It’s Bloomsday!

img_6305It’s June 16, and that can only mean one thing: It’s BLOOMSDAY!

Over the course of my journey as a writer, Bloomsday has become a poignant anniversary of sorts for me. It’s a special day to joyfully embrace the writer I am and the path I’ve traveled to get here, both literally and figuratively.

I lost a very special friend and colleague named Tara in December of 2013, which was followed by the unexpected passing of both my father and my father-in-law in 2014. Suffice it to say that it was an extremely dark time for me, a time when I could not see the light no matter how hard I tried to find it.

What I did see in the crowd on Grafton Street in Dublin in August of 2014 for a fleeting second, though, was a quick glimpse of shining red hair the same hue as Tara’s framing a face that was her twin.

I caught a glimpse of that hair and that face’s profile twice more in the Dublin crowd that day, and my neck was nearly wrenched from double-takes and fast glimpses.

The proverbial seed which changed my life for the better, was planted.

Tara was of Irish descent and with James Joyce as her favorite author, she wanted to travel to Dublin. I’ll never forget when she told me she someday hoped to see the sights he wrote about when we were standing in her classroom with the sun shining through the windows behind her.

It made complete sense to me that I observed her likeness in Dublin’s crowd on that fateful day. The fact I was still able to connect with her was calmly reassuring.

Fast forward to about a year later when Tara’s spirit made it clear that she still had work to do here on Earth.

I began to notice a lot of serendipitous signs after having an extremely vivid dream which provided a very weak blueprint of a story idea.  Tara was undoubtedly at the helm of the universe scattering those bread crumbs and everything was coming up Dublin.

I mean a whole over TEN PAGES of signs in my log.

So I went to Dublin.

Again.

I didn’t know why I was there or what I was supposed to do or see or feel. I planned my Dublin itinerary around James Joyce locations and worked in a trip to the Hill of Tara for obvious reasons. I looked through Tara’s eyes and walked in the footsteps she so wanted to walk in but never had the chance.

Suffice it to say my heart and my soul knew that, for the first time in my life, I was on the right path. I believed in the journey placed before me even though I didn’t know where it was leading me.

I found myself in Dublin again a year later. This trip was marked by a second visit to the James Joyce Tower in Sandycove. Forgive me for the lack of details, but my encounter at the top of the tower needs to stay between me, Tara, and the universe. That visit, though, ultimately changed my life for the better.

It’s now 2018, and I finished writing a book earlier this year.

Seriously.

I freaking wrote a book! Its backbone is very loosely based upon this extraordinary journey, but as I wrote, the characters and story took on its own plot, themes, symbols, and impact. It’s called Chapter One-A Novel, but I’m pretty sure you already know that.

Tara is obviously a huge inspiration, but what I didn’t expect is for James Joyce to also play such an inspirational role. Every time I looked upon a Joycean artifact or walked in his or his characters Leopold Bloom’s and Stephen Dedalus’ footsteps, I tried to do so while looking through Tara’s eyes, never expecting to be so deeply inspired. I found beauty in the mundane details of life and learned that the present moment is, indeed, everything.

Those lessons didn’t stay in Dublin. They are with me every day, no matter where my feet might be touching ground.

Joyce wrote in chaos. Joyce wrote stories that his soul needed to tell. I’ll admit that it was quite difficult to comprehend everything going on in his books, especially Ulysses, and that I had to reread his works a lot to fully grasp them.

Joyce’s examples and creations taught me, most importantly, who I am.

Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses takes place on one day: June 16, 1904. He specifically chose that day for Leopold Bloom to wander around Dublin because he met his future bride, Nora Barnacle, in Dublin on June 16, 1904, outside of Finn’s Hotel (which still stands).

Bloomsday is celebrated by Joycean fans every year on June 16. Someday, I hope to be in Dublin to take part in its true reverie by celebrating with other Joycean revelers.

For now, I celebrate BLOOMSDAY here at the Jersey Shore because if it wasn’t for Tara leading me to James Joyce, I would not be penning this post.

