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.

 

 

 

Welcome, Summer!

Summer 2017-Day 01: Welcome, Summer!

Today is one of my most favorite days of the year! Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial start of the summer season here along the Jersey Shore, but today it’s official. I’m celebrating the Summer Solstice by embracing and appreciating everything SUMMER and all that comes along with it.

The first day of summer, to me, is a bold reminder that anything is possible this season. Summer’s newness is a fresh start…time to begin anything again or for the first time. The only goals I have are to write and to live with appreciation while having fun.

Along my boardwalk walk this morning, I stopped frequently to take in the sights, the sounds, and the smells I encountered as my feet headed north. The aroma of the coffee brewing from the coffee house combined with the sweet smells of the sea air and the cotton candy that was being prepped for the day stopped me in my tracks…so delicious! The beaches were dotted with umbrellas here and there as they weren’t crowded just yet. Most badge checkers and lifeguards were still prepping the beach for the day. A local morning radio show was broadcasting outside of the Aquarium, with a few penguins, snakes, and a tiny alligator along with plenty of Aquarium staff as their on-air guests. I strolled along, stopping here and there to take a photo, and when I reached the Inlet end I was pleasantly surprised to find it empty. I sat in one of the new white, rocking chairs and relaxed there in solitude, rocking for about ten minutes. I took in all of the sights of the Inlet, from the west to the north to the east and observed the calm meeting of the current and the sea, quite rare for the mouth of the Inlet I can assure you. Then it was time to turn around and head back south down the boardwalk. One of the benches near the Inlet was decorated with red, white, and blue bows, and was dedicated in memory of Cpl. Kevin J. Reinhard from Woodbridge, NJ, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012. I paused for a moment of silence to honor his legacy. I once again took my time as songs from my summer playlist played quietly through my earbuds, but not too loud to hear the occasional hellos and “Good Morning!”s from passerbys. I made sure to reply to each well wisher with a smile and a kind hello. As I took a picture of the palm fronds with the blue sky as a backdrop, a small plane entered the viewfinder at just the right time. I turned around and took a few photographs of the empty ride area and thought about how full of activity it would be in a matter of a few hours with children and adults laughing as they soared into the sky or spun around and around. I am glad I moved at my own pace because it made for a more meaningful experience.

When I returned back home, I took pictures of each day lily that bloomed today and picked a handful of ripe blueberries to add to yesterday’s till. I spent almost two hours at the library researching my family history after receiving a few more emails from my new cousins with more details about my Grandpa C.’s side (stay tuned for that update!). We took two beach runs and I’m now writing this outside on my lounge chair as the goldfinches and the house finches and the sparrows eat while the catbird sings for me. The bees are busy at the clover flowers and there’s a stillness as a few storm clouds are approaching from the west. And with the Severe Thunderstorm Alerts I just received, it’s time to head back inside.

It was a glorious day this Day 01 of Summer 2017, rumbles of thunder and all. Truly glorious.

I hope your day was glorious, too.

Until next time,

Jill

PS: The deluge of rain that’s now wreaking havoc outside? I still find it glorious. 🙂

PART THREE OF “THE UNIVERSE IS AT IT AGAIN!”: Welcome to Family!

This is Part Three in a series of posts titled “The Universe Is At It Again!” To read Part One, please click here. To read Part Two, please click here.

The other interesting feature on my report is that Ancestry matches my DNA up with others who have already had their DNA tested, and then provides links to possible family members with percentage probabilities that they are, indeed, a relative of some kind.

For instance, Ancestry was “extremely confident” the name on the top of my list was a second cousin. They were right. It is my mom’s cousin DM.

I have a very small family, so the large number of names on my list of potential “relatives” intrigued me.  I was going to wait until the end of the month to begin poking around, but last week, I showed a fellow teacher my report because he was interested in getting his own DNA analyzed and wanted to see what it was all about.

