West Of The Moon

West of the Moon is the unofficial, temporary meeting ground for the members of Christendom's Guild of the Cross and the Quill. Sadly West of the Moon won't be in our future permanent web URL because a number of other selfish people already registered all permutations of the URL years ago without even consulting me. For that they shall pay.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I wrote this last semester, and I just tried revising it tonight. I'd love some outside criticism. Rip away.
by Adrienne Alessandro

She had wanted to be a nun when she had been little, but her father had not cared for the idea of his child going to Africa and harboring her virginity in the jungle heat. “Stay in the village and be a mother,” he said, as he sat on the dusty doorstep in their Mediterranean village. He rubbed his grizzled beard slowly and squinted his eyes. “You can do more with your life here than you could ever do there.” He looked up at her while the street leading up to the village church was swirling with golden dust, kicked up by the worn soles of the women working in the village. The ancient sun threw its light onto the yellow sandstone buildings and cast itself on the figure of Giovanna, standing before her father in the circles of dust. She looked up the street and down to her father, and said, “You don’t understand, papa. But I will listen to you and stay here if you want me to.” She had gone inside and held back her tears until she went to bed that night. She had listened, but she did not agree.

The nuns at the school always had always told Giovanna that she was smart. That idea had never really soaked into her in the same way that the Shakespeare words and the Italian songs and the love for silence had melded themselves into her bones, but she stored the statement in the back of her mind and kept it there to remind herself someday. She liked to go down to the garden by the harbor, guarded high by the strong block walls that had kept back the invasions and the sea for hundreds of years. This sea whipped out from her like a taunt blue rug that was being dusted by the wind. She looked down at the blue and thought about the motion, the waves, and the wash that crashed against the wall. She would sometimes look down at that water until the rhythm of the waves would creep into her body and she could feel their motion moving through her lungs, mind, and soul. It stayed with her as she walked through the streets of the city afterwards, onto the bus and back to her school.

Sometimes she brought a schoolbook to the garden, but mostly she sat and watched the people go by. Some of them had children in carriages, others had suitors to walk with. The rich ladies had hats that floated above them and set their own rhythm. Giovanna watched them all with a pencil in her hand, and sketched out the people in a gold book . It was the one beautiful object she owned, that she won at school for a sketch she made of her father. Giovanna loved the embossed swirls that traveled down over the stiff board cover. She traced them with her fingers while she daydreamed and let the people pass before her eyes.

Afternoons spent away from the noisy boarding school were Giovanna happiest moments. When she came back to the college on those days she still had the sea’s blue in her body, and others could tell that there was something different about her. Some had suggestions.

“You daydream too much, Giovanna,” Sister Nicoletta said primly, acidly. The nun’s words flooded over Giovanna thick and heavy, drowning out the voice in her head and the rhythm in her soul. “You do well in school, but your head is in the clouds. Your mind is in that gold book. Look down and see the work in front of you. Be smart about life. Be like Michealina,” she said approvingly. “She knows what the world is.” Giovanna looked out the window to see the glorious Michaelina, blooming for the moment, pointed out to her, and she saw the woman that her father wanted her to be. Michaelina was the kind that would eventually be ground into the yellow dust with the spilled baking flour and the dirty washing water. She was full of hard wide bones and coy looks for the sailors who dropped by the harbor on leave. The only dreams Michaelina made were the ones of boys who twirled her for a week in the dances and left her to spin on her own. Giovanna had looked at Sister Nicoletta with her steady green eyes that showed no fear. Her words came out coolly, decidedly. “I can only be like Michaelina if I keep the Giovanna that’s in me.” She turned and quickly walked away as the nun disapprovingly watched her retreating figure.

Giovanna laughed about it later, when she sketched out Sister’s expression in her book. It was not that Giovanna was afraid of work and the dirty dishwater. When she went home on the weekends, she got down on her hands and knees on Saturday morning and washed the stone floor that her family walked on all week, and the next Saturday she went back and washed the dust off again. That was part of the life of a girl in her village, and she participated in it with energy and love. Giovanna would do her share of work with the rest of the women. But she would not give up her afternoons and soft twilights in the garden by the sea, feeling the salt breeze wash over her face, and she would not leave her golden book on the shelf for as long as she had something to draw to herself. No, she thought to herself, she would not be like Michaelina in that way. Giovanna would stay light and fierce and dance hard in the light and draw her sketches by the sea.

* * * *

Four years passed and Giovanna’s hair was down and whipping across her face on the gray blue day when she first met Francis. The wind was coming in spurts, jumping over the old walls and catching the pages of her gilded book playfully until the pretty teacher finally smiled and closed the cover. She looked up and there he was.

He was leaning against the wall and looking out to sea, letting his eyes rest on a fisherman who was launching his net-burdened boat into the water. The man’s face had the smile of a person who did not know something yet, but who wanted to know what it was. Giovanna found herself tucking her hair back behind her ear in spite of herself. She was pleased with how the man gazed at the scene she saw below her. Her finger traveled gently over the cover of her book.

