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“We accept the love we think we deserve.” ~The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why does she stay? That’s a question I ask myself so often when I read stories of women who have been consistently abused by husbands, boyfriends, or other men in their lives. And I honestly don’t think there’s one answer that stands up to scrutiny any more than the others. Every woman is an individual, and she has her own reasons for staying, but I can’t help but pose the question inside my own head anyway.

I saw this quote a while ago, and it resonated with me, about accepting the love we think we deserve. On some level it struck me as being brutally honest, for several reasons, but on another level it was an attempt at answering the question that keeps haunting me. Why does she stay? It’s quite possible she stays because she’s accepting whatever she thinks is the love he offers her, that she believes this IS love, even when he hurts her both emotionally and physically.

And I use the term “she” with a caveat, with a disclaimer that not all victims are women, but I come into contact with more of these issues involving women than anyone else. So I use the term, but I understand it’s not all-encompassing as it is. Nothing could be, though in this society we try to make everything fit. Regardless, these emotional and physical scars are everywhere, and those who inflict them often get off scot-free when it comes to getting a proper comeuppance, living to torture their victims another day. To think that victims believe this is love is beyond me, but it happens all the time, and it has happened over and over again.

These patterns are honestly depressing to see, but there is no end in sight. “We accept the love we think we deserve,” says more about our own feelings of self-loathing and poor self-esteem than they say about the other person. These other people manipulate us because they know they can, because they see in us these signs of low self-esteem and they prey on that. Shame on them. They say they love us, but they don’t know what love is. They only know how to pretend well enough to reel us in, and then they lower the boom, in more ways than one. Once we are caught in the web, it’s so incredibly difficult to extricate ourselves from it, because we become believers.

At least that’s how I see it. I could be completely wrong, but it’s what I see from those of my friends and acquaintances who have stayed, who have put themselves secondary to someone who is literally not worth it. The quote, to me, means that we, as human beings, can’t quite wrap our brains around the fact that we’re worth so much more than a punching bag, either emotionally or physically. When we have been neglected and cast aside it becomes easier to accept that any sign of interest on the part of someone else might be the only interest we will ever get in our lives. It becomes easier to accept it all, despite the warning signs, and throughout the relationship, even when the hard times come.

Why does she stay? She stays because she thinks he will change, even though she knows he won’t. He says he will change. He sometimes gets emotional and cries on her shoulder, and she thinks that’s a sign things are looking up, not the manipulative move it really is. Or maybe he honestly thinks he will change, but when faced with a similar situation in the future he simply goes back to his previous ways because they are hardwired into his brain. She stays because she believes in the goodness in him, despite the fact that he often shows her his negative side. She stays because she thinks she cannot find anything better, and she believes what he is giving her is what love looks like.

This is the love she thinks she deserves, and it makes sense. But it also makes me so utterly sad for her, for me, and for mankind, that this is what we think we amount to in the grand scheme of things, that too often we are belittled and taught to think we aren’t worth very much. We deserve so much more, every single one of us out here just wanting to be loved, to be appreciated, to be seen for who we are and embraced for it in a way we haven’t been before. It’s never enough just to settle, to give up essential parts of ourselves for people who don’t care, who just want to control us in a way we wouldn’t accept if it was anyone but us. But we often have blind spots when it comes to those who we believe we love, when it comes to those who have already broken our will, our self-esteem, and our emotional capacity.

She stays because she thinks there’s nothing better for her in this wide world. And that’s an absolute travesty.

Sam

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sNDnYYZe_400x400I love riding in the car with Lexi because she’ll often say something unexpected, especially when I don’t think she’s paying attention. I should be used to it by now, but my firstborn still has a habit of surprising me. Last week I bought the new Taylor Swift album, and like a true #swifty I’ve had it on repeat at home and in my car. I knew all the song lyrics by Day 2, so I was singing along on this particular ride. Lexi was in the back, head buried in her book, but apparently she can multi-task because she looked up and said:

“Dad, is Taylor Swift married?”

“No, honey, she isn’t.”

“Oh, good. Because I was thinking all these lyrics would be strange if she was married.”

“What do you mean, Lex?”

