pam pulling hair 002Usually I avoid social media tags. The last one required me to make a decidedly odd post on Facebook in order to support cancer research. How on earth the idiotic post helped cancer research I have no idea, but in the spirit of not wanting to invite the wrath of the cancer gods, I went along with the chain and confused the bejesus out of several friends.

But when my sister-writer Alice White asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour, I accepted the tag. More as a symbol of support for a fine writer than anything else. And then my husband had some health issues which required a hospital stay and a couple of trips to the ER and I managed to loose an entire state while making arrangements for a speaking engagement –there are so many Boone Counties in the south- and, abracadabra, the blog tour flew out of my head.

Alice emailed me this morning and asked, ever so nicely and even in the email I could hear her delightful British accent, if I had forgotten or was merely late with my post. Well, both actually. So here’s the post. I hope you find it as enjoyable to read as I found it to write.

Here we go.

First question: What am I working on?
Right this moment, I’m working on the presentation I’ll be giving at The Boone County Arkansas library next Tuesday night and The Boone County Missouri Historical Society on Saturday the 20th. Both venues asked for a straight author’s talk and because I write cross-genre and my last two published books are very different one from the other, I’m writing about what all of my writing has in common. From Ridgeline, a dark western about a tormented civil war veteran that would be perfect for a Quentin Tarintino movie, to Noisy Creek, a playful southern romp that explores friendship and aging and younger men–all my books are written in deep point of view with a rich sense of place. There are several other unique components to my writing style, but I’m not giving everything away for free, you’re going to have to drive out to one of the Boone Counties to discover them all.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, the answer to this question is partly explained in the answer to that first question. I write contemporary novels, personal essays, humor, travel memoirs,and westerns. In all these genres, as with all good writers, my style and voice are different from anyone else’s. My characters, with only one deliberate exception –Jeremiah, the civil war veteran in Ridgeline with what was then called soldiers heart and which we now label post-traumatic stress–my characters all experience the small daily joys that make us, even in bad times, get up in the morning and see what life sends us.

Why do I write what I do?
Ah, that’s simple. Because when the characters come to me, they will not go away until I get to know them, put their stories on paper, and give wordy flesh to their promptings. I write quite a lot about post-traumatic stress in combat veterans – My Life with a Wounded Warrior, Clueless Gringos in Paradise, and, of course, Ridgeline. But I don’t write ONLY about PTSD. I don’t write ONLY about any one topic. How tiresome that would be. For me, and for the reader.

How does my writing process work?
I know we writers like to pretend that our process is a mystery bordering on the spiritual, but honestly, I just sit in a chair, get out of the way, and let the characters speak through my fingertips.
The hard part is keeping my butt in the chair and not over-thinking everything and making the process complicated.
Along these same lines, people often ask me if I have a cure for writers’ block. Well, yeah. Write. Write through the so-called block. Write until the story comes to you.

That’s it. That’s the end of the questions. I hope you enjoyed this short diversion from my usual rants on cashew nuts or dog treats.
Let me know what you think, please. It encourages me to keep sharing. Besides it will make Alice smile and she needs a good grin about now.
By the way, Jan Morrill, Beth Carter, Claire Croxton, R. K. Burkett, and yes, even you Greg Camp, you’re tagged. If you can’t fulfill this mission, just send me a nasty email. I’ll file it with the rest of em.

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Truth is Complicated

dad and daughter dancing

Much of my writing features a strong father-daughter bond. My newest novel, Noisy Creek is no exception. I’ve talked before in this blog about my complicated and multi-layered relationship with my own father. Much of who I am today came from growing up with a complicated man who loved me to the best of his ability – my strength, my refusal to take guff from anyone, my belief in my God-given worth as a human being – all these came from Dad.

dad % me % vickie
But these qualities did not come to me gift wrapped in the pretty paper of a happy childhood. No, they came at the end of long, winding paths in woods that were very dark indeed. As an adult, I sometimes smile at the average, puny attempts at manipulation I see around me. Shake my head in wonder at people, people my own age who should know better, who still have not grasped the concept that we cannot control the choices of others or that our self-worth does not come from outside ourselves.
Dad did the best he could. And both his successes and his failures taught me to accept and love people for who they are, not who I want them to be. Still, fans are familiar with my need to recreate the father-daughter bond, to twist the truth just enough to reveal the deep-seated need we all carry for parental approval and love. Here’s an excerpt that shows how that need bubbled up from my past and ended up on the pages of my latest novel, Noisy Creek.

