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

Writing My Way Through the Year

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


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Reflections

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.



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The February Blues

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.




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THE WRITING LIFE


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.



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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.



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The Smouha City Venture: Alexandria 1923-1958

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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Building My Winter Burrow

A Hibernated World


The months of early Fall whirl into focus amidst the beauty and turbulence of a rising wind dancing the leaves, and the pressures and pleasures of the High Holidays. These months also bring echoes of my losses. My two beloved maternal grandparents died during the High Holidays many years ago. My father died on the second night of Rosh Hashana in 1971, my mother last October. It is difficult not to view this time of year without a creeping apprehension that goes beyond a fear of the ice and cold to follow, the possibility of a winter as long and hard as the last one.
But as we come to terms with grey skies and the sudden assault of a day of wind and chill reminding us that summer is past, along with the squirrels, the woodchucks, the chipmunks, and the bears, we, too, set about building our winter burrows. Only our burrows are built of schedules and commitments, school routines for the young and their parents, shorter days, more demands, and a pace to match.
I have always known that I am a hibernating animal at heart, longing to curl up in warmth and sleep the winter away while others ski the slopes and run in marathons. This year I plan to let that hibernating creature take over.
To that end, I am now busy gathering my acorns and nuts, renovating my environment, whittling down my commitments and possessions to an organized clarity, preparing to use the winter to focus on my new book from the comfort of my home. I have tucked away as many distractions as possible, and have filled the shelves of my writing room with books relevant to the period and location I plan to explore in my novel. I am warning all my near and dear that my transitional year will end when January begins.
Small flares of the energy building in my subconscious are already bursting to the surface, and when they do, I write their messages down. But in my hibernation to come, I will open myself to doing the nothing that leads to something when it contemplates a blank computer monitor day after day after day, while nature rages outside the window.
Maybe the winter will bring cabin fever and nothing more. Maybe the pages I hope to write will never reach out into the world, but no matter how it goes, I am resolute.
If not now, when...?


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FLIP OF THE SWITCH

The Pond

I am quite amazed to note where these past months have led me. Slowly but surely I have become aware that a life-change is taking place. There has been a flip of the switch and the lens through which I view my world has shifted undeniably into a new perspective, a need for completion, a new close-up, a new set of urgencies: the final playing out of the story that is my life.
Priorities have shifted suddenly and seismically. I am caught up in an urgent need to simplify and clarify, to pare down, to label, to throw out, to bag for the thrift shops, to re-order all the minutae of my 50 years in this apartment..
Time to let go. Time to make order out of chaos. Time to lose everything that has found no place or significance in the lives of my children and grandchildren, and that no longer has a place in whatever time I have left. Time to make up for so many years of benign neglect of daily trivia, as I raced through my life, leaving so much unfinished, so many books unread, so much undone, clinging onto the streaming days by my fingernails in the hope of not missing a beat or falling off the radar.
Time to revel in the beauty of the world.
Fall has come early this year. Up at the country house, there are flutters of gold and scarlet among the leaves. Rust will come later. Last weekend a flock of nine very large black turkeys ambled companionably in the far field, majestically oblivious of the humans watching through the kitchen window. The visiting heron stalked something invisible in the pond. Squirrels, suddenly bursting with purpose, scrambled up and down trees. Summer's breath is still heavy with August humidity but September has arrived, and with it, promises of glory and intimations of winter to come. Grandchildren are back at school in their new grades. Our eldest grandson has started his first year at college. Business lunches jostle with other appointments in the calendar, playing hide and seek with various medical check-ups and the High Holy Days, looming in the middle distance.
Not too far ahead, in November, Thanksgiving offers its magnanimous promise of the old stone house rich with family and fragrant with food and wood smoke once again. Love fills my heart. I contemplate the long trail of years behind me. Still so much left to read, to experience, to complete... to begin.
Whatever lies ahead, I am ready.


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SONGS OF SUMMER

Roses around the Stone Well

The heavy rains of early summer have resulted in a thick blanket of creepers and vines draping every tree and bush with tropical intensity along the way between the city and our stone house upstate. I wonder if the obliterated trees will survive the onslaught.
I look out of the windows of the old stone house and I can almost feel the thickness of dense vegetation closing in, although early landscapers created views of wide swathes of fields bordered sparely by dark conifers and a variety of deciduous shades of green. The climbing roses on one side of the stone well are thriving. The other side refuses to climb. I have given up.
Trees close to the house frame house and flower-beds discreetly, without intruding. They stand benevolent guard, branches weighed down with decades of growth. Out on the front lawn, the giant maple that has been presiding over the house for over a century lost two significant branches in some recent storm which we did not experience. We mourned the evidence as the car pulled up at the head of the driveway. Nonetheless the huge maple still stands proudly, a spectacular sentinel, waiting for the winds of autumn to fill its arms with gold.
And now I see that the hollyhocks planted earlier this summer have grown to amazing heights, red and white flowers alternating with tightly clustered buds straining at their green sheaths to open in the sun. Like lanky girls at a ball, they sway and smile, dancing beautiful blossoms to the music of the breeze.
This old stone house has sheltered hopes and dreams, pain and loss for centuries. It withstands weather and age, waiting for us to escape our daily lives for a brief promise of peace. It waits for us to be restored. I am deeply grateful for its healing walls.
Standing at the window in the kitchen with the view of the pond in the distance, I dream and drift, and that is all. And that is enough.


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THE ORCHID'S MESSAGE

Harbinger of hope

An array of dormant orchid plants droops glumly on my living-room window sill, exquisite blooms long gone, stems cut to the nub, broad leaves listing to one side or another. I don't expect much of them, and they don't expect much from me, but because the leaves are still a glossy green I find it impossible to walk them down the hallway outside my apartment and consign them to their doom.
So they sit patiently for months and years on my North-facing window-sill absorbing whatever sunlight filters grudgingly through the kaleidoscope of buildings across the street, and I try to forget that they once sported magnificent blooms on tall and graceful stems.
However, recently, two of them decided that their long sleep had ended. A thin stem rose wavering into the air from the protection of glossy leaves. Tiny buds bulged and later burst into cascading beauty. One produced bright yellow blooms in a cluster, igniting the moment with magic. The other, pink and purple, spaced its blossoms with an artist's flair. Undeterred by the air-conditioning at its roots, it dances in the air that flows up from the air-conditioning unit below and reminds me that as long as there is life, there is possibility, and as long as there is possibility, miracles can happen.
And as I admire their loveliness every time I walk by and marvel at the miracle of their sudden rebirth, I feel a flood of hope that my year of transition and my dormant novel may yet take energy from my subconscious and bloom into being before too long. As long as there is possibility, miracles happen, and my beautiful orchid, dormant for two years, whispers its message to my heart every day.


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