“Well, I mean she’s talking about being up in the club talking to boys and stuff, and I was thinking if she was married that wouldn’t be a good thing.”

“You’re right, Lex. But she’s in her 20’s, and many young people these days do what’s called dating around.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means she goes out with a boy on dates, and that’s how they figure out if they want to take their relationship further.”

“So she goes around with him? Is that why it’s called dating around?”

“Um, no. It’s because she’s dated a lot of guys that way, to see if it works out, but it hasn’t, not to this point anyway.”

“That’s why so many of her songs sound like she’s sad?”

“You got that right. Or upset. Think about ‘Shake It Off.'”

“Oh yeah. [Singing] ‘I go on too many dates. But I can’t make ’em stay.'”

“She’s talking about ‘haters’ saying she dates a lot but no one seems to want to settle down with her, to get married or something like that.”

“Dad, do you think she wants to get married?”

“Probably. Someday. But right now I think she’d just like to have a long term relationship and see where it goes from there.”

“It must be hard to be famous. People talk about everything you do, and everywhere you go, and everyone you do stuff with.”

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to be famous. Well, not that way anyway. I would want to be ‘book famous.'”

“What does book famous mean?”

“It means I would love for everyone to want and buy my books, so my books would be famous, but I could still go and do things without people trying to take my picture.”

“I don’t like people taking my picture either.”

“I guess I just value my privacy, and when you’re someone like Taylor Swift you really don’t have any privacy.”

“Is that maybe why some of these boys don’t want to date her anymore? Because they want their privacy back?”

“Wow, Lex, that sounds like it might be a reason. I think one of them was a musician and he was jealous of her popularity so he broke up with her. Jealousy is never good.”

“Yeah, I read about it in my books all the time. It never leads to anything good.”

“You got that right. You should be happy for other people and the praise and attention they get, not upset because you don’t have that praise and attention.”

“It must be hard to be Taylor Swift.”

“I imagine it would be. But at least she gets to do what she loves.”

“Date around?”

“No. Well, yes, but that’s not what I meant. I meant she gets to write her music, to sing her songs, and to perform in front of audiences all around the world.”

“That’s cool too. Rainbow Dash can do a Sonic Rainboom.”

“Uh…”

Sam

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20171031_184458~01~01.jpgI’m sitting here at my desk with a cup of coffee to hand, thinking up fantastic stories that will hopefully come to fruition in the next 30 days. It’s dark outside and I feel like utter crap, but my brain won’t shut down for the night. That’s because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I am once again taking on the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. This is my sixth year doing NaNo, but there was a time when I never thought I’d ever even attempt it.

For a long time I was simply a writer of short works: short stories and poems were my forte, and I didn’t stray too far from those. They were creature comforts for me, as reliable as Old Yeller and much cuddlier. People would sometimes ask me if I was ever going to try and write a novel, and I would laugh at them. “Why would I stretch outside my comfort zone?” For me it was an easy answer, because for me it was all about doing what was easy back then.

My wife, upon hearing that I was gearing up for yet another NaNoWriMo, good-heartedly joked, “So we won’t see you for the next month.” On some level that’s about the extent of it, honestly, because NaNo takes a singular commitment. It means setting word limits every single day and hitting those word limits, come sleet, snow, or hail… you know, or even the dreaded writer’s block. It’s particularly tricky when faced with all that life likes to throw in the way, but that’s also what makes it so satisfying. When I look up on November 30 and realize I’ve surpassed 50,000 words in one month I raise my hands high like a fighter who has gone 12 rounds with a behemoth.

So I’m ready to begin again, but this time will be different from the ones that have preceded it. For one, I won’t be writing something directly from scratch. With ever other NaNo I came into it with some ideas but nothing really set in stone. This time, though, I’m writing a sequel, which is a first for me. I’ve never written any kind of series, for probably the same reason I hadn’t written a full novel until seven years ago. Once I had the idea of writing a novel under my belt it became relatively easy to write with that in mind. But a series… well, it takes that much more commitment and an ability to take your characters and seamlessly slide them into another world, even if it’s the same world.