The second name on my list of potential relatives or matches, one that Ancestry had labeled “extremely high” that this person was my second cousin, is a gentleman, AT, from Minnesota. I clicked on his profile as I showed my friend how cool it was that this information was available, even though I had no idea who AT was. We didn’t have family in Minnesota, so who could this guy be?

I read the first few sentences of the AT’s profile out loud, then paused mid-sentence. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I then yelled, “Holy shit!” My friend looked at me, as did the others who were around us, as my mouth gaped wide open and my eyes became as big as saucers.

The man in the profile, AT, wrote that his mother, K, was adopted, and he listed her birth parents’ names and her original last name.

Her birth parents’ names were the same as my Grandpa C.’s, the one who I thought was Irish, and he and K shared the same last name.

Holy shit, indeed.

Grandpa had a sister I never knew about.

Mind blown. Literally.

I never would have expected this in a million years. Finding missing family members only happens in the movies or in books, or to other people who lead much more interesting lives. It doesn’t happen to little old me.

But here it was, right in front of me. K is my Grandpa C.’s sister, my Uncle G and my father’s aunt, my great aunt. The DNA confirms it.

I couldn’t contain my excitement and raced home after dismissal to write AT a message. “I think my grandfather was your mother’s brother,” I typed, along with some other details and my email address, then hit send with a ridiculous grin on my face.

I anxiously checked for a reply all day Tuesday, but none came. No worries, though, as I had an afternoon date with my nephew, I, for our annual early summer boardwalk excursion. We had a lot of fun on the rides, at the aquarium, and enjoying pizza and ice cream. By the time I got home, I was exhausted!

I drifted off to sleep rather quickly, slept right through the night, and hit snooze as soon as my alarm went off on Wednesday morning. On the alarm’s second ring, I hit snooze again, but something was nagging at me to check my email. I put on my glasses, opened my mailbox, and there it was.

A reply from AT’s sister.

Scratch that.

A reply from my first cousin once removed, KT.

KT is one of seven children born to my great Aunt K (including AT). That’s at least seven new first cousins for my Uncle G. KT said that her sisters and brother all live in various parts of the country, and that they have been looking for her mother’s brother’s family for a long time.

Man, my father would have loved all of this!

Grandpa C.

KT included three photographs with her email, one being her mother’s favorite photo of her brother from when Grandpa C. was very young. Aunt K kept it all this time.

At work, I held up that picture of Grandpa C. alongside my face, and almost everyone remarked at the resemblance between the two of us.

Before writing KT back, I knew I had to tell my Uncle G about this amazing discovery, so I headed over to his house after school. As I began to read KT’s email to him, I handed him the three pictures that accompanied the email.

Uncle G got up as I was reading and handed me a framed picture from his table.

It was the same picture of Grandpa that KT emailed to me, her mother’s favorite picture of her brother.

Uncle G and I talked about what he could remember Grandpa’s family.  He thought all along that Grandpa might have had a sister that was put up for adoption, but he was never sure if that was true or not. He knew Grandpa’s father wasn’t in the picture at all but doesn’t know anything at all about him, and that Grandpa had an older brother but he never met him (nobody knows where he ended up either; apparently my father was named after him). Uncle G told me what could recall about his grandmother, S, who was Grandpa’s and Aunt K’s mother, but it wasn’t very much.

I brought the picture book he gave me last summer with me.  We slowly paged through it and found two old black and white pictures of a light-haired little girl, each with Aunt K’s name written in pencil on it.

Grandpa had kept his sister’s pictures all along, too.

Uncle G couldn’t believe all of this and loved learning he had cousins. He hates technology and has never used a computer or a smart phone at all, so seeing my Ancestry report on my phone and how I could click on the links blew his mind.

Me Holding Grandpa C.’s Picture

I took a picture of Uncle G and of me holding that framed picture of Grandpa that KT had emailed to me, as well as some other pictures of Grandpa from his life. When I got home, I wrote KT back and emailed her all of the photos I had, including the two pictures of her mom.