“Do you see that picture?” the man said, never taking his eyes from the man in the boat. She knew that he was talking to her. “It’s more than what he’s doing. That fisherman below lives out a whole life on that boat.” His voice was soft and it smiled in the description, making pauses to make sure that she would understand the way his mouth wrapped around the foreign words. “He says goodbye to his wife in the morning, takes the nets, which she probably mended, and steps out onto the water every day, alone.” His voice caught on with the image. The fisherman had now bent himself into the hard row for deeper waters. “He rocks all day with only the sun and the fish for company; but look at him, he loves it. He understands the sea, he knows it.” Giovanna rose and leaned on the wall beside him, looking down to where his finger pointed. She smiled at the picture he had given her, at the sea, at the fisherman’s life. She saw the inkstains on his fingers, the worn leather journal peeking out of his knapsack, and she tugged back on her hair once more. He turned to her and smiled into her eyes. “You must see it every day, but for me it’s the first time. His life makes a beautiful story, doesn’t it?”

* * * *

Six months later, Giovanna ran to her garden by the sea with a sob, repeating to herself that it was alright, that her father just did not understand. She should have expected this; it was like him, she thought bitterly. But this time she was not stepping back, she told herself, choking out the words, she would not change her mind.

He is not one of our people, her father had barked at her. Couldn’t you find a man from our church, our village? Someone who understands you? Someone who knows who you are? Who is this man? Do you know? Can he offer you anything that the village cannot? You do not know, and what’s more, you do not know yourself. Your head is in the clouds, girl, and you need to wake up. Wake up, girl. The words tumbled from her head down her heart and bit her there.

For six sweet months, Giovanna had drawn pictures for the writer and lived with the stories and the pictures that he etched upon her mind. Two nights ago, he asked her to marry him, in the same spot where she now cried out her tears. And she was going to marry Francesco, she whispered to herself, marry him and move away to his home in America. Her father had some truth. Leaving her home, her family, this sea, would rip the bark off of her heart, she knew. But her soul wanted to marry his own soul. She may have thought of many new dreams since that gray blue day in the garden, but she was still Giovanna. Not Michaelina, she whispered to herself. She would not understand, like papa does not understand. But I do, she cried to herself. Oh, I do.

No, she choked to herself, no. I know who I am, and what this village is. I know what I love, and I know the village men. They want women that they can use up like matches, light them up and then throw them out after two seconds, burnt. But I want to love, just to be able to love. And he sees life in pictures.

She looked out to the sea.

He knows the meaning of blue.

She turned her eyes out to shifting peaks that rose towards her, and looked out past the sea.

He writes his beautiful pictures for me, she whispered. He cannot carry the garden here with us to America, but he sees me, he knows me. He draws me for myself in his eyes and on the page.

She lifted her eyes up to the sky, and in the distance, she saw the glow from the church in her old village, calling her back. She had cried long enough. Giovanna rose and turned her steps towards home. Her golden book with the finger-worn cover was in her right hand, tight, and her mind already flew across what intended for the last page. When she came home in the twilight to face her father on the step, she held no fear. His last words to her, “Is there nothing here for you to stay for?” brought no tears.

Giovanna stepped into the house, took a thick red ribbon and tied it around her golden book, and placed it deep in her suitcase with some crushed rose petals from the garden by the sea. As she came out the door, she looked up the street, past the settled dust, on to the lights of village church and nodded her head. Then she took Francesco’s hand and walked away.

* * * *

Thirty years later, a woman with a faded red ribbon around her salted hair leaned against the sea wall in the Farrugha Gardens by the harbor. Her dim eyes knew the spot well. In her hand she carried two books which she placed on the ledge beside her. The first one was cracked at the seams, but traces of gold were still caught in between the embossed swirls that had been wiped clean by the fingers of time. She opened it to the last page, where there was a bold sketch of a man looking out to sea with a woman standing strongly by his side. Giovanna looked up, and took a sigh that found its depths in three decades of longing and love. Scattered tears fell quickly to the sea as the woman lifted the book to her lips, giving it a gentle kiss.

When she took her seat in the garden, she reached over to the other book that had a cover of cracked brown leather. It fell open to the picture of a man who had a ring on his left hand, looking out with a look that knew. The woman reached out to touch his smile. But the pages flipped to a charcoal scene of trees that starkly surrounded a cold stone rectangle in the ground. A woman shown ten years older than the page before bent over in grief and clutched at her womb and heart. The letter from her father that year had been cruel. What has this man, who took you all the way over there, given to you? Why won’t you come back here where you fit? he stabbed. She had burned that letter and thrown the ashes to the wind.

One page later, there was a kinder letter tucked within the leaves. It was written by the hand that her eyes used to rest on, following its motion as it sprawled out black words upon white paper. “My Beautiful,” it said, “when I must leave you, I want you to remember and glance back, to see and sense again the love that we have with us now. There is a new joy to our lives now, which you alone will fully know . . .” But it was not necessary to read any more; the words were already written on her heart. She folded the pages of the letter and turned instead to the last page of the book. Upon it was a soft picture done in black ink with gold paint and light blue chalk. She gently traced the yellow curls of the figure with her fingertip until she thought to look up.

A thin American girl holding a pastitzzi and a glass bottle of soda stood before her. Giovanna thought to herself how young the girl looked in this setting of old stones and heartaches, joys and memories. Maria’s mouth twisted as she took a sip out of a bottle of Kenny, but smiled at the sea as her sandy blonde curls fell over sharp blue eyes; eyes that knew. “Is this the place that you told me about in all the old stories?” Giovanna smiled and nodded to her daughter. Maria leaned over the wall and grinned dizzily at the drop. “No wonder you love it so much.” She cozied up to her mother and wrapped her arms around her slight figure.. After a little while, she asked softly, “What did you lose, mother, when you left here? Do you have any regrets?”

