Blogger Holly C. Berardi kicks off our Summer Reading Series by reflecting on how her beach read The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman impacted her personal life and writing.
By Holly C. Berardi
Every summer I have lofty goals about how many books I want to read and how many scenes I want to write for my own manuscript. With life always so busy, my annual trip to the beach is the perfect time to relax and refocus on the written word again.
While packing for the beach, I picked up a book based on its title—The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman. I mean isn’t that why I’m going to the beach in the first place? The draw of the waves lapping on the sand? I turn the book over. The back cover mentions the character is feeling stuck in an in-between stage of life where her career and life goals are “all but” fulfilled. I can relate to this since my life is one big transition right now with the promise of at least two more years before some sense of normalcy can be reached. I didn’t realize, however, how much else I’d be able to relate to with the book.
It turns out to be a story of a woman trying to piece together the tale of her deceased mother’s life. All she has are her bedtime stories and her mother’s novels for a reference. My mother is very much alive, but she has dementia and so now that I am old enough to want to learn more about my mother as a woman, an educator, an artist, a person who raised four teenagers alone—she is not able to answer my many questions.
The book also focuses a lot of attention on artists. As part of my schooling this spring I used an elective to take a painting class, followed immediately by an art history class that focused on female artists. I felt more connected to my mother than ever before, more brimming with questions and memories and pain that the one person that I would most love to share my new knowledge with has been replaced by this sweet smiling woman who can’t add to my discoveries with her vast years of experience.
One memory I cling to comes from my senior year in high school. I ask my mother for help on a school project and she happily takes out her paint supplies and guides me step by step as I paint my first and only watercolor. It is of bamboo branches at sunset done in an ancient Chinese style. I can still see her painting the air as if dancing a ballet to show me the right type of finesse to put into creating my leaves. I was surprised with how my interpretation of her words and actions seemed to magically appear on the paper. She would smile with approval when my painting seemed to match the image in her mind. That painting is framed and hanging in my bedroom and when I look at it I don’t see it as my accomplishment, but hers.
This spring, so many years later, when I picked up a paint brush for the second time, I could almost hear her whispering directions in my ear and see her moving her hands to show me just where to place my brush. Again I am surprised by the end result and again I give my mother more credit than myself.
I’m grateful that I can still give my mother a hug and that she embraces me with such enthusiasm I feel like the most important person in the world. I’m also now grateful that even when I didn’t realize it all those years ago, when my mother was sharing her wisdom with me, that I listened.
Once I read a book I’ve truly enjoyed, my creative juices start to flow. Memories mix with my imagination and scenes for my manuscript lap into my mind like waves on the beach. My characters whisper in my ears and fill me with their stories. I’m surprised when my interpretations of their words seem to magically appear on paper.
The Seduction of Water turned out to be more than an entertaining story to read on the beach, it reminded me that even though memories have been stolen from my mother, I still have many memories of her from which to learn.