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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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Here’s the link to my new article on Medium!

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

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The school year just ended, so I’m using this time to write and to become more visible as an author. I’ve written two articles on Medium so far, please check them out. Heck, you could even become a fan if you really wanted to! Here are the links:

https://medium.com/@julieballantynebrown_68872/online-teaching-during-a-pandemic-aea0e159bf90

https://medium.com/@julieballantynebrown_68872/faith-426322259857

Thanks! You are all awesome!

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zoom
/zo͞om/
verb
(especially of a car or aircraft) move or travel very quickly.
“we watched the fly zooming about”
2.
(of a camera) change smoothly from a long shot to a close-up or vice versa.
“the camera zoomed in for a close-up of his face”
noun
a camera shot that changes smoothly from a long shot to a close-up or vice versa.
“the zoom button”
exclamation
1. used to express sudden fast movement.
“then suddenly, zoom!, he’s off”
Google Dictionary
Two months ago, these were all of my definitions of the word zoom, but it has, in a very short time, become so much more.
If you work from home, you’re no doubt familiar with Zoom (capital Z), the video conferencing website. Companies and groups all over the world are using Zoom, and other video conferencing companies/apps like Google Meet or Facebook video calls, to conduct business and hold meetings while friends and family are using it to connect in this time of social distancing.
For this, I am profoundly grateful.
Now, I will stress this: it’s not the same. You can’t hug or kiss anyone, shake hands, fist bump, etc. You can’t whisper a secret in a friend’s ear or snuggle a new baby, but it’s better than nothing.
Here are some ways that I’ve been using video conferencing in the last 6 1/2 weeks.
  • An Easter video chat with Oldest Child and Amazing Girlfriend.
  • Weekly board meetings with my theatre. I’m not a big board meeting fan (even though it’s necessary), but it’s SO good to see and talk to my friends.
  • A long-overdue chat with my Italian bestie. We’ve never done that before, I’ve never been very comfortable with video chats, but we had a lovely time on Sunday. This will be a new normal, especially since she’s monitoring my work in Italian. ❤
  • Coloring (or whatever) nights with theatre peeps.
  • Sermon Chats with our church group, where we discuss all sorts of things theological and personal.
  • Check-ins with students. We were using Google Meet, but some students gave out their codes to others and there were some highly inappropriate things that went on, so we’re moving to a more secure platform.
  • Work meetings. I love my coworkers, they’re amazing people, and meetings that used to be a chore are now a joy.

This virus sucks, that’s for sure, but it would be a hell of a lot worse without this way to connect. I have had some dark times through this, to be sure, but I look forward to those times when I can have a semblance of normalcy.

How are you connecting these days?

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Exactly two months ago, the night of February 17, I was so excited. The next morning, I would board my plane to Boston and begin my mini-adventure in Salem.  I was packed and ready. barely able to fall asleep. I remember it well. At that point, COVID-19 was the furthest thing from my mind. Little did I know

Fast forward to now. It’s only been two months since my trip, but it seems like years ago. Travel isn’t even on the radar at the moment. There have been some really rough days, I’ll admit. Emotions have run the gamut: Fear, inspiration, hope, anger (this past week, especially), frustration, all ramped up due to the situation.

I’m trying not to let my OCD and anxiety run away with those negative emotions, going round and round in my brain for hours without stopping. It’s times like these when I seriously rethink my therapist’s offer of medication. I’m not going to lie, Wednesday was really difficult, watching people completely disregard safety regulations, getting out of cars and clumping together, with such ugliness, waving Confederate flags and white power signs that had nothing to do with what they were supposedly protesting. Just for the record, I believe in the right to peaceful protest; I do NOT believe that we have the right to put other people in danger by potentially exposing them to a deadly disease (including children, OMG!!! There were several children there!), clogging up streets and honking horns for EIGHT HOURS around a Level 1 trauma hospital where there are tons of sick people, children, and a maternity ward. WTF??? Seriously, what is wrong with people? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That’s all I’m going to say on that matter, so trolls, step off. Don’t even try to defend that mess,

That being said, there are many positive things about this social isolation episode that I am focusing on. Such as:

