My Whirlwind Week Of Triple Bs…

I am coming down from one of the most action-packed and fun-filled weeks I’ve ever experienced. I set personal records for daily steps and saw new places close and far while taking in each and every moment in its entirety.

img_6503The first leg of My Whirlwind Week of Triple Bs brought me to Baltimore for three days/two nights with treasured friends. Despite living a little over three hours away, I had never been to Baltimore before. Major fail on my part, because Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was lovely and filled with history. We toured the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, built in 1855 and moved to the Harbor as a museum exhibit in 1988. We spent hours strolling the Harbor, and wouldn’t you know it, we encountered my very good friend James Joyce at the James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant! He always finds a way to show up, most often when I least expect it, to validate that I’m on the right path.

I didn’t know whether or not to believe the exhibits and displays at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium (another place I had never been before…I’m surprised my dad never took us to a Ripley’s, because it was right up his alley!). I laughed when I picked up the ringing pay phone in the ladies room and learned bathroom trivia: Did you know the first bathroom stall is usually the cleanest because it’s rarely used?

img_6618I have a new appreciation for “The Star Spangled Banner” after visiting the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Forgive me for my ignorance of Baltimore’s role in The War of 1812, but hearing how Francis Scott Key penned the anthem after the United States won the Battle of Baltimore moved me. Should you be in the Baltimore area, I highly suggest a visit to Fort McHenry to experience firsthand the importance of the battle and the flag.

No trip to Baltimore would be complete without a visit to Camden Yards, and we got toimg_6674 see the Yankees win their first of three games in the best seats I’ve ever had for a professional baseball game. Camden Yards is an absolutely beautiful ballpark, and if I wasn’t a Yankees fan, I’d have no problem cheering for the Orioles. We ironically ran into two other people from the Home of the Hawks at Birdland and enjoyed some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had at Boog’s.

On the way home we stopped at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. I learned a lot about Ruth the legend and Ruth the person, and my visit made me appreciate his story even more, especially as a Yankees fan. Ruth was a regular person like you and I who had an extraordinary talent for hitting a ball with a wooden bat, but it wasn’t just his talent that made him a legend. He was a pretty neat guy who never forgot where he came from with his off-field exploits overshadowing his charitable work at times, and that’s what makes a legend.

The second leg of my 3B Whirlwind Week? Seeing Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band at PNC Bank Arts Center with my husband. I had won two tickets from a local radio station when I was “called ten” back in February (sidenote: I’ve waited my whole life to be caller ten)! Jimmy didn’t disappoint in his long-awaited concert return to Holmdel, and it was just like I was 20 years old again as I danced along with other Parrottheads to his classics, my favorites being “One Particular Harbor,” “Holiday,” and “Son of a Sailor.” Jimmy put on a great show, and I’m so glad I went.

The third B in my 3B Whirlwind Week overwhelmed my emotions more than once. If you really know me, you are aware that I am a pretty big Star Wars fan. I’m not on the level of dressing up or going to conventions (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not for me), but the Star Wars thread has run through my life since I saw the first movie in the theater at six years old. It’s always been there, and I know that when I see Episode 9 in December, I’m going to be an emotional mess, but that story will be written later.

Anyway, when I received a text from a former student (now friend) who works at Walt Disney World in Orlando inviting me to be her guest for the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge cast member preview, I nearly died. Me? Getting a sneak preview of Batuu (the land of Galaxy’s Edge)? Yes, please! I flew down to Orlando Thursday morning and my friend picked me up. We hooked up with another friend (also a former student) and hit the Magic Kingdom first. I stood on line for the Jungle Cruise and was in awe…I’m in Disney! We next went on Space Mountain twice and Peter Pan’s Flight, then it was time to head over to Hollywood Studios for our preview.

