About darlenecraviotto

Writer by trade. Tour Guide by choice. Entertaining and educating through creative content.

Paradise Lost

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The houses are still ringed by Christmas lights.

And we’re two weeks into January.

It’s past Christmas – beyond the promise of the new year or the first sweet bite of King’s Cake. But we can’t let go of wanting to feel good again. To feel joy. To feel hope. To feel safe. To be in control of our lives.

Each day we awaken and say to ourselves, “Today will be a better day.” The fear is behind us, we tell each other. Now, we can get on with our lives. We share stories, while we still wipe the grit from our eyes and cough. We sweep the driveways and water down the gardens.

Still wearing our masks.

And we pray for rain.

The fire isn’t out yet, but it’s moved further away. Only the ash is still here – threatening us in unseen ways.

We come down with colds and fill the ER with our flus and bronchitis.

We flip the switches and look to the Christmas lights to make ourselves feel better.

We try not to think of the fire that threatened us, that stopped our lives and put us in this post-apocalyptic daze.

Quickly, it had started – blown alive by some monster wind.

All we could do was watch from a distance as it devoured our neighbor’s lives – all the homes and businesses – scorching the earth south of us. We shook our heads at the disbelief of the quickness of the devastation. At how fast that fire hungrily took home after home while sparing others equally there in its path. We crossed ourselves and said our prayers that it hadn’t happened above us – in our own mountains that watch over our towns.

Carpinteria. Summerland. Montecito. Santa Barbara. Goleta.

We felt we had been spared.

Until the smoke came.

The wind had changed and blown harder, pushing that fire – dancing the flames across the land as it remembered us from the scorched history of our past.

Jesusita. Gap. Coyote. Zaca Mesa. Whittier. Painted Cave.

So many flames, some with names no longer remembered. Each one we battled and fled from in terror. This one threatened to be even bigger as it turned directions and now headed our way.

We watched it move closer – speeding towards us. We hunkered down with our masks, packed up our cars, and took flight while the wind and the flames swirled around us.

The firefighters, always the heroes, stayed in our place. Fought the good fight. And when the winds took pity on us and slowed, the heroes pushed the fire away from us, from the towns laying so vulnerable there in the path to the ocean that the fire so desired.

The battle was won.

We took a deep breath and returned. Spent from running away, with pets and belongings, exhausted from calming frightened children that were crowded into cars; with our lives in suitcases and boxes, we came back to our homes. We had stayed with relatives. Moved to hotels. Bunkered down with friends. We had slept in shelters. We had gotten out. And now, coming back, we tried to reach for normal again. We celebrated the holidays with our sore throats and air purifiers humming in the background.

And we kept those Christmas lights still burning on our homes.

While the fire burned too – higher above us now – in the forest beyond the crest.

We bowed our heads and prayed for rain.

“We need rain!” “Hope it rains before the next winds!” said the Facebook posts in all of our Timelines. “Please, God, let the rains finally come and end the fire!” We cursed the drought and the winds and we knew the answer to finding normal again would be in the winter rains.

Long overdue.

And when we heard they were coming it raised us up with hope.

For a moment.

Until we heard caution in voices that were meant to calm, warning us, telling us to beware.

Fear takes a toll on you when life is full of uncertainty. And your fate is tied to the fickleness of the wind. Quickly, hope can change, and you’re not ready for it.

Within a day there were knocks on our doors again, the cell phone texts awakened us in the thick of night: “Evacuate! Evacuate!”

None of it seemed real.

A mist had started to fall on us that day – so soft and fine – sweetening the air again. All day it had misted – merely a drizzle. Nothing to fear. We welcomed it.

But the messages blared from the tv and social media: “Get out!” “Make plans to get out!”

It didn’t ring true. It didn’t seem possible. With so much beauty returning to our world – the sun was out and the air was just starting to fill with the scent of normal again. We had taken off our masks, unpacked the cars, settled down the children and the pets, and started to live the routine of our lives again. We had our world back once more – a world filled with beauty, an enchanted forest that kept us there, privileged to walk and live within it.