I guess it would have made more sense to just write 200,000 words in one shot, then separate all those words into two or three separate books, but I can’t imagine writing that way. For me every book has to have a beginning and an end, and splitting something in the middle seems just a tad bit wrong. Besides, now that I’m up for challenging myself, why not add on some more pressure? Maybe I should have waited until my 10th NaNo to attempt it, but I’m feeling like it’s time now.

Which reminds me, I’m tackling this as a YA series, something else I’ve never really done before (the first book hasn’t been released yet). It’s fascinating to me to write something so foreign to me, and yet I absolutely adored the first volume in the series. I knew while I was writing it that I wasn’t done with the characters, but I never thought far ahead enough to know exactly where I would take them next. Or where they would take me next.

I have a title, and that’s a start. I also have a chronology that I’m thinking will go in the beginning of every book in the series. It’s a start indeed. And first thing tomorrow I’m going to begin the beginning, as I attempt to string thread from where the first book ended off to where this one enters in. My thoughts have gone many places, from when I first decided to attempt to do this, to right now on the verge of actually digging in. Either I will get through it or I won’t.

But I think I will. Now I just need to begin.

Sam

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“If I see everything in gray, and in gray all the colors which I experience and which I would like to reproduce, then why should I use any other color?” ~Alberto Giacomettii

I often like to think of things as black and white, as if things are clear when they’re not. I often like to imagine there are two roads that diverge and that I have to pick one path. Anything else is just too convoluted for my brain to process. But that’s not how the world works. Things aren’t always black and white. In fact, things are rarely black and white. This world operates in shades of gray that are many and varied.

When I was a kid I remember my dad telling me the world was what I made of it, and I recall thinking that just didn’t sound right. For one, I noticed the world was moving on regardless of me, despite what I did to make it stop so I could examine it closely with my magnifying glass. For another, I saw that there were bad things in the world that kept on happening even though I wished it some other way. The world wasn’t what I made of it, any more than an ant disturbing an anthill. I could make my paths in it, but the dirt would eventually fill in again in my wake.

I don’t even remember when I met my first white person, but I do recall thinking their skin wasn’t as flawless as I thought it would be. They weren’t perfect reflections of the driven snow, and neither was I so different from them. Not really. Not where it really counted. And yet there was that division, as if we were indeed diametrically opposed just by sheer force of nature. I remember thinking then that I must be missing something, that I had been led astray by word of mouth, by overwhelming acceptance of a truth that wasn’t true. When I asked about it, my dad told me that’s what he meant when he said the world was what I made of it, that I had to see with my own eyes instead of believing the collective consciousness of others.

I haven’t learned much from my dad in my life, I’ll admit, but that is one that has stuck with me over these 40 years of life. The idea of seeing things with my own eyes before making up my mind, the thought that not everything is as plain as others make it out to be, that is priceless. Of course back then I didn’t see it. My adolescent brain went the complete opposite way, instead making things black instead of the pristine white I had thought it all fit into previously. To me what he meant was that the tiny sliver of the world I had seen was the way the world was. It wasn’t until much later that I realized he meant instead that I shouldn’t judge just based on my limited world view. That I should add to that world view, that I should make it individual, that I should keep adjusting my view based on each and every situation.

Or maybe he didn’t mean that at all. I’ve never really asked him about it. Perhaps he meant something entirely different, that he wanted me simply to not be so pompous about my own ideas. But I like to think he was warning me about compartmentalizing, about placing things in little boxes and thinking they would stay there for all time, letting them decay in places where they didn’t belong. And I took black and white literally back then anyway, trying to piece together my understanding of the world through the lens of the racial divide. Maybe that’s why it took me so much longer to see that it had nothing to do with race, that it had to do with me instead.

0a3cacdad4c3ef943382ee737e9230f4Seeing the world in shades of gray means allowing for that variance that inadvertently yet overwhelmingly permeates the world, for that trick of the light that changes light gray to dark in the blink of an eye. It means consciously considering that what I see now doesn’t always have to stay the same. It means not making up my mind arbitrarily but taking everything into account when considering anything. And it does fit in with my ideas of white people that have shifted dramatically since that first encounter so many years ago. Because it’s not about white people at all, not about good vs. evil in the least. It’s about looking at everything individually, at not judging at all, because judging means preconceived notions and prejudice.

