Still SEAking, And Still Reflecting…

Dear Friend,

In the months since I’ve been “retired” from posting here at 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 here with (hopeful) regularity like I used to back when I established SoulSEAker. 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. I’m glad to be here. And I’m glad you are with me for the ride. Thanks, friend.

With gratitude, 

Jill, author of “SoulSEAker”

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.

Radio Days: American Top 40

Radio music provided the soundtrack to my life as a youngster. Remember those long-distance dedications and waiting to hear what song would be number one for the week? Well, a local radio station plays original broadcasts of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem countdowns every Saturday morning, and listening to it has become one of my favorite parts of the week.

This week’s countdown from March 26, 1983 is a literal time machine, and I’m allowing myself to travel back as I listen to Casey Kasem’s quintessential voice and the top hits from 35 years ago on this chillingly sunny March morning…

I was twelve years old and in sixth grade, and man, was life simple back then. The only stresses were math homework and figuring out what route to take as I aimlessly wrote my bicycle around my neighborhood. Saturday morning cartoons and Battle of the Network Stars were still the things to watch, and the patchouli-reeking maze of stores called Peddler’s Village over in Wall Township was still the place to wander on a rainy weekend day to buy stickers, feather clips, and pencils with fuzzy toppers.

Whatever happened to Christopher Cross and Joe Jackson? In retrospect, I realize I like both of them and just added a few songs by each to my playlist for the upcoming week.

Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle, and a dash of Anne Murray and Barry Manilow thrown in here and there…these artists were on constant rotation in our olive-green shagged-carpet family room that hid many a Star Wars figure’s small blaster within its threads…never thought those soft voices could ever be a trigger, but I digress….

Are the songs Little Red Corvette, Down Under, Allentown, and Stray Cat Strut really this old? Sidebar: I distinctly remember receiving Down Under as a 45 record for my birthday in February 1982. In fact, I think I still have it somewhere in my John Travolta record case that is buried deep in my attic.

Der Komissar! I’m creeping around dancing to this one like a secret agent. Not sure what that means, but that’s what I’m doing…don’t turn around…Der Komissar’s in town!

We didn’t have MTV yet in my house in 1983, but NBC aired a two-hour long show called Friday Night Videos. Knight Rider and Friday Night Videos were the first two shows we taped on our brand-new VCR, and I’d watch those videos over and over. I always believed the story about the video for Michael Jackson’s Beat it casting real gang members, but my father tried his best to set my warped thinking straight. “Look at how they dance. Gang members wouldn’t be able to dance like that,” he said, or something along those lines. Guess what? I just looked it up and apparently, I WAS RIGHT!!!! They WERE gang members! I also wanted to go to that diner in the video because, for some reason, I thought the food would be really good.

The zombies in the video for Jeopardy by The Greg Kihn Band freaked me out. I can picture them in my mind as clearly as if I saw them yesterday.

And speaking of my dearly departed father, he loved the song Come On Eileen, but in true dad fashion, he did not have a clue about what the lyrics really were (you in that dress, my thoughts I confess verge on dirty). I would cringe every time he’d sing the main chorus of Come On Eileen and the ‘to ra loo ra too ra loo rye eye’ part to a young girl named Eileen in Sunday church. I fear thinking about the possibility of ramifications gone viral if he did such a thing in 2018.

A rush of images from walking home from middle school flooded my brain when One on One by Hall and Oates began to play. The mood quickly switched to wanting to victoriously punch my fist in the air to the beat of Separate Ways by Journey, and before I knew it, I’m back in my friend Susan’s closet eating Smurfberry Crunch listening to Mr. Roboto by Styx. Ironically, I live on her street now, but she moved away a long time ago.

Yes! Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran! I still write this down on any and all school dance/prom song request lists that appear in my classroom, but for some reason, it’s never played.

The number two song is Do You Really Want to Hurt Me. Boy George’s voice is simply entrancing, and Culture Club is scheduled to perform this summer at a local outdoor concert venue. I really wish I could go but I’m going to be in Dublin.

