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Archive for the ‘choices’ Category

If you’re a writer and you’ve never tried it before, the NYC writing challenges are a lot of fun. I just entered for the second time. There are several different types of contests. Check them out here: http://www.nycmidnight.com/

On the day the challenge begins, you’re given a random topic, an action to use in your story, and a word that you must use. You only have 24 hours to submit it. In January, I’ll find out if I made it to the next round or not. In the last challenge I did, only a 100-word story, I made it through the first round but not the second. Fingers crossed!

This time in, I was assigned Sci-fi, not my favorite genre, but what the heck? Entries in this particular contest must be 250 words long, not including the title. Here’s mine, just for kicks. Tell me what you think! (Or not, lol.)

Sunset At St. Paul’s

The sun was sinking down below the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral, brilliant with rays of orange, red and gold. Old St. Paul’s, I reminded myself. It looked nothing like Christopher Wren’s version in modern London.

I was still reeling with excitement at my success. For years, I had been tinkering, struggling, with the calculations and physics that would enable me to travel through time. I had failed, over and again, but this time it had worked!

I entered London in 1502, elated, my head spinning. Having no money, I quietly shoplifted appropriate clothes from one market stall, a steaming meat pie from another, silently promising to repay the damage later when I had re-established myself.

Earlier that day, in 2020, I had connected the final piece in the portal, and watched as finally, finally, it started to hum. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and thought once more about leaving the modern world behind. My design left no way for me to return; this would be permanent. 

I stepped though.

With that choice, I began anew. Again. Deciphering the mystery of traveling through time had consumed my every thought for years; the isolation, coldness, and drudgery of twenty-first century life weighed me down. I knew if I could open a gateway to the past, I’d return to the loving family I left behind when the flying disc creatures from beyond sent me hurtling 500 years into the future, almost twenty long years ago.

I was home.

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A year ago in November, I was cast in a new play. I was excited.

I studied my lines sitting at a high-top table with a too-hot cup of Earl Grey in a tiny, crowded, Starbucks on Woodward Avenue in Midtown Detroit while Youngest Child rehearsed at the DSO across the street.

I was getting ready for Thanksgiving, planning the food and getting ready to go on a cleaning binge in anticipation of guests.

There would be a break from school for a few days, our first since August, thank God.

My life was full and busy, just the way I like it.

Was I happy? In many ways, in most of the ways that count. Depression is its own ugly beast, but last November, from what I remember, was pretty good aside from my usual major stressors, i.e. work.

This November? I’m teaching from home. I have been, since March 16. While aspects of it are difficult and horribly tedious, I don’t hate it. No child has openly defied me in almost a year. Disruptive student? Remove them from Zoom. Problem solved.

My theatre has a good, solid, safe, plan to ease back into performances, streaming at first and playing it by ear. We’re so very lucky to have a nurse-practitioner on our board who gives us trustworthy advice and is heavily involved in our reopening plan. I am so very grateful that there is hope.

But… I want normal back. I want people to stop whining about their ‘freedom’, wear a damn mask, and socially distance. We’ve done our part, but others haven’t and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t angry. Just today, as I was in the check-out line, a guy walked into Rite-Aid with no mask, smirking like an asshole, just looking for someone to say something to him. (Stronger language is called for here, but I will defer to the comfort of my more sensitive readers. Understand that, in my head, I have called him every vile name I can think of.) I gave him the dirtiest look I could, but didn’t say anything in the hopes that store management would. I left in the next few minutes, my transaction complete. In retrospect, I wish I had, even though he was a large man and I am… not. I’m ashamed, actually. I should have said something and not let his size, demeanor, or stupid arrogant face intimidate me. Something to work on. Maybe martial arts for self-defense is a good idea. I also forgot that I had pepper spray in my bag. Note to self.

We cancelled our Thanksgiving, so that we all had a better chance of being here next year. We’re dropping dinner off for Marty’s mom. Next year, we’re going to do it up right.

We also cancelled Christmas, outside the family in the house. It all kind of sucks.

I want to walk into a crowded restaurant again with no bigger fear than catching a cold. (I get my flu shot every year and I will damn sure get my COVID shot when it’s available.) I want hug my family again, specifically Oldest Child and Very Serious Girlfriend. I want to learn lines for a show that’s not rehearsed on Zoom/socially distanced. I want to perform on stage in front of an actual audience.

I want my life back.

Wear a (insert favorite adjective here) mask and don’t be a (adjective) jackass. You can probably guess my adjectives.

