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Virginia Woolf Speaks

Ah, this is EXACTLY what I would have guessed her voice sounds like. This extended metaphor is a little long, but it earns its length. Enjoy! Happy Thursday!

Source: Virginia Woolf Speaks

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What does a writer have to do to get noticed/published?

Source: What does a writer have to do to get noticed/published?

Inspiration Raven – art and words

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Ravens crop up as symbolic creatures in almost all cultures.  He plays a starring role in many epic poems, mythologies and ancient stories.

A  trickster god who lives outside of time, he makes us think about the things we often forget.

Raven is a shaman, a being capable of walking in two worlds. Bored of the spirit world of birds, she comes to us in physical form to feed saints, warn of death, create the world by dropping a stone in the formless waters.

Sometimes she’s a Celtic shapeshifting goddess hovering over battlefields.

In the far north they say ravens are the souls of murder victims.

The Tantric deity Dhumavati rides on the back of a raven as together they navigate the darklands of unconsciousness that lie between death and the next rebirth.

A symbol of survival, life, death, creation, war, protection, abundance and lovemaking – this creature is a potent muse, a prompt, a call to expression for artists and writers.

This is my poem in response to Paul Newman’s delicate and mysterious drawing of a raven.

 

Raven

Look behind if you will –

with your primal eye.  Gaze

at the soft hills of your past.

 

Cover your body with a feather coat,

rainglistening.

Black as moonless shadows.

 

Make love to your young self –

loose-limbed in the wild grass

under that forgotten sun.

 

Stretch out your long wings –

embrace everything you lost

until Nothing is hidden.

 

Lie down easy with your Self

at last human.

Be your most attentive lover.

 

Smell the fragrance of jasmine

in your hair.  Taste

your saltsoaked skin.

 

Ignore the North Wind who says,

“All of us are broken.

All of us – falling from Grace.”

 

Listen instead to the Raven’s call,

“You are always blessed. Beyond skin. Beyond bone –

always smoothwinding as the river.

 

  • J A Harris, August 2015

We Need to Talk About Porn…

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[NOTE to readers:  this post is aimed at adult readers.  Please approach with an open mind.  If you don’t like to think about, read about or talk about sex – please don’t read this article!!]

There’s no reason why this subject should be as difficult for couples to discuss as it is.  But it’s a time bomb in many relationships.

Porn has always been with us.  The earliest carvings of voluptuous Venus figurines, some of which are said to be as old as 40,000 years, often show enhanced vulva and exaggerated buttocks and breasts.  No one knows if these objects were sacred or used for sexual arousal purposes or both or neither.  They might just have been carvings.  We’re human and our bodies are beautiful.  Of course we’re fascinated by them.

In ancient Hindu carvings there is a tradition of erotica in certain temples which are probably the only erotic images I personally have ever found truly moving, emotionally engaging and exciting.  They seem to suggest a profound intimacy rather than an isolated woman having things done to her. But that’s just me.

Then there were the Greek images of homosexual love which probably still delight many people.

But why talk specifically about porn on the internet? It’s a tricky, guilt-ridden, weird subject which can’t be brushed away with an ‘it’s only art…’ excuse and besides – some might say – why should we talk about something so private?

The answer is simple.  We should talk about it because nowadays it leaks into relationships in a way which is hard to quantify or articulate.  Probably because the digital age is giving us a new version of porn, a whole new world of stimulation-arousal and one which we don’t yet have the language or experience to engage with.

Zimbardo, the famous psychologist coined the phrase ‘porning’ to describe the act of masturbating to online porn.  In his famous Ted Talk entitled ‘The Demise of Guys’ https://youtu.be/oVEHeY8sY5Q he talks about the arousal syndrome many boys and men are caught up in.  It’s like an addiction except for the fact that an arousal syndrome wants different kinds of stimulation.  Addiction to cocaine only wants more of the same.  The difference matters.

For some people no doubt, porning is a fun and healthy part of what they do together.  But for the secret porners; it’s a tricky, guilt-ridden, weird, secretive world available 24/7.  And let’s be crystal about what we mean when we talk about using porn.  He isn’t just watching it is he?  He’s using this stuff to masturbate alone. According to Zimbardo, the average boy watches around 50 porno clips a week.  I’m not sure what the average is for men, but I’m beginning to wonder if there are any out there who don’t have a porning incident at least once a week.