It’s easy to overlook Paradise sometimes. To take it for granted. With bills and work and worries filling our heads and clouding our eyes. But the fire had reminded us. We had been threatened and humbled by the threat, but now it was gone, and the rain, so gently falling, would finally put an end to that threat. We would be free to live in Paradise once again, knowing just how lucky we all were to be there.

To have survived.

So when they warned us and told us to be ready, it didn’t make sense. Our heads were still filled with that post-apocalyptic daze. It was hard to chase it away – the malaise wrapped around us, slowed us down, took away the swiftness of our feet, silenced our questioning. Our lives had been unpacked and safely tucked away. How could they tell us now to get out?

The rain was not the fire.

We couldn’t fear it. We couldn’t see it like the flames in the distance, or sniff its destruction in the air. We couldn’t taste the smoke as it choked us. We couldn’t see the danger. There was only the soft touch of a drizzle. A rain so gentle it only comforted us. The rain was here and it would save us. And save our Paradise too.

We were too tired, too spent to listen, to pack up again, to run away.

And so we stayed.

Not knowing the apocalypse we thought we had survived was only yet to come.

And our reclaimed Paradise would soon be lost.

(Our family is safe, but others have paid the ultimate price simply for living where we live.  If you’d like to help victims of the Thomas Fire and the Montecito Mudlside here is a list of organizations who you can contact:  Disaster Relief Organizations

 

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Darlene Craviotto Presents Californio at the Alhecama Theatre

Darlene Craviotto reads from Californio. Photo by Kevin McGarry.

On September 14, 2017 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation was pleased to welcome screenwriter and Santa Barbara Presidio descendant Darlene Craviotto to present her new novel, Californio.  Ms. Craviotto presented an engaging illustrated historical introduction to her book, which traces one families journey north from northern Mexico to their new home in Alta California during the late-eighteenth century.  She then read a passage from the novel.

Darlene Craviotto signs copies of her book following the lecture. Photo by Kevin McGarry.

The captivated crowd enjoyed the presentation in the newly-restored Alhecama Theatre at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, and following the formal part of the program, joined the author in the courtyard of the theatre for a reception and book signing.

Californio is one of the few publications that fully imagines this human story of migration…

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Welcome to Californio!

It’s here and ready to be read!

I’m proud to finally be able to say: You can order a paperback of Californio through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or pre-order the e-book (available August 2nd) for Kindle or Nook.

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If you live in the Santa Barbara area, or you’re planning to visit Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta (August 2 – 6), Californio is the perfect book to enrich your Fiesta experience.  You can find Californio at Chaucer’s Bookstore on Upper State Street, the Book Den, and Santa Barbara Presidio’s Gift Shop.

If you have a favorite bookstore in your own town you want to support, just give them the title, Californio by Darlene Craviotto, and ask them to order you a copy.

If you’re a member of a book club and would love to use Californio as one of your books, please contact me here at my blog for special wholesale pricing, and a guide for discussing the novel and California’s First Pioneers.

Thank you to all of you who have come to this blog, read my posts, and given me the confidence and courage to always write what my heart wants me to write. I would never have written this novel if not for the feedback, the kind words, and the connection that I’ve found here at this blog. I hope you enjoy Californio because I felt while I was writing it that we were all taking this journey together.  A writer always works in solitude, but is never really alone.  Our readers are always at our side, peeking over our shoulders and guiding us along. 

Thanks for always being there.  

#2 Signature

An American Latte

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“Hi! Can I take your order?!”

The barista was young – with more spring in his voice than ever was in my step. I really doubted that he shaved. Or even knew how.

“I’ll have a decaf latte,” I placed my order.

And then, feeling brave.

“Double shot of vanilla,” I added. And not the sugar-free.

“And your name?” he asked, poising the black marker at the top of the paper cup.

“Darlene,” I said, and then quickly added, not willing to risk another “Darling” scribbled on my order. “D-A-R…”

“I know that name!” he said proudly. And then, finished spelling it aloud as I did, “…L…E…N…E.”