And that goes for everything in life. It’s why I often have friends who aren’t “socially acceptable,” why I do what I enjoy even when I know it makes me look silly, because life is short, and to paint it in black and white just never does it justice. I try my best to see things in shades of gray because I hope others see me in similar shades. I try my best to see things in shades of gray because I think I finally understand what that means.

Sam

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“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” ~Unknown

I’m sorry, but…

I’m sorry; however…

These are never good ways to show that you’re truly repentant. Believe me. I’m accomplished in the “qualified apology,” the idea that any apology has to come along with an excuse. But that pretty much negates the apology. See, an apology is your way of accepting blame for whatever happened. An excuse is a way of denying blame for whatever happened. You can see how the two cannot possibly jibe, how they can be confusing and destroy the point of an apology in the first place.

I’m sorry. I was wrong. I take full responsibility for whatever happened.

I know it’s hard, too. As human beings, we are hard wired to look for the way out, to see how anyone else, how anything else, could have had a part in whatever happened, in whatever went horribly wrong. I’ve been there more times than I want to take credit for, but here I am, taking credit, or blame, however you want to look at it. No one else is responsible for the decisions I make, and I learned that the hard way. There’s no surer teacher than the hard way.

There was this one time I really liked a girl (don’t all quality stories begin this way?) so I lied to her about having exclusive Dave Matthews Band fan club tickets. Of course I figured I could join the fan club the next day, get some tickets, and no one would be any the wiser. Unfortunately the exclusive tickets for the show were already gone by the time I signed up, but instead of fessing up I got in deeper. I bought a regular ticket and gave it to her, telling her it was the exclusive one, then lied about meeting her there later.

Of course the tickets were nosebleed section, and of course I was no where near when she inevitably found this out. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. All I can say was that I was hoping she was dumb enough to A) accept that fan club tickets just aren’t as cool as they claim to be, and B) accept my excuse for not being there. She wasn’t dumb at all, it turns out, and the next time I saw her after the concert she ripped me a new one. I apologized then, of course, but it was way too late, and we pretty much never spoke again.

If only I had just told her I was sorry I lied about the fan club tickets ahead of time perhaps I could have salvaged a friendship. And when I did finally apologize it was with the patented excuses built in. I said how much I liked her and wanted her to think I was an exclusive kind of person. I said how I really did try to get exclusive tickets after the fact, how I spent a lot on the regular ticket… just for her. And did that get me anywhere? No. All she did was say that if I really liked her then I should have just trusted her with the information.

Because those excuses were never really for her. They were so that I didn’t feel so horrible about myself for what I did. But that’s just it. I needed to feel bad about what I did. I needed to let it all out and let the chips fall where they would. It was my fault, and I needed to take responsibility for it instead of thinking of excuses, instead of trying to rely on excuses to get me out of taking that responsibility. It never works, and even if it does all it does it reinforce the idea that I wouldn’t have to take responsibility.

You can be assured I learned from that experience. That doesn’t mean I didn’t apologize with excuses after that in other situations. I’m sad to say that I did. But it did mean I was aware of it, and eventually I was able to cut out the excuses. The more times we do something and don’t receive the desired effects… the more we learn. Now, when I apologize, I take all the blame. I lay it all out there and take the consequences. Because that’s what I would want in return.

Sam

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“‘Cause they need a new song like a new religion, music for the television. I can’t do the long division. Someone do the math.” ~Jason Mraz (Wordplay)

9e9ad8b7-77df-42a5-86a8-165ad969402cI don’t like Twitter. There’s just something counterproductive in finding something to say, then being forced to limit it to 140 letters, or characters, or whatever they want to call it these days. I like being brief, or concise, or whatever you want to call it, but I like to do it on my own, not because someone is making me do it. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t really make for a good journalist. It was writing, but it wasn’t writing what I wanted to write, in the way that I wanted to write it, on whatever subject I so deemed worthy.

There’s just something about Twitter that’s suspect. It’s kind of like an advanced form of gossip, except that everyone can read it everywhere. It’s not really for secrets then, and yet people expose those innermost thoughts utilizing the forum. I guess there’s something about making something public that gives people a heady rush, that is transformative in a way that most other things just can’t match. Or that’s what they tell themselves when they’re letting you (and everyone else in the Twitterverse) know the shape of their pain.