There are so many questions to ask a partner who porns.  What kind of images get him off?  Does his porning interfere with intimacy in the relationship?  How does his partner feel about this?

Would it make a difference to you if you found out your partner was getting off 5 times a week on extremely violent rape fantasy material? Even if it was just mud wrestling women with large breasts, would you find it uncomfortable to discover him doing it?

However liberal your views are around sex, secret sex stuff in a relationship always feels like something of a betrayal.

We need to talk about porn when we decide to get together with someone.  

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This is the time to do it.  At the beginning, in the first flush of love.  Save yourselves any shocks in the future.  Pick a good time to have this conversation, it’ll be so much easier if you are relaxed and happy.  Make sure you’ve got time to really chat.  A bottle of wine might help.  Make a list of questions and stick to the plan.  Each person should take it in turns to ask and then answer every question on the list.  Make sure the attitude remains both light and serious.  And be honest.

Here’s an example of the kinds of questions you should both ask each other before you move in together or get married:

  • Do you watch porn on the internet?
  • If so, how often?
  • What kind of thing do you like to watch?
  • Would you be happy for me to watch it too?
  • How do both of you feel about this?
  • If one of you feels uncomfortable about any of the above, how can you work it through so that you’re both happy?
  • If one of you is later found out to have lied about using porn, what does that mean for the level of trust in the relationship?

As you can see, this is not a conversation you want to be having five years down the line, at two in the morning with your beloved slumped over his shameful keyboard.

The part porn plays in your man’s life impacts how you feel about him.  You should know if he’s into heavy bondage before you move in with him. Some women would be happy to join him watching this kind of porn.  Many would be uncomfortable and disquieted, needing to end the relationship on that note.  And that’s fine.  In many ways having this conversation honestly might be the best thing you ever did in terms of having a loving long-term relationship.

And realistically if you’re in a relationship with a man it’s very likely that he’s using it.  This means that porning is important to him and whether you know about it or not – it involves you.    Because that’s a part of your shared sex life.

You might think that as a couple you’re very honest.  You two talk about everything – right? You don’t have secrets – right?  Well, have you really talked to him about this?  Maybe you think your man is the one who doesn’t go there.  Think again. Access to erotic images has never been so available and widespread.  Why would he not go there?

But he might lie to you so what is the point of even bringing it up. Let sleeping lions lie.

Or maybe you don’t want to hear what he has to say on the matter. Life would be rosy if  you remained ignorant and just left all that stuff in the deleted history on your partner’s iPad – wouldn’t it?  You might think this is one of those secrets that doesn’t need examination, that should remain hidden in the dark corners of your life untouched and irrelevant.  If this is your attitude you may well come to regret it during one of those late night discovery sessions when you find your darling at the computer, whacking the pony to images you will never get out of your head.

The sad truth is that most couples know it’s in their relationship but they still never discuss it in detail.  This means there is a large part of a man’s sex life [sorry, it is usually the man] which he never shares with his partner, even though she’s supposed to be the person he’s having his sex life with… it’s all getting a bit messed up isn’t it?

Why don’t women fall in line with porn?

Why don’t more women join in with the porno movement sweeping the world.  If they did, then it might not be so difficult to talk about it.  We know it’s mainly a male pastime but shouldn’t women make more of an effort, fall in line and learn to enjoy it as much as men do?  Then she would have her own secret places to go on the internet and no one would ever be harmed or upset.  There would be no need to talk about it because it’s something both of you did and you knew what it was and it would be like nothing was happening.

If only.  And believe me I’ve tried.

It would be lovely to gloss over or ignore this thing.  Have you ever stumbled across a load of bouncing big boobs covered in mud whilst searching for something on your partner’s computer? No?  Well let me tell you, take away the desire element – because it really isn’t there in most porn as far as the female response is concerned – and for most women these images are at best, funny. You laugh because it’s hilarious.  Porn is just silly and harmless.  Right? It’s so fake.  More often than not, the sex is for men, about men and shows far too much muff to hold most heterosexual women’s interest.

