For Elizabeth Warren

Grief is not reserved for the dead or dying.

Sometimes it joins us for other loss,

for those we love or admire

when they surrender, retire, decide

the time has come to part ways.

We are left with longing.

We are left with wishing.

We are left with sorrow.

We know that this moment in history

is gone, and things will never be the same.

And we feel that things will never change.

 

Spring is the time for renewal,

when hope should be a nestling ready to fly,

a blade of grass peeking out from the snow;

but today the sky is grayer than the darkest

days of winter; cold sneaks under the doors

with the wind howling like old white men

trying to wrest control of the room. Hope

for a new season has been lost

and Old Man Winter smiles a wry

smile, knowing that he is secure for now.

 

Still, somewhere a robin is singing.

Somewhere an old man is dying

and a baby is born and she—

she is the promise of tomorrow.

 

Robin

Robin. Photo by Callen Harty

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Letter to Mitt Romney

Romney

Mitt Romney. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Senator Romney,

Thank you. Thank you for taking a moral stand and voting to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment trial. Because it was clear he would be acquitted, it would have been easy to fall in line with all the other Republican Senators who have become cloying sycophants and whose only loyalty is to power and retaining their own seats. You took the high road and the difficult road and there are countless Americans who appreciate that you looked at the evidence, examined your conscience, and voted your heart.

I have not always agreed with your politics. In fact, I protested you when you visited my city during your run for the Presidency back in 2012, and I might very well do so again, despite my admiration for your moral courage at this critical juncture in our nation’s history. You have earned respect by being true to your morals and to the Constitution that you took an oath to defend. If only others in your party-especially those who have publicly admitted Trump’s wrongdoing, who knew that what he had done was wrong and still stood with him–had a scintilla of the moral compass and commitment to do the right thing that you have, this country would be in a lot better shape than it is at present.

I have heard others claim that it was easy for you to do this because the fix was already in, but I think they fail to see the consequences you were willing to suffer. Clearly Trump, McConnell, Graham, and the rest of his minions would not take kindly to one of their own breaking ranks. I expect you will suffer in many ways for your vote, which may include losing committee memberships, the party actively working against you in your next election, and more. One does not take such a stand without the narcissist-in-chief and his apologists striking back.

Thank you again. Thank you for offering a sliver of hope in such a divided country that party is not greater than the common good of the nation. Thank you for taking a stand. Thank you for being willing to sacrifice for what is right. I am confident you will be able to sleep better than the many others who put their own fortunes before the fortunes of this country and its citizens.

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My Heroes Have Always Been Human

Kobe

Kobe Bryant in an NBA game in Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

We live in a world in which no one can be a hero anymore. There is always something problematic about those who are admired by others. There is always a past, a mistake, a misstep of one sort or another, a major sin perhaps, or something for which forgiveness cannot be offered. The problem with putting people on pedestals is that they are human; the pedestal can break, and the bones come crashing down into dust.

It is understandable that sometimes people cannot let go of their disappointment or deep hurt. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do. As an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse I understand that the adulation of Kobe Bryant upon his death can feel jarring. He was accused of rape in 2003. Although the case against him was dismissed when the victim would not testify, he settled with that victim out of court. Are we supposed to just forget that now because he and eight others died tragically?

For me, as difficult and complicated as it is, the answer is yes. I believe in the power of forgiveness and while I understand it doesn’t work for everyone, it was essential for me to move forward in my healing from years of abuse. I also believe in redemption, in the idea that people can change and learn from their mistakes, and even their worst sins, and become valuable members of society. This doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten what happened to me or that I believe it was okay; it simply means that I believe that humans are capable of spiritual evolution as much as physical evolution. I believe that all of us are worthy of love, even those who have traveled to very dark places. Those individuals may need even more love than most of us.

None of us are without fault. How can I ask others to forgive my past offenses if I hold on to all the offenses against me, if I hold on to offenses against others whose stories I do not even really know?

This is incredibly difficult. The last day I have been torn about Kobe Bryant. I believe we give too much adulation, fame, and wealth to sports (and movie and music) stars simply for doing their jobs, and those who have a natural talent at those jobs we elevate to  superstardom. Is it deserved because they bring greater wealth to the team owners, because they bring a championship to a city in some form of tribalistic competition? It is hard to acknowledge the tragic death of a superstar while still recalling the terrible things that person may have done in his life. It is especially hard when that superstar also did a lot of great things in his life, perhaps as a form of penance for those moments when he did not live up to his elevated status. Heroes have more moments when they are human than when they are heroes.

What I keep coming back to is this: Heroes come from the same families, cities, and culture that the rest of us do. They are as human as we are, and every one of us has failed at one point or another or often–but that doesn’t mean we cannot redeem ourselves. If a person has paid for their sins, if they have turned their life around and contributed in positive ways, can they be forgiven? I cannot say that I have done no wrong in my life. I have also done many good things. When I die, is it fair to hold my humanity against me? I believe that if we are to do that to others, then all of us fail in the end.