Maybe he did know how to shave.

He took my stare of amazement as a challenge and explained.

“I have a cousin named Darlene,” he told me, with a victorious smile. “She’s 65.”

65? Really?! Who dragged age into this conversation? Of course, my grey hair sneaking out the sides of my son’s old baseball cap might have been a hint or two. Do I politely nod and let the subject drop? Not willing to “date” myself? Or do I keep the ball rolling, possibly revealing my own age?

Gulp.

Aw hell, I took the plunge.

“Your cousin’s probably named after “Darlene” from the Mickey Mouse Club. A lot of us with that name were named after her. So when you see a “Darlene,” we’re usually from around that same period of time.”

“It’s such a great name!!!” he said, scrawling the name on my cup.

I smiled. It wasn’t so bad admitting my age range. I mean, I’m sure he could tell I wasn’t twenty. Even though I must admit that in my heart I am still twenty, especially when a cute young man (guy? dude?) like this takes the time to even talk to me. And when they actually look you in the eyes and smile, well, there’s no difference now at 60-something and when I was really twenty. So yeah, I looked him in the eyes and I smiled my most fetching smile.

“I really love that name of “Darlene,” he murmured, softly. “It reminds me of Old America.”

Ohhh – Kay.

I must admit this made me pause.

I wasn’t aware there was an “Old America,” but I guess there is.

And I’m it.

I’m one of the Baby Boomers who was filled with idealism, hope, and promise. There were a lot of us, and we helped stop a war and impeach a President; we spoke out against injustice, worked for diversity and equity, and stepped up, when it was our time, to do our jobs, raise our families, and run the country. We didn’t always find our way; we might have stumbled trying to do so much, but we tried. And we believed that if we worked together – all of us, Americans – we could make anything better.

Old America.

That’s what the barista called it. Called those of us who grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club and the new medium of television, long hair and the belief that love would bring us peace. And he said “Old America” with respect. He said it with longing. He said it like someone sitting on the edge of adulthood, looking back at that time of innocence when all questions were answered. When we felt safe and sure about the future, and we hoped our children and grandchildren felt the same way.  He said it like he missed that Old America.

I know what he means.

I miss it too.

Everyday People Doing Good Every Day

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(Every now and then someone sends me something special or tells me a story that helps me remember how much goodness there is around us. I’ll post these stories to share with everyone, hoping we’ll be inspired to do good things ourselves, in whatever ways we can to enrich our world.)

She was a little girl dressed in a Spiderman costume.

And he’ll never forget the day he met her.

His name is Jason. jason30

Born and bred in the U.S.A, he grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, a middle class All American boy-next-door, through and through. A topnotch athlete in any sport he ever played, and he played them all. One of those millennials all those articles tell us are privileged and self-absorbed, Jason would be the first to say that was right – well, the privileged part, at least. He grew up with two loving parents in a big beautiful home; there was plenty of food on the table every day, clean clothes on his back, and he didn’t have a worry in the world.

But that self-absorbed part?

Not a chance.

Jason was living in a bubble, that’s how he describes it. “I’m thankful my parents gave me everything I needed or wanted. But why me? There are so many other kids out there without equity.”

When he went to college, he soon saw that up close.

At UCSD, Jason met all types of people – from all different races, classes, cultures, and religions. “Going to college gave me a different perspective on the world, and it opened my eyes. It showed me all the work that had to be done.”

As an undergraduate, he worked at The Pruess School that was comprised of students living in poverty. The goal was to provide educational equity for those students, surrounding them with the best teachers and resources. The school became one of the top high schools in California. And Jason was there, opening his eyes and learning.

It was just a natural fit for him to graduate from UCSD with a major in History and a minor in Teacher Education. He didn’t waste any time at all before putting himself through Point Loma’s teaching credential program by tutoring students ages 5-18, subjects ranging from learning the alphabet to AP Calculus. And he landed his first teaching job right away at Mount Miguel High School where he motivated students, and turned the failing baseball program into a winning one.

Three years later, he was offered a job as Vice Principal.