img_7066I videotaped as I first walked into Batuu, but I had to stop. I free admit to you that my emotions got the best of me and I had to take a minute for myself. I just couldn’t believe it! I don’t want to give many spoilers away because I want you to experience that same feeling, so I’m not going to go into details about Batuu. What I can say is that, in my opinion, Disney did Batuu right, and except for a short glimpse at times of the Slinky Dog Coaster from Toy Story Land, Batuu’s visitors are completely immersed in the land. Everywhere I looked there were details and details, even in the corners and inside displays. The staff were clearly well-trained with their mannerisms and lingo (for example, you pay with CREDITS, not money). The size of Batuu surprised me because I didn’t think it would be that big. And the Millenium Falcon? PERFECT! It’s the REAL THING, inside and out! We rode the Falcon ride five img_7038times, and it is an amazing experience. Except for December’s opening of The Rise of the Rebellion ride, Batuu is open for business! We enjoyed our Blue Milk and had a blast in Oga’s Cantina. The worst part? Having to leave at 9:00 PM. You don’t have to have any Star Wars knowledge to visit Batuu, so if you have the chance but are hesitant because you aren’t a Star Wars aficionado like me, GO. You will enjoy yourself. I am still in awe about my Batuu opportunity and will be forever grateful to my friend for inviting me to accompany her.

I stayed at my friends, and on Friday, we went to Animal Kingdom to ride Avatar: Flight of Passage in Pandora. Again, no spoilers, but if you ask me, “Is it worth the three-hour wait to ride Pandora?” my answer is an emphatic: YES. It is. After you ride it, I believe you’ll agree with me. It’s not just a ride, it’s an undescribable exhilarating experience. Trust me when I say to add Avatar: Flight of Passage to your bucket list. After Avatar, it was time to head home then return to Orlando International Airport for my flight home.

For those who are into steps, here are my numbers: Baltimore Day 1: 14,172 steps/5.7 miles; Baltimore Day 2: 13,463 steps/5.4 miles; Baltimore Day 3/Buffett: 7,052 steps, 2.8 miles; Disney Day 1: 21,361 steps/8.6 miles; Disney Day 2: 8,737 steps/3.5 miles. Total steps Sun-Fri: 64,785; Total miles Sun-Fri: 26 miles (isn’t that a marathon?).

6a681f7b-6db0-4e64-90b2-ac8cda8c6151

My Whirlwind Week of Triple Bs Represented in Pins I Purchased for My Collection.

Believe me when I say my legs told me how much I walked with the radiating electricity-type pain at the end of each day. However, the pain and its hangover into this week are both worth it. My desire to live and to experience moments like these in their entirety is stronger than my pain. I said YES to life without hesitation or any reservations, and the pain validates that I am, indeed, alive.

When life presents you with similar opportunities, I hope that you say YES, too.

I’m forever grateful for the experiences, the memories, the laughs, and the company I enjoyed during my Whirlwind Week Of Triple Bs.

Thanks for joining me on my journey. I’m glad you’re here.

img_4287With gratitude,

Jill

 

 

Copyright 2019 – Jill Ocone“My Whirlwind Week with 3Bs…” was cross-posted on both jillocone.com and SoulSEAker.com on August 14, 2019. Views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author who was not compensated in any way by any entity. All rights reserved.

 

 

Status Update for “Chapter One-A Novel”

cropped-triskeleA few friends have asked me lately what’s going on with the novel I’ve been working on for four years now and counting.

My answer is: A LOT!

My keyboard has been working almost three hours every day as I re-craft Chapter One-A Novel‘s entire story with my fifth major revision/overhaul, which is, by far, the most complicated revision task to date.

I had a massive existential crisis teeming with frustration when my heart realized C1 needed and deserved both a completely different point-of-view and a much stronger voice.

Melt-down?

Yes.

Crying?

Absolutely.

Walking away?

Thought about it, but not a chance.

I’ve learned through the workshops and conferences I’ve attended that revising (sometimes five to ten times) is all part of the process. With the insight, suggestions, and encouragement from fellow writers and teachers, I can finally see the light, no pun intended, as I re-craft C1 with the reader as the focus.

And as sung by the immortal James, Brown, I feel good. I know that sounds hackneyed and trite, but I do.

I’m more confident and sure about my writing and can’t wait to see where it takes me. I never would have trusted my voice had it not been for the wonderful support I received from my Yale colleagues and know that the universe sent me there to learn from not only the best but from like-minded fellow storytellers. I’m also lucky to have close friends who provide me with honest feedback and the inspiration I need to keep moving forward.

The development and re-crafting of both Kelly Lynch’s story and her strong yet funny voice has taken even me by surprise, and I’m more in love with my main character now than ever, who is NOT me, by the way.