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Yet, when it comes to it, most women are shocked and upset when they discover their partner in media res, in the middle of the act. They lose the bond, the anchor holding the relationship down and it floats away.  This kind of detachment or inner existential breakdown can affect their life socially, way beyond the relationship itself.

This would explain the finding that women who previously did not know their partners used porn, once they discovered their partner doing it, reported feeling isolated in social situations afterwards.

Act like it’s nothing.

So what do we do?  Act like it’s nothing, it doesn’t exist and it isn’t important.  Porn means nothing and it’s not your business if your husband is porning before he falls asleep at night – right? The last thing you want to do is talk to him about it.  He’s letting off steam.  It’s no big deal.  Freedom of sexual expression – that’s what the sixties were about.  Get with the program because everyone does it now.  Getting uptight over these things is so last century.  if you think that digital porn is harmful to relationships you’re the problem.  It means you have a right or left leaning political bias.

You see how hard it is to talk about this stuff?

We divide ideas about porn into neat sections and portion it out to those we think will hold certain beliefs.  It’s so difficult to discuss because it’s often seen as a political rather than a psychological or philosophical thing.

In other words, some would say that it’s only a behavioural problem if you disapprove of sex, or you believe in equal rights for women, or you’re a fundamentalist of any religion.

And we know that some women use it too.

However, the fact is that generally speaking, internet porn is made for men.  As a woman I can say that very little of what I’ve seen online is targeted at me.  Very rarely has anything captivated me enough to make me want to go upstairs and give myself a jolly good seeing to.  In fact I find it boring for the most part and never bother with it unless I’m doing research or it turns up accidentally.

The dark side

Luckily, I haven’t seen any of the nasty stuff.  The stuff that involves children – even babies, necrophilia, scat, animals or extreme cruelty and violence.  Because when we talk about porn we’ve got to accept that it isn’t just bouncing boobs covered in mud and hard-faced young women trying to get through university with gritted teeth, plenty of lube and an open mind.

Once you put something in your head it will never leave.  Memories are forever even if most of them are stored only in the unconscious mind.  Young pubescent boys with access to the hardest of hardcore videos and images are developing their sexual response in line with what they see.  Think of the worst sex crime you’ve ever heard of and imagine it available for porning on any device near you.  I’m not sure if anyone is comfortable with children seeing that stuff however much they believe in freedom of expression.

And some adult minds as we know, are dark enough to begin with. Think about it.

Sexual violence moulding young minds.

Hardening older ones.

Normalising those desires in the mentally unstable.

Unfortunately, because the internet makes it so easy to access porn, it has to become part of a greater conversation about how it affects men and in particular – men in relationships.

Water, water everywhere…

As we said earlier – porn is all over the internet like lice on a WW1 soldier in the trenches. However, it doesn’t seem to be helping relationships as much as the writers of The Joy of Sex would have liked when they encouraged us to be hip to the groove of sharing porn with your lover.

The magazine  Psychology Today looked at the self-reported negative effects of porn on the relationships of 4,000 people who went for help around this issue.

They found that men were having problems cutting down on their porning habits – which appears to support the addiction theory of digital porn.

Men also told the researchers that they felt higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness the more often they did the porn thing.

Women who found out their partners were regular porn users experienced intense levels of fear, anxiety, alienation and were much more on edge around other people after they knew about their partner’s habit.

The problem is that a relationship is a bond.  Bonding and intimacy are reinforced in many ways – mostly in areas outside the bedroom.  Bonding is about an authentic connection with someone who you choose to be intimate with.  Intimacy is physical and emotional.

Some studies suggest that frequent porning makes men:

  • more callous towards women
  • more likely to trivialise rape
  • have distorted perception about sex
  • have a greater appetite for more deviant or violent types of porn

All the above will erode the intimacy in a relationship over time.

When a woman discovers her man porning – which is the usual way a porn habit is uncovered, a bond of trust is broken somehow.   There’s a saying you might have heard:  When your sex life is good, everything else is bound to be right.   But what if you think you’re satisfying your lover and then you find him jerking off to material that shocks or disgusts you?  Who is this person you’re with?

Many psychologists and therapists dealing with couples are seeing this problem over and over again these days.

You might still think that the best thing is never to talk about it – who needs to know?