On Friday, AT sent me an email, so I am now in contact with two new cousins. Of course, both sides have a lot of questions, and we all wish that Grandpa and Aunt K could have connected with each other before they passed on. Underneath all of our excitement, there are some threads of sadness interweaving with this miraculous story. Consider that Aunt K and Grandpa lived two towns away from each other in the early 1940s but never knew it.

This is the stuff novels are made of, and I’m living it!

I’m looking forward to staying in touch with my new cousins and to learning more about my family heritage. One of the first places I am going once school is finished is to the library to continue researching my background.

If it weren’t for my spirit guide, I’d never be on this path in my journey in the first place. Thanks, TG, for leading me to family. And thanks to the Universe. You never cease to amaze me.

All I wanted to know is if I was truly Irish.

With the payoff from that originally disappointing less-than-1%-Irish being a whole new lot of cousins that I never knew existed, I’ll gladly take it.

Welcome to Family.

PART TWO OF “THE UNIVERSE IS AT IT AGAIN!”: AN ANSWER

If you missed Part One, click here to read that first because this post continues my story…

Fast forward to April 2017. With another trip to Dublin booked for this coming August and an overhaul of the novel I am writing, I decided to get my DNA analyzed from Ancestry.

I figured, what the hell? Maybe I’d be able to clear up that Galicia/Austria/Russia/Poland confusion, but most of all, I was hoping to learn that I was, indeed Irish.

I ordered my Ancestry kit with a $20 off discount and it arrived on April 29. The kit provides specific instructions about how to spit into the little sample tube they provided.

I know, I thought the same thing: Why do I need instructions?

Well, it turns out that the process of spitting saliva into the tube took longer than I thought. I first had to activate my kit on my computer, and before attempting my saliva collection, I had to wait 30 minutes after eating or drinking anything.

When those 30 minutes were up, I followed the directions to collect my saliva, but since I couldn’t have any water, it took a long time to collect the right amount (minus bubbles, mind you).

Once I had enough of my saliva in the tube, I clicked the tube together to release the “stabilizing fluid.” I then packed it in the little, prepaid shipping box it came with and mailed it on Monday, May 1. I received an email on May 5 that it was received on Ancestry’s end and that it would take 6 to 8 weeks to receive my results. My sample hit Ancestry’s lab on May 23 with another disclaimer that it could still take 6 to 8 weeks due to high demand.

I was prepared to coast through the rest of the school year and the first part of summer without knowing my heritage, but eleven days later on June 3, I received my results via email. Little did I know the very unexpected and wonderful surprises the universe had waiting for me!

First of all, here’s my heritage:

Great Britain: 57%. I figured this would be a high number, and I was right. Must be why I love teaching British literature and bland food.

Scandinavian: 13%. Shocking! I had no idea I was of Scandinavian descent. When I tell people this, most look at me funny because I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Some have said, “Well, it’s obvious you are Scandinavian,” and aren’t surprised at all. However, if you look at my family as a whole, the only three people with the typical Scandinavian features of light hair and light eyes are me, my Grandpa C., and my 3-year-old nephew, I. My dad and uncle were both blonde when they were young, but their hair changed and their eyes weren’t blue. Again, must be why I love teaching about the Vikings and Beowulf! Let’s go a Viking!

Europe East: 10%. This is the line that extends to Poland, Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Galicia, etc., so I expected this region to show up. I was hoping that the test would narrow down the actual country my Grandma C.’s parents actually emigrated from. However, an offshoot of my ancestry report clusters my DNA on a map of this region right where Galicia would have been, so I’m going with Galicia. Kielbasa for all!

Italy/Greece: 9%. WHAT? Seriously? I’m Italian or Greek? Holy cannoli! This shocked the daylights out of me. I would have guessed any other heritage before Italian/Greek. My husband was very pleased to learn that he did, indeed, marry an “Italian Girl.” His father would have been over the moon to learn that I had Italian heritage!

Europe West: 6%. Germany, Belgium, and France fall into this region.  My Grandma M.’s grandparents were born in Germany, so this wasn’t a big surprise. Confirmation: German. Dad’s up in heaven screaming “Yah vull!” right now.

