The Arbor Vitae 2013

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Jean's Blog (Check out links to Guest Blogs in lefthand Column)

THE FUSCHIA AND THE FICUS

July 2, 2016

Tags: upstate New York, fuschia, ficus, terrace, harmony

Perseverance


A month ago, my son-in-law brought me some plants for our terrace, since various annoying setbacks prevented me from reveling in my usual happy spring foray at Saunderskill Farms in upstate New York, almost walking distance from our country house. He had chosen a glorious array of purple and white petunias, delicate spires of purple florets, pink fuschias that revealed silky purple interiors, and a magnificent hanging fuschia bursting with fat pink buds, that quite took my breath away. I imagined drinking my morning coffee under the swaying blooms once they had all opened.
We have a ficus tree that winters behind our white reclining couch in the living room, and then settles decoratively into a corner of our small terrace when the last frosts are over. We nursed it from a sprig, many years ago, to its present impressive height, and every year it gets a little harder to maneuver it back and forth between apartment and terrace. My husband heaved a sigh of relief when he had pushed and pulled it to its usual corner, and it was only later that we realized that one of its branches was in the way of the hanging fuschia, which immediately reacted to sharing its sparse light and sun by dropping buds and blooms all over the terrace floor. It had become a mass of swaying green leaves. I was devastated.
Meanwhile, the ficus, dancing in the light spring breezes, began to unfurl new leaves of delicate green, mixing in with its dark and dusty winter foliage. I noticed that the hanging fuschia seemed to have developed bunches of low hanging buds, and sprigs waved above the ficus with sprays of new buds reaching upward to the light. Today, they all opened, creating a gorgeous lacy filigree of pink and white between and above the leaves and branches of the ficus. They adapted to each other and created a superb counterbalance of shades of green and bursting clusters of color. Their combined beauty outshone their separate existences. A lesson to be learned?
I read somewhere "You don't get harmony when everyone sings the same note."



NOT INVISIBLE

June 2, 2016

Tags: time, old, beauty, serenity

Blurred Beauty

I am becoming fascinated with the different way that time impacts my life now that I do not have a measurable job to go to. Hours drift past, indistinguishable, tumbling and swirling in the quiet until they cede space to the next hour, and the next. Sometimes no words are spoken for many hours, so they pass me by in silence, offering no interaction with others. There is no schedule to brush against, nothing to push against nothing with which to make contact in the soft slurring of the days. Time is mine now. But how to fashion something meaningful out of it ?
In between the long stretches of road with nothing to mark my passage, there are suddenly stretches where a complex scenery defines itself. A flurry of phone calls, obligations, emergencies, doctor visits, plans, everything crashes at once into the baffling serenity, stirring up clumps of purpose that flower and dazzle in the calm.
I start the old "master of the universe" stride, but realize that it no more exists than the many years that refined it. Now I walk carefully, gauging the pavement, looking for seating here and there, sighing with relief that there is no more need for hurry, there are fewer sharp edges to avoid. It is almost pleasant to wander in a blurred landscape. There is much to do, much to see, much to savor.
There is always a growing sense that the last time never announces itself, so each time is fragrant with the poignancy that it could be the last. Few angers warrant stoking. Many loves crowd in to embrace. So much in this beautiful world to admire. I have seen and enjoyed so much. Fear for the future recedes. The future will take care of itself. I can only watch and hope.
People smile and pass me by. My panoply of needs and desires lose their urgency. I have one more revision to undertake on my novel. My heart clings to the hope that it will fly out into the world and be seen, that all that I need to say will be heard. I may be old, but I will not be invisible.


DONE IT!