I would not have written my first novel.

I would not be a writer.

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The James Joyce Statue on Earl Street by The Spire (and she’ll toast him too I’m sure!)

That’s why I celebrate BLOOMSDAY.

Today I’ll toast Tara with gratitude for our friendship that transcends the boundaries of our individual worlds.

Today I’ll toast James Joyce and his tremendously unexpected inspiration.

Today I’ll toast them both for leading me to ME.

I trust the journey, I shut my eyes and see, and here I am.

Happy Bloomsday, friends!

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I’m Energized and Inspired

img_6101That’s exactly how I feel, energized and inspired. I attended the second annual Rutgers Writers’ Conference on June 2-3, 2018, and its euphoric aura still surrounds me.

The conference began with keynote speaker Alice Hoffman. Both her keynote speech and her session about creating a book of linked short stories were inspirational and motivating. She was real. She was down to earth and shared a lot of information and advice for both novice and experienced writers alike. Some of my favorite takeaways from Alice Hoffman:

  • “I write stories for people, especially women, who cannot tell their own stories.”
  • “Sometimes you’ve got to write a book on pure instinct.”
  • No one can write the way you do. You have a single voice influenced by your experience, especially from reading as a child.
  • Your voice is your voice just like your fingerprint is your fingerprint.
  • The fear of the blank page is huge.
  • If you set a deadline for yourself you can do it. We can make ourselves write by setting our own deadlines, even when life gets in the way.
  • When you write a story, you are weaving or knitting the tale together: it’s the PROCESS of making the sweater, not the sweater. “I’m trying to weave straw into gold.”

I was so excited to learn from Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, aka The Book Doctors, again. I attended their two sessions titled Perfecting Your Pitch and How to Get Published Today and came away with a wealth of wonderful information. During lunch, they held Pitchapalooza, and I was actually one of the twenty people selected! After I delivered my pitch (which I revised with suggestions they both made after my May Pitchapalooza pitch), I was overwhelmed by their positive reactions. Both remembered me and said my pitch this time around had immensely improved. While I wasn’t the winner, I am proud that I was confident while I delivered the best pitch possible. Both David and Arielle are role models and I hope to one day emulate their success and their ease at speaking to large groups.

Another writer I learned a lot from was Sunday’s keynote speaker, Chris Bohjalian. I don’t want to go into detail yet, but the two sessions he led were sprinkled with many breadcrumbs and serendipitous signs, one of which has developed into a book idea whose seeds were planted along my journey two years ago. Chris mentioned the right terms and, more importantly, I realized he mentioned those words. His influence goes beyond his message, and I am quite excited about the possibility of this book idea actually becoming a reality now that Chapter One-A Novel is complete.

Fate led me to sit at the right table and I made new friends with other writers who I have much in common with. I enjoyed the time I spent talking with and supporting these fellow writers because it’s not that often I find people who are a part of my tribe.

img_6085The Rutgers Writers’ Conference was a fabulous event. When I filled out my feedback form, I couldn’t list one way the conference could improve next year because, in my eyes, it was absolutely perfect. I look forward to attending the conference next year. Save the date if you’d like to join me! June 1-2, 2019.

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.

 

Reinvigorated and Re-Inspired

img_4992Last week, I attended a writing event titled Writing on the River: A Spring Retreat for Teachers held at the Oyster Point Hotel. It was sponsored by Project Write Now, which is a non-profit organization in Red Bank, New Jersey.

The Writing on the River event was simply lovely. What I liked most about it was that while most participants were educators, everyone there was also a writer and THAT’s the identity we were able to don. No talking about standards, goals, objectives, testing, or the like.

We were WRITERS and were able to nurture the WRITER inside us all.

I felt like I was part of a wonderful community throughout the whole day. Leah Mermelstein was the keynote speaker and she spoke about sharing our writing and how to transfer those skills to the classroom so our student writers have more of a voice.

We were given plenty of time to freewrite in response to prompts and the like, and the food was outstanding.

