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.

When You Least Expect The Answers, They Come

It’s been a while since I posted, but my absence is for very good reasons. Between my last post (“High Tide Low,” which was wrought with doubt) and now, I completed my work for the spring issue of Jersey Shore Magazine. The issue is now online…if you’d like to take a look at it, click here. I wrote four articles (and loved every single one of my topics for this issue) and provided photography and editorial work.

Anyway, with the magazine work done, my creativity was not as constrained. Then a truly amazing thing happened, and those elusive answers I’ve been searching for aren’t so elusive anymore….

Without warning, the floodgates opened and my fingers got to work. The words keep on coming, over 21,000 as of yesterday, and they aren’t anywhere near stopping. All of the prayers and wishes for the words to come have been answered, and I couldn’t be more excited. Many times my heart wanted to write a post here to keep you informed, but my body and mind wouldn’t let me lose focus on my novel by stopping the flow of typing and revising.

All of the other ideas in my brain have now taken a back seat to my novel, whose time has finally come, and I’m as focused as ever.

Yesterday, I took another leap forward in my writing career by registering for a writing conference in June that will not only offer educational workshops but will have agents and publishers on hand for pitch ideas and the like. The weird thing is that I found out about this conference, which is being sponsored by Rutgers, through an email I received at a Yahoo address that is my “bill” and crap address. I don’t use it for writing or correspondence at all, and I have never used Yahoo to search for anything regarding writing. That email was undoubtedly sent by the universe, and I listened to it and registered for the conference, which is the first weekend in June.

My spirit guide has been around as well, pleased that I’m finally making progress. Subtle, little signs here and there reinforce her presence with an “it’s about time” sassy reassurance.

I’m glad I didn’t force the story when I wasn’t ready because I fear that would have left to burn out and an abandoned idea. Right now, the manuscript is here and there with parts written not necessarily in order, but the prologue and first two chapters are complete. What helped me was to make a timeline for the main character, listing when specific events occurred, as well as her age and that of the people she associates with at the time of the events.

With 76 days until the conference, my goal is to get as much of the novel completed as possible between now and then.

I am surrounded by many supportive friends who listen to me babble on about this very special pursuit, and if you are one of them, thank you so very much. Inspiration also surrounds me in the form of colleagues who are writers, friends who are valued, family I love, and those ever-elusive easter eggs that I keep on finding.

One of my struggles is, in all honesty, very vain: deciding upon what I want to use as my author name. Instead of rushing a decision, I have decided to let all of the ideas simmer. The right one will eventually make it to the top of the list.

I will post updates here when I can, but please forgive me if I don’t post here as much as I used to. The universe and my spirit guide want this book complete, and so do I.

It’s true…when you least expect the answers, they will come.

The final lesson from this journey so far? Have faith. Thank you for following my journey. This mission has been in the making for 46 years, and each step forward fills me with exhilaration and excitement!

With gratitude and faith,

Jill

My Theme for 2017

I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a new year with such excitement and anticipation before.  Man, am I full of over the moon silliness as I wait to greet 2017, just like I was as a child waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve!

I think the reason is the word, scratch that, theme I’ve adopted for the upcoming year. It’s personal and powerful. It’s invigorating and exciting. And I find it so overwhelmingly awesome that I created a logo for it (sidebar: The logo was a vision in my dream the other night. Seriously, another breadcrumb from the great beyond!).

Take a look, then read all about the symbolism contained in my theme and logo that will guide me through 2017:

word

My SLOGAN for 2017: Onward, writer! I will march forth and write my novel and then some. I have created a personal writing schedule that is in harmony with my professional responsibilities and my health issues.  My goal is to finish my first novel draft by the end of Spring, then to use the summer to revise, edit, and hopefully find an agent or publishing house that might be interested in it, my first of many stories. I also have a vision/idea to emphasize the mantra that today is everything, but I need to focus first on completing my novel. My schedule and plan can be adapted as needed due to unforeseen circumstances, but I will not allow myself any excuses for not writing. It is, indeed, time to follow my dream and to march forward, pen in hand.

My ADVICE for 2017: Look around! I intend to take full stock in each and every moment, and to see what is both physically and symbolically present. I will continue to be open as life guides me through each day as I find the extraordinary in the ordinary. The song “Look Around” by Red Hot Chili Peppers will be the first song that I will listen to every morning, followed by Blackbird

The black bird with the pen is an allusion to the song Blackbird by The Beatles:

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Yes, I have waited for this moment my entire life. It’s time, and I will write with enthusiasm, focus, and vigor.
The heart with the three icons represents my heart and soul:
  • The top left Triskelion, or Celtic triple spiral, is the symbol of my spirit guide as I still yearn for her guidance while I continue to be her light. Interesting fact: This is the first symbol that appeared in a dream/vision over a year ago, much like my theme’s logo. While in Ireland, I spotted it all over the place, even inside the tomb at Newgrange. Suffice it to say that this symbol, which is more than 3,000 years old, is significant on numerous levels (past-present-future, spirit-mind-body and more).
  • The two waves in the top right represent my goal of learning to surf in 2017. I have always wanted to learn how to surf, and 2017 will be the year I cross this off my bucket list. I have created a schedule and a plan to physically prepare my body with exercises and strategies for surfing each week until mid-summer when I plan to take private lessons. I do have some obstacles to overcome, such as hating my eyes to be wet and muscle stiffness from Lupus, but my desire to surf is stronger than these obstacles. I plan to document my experience through words and photos, and I don’t care if people laugh at me. My connection to the sea is strong, and I want to surf, dammit!
  • The heart inside the heart is a reminder to keep my soul and my heart happy and at the forefront of every decision. I will balance my priorities of living, learning, loving, laughing, writing, and teaching the lessons that need to be taught while keeping what matters most in perspective and in my heart.

