The Message

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No, I’m not talking about the marvelous old school, classic rap song by Grandmaster Flash.

I’m talking about another message which recently revealed itself in a very mysterious manner.

My story takes place at the local food market, where I violated societal convention by going there the afternoon before Thanksgiving.

I know, I know, it’s utterly insane of me to think of doing such a thing, but we desperately needed potatoes for our family’s Thanksgiving feast.

I’m the kind of person who is easily distracted by shiny things, which is a blessing because this quality has made me more aware and appreciative of the details I might otherwise overlook.

However, I threw my awareness to the wayside on this particular trip as I seized control of a wagon and prepared to do battle in the produce section. I assumed my visit would be a quick in-and-out, absent of anything out of the ordinary, then I’d be finished with public interactions for the day.

But sometimes, the universe has other plans.

I sped past the outdoor displays of table-top trees and cinnamon-scented cornucopias when something shiny and blue caught my eye right before the market’s automatic door sensed my presence with its force-like capabilities.

I moved out of the traffic flow so the other day-before-Thanksgiving-food-market-thrill-seekers wouldn’t trample me, then I backtracked to the metallic blue beacon.

It was a little, painted rock with a beautifully scripted message in gold sitting all by itself on top of a garbage can. It read, “You have the power to change things. – God.”

Woah.

Every hair on my arms and legs stood at attention as I re-read the small rock’s massive message.

I thought about putting it in my pocket, but my inner voice guided me to leave it be.

I snapped a picture of the rock and went about my business, my preparations for a produce-aisle skirmish unnecessary as there were plenty of potatoes available.

When I left the store, the rock was still there on top of the same garbage can but in a different spot.

Someone else had picked it up and moved it. Maybe this person also considered keeping it, but in the end, he or she thought it better to leave the message for others as I did.

The rock hasn’t left my mind.

Obviously, a human made the rock, but the universe placed that message for some reason along my path on the day before Thanksgiving, which coincidentally would have been my father’s 78th birthday.

The universe works like that. 

A message from God adorned in gold on a lovely metallic-blue rock placed on top of a garbage receptacle, of all places, on my Dad’s birthday.

What does it mean?

I have faith the answer, or answers, will come in time.

Until then, I’m grateful I slowed down to see and receive the message.

Please join me in slowing down, especially during this time of year, to truly experience the season’s wonder and majesty and to appreciate the details and the messages along our path that might go unnoticed.

cropped-img_0764 Thanks for joining me on my journey. I’m glad you’re here.

With gratitude,

Jill

“The Message” was posted on jillocone.com  and on soulseaker.com on November 30, 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.

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?).

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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.

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.

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

 

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!

Published: Jersey Shore Magazine Spring 2019 Issue is Available!

img_3654I am pleased to share the Spring 2019 issue of Jersey Shore Magazine, in which I have three articles: Kohr’s Frozen Custard: Celebrating a Century of Cold, Creamy Goodness; Jersey Shore Profile: Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity, and Surf New Jersey.

I was amazed to learn about all of the good that both the Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity and its flagship source of funds, the ReStore, do for people living at the Jersey Shore. Jersey Shore Profile: Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity explains many programs and initiatives available for those who truly need assistance in the Jersey Shore area.

It’s not summer without a cone from Kohr’s, and this summer is noteworthy because the iconic Kohr’s Frozen Custard Seaside locations are gearing up to celebrate their 100-year anniversary. In Kohr’s Frozen Custard: Celebrating a Century of Cold, you can learn about the store history. Owner Greg Kohr is busy both at the helm of his stores and at the center of celebration planning and said that details about the celebration would soon be announced on the Kohr’s Frozen Custard: The Original Facebook Page.

I’m particularly proud of the Surf New Jersey article, which has been one of the most inspirational and energizing pieces I’ve ever written. While I love getting to know the people I interview and write about, interviewing local surf legends about the New Jersey Hall of Fame was simply blissful. I had the opportunity of visiting the New Jersey Surf Museum, which is located at Tuckerton Seaport, and man, what an awesome place! In fact, my article work has sparked an exciting mission to see what kind of books about the history of Jersey’s surf culture are out there. So far, I haven’t found any, and since the book I’m searching for doesn’t seem to exist, might I be so bold as to announce that, no matter how long it takes, I will write it. Stay tuned!

I also provided editorial content, editorial work, and several photographs found in the magazine issue.

Additionally, My work was featured on the New Jersey Education Association website today. I wrote an article titled Manchester Township High School Receives U.S. Flag Flown in Afghanistan Mission.

Finally, I’d like to share a post from fellow writer Mandi Bean, who eloquently described every obstacle I’ve faced as a writer. She’s someone I simply adore and I’m proud to be a member of her writing tribe. You can read her post by clicking here.

Should you be a practicing mathematician, I wish you Happy Pi Day!

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.

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’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.