  • Family time. Youngest Child is a brilliant musician and he’s been teaching (forcing) me to learn piano chords. I can already read music, I sing and play the flute/piccolo/tin whistle, but my piano experience has been limited to very simple tunes. Now, I’m learning some really cool stuff. He’s also helping me with learning ukulele. I always wanted to play and, of course, he knows how. We’ve been watching a lot of movies as a family, eating dinner together every night, and playing games. Yes, we get tired of each other and need some alone time, but for the most part, I love spending more time with Marty and Youngest Child. (Oldest lives on his own now, two hours away, and Middle is in his apartment at school since he has better internet and still has an active lease.)
  • Sleeping in. We’re working, Marty teaches, too, but no more 6:00 am wake-up times for us. School starts when we want it to. We’re honestly working a lot of hours, more than we normally do, but we have sleep. Yay!
  • I’m writing regularly. I finished the yet-unnamed sequel to Traveler, began another book, and plan to begin editing (and naming) the sequel this week. I’m also writing a lot more blog posts, in case you haven’t noticed.
  • Languages. I’ve dusted off my Italian and French and am going full-force on Duolingo. It’s awesome. Future plans…
  • I’m starting my Shakespeare garden indoors with seeds. See my Shakespeare Garden post for more on that. It’s so cool, watching everything sprout!
  • Zoom meetings. Two months ago, I couldn’t have told you what Zoom was. Now I use it every day. It helps me to stay connected to my theatre family and my church family. I truly don’t know what I’d do without it. I even get to have my therapy appointment online, which is very much needed.

Now, with things looking a bit better with this stupid virus running its course, there’s a little light shining at the end of the tunnel, if people don’t screw it up and start a giant second wave. We (myself included) need to focus more on the positive, not to ignore the problems, but to keep things from getting very dark.

In the comments, share a positive with me, some bright spot in this dark time, no matter where in the world you are. I want to celebrate with you!

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We’re 15 days into the COVID-19 craziness since everything started shutting down here in Michigan. Some thoughts I have.

Good Things:

  • Sleeping. Marty are I are working Monday through Friday and putting in longer hours than we do normally, just because everything has to be answered and checked online instead of verbally. Every student gets feedback and that’s tougher to do this way, but I don’t have to be up at 6:00 anymore. I can wake up and post things in my pajamas. I am already used to this.
  • No Student Behavior Issues. This is a fabulous thing. I haven’t had to yell at anyone in more than two weeks. I had one kid act up on a video conference and I just deleted him from the chat. Now that they know I record video conferences, everyone is on their best behavior.
  • Writing. I have time to write! In fact, I’ve almost finished my next book, a sequel to Traveler.
  • Yoga Pants and Leggings. I haven’t worn any other kind of pants for two weeks. I am comfy.
  • Gardening. As I wrote about last week, I’m making a Shakespeare garden and I’ve been able to get that all dug out, plus, I’m enlarging another one of my gardens and making it a spiral garden. It’s going to be awesome. Marty is still scared.
  • Music. Youngest Child regularly serenades us with beautiful piano music. He’s doing well under the circumstances and is channeling some of his cabin fever into music. It’s pretty awesome. (The music, not his cabin fever.)
  • Carry-Out. We are supporting local restaurants twice a week with carry-out. This is wonderful because not only does it get me out of the house and support a local business, I also hate cooking most of the time. It’s a win-win.
  • Deep Cleaning. This is a sort of good thing. I do not enjoy cleaning, but I do enjoy getting rid of clutter, which is necessary. This means that we won’t have to go through quite so much stuff when we move to London, whenever that is. Again, Marty is scared.
  • More Meditation Time. Very necessary.

Bad Things

  • People Are Dying. Seriously, scary amounts of people are dying from this, alone in overcrowded hospitals. Yes, I know that there are people who are recovering as well, and that’s awesome, but we also have never faced anything like this virus and the numbers jump higher every day. Yes, people die from the flu, but we have medicines and vaccines to help with that. We don’t for this virus that kills, percentage-wise, many more people than the flu. Don’t fluff this off.
  • Social Distancing. A necessary evil. I’m introverted, so I don’t regularly go out just to hang out with people, but I do enjoy going places, being out and about. Even my favorite trails in the woods are closed. Picking up local carry-out has become very exciting, even though people in line are standing very far apart and only one person goes into the restaurant at a time. It’s kind of a weird experience.
  • No Theatre/Church. Self explanatory. I miss my friends. I miss their hugs.
  • Scared Students. Kids are nervous. They miss school, they miss their routine and their friends. Hug your kids tightly, they need it.
  • PEOPLE WHO WON’T STAY AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE. Seriously, there are still people gathering in places and not paying attention. God forbid, they spread the virus to someone who will die from it. I get that they may not be worried about themselves, but really, how stupid can you be? People were having a full-on PARTY by my sister/cousin’s house a few days ago. C’mon. We’re all bored, we all want to  get together, but this is where maturity (or lack of) kicks in. Idiots. Batman Slapping Robin Meme - Imgflip

I hope all of my readers around the world are safe and sound. Wash your hands and stay home. If you’re any kind of essential worker, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are appreciated.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me. This is a global thing; let’s stay connected. Love you all.