Finally, the ghosted CLOCK FACE is a reminder about how quickly time is passing by. I will stop wasting time on things that do not make my soul or heart happy, or things that divert my focus from my true purpose. With this practice in place since mid-December, so far, so good.

I plan to hold myself accountable for all of my 2017 goals by setting firm intentions and reflecting upon my progress at least twice a month, if not more.

I want to sing and dance as the seconds tick towards 2017 while screaming my excitement from the rooftops!

Welcome, 2017! I’m so excited to meet you!

Onward, writer…let’s do this!

Until next time,

Jill

 

 

An Unlikely Role Model

One of the first assignments I give my students each year is to write about a role model. It’s two-fold, as it provides a sample of each student’s writing strengths and weaknesses, plus it is an introduction to the Heroes unit which begins with my very good friend, Mr. Beowulf. You know, the guy who eats lunch with Bill Shakespeare and Smitty MacBeth every fall.

As I was reading and assessing the responses turned in this school year, I noticed that a few of my students penned their assignment about someone that I, too, think is pretty fantastic.

I’d like to share my response for this assignment…

When I think about what a role model should be, my first thought is, usually, that it has to be someone older. That’s not the case here…mine is about 17 years my junior. But she is wise beyond her years.

I am more positive this year partly because I am trying to emulate her passion for literature and her dedication to the profession. I admire her carefree demeanor, how she champions fairness and ethics, and how she is REAL.

She used to sit at a desk in my classroom, and here she is, years later, with her own desks and her own students.

She is joyful, always smiling when surrounded by her many friends and her family.

She doesn’t hide her emotions. Instead, she is honest whether she’s happy or sad or angry or worried. In my eyes, wearing her heart on her sleeve is what makes her REAL, which is not a flaw, but a sign of strength.

As I embrace my calling of writing, I look to her for inspiration and guidance. I used to be her teacher, and now, the teacher is truly learning from the student.

We have always connected since the day we met back in the early 2000s. She’s an old soul, and even though she was just a baby and then a toddler, the 1980’s left a lasting impression on her interests and likes. Her two true loves are Bruce and Elvis, and even though she thinks she knows more about Seinfeld than I do, I am the master of the Seinfeld domain. Yeah, that’s right!

There’s nothing more satisfying as an educator than reading about a former student (who once completed this same assignment) who was chosen as a role model by current students.

With one book already published, she received word recently that her second one will be published in the coming year. And if I know anything about her at all, she’s not stopping there. She sets the example I want to follow.

Mandi Bean, the world is a much better place because you are in it, my friend.

808ebed71bbe4a4f3c0dbbfc37fefe4dI wish you a very Happy Birthday.

May today be the first day of the most WONDERFUL year of your life, for you certainly deserve it.

With my utmost admiration and gratitude,

OC1

 

 

 

Looking Back: Dublin Day 6 (Part 1) In Pictures: Sandycove and James Joyce Tower

Saturday, August 20, 2016, was my sixth day in Dublin. I couldn’t wait to get started on my adventure today! We took the DART to Sandycove, about a 15-minute ride or so. From the station, we made our way along the waterfront and walked to the James Joyce Tower. Some history about the tower: James Joyce stayed here for a short time, and it is the location where Chapter 1, Telemachus, in James Joyce’s Ulysses begins. The Tower has so many James Joyce artifacts and displays. If you are a fan of literature, the James Joyce Tower is worth checking out.

If you click on one of the pictures below, it will turn into a gallery which you might find easier to view.

It was amazing to be in the same spot as James Joyce. My footprints walked in his footprints, and also walked in those of Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan. If you would like to learn more about the locations mentioned in today’s post, please visit these links:

James Joyce Tower and Museum Site 1

James Joyce Tower and Museum Site 2

Sandycove Beach

Sandycove and Glasthule

Coming tomorrow: Day 6 Part 2: Dalkey.

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on August 20, 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. 

Something to SEA: Rainy Day Clicks for 5/7/2016

20160507 Blog Photo New Fonts

It’s been dreary all week here in New Jersey, and today doesn’t look to be any different. That’s okay, though. Sometimes I like dreary days. It will become brighter this afternoon for me because we will be celebrating my nephew’s 5th birthday. I was summoned to “come over and play” this week by the 2-year-old, and it was the best two hours of the week. The 3 of us played with connecting gears, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Paw Patrol cars, and I had a lot of fun making them laugh by making my duck sound and by hitting balloons into the air. I hope you find time this week to spend time with the cherished people in your life. There’s nothing better than making memories and being with those you love.

Here are some interesting links for the week. Hope you enjoy!

May is Lupus Awareness Month – I will be penning a blog entry on Tuesday 5/10 about Lupus to commemorate World Lupus Day, which will be the only day each year I focus on my illness here at SoulSEAker. If you’d like to learn more about Lupus, please see the .pdf fact sheet linked here.

A Call for Kindness – by Susannah Conway. All women, regardless of your age, should read this.

Dan Pallotta: The Dream We Haven’t Dared to Dream – excellent Ted Talk recommended by fellow author and my friend Mandi Bean

2 Minutes Watching the Northern Lights Over Norway Proves the World is Still Beautiful – by Joe Carberry over at The Inertia

Say It Loud! I’m a Writer and I’m Proud – by Gayle Fleming

Why Do Some People Go Out of Their Way to Help Others – great video posted by No Limits

And Finally…

Even the Obamas celebrated Star Wars Day!

Have a splendid day and week!

Until next time, 

Jill

PS: If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, here’s a link to the May issue.  Take a look, then sign up! You know you want to! 🙂