May 2, 2016

Tags: writing, novel, characters, Nile

A year ago, I plunged into my novel and stopped writing my monthly blogs, wanting to channel all the energy of my creativity toward the one goal that beckoned enticingly from the shadows. Now winter has passed, an astoundingly mild winter, but one that seems reluctant to cede its place to spring. Clouds race across the sky, propelled by an unseasonal wind. Storms and hail batter the middle of the country. Here we are, in May 2016, and the chill in the air still makes the crocuses and daffodils shiver along with the rest of us.
I spent a year of writing and thinking about writing. My novel is done, except for responding to advice from agent and editor. I have neither. I am stranded in the nether world of doubt and despair from which I rescued other writers for years. Who will love my brain-child? Who will make it all real? I wait. Answers will eventually come. They may not be the answers I so desire. I am not a patient person I discover, although I always thought I was.
I set out to write that novel, clear about where it would begin and where it would end. I knew the beginning. I knew how it ended. I was fuzzy, but hopeful that I would be able to sharpen focus on everything that needed to happen in between. What I had not anticipated was the way certain characters, just a name at first, struggled and elbowed their way to importance, and in doing so, unfurled infinite possibilities, influenced interaction with others, tilted the story differently and through their motivations and individual needs skewed the involvement with their environment and world events their way. I felt myself being dragged along to unpremeditated scenarios by the energy the characters themselves projected. It was a mind-blowing experience.
Now, like so many other writers of first novels, I sit on hot coals, pretending to do and say all that is expected of me in my real world, while the world and characters I created bang on the door of my consciousness, demanding to know what will happen next. The novel (tentative title, CHILDREN OF THE NILE), is finished, but not final, as I wait for responses.
This the mere beginning. But what of the people whose lives I explored, whose lives I lived as I wrote them? They became more real to me than flesh and blood. We lived together for so many months, shared Eureka moments, struggled against each other, flew above the clouds into the zone together and emerged dazed but triumphant to read words that wrote themselves, words I loved, and was unaware of having written.
Now there is only the pain of waiting.


WHY I WROTE A MEMOIR FIRST

May 1, 2015

Tags: memoir, Nile, humanity, universal

Wedding of Joseph Smouha and Rosa Ades in Manchester, England

Writing my memoir, Sipping From the Nile, My Exodus from Egypt was a transformational experience. I laid the past to rest. The echo of my life bounced back to me across the topography of decades, bringing resolution, self-knowledge, meaning, and substance to the present.
The catalyst that started the process of writing my memoir came zooming out of left field soon after the births of my first grandchildren. I realized then, that while they held the key to the future, I held the key to their past. They were entitled to find it, if they ever went seeking. The community and the world I had known as a child before the Suez crisis of 1956 had completely disappeared. It seemed increasingly important to write it back into being, to preserve the vibrant personalities and idiosyncrasies of beloved family members, along with the rich and complicated world in which they flourished.
I never meant to share my reflections with the world. I wrote for my family, in an attempt to make sense of it all, to seek out the vanished past that left its faint footprint in the present. But as I began to open locked doors and allow the past back in, more and more memories, more scenes, more scents and sounds of a lost world swelled into being and jostled in my mind for attention. There was a profound satisfaction in feeling that I was rendering homage to those who came before me, and laying a path for those in search of themselves to follow. I began to see myself as a mere fragment in time, the sum of choices made by unknown ancestors, in a distant past.
Each memoir is both unique, and universal. I learned that each personal memoir holds truths and commonalities way beyond those experienced by the writer. Every life, whatever the circumstances, turns out to be a universal tale of reversals and transformations, shaped by the storms of politics, economics, wars, and losses; the prism through which each tale is viewed is what bends the experience into widely differing shapes for each individual.
In striving to make sense of our own lives, we are drawn to read about the lives of others. Whether those lives mirror our own or offer a taste of exotica or trauma we have not shared, we enter them for a brief time, taking pleasure or pain in the sharing, and always finding a common humanity.