Ardell reminds me of the time when the two of us called Daddy from a pay phone in the gym where we were attending our very first high school dance.
“We hadn’t talked of nothing else for a week,” she remembers. “Made our own dresses. Yours was pale blue with a rounded collar edged in lace.”
I loved the way the rayon swished over my butt every time I took a step. “Lord, I thought I was the prettiest thing in the county that night. You were a mighty close second in that peach chiffon with the daring V-neck. That dress showed not a smidgen of cleavage but, Lord have mercy, that fabric did cling in all the right places and hint at the glory that was yours under that soft fabric.”
Ardell goes on with the reminiscing. “Mr. Crawley, the English teacher and junior class advisor, he put the two of us in charge of the punch bowl. That man was gorgeous, and didn’t we all secretly love him? Fresh from student teaching up near Oglethorpe and filled with ideas. That special afterschool reading group he put together where we sat around in giggling bunches reading Catcher in the Rye and Madame Bovary.”
The air up this high is crisp with the sharp astringent mix of pine and juniper. I reach across the limestone and take the hand of my best friend.
Her voice is low, almost rote, but she doesn’t flinch, keeps telling the story.
“Midway through the dance, right as Gary Mullens, the band’s lead singer, was yelling ‘I can’t get no-o sat-is-fac-tion!,’ Mr. Crawley asked me to go into the coach’s office with him. Said he needed my help to carry out more bottles of punch.”
Even after all these years, I can’t help making excuses for not being with her. “He told me to stay there. ‘Somebody needs to stay at the ole punch bowl,’ is what he said.
God, that man was good looking. If you had asked me just then, I’d have told you that Ardell and I would have done anything for him. I was young and once again wrong. Ardell came back from the coach’s office ten minutes later, her eyes shiny, and her lipstick smeared.
“Soon as I saw you, I called Daddy. Didn’t tell him anything. Just said we needed him to come and carry us home. Now.”
A lot of years have come and gone. Ardell and I have had ourselves a fair number of adventures and what gets called life experiences since that night. But we both agree that nobody has ever looked as big or as strong or as wonderful as Daddy when he strode into the gym that night. There was no big scene, and we never did find out what happened to Mr. Crawley. When we came back to school, Mrs. Finkle had taken over his afterschool reading group as well as his regular English classes. Rumors flew for a while there about why he’d packed up and fled the county, but the man was never heard from in these parts again.

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Killer Cashews


Some of you know all about how Jack and I moved to the country of Panama with two giant service dogs tethered to our wrists at all times. If not, here’s your chance–click here right this moment, buy Clueless Gringos in Paradise, and laugh yourself silly. One of the joys of living in a country where you did not grow up and where nearly everything is exotic and exciting is in sampling fruits and vegetable that you’ve never seen before in your life, or in experiencing them in a totally different way.
Cashews are a good example.
We had four cashew trees in our yard. When I first saw them, I actually said to a Panamanian friend, “Oh look at that fruit! That little thingie on the end looks just like a cashew!”
Well, I was speaking in childish Spanish so it’s possible I said nothing of the sort, but that’s what I meant to say. I once waved a handful of seedpods and flowers at two lovely old ladies I met while walking in the jungle and told them I was looking for my ass, when what I meant to say was that I was looking for treasure. Tesoro-treasure. Trasero-ass.
So, back to those cashew trees.
I was fascinated with them. I picked the fruit–which begins to rot about two minutes after it’s picked–and put it in my morning smoothie. Waited impatiently for the nut to be ready to harvest. The internet explained the roasting process. Roast the nut over an outdoor grill until no more oil came from the between the shell and the meat. Simple, right?
We had a giant outdoor grill. When I told my roasting plans to our gardener, Jose, he shook his head violently and went off with a burst of Spanish of which I understood only that I was not to roast them myself, he would do it. Well, since he didn’t even like me to pick my own fruit, I figured job security was his objection.
On his day off, I picked a hundred or so nuts, built up the fire and began my new experience. How fun! Roasting cashews from my own trees. Wouldn’t the folks back in foggy Humboldt County be jealous?
Gosh. There was really a lot of oil dripping onto the fire from those nuts. Made for a lot of smoke and for bad flare-ups. No problem. I put a large roasting pan under the nuts to catch the drips. Hmm. The pan filled fast and had to be wrestled from the coals and dumped every hour or so. This was a bit more work than I anticipated. Still, at the end of the day I had a lovely big pile of blackened cashews. I decided I’d let Jose do the cracking.
That night, Jack became amorous. Yes, that piece of information is important to the story.
The next morning I woke to darkness. Both eyes swollen shut, hands and arms covered with a rashy-burn so bad the skin peeled off in waxy layers. Jose arrived and went off on another machine gun burst and threw away all my roasted cashews.
Jack had a rash spreading from every single place I’d touched him the night after the cashew roasting. Think about that for just a moment. The redness and itching was like some creeping fungus. He developed a low-grade fever. His throat ached. We drove into Panama City and found a doctor. Stayed in the city for a week while he got steroid shots twice a day. He took steroid pills for two weeks. When the prescribed doses stopped, the rash came back. With a vengeance. Another week in the city. Followed by six weeks on sterioids.
Here’s a little fact I did not know about cashew nuts and that I did not find on the internet until after I’d almost killed my husband.
The oil between the shell of a cashew and the nut’s meat has the same molecular makeup as poison oak. Except it’s about a hundred times more potent.
Here’s a little lesson for any of you who travel or live in lands exotic and unfamiliar to you. When a local tells you something, listen.

