possibilities. My own life, with worries about school and growing up, could be forgotten for a while. I think I fell a little bit in love with Dickon.

Now, turning the yellow pages of my ageing book, I am reminded of days sitting reading for hours, immersed deeply in the story, unaware of anything going on around me. Although I still read as much as possible and get lost in other worlds, it is rare for me to abandon reality in the carefree way I did as a child.

 

Which old favourites from childhood do you enjoy revisiting? Do they stir any memories?

The Little Dog

Ben stood in the dark hallway of the large, stone house. Outside the air was hot but here it was cool. Removal men bumped and strained around him. He was a forlorn six-year-old lost and forgotten in the chaos. Normally, he bubbled with curiosity and adventure. He liked to explore the natural world. He loved to be in the open air. Now, he stood uncertain. Moving to this new house with its enormous, verdant garden terrified him. He had left everything he had ever known. The security of the home where he was born. His bedroom with its pale, green paintwork and dinosaur border. The safety of his Grandma whom he loved best of all. He would miss her gentle, laughing voice. Her silly stories. Her funny songs. He would miss her cuddling him close and the warm smell of her rose-perfumed cardigan.

A new home meant a new school. His stomach gripped tight when he thought of it. He would have to talk to new children. Make friends. He was happiest in the company of adults. He could find interesting things to tell them; about animals, plants and insects. Grown-ups listened, asked you questions, wanted to know. Children were rough and tumble. They shouted, tugged at you, talked nonsense.

‘Ben darling,’ Mum called him softly, ‘Why don’t we go and look at your new room?’

‘All right,’ he said, reluctantly leaving his corner.

He followed Mum upstairs, along a bright landing and into a large comfortable looking room. His bed was there and boxes full of his things.

‘It will soon be your room – just like the old house,’ Mum smiled, ‘Why don’t you start unpacking? I have to make the workers some tea but I’ll come back in a bit.’

Ben went over to the window. A spider skittered wildly across the glass. His nose wrinkled in concentration. As he watched, he whispered to himself under his breath. He looked out at the garden. On the lawn sat a little white dog gazing up at him. It seemed friendly. Wagging tail, shaggy hair and beady, black eyes. Ben ran out of his bedroom, down the stairs and into the garden. The dog still sat on the grass.

‘Hello little dog,’ he said holding out his hand carefully.

The dog eyed him excitedly, pink tongue lolling to the side of his mouth. Ben thought he was smiling. He knelt down on the springy grass.

‘Come here,’ he said tapping his knees, ‘Come to me little dog!’

The dog ran to Ben and barked invitingly. The two new companions played in the garden all afternoon.

 

When Ben returned to the house, face flushed with exercise and excitement, his parents smiled knowingly at one another.

‘I see you’ve been enjoying the garden,’ Dad said, ruffling his butter-coloured hair.

‘I enjoyed playing with the little dog,’ Ben said, his intelligent brown eyes alight, ‘We found lots of insects and a pond with frogs.’

‘Must be a neighbour’s dog,’ Mum said. ‘Just think, you’ve got the whole holiday to play. But now…it’s tea, bath and bed for you. You’re filthy!’

 

Ben played outside every day, little dog at his heels. One afternoon, they were investigating a different corner of the garden. It was shady and overgrown; weeds reached up to Ben’s waist. Nearing a stone wall, the dog began to whine, pawing at the ground and cowering in the damp undergrowth.

‘What’s wrong little dog?’ Ben asked, screwing up his nose in thought, ‘Nothing to be scared of…we’ll look after each other.’

He picked up a narrow branch and thrashed at the long grass. The dog did not move. Ben pulled away the vegetation, clearing an area next to the wall.

‘This is hard work…just move this…oh…what’s that?’ he muttered to himself as he worked.

Ben knelt on the soft ground. He saw a small headstone, worn and green with age. He could not see any writing on it. He turned to show the little dog but he was gone.

 

At bedtime, Ben told Mum about his discovery.

‘This is an old house,’ she said, ‘…must be someone’s much loved pet, buried in the garden.’ She kissed him goodnight. Ben fell asleep thinking about who might have lived there before.