Iberian Peninsula: 3%. Spain and Portugal make up the Iberian Peninsula, and this one was a nice surprise. Interesting fact: Portugal is directly across the Atlantic Ocean from where I live. Neat!

Ireland: Less than 1%. I am Irish after all! While I was initially disappointed, at least Ireland showed up. I’ll take it!

Caucasus: Less than 1%. I know what you are thinking…where the hell is Caucasus? It’s a region encompassing Georgia, Irian, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and more. Another Easter egg for sure.

On my report, I can click on each region to not only learn more about it, but also to take a closer look at my percentages and compare mine to other people from the same region. It’s pretty cool that I have a solid cluster in both the East Europe region (Galicia-the yellow spot in the map to the left) and also in a community called Early Settlers of New York.

But there’s more, a whole lot more to this story! Please look for Part 3 tomorrow!

Part One of “The Universe Is At It Again!”: Who Am I?

Who are you? Or better yet, who am I? That’s the quintessential question, isn’t it? And I think every one of us is searching for that elusive answer, despite how confident we might be.

Who am I, indeed? What makes me ME?

One of my biggest regrets is never preserving each of my four grandparents’ stories…their backgrounds, families, cultures, heritages, and what made each of them THEM.

Sure, I talked with them a bit when I was young, but I don’t remember much of anything because I never took the time to write anything down.

That part of my story, their individual stories comprised of their contributions to my genetic blueprint, is forever lost.

Huge regret.

HUGE.

I do recall being told over the years that my heritage includes Russian, English, German, and a tad bit of Irish.

Tad bit of Irish? With my connection to all things Ireland over the past 3 years, I longed for more than just a “tad” bit of Irish in my background.

So, last summer, I decided to see if I could find out exactly that that “tad” was comprised of.

Three weeks before I left for Dublin, I began researching my genealogy hoping to find an Irish connection, specifically through my Grandpa C. He never shared much of anything about his background or family, but I vaguely recall him saying there was Irish mixed in with his mostly English heritage.

Our local library offers free Ancestry access to anyone with a library card, so I spent a few summer afternoons playing detective as I tried to uncover at least one Irish link. The more I searched, the more discoveries about my family heritage I made, but with each click ahead I fell further behind on making a concrete Irish connection.

All in all, I ended up learning a lot, but I was unable to confirm or deny what it was that brought me to the library in the first place.

For starters, I found out pretty quickly that my supposed Russian heritage was perhaps incorrectly attributed.

Census from 1930

The line in my heritage through my father’s mother’s family provided very quick and solid information. Grandma C. always said that she was Russian, and she even knew how to speak it. However, I think she might have been mistaken. On every census and official document I could find on her family line, the home country of her parents, J and E, was different. The earliest I could find from the early 1900s listed Galicia (not the one in Spain) as their home country, and that changed over the years to Austria, Poland, and Russia.

Galicia was one of those recurring terms from last summer that guided me, and I wrote a separate entry about that here.

I unearthed more information about Grandma C.’s line, and my mother’s parents and their lines, but the line from my dad’s father gave me the least amount of data. All I found was Grandpa C.’s marriage certificate to Grandma C. (the one with parents from Galicia), which included both of their parent’s names, one entry in a census report from 1940, and his birth and death dates.

When he heard I was trying to learn about our family, my Uncle G (Dad’s brother) gave me a red binder filled with photos from Grandpa C.’s side and obituary clippings and memorial cards from many members of his family. I meticulously went through the album hoping to find a link to Ireland, but I came up with nothing. Most of the pictures didn’t have names, and the ones that did were people who both my Uncle and I had never met or really heard of before.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to confirm anything Irish in my heritage. Drats.

I traveled to Dublin in August, unsure of whether or not I had any legit ties to what has become one of my favorite places in the world. That trip changed my life in so many ways regardless of whether I’m truly Irish or not.