I expect to resume querying agents and publishers with a completed manuscript in early September, and will be looking for some beta readers once I am finished. Please let me know if you are interested!

img_6414In other news, I am pleased to announce that I will join other contributors to the 2019 American Writers Review and read my published poems on August 31 in Neptune, New Jersey. It’s the first time I will take part in a public reading of my published works, so I’m pretty excited about achieving this milestone.

We’re finally settled in our temporary home and I don’t have to box or unpack anything for a while. In between writing and moving, I attended both the summer Teacher Ambassador Workshop for ProjectWriteNow and a board meeting for the Garden State Scholastic Press Association last week. I’ve enjoyed becoming acclimated to my new neighborhood and to laughing and making memories with my nieces and nephews. I’ve got some side project going on too, including creating an updated writing portfolio with all of my published newspaper and magazine pieces from the mid-1990s which surfaced in the attic purge from my soon-to-be demolished former abode.

I intend to enjoy each August day, especially next week when I am traveling to Baltimore with a treasured friend, seeing Jimmy Buffett with tickets I won (I waited 48 years to be “Caller 10!”), and a super-secret, surreptitious 36-hour trip to the south…more to come about that soon!

I wish you an awesome August and a splendid rest of the summer. Thanks for joining me on my journey. I’m glad you’re here.

With gratitude,

Jill

Copyright 2019 – Jill OconeThis entry was cross-posted on both jillocone.com and SoulSEAker.com on August 1, 2019. Views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author who was not compensated in any way by any entity. All rights reserved.

Riding the Writing Wave of Inspiration

It’s been quite a writing roller coaster over the past month, replete with inspiration and learning as much as I can from some wonderful authors.

Author Tim O’Brien speaks at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center at Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ

First up: I attended a local event featuring Tim O’Brien, award-winning author of “The Things They Carried” with a dear friend. His approximately 90-minute long presentation featured anecdotes from both his days as a soldier in Vietnam and from his more recent days as a father. He read a few passages from his forthcoming book titled “Dad’s Maybe Book” which is due to be released later this year. After his presentation, Mr. O’Brien graciously stayed for autographs. A few weeks ago, while surveying my late uncle’s bookshelf, I spotted a copy of “The Things They Carried” on his bookshelf. Now, my uncle was not a reader, but he did serve in Vietnam. My eyes welled up with tears when I saw the book, and that’s the copy I brought for Mr. O’Brien to sign. When I handed him the book, he looked at my Uncle’s picture taken in Vietnam and said, “Another one. Did he come home?” I told him yes, he did, but that he recently passed away. Mr. O’Brien gave me his condolences, and I will cherish my signed copy of his work because it belonged to my hero.

My uncle’s copy, forever a keepsake and an inspiration.
March 31, 2019

One of my favorite writing events of the year is the Writing on the River retreat that’s organized by ProjectWriteNow in Red Bank. I’m a teacher ambassador for PWN and the event is not just for the teacher in me, but also the writer in me. Jennifer, Colleen, and Lisa work very hard to make the day special for all attendees, including writing exercises and time to cultivate our own creativity. It’s refreshing and renewing to talk to other educators who either teach writing or write themselves like me, and I left the retreat with new friends and new writing ideas.

Author Paul Lisicky at the William Paterson Spring Writer’s Conference.

I also attended the Spring Writers Conference at William Paterson University last weekend, which gave me the opportunity to learn from writers Paul Lisicky, Nathan Alling Long, and David Burkowski. I left with great strategies for writing that I aim to put into practice, and with a new appreciation and interest in flash fiction. Lisicky is a master at using detail and flowing his words together in a way that makes it sound almost songlike. His work will inspire me to improve my use of detail.

And now, for the big news…As the result of being guided by the universe, I applied to the 2019 Yale Writers Workshop on a whim, which will be held in June. I had to supply a writing sample as a part of my application, so I chose the first two chapters of “Chapter One-A Novel.” It should come as no surprise that I freely admit that I suffer from “imposter syndrome,” so I never in a gazillion years expected to be accepted.

It’s real!

But I was.

After reading the congratulatory email, I was stunned and overjoyed, and yes, I’ll admit that I cried.

I’m going to YALE in June for a four-day long intensive workshop, and I am simply over the moon about it. I keep thinking of that phrase that goes something along the lines of “what if I fail? But darling, what if you fly?” or something like that. I applied thinking I was going to fail by not being accepted.