And the number one song for the week is….drum roll please….

Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. As soon as the opening note drops, the highlight reel from one of my best moments as a teacher begins to play in my mind’s theater. How is it possible that the secret closing number during the December 2007 fund raiser happened more than ten years ago? The quote “In life, there is no five-minute intermission” was born that evening by a young man named Matt, and it’s morphed into one of my mantras for life. Special times and special memories with special people who walked through my journey for sure, and the value of this memory is worth millions.

It often blows my mind that while I might have trouble remembering what I did yesterday, I can recall, no problem, the words to many of these 35-year-old songs. This trip down memory lane today was a good one, and today’s soundtrack surely helped form the person I am today.

Here’s the full list of American Top 40 Hits from March 26, 1983 as per Casey Kasem’s countdown.

40: So Close – Diana Ross

39: I Don’t Care Anymore – Phil Collins

38: Winds of Change – Jefferson Starship

37: I Like It – Debarge

36: My Kind of Lady – Supertramp

35: I Won’t Hold You Back – Toto

34: Even Now – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

33: Dreaming is Easy – Steel Breeze

32: Just You and I – Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle

31: She Blinded Me With Science – Thomas Dolby

30: Lies – Thompson Twins

29: Make Love Stay – Dan Folgelberg

28: Change of Heart – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

27: Little Red Corvette – Prince

26: Allentown – Billy Joel

25: Poison Arrow – ABC

24: Down Under – Men at Work

23: Baby Come to Me – Patti Austin and James Ingram

22: Breaking Us In Two – Joe Jackson

21: Stray Cat Strut – The Stray Cats

20: Little Too Late – Pat Benetar

19: All Right – Christopher Cross

18: I’ve Got a Rock and Roll Heart – Eric Clapton

17: Fall In Love With Me – Earth, Wind, and Fire

16: Der Kommisar – After the Fire

15: Beat It – Michael Jackson

14: Jeopardy – The Greg Kihn Band

13: I Know What’s Going On – Frida

12: Shame on the Moon – Bob Segar and The Silver Bullet Band

11: Come on, Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

10: Twilight Zone – Golden Earring

9: One on One – Hall and Oates

8: Separate Ways – Journey

7: Mr. Roboto – Styx

6: We’ve Got Tonight – Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton

5: Back on the Chain Gang – The Pretenders

4: You Are – Lionel Richie

3: Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran

2: Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club

1: Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

I did it!

I apologize for my long absence from posting here on SoulSEAker, but I was among the missing for a good reason: I finished writing my novel! If you’ve been a long-time follower, you know that this has been a project for over two years in the making. Chapter One – A Novel by Jill Ocone is the result of opening my eyes and believing in the universe. There’s no doubt that two special spirit guides helped me along the way, and I am forever indebted to both of them.

What is most satisfying is that as I wrote, the story took its own shape and form. The original idea that came to me in August of 2014 is still the backbone of the story, but the plot took form as I typed, and things happened that I never expected. The story’s timeline just happened as I was writing. I am, indeed, a real author/writer now!

While I plan on still posting here, I will also be posting specifically about my journey as an author/writer over at jillocone.com. I invite you to visit me over there and check out my professional site. There’s a synopsis of Chapter One posted over there, as well as a form to request a sample copy if you are interested. If not, no worries!

My “mission from the universe”, however, is far from complete. I’ve begun querying agents and publishers in hopes that I am guided to the right opportunity to take Chapter One to the next level. If nothing comes of it, or if everything comes from it, I’m happy regardless of the outcome. I accomplished what I set out to do, even though I had no idea what that was two years ago. I’ve already reached the milestone of receiving my first rejection, and that excites me! Again, I’m a real author now!

Your support has made my journey all the more meaningful, and I am extremely thankful for YOU.