When I returned from my trip, the frenzy of back to school hit hard, and I abandoned my genealogy research for the time being. I instead focused on my novel, my writing, and my responsibilities. Another summer would be here, soon, with time for me to once again pursue learning about the origins of my heritage.

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow!

 

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 Update for April…

Hello, friend! It’s been two weeks since I posted and I assure you I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth. Rather, I’ve been immersed in life, so to speak, and as I enjoy the quiet time here this morning with the birds singing outside, I realize it’s time for an update.

I think we are finally over the winter hump here along the Jersey Shore, so much so that I will be putting my winter coats away today. Spring is here, indeed. The yard is full of spring flowers, the finches haven’t left the feeders, and the tiniest wren hasn’t stopped belting out his song. It’s wonderful to see colors and life after the long winter. It’s a spring of early arrivals, as our maple trees already have leaves; I can’t remember a spring when they had leaves in the third week of April. We also had a hummingbird show up already, the earliest I can remember. I love this time of year. It’s when the breeze that blows through the windows smells the sweetest. I know how fortunate I am to not be bothered by springtime allergies, as this time of year is difficult for others. That’s been on my gratitude list the past few days.

Another thing on my gratitude list is my chubby-cheeked and full-head-of-hair new niece. Aniina entered the world on April 9 at 10:45 AM. Mom, baby, and family are doing well. It was wonderful to spend such a special time with my nephews as we waited for her arrival. She’s two weeks old today and smiled for me yesterday, despite her belly ache.

A giant “Whew!” as both our yearbook and my first round of summer editorial work were both completed on Friday. With those off the to-do list, I can now refocus on my personal writing (including my novel). My mother was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital for 4 days earlier this month, so that combined with Aniina’s arrival and my deadlines left little writing time. Thankfully, my mom is okay, and her episode seems to have been linked to her seizure disorder. I also enjoyed a day-jaunt to New York City with one of my favorite friends, where we took in the sights of Battery Park, The Strand Bookstore, Herald Square, and Madison Square Garden. I also channeled strength from the Fearless Girls statue, and I think it worked. There’s so much more to look forward to this season, including my niece E’s confirmation and eighth-grade graduation, my nephew H’s birthday, and the return of the powerboats for the offshore race that is just awesome beyond words.

Among the chaos, moments of serendipity continue to occur, some little yet some so big they blow my mind. The message in some is obvious but in others? To be honest, I have no idea, although I don’t mind. I have resolved to ride their wave and to see how life will connect the meanings, and I intend to enjoy every minute of that ride.

I took a leap and entered three of my poems into the Writer’s Digest annual competition, which is outside of my comfort zone. I do not expect to win anything, but I feel good that I at least entered the contest. I have been writing over the past two weeks, but not so much on the novel. However, I pledge to resume arriving at school early to focus on it starting tomorrow. I’m still hopeful to have a viable first draft for the writing conference I am attending in June, and then I hope to revise during the summer. A little secret…even if it is just one sentence, I will finish my novel in August where this whole crazy idea started, in a city that holds my heart. It’s fitting to do so, and my spirit guide deserves it to happen this way.

It’s a great time to be alive. At this time a year ago, I felt absolutely awful. What a 180, as this year, I feel great with my Lupus is in check. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to feel good…it’s been a very long time coming, and this is the best I have felt in at least ten years. In fact, I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin or more confident. I might be overweight or hate the way my hair looks. But you know what? I don’t care anymore. I’m here to live, to laugh, and to write, and if anything about me doesn’t appeal to others or even to myself, I no longer give a hoot. I go on. With every passing day, I am more and more fearless. And that, my friend, makes each day worth living even more than the last.

Yes, oh yes, it’s sure is a great time to be alive, and I embrace each moment with open arms and an emphatic YES! I hope you do, too.

Until next time,

Jill

 

 

 

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.

Serendipity Times Infinity Going On Over Here….

This is a pretty interesting time in my life. I am content and reassured that I’m in the right place at the right time. I’ve been in a pretty jovial mood, too.