Writing My Way Through the Year

April 9, 2015

Tags: winter, spring, novel, trees

Awaited Pleasures

Spring is hiding, but I am in no mood for a game of hide-and-seek. I need the real thing after the winter we have had this year. I am rigorously proceeding with all the spring requirements: spring cleaning, sorting and tidying, Passover etc., but the touch of spring sunshine on my face is missing. I dare not put my plants out on our small terrace, although they suddenly feel claustrophobic in the living room. The inhospitable cold wind still breathes an ominous chill into every day. The sight of buds bursting into bloom and trees leafing into delicate spring exuberance is yet to come. Winter is refusing to let go, hanging on with a relentless grip, and it seems that spring is not powerful enough to insist that it's time is now.
Nonetheless, life moves on. I wrestle my way forward into my novel and find that new directions emerge and new connections are made between characters in a larger more metaphoric sense. It is such hard work to move with the characters as they swerve from the path I planned for them and create enticing new opportunities. Letting go of a lovingly crafted episode that no longer advances the direction the story is taking is truly painful, but I will wait until I have completed a full draft and have had some "beta" readers react to it, before making the decision, even though I sort of know now that the painful excision will have to be made.
I am having so much fun with the process and the fulfillment of my life's dream to write a novel. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day, but meanwhile, I forge ahead, loving the work, loving the opportunity to try


.

Reflections

February 27, 2015

Tags: Alps, Arctic, mother, birthday, March, Manhattan, spring

JOYCE MOSSERI, 1986.
Alpine landscape , 20 x 16 , rectangular, acrylic on canvas, $359.

I have never looked forward to March as fervently as I do this year. We have family birthdays cropping up early in the month. My mother's birthday was on March 13th. She would have been 101. In celebration of her life and in thanks for the life she gave me, I have posted another of her paintings on this month's blog. A wide variety of her paintings can be found on this website,

http://grannyart.free.fr/grannyart/

April will bring two BatMitzvahs of close family, as well as the yearly ordeal that is Passover. Surely by then, we will have segued into warmer weather and the use of our terrace once again? I think often of Stony Creek House, its sturdy stone walls warding off the cold, the roof sagging under snowfalls and ice, the view drere and somber as the house freezes in solitude and we pray that no pipes burst and no trees fall victim to the ice and the cold.
I am so tired of snow and ice, white and grey, multiple layers of clothing, and hefty boots to dare even a few steps outside. The one Manhattan blessing is the way the skies are often blue even when the thermometer plunges to Arctic depths.
Still, the gentle warmth of spring sunlight and the slow wash of color as flowers and leaves break into bud and bloom, the first happy trills of courting birds, these are the moments my heart desires. Enough of winter hibernation for this year! We need spring!
I am getting used to living in two universes, the one we all live in, and the one in my head that clicks into place more and more as my novel grows. Every small detail that parallels my story or my characters leaps out at me when people are conversing, or when I read the paper or listen to the news. I am living there as much as living here, and sometimes it is hard to make the bridge from one to the other. This is a new and absorbing experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to savor it to the full.



The February Blues

February 3, 2015

Tags: hibernating, writing, groundhog day, John Gardner, Stephen King



Painting by Joyce Mosseri
available for purchase


Snow, ice, wind, storms, sleet and bone-chilling cold. That has been the recipe so far for this bitter winter. Even the stoics are shaken. For hibernating creatures such as myself, the days stretch, unwinding opportunity as I sit and contemplate the blank screen of my computer.
Groundhog Day came and went with no clarification as to how long this weather will hold us prisoner. The three warring groundhogs of the Northeast could not arrive at a consensus, so - weary sigh - we either have an early spring or five more weeks of winter.
I planned to hibernate, but I did expect to be able to poke my nose out of my burrow now and then to sniff the air.
Meanwhile, my life as a writer is taking me by surprise. I am learning that having made a commitment to my characters and the story they are weaving, everything I hear, see and read measures itself subconsciously against them. Everything around me feeds into my story. I am working internally far more than I expected and I am loving the process. My characters are growing wings and flying on their own. Only time will tell if their wings take their story into the minds and hearts of readers. They have made it into mine.
If anyone reading this is an aspiring fiction writer, I strongly recommend John Gardner's fantastic book, "On Becoming a Novelist." Along with Stephen King's engaging book on writing, it has spun a web of very useful insights into the process and reach of the imagination and its relationship to writing fiction, to creativity, and truth.
Other books have been somewhat helpful, but these two set my feet firmly on a path I am treading with wonder and delight, breathing in the air of discovery and marveling at the view, all the while hibernating and waiting for spring.