Giovanna turned to her daughter, grabbed her hand and gave her a strong kiss. She looked deep into Maria’s eyes and said, “No. None at all. I gained much more than I could ever have had.” Her worn eyes ran across her daughter’s face, and both knew. Then the woman gently closed the brown leather book and placed it on top of the book with the worn gold cover, tying them both with a turquoise ribbon. She dropped her arm around the waist of her precious girl with the golden curls, and both of them looked out with gratitude and wonder at the ascending blue sea.


Blogger The Dude said...

"ascending sea" - ah...beautiful oceanic alliteration.

More later...

11:00 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:35 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

Like it? It took me fifteen minutes to think of the appropriate word. I remembered how you and Peter hated "pulsating," and you two were absolutely right. It didn't fit at all.

What do you think of the title? It seemed right an hour ago but it's not sitting right with me now...

11:37 PM  
Blogger Ibid said...

I say you should call the story "Ascending Seas."

9:31 AM  
Blogger Learning to be Alone said...

Good story, Adrienne. Is this the one you said you read at one of the meetings? I obviously wasn't there, because I never heard it. ;) My only comments are the nit-picky sort... I won't go into them, you could probably pick them out yourself.

Random question: What is oceanic alliteration? I admit my ignorance.

Mary Beth

9:06 PM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Heh. I guess I'll explain that one. At the meeting where Adrienne first read this story, the final sentence described the sea as 'pulsating', which, we all agreed, was a most inappropriate adjective and left a bad taste in the mouth. She has since changed the adjective to 'ascending'. Now, the term 'oceanic alliteration' is, as far as I know, a term of my own creation. It merely describes the fact that the soft and smooth nature of the alliteration between the two words - "ascending sea" - is very fitting of the watery image which it is meant to conjure, that is, 'oceanic'. Oceanic merely means of or having to do with the ocean.

Does that make sense? Probably not. But I tried. Anyway, it's not a technical term, so don't worry. I made it up. It's more poetic than anything. Which means that it doesn't make sense. If something you ever say doesn't make sense, you can just say 'it's poetic' and nobody can say a thing. Because you're so far above them. Boo-yah.

9:28 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

Yes, this was read at the lit meeting held down by river with the bottle of wine. That was a GREAT meeting, despite its size. :)

Do you mean typo nit-picky things, or other sorts of nit-picky ideas? (Btw, I think I was on crack when I came up with some of those sentence structures; I attacked them at random last night but I need to do a systematic revision of some of those things. It must have been during Chapter 1 of the thesis). Because honestly, I love nit-picky stuff, because I am a perfectionist and tend to come up with nit-picky stuff myself. So please, nit-pick away if you care to. I have a hard time being objective about the thing, because I am fond of it. But I do wonder if the tone is off or too heavy or sentimental at times, if a sentence is just weird, etc.


9:29 PM  
Blogger Learning to be Alone said...

My nit-picks were mostly grammatical/sentence structure picks. I was too lazy to write them out the other night, which is why I didn't say anything, but here, I'll list them now. (That sounds terrible... wow. Here, Adrienne, let me tear your story to pieces).
First of all, I found the opening sentence clumsy. There are a lot of good ideas in it (I really like the "harboring her virginity in the jungle heat" bit), but it doesn't fit together well. "She had wanted to be a nun when she had been little..." I wish I could be more concrete in my criticism, but it just doesn't flow.

Later on in the first paragraph you use the word "up" several times in succession. "He looked UP at her while the street leading UP to the village church was swirling with golden dust, kicked UP by the worn soles of the women..." And a few sentences later, why does she "look up the street and then down at her father"? It seems that there ought to be some symbolism behind that gesture, since you took the time to describe it, but it's meaning is very unclear.

In the second paragraph, the idea of Shakespeare words and Italian songs "melding themselves into [anyone's] bones" is somewhat peculiar. I think I know what you were driving at, but the image seems almost shallow. Bones don't seem to go deep enough.

Your tenses change suddenly, too. Throughout the first paragraph and into the second you stick with the (imperfect? Excuse me while I show my complete ignorance of English grammar). The "had beens... had dones... etc." Then suddenly you switch into simple perfect. The first makes for a much choppier read... perhaps you could adjust the whole?

You'll love this one: you said, "Others had suitors to walk with." Technically it should be more along the lines of "others had suitors with which to walk..."

"Afternoons spent away from the noisy boarding school were Giovanna happiest moments. When she came back to the college on those days she still had the sea’s blue in her body, and others could tell that there was something different about her. Some had suggestions." This was rather vague... it's hard to follow the course of her life; does she live at home? at school? how old is she? etc.

Also here, "the glorious Michaelina, blooming for the moment." What do you mean, 'blooming for the moment'? Perhaps you could expand on that a bit.. or put it later in the paragraph, because you do expand on it later, but it doesn't make sense on first reading it.

This isn't quite as nit-picky, I just didn't think too hard about it last night. You don't go into the transition of Giovanna's vocational choice. First she's determined to be a nun, and her father doesn't like it. All well and good. Then she meets this guy and after six months decides to marry him. But what happened to God? Somewhere along the line she needs to cross over some kind of line. That's a huge step in learning to love, is learning how to love God the way He desires you to love Him.