Also, following this argument to its logical conclusion – we definitely should not under any circumstances talk about porn to our dearly beloved lest we find out he’s looking at Italian Trannies with muddy, bouncing boobs and we instantly fall out of love with him.

In the last five or six years the digital porn industry has grown exponentially.  It’s literally –  everywhere.

Here’s some stats:

  • Around 25 million porn sites exist in the webosphere – which is about 12 percent of all sites.
  • Around 82% of porn viewers are men.
  • The industry is worth around $97 billion a year which is enough to probably save the world from ecological disaster, train enough new doctors to heal the sick everywhere, instigate a working peace initiative and feed everyone who is hungry.

And never a drop to drink

With all this erotic stimulation around and the money we’re spending on it as a species, you’d think the whole world would be enjoying fabulous, carefree, adventurous and amazing sex in and out of relationships.  This just isn’t true.  Particularly for women.  A friend once told me that women don’t necessarily  want more sex, they just want good sex.  More often than not, they are disappointed.

Well think about it – if a man spent the last 15 minutes porning and has reached his climax [men are uni-orgasmic so unless he’s 17 years old it might be a while before he’s up for it again] does he really want to go to all the effort of making love, properly and intimately to the real woman who lives with him and who is currently watching TV in the next room eating chips to fill in the emptiness which used to be full of tenderness?

If in doubt – rationalise it.  In other words, if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable about what you’re doing, make up a good reason as to why you should be doing it.  One guy I talked to about his daily use of porn rationalised it this way: If you don’t use it you lose it, and I need to come a couple of times every day.  He was in his late forties.  I wondered why he didn’t want to be more openly sensual with his girlfriend but he didn’t see any conflict.

It seems that whichever way you look at it, secret porning at least, can damage intimacy.

But Is it an addiction?

Apparently, stuff happens in your brain that looks a lot like cocaine or nicotine addiction when you’re regularly porning alone.  The elements of compulsion, high tolerance leading to a search for greater highs, loss of control and withdrawal symptoms when the substance isn’t available light up the same neural pathways as any junkie.  Some scientists have claimed that even relatively short-term compulsive porning leads to actual brain damage [which may be reversible] but there needs to be a lot more research in this area.

Damage occurs when the compulsion-tolerance-withdrawal cycle re-wires the brain. We are an infinitely flexible and adaptable species and the brain especially has the quality of neuro-plasticity which means it can literally change shape in response to repetitive behavioural patterns.

Is porning bad for women?

Probably most people – men and women –  will masturbate alone at times even if they’re in a loving relationship.

According to a study in the States by Fagan, fifty-six percent of American divorces stated porn obsession as a reason for the failure of the relationship.  It was the women who wanted out after discovering the porn habits of their husbands.  This is a relatively new situation that simply did not exist six or seven years ago.

Okay so it’s everywhere and almost every male with access to a computer and some alone time is doing it – but does it matter?  Isn’t it just a harmless hobby which helps men [and a relatively few women] get through their day?

Science as we know is often proved wrong by later theories and perhaps there is no such thing as porn addiction.  Also, when it comes to viewing and porning over hardcore nasty stuff, where women’s suffering or humiliation is part of the turn on – surely there’s nothing to worry about?

Lonely, repetitive self-stimulation as opposed to real intimacy just sounds wrong whichever way you look at it.  Whoever is doing it looks as if they are profoundly sad and unable to connect with a living, breathing, female human being.

As Zimbardo said: Porning can lead to an inability to distinguish between doing porn and making love.

Or perhaps, doing porn and doing harm.

What Do we Do About Porning?

It’s up to men really – as it seems to be an overwhelmingly male problem.  As a women – and like many women of all ages –  I don’t use it.  On the whole it isn’t targeted at me, and often looks painful or annoying for the female sex industry worker.

The cure is perhaps in the disease.  Make porn beautiful.  Make it art.  Make it about intimacy,  about pleasing each other – women as well as men.  Make it real.  And talk about it.

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Men will either change their tastes or they won’t.  But we can all have the conversation.

Writing prompt:

The first time I made love with him I was…

[Focus on the emotional content of the incident.  Use the senses – touch, smell, hearing, sight, taste to describe the incident.  Explore the setting of this moment in your life.]

Coming soon: with an explosive new chapter on sexual healing, the Second Edition of The Wolf in Your Bed by J A Harris.