That’s what brought him to El Cajon Valley High School. A school with a large transient student population, over 20% of its students are refugees from Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and other countries in Africa. Maybe because of its demographics, ECVHS was a perfect school to get involved with the “Bridge Baskets” program that took place this last December.

“One of our teachers – Ryan Trammell – sent out an email about a project started by Bridge – a community organization that was set up to help refugee families recently resettled in El Cajon. These were people in our community – mothers and dads with little children – who were struggling just to get by. And they really needed help.”

Everybody at ECVHS jumped on board.

From the administrative staff, to the faculty and students, the school became the drop off center where supplies for “Bridge Baskets” were gathered and sorted.

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Bridge is an initiative that provides services to Middle Eastern newcomers (specifically low income families) in the San Diego area. Many Syrian and Iraqi families have arrived in the United States with minimal resources and limited English. They’ve been traumatized by conflicts and wars that have forced them to flee for their lives and the lives of their children. Suffering from hardships and the difficulties of getting out from their countries, many have had to leave other family members and loved ones behind. These survivors are suffering and in great need. The organization helps by providing the necessities of day-to-day living to these families when they first arrive here in the U.S. “Bridge Baskets” contain simple everyday items: toothbrushes and toothpaste, bath soap, laundry detergent, a water filter for a faucet, and one bike per family for transportation. Items we probably take for granted, but they are items so important in everyday life.

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“The power of action was overwhelming in the amount of support that came from that one email that was sent out by Ryan,” Jason said, with more than a hint of pride for his school.

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“Everybody pitched in and took that next step, not really knowing what to do but putting it out there anyway and having the community work together.”

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For two days in December, items were dropped off at El Cajon Valley High School.

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The school community bonded together as collectively they found a way to help. Staff members worked side-by-side with student leaders to sort everything – clothes, toys, and everyday supplies.

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A collaborative effort between Bridge, Bright Nations, and ECVHS, with assistance from the Persian Cultural Center, the Bridge Baskets were packed up and loaded into pickup trucks, and the deliveries were made to the thirty families living at a small motel in El Cajon.

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“When we drove up to the motel I couldn’t believe that this run down looking place was where families were staying.” said Jason, knowing this was a big difference from the way he grew up in Rancho Cucamonga.

But some things were the same.

“A bunch of kids were playing in the parking lot, like they had no cares in the world. They were happy to see us, not even knowing who we were!”

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“We put room numbers on every bag. There was an equity when we handed everything out. It wasn’t a free-for-all; we brought the boxes to each motel room where a refugee family was living. Families of five, six, seven, and eight were living in one room with only one bed.”

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It was a mix of people – young children, not even in high school, with their mothers and fathers. All had recently fled from the war in Syria. The International Rescue Committee had placed the refugees there for 30 days as temporary housing.

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Jason was very affected by what he saw. “To go from war, straight off the plane, and to this inhumane environment now – the small crowded rooms, a little rundown motel, and without much to live on.”

But he soon found hope there in the faces of the refugees.

“In their eyes, they were so thankful. Their sheer appreciation for everything we were giving them was remarkable. In spite of the trauma they had seen, in spite of knowing their lives in the U.S. would be difficult, they were relieved that their kids were finally safe. The sacrifices they had made in the name of the love for their kids was powerful. And I couldn’t help but think that my parents would have done the same for my brother and me.”

And then, he saw the little girl in the Spiderman costume.

“The look in her eyes I will never forget. In spite of those conditions around her, and the trauma she had been through, there was such a look of joy and freedom on her face. She knew where she had come from but she just knew she would be okay now.”

Jason still is silenced and humbled by that moment.

“It will be ingrained in my core, forever,” he finally says. “I wish every human could experience that moment in time. Anyone who loves kids or who’s raised them,” he added. “Any concerns Americans might have, it would all make sense to them – to understand what it means to be a refugee.”

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“Although this little girl and I didn’t understand a word we were saying to each other, we realized we didn’t have to. Love knows no language. God bless America.”