The day was definitely inspiring and a catalyst to fuel my writing in many ways.

However, there’s one thing I did that I am particularly proud of, and the paragraph below is what I wrote after becoming part of something that was bigger than just me:

I’ve never been into “fan participation” things ever since I was forced to participate at the Busch Gardens Bavarian House when I was a kid. Scarred for life by those German dancers who pulled me onstage as I fought against it, my parents laughing the whole time while I was terrified. Those permanent scars made me tense up when I heard that we were going to be in a drum circle. I was afraid at first, apprehensive and uncomfortable. Part of me wanted to run away, but I took my seat and secured the drum that was given to me with my feet. I had no idea what was going to happen, which added to my discomfort. As the leader began, he would drum a beat on the side and on the front of his drum for two different pitches, and we would echo. And it wasn’t that bad at all. I liked the repetition of the beat as it went on and my drum was in time with the others, and when it wasn’t, it was no big deal. It was good for me to try something new that was completely out of my comfort zone. I definitely awakened my inner 3-year-old.

One of my other freewrites from the day is below. I am very grateful to the three women who planned the Writing on the River event, Jennifer, Colleen, and Lisa. They did a wonderful job planning a meaningful and inspiring day.

My Freewrite #2:

Miniatures: A Reflection

I have an affinity for little things, the tiniest of the figures, the smaller the better, even smaller than dollhouse size. I don’t know where this stems from, but it is innate.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always seen myself as small and insignificant. Even the grocery store’s automatic door sometimes doesn’t open when I step on it. Truth.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to feel that maybe I do matter, if only to the universe. Maybe my place in this world isn’t so small, after all.

My heart is full of love for my family.

I know my words are needed.

No longer do I apologize for being human.

I know we’ve all got our own proverbial shit to deal with.

Authentic is the life I want to live and be as

True to myself as possible.

Under no circumstances will I lie to myself ever again.

Right on, I say, Right on to

Every experience

So long as I shall life.

There’s nothing miniature about that approach to live moving forward.

The littlest is the mightiest.

Miniatures, so big and so awesome.

 

Jersey Shore Magazine Spring 2018 Issue is online!

img_4755I’ve been a writer and editor for Jersey Shore Publications for four years and counting, and I absolutely love the gig. I wrote two Beachcomber articles in the Spring 2018 issue of Jersey Shore Magazine, which recently went live online.

My article in the Spring 2018 titled “A Solidarity Shaped by Surfing” tells the story of a Luthringer Longboard that hangs in the atrium of the One Ocean Boulevard condominium complex in Seaside Heights. I absolutely adored this assignment, and I think the article demonstrates my best work to date. I love surfing and surf culture, and finally having the opportunity to write about it was incredibly fulfilling.

A clam-digger since birth, the Jersey Shore culture and lifestyle runs through my veins and inhabits my soul, everything from salt water and surfing, to sea shells and boardwalks. Before 2014, I always loved picking up Jersey Shore Magazine, and as I’d page through the issue, I’d privately wish for the opportunity to be a writer for the publication. That wish came true when one of my oldest and dearest friends put in a good word for me with my now-boss who heads Jersey Shore Publications, and my first piece about the history of a building in downtown Point Pleasant Beach was published in the 2014 Spring issue.

Since then, I’ve been a regular contributor of Beachcomber articles, feature articles, and editorial content including calendar of events and local seasonal guides, to name a few. I’m forever indebted to my boss, George, for both the opportunity to write about topics close to my heart and for his professional feedback.

Jersey Shore Magazine can be found at retailers all along the Jersey Shore, as well as online. 

 

“Chapter One” is finished!

The idea first hit me in August of 2014 while in Dublin…it pulled my heartstrings and magnified my grief in losing a friend to the point of almost a lost obsession…

Then the universe began sprinkling clues like breadcrumbs, and once I started paying attention to them, I accumulated over ten pages of signs…

I journeyed twice more to Dublin without knowing why or what the hell I was doing there…

but now I do.

And Dublin trip number four is booked for July 2018, my celebratory victory tour, so to speak.