And I get the idea. I do. It’s supposed to be a big soup bowl where everyone contributes, a massive spider’s web where everything sticks and we are forced to stare at them every time we pass. Every time we pick up our phones. Every time we get retweeted by someone, BY ANYONE. Because a retweet is like getting a phone call direct from god, like we are suddenly famous and ready for our closeups. Especially when that retweet does indeed come from someone we placed after the almighty hashtag.

So tweets have to be worthy.

All hail the new usage for the number sign. A hashtag is a grand way of saying “Look AT me” because to everyone who searches for the particular hashtag you displayed it will come up. Your tweet will come up. They can read it, and love it, and yes indeed, retweet it to their heart’s content. @therealjaymohr just enjoyed my tweet so much he had to retweet it, and now everyone who subscribes to @therealjaymohr is now reading my tweet.

So tweets have to be worthy. They have to justify the time and effort we’ve spent on them. We have to make sure we are putting the absolutely best, the absolute most appropriate hashtag on each tweet. After all, we need the best coverage, the best chance that someone who is anyone will read and appreciate our pithy wordplay. A little birdy told me. A little birdy whispered in my ear, but it wasn’t a whisper. It was a shout, a sound heard round the world, but it wasn’t even a sound. It was the power of words multiplied by the power of the platform.

But yeah, I hate it. I use it, but I hate it. And I know what you’re thinking. Why use something that you hate? It’s a rather simple explanation too. Because everybody else is doing it. Well, not quite everybody else. But many of the people I appreciate for their artistic merit, literary skill, or sports acumen like to tweet. I’m not generally a fan of political tweets because we all know politicians always have an agenda, whether on or off social media. That of course doesn’t stop the zeitgeist that is Twitter from recommending politicians for me to subscribe to on a daily basis.

I delete those recommendations.

Then I’ll dig out a hashtag and get busy.

Seriously, though, I only tweet about once a month, when I remember that it is indeed an interactive platform. It’s kind of like when I’m playing golf on the Wii and I forget that I’m playing over a connection and those are real people walking the “course” with me, until a speech box shows up out of nowhere. I respond, and then I forget again. It’s the same way with Twitter. I catch a tweet once, and it moves me. So I either like it, or I retweet it (as if my retweeting something will make it more popular) and then I’m off again for another month. Or sometimes when something short comes to me that I feel like imparting on the universe. Then I’ll dig out a hashtag and get busy.

Then I’ll dig out a hashtag and get busy.

But Twitter and I will never be more than acquaintances. I just wasn’t built for the stamina and discipline it takes to perfectly construct hashtags, to cyber stalk celebrities’ tweets, or to just do pretty much anything on that type of social media. I just can’t quite wrap my brain around it for longer than a few minutes. In fact, this is probably the longest I’ve ever sat in front of any screen, without pause, and thought about Twitter.

_prayer2_400x400Twitter is like a new religion, a type of worship of social media itself, a grand attempt at brevity that somehow misses the mark when people feel the need to tweet every single second of every single day. #prayer #newreligion #tweetsrlife. I deleted the app once, and it was gone for a while before someone reminded me that they had sent me an @sammcmanus callout, and they were wondering why I hadn’t responded. I almost told them it wasn’t them. It was me. But I felt that would be too cliche a response. I wanted to craft something spectacular to tell them how I really felt.

But it would have been over 140 letters, or characters, or whatever they want to call it these days. So I didn’t.

Sam

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I’m a black man. I don’t think about it very often, but there it is anyway. I said it. It’s out there. Of course if you met me in person it might be one of the first things you think of, depending on where you’re from, or how old you are. I’ve gotten quite adept at interpreting “the look,” the one that says you see my color, the one that gives me an inkling of where your thoughts are, for better or for worse.

You see, I’ve gotten that look since I was first able to register looks. There’s the look that says, “I recognize you’re a black man and that I’m supposed to be afraid of you.” There’s the look that says, “I recognize you’re a black man and I’m intrigued by it.” And then there’s the look that proclaims, “I recognize you’re a black man and I hate you for it.” Luckily I don’t see that last look quite as much as I used to, or maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses again.