Today is a snow day here in the northeast, and I plan to use part of my day to plot out an idea that again came to me in a dream which could be my second novel.  Here’s hoping! Be safe, my friend!

 

Let’s LIVE This August!

Since I’m feeling almost exactly the same way today, I decided to reblog my post from the beginning of August 2016 with some minor updates…read on:

August is like the Sunday of Summer.

It sure is.

Don’t get me wrong…I still love every summer day. I just want to hold onto Summer so much. It’s my season, when I am my best self.

June is a new beginning, a giant sigh of relief. It’s full of opportunity and wonder, like January 1 kicks off every year. Anything is possible. It’s refreshing and reassuring. It’s also deceiving, leading us on to believe that there’s plenty of time to get our summer “to do” and “to enjoy” lists completed.

Then comes July, which is like my favorite pillow. I can hug it a thousand times, or play with it over and over, and it never loses its shape. It’s there when I wake, and when I say goodnight to the day. I can sleep soundly with that comforting pillow, free from worries and nightmares. It reassures me that tomorrow is another day when I can still start fresh, no need to really be concerned about the passing days…

As July wanes into August, things change again, ever so subtly. Each day is now filled with a little more urgency. Sunsets get earlier as the sun’s early evening slant changes its angle and becomes less intense day by day. Many of the bright summer flowers have lost their blooms, and nights become slightly cooler by the week. I look back at June and July, and wonder where the hell those days went. I then look ahead at what’s still on my summer goal lists, removing a few because there’s no longer enough time to accomplish everything I had hoped to do.

The lone cricket’s serenade that woke me early this morning affirmed that yes, it is indeed August already.

So, what do we do now?

Let’s live in the present and forget our lists.

Let’s turn off our notifications and stop being a slave to technology.

Let’s hold onto each moment, to each day, to each experience.

Let’s notice the breeze blowing through our hair and feel the rain on our skin.

Let’s put our feet in the salt water and find eternity in the waves.

Let’s savor the ice cream cone, the watermelon, the corn on the cob, the peaches and plums.

Let’s laugh and sing with family and friends.

Let’s be grateful for all that we have, for all that we are, for all that we do, and for all in our lives.

Let’s face each day without worry, without fear, and without strings attached.

Let’s soak up every single second of August without leaving any wasted time behind.

Let’s live.

Let’s live this August.

 

Growing Pains

Last week, I watched Inside Out for probably the tenth time. I’ll be honest and admit that I am 46 years old, yet I tear up at a few of the scenes in the film. Spoiler alert here…if you plan on seeing the movie someday and don’t want to know anything about the plot, I’d suggest you stop reading here and move along…

OK, since you’re still reading, I’ve either peaked your interest, you’ve already seen the movie, or you didn’t pay attention…if that’s the case, SNAP OUT OF IT BEFORE I RUIN THE FILM FOR YOU! 😊

Anyway, especially at the end of Inside Out, when Joy realizes she needs Sadness…man, I’m a blubbering idiot watching Riley cry because she’s been trying to put a positive face on for her parents but is really sad about moving. It’s in that moment that Joy realizes that her favorite core memory from Riley’s life is also Sadness’ but for different reasons. Joy and Sadness need each other to work, as do Anger, Disgust, and Fear.

There’s another part in Inside Out that absolutely kills me. It’s when Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from her childhood, and Joy are trying to escape the “memory” dump to get back to Sadness and the control center. They sing the ‘Bing Bong’ song to power his rocket:

Who’s your friend who likes to play?

Bing Bong, Bing Bong

His rocket makes you yell “Hooray!”

Bing Bong, Bing Bong

Who’s the best in every way, and wants to sing this song to say

Bing Bong, Bing Bong!

Bing Bong realizes they are too heavy to make it to the top of the cavern, and on the last attempt, he jumps off and Joy soars forward in the rocket. Joy looks back as she clears the dump, and Bing Bong waves as he slowly disappears, which symbolizes Riley maturing to a point where she’ll forget her childhood imaginary friend.

