Isolation 2

Brian mask

My partner, Brian, wearing a mask. Photo by Callen Harty.

When I was a boy I could easily spend hours in my bedroom by myself, playing games with my toy cars. I wouldn’t race them on orange tracks with loop de loops or push them across the floor as fast as possible like other boys did. I only had a few of the Hot Wheels race cars that so many of my cooler friends had. Instead, I had the more utilitarian Matchbox cars. There were dump trucks and pickup trucks, police cars and ambulances, an occasional Mercedes or Fiat, buses and taxis, everything needed to set up a little town on the top of my bed, with the square patterns of the bedspread serving as city blocks.

An entire town was set up, mostly in my mind, as there were no buildings or streets or trees or anything but the squares of the bedspread, which suggested the way the town was divided, and the several dozen vehicles I owned which drove around those squares as I created stories of the people inside those cars and trucks.

I remember this now because I am remembering how introverted I was as a child, how socially awkward in so many ways. Because I have done theater for decades and have done public speaking for almost as long, because I have founded several organizations and published strong opinion pieces, I think now most people would not guess that I am still an introvert at my core, still the little boy who is so shy and uncomfortable in social settings. Sometimes introverts can project confidence that isn’t really there. Sometimes we do things because we have to do them. But when those moments are done, we are okay with taking a walk in the woods by ourselves or coming home to be alone and be okay with that.

This is part of who I am, but I am fully human. Though uncomfortable with small talk and certain social constructs, I need some social contact. I need some close friends. I need to hug and touch, to feel wanted and to want. As a writer, I need to be out in the world to observe the people in it, to understand our human condition better by witnessing the world around me.

Despite being an introvert I have already grown to dislike the phrase “social distancing.” I am already weary of “safer-at-home.” This is not the way the world should be.

I am lucky that I have a partner that I can share my isolation with at this time. I am lucky that my job is one that can be done at home and that my company is having us do that. I understand that I have it easy compared to so many others, but it is still difficult. In previous times, I might choose to stay home most days or I might choose to go to the woods by myself to commune with nature, but not having the choice is hard. Being kept from family and friends that I love makes me want to be with them even more. Not knowing when that will be possible again hurts.

I understand that this is so much easier for me, that there are people dying, that there are lovers who can’t be with their partners as they take their last breaths, that thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and that we are likely heading into a deep recession, if not a depression. I understand that domestic violence is skyrocketing, that people who were already lonely are lonelier still, that many are suffering in many ways, and that my situation is relatively easy. Still, this is not the village I imagined as a boy. It is not the society I dreamed of as a young man. It is not the world I grew accustomed to as a man, and I’m at a loss to know how to deal with the change and the fear that some things may never be the same again. I will never be the same again.

Right now, I long for those old Matchbox cars. I long to sit by my bed and create the world I want, and I think I’m not the only one. Right now, the part of me that needs human connection out in the world is hurting, and it makes me sad. The uncertainty of it all is unsettling. So, I reach out with my writing, hoping that my words in print rather than my voice might touch someone else and we can connect for a moment in this time that we are in now.

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 Amazon.com (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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