When I was a kid I didn’t really know how to interpret the looks that said I was a black man in training. I knew I was black, instinctively, the way you know you’re in water because you’re wet. But what that meant I wasn’t quite aware of, aside from the looks anyway. Generally I didn’t come into too much contact with anyone who wasn’t black for a very long time. I lived a sheltered life, meaning those around me were largely also black. Growing up in Southwest Philly wasn’t quite the diverse atmosphere in the 80’s.

But once I began seeing white people on a regular basis, once I started high school (where to be black was indeed a minority) it became obvious that there was a difference between them and me. For one, I was seen as a member of the minority just by looking the way I did. It wasn’t a negative, per se, but it was definitely obvious. The black kids sat at separate lunch tables, sat together in class, and pretty much segregated themselves from the whites and “others” at the school. At least that’s what I saw, because to my young brain it seemed like real separation. Looking back, though, I think everyone was friendly. It was just that at its base the race dynamic tended to dominate, at least in social situations.

The looks changed, though, when I got a little older and began dating. Because I didn’t tend to choose the “safe” black girls to date, the ones that would have been mother approved simply because of the tone of their skin. I tended to look at girls who had lighter skin and could turn orange if they so chose. Luckily they generally didn’t choose this particular shade, but being white wasn’t seen as a positive. That’s where it got interesting. To that point all the looks I got and recognized were from white people, because I was a black man, and weren’t they supposed to be afraid of me? I began to get different looks when I stepped out on the town with white women.

For a black man, to be with a white woman can be daunting. First, because of the obvious stereotypes of interracial couples, but also because too many people actually believe in those stereotypes. They believe that a black man is simply a beast, and that a white woman who is with a black man must be looking to be submissive. They believe that like has to stay with like, that diluting the racial pool is akin to taking a sledgehammer to the Constitution. The looks these people give are scathing, withering stares, as if they can’t possibly believe what they’re seeing, but that it’s the worst thing that could possibly happen.

The biggest difference in these looks from the initial ones is that these looks come from just as many black people as they do white folk. So, while I was used to being seen as “other” from white people, I hadn’t gotten quite a taste of what being seen as “other” from black people was like. I got it in full force once my dating life began, even in as big and as diverse a city as Philadelphia. I guess my own circles were small enough. The looks were many, and were fierce, some people going as far as to say something under their breath, but not quite under their breath, knowing that I heard them, but also knowing I wouldn’t dare approach them about it.

Most of these people, I have to say, were older. Old black women, old white men, old white women, old black men, it didn’t seem to matter based on gender. It was just WRONG for a young black man to be attracting the fancy of a white woman. It was just unheard of for a white woman to be seen in the company of a black man, to hold hands in public, or even to show other public displays of affection so they couldn’t imagine (as they were wont to do) that we were friends, and nothing more. It’s just funny to me that even as society advanced these people went absolutely nowhere, preferring to keep holding on tightly to preconceived notions of how the world “should be.”

Then I got married and had children, who are mixed race, and they look it. I find it fascinating that now I get a whole other range of looks that at first I couldn’t identify. Many of these new looks are positive. I’m a black man who is there for his children, who is spending time with them, who isn’t a deadbeat. And I guess that’s not as positive as it sounds at first, because isn’t that an assumption that black men aren’t there for their children? My children are often called beautiful by perfect strangers who claim that, “aren’t mixed race kids the cutest?” And I often think, the more we change the more we stay the same.

These looks shift depending on who I’m with or whether I’m alone. When I’m by myself I still get the initial looks, just for being a black man. These looks don’t happen as often as they used to, but I still recognize them the second they do occur. I know this one black guy who claims to embrace the looks, who always plays on it like it’s some kind of joke. Like, yeah, “this one store only hires one black person as a token.” Like, yeah, “somebody’s gotta be black around here. Might as well be me.” I can’t be like him, though, because I really have hope for a world where it’s just another thing.

I’d like to think we live in that world already, but the looks tell me otherwise. Still.

Sam

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