(If you’d like to help a refugee family in need, you can learn more information or make a donation to Bridge of Hope – San Diego (Facebook page) or International Rescue Committee by clicking the organization’s name in blue. )

Want To See a Good Film…?

I watch a lot of new films at this time of the year because I’m a member of the WGA and I have to vote on best screenplay. Seldom do I recommend a movie, but last night I saw one that I urge everyone to see.

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“Hidden Figures” is based on the true story of three African-American women who played pivotal roles in the early days of NASA and America’s first space missions. Already nominated for two Screen Actors Guild awards, two Golden Globes, and having recently won awards from the Women Film Critics Circle  and the African American Film Critics Association, this is an important, smart film that is also fun to watch. And yes, you should take your kids. It’s the perfect family film.

“Hidden Figures” opens nationwide on January 5.

Mark your calendars.

Everyday People Doing Good Every Day

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(This is part of a series I’m starting here on the blog and I’m calling it, “Everyday People Doing Good Every Day.” There are a lot of folks feeling many different feelings right now.  This isn’t an easy time for many of us. But every now and then someone sends me something special or tells me a story that makes me feel good again. It helps me remember how much goodness there is around us, and when I see this goodness I’ll post it here to share with everyone. Hopefully, it’ll inspire us to do good things ourselves in whatever ways we can to enrich our world.)

Daniel F. Craviotto Jr. is an orthopedic surgeon.

He’s also my cousin and a very good man.

I don’t just say that because he’s my cousin. You can ask anyone in Santa Barbara who knows him and I’m sure you’ll hear the same.

I don’t get emails at midnight from my cousin Dan. So last night when my phone “dinged” at a little after 12, and I saw there was an email from him, I figured it was important. The guy has been getting up at 4 each morning to handle extra patients, and I hoped everything was okay.  Here is Dan’s email…

“He’s 95 now and still has that smile. I’ve known him for 20 years.  Operated on him twice. And always the same question: How’s Charlie?  You see he’s forgotten that my Uncle Charlie passed away quite a few years ago, but he still remembers him. They played basketball together in the 1930s and 1940s at the Rec Center on Carrillo Street.  It is when he asks how Charlie’s doing when I remember that my Uncle shared the story of how his good friend was sent away to a Japanese Internment Camp during WW II.  Uncle Charlie said he was a helluva nice guy and even at 95, even now I can see that.  Humble, soft spoken and always smiling.  My uncle, who served in WW II, took a flesh wound and saw his platoon decimated in the Battle of the Bulge, always said, “It’s the shits what they did to our Japanese Americans, putting them in internment camps.” So my uncle’s friend – in spite of all the memories that he’s lost because of age – still remembers Charlie.  And for the first time today I tell him, “You know my uncle shared these stories with me about you.  About your family and the internment and how it wasn’t fair.  How you were such a good friend to him and how they carted you off.”And this man, with tears rolling down his eyes, but still with a smile on his face, just looked at me and said, “What were we to do?”  He reached his hand out and shook mine, told me he missed Charlie and my father, Danny, and he thanked me for taking care of him. What a sweet man.  Dignified. Full of grace. Always a kind word. I love that guy.”

Dad always felt badly that he couldn’t do anything to help his friend or his family.  “They lost everything,” Dad told us. “Their business, their house, their friendships.” In fact, Dad was the only friend who went to the train station to say goodbye to the whole family as they were being transported to the camps. No one else wanted anything to do with the family – a family that had lived in Santa Barbara for many years.

When Dad showed up at the train station, it meant the world to his friend. He gave him a gift, something he’d made at school:  a set of black ceramic coffee mugs. They were a parting gift of thanks to a good friend.

We never used those cups growing up; they were always hidden away. I think they were a reminder to my father of something terrible, something beyond understanding, a time that made him feel helpless.

One of those cups sits prominently on my desk.

I keep it there to honor the man who made it. And the friend who didn’t follow the crowd, but who still remained a friend.

Maybe my father couldn’t have done more.

But at least he did something.

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When Was Your First Time?

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The first time is something we don’t ever forget.