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Click here to read my new article on Medium!

https://julieballantynebrown-68872.medium.com/head-in-the-clouds-6f6e8b2291b2?sk=656337b8584108984e57dcb976b7562c

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Today is our house anniversary: Nineteen years since the day we moved in, October 14, 2001.

I remember the day pretty clearly and all that led up to it. It was a misty, rainy day. My brothers, Uncle-Dad, and Sister-Cousins helped. We supplied beer and pizza as thanks.

2001 had been a pretty rough year for us. My husband was laid off from his job and going to school. I was working two jobs to make ends meet. Our two older boys were only four and two and the little duplex we rented seemed to get smaller by the day. It was super stressful.

Marty’s grandmother passed away that summer after years of poor health. As a result, her house was empty and the family was deciding what to do with it. Blessedly, arrangements were made for us to move in that fall. After a lot of scraping wallpaper, painting, and ripping up carpet, we made it our home. It’s still a work in progress, and some days this house makes me want to scream with how much money we’ve poured into it and continue to pour into it, but it’s been a wonderful place to live and raise our family. (Btw, I don’t ever think I want to own a house again.)

This is the longest time I’ve ever lived in one house and I admit, I am restless. It’s not for any other reason than that I want to explore other areas, experience living in a completely different part of the country or part of the world. We have the most amazing neighbors here who welcomed us in immediately and have stepped up for us time and time again. Our neighborhood is safe and beautiful. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to live here. But as I keep telling my poor husband, I’ve lived in Michigan within a twenty-mile radius my entire life and I don’t want to die here.

There are no plans to leave at the moment. My husband loves his job here. Youngest Child is finishing up his senior year in high school and Middle Child will graduate from the University of Michigan this spring, so we have no illusions of leaving for a few years, but it’s something I think about more and more as they begin their independent lives. I fantasize about it almost daily, actually. (We’ll make sure to get a flat near a Tube stop and also near a Tesco. Kensington seems nice, but I’m open to other areas of London…)

I look at my husband, lots of friends and family, and I wonder how they are so content to be where they are. Many of them are happy to stay in the same place they’ve been for years. I kind of envy them. Why am I different? Did I get it from my father, who always seemed to be searching in his short life? Or is it because I moved frequently as a child, living in five different homes by the time I was sixteen? Youngest Child has only ever lived here; will he be a wanderer at heart, like me, or will he return to his hometown after exploring the world for a while, like his father? I have no clue, no actual theories. I only know that the thought of staying here for the rest of my life, as lovely as it is, makes me anxious.

Whatever the future holds, we’ve had some incredibly joyful times in this house as well as some devastating moments that I’d rather forget. These formally avocado-colored walls have heard and seen so much, we’ve left a lot of energy here. There are at least two ghosts that make their presences known from time to time and two adorable cats who feel welcome enough to visit every single day. Our neighbors hold socially distant, outdoor, cocktail hours and piled on the loving care when my husband had his heart attack in August. As restless as I am, this house does have rather pleasant amenities.

Nineteen years. I don’t hope for nineteen more, but I am grateful for what I have right now.

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Here’s my new article on Medium. Check it out!

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Like millions of other people right now, I’m missing things. Also like many people, I have a stressful job and for the last eight years, I have relied on the magic of live theatre to take the edge off of what I do during the day.

Right now, I’m involved with an online dramatic reading production with a lot of super-talented actors,, The Laramie Project, which I’m super excited about for many reasons. It’s a great experience, but I also miss my physical theatre so much it hurts right now.

During the summer, the absence was still very noticeable, but now that school has started again, I’m feeling it on a new level.

I want the stage back.

I want to do scene after scene, blocking and yelling and cursing and loving and steely glares and laughter, until we get it right.

I want the hugs.

I want the emotion.

I want pot after pot of endless coffee and whatever baked or packaged goods that we bring to share.

I want the bawdy jokes and finding the rat somewhere on stage.

I want to sweat while learning complicated dance routines that frustrate me, but make me a better dancer in the end.

I want rehearsal to go late enough to make me grumpy about having to wake up for work the next day.

I want to learn elusive parts of melodies and harmonies.

I want the bonding with a group of people that I will never, ever forget. Ever.

My theatre people are still there, fighting and figuring out ingenious ways to stay alive in a world where we have to stay six feet apart. They’re putting in the hard work and I wish I could do more.

The magic will happen again.

We’ll be ready to entertain you when it’s safe. More than ready.

Love,

A Grown-Up Theatre Kid

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This has been an interesting year, to say the least. Interesting is an adjective that encompasses all of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and there has been a lot of the latter two in the last six months.

There’s also been a lot of good, too. As much as some days are a struggle because of things we can no longer do, there have also been good things to come out of this quarantine period.