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The Best Lies Reveal the Most Truth

Writing westerns takes a little research, especially for a writer like me who writes mostly contemporary fiction and non-fiction. But when, in The Rainmaker, the sequel to Ridgeline, I let my imagination carry Adeline to the western most point in the lower forty-eight, I gave myself an edge. My family has lived on Humboldt Bay, at the very edge of the continent, since the 1860s.
Judging by the descendants, my best guess is that the Foster clan was less adventurous than quarrelsome, more prone to fistfights than entrepreneurial skills. Though, to be fair, I do have a famous ancestor who succeeded rather well in the local business world. Aunt Mandy ran Eureka’s best brothel in the 1920s and ‘30s. Then again, Uncle Jerome died after fighting a bear in a traveling show. In the family, we skip over the fact that Mandy was a whore and we ignore the poor judgment of bear wrestling and stress the triumph of Jerome winning a $20 gold piece by whipping a bear’s ass.
Now, before I go any further I need to confess one more thing about my kinfolk. I proudly come from a family of gifted liars. Therefore, much of the history of Humboldt County I have absorbed over the years needs a little double-check before I’m comfortable putting it out there on paper. Nonetheless, one of the historical facts about Union (now Arcata) and Eureka that I wanted to include in the sequel to Ridgeline was the Massacre at Indian Island.
In 1871 my character Adeline steps off the boat in Union Town California, pregnant and clutching the hand of the Osage son she’s rescued from the arms of his dead mother. Eleven years earlier, a massacre of the local, peaceful Wiyot Indians occurred. The first attack, and the most famous, came in dead of night on February 26, 1860. A group of white militia waited for the tribe’s men to cross the bay in the search of supplies before rowing across the bay and killing mostly old men, women, and children gathered on Tulawat or what has come to be called Indian Island. The Wiyot were in the process of celebrating their ten day World Renewal Ceremony.
Union Town’s newspaper described the event like this:
“Blood stood in pools on all sides; the walls of the huts were stained and the grass colored red. Lying around were dead bodies of both sexes and all ages from the old man to the infant at the breast. Some had their heads split in twain by axes, others beaten into jelly with clubs, others pierced or cut to pieces with bowie knives. Some struck down as they mired; others had almost reached the water when overtaken and butchered.”
At the bottom of this post I’ve listed a couple of links to more information about this massacre. The one maintained by the Wiyot tribe is especially interesting reading. I first heard about this atrocity from Grandpa Foster. Now, I need to clarify a bit here.
For four generations the first sons in the family were named Merritt Curtis Foster. In more high-falutin families, the confusion of this same name deal is often remedied by the use of the 1st, the 2nd, etc. In our family we have Grandpa Foster, Merritt Foster, and Young Merritt. As the years progress and each Merritt finds his way to whatever reward they have earned in the afterlife, the oldest remaining Merritt becomes Grandpa, etc, etc, leaving one giant name- maze for anyone interested in genealogy to sort through.
My Grandpa Foster told me that his Grandpa Foster was drinking in a bar on Eureka’s First Street on the night of the massacre and heard the shots. But there was always something more about this story that was withheld from me. For one thing my family is not known for its acceptance of people of all colors and cultures as part of God’s family, and yet there was genuine horror in Grandpa’s telling of this story. Besides, I learned early on to read an uncomfortable shift in a chair, the quick darting away of a gaze, the revealing of too much detail that spotlight an exaggeration or outright lie. As a child I was left with the suspicion that my family was, in some way that went far beyond hearing a few shots, touched by this atrocity.
And, after pawing through family photos and paging through newspapers and books at the Humboldt County Historical Society, I think they were indeed involved. But, like most family secrets, the truth was not what I imagined and it can never be proven.
In a rusty tin about the size of a shoe box hidden in the back of Dad’s closet, I found two sepia photos of one of the Grandpa Merritts sitting on the steps of an unpainted wooden house. Beside him is an Indian woman holding a boy of about four. On Grandpa’s lap is an Indian baby with a firm grip on his chest-length beard.
That’s all the inspiration my writer’s mind needed to imagine that Grandpa had two children by an Indian wife and that they were among the women and children massacred at Indian Island.
Is this true? I have no idea. Certainly I have no proof. And I did mention that, like everyone else in my family, I am a gifted liar. . .er. . .storyteller, right? What is absolutely true is that when I wrote Adeline’s story, I had historical proof that not everyone in Humboldt County would have been happy with the arrival into their community of a single woman with a half-Indian child. And when I wrote my heroine into a tight spot, her back flat against the wall, and I needed to find an escape for her, well, family history merged with fact to provide that solution.
Am I going to reveal that escape route to you? Heck no. Not until The Rainmaker is released in a few months. In the meantime, you might want to read the first book in the series – Ridgeline. You know, just to prepare yourself for the sequel.





