Me skydiving in the summer of 2011. Photographer unknown.

As 2019 comes to an end, it seems like a good time to look back at the last decade. While mathematically, the new decade doesn’t start until next January, it is the start of the 2020s and many, if not most, people think of it as the start of a new decade.

There were some difficult things that happened over the last decade, especially including the death of my mother at the age of 92, after a number of years of decline and suffering with dementia. A number of good friends and acquaintances also passed away in the last decade. In addition, this year ended with me in the hospital due to an episode of ventricular tachycardia. I ended up getting some new stents to open up some blockage and a defibrillator/pacemaker put in my chest, allowing me to tell everyone I got a new computer for Christmas.

Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the hard things and on the failures, but I try in my life to focus on the positive, the good things that happened and the interesting new experiences. When I look at those things, I realize that despite some of the hardships, I accomplished a lot this decade and had a good number of exciting experiences. It’s also sometimes easy to think that you haven’t accomplished anything or done anything interesting, but looking at what actually happened can sometimes help you remember that you are living a decent life in many ways.

In theater, I ended my five-year stint as Artistic Director of Broom Street Theater at the beginning of the decade, served on the Board of Directors of Art & Soul Innovations the entire decade, was a mentor and director for Proud Theater the entire decade. I only acted one time (and need to do that again), but wrote four plays and directed five.

In other writing news, I published four books and had 50 articles, essays, and poems published in various print and online publications.  In addition, I created the blog “A Single Bluebird” and wrote 335 blog posts with over 65,000 views. My work was also featured in the books of several other authors/editors. Downtown Madison, Inc. invited me to be the first author to read for their “Your Wisconsin Authors” series held at the top of State Street. I did other readings at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, OutReach, A Room of One’s Own, Milwaukee Pride, and Arcadia Books in Spring Green.

Travel has always been important. In the last decade I took dozens of day trips, but also took longer trips to Vilas County (WI), Green Bay (WI), San Antonio (TX), Chicago (IL), Benton Harbor (MI), Omaha (NE), Cable (WI), Washington (DC), St. Louis (MO), the Ozarks (AR), Menominie (WI), Eau Claire (WI), Lake Superior (WI, to the ice caves), eastern Wisconsin, Newark (NJ), Ely (MN), Two Harbors (MN), Keshena (WI), Tampa (FL), Ann Arbor (MI), Wabasha (MN), northern California, Hollywood (CA), and Lake Amnicon (WI).

Concerts have also been fun. These are the major artists seen in the last decade: R. J. Helton, Dennis DeYoung, Loretta Lynn, Matt Nathanson, Plain White T’s, Fitz & the Tantrums, Panic at the Disco, Wayne Kramer, Tom Morello, Tim McIlrath, Romantics, Holly Near, Maroon 5, Sandra Bernhard, Lisa Lampanelli, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Jake Miller, Rodney Atkins, Dylan Doyle, Roger Waters, Donal Clancy & Rory Makem, Garrison Keillor, Los Lobos, Naked Eyes, B-52s, KC & the Sunshine Band, Naked Eyes, Night Ranger, Peter Frampton, and probably some others that aren’t being remembered at the moment.

New experiences can be an important part of living a full life. In the 2010s I volunteered at the nature center and got to assist with physical therapy on an owl, and hold and feed a baby hummingbird, among other duties. Despite a fear of singing in public, I sang in front of a thousand people at a rally at the Capitol, with Holly Near and others on stage, and as a guest with Perfect Harmony. I jumped out of an airplane (with a parachute) and briefly flew a helicopter. I hoisted sails on a tall ship in Chicago, appeared in a documentary film (Filthy Director by Dan Levin), and got arrested protesting at the Wisconsin Capitol (the charges were later dropped). A lifelong dream was fulfilled by sleeping in a lighthouse. Other new experiences include touring a submarine and attending a professional playoff game (Milwaukee Brewers),

Perhaps the most important thing I did in the last decade was to come out publicly as a survivor of child sex abuse by writing and directing the play, Invisible Boy, at Broom Street Theater. That led to interviews and articles in a number of newspapers. It also led to countless speaking engagements, including leading training sessions, a presentation at MaleSurvivor’s 14th International Conference in Newark, New Jersey, and as a keynote speaker at a couple of events. I created the Facebook page, Solidarity with Child Abuse Victims/Survivors and volunteered as one of the men featured on the Bristlecone Project, an art and Internet project to raise awareness of male sexual assault. Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA) invited me to serve on its Underserved Populations work group and on their Board, which I did for a short time. Eight years ago, I worked with several local organizations to start Paths to Healing, an annual conference on child sex abuse survival, with a focus on male survivors. Because of all of this work, I was named a Backyard Hero by Community Shares of Wisconsin in 2013 and Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 2016 Courage Award winner, both of which I’m really proud to have received.

Other highlights of the decade including protesting the Walker regime at the State Capitol, including being known as one of the photographers to document it. I sang four verses of We Shall Overcome in the Capitol rotunda virtually every day for almost three years, and also sang with the Solidarity Sing Along when possible. Continuing a lifelong pattern, I attended countless protests, rallies, and vigils, including for gay rights, Black Lives Matter, peace, anti-Nazi, political rallies, and more, documenting all with an ever-present camera. As a response to the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, I organized a vigil for that which eventually led to a monthly peace vigil which lasted just over a year.

My work in many areas led to being interviewed on radio, television, and in newspapers countless times, including cable and local T. V., Wisconsin Public radio, the daily papers here in Madison, and my partner, Brian and I, were featured as the cover story of Monona Lakeside Neighbors magazine. While it’s nice to get noticed, none of what I do in my life is to draw attention. It is because it is in my nature to be busy, to act when I see action is needed, and to be involved in my community. It has also been a lifelong part of my nature to be open and pubic about all aspects of my life, which has led me to be involved in a lot of very public causes.

So, on those days when I am tired, insecure, or think that I am not doing anything with my life, I can look at a list like this and know that I have contributed in some way to this planet and that I have allowed myself to try and do new things. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we have done more than we might remember, that it’s okay to rest a bit, let the heart recover, and realize that there will be more adventures ahead. On to 2020.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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