THE WRITING LIFE

December 29, 2014

Tags: writing, azalea, imagination, winter


Winter at Stony Creek House: Firewood, Sunlight and Snow


Strange December weather.
Two azalea plants are flourishing on our city living-room window-sill, encouraged to spectacular bloom by the subtle wafting of warm air from the radiator nearby and the delicate winter sunlight sifting through the glass of the window pane. They bloom year after year, sometimes twice a year. Every new array of strong little buds comes as a charming surprise as the years go by.
Spring-like days offer gentle air and blue skies, but hidden in our cautious, almost disbelieving delight there lurks a sense of foreboding. Will we have to pay for this unseasonal gift with harsh and cruel winter months to come, as a new year moves in?
I am drifting slowly toward the moment when I will be able to sink into working on my novel without guilt. January begins next week. My year of transition is over.
I have not succeeded in staving off some of the words that have begun to crowd my subconscious. 15,000 of them now sit enticingly in my computer. Every time I dare to open the file, I am sucked deep into the lives of my characters, who are filling out in unexpected ways, gaining strong voices, past lives, and a destiny.
I feel that this forage into the realms of the imagination is what I was always meant to do. Time disappears. There are no hungers but the hungers of the individuals I have invited to live in my mind. I am merely a conduit and like a Jinn billowing from a bottle, I can offer them a future that only I can conjure into reality.
There is research to be done, and I am reading into the period when the novel is set, and into some of the background. I am so excited to be embarking on a new challenge, a new project that will push beyond what I know and enlarge my interior world. I so hope it will all come together to produce the shape and resolution of a fully realized work of fiction. I am stepping with optimism and energy into my writing life.
Onward, 2015! And a happy new year to one and all.



COMING OF AGE

December 8, 2014

Tags: cousins, college, bench, coming of age



COUSINS: College, anyone?




COMING OF AGE

Years have slipped by so fast
Since last I sat on a slatted bench
Under trees mangy as river rats,
The fat river sluggish ahead
Wrinkling under the blue
Manhattan sky
In spring.

Now and then I hear birds sing,
I hear them through the scream
Of sirens gambling with death.
Childrens' voices vanish past the playground's
Bent iron grid,
Into the rancid breath of city living,
Swooshing down silver slides,
Bundled against the treacherous temper
Of early March.

The past pecks at my mind.
It has scribbled lines across my forehead
And written no words between.
The past, like a dry September leaf
Has lost its flame
And free fall from the tree
In a little dust and crackle
Underfoot.



The Smouha City Venture:
Alexandria 1923-1958

October 20, 2014

Tags: Smouha City, Richard Smouha, Joseph Smouha

This mid-month blog is to alert readers to a new book, just published, and available in print and on Kindle. If you read my memoir, SIPPING FROM THE NILE, you may remember reading about my grandfather, Joseph Smouha, and his transformation of a swampy mosquito-infested area of the city of Alexandria into a visionary real estate development: Smouha City.
THE SMOUHA CITY VENTURE explores various aspects involved in the creation, development and urbanization of Smouha City, a suburb of Alexandria in Egypt.
Joseph Smouha's eldest grandson, my cousin, Richard Smouha, ("Dicky" in my memoir) - with the help of two experts in the fields of historical, archeological and architectural research, Cristina Pallini and Marie-Cecile Bruwier - has pulled together a fascinating historical overview of Alexandria, a collaborative recording of the underpinnings of the incredible real estate venture that our grandfather, Joseph Smouha undertook, which transformed the city of Alexandria in his lifetime.
To the readers of my memoir, THE SMOUHA CITY VENTURE provides a fascinating context to SIPPING FROM THE NILE. It is interesting, entertaining and informative, and contains many wonderful maps and photos. Altogether, it is a valuable document. Delving into antiquity, historical and recent architectural discoveries and first-hand accounts of the events preceding, during and following the birth of Smouha City, Richard Smouha's book is thoroughly researched. It paints a vivid picture of the societal and architectural makeup of Alexandria during the first half of the mid-20th century, as well as expanding what we know about the history of our family and our Smouha grandparents.






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