But I was.

What if I, indeed, fly?

I dream of someday being in a position where I will be able to sign my books for readers and fellow writers like O’Brien, Lisicky, and Alling Long signed for me over the past month.

I used to think it was a pipe dream, but maybe, just maybe, it might come true someday.

Nitro’s Check Mark

I took my teenage niece, nephew, and their friend to Six Flags Great Adventure yesterday (August 10, 2018). My husband and I have given Niece and Nephew season passes to Six Flags Great Adventure for Christmas every year since 2015.

What I love most about our gift is that I also get a season pass, which allows me to spend time with them at the park several times a year. Each visit is special to me because it’s our thing, and it’s a great way to help provide a break for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. If I had a nickel for how many times we laughed together or for each memory we made or silly story we told, I’d be a millionaire by now.

Nephew knows more about Six Flags rides and parks than anyone I’ve ever met. He can tell you when a ride made its park debut, who built it, who designed it, and what park received the ride it might have replaced. He understands the physics and design elements that goes into building a ride and if you ask him what park in the United States had the first looping roller coaster, he will know the answer.

When it comes to actually going on the rides, Niece is fearless and she will go on anything.  Meanwhile, Nephew and I have a similar sense of moderate adventure and we tend to stick to the middle-of-the-road rides and coasters, then when we are ready, we’ll attempt riding a more extreme one.

Our favorite ride is Skull Mountain, which is a fun, little inside coaster that operates in the dark. Two summers ago, Nephew and I set a personal record for going on Skull Mountain 22 times in a row, which took a little over two hours. We only stayed on the ride when the ride queue was empty five times; the rest of the time we got out and walked around. It probably wasn’t my best decision, in hindsight, since I flew to Dublin the following day with a splitting headache.

Our last ride conquests were Superman: Ultimate Flight and Green Lantern at the end of last summer. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Superman experience, considering riders are face down to simulate Superman’s flight. We conquered Bizarro in April of 2017. Man, that one is fast! It’s like the Batman coaster after it had three energy drinks and a shot of super-charged espresso. Batman: The Ride has always been one of my favorites, and we conquered that one together in 2015 at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Holidays in the Park.

The coasters Nephew and I haven’t found the courage to ride yet are notoriously extreme, and we weren’t sure which coaster we’d be brave enough to conquer this year.

Enter Nitro.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

When Nitro opened in 2001, it was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in New Jersey (Kingda Ka stole those honors from Nitro a few years later). While Nitro does not have any inversions, it is 230 feet high at its peak (which takes almost 60 seconds to climb) and reaches speeds up to 80 miles per hour in its two minute, twenty second mile-long course.

I went on Nitro once while chaperoning a school trip in 2005, thinking it would be like either Rolling Thunder and Scream Machine, two classic, now long-gone, coasters I loved.

I was completely wrong.

Nitro nearly killed me.

Well, maybe not killed, but the experience scared me tremendously.

I ended up uncontrollably shaking and trembling when I walked off the ride, my legs like jelly and my arm muscles sore for several days later due to how much I strained them as I held onto the restraint as tight as I could.

I vowed I was forever done with the infernal contraption known as Nitro.

I shared my Nitro story with Nephew on several occasions, including yesterday when we safely sat and waited for Niece and Friend to return from Friend’s first time riding the steel beast.

Nephew is older now, and I could see the curiosity twinkling in his eye as he told me what he knew about Nitro while he watched a car roaring along its track. “It was designed by B and M,” he said, “and they have a great safety record.”

There was no doubt about it. He was ready to take the Nitro leap and I wasn’t about to let my fear hold him back.

Niece and Friend returned rather quickly since the wait time was a few minutes at best, and Friend absolutely loved the Nitro experience.

Nephew said that if Friend could do it, he could too.

All three looked at me with pleading eyes but I stubbornly shook my head. “You guys have a great time!” I said as I bid them farewell, then I walked over to where people on the ground could see Nitro’s ride cars leave the loading area. Nephew was safely seated between Niece and Friend as their car passed by, their arms flailing in enthusiastic waves.

“Bye!” they yelled in unison.

They returned 140 seconds later with Nephew wearing the widest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. He gave me a thumbs up from up on high as he jubilantly shrieked, “It was awesome!”

Dammit.

I knew what I had to do.