 

All summer, Ben played with the little dog. They became best friends, sharing fears and worries. He began to love the house and garden. He missed his Grandma but, with the dog by his side, he felt he could cope with anything. Even starting a new school.

 

The holidays were nearing an end. Ben stood at the window, waiting. He was excited. His nose rumpled with anticipation.

‘Soon be here…won’t be long now…,’ he chattered happily to himself.

Dad’s car pulled up the drive.

‘She’s here!’ Ben shouted. He watched his Grandma walk up the path carrying a large box.

Grandma came into the hall. She put the box gently on the floor.

‘Hello my boy,’ she said, eyes sparkling. She bent and kissed Ben’s curly mop.

‘Grandma…’ he hugged her tight, breathing in the smell of flowers.

‘I’ve got a present for you,’ Grandma said. She passed him the box, ‘Open it carefully.’

Ben could hear a snuffling, scratching sound from inside. He lifted the flaps cautiously. A small puppy pushed out its head. Bright eyes, wet nose, black and white fur.

‘Thought you might like one of your own…’ Grandma smiled, ‘He can walk with you to school.’

‘Oh…’ Ben gasped. He delicately picked up the dog and held it close. It smelt warm and safe.

‘Thank you Grandma,’ he said.

Ben loved his puppy. He ran out to find the little dog. It would be fun to explore – all three together.

‘Little dog!’ he called but there was no response.

Ben knotted his forehead. Holding his pup to his chest, he searched for the little dog in every corner of the garden. There was no sign of him.

 

Every day Ben played in the garden with his puppy but he never saw the little dog again.

The wait is worth it

Being a parent to teenagers seems to be a process of waiting. Certainly I spend hours every week waiting for my son. With coat and shoes on, keys in hand, I wait for him to be ready to leave the house. In the car, windows fogged, radio on, or scribbling in a notebook, I wait while he has a piano or guitar lesson, or for him to finish work, or for his college bus to arrive. Breath bated, I wait for him to make a decision (about anything – he likes to think things over).

Whenever I begin to feel impatient or frustrated about the time I spend waiting, I stop and remind myself that this won’t last forever. Each stage of parenthood is a fleeting moment on a whirlwind train journey; each station passed in a blur. We have our children with us for such a short time before they head off and make their own way. Once, I waited for nine months, nervous and excited, for my babies to arrive. Today, I can barely remember what it felt like to hold their warm bodies in my arms; tiny, vulnerable and needing only me. As I paced the bedroom floor every sleepless night, humming lullabies and rocking my restless little ones, I would never have believed I could forget; then it was all-consuming, now I miss it sometimes.

So, I am thankful for these moments of waiting for my son. I am happy he is still here for me to enjoy his company. I make the most of the time we have together before he is off, like his sister before him. Waiting provides me with an opportunity to think, to listen, to observe and to create. The radio is an intelligent companion and suggests many ideas for writing. Looking out of the window, I observe interesting characters passing by. I watch the changing sky and the swooping birds. The pages of my notebook fill up. Great chunks of my novel have been jotted down as I sit waiting.

Waiting is worth it.

 

 

 

 

October in the Library

October is here and autumn has arrived in full force. Everywhere are signs of decay: the fallen leaves turn mushy on the wet grass, fungi grow puffed and swollen along the woodland paths, branches creak and tumble in the howling wind. We leave the house in darkness and return in darkness. We begin to look towards festivals that mark the end of the abundant summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter.

This is the time of year associated with death. When the divide between the living and the dead becomes a thin veil and spirits may cross easily into this world. For our ancestors, winter was a difficult and dangerous time. On the night of Samhain, they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth; some to cause mischief. They lit bonfires to keep away evil spirits, left offerings of food to appease the Gods and held feasts for dead kin, in the hope that they would make it through the coming darkness.

Soon, many families will celebrate Hallowe’en. Children, and some adults too, will enjoy dressing up, grotesque party food and scary stories. Although the shops are full of tawdry, plastic trinkets, unpleasant costumes and cynical commercialism, these activities are the evolution of ancient traditions. For that reason, I find the end of October a special time. The dark, chill nights are filled with the melancholy of seasons passing; the year is heading towards its end. There is hopefulness too, standing by a roaring, hot bonfire; the flames spread light into the moody, black sky. I think about past days, people I have lost, people I have forgotten. I remember my childhood; I enjoyed a good scare then, as I do today.

