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.

I’m Not Sleeping

oc1_16ire_0818356aThe rainy deluge has transformed to ice, which is building up on the grass and pelting the windows with a ferocious plink. Any minute now, the wind and the cold will transform the ice to snow. What a difference from yesterday’s balmy 64-degree sunshine, a splendid day that I was unaware of as I was held hostage by cinder blocks, each one with its own demand masked as a responsibility. I’ve got a lot going on yet no time for anything. I’m treading through distraction after distraction, falling further behind, and it’s quite difficult right now to stay afloat. As I cross one plateau, an obstruction suddenly appears, extending the distance between what I thought was my purpose and that elusive finish line. I gasp for breath amid life’s cyclone, and with each inhale, a smidgen of my soul dies. What was so clear is cloudy, again, so far off behind the cyclone’s eye that I struggle to catch even just a fleeting glimpse.

Is it my mind that’s the bully, or time? Or is life the bully, entertaining itself by heaving an obstacle in my path to throw me off again? Ideas blaze into my head at the speed of light, diverting my attention like a shiny set of keys on a shimmering key chain as I become consumed with spiraling thoughts and plotting out possibilities. Should this new idea be the reason I abandon all of the former ideas that stole my focus, making me abandon those other ideas that are now left floating lifeless, dissolving as quickly as time is running out? It’s so close, my somewhere over the rainbow, but which path will take me there, and how do I move forward when the cinder blocks won’t allow me to escape? I’m not sleeping, oh no.

With Gratitude for Leonard Cohen…

Writer, Poet, and Singer Leonard Cohen passed away this week, but with the current state of unrest in news feeds, you might have missed that. I think we all need to just sit and be while listening to his performance below to help us see the bigger picture. He did not leave us in vain; rather, he left us something beautiful and moving, a song which will be guiding me forward. I hope it will guide you, too.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen.

 

Something to SEA: Free Thanksgiving Printable

thanksgiving-printableThanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year, is coming! To add to your festivities, I created a free Thanksgiving printable for you.  It is sized for 8 1/2 x 11.

You can download the .pdf file by clicking here.

If you right click on the image above, you can save the .jpg image to your computer.

I’d love to see how you incorporated your free Thanksgiving printable into your festivities this year! Please feel free to leave a comment with your picture below.

Enjoy,

Jill

Thank You For Your Service

veteransBack in the early 1990’s, before I made a mess of my collegiate academic record, I wrote letters. I mean, a lot of letters. Instead of studying, I would be writing and writing and writing to so many people, many of whom I never even met.

This was the time of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

I saw it as my duty to write letters to every address printed in the local newspapers as a show of support. Some I knew from high school, some I did not, and most were about my age.

Regardless of their reasons for serving, I don’t think many of them, if any at all, ever thought combat would result during their service.

But it did.

And I know that each of their lives was changed forever.

I have led a comfortable life, so to speak. Sure, I have skeletons and demons in my closet…who doesn’t?

Mine, though, is no comparison for those I can only image that live in the closets of my friends who chose to serve our country during what turned out to be a very difficult time.

Friends like Joe, Matt, Tom, Jason, Jim, Bobby, Phil, and Rich, who in my eyes are brave and forever heroes. Each rises and perseveres every day, never giving in to the darkness that might be chasing them or to those demons that might live in their proverbial closets.

That’s the true definition of strength and courage. Persevering no matter what.

They served by choice. They became heroes by example.

I am honored to call each my friend, and I am thankful that after all of these years, we are still friends.

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served, especially those close to my heart, with my utmost admiration and gratitude.

 

Seeking Calm In The Biggest City In The World….

I spent Monday with a dear friend wandering around New York City. I’ve always loved spending time in the Big Apple, and this day was no exception. We had no itinerary and no real plans of places to go other than to find the New York Public Library and Library Way. For the most part, our plan was just to wander and be.

You’d think that in a city as large and as loud as New York City it would be difficult to find a place for calm and peace, especially on this day:  the day before this year’s tumultuous Election Day, and one with numerous terror warnings issued as well.

Well, we found not only one but many. And I have been mentally escaping to each amid the post-Election rancor and animosity over the past 36 hours.

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We took an early train and were on the streets exploring before the time our first-period block class would normally end. Ironically enough, fate brought me a chance meeting on 33rd street during rush hour with a very special former student! We talked for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. Within a few minutes, my friend and I were in Bryant Park.

I’ve passed by Bryant Park before but never wandered into it. And I am so glad I did this time.

It was before 9:00 AM as we walked by the boutique shops set up as a part of Bryant Park’s Winter Village, then we soon found ourselves in front of the skating rink. (Sidebar: it’s free admission! And the price to rent skates was very reasonable!)

oc1_20161107_nyc-79There were about 25 or so skaters making their way around the ice rink at that time, some by themselves, some holding the hand of a little one, some couples skating together, some doing advanced spins and jumps in the center of the rink. Jazz music was playing, and each person skating was enjoying their moment on the ice, sans technology and to do list. There was even a man in a suit skating round and round the rink, sometimes passing us by facing forward, sometimes skating backward.