After the four years passed, you called her "the pretty teacher." That was rather sudden. What happened? Just expand a little.

"Maria’s mouth twisted as she took a sip out of a bottle of Kenny, but smiled at the sea..." I didn't care for this image. My first impression of the little girl was an obnoxious little girl with a sarcastic sense of humor, which obviously wasn't what you meant. The description of her "mouth twisting" brought to mind unpleasant things.

Wow, for someone who had nothing to say, I sure came up with a bunch. I hope you were able to at least grasp my meaning, and I hope this helps. It really is a beautiful story! I'm sorry I missed the first reading of it. God bless.

Mary Beth

7:45 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

Thank you for taking the time to go through it so thoroughly, Mary Beth! And thank you for tearing it to pieces. Your corrections are excellent and exactly the sort that I wanted. I appreciate that you took all the time to think through them and write them out.

You are completely right about the vocational issue. The first paragraph has been practically untouched since I first started writing the story, and when I started writing it I had no idea where the story was going. The discrepancy never hit me before; it just proves how blind you can be to the big things. I already know how I'll fix it so that she won't have such an unexpected and inexplicable "change of mind." Thanks for pointing out that out.

I can't really "explain" the church imagery that pops up in the beginning and end; I put it in because it just belonged in the story. I always felt like it was an essential yet underdeveloped symbol. I'll flesh it out some more, maybe use it as a way to connect her vocational "switches."

The problem in the first sentence is incorrect verb tense. That's what makes it sound so clunky. I'm notorious for switching and misusing tenses. You will probably find about 5 tense changes in this post alone.

75% of the plot, details, images, and more random facts about Giovanna are based on the details that I know about my mom's life (with high embellishment, of course; I doubt she'd recognize herself if she read it). I need to remember that not everybody knows what I'm talking about. The school section is vague because I cut out an original section that gave more background on the boarding school situation. I'll find a way to clarify that section and make sure that all of the random details fit into the story as a whole.

I refuse to change the "suitor" sentence. :) I noticed that myself, but I think the grammatically correct version sounds horrendous. I claim that "it's poetic." :)

You are dead right about Maria's "twisting mouth" image. The only reason that I stuck it in there is because my sister and I both hate this nasty, herb-based soft drink (yes, a HERB-BASED soft drink!) that our relatives force down our throats whenever we visit Malta. Putting it in there was an inside joke. Anyways, using "twisting" as an adjective bothered me too; I must have forgotten to change that. I'm thinking about changing Maria's name, too...I didn't think about it enough before I gave it to her, and I'm not sure if it's right for her. All in all, she could probably use a little more description in the limited space that I'm willing to give her.

Question to the void: I've always felt that this piece was more of a character sketch than a story . . . do you think it works as a story? Or that it needs something more essentially (if that makes any sense) to make it stronger or more cohesive?

I'm going to be late for Mass, so I must run. Thanks once again for all of your corrections, Mary Beth! I'd love to see some of your work on here soon. :)


11:51 AM  
Blogger Learning to be Alone said...

I'm glad my comments helped at all! And I don't blame you for not wanting to change your "suitor" sentence. The correct way does sound horrendous.

In response to your "question to the void", I think this can pass for a story. Though it is largely a character sketch, there is enough growth to it that it's still an interesting read. Anyway, that's my 2 cents' worth.

Mary Beth

9:32 AM  
Blogger Peachy said...

Well, I suppose I ought to write something first (other than my never ending story bit), but I was intrigued by the title (which doesn't seem to relate to the story), and here are my 3 cents.

The big problem with the story is the transitions. At first I thought the story was going to be about a child's stuggle to pursue her vocation, and read it looking for some developement on this in the plot. At least some explanatory transition is necessary to keep the reader from being lost as to what the story is about.

The real theme of the story seems in retrospect to be the struggle between Giovanna, and her father. Giovanna has ideas of her own and father is getting in the way. Giovanna is independant; her father is always getting in the way of that independant spirit by obstinately clinging to village traditions. There is a definite tension in the relationship, but the story is too lopsided: we see Giovanna's father, but we know nothing about him.

However, who is Giovanna's father? Is the description given about him really fair, since we only see him getting into the way of Giovann's dreams: 1st, becoming a nun, and 2nd marrying an American boy. Also, the letter he wrote is described as cruel. But is this truly her father, the product of these judgements?

Ecce homo! Even Giovanna's father is a person filled with hopes, dreams, loves, joys, sorrows, crushed hopes, and hopeless dreams. Where is Giovanna's mother? Is she dead? Perhaps this may be the cause of why he has such a hard time relating to her. Is her father a fisherman, who has led a hard life supporting aa little girl who doesn't understand him, since their generations are so different. While he mends the nets, cuts his raw hands reeling in the fish, she runs about the village admiring the sea. Is he truly so hard? Maybe the sorrows of his life have made him rough. A great problem seems to be a misunderstanding between the older generation holding on to tradition, and a newer generation that cannot appreciate it.

The story moves from Giovanna against her father to Giovanna against the traditions of the village. Michealina ground down, old, and wrinkly. Well, Giovanna doesn't wish to become like that. But who may have the better vocation! In the end, beauty fades, but works of love remain!