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Unless you’ve been meditating in the desert for weeks like Jared Leto, you know that we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. How long will this last? No one knows, but we can make it better by doing what is recommended: staying away from people as much as possible and washing our hands. It seems trivial to some, but my dear friend in Italy has seen just how bad this is. She and her family are fine, thank God, but so many are not. There are hundreds of deaths every day in places where there used to be such joy. I watch video from Rome, Florence, and Venice and remember how full of life those cities were when I visited just five years ago. The streets are empty, the obituaries are many. This is serious business, folks.

I don’t think I really have to explain the term “social distancing” since the entire world is doing it. If you’re not right now, you should be so we can get rid of this stupid virus and hug people again. I don’t know about you, but I miss hugging my friends. I hug Marty, obviously, but he does not want to be hugged all the time. Hugging Youngest Child is like trying to hug a rock right right now and he makes funny noises when I do. It will be good to hug other people again. Someday.

Like everyone else, we’re trying to find things to fill all of the extra time at home. Of course, there are always things that should be done, but aren’t pleasant. I’m forcing myself to do some of that. Things like scrubbing the kitchen cabinets. Or individually dusting all of the books in a bookshelf and then moving the bookshelf to clean the years of dust bunnies behind and underneath. I know, I know, I’m enjoying myself way too much, but it has to be done. Sigh. Sidenote: I hate cleaning. I keep a (mostly) clean house because, well, I don’t want to live in a dirty house and I love it when the house is clean, but I actually hate the process. I used to think I was a domestic person, but I’ve come to realize that I’m not. My mantra is, “Someday, I will hire a maid.”

Youngest Child has also decided that we are going to work out this entire time and that my running and sit-ups aren’t enough, oh, no. In the spirit of Jillian Michaels, he has added push-ups to my routine, six sets of an increasing number every night with a minute rest in between each set. Last night, I made it to six sets of seven. I hurt now. Marty wryly watches me struggle from the couch as the six-foot-tall teenager says that it’s good for us, that we’re going to be “ripped” this summer. Tonight, I’ll be up to six sets of eight. I don’t like push-ups.

Marty and I are also teaching remotely from home, which has been an interesting experience. We have apps that we can use to help us assign work and the students are familiar with the apps, but getting all 100+ of them to go online and do the assigned work is some of the problem. Most are, and they’re doing a great job, but some have limited internet access, even though the school lent out laptops to those who needed one. There are also others who are choosing to not do anything. We are grading their assignments, but at this point, the grades don’t count. The behavior management part of this has been FABULOUS, though. I haven’t written anyone up of kicked them out of my class in a week, although I did turn off a kid’s camera on Zoom yesterday for flipping everyone off. I was not shocked at who did the flipping off, either. It’ll be interesting to see where this all goes in the coming weeks.

There is no theatre right now. That’s something I’m super sad about, as are many people that I know. My cast and I were at least able to perform one weekend of The Glass Menagerie with wonderful reviews before we got shut down and there’s still a possibility that we could have one more performance to record, with no audience, and a cast photo once things settle down. Other theatres around here didn’t even get to open their March shows at all. Many are postponed until at least May or are cancelled outright. And that really, really sucks. I don’t want to get too deeply into that because I’m still having a hard time dealing with it. I know that there are many others in the same boat, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In the meantime, I’m still going over my lines every day, just in case.

With no theatre, I’m trying to focus back on writing, which is a good thing. I’m very close to finishing my sequel to Traveler (which is, by the way, available on Amazon. Hint hint.) and I have have a couple of other projects going as well.

I’m also focusing more on meditation. I’m very much in a learning frame of mind with metaphysical things and this has been a great time to explore, really be quiet, and let it happen. More on that later.

There’s time to read for fun again. I have a long way to go before I catch up to where Marty is, but I’ll try. I have about five books that I’m reading simultaneously at the moment.

Oh! I’m also planning my garden. I’m making a Shakespeare garden, kind of a big deal, with plants that Shakespeare references in his works. There will be a lot of new landscaping and I ordered a bunch of seeds that should be here any time now. I’ll post before and after pictures when things actually begin growing. Marty is scared.

So, what are you doing during this time? Drop a message in the comments or give this post a like. I’d love to hear from you. Reading comments gives me an excuse to not clean the basement.

Stay safe, everyone.