It was a sight to be had, a very peaceful and serene sight so early in the morning. I could have stayed there all day watching this calm and refreshing scene amid the hustle and bustle of the city.

oc1_20161107_nyc-108After a while, we made our way to the next block in hopes of visiting the New York Public Library, but as fate would have it, the main branch was closed for a fund-raiser. At least I got pictures of the front steps where Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz ran down in the first part of the original “Ghostbuster” movie. Yes, you can see what motivates me sometimes!

We instead visited a smaller branch of the NYPL across the street. We found the NYPL Collection of Photographs room and perused the pictures in the folder for John Lennon, which we agreed was a great subject considering his rich history with New York City.

oc1_20161107_nyc-175 About 45 minutes later, we left the library and found Library Way. We then spent the next 45 minutes or so taking pictures of each of the literary and library focused bronze markers along the 2-block stretch of 41st Street between Pershing Square and the NYPL main branch.

I found this peaceful yet energizing as I have been writing a novel of my own and needed some inspiration. These quotes from writers such as William Styron, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, and more lit a fire under me, so to speak, and were a push in the right direction for me to get going with my work.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

At the end of Library Walk, we turned left and took in Grand Central Terminal, another iconic NYC location that I had never visited before. What a beautiful place, so much different than Penn Station. The building was beautiful with marble and brass and good white light everywhere. As I stopped in the main terminal area to take some photographs, it amazed me that with so many people passing by, it wasn’t crazy and chaotic at all. An added bonus was seeing so many people proudly wearing the 2016 New York City Marathon medals, which took place the day before. Here I was surrounded by people from all over the world in one of the busiest locations in the city, yet it was calming, just like what I experienced at Bryant Park’s ice skating rink only two hours earlier.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

Our bellies were calling, so we went to the dining concourse level and….man! So many places to choose from! We decided upon Shake Shack and were both very pleased with our choice. I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the cleanliness of the entire concourse, but that didn’t compare in the slightest with how happy I was with my chocolate milkshake and cheeseburger lunch. So good! And they had crinkle cut fries (my favorite) cooked just right. Again, I looked around to take in where I was at that moment, and still couldn’t believe how peaceful it was despite so many people.

Our day would then take us back through Bryant Park, which was now filled with people, to visit the shops and take in more of the Winter Village atmosphere. Each little store that sold food contributed its own aroma to the wonderful smells that teased my nose and my stomach. More people were skating now, or sitting at a little table enjoying lunch or a coffee, or buying a new pair of gloves, or reading a book to their child in the children’s area, or even demonstrating their juggling skills. It was glorious, a true amalgam of human behaviors all rolled up into one giantly awesome oc1_20161107_nyc-278experience. I was only a watcher, but I was present for each and every moment and observed all that made up the human experience at this moment in time.

My friend and I took our time leaving, then also took our time wandering back towards Herald Square. Upon stopping for a minute outside of Macy’s we looked to our left and there it was, the grand and majestic Empire State Building. Despite the numerous photographs of the building from ground level we have both already taken, we shot a few more to add to our collections.

Then we looked at each other…we had almost two hours to spare until the 3:45 train home, so we decided why the hell not? We played tourist and went to the top of the Empire State Building! It was a great day to do so, as the lines were very reasonable. Again, there were a lot of people with marathon medals around their necks. I congratulated one man from the Netherlands who was here in the USA by himself. That got me thinking…so many people pursuing their dream HERE, a place that’s only like 70 miles or so from where I live. It put a lot into perspective….

oc1_20161107_nyc-371Anyway, we stopped first at the 82nd-floor observatory, which was surrounded by glass. I looked down upon Macy’s Herald Square where we literally were only 30 minutes prior. The glare from the sun on the Freedom Tower side did not lead to great photos, but it was still so awesome to see.

Before long, we then went to the open-air 86th floor. Speechless. I was just speechless. Looking out above almost everything else in sight, the sun lighting up buildings I had walked past earlier in the day…just too awesome for words. I found Bryant Park and that weird building next to it that reminded me of “Spook Central” (Ghostbusters reference again), Madison Square Garden, the George Washington Bridge, and so much more. I tried to find Yankee Stadium with my own eye but couldn’t do so; later on, after I uploaded my photos to my computer, I did find it once I zoomed in.

What sticks with me? Here I was at the top of the Empire State Building, looking down upon millions and millions of people going about their day, and it was quiet, almost silent at times save for the breeze. I thought of people traveling from all over the world to stand in the same location I was standing in because it was an item on their bucket list. I remembered looking from the same vantage point 20+ years ago with my California cousins, the only other time I did so. Why did I not enjoy these sights more often?