The traditions of the village (esp. choosing a man from the village over a stranger) , even if they are disagreed with are not understood. Especially since to go off with a stranger meant breaking family ties and closeness. The letter her father wrote only confirms in my mind the misunderstanding between the two. In truth, he is not cruel: it is the only way he knows, and he feels betrayed.

The real thing that hammers this home to me, is Francis's understanding of the life of the fisherman. He is dead wrong. A fisherman goes through so much toil and strife to support his family, that he doesn't "love it" as if it's his choice profession. He ruins his hands, sunburns his body, works all day sometimes catching something, sometimes nothing. He worries all day about the fish, because if there are no fish he starves. He thinks about his family and wonders if there is enough money for bread. He stinks like a fish, and comes home dirty and tired. Sometimes a fisherman drowns in stormy seas. He understands the sea. It is filled with danger and death.

Such is the differences. I think it would be really neat if these were brought out. I have to cut this short. I hate to see characters underdeveloped. The characters here needed souls, or something to say that these are persons too. These are my two cents, and maybe I'll give one more penny, but I wanted to comment on plot developement, theme, and character construction.

8:39 AM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Disagree...disagree....thrice disagree! The story is about Giovanna and her way of looking at the world. It's not about her father; it's about how she sees her father. It's not about the fisherman; it's about how she sees the fisherman. It's not about Michelina; it's about how she sees Michelina.

It is not an attempt at objective biography; it is an attempt to enter her world in an intimate fashion, to take a moment and to look through her eyes.

Giovanna is a romantic; perhaps, indeed, she is excessively so. But this story enables us to see the world through the eyes of the romantic, and therefore it achieves its purpose.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Peachy said...

And thrice I tell you that I didn't say the story was about her father, the fisherman, or michelina. To me it seemed to focus on her relationship with all these. But if this is going to be written from a purely subjective standpoint, then it should be written in first person. Otherwise the characters are too flat, souless, and unrealistic. Also, it collides with the reader's understanding of reality: there is much more than what meets the eye, and it reads more as a bitter autobiographical account.

If the story is just about how Giovanna views her world, and is written in third person from her perspective, then the current result is an incoherent string of thoughts that do not mature at all. They are blind romanticism glorified to the detriment of other characters. Michelina is not explained at all, except that she represents everything Giovanna does not want to be.

This has the makings of a great story, even if Giovanna herself fails to understand how or even why about other people in her life. But it is incumbant on the author to bring some sort of maturation or realization that the reader can follow, and draw from. There is an incredible tragedy here: the breakup of a family and a divorce from the protective society of the village. Neither the author nor Giovanna seems to comprehend the gravity of it all. And Italian families are so close knit! However, any love story gains a realer romance when time and trials purify and deepen love, so that at the same time the reader gains a deeper and purer appreciation.

Giovanna herself does not have to understand perfectly the how or why, but in the descriptions, the reader should be able to discern things that Giovanna may not perceive.

The story to be interesting has to be ground in some realities, learned through experiences both direct or indirect. I know an Irishman from Clare, who was a fisherman: he had this boat called a curragh. It was a hard life, but there is something beautiful about his work that romantic tinting diminishes. But I learned that from talking with him, and getting to see his life through his eyes. My French teacher immigrated to this country when he was 14, but he was able to tell me things about village life that he understood better in his old age. Not that they were good, but he understood the thinking better.

Where maturation is exspected most of all is when Giovanna returns with Maria to Italy. (I assumed Francis is dead at this time). Did the trials of a new life help her appreciate in some measure the hard life of her father, or even the customs of the village? What was life like when the romantic love wore off, for the deeper love gained through trials and suffering. Again, it seems reinforced taht she showed her father, Michelina, and the village that they were wrong, and she found happiness. And perhaps they were, but there are consequences to our actions that reach far beyond ourselves, and to say that she "has no regrets" seems to indicate that she doesn't understand this.

I'm just outlining what I thought might have made a better story. I mean Crime and Punishment is written from Raskalnikov's point of view, but the reader with him experiences some sort of purifying change. My suggestions don't tend toward "an objective biography", S&D. However, the story itself has a more biographical flavor written from the perspective of its subject. It's just my opinion, I just see improvement for the drama of the story. I like it alot, I wish there were some more depth to the characters to flesh out the plot some more.

3:36 PM  
Blogger I am soft sift in an hourglass said...

Wow. I hope you all won't mind if I respond with a rather lengthy post, and I hope that you all post and argue right back at me. :)

Peachy, thank you for all of your comments; you've offered a valuable perspective on the story in that you've pointed out to me what I may not have necessarily made clear when I wrote the story. What I am going to do is present what I was trying to do, and, I admit, I am going to argue for my take on the story. Of course, the fact that I wrote it means that I may be taking for granted certain elements to the story that I thought I made clear. With that said, I am hoping that you all will make suggestions on what is missing, and how to make those elements come to light.

Your interpretation holds valid points, and brings up certain points that need to be addressed, but in many instances, I disagree with what you drew out of the story. I'm interested to know whether others drew your same conclusions; because if so, I think that I should make some serious modifications to the story.