Cue the crying. Holy crap, I’m a mess.

I remember that time in my life, teetering between childhood and young personhood but not quite ready to leap forward, with one particular memory crystal clear in my mind’s eye. I was swinging on the swing set in my back yard, somewhere around 9 or 10 years old, and I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore but I didn’t want to grow up just yet. I cried so hard in that moment, and even though it was so long ago, it feels like it was yesterday.

Without children of my own, it’s harder for me to relate to such a lesson as a parent. I imagine the parents reading this can recall not only a similar moment in their own lives when they were faced with having to forge ahead into young personhood from childhood, but the moments when their children made that leap as well.

I did, however, experience a small episode of a disappearing Bing Bong last week. While at the boardwalk with my two nephews, the six-year-old H wanted to go on the ride with the boats. As he walked up to hand his ticket card, the ride attendant pointed at the sign indicating the maximum height of riders, and H was a smidge too tall to go on the ride. This was the first time he was too big for any of the rides. He looked at me with a quivering lip and tear-filled eyes, then ran over to me and hugged me tight as he let those tears out. And I let him cry it out while I held him tight, crying inside myself but trying to keep a strong exterior so that I didn’t further upset him or his brother. Within a minute, he regrouped and we moved on to ride the balloon Ferris wheel ride, where all three of us were the acceptable height.

This two-minute long experience made me realize that it’s got to be so much harder for parents watching their own children cross that threshold from childhood to young personhood. My sympathies are truly with you.

Watching Bing Bong dissolve a day later brought that look of sadness on H’s face flooding back to memory. I cried a little harder at this part in the movie this time because I thought of H and how his own personal Bing Bong was a tad less clear than it had been earlier in the month.

That’s the sucky part about maturing and growing up. Life has its stages and it’s all part of our plan, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. H is growing up, as we all do, and it’s not easy. What I can do for H is to be there ready with hugs and understanding whenever he needs me. That goes for all of my nieces and nephews.

I get it.

Yesterday, I took my very own pinwheel out of my shed and let it blow in the breeze. Then I bounced my purple ball on the sidewalk a few times. I blew some bubbles into the air and spun around. I hugged my Mickey Mouse, Pusheen cat, Boba Fett, dinosaur, and tiger stuffed toys, then stacked a few of my Tsum Tsum figures in new formations.

Earlier today, I received a text from my sister-in-law with a picture of a rare, new Tsum Tsum figure the boys got in a blind bag. They were both excited to show it to me.

And I was even more excited to know they finally got their three peas in a pod.

My own, personal Bing Bong is as clear and as bright and as alive as he ever was.

What’s There To Be Afraid Of, Anyway?

Summer 2017, Day 4: June 24

I woke up this morning to my phone vibrating like crazy with a slew of severe thunderstorm alerts.

I used to be very afraid of thunderstorms until two years ago when I was at a local amusement with my nephew, then 10, and some terrible storms came through. We were standing outside under an awning, and he was a little uneasy about the situation. I couldn’t let on that, inside, I was curling up in the fetal position with my fingers in my ears because I didn’t want to further freak him out. So I pretended that the storms didn’t bother me. I remained calm on the outside despite hearing the sizzle of lightning and the crack of the thunder close at hand. I pointed out different things to look at, like the family dancing in the rain and the people who would run past at top speed every two minutes. We both laughed as we tried to predict when the next person would come screaming through with a bag over their head and shoes in their hand. Within a few minutes, the worst of it passed us and we ended up having a stellar time because almost everyone else left the park. The rides were ours and ours alone for the remainder of the night. I learned two valuable lessons that day. One was to sing and laugh in the rain, and I wrote a post about that lesson in January 2016 (click anywhere in this sentence to read it).

The other was that there was nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t control the lightning or the thunder, so why had I let the thunder and the lightning control me?

What was there, really, to be afraid of?

Nothing.