I realized how much I do take for granted, and that life is pretty damn good.

When it was time to leave, I purchased an Empire State Building pin from the souvenir store to add to my collection and then we descended back to ground level. Once we got to Penn Station, we stopped at Zaro’s Bakery for our traditional NYC trip cookie and were on the 3:45 train headed home. We remarked how the world was going to change “tomorrow” (election day), and we were thankful to enjoy a day in the city to escape and just be before life changes for all of us.

As I write this, I’m listening to Jazz music, thinking of the skating rink, and my soul is happy.

I’m selecting which pictures to ultimately attach to this post and when I look at each one, I recall the exact minute it was taken…the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the aura of each moment frozen in time yet willing to be experienced again and again.

I’m escaping into calm as my NYC day memories, free from protest and violence, trump the hateful animosity rearing its ugly head minute by minute on my social media feeds (no pun intended?).

Most of all, I’m thankful that I have a friend who loves wandering, observing, and experiencing life as I do. Thank you, friend. 🙂

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on November 7, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.

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Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
From the top of the Empire State Building
From the top of the Empire State Building

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Taking the Long Way this Autumn

There’s a white-throated sparrow proudly singing his song outside my window, with a wren crooning in the distance. The breeze coming in through the window is cool and crisp. The leaves, soon to be exploding with color like fireworks, are beginning to crunch under my feet as the trees have started shedding this year’s attire.

As much as I hate to see summer end, I find this time of year is truly majestic, and it’s even more symbolic for me THIS year.

Nature’s cycle of life can teach us all a lesson. Each day makes its individual mark of beauty amid the subtle changes which culminate in the end of a cycle. When it’s time for a change, which could very well be a massive change similar to autumn, do it the way nature does…with complete enthusiasm and gusto, with as much color and pop as possible. Then, nurture yourself with sleep and comfort as you adjust and prepare to spring ahead with newness when the time is right.

I am experiencing my own autumn, so to speak, and am becoming who I am meant to be. Even though I’ve been quiet here on my blog, my brain, my typing fingers, and my pens have not. The fountain has been tapped and the words, held hostage for so long, are finally finding their way out and gushing onto my notebook pages and type screens.

Not all words will be shared or meant for publication, and not all words have to do with my Mission from the Universe. Some are quite honestly an amalgam of crap, but they are words that have to be set free from the jail cell in my brain.

Others are deep-rooted, symbolic, filled with hope and promise…words I never thought would end up on paper but nonetheless appear.

Those are the words guiding my path right now. They are directing my journey to the backroads of my Mission from the Universe.

I’m taking the long way this time, and every single step along this less-trodden path so far has resulted in insight, joy, and a renewed appreciation of life.

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The Firefly at the Baseball Game – For H

I went to a Yankees game in August with my brother, my sister, my two nephews (5 and 2 years old), and two family friends. It was Star Wars night, and what a night! It was the boys’ first Yankees game, and they got to see the “real” Darth Vadar, Chewbacca, R2D2, Boba Fett (and yes, he was the REAL Boba Fett in my eyes and I was on Cloud Nine), and lots of other characters. We also witnessed a Yankees Grand Slam by Starlin Castro in their victory over the Indians. It was an all around wonderful night, one of the best nights of my life.

We were in our seats early to see the parade of characters on the field, then shortly after, the game began as the sun descended into dusk.

The 5-year-old, H, said to me, “Look at that firefly. He’s going towards the lights.” and he pointed to a buggy that was flying around.

I replied that I bet that firefly had a lot of stories to tell, living here at Yankee Stadium…and that got me thinking.

This is written for you, H., with love.

 

“The Firefly at the Baseball Game” by Jill Ocone (Copyright 2016)

A firefly named Sly lives up in the sky,  

The lights are his stadium home.  

He wakes at sun break then a tour he will take.

He will fly and he’ll spy and he’ll roam.

Over the field, his journey will yield

Green grass and the dugout and more…

The bases, the races, and all sorts of places

Will be full of the players at four.

Sly dives as he flies as the baseballs and guys

Begin to appear in the air…

The cracks of the bats and the blue baseball hats,

The strikes and the fouls and the fairs.

The outs and the bouts and the fans do they shout!

And Sly joins the crowd’s standing wave.

He’s bright as he lights and he loves all these sights…

The legends, the rookies, the brave.

Sly swirls as he twirls as the balls also whirl,

Whizz by and are hit oh so far.

Sly cheers as he steers from the bleachers…he’s clear…

Another home run by the star.

Sly flies as he dives in his own special guise

We won! We did it! Oh, yay!

Sly rests in his nest and watches the guests

And the players go home for the day.

It’s soon by the moon our friend Sly he will swoon,

He’ll dream that he’s one of the guys…

Running the bases, and walking the places,

His own home run up in the sky.