First off: Francis. Is Francis only looking at the "romantic" side of fisherman life? Undoubtedly. I'm sure that Giovanna could have set him straight about the hard facts of a fisherman's life. But the point is, she loves the fact that he sees the beauty in it. Would his perspective on the fisherman be enhanced if he took a more realistic approach to the beauty surrounding it, and also accepted and commented on how hard his life is too? Perhaps; but he doesn't. Maybe that is a flaw within him, because (as we are proving), writers are supposed to dig deeper and see the whole truth within reality. But I think he can stand as a romantic writer - especially if you take into account that he is coming from America, and that foreign life has a certain picturesque appeal to tourists; at least, that was my own experience.

I follow what you say about bringing Giovanna to a "maturization or realization," and I agree with you that that she as a character can be developed, expanded and strengthened.

However, I strongly disagree with you when you say that the story is about rebelling against village traditions. That element is somewhat there, but that is not the focus of the story, and I think that you misinterpret Giovanna's motivations for the "rebellious" tendencies that she does display. You seem to see her motivations as wrong; I see them as courageous and necessary to who she is.

The only way that Giovanna is trying to break away from the village "traditions" is her insistance that she remain true to her soul and her love for beauty. The village characters do not understand nor appreciate this most fundamental thing about her. Her love for beauty lies at her core; it is the best aspect of her personality, it is what makes her unique, and it is something that she thinks is worth fighting for. Granted, maybe she could have dealt with it differently. Maybe she just needed to expand her social circles and find some like-minded artistic souls on the hunk of rock that she lived on. (Btw, I had Malta in mind, not Italy, but that really doesn't matter. :)) But she didn't, and the point is, this part of her personality meant so much to her that she was willing to leave her island (which was a sacrifice that deeply hurt her - there is the line about "leaving would be tearing the bark off of her soul") in order to share her life with someone who does understand and appreciate it.

That is Giovanna's "rebellion," and I think it is perfectly valid and justified. She isn't doing it for the sake of rebellion itself. I tried to make that clear in the paragraph that also dealt with Michaelina, in which I said that Giovanna would accept her share of work in the village with energy and love. I probably should have expanded on that. Her problem with the village is not that she has to work; it's that the village wants her to stop daydreaming about beauty. Her story, ultimately, is about her reaching out for what will fulfill her. The village cannot offer her what she wants, and she is willing to accept the opportunity when more is offered to her - a "more" that fulfills her in a way that the village cannot.

I think you made a very valid point that the other characters ought to be fleshed out more, but I would say that even with that done, the focus is primarily going to rest on Giovanna's insistance that she live life her way. The depiction of village life and its hardship is not the focus. It serves the function of showing both what Giovanna will accept (the hard physical work) and what she will not accept (changing herself to be someone she is not). In that, I refer back to John's post, which I know you disagree with. I think that John understands what I was trying to do in this story; the problem seems to be that I didn't get that across - ? Or do you think that fiction cannot be limited to just one person's perspective? It's something I've wondered about myself, and why I usually think of this piece as a character sketch . . . .

I do agree with you that Giovanna's perspective on the village and the last section that talks about her return to the garden ought to be expanded in some way to flesh out her character.

There is one thing that you wrote that I violently disagree with. :) It is: "There is an incredible tragedy here: the breakup of a family and a divorce from the protective society of the village." I do not see it as a tragedy. There is nothing inherently wrong in leaving a village, a community, or set of friends when you have realized that you have outgrown them or drifted away from their way of thinking. It is regretable that Giovanna's father does not understand why she wants to leave, and that she pains him in this way. However, you would think that if he does have her true happiness at heart (and if he had understood her in the first place - an aspect that I apparently did not make clear enough), he would be ok with her leaving the village. Let's not forget that he opposes her "vocation" of being a nun because he just wanted her to stay in the village. Maybe daddy just doesn't know how to let go.

Granted, Giovanna does not seem to hold regrets for the pain that she is causing to her father. I can see how that would make you think that she is bitter and coldhearted. That was not my intention, and I will fix that. However, she is only being so stubborn and "extreme" because she knows her obligation to - forgive me for how cheesy this sounds - follow her heart. The village men want a housewife, period; they cannot appreciate the deeper, artistic side of her. Francis can; and because of this, she is willing to leave the village and beauty that she loves for the sake of being able to share her love of beauty with him. The "protective society" of the village told her to stop daydreaming about beauty and just focus on the grittiness of life, and Giovanna could not live with that.

Later on, she does experience a tragedy - losing Francis - but even still, she is able to come back to her island and still see the beauty in her old garden, and what is more important - the beauty of her child - a child who came about because of her parents' shared love for the romantic and the transcendental. The important thing is, she has retained her sense of beauty: who she is. I tried to connect that all together in the way that Giovanna looks up from the sketchbooks, representative of her and Francis' love for beauty (one containing her daughter's portrait) to the living reality of her daughter, seen in the place where she and Francis met and pledged themselves to each other. She represents the goodness of Giovanna's sacrifice and choice.

I think that it is perfectly justifiable that Giovanna has no regrets about leaving. Do we regret breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend when we have a good reason for doing so, just because we are going to cause the other person pain? No, we chose to save the other person from the misery of being with someone who cannot stomach the idea of dating him anymore. It may kill us to do it, but that does not equal instant regret. The fact that Giovanna hurt her father does not mean that she is obliged to regret her right decision.