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The Agony of Aging

Donato

Donato. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

While I don’t really feel all that old, I am keenly aware that I am aging. I could still live for several more decades, but maybe not. I’m in my 60s now and have had several heart issues. My sight isn’t as good as it used to be, hearing is more difficult, and it takes more energy to do things than it did when I was a younger person. But it is not health issues, the slow disintegration of one’s body, or even the realization of one’s own mortality that is the hardest thing about aging.

It’s the loss.

As you survive each year, there are others who do not. As you reach the plateau of each new year or decade, there are more people–acquaintances, friends, and family–who are no longer making the same journey with you, who have dropped off and moved on to another plane where you can still love them, but no longer hug them, see them smile, or talk to them.

Yesterday I found out that a dear friend of mine, a man I met when he was in his late teens or early 20s, died at the young of 54. I was a part of about two-thirds of Donato’s life and he was a part of more than half of mine, and now there is another hole where there was once a joyful, beautiful person. While we would go long periods without contact, we stayed in touch and he was one of those people for whom it seemed that no time had passed whenever we reconnected. We just picked up where we last left off.

In just the last couple years, several acquaintances, a couple good friends, and my mother have all died. One of those was only 29. My mother was 92. All of them went too soon. They always do. If it’s while you are still walking the earth, it is too soon. This is the hard part of aging. This is the loss that really hurts. I can deal with my own body slowly weakening as I grow into old age, but having less and less people to share my joys and sorrows with makes my heart and soul weaker also.

I will miss Donato as I miss Lars Prip, Mom, Brendan Hartmann, Joe Johnson, Jim Green, and all of those who passed even before them. I will ache over this. I will look at old photos and smile, remember laughter and good times and smile again, and then I will realize that those things are only memories and dust and that each day I live is a little lonelier without Donato and without all of those loved ones who left too early.

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Decade

Skydiving

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.

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Heart Thoughts

Irregular

In the hospital in 2018 due to an irregular heartbeat. Photographer unknown.

As 2019 comes to a close I am recovering again from an incident with my heart. Eleven years ago I had a major heart attack, with 100% blockage of the left coronary. They put four stents in at that time, which opened things up nicely and that has kept me going for more than a decade.

A little over a year ago I was hospitalized due to an irregular heartbeat. I was diagnosed with ischemic cardiomyopathy, which essentially means my heart is not pumping out as much blood as it should, and my percentage was pretty low. My drug regimen was reassessed and some prescriptions changed to try to improve that.

Two wees ago tomorrow I was at work, sitting at my desk, when suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe, felt dizzy and nauseous, and I literally thought I was going to collapse on the floor and die right there in the office. It was scarier than the heart attack because it was different than anything I had ever felt and I didn’t know what was happening.

It turned out to be ventricular tachycardia, which means that my heart was beating at an incredibly fast pace and could have killed me if it hadn’t been stopped. When I got to the emergency room my heart was firing at 240 beats a minute. Normal is 60-100. For me, it’s often in the 50s, so going at almost five times that was leaving my body in a very dangerous place. Once the doctors figured out what was happening they gave me some drugs to stop it. That didn’t work, so they doubled the dose. When that didn’t work, they put me out and shocked my heart (cardioversion). This effectively stops  the heart from beating and resets it.

Later that day I was given a cardiac catheterization and in doing that, the doctors found new blockage and went ahead and put in three new stents to open up those passageways. Three days later I was in surgery to have an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) put in my chest. This is a combination defibrillator and pacemaker, with wires going from the ICD to both the top and bottom of my heart. The defibrillator will give me a shock if my heart starts racing like that again. The pacemaker will stimulate my heart if it is not beating fast enough. Together, they are designed to keep the heart functioning properly.

Unfortunately, I seem to have inherited my father’s genes when it comes to my heart. While my mother lived to be 92 years old, my father died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 41. If his heart attack were to have happened today rather than 1959, he may very well have survived. But medicine back in that era was nowhere near where it is today. So I am blessed to live in a time when medical procedures have advanced to a point where they can put miniature computers into your body that can regulate heart rhythm and that are able to communicate information to the doctors at the hospital through Wi-Fi. Still, it is unnerving to twice face the possibility of death because of my heart.

This time seemed a little scarier because it was so different, I am older, I had already had one big heart event, and because it just became a little clearer that my heart is not the strongest part of my body, even though it and the brain are the most essential. I could live as long as my mother, but it somehow seems much less likely now. If I look at the longevity of both of my parents and split the difference, I would only have five more years left, and that’s a bit chilling. So the idea of mortality, which I’ve always had an awareness and acceptance of, has a little stronger pull now.