The lighting and the thunder would do what it does, regardless of how I feel about it.

Could I ever, truly, prevent the worst from happening?

No.

So when I woke up to the alerts this morning, I didn’t retreat to the floor in the fetal position with my fingers in my ears covered by a blanket. Instead, I opened the blinds and watched the water pummel down from the clouds, making little waterfalls on the trees and the leaves and the neighbor’s roof. There was no thunder and no lightning, but if there was, I would have watched it instead of hiding from it.

Now, let’s take that a step further.

If I look at other things I’m afraid of with the same logic, why do I let fear run the show?

What’s the worst that could happen if, say, I got on that big roller coaster?

Or better yet, what’s the worst that could happen if I took a chance on my writing and stopped using fear as an excuse?

I was afraid of thunder and lightning for almost 44 years.

Did the worst ever happen?

No.

If I take a chance and get on that roller coaster, I’m 99.9% sure the worst isn’t going to happen. And as a wise friend once said, I can do anything for a minute and a half.

I think it’s time to consider getting on that roller coaster ride.

And it’s time to move forward with my novel. I’ve wasted enough time because I’m afraid I’m not taking the right path with the story line.

I’ve just got to trust the path that I choose to take for my characters and go with it, regardless of my trepidation.

What’s the worst that could happen if it’s not the right path?

I’ll simply just start over again.

No worries.

And no fear.

 

 

 

A Letter to Two Heroes, Revisited On This Memorial Day

I have always remembered the reason for Memorial Day and Memorial Day weekend and have honored it by remembering those lost, going to a ceremony or two, putting flags in my yard, wearing red, white, and blue, or raising awareness through my writing. For me, the true meaning hit home twice, in 2010 and 2011, when two very special young men who spent time in my classroom paid the ultimate sacrifice, each with immense courage and bravery.

One is Sergeant Ronald A. Kubik, Army Ranger, and the other is Lance Corporal Nicholas S. Ott, United States Marine Corps.

Both are forever heroes.

On Friday, I taught my current journalism and English 11 students about these two heroes who sat in the same seats as them at some point in their lives. It’s important to me to keep Ron and Nick’s legacies alive with the hope that today’s generation can learn from them and possibly emulate something from each of their examples in their own lives. I am now toying with the idea of writing a curriculum unit for other teachers to use in their classrooms, not just necessarily focusing on Nick and Ron but on other New Jersey heroes lost in all conflicts.

Below is a letter to Ron and Nick that I originally wrote and posted in 2015. I updated it for 2017 as my thanks and tribute to both of them on this Memorial Day.

May 29, 2017

Dear Ron and Nick,

It’s been 15 and 13 years, respectively, that you were students in my English class.  You both sat at a desk for 180 days, Ron during 9th grade and Nick during 11th grade, and spent 50 minutes every day writing, reading, learning vocabulary, completing assignments, and earning your grade.  And during those 180 days, each of you made a lasting impact and taught lessons to someone who was supposed to be teaching you.

Ron, I will never forget how you read “Of Mice and Men” aloud in your best British accent, yet you read your part in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” with a thick, southern accent.  Laughter, that’s what I remember.  Pure laughter.  I remember you enjoyed writing, but as a freshman, you didn’t want to admit it.  How I wish I kept some of your essays and reflections, for they were good…much better than a typical 9th grader’s writing.  I remember your pride in your hometown, your blue mohawk, and your incredible effort on the football field, playing each game like it was the super bowl.  It wasn’t the same when you moved away, and there was a huge hole of missing spirit that couldn’t be filled by anyone else.  I am aware of the legacy you left at Manasquan High School and how you are still an inspiration in that building. Through the magic of social media, we caught up after you graduated and I enjoyed seeing the pictures of you in your band, and then as an Army Ranger.  I am sure the United States Army immediately knew that they were getting one of the best of the best. I know that you absolutely loved it when some of my students called you a badass merely from my verbal description of you. Then when they saw your pictures? Yeah. You loved every minute of their reactions and are still basking in that glow.