I'm not sure what I think about switching the story from third to first person. I feel like the story would lose alot by doing it; I would rather explore enhancing the narrator's descriptions and insights. And yes, the title is horrible and will be changed. :)

I'm sorry that this post is so insanely long. Please let me know what you think, and thank you once again for taking the time to read it and rip it to pieces! :)


6:32 PM  
Blogger The Dude said...

First off, Adrienne, I agree with every word of your response. If that is how you wanted your story to be read, or at the very least, if that’s what you yourself saw in it and wanted to put into it in the hope that your readers would recognize it, it is precisely how I read it, precisely what I drew from it.

Peach, I think that a clarification of the nature of narrators is needed, because it would be difficult for me to disagree any more than I do with your statement to the effect that if the story was going to be just about Giovanna then it should have been written in the first person. I don’t understand that at all. In saying that you discredit a host of the world’s finest literature; very few narrators are omniscient. Indeed, omniscient narrators are rarer than narrators that are limited in their perspective. There is absolutely no need for a third person narrator to be omniscient. Limited narrators are vitally necessary to literature, because they present perspective and so much of literature is dedicated to understanding perspective. A particular perspective of a particular character needn’t be presented in the first person at all because there are times, as Adrienne says about her own story, that doing so would take something away from the story. Some stories are made for first person narrative, and others are not. But there are no particular rules, and certainly not the one you try to present, when it comes to narrators.

The importance and legitimacy of perspective, I think, is illustrated by the ongoing debate about Francis’ perception of the life of the fisherman. I think, and felt from the beginning, that Adrienne is perfectly right that Francis probably had the full ability to look deeper into the life of the fisherman and to see the hard work and the struggle and the sweat and the blood of his life, the hard times, the depression, and the frustration. But, then, that’s probably how most people would have seen the fisherman; most people would have looked at him and thought how sad it was that he was so poor and had to work so hard and didn’t have any comforts or time to rest. But Francis chose, in the freshness of his vision, that freshness of vision of both a tourist and an artist combined, to focus, in that moment, on the aspects of beauty contained in the fisherman’s life. It was in some sense a reflection of his mood at that time; at another, perhaps, he would have seen only the regrettable parts of the life of the fisherman, and perhaps that would be an expression of his melancholic state at that particular time. Think about it, we all do this a thousand times each day; a thousand times every day we push our own state of being onto things around us. It doesn’t mean that the way in which we’re seeing anything is any less true than what we were seeing the day before, but rather is a reminder that our minds are so narrow and so limited that rarely do we ever grasp the whole picture in its mind-boggling entirety. We only see pieces of it. It is a reminder of our limitation. And it is good and noble that Francis has trained himself to sometimes see the beauty of things as an artist and a writer ought to.

Now, about this very puzzling issue of the idea of the village and the supposed tragedy inherent in it. First of all, if every person stayed and married into the village, there would be a whole slew of funny looking children running around before too long. But more seriously every time that a man or a woman leaves their home and moves beyond it and asserts their own adulthood there is a sense of tragedy in that. But at some point, in some sense, every man and every woman will do it; some will do it to a greater or lesser degree. Michelina, even though she remained in the community by marrying into the village, had to leave the smaller community of her own family at some point; and that is a form of tragedy and there were probably complicated tears of sorrow and joy on that day. We have all experienced that sort of inexplicable and confusing marriage of sorrow and joy in one form or another, even in something so simple as going to college; but despite the sorrow we know that in that act we have also found a new freedom within which we may learn to grow into our full potential. There are some out there who find no need to go to college outside of their own towns or cities, and continue to live with their families throughout college, because that is what they need to grow. And then there are others, like us, who feel that by leaving our families and our homes and living on our own we may grow to a greater degree than if we stayed in our own hometowns, and continued living with our families.

Yes, it is a tragedy that Giovanna had to leave her family and her village. But, as I feel Adrienne makes abundantly clear, Giovanna had been given a nature that needed a certain amount of freedom to flourish; it was not selfish. As Adrienne points out in her response to your comments, in the story she makes it clear that if the necessity presented itself Giovanna would bend her back to the work of the village just like all the others, and, indeed, she did. “It was not that Giovanna was afraid of work and the dirty dishwater…That was part of the life of a girl in her village, and she participated in it with energy and love.” I agree with Adrienne that that is a vitally important passage to Giovanna’s character, and when I read it I took due note of it, and in many ways it informed my impressions of the rest of the story. I knew in that passage that Giovanna was a practical and a responsible dreamer, with her foot firmly in reality.

Anywhere, there’s so much more to say that I probably just won’t say it. Peach, I’m a little confused where you got your impressions from. I suppose what it comes down to is that we do have many, many different perspectives and that is a strange and wondrous thing; it is no secret that one man may easily draw something entirely different from a piece of art than another. But I do have to say that I think at the end of the day you weren’t even talking about the same story when you finished your remarks. You were talking about a novel on a grand scale that presented reality in all of its fullness and in all objectivity and that gave an equal voice to each character in the story; but that cosmic drama is the subject of a novel that is beyond the scope of any mortal novelist, because the complex relationships between God and angels and men and beasts and plants and rocks is a tale that only one Man fully knows, and he’s already written His book and I don’t think He’s writing a sequel.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Peachy said...