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Conversation Around a Camp Fire

osage warriorCreation myths reveal the original culture of a people. Oh, we shift and grow and turn to the left and the right over thousands of years, but still our view of this life is colored with how our ancestors explained their existence on this earth.
In The Long Journey Home series, between narrow escapes and the killing of those that need killing, Jeremiah and Montego spend time chewing the fat around a campfire. Part of the fun of writing these novels is the conversations these two men have while sitting under the stars.

Jeremiah, a haunted confederate soldier in the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment, is an educated, well-read man. Montego, an Osage who also knows the burden of fighting hard and losing a war, was educated by Jesuits. Both men learned much of what they know of the world in battle.
So, sitting around a fire under the stars, gnawing on a burnt rabbit thigh or a deer haunch, these two eventually come around to exchanging ideas about creation. The Osage creation myth tells how the ancestors lived in the sky. After many seasons, and with the blessings of Father Sun and Mother Moon, the people fell from the stars. They floated in the air but found no land, only a vast, salty sea. The ancestors called out for help and finally Elk, one of the animals floating down to earth with the people, saved them by falling into the water. As Elk sank he called out to the four winds to blow away the water. The mist cleared and revealed a thick mud. Elk rolled in the mud and his loose hairs grew into trees and grass. The people landed on these patches of land and continued their journey to Middle World.
As for Jeremiah’s understanding of creation, well as the son of a pastor, he’s been supporting himself since the war as a saddle preacher. Though he battles God daily, he has a solid understanding of the book of Genesis. But Jeremiah is also an extremely well-read man. Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published in 1855. Knowledge of the theory of evolution is prevalent in 1871 when our story takes place. Surely Jeremiah is aware of this book.
How much is Montego influenced by the Jesuits who educated him in the ways and language of the white man? How literally does Jeremiah, a man who repeatedly rejects God’s grace, take the book of Genesis and does his understanding of evolution color his beliefs of creation? These are the questions being answered right now as I put fingers to keyboard and listen to these two fascinating characters.
I’m going to give you a brief excerpt for Ridgeline, the first book in The Journey Home series, but if you’re a writer, I’d love for you to share some of the conversations your characters have showed you over the years. If you’re a reader, could you share with me what conversations you’d like to hear between Jeremiah and Montego?
Okay, here’s the promised excerpt from Ridgeline:
The Osage squatted beside him, held a shallow chipped bowl to his mouth. “Drink. It eases pain. Your woman is safe. It is my sister, Niabi, whose screams you hear.”
“Where are the rest of your tribe?”
The Indian returned to his place on the other side of the fire, lowered himself again into a pose of such stillness that Jeremiah blinked to convince himself he gazed not at cold stone, but at a living being.
“I am Montego. My people are gone. The buffalo killed. The fire that burns the spirit and marks the body with the deep bites of death took many. Bluecoats killed others.”
Long, piercing screams sliced the night, sent shivers dancing along Jeremiah’s spine. Montego raised his eyes, stared toward the edge of the clearing. Sparks from the fire winked between the men for an instant, then disappeared into the black night.
“Niabi will not live.” The Indian’s words fell like sharp stones. “She is weak from hiding in these woods, moving always to avoid the soldiers. The child will go with her into the spirit world.”
A centuries-old lament rose unbidden from Jeremiah’s mouth. “A voice is heard in Raman, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”
Montego lifted his gaze from the fire, stared directly into Jeremiah’s face. “And your people, who also fought the bluecoats? Where are they?”
“Gone. All. Gone.” Jeremiah concentrated on the pounding pain in his leg, hoping to drive from his mind the slow-motion fall of Maggie, sinking to the planks of the porch, that twinkle of blue still clutched in her soft hand. He shut that mental door firmly, forced himself to meet the eyes of the Indian.