Over the course of the past three years, I devoted countless hours and days to crafting the story of Kelly Lynch and her friend, Shannon Moran. I ultimately surprising even myself as my initial story idea took off on its own, unique course, and held its own through fruition.

All of a sudden, I wrote the last word without even realizing it at the time that it was THE LAST WORD.

I burst into tears as I realize that the draft was technically done.

An intense round of editing followed over the course of the past few weeks, and now?

I AM DONE.

And I cried tears of joy again.

CHAPTER ONE, a novel by Jill Ocone, is finished. Complete.

How does it feel?

I truly feel like a different person now that Chapter One is finished. I feel…..well, astonished that I did it, in disbelief that I did it, in awe that I did it, and…..

It’s very hard for me to describe how I feel, other than it’s an awesomely overwhelmingly satisfied sense of accomplishment.

I set out to do something, and I accomplished my goal. I mean, I REALLY DID IT.

As I crafted a story that the universe brought to me, a story that needed to be told, I learned a lot about myself in the process. I accepted who I am, just like how my main character, Kelly Lynch, learned to accept herself.

I also know that there are many more words to be strung together and stories to tell.

Above all else, I learned that I am, indeed, a writer, just like Kelly Lynch learns in Chapter One.

Life imitating art that imitates life?

It’s pretty freaking awesome.

There’s a litany of thank-yous to come, but I must thank my spirit guides, Tara (Hey, You!) and Nick (You, Too!).

Chapter One is for you both. Thanks for guiding me along this spectacular journey.

I have begun reaching out to literary agents and publishers with confidence that the universe will lead me to the right opportunity to take Chapter One to the next level.

And if nothing ever comes of it, no worries. I fulfilled my destiny as dictated by the universe and will trust the journey, no matter the outcome.

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A Manifesto for 2018

We are once again standing on the cusp of a new year.

It’s a time every year when my failures each ring their own bell and demand my attention. “Look at me,” they each scream. “Look at me! Don’t forget the detour I created! You suck and are teeming with regret at the sight of me!”

Frigging bastards.

When looking ahead to a new calendar, I’ve tended to play the victim and blame my failures and shortcomings on my self-perceived inadequacies, half of which are undoubtedly formed by unrealistic societal expectations.

I’ve also blamed time: there’s not enough, or there’s too much.

Either way, I’m continually thrown off the path that I believed would lead me to attaining my goals, yet while I paved it with good intentions, I also paved it with excuses chock full of my own bullshit.

The cycle of getting nowhere very quickly happens every year because I allow it to.

That stops now.

There’s no resolutions for me this year.

No, sir.

Instead, my goal from today forward is to live the hell out of every minute of this extraordinary life and truly cherish the miracle that is the present moment.

Whether I am writing, swimming, driving, exploring, laughing with family and friends, teaching…whatever I am doing, I will give myself fully to that miraculous moment.

The fact that I’m sitting here all snug and warm, with a cup of hot coffee to my left and quiet music playing as snowflakes delicately dance down from the clouds to the ground…there’s so tiny miracles right here in this present moment, miracles that I always took for granted or overlooked.

What matters, I mean what truly matters, is this moment.

I am alive.

And so are you.

This is a time of rebirth, a time to take those lessons from past failures and regret, be thankful for them, and apply their wisdom while moving forward.

No more bowing down to society’s expectations or to feeding the trolls of self-deprecation. I am not inadequate and I do matter, if only to myself.

It’s time to live the hell out of this one and precious life I’ve been given, because I am not promised a tomorrow. Wasting time is no longer an option, either.

I will live with those who are alongside me in real life and for those who are alongside me in spirit.

I will be a beacon of kindness and empathy as I look to stand alongside my fellow humans with understanding and compassion.

I will be grateful for everything I experience and for everyone I interact with.

Most importantly, I will embrace and celebrate the moments extraordinary that fill my days with joy and with purpose as I pursue my passions with conviction.

Let’s do this, 2018!

With gratitude and joy,

Jill