Still SEAking, and Still Reflecting

Dear Friend,

In the months since I’ve been “retired” from posting at my personal blog titled SoulSEAker, my heart has felt its loss. It’s true that I found my voice and my purpose, which was the mission of SoulSEAker, but what I didn’t expect is the hole its absence would leave in my soul. I miss posting about life and what-not, although to quote Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles, “Life is not what-not, and it’s none of your business.”

I have come out of retirement and will resume posting on SoulSEAker with (hopeful) regularity like I used to back when I established it, and I plan to cross-post here as well. Writing is therapeutic and nourishing for me, and I assume there are others who might feel the same as I do. Perhaps my words will nourish them. Perhaps my voice will provide them with some much-needed hope and therapy.

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I include a picture from my 2016 trip to Dublin to accompany today’s post. Demolition on the former Tara Towers Hotel was completed last month. The Tara Towers Hotel played a huge role in my mission from the universe which led me to find myself. Its demolition coincides with both completely re-crafting draft seven of my novel titled Chapter One – A Novel, and with re-launching SoulSEAKER. Just as the owners of the former Tara Towers Hotel set their sights on building a brand-new, state-of-the-art and architecturally savvy hotel on the site, I am focused on re-crafting both my novel and SoulSEAKER to make each as appealing to my readers as possible.

Tara Towers serves as a visual reminder that it’s okay to tear it down and rebuild because its lessons and its influence will always be a part of my foundation. I’m grateful for the role Tara Towers had in my journey, for I would not be who I am today without it. Might sound silly to be grateful for a building, but to me, it’s so much more than that. And because I can see it as more than a dated hotel that needed a facelift, that’s what makes me unabashedly me.

I’m glad to be back at SoulSEAKER, and I’m glad you are with me for the ride. Thanks, friend.

With gratitude,

Jill

Copyright 2019 – 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 July 3, 2019. Views and opinions contained in this post are solely those of the author, who was not compensated in any way by any entity, including Maldron Hotels. All rights reserved.

Published in 2019 American Writers Review!

img_5527I am pleased to share that three of my poems appear in the 2019 American Writers Review, a multi-genre literary journal published by San Fedele Press and now available on Amazon in both book and Kindle format. 

The titles of my published poems are “The Sidewinder,” “Futility,” and “Cycle.”

It’s an honor for my poems to appear alongside the work of so many other wonderful writers from around the world.

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Digesting the Goodness

521c8921-b020-4a92-ae9c-89830ae4d8c2I sit here enjoying the silence, exhausted yet satisfied, after spending four intense days at the Yale Writers’ Workshop at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Had to insert a nod to one of my favorite songs from my own college experience, which did not end on a good note.

This experience, however, DID, on so many levels.

It’s true that everyone has their own shit going on, and most of us are orchestrated every day by a ridiculously rigid schedule, including me. My schedule from April leading up to the workshop was so slammed full, I couldn’t even fit a thin pencil line between events and responsibilities. Other writing events and conferences, editorial assignments, school-related tasks including yearbook distribution and end-of-year procedures, writing, family obligations, homework for my Yale workshop, and a never-ending list of chores related to moving and taking care of my uncle’s estate has stretched me thinner than a rubber band pulled back to its maximum length right before it breaks. I’m mystified that even though I came close to snapping a few times, I’m still in one piece like that rubber band.

As is true with my fellow sufferers of imposter syndrome, I did not think my writing was of the “Yale Writers’ Workshop” caliber. However, I literally had this quote appear in my social media feed right above an ad for the Yale Writers’ Workshop:

 

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
― Erin Hanson

With Hanson’s words resonating in my mind, I took a chance and applied despite my feelings of inferiority, believing I’d fail.

However, I realized it was time for me to fly as I wept tears of joy when I read my acceptance email on April 2.

I then cried for a different reason as I faced the truth I’d have to venture out of my comfort zone by driving on roads that frightened me to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

I promised myself that when it was time to go to Yale, I’d focus solely on the workshop and put all other distractions out of the way, including my feeds, my calendar, and whatever was scribbled on my to-do lists, both real and perpetual.

And I did just that, minus a few Instagram posts…hell, when I see a USPS mailbox decorated like R2D2, I must share!