We may not talk about it with anyone, but it changes us. There’s a loss of innocence, and we carry that with us forever. We keep it secretly to ourselves, never willing to bring it out of the darkness or to share it at all.

But it’s time to be bold and talk about it — about that very first time.

The first time you tasted sexism.

It’s tough right now to be a woman.  You can’t turn on the television or scroll through social media without hearing words that aren’t just words to us, but for many are triggers that make us feel ill, alienated,  and hurting. Misogyny. Sexual assault. Rape culture. We’re learning ad nauseam the dirty details about lines being crossed and bodies being shamed, by word and by deed. Everything we’re talking about has to do with that “ism” that many of us don’t like to use.  We talk about Racism. Anti-Semitism. Ageism, even. But Sexism makes us pause and think twice.

When I was growing up as a little girl, I heard a lot of comments about females. And none of them were good. Women were bad drivers, scatter-brained, gossipers, irrational, overly-emotional, not to be trusted, and they only were interested in spending their husband’s money. With a gender description such as this, it’s amazing that I ever wanted to grow up to be a woman. 

Was it sexism? 

You bet it was. 

But did I know it at the time, or feel it was wrong?  Not really.  That’s how I was raised, and everything I heard in my family was also what I was seeing in movies and television. Like background music in an elevator or a dentist office, you get used to it after awhile and pretty soon you just tune it out. But there was one time I couldn’t tune it out. There was a moment in my life when something was said that made me hear in a new way, made me feel something deep inside, and changed me forever. 

It was the first time I truly understood the ugliness of sexism.

I was pregnant with my first child, and there are no words to describe the joy I felt as I carried a new life inside of me. With every movement within my womb, I felt a newfound pride at being a woman and being able to give life. My husband’s uncle called us one night to congratulate us — I was seven months pregnant, and nervous as hell.  He was a dear man, this uncle, generous and charming, and I loved him.  He was thrilled to hear we were going to be parents and offered us a bit of wisdom.

“You know it’s going to be a boy, don’t you? Our family only has boys,” he told me. 

“And if it’s a girl?” I asked in all innocence. 

He laughed at that thought, and then added, “Well, you know what they do in China?  They kill girls.” 

He laughed again and I felt ill.   

The conversation went on, and I just listened. 

Sickened. 

Not just by his cruel comment, but by my sudden silence. I didn’t have a voice to answer him.  Or to confront him for what he had said. I knew it was racist, but I had a hard time telling myself it was sexist.

I spent most of the night quietly thinking about what this favorite uncle had said to me.   How could I speak up to this when I didn’t fully understand the pain I was experiencing as a woman?  This wasn’t the first time I’d heard something bad said about being female in this world. Why couldn’t I just forget it, and move on? This man was a loving person, and someone I had always respected. He didn’t really mean the comment, I was sure.  So why not just forgive him? But by morning I couldn’t find it in my heart to let this moment go by. 

I spoke to my husband about it, and he laughed and said, “Oh, he was just kidding.” 

Somehow that wasn’t enough. 

“You’re Jewish,” I reminded him. “What if we replaced the word “girl” with “Jew?”  How would you feel?” 

It’s the only time in my life I’ve seen my husband truly speechless.  He understood.  He felt the pain that I’d felt for being treated as less, as inferior, as something without value.  This was the first time sexism became more than just a word in the dictionary. I felt it for the first time. 

But not for the last.

I have a theory about all those nasty, hateful terms with “ism” in them.  When we don’t talk about them, they linger. If we just let them happen, or ignore them, they don’t go away.  How can we find an answer, if we’re unwilling to talk about it with each other? 

There’s a conversation going on right now in our country and for the first time it has captured the attention of television cameras, radio microphones, and every bit of cyberspace of social media.  I know it hurts to keep hearing ugly words, and witnessing hateful attitudes we’ve spent our lifetimes as women experiencing.  But as painful as this might be right now, it’s the only way for this “ism” to get better. 

So that all the little girls to come never have to go through what we’ve gone through.

And all the little boys will never be burdened by such hatred.