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Why a Western?


Ridgeline is my fifth published book. None of my previous works are westerns.
So then why, at this stage of my career, would I choose to write in a genre that is, according the geniuses in New York, writhing in its death throes? Well, first of all, it’s been a good many years since I’ve given much credence to the opinions of strangers.

Secondly Jeremiah Jones, the main character in Ridgeline, appeared to me, and like most cowboys, the man is as stubborn as a dang Missouri mule. He simply refused to leave until I told the story. Finally, in an attempt to rid myself of the man, I sat down to write a short story.
Ah, huh. Every writer out there knows how THAT goes. I’m now 50,000 words into The Rainmaker, the sequel for Ridgeline, with another two or three books in the series bouncing around in my head.
So I wrote a western to get the cowboy’s story down on paper. But I wrote too for Dad who took me to the movies every Friday night where we watched James Gardner and John Wayne and, heck even Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior, ride over deserts and mountains in cowboy hats. I wrote for Dad because the morals and ethics in those big screen heroes embodied a dying breed of men who defended the powerless and stood up for Right, and by God we all knew what Right was when we saw it back then, didn’t we?
I also wrote a western because the women in these movies, while often fiery and as stubborn as the men chasing them, always searched for a real man to overpower them, to show them who was boss. Something about that characterization bothered me on a deep and disturbing level, didn’t ring true in these epics of the old west. So, I wanted to write a western with a strong female point of view. I knew it could be done. Heck my good friend Velda Brotherton has been writing just this kind of western for years.
I also wanted to write a book set in a turbulent time in American history, a time when folks struggled to find their way in a world changing too quickly for anyone to get their bearings. The years after our civil war provided the historical setting of confusion.
And, last but in no way least, my cowboy was a saddle preacher wrestling with God, a veteran of that civil war, a man wandering lost in a wilderness of ghosts, an infantryman struggling with Soldier’s Heart. Now days we call this normal reaction to the ungodly trauma of war Post-Traumatic Stress. Call it what you want. My cowboy lived it.
Here’s a little excerpt. See what you think.
He lifted himself from the chair, meant to sit beside her.
“Don’t,” she said. “Do not come any closer.” From the folds of her skirt she drew a cleaver. A blade he’d sharpened himself and with which he’d seen her, just this week, chop the head from an unruly rooster in one swift flash of metal.
He lowered his ass back onto the chair.
“Look, I said I was sorry.” He swallowed. This woman frightened him more than going into battle single-handed against a dozen enemies. Hell, all an adversary in battle could do was put him out of his misery. But this woman, she was determined to force him to look deep into the muck of his soul.
“You don’t know anything about me.” His voice rose in anger and frustration. “You think you do. You believe all that soft, intuitive woman’s knowledge has given you some kind of window into my heart.” He fluttered his fingers in the air. Fought back the fear. “You have no idea of the beast that lives in me.”
“You’re a fool, Jeremiah Jones.”
The baby stirred in her arms and she lowered her face to the child’s, pressed her lips to his cheek. She lifted her gaze to him, the tears flowing now like a steady stream of anguish, dampening her dress front.
“I have no more time for fools,” she said.
He forced himself not to look away.
“Montego’s heard rumors that Frank and Jessie have already left Arkansas, are living large in Texas. The rest of the gang is milling around Fort Smith, and they know Brett James was bent on taking you for his prisoner when he rode off. I will not leave you until I’ve dealt with the James gang.”
“You want to help me?” She stood so suddenly the baby jerked in his sleep, Jeremiah flinched backwards in the chair. “Get out. Leave me the Colt and go. I was doing fine before you showed up.”
He stood, leaned over her in a deliberate attempt to intimidate.
“You stole my horse! Hell, woman, I rescued you from Indians, got shot defending you from Brett James. Shot! Five years of war, and nothing but a couple of flesh wounds. A week in your company and I’m damn near killed. And you have the unmitigated gall to tell me you were doing fine before I showed up?”
She bent and laid the baby in his makeshift bed, straightened and stepped into Jeremiah, backed him against the wall of the tiny room.
“Leave the pistol on the table. Go on! Ride off into them mountains. Lift your arms, but not your heart, to a God whose love you cain’t accept. Go to your burying and marrying and to your . . . your fornicating women.”
“My what?” He lifted his hand, slowly, gently as though petting the soft coat of some wild animal whose heart flutters just under the skin. Her tears wet his hand. She did not step away but she did not lean into him either. He softened his voice.
“Adeline?” He waited for her to look into his eyes. “It is because I care for you that I must leave you.”
Her hand sliced at him so fast he was still wondering whether or not she’d dropped the knife when the stinging of his cheek told him it had been only her open palm. But it was what came next that cut him to the bone.
The little horse thief laughed.