Still, of course, one never knows. With the ICD, drugs, and the miracles of modern medicine, I could outlive my mother, which would mean that I still have about a third of my life left. Or my heart could give out tomorrow despite the advances in science. I can’t know and I can’t worry about it. What I do have control over is how I react to it all. It doesn’t do any good to live in fear. At the same time, having an awareness of mortality can keep one focused on the present, on the here and now, and what a person can do in this moment on this day. I have much work yet to do in this life. I will get that work done, moment by moment, and my heart will revel while it can.

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Pardon

White HouseDonald Trump is, quite simply, not a good person. His behavior both as a citizen and as the President, has been childish, narcissistic, and bullying. He has surrounded himself with sycophants and apologists, criminals, and a group of people who hate others, particularly a number of minorities. His policies and executive orders have undermined much of what is good about this country and he has placed himself above the law. While he has a base of supporters, many others believe he is the worst holder of the office in history and that he has damaged our democracy, possibly beyond repair.

Trump’s recent pardons of murderous American soldiers is beyond comprehension and may be the most troubling act of his time in office. Our military has its own justice system and there are many ways for soldiers to be court martialed, kicked out of the service, demoted, or in other ways punished for behavior that is not acceptable in the most powerful military in the world. In pardoning these men, Trump ignored advice from military leaders and by doing so he has opened the door to even worse behavior from others who have received the signal that the Commander-in-Chief not only condones but encourages murderous behavior from his front-line soldiers.

Being a soldier entails the very real possibility and likelihood of having to kill enemy combatants. Most soldiers are not comfortable with this because they are human beings with consciences, but they will do what is required in battle as it is the job they have been trained to do and they truly believe they are protecting their country from dangerous enemies. However, it is also understood that there are lines that should not be crossed and this includes killing unarmed citizens. The two soldiers he pardoned this past week have both been the subjects of publicity and pleas for leniency from those on the right who believe they had been railroaded and were just doing their jobs. Trump’s pardons could easily have been nothing more than a gift to his base, but they also set some dangerous precedents.

Major Mathew Golsteyn was accused of killing an unarmed prisoner of war he believed had killed a couple of his fellow soldiers with a bomb. He admitted in an interview with the Washington Post that he knew the man was unarmed. He had previously admitted that he had killed the man, after first trying to pin it on someone else.

First Lieutenant Clint Lorance was convicted of 2nd degree murder for ordering his men to fire at three Afghani men on a motorcycle. One of them survived. During the trial it was asserted that the motorcycle was in no position to reach his platoon even if the men on the motorcycle had been armed, which they were not. After his conviction, one of Lorance’s attorneys wrote a book about the case and had encouraged Trump to pardon his client.

In addition to these two cases, Trump also reversed a demotion of Edward Gallagher who had been demoted and convicted of posing with a human corpse, the body of a teenager he had been acquitted of killing even though he had texted the picture with the words, “Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife.” (BBC News, 7/4/19). He had also been accused and acquitted of a number of other crimes, including attempted murder of two Iraqi citizens.

While these are the newest cases, they are not the first pardons of military personnel accused of or convicted of murder. This past May, Trump pardoned First Lieutenant Michael Behenna. Behenna was found guilty of killing an Iraqi man who was thought to have killed two of Behenna’s men, but whom the U. S. military intelligence had released due to lack of evidence. According to USA Today (11/15/19), this was “the first presidential pardon of a convicted murderer in modern history.” That same month, Trump also pardoned Sergeant Derrick Miller, who had been convicted of premeditated murder of an interrogation subject.

These are not white collar crimes. They are not victimless crimes such as drug possession. These men were allegedly guilty of or were convicted of murder. While those in the military may kill others in the line of duty, these are cases outside of the line of duty and Trump has referred to some of these men as heroes who were doing their jobs.

A couple hundred nations, including the United States, have signed onto the Geneva Convention, which regulates what are commonly known as the rules of war. Among them are restrictions on killing prisoners, the sick and wounded, or civilians.

Pardoning those convicted of war crimes sends a signal to the international community that the United States does not care about international conventions and will do what we want without regard for any agreements. Like Trump, it says “America First” and it lets others know that we will not be bound by past treaties or accepted norms. It also tells those who are in the military and who have violent streaks that go beyond the bounds of normal combat that the Commander-in-Chief believes that killing prisoners and innocent civilians is part of the job and will be excused.

Finally, it opens the door to supporters of Trump being given the green light to engage in a civil war if he is impeached or the next election doesn’t go his way. As long as he stays in power, those who support him through whatever means have the possibility of a legal and Constitutional pardon in their back pockets. While this may seem like a paranoid scenario, the stage has been set for the possibility and with Trump’s history of ignoring all precedent and decorum, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

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