And then, there are the “coincidences” I have been experiencing lately, some of which have to do with boxes of my old stuff from mom’s attic that I retrieved on Monday (3/20/17). Keep in mind I didn’t go to my mom’s just to get these boxes. Rather, there will soon be construction going on and the attic had to be cleaned out. I was only hoping to retrieve Star Wars glasses and forgot that these boxes even existed.

Here are just a few instances of serendipity running my show lately…

  1. On Monday, 3/20/17, the subject of naps came up in one of my classes. I told my students that I always hated naps because I could never fall asleep, and that I envied anyone who could nap. I said that I vividly remember the animals on the shelves that were near my ceiling when I was two or so and how I’d talk to them instead of taking a nap. Later that day, when I got to my mom’s, my brother handed me a bag from the attic, and inside were those animals. What are the odds that the day I mention those animals I actually get them back after they spent 40 or so years in the attic?
  2. I pulled out an autograph book from second grade and looked at the signatures from my classmates, many of whom I am still friends with on Facebook. This was on Thursday. Thursday’s date was March 23. Inside the cover, I wrote the date my classmates signed it: March 23, 1979. 38 years to the date.
  3. On March 15, I found a bunch of 3.5 floppy disks that had some of my old writing stored on them. We actually have a computer in my classroom that still has a 3.5 floppy disk drive, and I was interested to see if I could get anything back. I couldn’t remember at first what program I had used to type them. I recalled it was a competitor of Word, and then it came to me: WordPerfect, circa 1995-1998. I was able to convert the non-password protected files in Microsoft Word on Thursday, March 16. 5 days later (Tuesday), I looked at the “Take a Book, Leave a Book” shelf at work, and there was a tutorial book for WordPerfect from 1997 on the shelf. Sidebar: I referenced one of the files in the novel I am writing last month.
  4. I was talking with a colleague last week about my senior Health teacher from high school (senior year was sex ed). She was always nervous and uttered so many “umms” and “uhs” in class that we counted them each day. There were a few days when she topped 100. I actually found a tally in one of the boxes yesterday. How is it that I go years without thinking of this memory, then shortly after I reference it, I find one of the tallies written on a small piece of cardboard in 1989?
  5. I had the Jawa Funko Pop figure in my Amazon cart but I was saving it. Something was holding me back from buying it. On Monday, a former student visited me and gave me that Jawa. I didn’t tell anyone about wanting it.
  6. Earlier this month, I was talking with my niece about the book “The Outsiders.” It’s her favorite, and I told her it was always one of my favorites, too, but I don’t know where my original copy was. I sent her a link to an article about the book’s 50th anniversary. Well, guess what? I found my copy on Monday in one of those boxes from the attic. Seriously.
  7. This one’s just weird and probably means nothing, but still….honest to God, on Tuesday into Wednesday, I dreamt about the characters from the NBC Show “The Office” for some reason. The first thing on my Instagram feed on Wednesday when I opened the app after I woke up was a Dwight Schrute video posted by someone I follow.

So…….yeah. There’s at least 10 more, but these are the good ones.

I tried to obtain winning lottery numbers using this serendipitous foresight I am experiencing, but it’s not meant to be, I guess, as not even one of the numbers came up. Rats.

The other strange thing is that as I am writing the novel (this week I surpassed 23,000 words), I’m basing some of what the main character goes through on events and feelings from my own life. As I think of what to include, I’m brought back to those specific memories. Some are good, but a lot aren’t, and it’s been a little challenging to mentally revisit the difficult times and to decide what I should use. Enter the boxes: Honestly speaking here…there are journals and items in the boxes, actual physical items from these memories, that have been allowing me to get more into the mindset of the main character. Again, not all good, but it’s the journey I need to take right now. I need to revisit the past and perhaps make peace with those troubling memories and with the person I used to be in order to move forward.

This feeling is inescapable and hard to describe. Surreal and reassuring, confusing yet understanding, heartbreakingly soothing, and one big emphatic YES all at the same time.

I’m thinking that maybe I was on the right path all along, but I just didn’t realize it until now.

Until next time,

Jill