Nick, your smile and your work ethic are what I most remember about you.  No matter what it was you were doing, you always your best…in the classroom, on the field, on the stage…and you never, ever complained.  More often than not, you surprised even yourself by doing better than you ever expected, even though at times you weren’t a fan of what we were studying.  And that smile…that big, wonderful smile, with that impish spirit behind it…there’s no other smile like it.  I fondly remember your part in The Varsity Lettermen’s TWO acts for Hawkapalooza, working hard to perfect each routine, and selecting that perfect dress for your costume, the powder blue shift with the rhinestone broach.  That moment of greatness and sheer joy has never been matched on the Hawkapalooza stage since, except maybe the secret, surprise return of The Varsity Letterman the following year.  One of the best days in my life was the last time I saw you, when you were home on leave and stopped by the school for a visit after classes let out.  I was having an extremely bad day and wanted nothing more than to go home, and I got a call from the main office that someone was here to see me. That was the last thing I wanted, but my anguish was quickly replaced with excitement and happiness as I saw you round the corner of the hallway with that smile beaming as you walked down to my classroom.  We spent about 90 minutes catching up and talking, and those are the best 90 minutes I ever spent in my life.  While I don’t have a photograph of that moment, the picture in my mind’s eye is crystal clear, like it happened yesterday.

Words cannot express the extreme heartache and sadness that I, along with so many others, felt upon hearing the news that each of you had passed away.  In fact, I remember exactly where I was standing when I got the news about each of you.  Yet, upon learning that so many others were saved because of each of your actions, I had two new heroes to look up to for the rest of my life.

Not a day goes by when I do not think of both of you.  Several times every year, but especially on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I share your stories with my students who sit in the same desks that you did…stories of heroism, of bravery, and of courage.

I am forever grateful for the lessons you, the students, taught me, the teacher:

  • Actions, not words, matter.
  • Make your dreams a reality.
  • Put others before yourself.
  • Have an amazing life.

Thank you, Nick and Ron, for your lessons, for your sacrifice, and for leaving footprints along my life’s journey that can never be erased.  I will do my best to continue sharing your legacies and your stories for as long as I can.

With my utmost admiration, gratitude, honor, and respect.

Not everyone has a connection to someone to honor on Memorial Day. If you don’t, please visit my links below so you can learn more about Sgt. Ronald A. Kubik and Cpl. Nicholas S. Ott. You can also pick someone to learn about by visiting the NJ Run for the Fallen Honor Wall and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial & Museum Wall of Faces.

Regardless of your politics, I urge you to take a moment this weekend to honor what the day means and stands for. Educate the young people in your life about the true meaning of Memorial Day and about real heroes like Nick and Ron and the thousands of others who gave their lives for the United States of America. Attend a local ceremony or service for an hour, and/or join in the National Moment of Silence at 3 PM Tomorrow.

Thank you to all the men and women who gave their lives while serving our country. I am grateful for your sacrifice and I honor your memory.

Until next time,

Jill

Image from NJ Run for the Fallen
Image from NJ Run for the Fallen

Image from Her Beautiful Monster - Mandi Bean
Image from Her Beautiful Monster – Mandi Bean

An Opportunity for Inspiration from Colm Toibin

It’s not often that big name creatives make their way to the Jersey Shore. Usually, the musicians and writers I’d love to see perform are either in New York or Philadelphia and it’s just too much for me to go. However, my serendipity streak is alive and well, resulting in the opportunity to hear one of my favorite authors speak this week only 30 minutes away from my home, and even better, it was free.