I remember one particular day in the school library…

Everyone was surprised when I wasn’t made a Prefect in my final year at Junior school. Pupils were usually awarded the role as a reward for academic or sporting success. I didn’t mind, though. In fact, I was relieved. Prefects stood in the corridors telling other kids off for running instead of walking. They were unpopular; bossy and rude teacher’s pets.

The teaching staff chose to make me a Librarian instead. Being a Librarian meant staying in at break times. It meant avoiding the playground with its noisy, rough games of Bulldog and Tag. It meant sitting in the quiet hush, organizing, labelling and cataloguing books, checking records, tidying shelves, making displays, and best of all, when the library was empty, which it often was, reading. Those teachers knew what they were doing.

One lunchtime, I was in the library with my friend, Dean. We had just finished creating a display of new adventure stories. We sat satisfied with our work, laughing and chatting in subdued voices about the myth of the ghost that haunted the library. Like all schools, there were many tales of ghostly happenings. The fact that the library was haunted was well-known. Stories of strange bumps and scrapes, chills down the back of the neck and shifting, shadowy shapes were shared with giggles and gasps between classmates. Exactly who or what haunted the library was unknown.

Certainly, the library had a special atmosphere of its own. Entering it was like entering a different world, far removed from the hustle of school life. It was cool and peaceful. The lighting muted. The outside world muffled as if it might even have ceased to exist.

Dean and I didn’t believe in the ghost nonsense. For us, the library was a place where we felt comfortable and safe; unthreatened amongst the neat rows of books. As we shook ours heads and tutted scornfully at the silliness of our fellow pupils, a book fell violently, in fact almost flew, from a shelf in the furthest corner. We looked at each other in bewilderment. Dean got up and went over, a little cautiously, to pick it up. Then, he yelped and dropped the book as if it had bitten him.

“What is it?” I asked in surprise.

“The book.” he said, pointing to where it lay on the floor.

I walked across to see what he was talking about. There sat the book on the dusty, grey linoleum. Its title: ‘Ghost Stories.’

 

Have you ever had a strange, other-worldly experience?

 

 

 

Talking to yourself is a sign you’re a writer

I am never alone. I have multiple personalities inhabiting my head. A throng of people, of varying genders, sizes and ages. Sometimes these people talk; they whisper, shout, argue, cry and laugh inside my mind. Sometimes they burst out into the real world. They escape on to paper; become stories and poems others can read. Sometimes they break out as words; fragments of conversations spoken into the air where others can hear. My husband and children are used to my odd behaviour. ‘What did you say?’ they ask and I reply, ‘Just talking to myself’, or ‘Just thinking about a bit of my novel.’ With a shrug of the shoulders, they carry on. When it happens around other people, it can be embarrassing.

The first time I remember, was as a small girl, in a supermarket which was rather dull. I was making up a story to relieve my boredom. I’ve forgotten what it was about. In the middle of an involved exchange with some imagined character, I looked up and noticed two shelf-fillers had stopped what they were doing and were listening to me. They had broad, entertained grins on their faces. Reddening, I turned and hurried back down the aisle.

Since then, I have had many experiences of being overheard. My mind gets carried away, the characters come to life and out the words come, normally hushed under my breath. It can happen anywhere; on buses, trains, walking the dogs, shopping. I have had people ask if I am all right or if I am speaking to them. I have had people laugh or sneer. I have had people edge away awkwardly, concern on their faces. Mostly, I am met with bemused amusement. I feel a little foolish but it does no harm. In fact, it even does some good. The listener gets a good chuckle and something to talk about, while I develop my story lines.

It is acting with me taking every role. Playing out different scenes and characters helps me work out the plot. I become that person for a while; think, feel and respond as them. I decide how they would behave in each situation. It is part of who I am; I cannot imagine my life without the company of these others. Once, it worried me. I thought perhaps I was too caught up in a fantasy world; I was a bit kooky. After all, they say talking to yourself is a sign of madness. I am no longer bothered by it; I am aware where reality ends and the stories begin. It turns out that talking to yourself is a sign you’re a writer.

 

What do you think, fellow writers? Do you talk to yourselves too?