59c71cb2-50ce-4535-a10f-7f59866ab7fcI’m humbled to have sat in the presence of twelve other phenomenal writers in my workshop titled “The First Ten Pages,” including my teacher, “Marlena” author Julie Buntin. Everyone was kind, enthusiastic, and inspiring as we spent four intense days workshopping the first ten pages of each other’s manuscripts, as well as hearing from speakers Steve Almond, Betsy Lerner, and Chaya Bhuvaneswar. I gained new friends, new insight, and new ideas to re-craft Chapter One-A Novel to make it the best it can be for the reader. I see it, and my intuition knows it is right. My vision will become a reality. I’m looking forward to reading the revised drafts written by my fellow attendees.

And, good news! I successfully navigated the way to and from New Haven surprisingly without any fear! I can do it!

I’m also still absorbing the wonderful advice I acquired from presentations by Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, and Colum McCann at the third annual Rutgers Writers’ Conference held the first weekend of June.

As I finish out the school year and digest the feedback about my novel, the first steps of Chapter One-A Novel’s re-crafting will begin tomorrow.

I plan to engage more with readers on my blog and to building a better platform over the summer while working on some other side projects.

I’m finally flying…man, my spirit guide would be so proud of me.

Thanks for accompanying me on my journey!

With gratitude, 

Jill

 

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.

Spring Forward, Setback

Keep on, keeping on, that’s what I’m doing tonight as I suck it up after receiving a rejection today for a creative nonfiction piece I submitted for publication consideration last month. I am extremely proud of the piece and had such a good vibe about it being accepted, but I was dead wrong. While I have received many a rejection, this particular one hit me in my gut despite its positive message and encouraging sentiments.

Surfboard with "Surf On"

Such is the life of a writer, I know, but, man…I really thought the piece was going to be accepted.

I’m not giving up, and if this piece and/or my novel titled “Chapter One-A Novel” are meant to be published, I’m confident that the universe will lead me to the right opportunity for each.

And if not, no worries…I spring forward into researching and writing about the history of wave riders here at home in New Jersey and surf on over this setback.

Surf on!

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!

I Loved Pitchapalooza!

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That’s me! I’m pitching Chapter One-A Novel in public for the first time.

I reached a milestone yesterday, and that was pitching Chapter One-A Novel in person for the very first time. Booktowne, a wonderful, independent bookstore in Manasquan, sponsored Pitchapalooza. The panel featured The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry and local author Patricia Perry Donovan, a previous Pitchapalooza winner.

Pitchapalooza is like an American Idol for writers. In order to qualify, authors had to purchase The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Eckstut and Sterry from Booktowne. All of the eligible author names were put into a basket. When an author’s name was randomly pulled, he/she had a minute to pitch their book. And yes, authors are cut off at the minute mark whether they are finished or not. Arielle, David, and Patricia would then critique the pitch, noting strengths while suggesting ways the author could improve. At the end of the evening, one author was selected as the winner, who would be introduced to an agent or publisher who is appropriate for his/her book.

I worked hard on my pitch for Chapter One-A Novel...it’s quite difficult to sum up over 90,000 words in about 150, which is roughly a minute. When I picked up my copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, I immediately read the section on “Perfecting Your Pitch.” On the day of Pitchapalooza, I got my pitch down to 58.5 seconds and practiced it several times.

When my name was called, I didn’t run or freak out at all. I confidently read my pitch for Chapter One-A Novel, which was over before I knew it. Patricia, Arielle, and David gave me excellent suggestions to improve my pitch, and I left feeling inspired and reassured about my writing.

It was very interesting to see the range of topics and genres that fellow authors proudly pitched to the panel, which included memoir, young adult, fantasy, children’s books, teaching memoir, and fictional novels like my Chapter One.

The winner was Gerry Gribbon. His pitch for a book that focuses on communication skills for graduates was outstanding. As an educator, I can say with first-hand knowledge that Gribbon’s book is much needed. Congratulations, Gerry! Your pitch set the bar and gave me an excellent example to strive for with my future pitches.

img_5333I am excited that both Arielle and David will be at the Rutgers Writing Conference in June. I am looking forward to revising my pitch and to hopefully having another chance to pitch Chapter One-A Novel to them at the conference. My goal is to memorize my pitch so I can flawlessly recite it without looking at it for the next go-around.

Thank you to Booktowne, the Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and to Patricia Perry Donovan for their valuable advice and for taking the time to encourage, inspire, and support new writers.

PS: Fellow author Mandi Bean attended Pitchapalooza with me, and she did a damn fine job pitching her latest novel Moody Blue! It’s not every day that a former student can STILL inspire her teacher, 12 years later and counting….

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.

 

“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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