I’ve been writing. A lot. I finished writing one novel and am almost halfway done with another. I have had beta readers read said finished novel and I’m really encouraged by their constructive feedback. (I also owe them a lot of cookies as payment.) I started writing articles for Medium.com, an online forum where I actually get paid for writing.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere. Slowly but surely.

Admittedly, I have also spent way too much time scrolling through social media, but I’m trying to be gentle with myself about some things. Sometimes it helps to zone out for a while.

We are going back to school this week, virtually, anyway. I’m happy that my district chose to go remote at first and they will determine what happens in the future as it comes. I won’t have as much time to write, but I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to have the time that I did this summer.

Stay tuned, good things are coming.

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I need to work on practicing grace, especially in my own mind.

As this pandemic and this presidency, go on (and on and on and on), I find myself getting angrier at people who are unwilling to listen to reason and science, people who are unnecessarily putting others at risk because of their convoluted idea of “freedom”, and those who pass along ridiculous information easily dismissed on any fact-checking site.

I’ve learned that it does no good to comment. It’s just not worth the time and energy and only provokes juvenile insults.

If it weren’t so dangerous, I would laugh, but there are people dying, people out of work, people worried sick about the future. Our own military forces have been abusing citizens. The rest of the world is wondering what the heck is wrong with America right now, why we have so many people doing what they’re not supposed to do. It’s a rough time any way you look at it.

I honestly try to find the good in everyone, but right now it’s really difficult. I know, I know, that everyone comes from a different life experience and that colors their view of the world. I try to understand that. I was raised conservative, but after listening and learning, I’ve changed many of my world views that were based on evangelical religion. I’m still learning, I’m still trying to grow, and I, unrealistically, expect others to do the same. It’s really difficult for me to show grace to people who call themselves “Christian” who ignore the obvious and attack and hurl vile insults at anyone who thinks differently. I have to work on that.

I don’t insult people online. The closest I’ve come is to say that people who refuse to wear masks are acting like toddlers having tantrums. In my head, I think a lot of other things that I don’t post, don’t respond to.

I swear a lot. I always did, but never more than in the last four years, especially the last five months. It’s one way of venting my anger.

I need to work on grace, not wanting to bite someone’s head off for what they say or what they do, but responding to them with kindness. I know, but I need to try and see where they’re coming from before I respond or cuss them out in my head. Some people do this automatically and I’m in awe of that ability.

If God can show me grace after some of the things I’ve done, I need to show grace to others. I can’t educate through anger. I can be a better person.

I need grace. I need to show grace.

 

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This one is on mental health. Click to check it out.

View at Medium.com

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As I write this, I’m listening to a gentle thunderstorm pass by. There is the promise of stronger storms later, but at this moment, brief flashes and quiet rumblings are providing a cozy backdrop for the evening.

Twenty-five years ago, I would not have looked at this storm the same way. I would have been hyper-vigilant about checking the news, the weather channel (pre-internet days), or standing outside, anxiously scanning the skies. Because of a scary incident during a tornado warning in third grade, I was terrified of storms.

When I had kids, I made the conscious decision to face that fear so I wouldn’t pass it on to them. It was tough, but over time, I learned to appreciate the beauty of the thunder and lightning, I came to respect instead of fear.

It was the same way with other childhood fears. Spiders used to make me shriek. Years later, I realized that it was a fear projected onto me and while I’m not BFFs with any arachnids, I usually let them live peacefully in the house or put them outside. (Usually because shower stalking is a deal-breaker. Sorry not sorry.)

Dying in a fire was another one, although I blame THAT on the hellfire sermons I heard every Sunday. Telling a four-year-old that they could burn in a lake of fire for eternity does some damage, especially when it’s being screamed from a pulpit by a scary, sweaty, man. Again, it took some work, but that fear is (mostly) gone.

There are other fears that don’t go away so easily, one that my therapist is pushing me on a bit, but I trust her completely, so it’s swimming around in my head and won’t leave me alone. Why don’t I take my passions and put them out into the universe to try and help make them happen? I take steps toward that, to be sure, but I haven’t put my whole heart into it.

Why? I’m terrified.

If I fail, the thought of having to pick myself up is really, really, scary. I’ve been to that very dark place before, more than once, and I don’t ever want to be there again. It gets more difficult to crawl out every time.

So now, I have to decide. Do I continue on with things I’m passionate about as I have before, with enthusiasm but no serious commitment because of that fear, or do I throw myself into what I really want, put it honestly into the universe, risks and all?

Childhood fears are a bit more manageable. I have things to think about.

Peace be with you.

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