A minute later, they surrounded me as they jumped around in sheer excitement and joy. A chorus of “please?”s rose up.  Nephew looked me right in my eyes and said, “You can do it. I did it, and so can you.”

I remembered a story told by a colleague who was in a similar situation. Her grandson wanted her to go on a thrill ride with him, and her outlook was, “I can do anything for two minutes.”

Realizing that I could too, I sighed then nodded my head as I said, “Okay.”

A whoop emanated from all three as Niece took my hand to lead me to certain death.

“You’re lucky I love you,” I grumbled as we walked through the air gate to the seats in Row 4.

My pulse raced as I sat down between Niece and Nephew, with Friend to Nephew’s left. The yellow restraints locked and were subsequently checked by the ride attendants. It’s a good thing mine was secure because at the last second, I cried, “I don’t want to do this!” and I honestly would have ran if I could.

However, it was zero hour and flight was not an option.

After the “visual scan” and “all clear” over the loudspeaker by what I was sure was the Grim Reaper disguised as Nitro’s head supervisor, our car was set free.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

I closed my eyes and leaned my head as far back into my seat as possible. With each upward click, I squeezed Niece’s hand a little tighter. She, along with Nephew and Friend, found my reaction highly amusing. I think they were all laughing, but I can’t exactly remember because I was concentrating so hard on praying for redemption.

“Here we go, Aunt Jill!” Niece shouted as we reached Nitro’s summit.

This is it.

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

Within seconds, we were traveling down the 215-feet drop at the advertised eighty miles-per-hour.  I’m pretty sure my heart rate matched the number of expletives I let fly.

“I’m going to die! My eyes are closed! My eyes are open! No, they’re not! I’m going to die!”

Towards the end of the journey to my undeniable demise, Niece yelled, “Bunny hops!!”

I opened my eyes to see the blue and yellow hilly path we were on as we smoothly rode over each bump. It was surprisingly much smoother than the Runaway Mine Train bunny hops at the end of its path, that was for sure.

“Hold on!”

The car suddenly came to a halting stop.

And I was alive.

Sure, my legs were once again like jelly as we walked off the ride, and I felt a surge of electricity pulsing through my entire body.

But it was a good energy, and I did not die.

The sleek, wicked-fast roller coaster was one of the smoothest rides I’ve ever experienced, and the sensation of weightlessness was exhilarating.

I looked at Nephew, who threw his arms around me and exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you!” Niece and friend hugged me too. “You did it, Aunt Jill!”

Somewhere along the ride route, a remote camera snaps a photograph which is then displayed for about a minute or so on the monitors at the Nitro photo kiosk near the ride’s exit. The picture of our row featured three gleeful faces with arms up in the air and one red face screaming for mercy as she gripped onto the restraint for dear life.

We didn’t buy the photograph, but I’ll be able to picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life.

The unspoken question hovered in the air around us as we regrouped outside the ride.

It was answered by all four of us walking together once again through Nitro’s entrance.

Three minutes later, a photograph with four delighted smiles in our row flashed upon the photo kiosk’s screen.

2018 Roller Coaster: Nitro. Check mark achieved.

 

Nitro’s Check Mark“: Copyright 2018 – Jill Ocone. This post originally appeared on both the Soulseaker blog (www.soulseaker.com) and the personal blog of Jill Ocone (www.jillocone.com) on August 11, 2018. Views and opinions contained in this post are solely those of the author, who was not compensated in any way by any entity, including Six Flags Great Adventure, the Six Flags corporation, or their affiliates. All rights reserved.

Published: “Best of Both Worlds”

img_4871-1I am pleased to announce that my article “Adviser Update Adviser Update Winter 2018 Best of Both Worlds” was published in the Winter 2018 issue of the Dow Jones News Fund magazine Adviser Update.

“Best of Both Worlds” focuses on the MTHS journalism program’s transition from print-only news to online news. While our program is still working out kinks, the addition of online news changed the face of our program for the better.

Sadly, the Winter 2018 issue was the last issue of Adviser Update. I will miss reading this valuable resource and hearing about meaningful activities other journalism teachers and advisers incorporate with their students and programs.

Special thanks to fellow adviser Katina Paron, CJE, who was guest editor for the issue. Katina’s assistance and advice was extremely beneficial not only in writing my piece but in fueling my passion for writing.