Most people recognize Colm Toibin’s name from his novel Brooklyn; the movie based on his book premiered last spring. If you’ve followed me for a while now, you are well aware of the string of signs that led me to Ireland last year, fueled by what I like to call my spirit guide. Mr. Toibin’s works Brooklyn and Nora Webster both appeared several times along that serendipitous timeline, well before the movie trailer for Brooklyn was released. Mr. Toibin’s breadcrumbs led me to other literary connections, personal discoveries, and further signs along my journey. The fact that I’m almost 30,000 words into my own novel is based, in a very slight part, on his contribution to my timeline.

What most people don’t know is that Mr. Toibin was a journalist before publishing essays and novels. His creative streak came alive later in his life, which is something I can truly relate to and is one of the reasons why I look to him as an inspiration.

When I saw that Monmouth University was hosting Colm Toibin as their final author in their Visiting Writers series this year, I jumped at the chance to attend. It was open to the public. With serendipity once again running the show, I couldn’t believe I had nothing else on my schedule on that particular afternoon during a week of a craziness filled with deadlines and due dates and contingency plans in the event my niece decided to enter the world (she’s smart…she’s still nesting comfortably inside mama as I write this). I even had a friend who wanted to go with me (thanks, C!).

We arrived about 45 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin and were able to get excellent seats near the front. After a short while, my friend went upstairs to check something on her phone since the signal inside the auditorium wasn’t every good. A gentleman began testing the microphone, and it was Mr. Toibin himself. He looked at me and smiled as he walked past me. Within 30 minutes the room was packed with Monmouth University faculty and students, as well as members of the general public like my friend and I, all eager for the program to begin.

Monmouth University’s Dean Michael Thomas began the program by speaking briefly then handing the introduction over to his colleague, Dr. Susan Goulding. After a few moments, Mr. Toibin took the podium, and from his first word, his accent captivated my attention for his whole presentation. He intertwined tales from his own life and his writing process in between his oral readings from both Nora Webster and Brooklyn.

The way he explained how he used real-life elements in his fiction made an impact on me, as I am attempting to do something similar with my own writing. Mr. Toibin said that writing is all about therapy, and that it is sometimes brave yet difficult to write the stories you don’t want to forget. “I didn’t know I was a novelist. If I didn’ I would have taken notes,” he said. Me, too!

Mr. Toibin develops a strong sense of character in his works, which is something I am trying to do in my attempt at writing a novel. He urged adding details during revision, and to do it right, to describe as if you were looking at a photograph. Confusion can be worked out later as you add levels of intensity to the characters. Make the landscapes fully real and have a sense of your audience. Not everything has to be symbolic as you look outwards from self. All of his advice is on point, and I was reassured by his words because I honestly am doing exactly as he said, or at least I think I am.

Mr. Toibin lists Mary Lavin, Colin Barrett, and Claire Keegan as writers who have influenced him. I find it encouraging that two of the three writers are much younger than he is, emphasizing that there’s always a lesson to be learned through the lives and works of others, no matter the age difference.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was a lesson that combines his own experience with the experiences of his characters Nora Webster and Eilis Lacey: finding yourself is a lifelong journey. I’m even more comforted and reassured after hearing Mr. Toibin’s presentation that I am in the right place at the right time.

Afterward, I thought about the experience for a bit after looking over my notes. I then began fantasizing about the idea that maybe, someday, I would be addressing an audience about my works and my influences. I wonder if Mr. Toibin knows that I’d be talking about him (and others) just as he talked about Lavin, Barrett, and Keegan.

Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Until next time,

Jill

To learn more about Colm Toibin, visit his website by clicking here.

High Tide Low

img_2702“High Tide Low”

Wave after wave

The ocean sweeps the shoreline clean

Leaving nothing for scavengers like me…

Not a trinket or a shell

Or those ever elusive answers

I expect to come rolling in with the tide

But never do.

I’m left floundering

With questions again

As I sit and stare blankly ahead

At the breaking seacrests,

Pondering why I am

Reassured yet simultaneously confused.

There’s no footprints to follow

As my heart walks in one direction

And my brain in another,

Never converging on

The enigmatic path

To me.

– Written by Jill Ocone, 2/25/2017