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It’s a cold, snowy day here in Michigan. Schools are closed because the roads are treacherously icy, so I had the luxury of sleeping in, although I do have fifty author projects from 7th graders on Google Docs to grade. There are fifty more projects waiting for me back at school, but that’s for another day. I’m feeling nostalgic right now.

On days like this, I say a prayer for those who work outside. I didn’t always get “snow days” off, but I’ll take them. I remember what it was like to work outside: in the cold, the snow, ice storms, pouring rain, tornado warnings, scorching hot heat waves. I did that for several years in my twenties and early thirties. I loved working with the farm animals, especially the horses, and people who take care of animals don’t get snow days, or heat days, or any other weather days. Animals need to be fed, watered, their stalls cleaned out every day, no exceptions, and I took pride in being “tough enough” to do it, although there were some pretty miserable days. Those days taught me a lot about work ethic and about myself. I had some pretty awesome mentors who were incredibly patient with me.

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Doing winter chores, whether at the farm or the carriage barn, was always an adventure. I remember my bangs freezing in a solid block from the breath vapor rising out of the woolen scarf wound around my face when the temperature was -5°. I was terrified that they would just break off with a snap. That was also the winter I got a giant lump on my forehead from slipping on the icy platform and hitting my head on the frozen metal water pump we were trying to turn on, fingers and toes uncooperative and numb. Eyes and noses would run in a constant stream from the cold. If any of the cows were being milked at the time, we would fight over who got to do it because that meant putting your hands on something warm for a little while, although it sometimes meant getting hit in the head with a frozen manure tail. On those brutal days, it would take more than an hour for the shivering to stop once we got inside, even with several cups of coffee.

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There were the spring and summer mornings when the tornado sirens would begin to go off, angry black clouds swirling around in the sky, the animals getting panicky. I was still terrified of tornadoes then, and I tried, unsuccessfully, to not let it show. Afternoons when it poured rain, the mud/manure mixture squelched up into our boots, through our stockings, weighing down the hems of the skirts and petticoats or the overalls we wore with sludge. The stains would never quite come out. One spring, the cellar of the farmhouse flooded and I sank almost to my knees in the dirt floor. My work laundry was always done separately from everything else and often had to be rinsed out first.

There were god-awful summer days when the actual temperature would be over 100°, our long sleeves and random pieces of hay glued to us, sweat trickling down every crevice, and people would complain that we weren’t offering carriage rides. My face, forearms, and hands would be a deep tan, but the rest of me was a pasty white.

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Spring lambs

All of these things were great adventures, and I could go on and on for days about all of it. Working in those conditions could be rough, but we bonded with each other over it all and made for some fabulous memories. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for the world, and it makes me appreciate days like this much more.

I miss it, working outside, but I’ve developed Renaud’s Syndrome and I can’t work in the cold for long anymore. My heart goes out to those who are working outside on days like this: mail carriers, construction workers, first responders, and the ones who work with outdoor animals to make sure they’re as comfortable as they can be in this weather. They all have their own war stories to tell, I’m sure.

Thanks for reading mine.

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I’ve been fending off a depression hole for the last several days. Work has a lot to do with it. When a “hole” is sneaking up on me, I’m usually able to distract myself during work by getting into my teaching, but I can’t this time. I have to fight to stay on task during the work day. (That’s a teaching term, “on task”.) I’ve been lucky enough to not fall completely in it, but it’s looming over my shoulder every minute.

End-of-show depression after a really great experience comes into play with this, too. I just finished one of my favorite show experiences ever and I’m in mourning at the moment.

Getting home and being with my family helps. Dinner with my husband helps. My husband is my endless optimist and also a teacher. He understands what I’m going through. Going to rehearsal also helps. I love rehearsing; I love the challenge and being on stage. I love this director, the actors, and producers I’m working with, so that’s my fun, healing, time. Friends help, including Facebook friends. I asked for cute and funny things yesterday after a particularly bad day and boy, did they deliver! Whether they sent images or private messages, it really hit me in the feels. If I mentioned you, thank you so much. Your thoughts and actions mean a lot to me.

Even with all of the good things, my depression is really hard to shake right now. I’m struggling with what to do and what I want out of my life right now. I need to be happy, or at least, content.

I’ll be in Salem, MA in two weeks, a place of several of my ancestors, to do some research and spend some quiet time by myself. (I will also be memorizing lines, so there’s that. Have you read The Glass Menagerie?) I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to a week away from work and spending some quality time with my family. I’m looking forward to opening a new show in four weeks. I’m looking forward to not thinking about bad behavior and data and scores and parents and posting Content/Language Objectives. I need to meditate, clarify. Seriously.  These are goals.

Depression sucks. Be kind.

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