After talking to many readers  over the last couple of years about what they would like to see in the new edition, many were anxious to have a new chapter about sexual healing.

So I’ve been researching and writing it.  In it, I’ll be talking about the two main stories which bind us powerfully to abusive partners sexually.

In this chapter you’ll use the technique of freewriting as a therapeutic way to heal through the engagement of the story-loving unconscious mind.

  • Find out which dark fairy tale your sex life expressed
  • Imagine a new story to nurture your sexual needs
  • Observe how your sexual self wants to heal
  • Learn the art of love which nurtures and never harms

In the meantime – have you had the courage to talk about porn?  Let me know how it went, and whether you think it helped your relationship or harmed it.

J x

Writing the Hotel Rooms of Truth, Love and Despair…

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Writing about the settings of your life is important.  Where we are is as much about who we are as anything else. Everywhere you go, there you are as the saying goes.  There in that hotel room lived your old truths, loves and losses just like at home.  Only different.  More stark.  More accented by the different fall of light across the room.

Asking these questions:

How did I get here?

Why am I here in this place, exactly?

What do I think and feel about where I am?

– asking these questions can lead to revealing and soulful answers.  Answers that can take you anywhere – anywhere in your writing and anywhere in your lived experience.  That’s what I find anyway.  Maybe you do too?

Home is where you are when you’re staying still.

Hotel rooms are the places we go when we are transient.

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The former reflects who you think you are.  The latter reflects the simple human habit of seeing what’s over the next mountain.  It is functional and focused on physical needs.  A bed.  A chair.  A cupboard to put clothes in.  An area to wash.  A toilet.  And maybe a table to write on.

A setting is not just landscape or brickscape.  It’s colour, smell, atmosphere, touch, sound and any other life forms which are present.

The essence of place can be captured in a few words.

I’ve moved a lot in my life. I even spent a year at an age when I should have been gardening or sleeping in a deckchair at an over-fifties meeting about biscuits or something, a year of living in a single tiny room in an African packpackers hotel.  It smelled of salt and incense.  African fabrics draped every surface.  The sound of the rough ocean crashing on the beach nearby was an endless angry scream.  Sand worked its way into the pores of my skin. There was very little electricity and no hot water.

In this room I spent months bashing out one of the many drafts of my five year work in progress ‘A Deadly Yearning’.  Dogs, lizards and chickens wandered in to check up on me.  During the mango season I ate up to twelve of the yellow fruits a day whilst hanging over the railings outside my room watching the tourists.  Every night I fought all out war with the mosquitoes.  Fire ants got in my bed once and their bite was an explosion of pain like I’ve never known. I thought I was going to die.   Each morning there would be a gathering of people in the street outside my window and I would hear the street vendors and school children greeting each other as the sun rose.

For me, some kind of notebook or journal is part of the luggage.  It’s the written camera if you like, my viewpoint of the world both inside and outside as it kaleidoscopes around and through me.  It serves as a record of each adventure I have and becomes part of the compost for my work – feeding into poems, stories, non-fiction.

One thing is for sure, wherever I go I try to find the core of place.  By the ocean I find reflective thinking easy.  In the city it’s people-watching.  The mangrove swamps, forests, fields and meadows of anywhere in the world are the places to think about the animating force of nature.  A village is full of intrigue.  A wild beach is a kind of freedom. A  hotel is full of strangers.

There is an odd relationship between the hotel room and the natural world.  Trees, flowers, animals and fields are often absent unless you’re on a country retreat which is a whole separate state of mind entirely.

In a hotel in Amsterdam recently I fell up the stairs rather than use the lift with strangers during a particularly wild night.  I felt like a feral creature in an antiseptic environment.

My journal prompt of the day:

In your diary, notebook or journal write about the strangest night you ever spent at a hotel, B&B, Motel or packpackers hang-out.

Write about the other people you met, even if it was fleetingly.  Let your imagination run amok and blur the lines between fact and fantasy.  Be brutally honest and outrageously exaggerate all facts as you understand them.  Focus on the senses.  The tastes, smells, sounds, colours, shapes and the touch of the bobbly bedsheets on your skin.

When you’ve written a couple of pages read back over what you’ve written.