Well, I just read Adrienne's post, and Adrienne, I think you're on the right track to improving the story: making it clearer. I only intended to give suggestions to make you think about them, and then come up with your own conclusion about what needs to be done. You made much more clear what your underlying intent was in the story, and I like it. In fact, I like the story alot, just as a reader I find there are some things that need to be hashed out more.

As for perspectives there are three in literature: omniscient, 3rd person, and 1st person. Only 3rd person works with this story, so keep it that way.

I thought that maybe the encounters with Giovanna's father, and Michelina could have used more description: to give us a better idea of whom the characters are. For example, what was Giovanna's father doing at the time she asked him about being a nun? Was it morning or afternoon? Was his shirt soaked with sweat from his labor? These are descriptions that can give us an idea of the character without our protagonist making any judgement herself. Another example, what in the description of Michelina's beauty, and demeanor can help us understand that she is very beautiful, but has no dreams outside of what she knows, and will end up wrinkled and weary early by the hard life ahead of her. Giovanna casting a glance at the raven Michelina who seeming to work studiously at her slate, casts coy looks at the village boy across the room. I'm not saying use that example, but by seeing what Giovanna sees, the reader can say, "that is Michelina!" There is actually much there to do that. I'd just recommend a little more descriptive developement. Probably could have described Michelina's flirtations with the sailors better. What kind of sailor's were they? In such descriptions the reader can get a better idea of idea about Michelina, than Giovanna telling us whom she is.

The characters that are apart of Giovanna's life are interesting. The more they are described, I think, in a better sense we get to know Giovanna the girl then woman who sees them, and experiences life with them everyday.

As to regret, you are entirely right, it is only appropriate for Giovanna to have "no regrets", as she looks upon the face of her child. And this was the life she needed to live, a life beyond the small society of the village. Otherwise she would have been crushed, like a Michelina (who perhaps herself could have thought a sailor lad could have been her ticket out).

I think one sorrow which could have been expressed better was the breakup and estrangement between her and her father. Something bittersweet, yet which had to be done, whether he approved or no.

It's an excellent story, Adrienne, and very beautiful. I like it alot. As to the location I assumed it was Italian, because you used Italian names, so mea culpa. But perhaps in describing something the island name might have been a little clearer. Malta was a British protectorate for a long time (still may be?). Anyway, I do love the story, and keep working at it.

Yes, John, I do love novels! However, perhaps this above post makes clear what i meant about giving the characters more depth in a 3rd person perspective. The descriptions of characters from our protagonists point of view, can reveal things about the characters own lives that even the protagonist may not see. It's in the descriptions that a reader can see a character and come to his own judgement. In fact, since description helps the reader know other characters, it in turn helps the reader to know even better the protagonist the person whom we want to tell the reader about. to do so, does not constitute some sort of "cosmic novel", or even an "objective biography", nor does "equal time" have to be given to other characters point of view in any story because then a story ceases to become a story and more like a news interview on FOX! I would have used CNN as an example until I realized they don't give equal time.

My main concern was that the characters in Giovanna's life were too flat and one sided. Perspective is not the proble, as you pointed out, and indeed I agree that omniscience or 1st person would have ruined the story. However, what I was getting at, and which you missed was the importance of description in the protagonists interactions with the people in her life! The description about how a person looks, or acts can tell us loads about them, without needing a direct judgement by the protagonist, or for the protagonist to be with them constantly. I hope I demonstrate what I mean in the above comment to Adrienne. Our protagonist can see that someone is kind by seeing them do a kind deed, rather than telling us that this person is kind. Do you see my difference. If Giovanna sees Michelina flirting with a boy behind the nun's back, then this descriptive observation confirms what Giovanna told us about Michelina and the sailors. It makes the character all the more believable.

As to the village society, don't think at all that I was in favor of it, or saying that Giovanna should stay in the village. I was attempting to draw the possible mindset of the village, which is very limited, close-knit and rather unimaginative. And dear John, perhaps it's why the Irish look so funny, but most people rarely ever traveled 10 miles from where they were born, or outside the parish. This is typical of village life. The only time, a man traveled out of the village for a wife, was when there was none to be had in the village to his fancy, and when he brought her back, she was regarded as a foreigner and suspicious even if she came 20 miles away! Why? Because she was a stranger to those parts. I'm not praising village society, I'm just trying to express some of the mentality of the village, not whether it's good or bad. I was hoping that it could have been brought out better. Adrienne does hint at it, with " The letter from her father that year had been cruel. What has this man, who took you all the way over there, given to you? Why won’t you come back here where you fit? he stabbed", and "Her father had some truth. Leaving her home, her family, this sea, would rip the bark off of her heart, she knew." Just this could have been better elaborated to give a reader (who has no idea of village life) a better understanding of the father's stubborness toward Giovanna, and then in turn give the reader a better realization of the courageous step Giovanna took to follow her love, and share her life with him in America.

Now, John, this had better explain what I have been trying to get at. So far, I have either been unclear (mea culpa), or you have been taking me to extremes, since these things are not indicative of "objective biography" or "cosmic novels"! Anyway, quite a lively interchange! I hope we have been able to hit a more common understanding for the general improvement of all! Anyway, you brought up several good points, which I have appreciated, so this has been good for all involved.

8:17 AM  
Blogger The Dude said...

Heh. I wonder how long our comments are in comparison to the actual story. It's probably an amusing ratio.

9:43 AM  

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