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Labels? We don’t need no stinkin’ labels.

The other day a fellow writer and good friend of mine posted a blog in which he mentioned that he did not normally read books with a woman protagonist. This acknowledgement of exclusion, thrown out casually, as though accepted by most, if not all, men, shocked me a little. The blog post came a few weeks after another good friend, a male friend, used the term women’s fiction to describe one of my works.
There was a period in the ‘60’s when I read only books written by women. There were, then as now, many brilliant women writers, so it was certainly no hardship to find wonderful, entertaining, enlightening books, but it quickly became apparent to me that I had more in common with many male writers than I did with many women writers. In other words, the gender of the author or of the protagonist was not a good way to choose books that I would enjoy reading.
I have found this to be true in life as well as in fiction. Friends are best chosen based on factors other than gender. Common interests, shared faith or culture or a willingness to allow me to glimpse a different way of life, a sense of humor, intellect, integrity, and a touch of craziness–these are the qualities I look for in friends. Coincidentally, they are also what I look for in an author. Of course an author must also be able to weave an entire world with nothing but ink and paper and do so in a way that allows me to fall into her book and makes me sad when I read the last page.
So, let me be clear. There’s no such thing as women’s fiction. I don’t give a rat’s bald ass how agents or publishers pigeon-hole books. There no such thing as men’s fiction either. Men do not write exclusively for other men. Women do not write exclusively for other women. Langston Hughes didn’t write black poetry. He wrote poetry. Jody Picoult does not write women’s fiction. She writes fiction. That’s a period at the end of those sentence.
Labels separate us, divide us into nice, neat little cogs. Life is messy and complicated. Nothing is neat or clean or easily labeled.  We all have more commonalities than we have differences.  The sooner we figure that out, the happier we are.
As for the two men mentioned in the first paragraph, well, this entire rant is also a good example of why I love hanging around with both men and women. Friends make offhand comments that send our minds off on tangents that stretch and expand our view of the world. We play off of one another, and in doing so, become richer, better people. So thanks, G and C for making my world a little more clear. I hope to God, I do the same for you on occasion.

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