How might these insights be useful in your other work?

Could it form part of a scene in a novel?  A poem on the theme of wildness?  A chapter of your memoir?

 

Write and go well, Jill x
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Novel Writing Tip: How to Set Writing Goals That Work

write your novel in a year

Have a look at this great talk about writing by Nathan Filer who wrote the bestselling novel ‘The Shock of the Fall’. In it he talks about the psychology of being happy. One of the first rules of living a fulfilling life is setting realistic, achievable goals. Now you may have heard this advice before but are unsure how to apply it to the long, amorphous, winding river of creating a novel.

Over the years we’ve searched for the best way to organise our writing lives. Because a novel is a work produced in a version of self-imposed solitary confinement, it can often take on the proportions of an over-whelming mass of skills, inspiration and practise. Let me tell you, all writers experience this feeling from time to time about their latest novel. And it can lead to the abandonment of a dream. It doesn’t have to be.

Here are…

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How Editing a Novel Led to Editing a Life…

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… an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” Colette.

Whilst getting down to the serious and heavy editing phase of A Deadly Yearning, I’ve discovered something very peculiar. The harder I slash and burn the story the more I have access to a bold and clear attitude towards anything that blocks forward movement in my real life. Let’s call this frame of mind:

The joyful, slightly crazed, relentless and ruthless destruction of meaningless elements.

I’ve had such a big clear out there isn’t much left of everything I’ve ever accumulated. What a liberation! The freedom of release from old clothes, books I’ll never read again, manuscripts of novels I won’t ever complete, too many forks, nails, half-empty bottles of shampoo, pictures I don’t like any more, old toys nobody plays with and chairs [how I ended up with so many chairs is beyond comprehension in any universe] is a heady experience.

The whole exercise took me four weeks. I must have visited the dump at least fifteen times. Every day at one point I was distributing stuff liberally to the charity shops of my local town feeling smugly generous.

My bins overflowed and that gave me such deep joy. I uncovered the sides, nooks and corners of my house. Each room began to look brighter, cleaner and was more relaxing to spend time in. I slept for weeks in a different room just to see what it was really like.

Okay, so it was a scorched earth policy baby but this was what I had to do to the book to make it right. And when it was finished I felt truly in touch with my inner arsonist in a healthy and contained way without actually having to burn anything down.

It was as if I’d burned down some kind of symbolic inner house, a heavy house of cold rooms, sweating damp walls stuffed with bags of crap. A house I never wanted to live in but moved into anyway. A house so stuffed with the past it had become a prison of memories and as the metaphoric flames licked the sky I stood laughing hyena-wild screeches into the dark night.

As if by osmosis, by cutting out the pointless meandering meaningless characters and scenes in the book I’m writing – I’ve stumbled across the same issues of tangential rubbish in my everyday life.

I suppose it helps that I’m moving house soon – but seriously, most of this stuff survived the last move which was only last August.

No, I think when it comes to paring down your manuscript to discover the true story, the one you always meant to tell but didn’t really know what it was until after all those hours, all those months, all those words spilled out on the page, all those wrong turnings, bad beginnings, saggy middles, lackluster endings – this discovery of story has its own ephiphanic quality and it isn’t until this happens, when the true form of your story emerges a Venus from the vast tearful sea of your effort – that you begin to see it with the utter clarity of one who has known great chaos.

And that’s when, in my case at least, the reality of your own lived experience also shrugs off hitherto unnoticed obfuscations to reveal itself.

For some writers throwing away more than half of everything they own is just utter madness. They need their clutter and geegaws and I’ve no beef with that. It’s a personal thing. All I can say is that in some way, subtle or screamingly obvious, editing your book will lead to some version of editing your life.

So, if you are in the editing process right now have a look around you. What needs clearing out? The garden? A relationship? An unhealthy regime of chips, coffee and cheese? Or perhaps you want to be truly free and set fire to your actual house and go live in your car by the beach. Seriously, this is as good a time as you’ll ever know to make changes that matter.

Do it. Go on. Plus, spiritually you know it’ll be a growth thing but never fear, you don’t have to explain it in those terms. You’re a writer. You can explain anything with some words.

J x

*There’s more editing to go on this book. At least three more months. The worst is over. The story has been found. The rest will follow.

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