As I mentioned in my last post, I just published a new book:
How Shall We Love?
I will be officially launching this book later this month. Within these pages you’ll find a young girl’s wild journeys across the globe and across her heart as she searches for an answer to this question. There’s profound heartache, disappointments, a cameo of a famous nun and romance with a skater-punk.
Of all the books I’ve written, this one was the most difficult. From conception of the idea during NaNoWriMo one year to date of publication this week, it took me almost seven years. Other novels came quickly, but How Shall We Love? needed time and special attention. Cornelia is a unique sort of genius and hard to pen on the page. Shepherd, Cornelia’s father, broke my heart more than once as I wrote.
This is one of my favorite scenes from the book, which takes place very early on. I hope you enjoy it! And if you do, the rest of the book is free on Kindle today.
Shepherd was away almost constantly from my ninth birthday until my eleventh. His new book, The Leap of the Poisonous Frog Prince, gained instant popularity, and he was in constant demand for lectures and book signings. The anti-war themes struck a chord with most of the audience he hoped to reach, and his giddy excitement was unquenchable for the first six months after publication.
It was hard to ignore when the secret kisses with Trisha diminished and the public ones looked forced. I pretended not to notice the dwindling love between them, but I had less drive for my extracurricular lessons, and my violin gathered more and more dust.
When he came home for three days a month Shepherd gave most of his attention to me. I tried ignoring Kurt’s jealousy, though it pained me, and I lectured Shepherd on occasion. He needed to spend time with his son as well as with his daughter. He always smiled, almost patronizing in his assurance that he would comply with my request.
At the same time I loved these moments alone with my father. He treated me as his equal, and never tried have me perform for his friends like Trisha occasionally did.
Every time we stole away for father-daughter time, Shepherd asked me how my research was going. He hung on my every word. He even asked my permission to use an idea or concept in an article or book, and then would show me the places where he gave me credit.
He often asked me about the connections I saw between birth and pain.
“With every birth there is a death,” I explained, sitting across from him in the café, crossing my legs, sipping my spiced chai tea in the pause, and holding as much sophistication as a ten year old girl could work up. “There is a severance of connection, and that loss of connection is like death. And so there is pain.” I felt like a professor at the University where he taught. And probably looked like one, with my turtleneck sweater, faded blue jeans, dark brown Mary Jane shoes, and my hair in two French braids along the side of my head. I could concentrate better when my hair was in French braids. Shepherd never argued with such statements.
“And Jesus, who I’m studying right now, said that to be born of God you must die to yourself,” I continued. “Buddha said that in order to be reincarnated closer to Nirvana you must deny yourself bunches of stuff, like food and friendships. So that’s even more of a connection. But to do all this you must love, or so I’ve concluded so far. I still have more research to do. I’ve almost connected all of them together, Shepherd.”
I looked up with a wide smile and saw my father’s disappointed expression again. I was working it all out in my mind even as I talked with him and hardly noticed his disappointment. His expression caught me off guard. I chalked it up to the fact that he disliked phrases like ‘bunches of stuff.’ My words had poured forth as fast as my conclusions came, and it slid out before I could catch it.
“Is your mother letting you study religions now?” he asked, smiling flatly.
I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s part of my research… I do my research in my spare time… I mean, well, Trisha and I are looking at religions as part of women’s history.” It made me uncomfortable when he called Trisha ‘your mother,’ as if he no longer felt a connection with either of us.
His smile was sardonic. “Women’s history, huh? Well, it was her major in college for a while, until she switched to literature. But how does she link that to religious studies?”
“She’s been explaining how women throughout history have been suppressed by most of the religions in the world.”
“Too true, unfortunately. Tell me, upon which supposition are you undertaking these studies?” He demanded an answer with his tone. I guessed long ago that I had inherited his manner of asking questions.
“Explain suppositions to me once more?” I asked, more to stall the conversation than to hear the definition.
“A supposition is the fixed idea or belief upon which you build your research,” he explained. He smiled, extending his lower lip as a plea for forgiveness for having demanded. I always offered him the information he sought when he smiled like that. When I was five and six I use to ask him to make that face every night before bed or I would withhold kisses and refuse to sleep. Then I’d giggle wildly once he did, pulling at his lip when he retracted it again. I knew he made that face when, though often truly penitent, he wanted answers, and wouldn’t let up until he got them.
“I have to do my research on the supposition that there is a god of some sort, or many, as the ancient Greeks, and some indingeous—I mean indigenous tribes in Africa believe.”
His deep chuckle made me laugh. “Where did you learn the word indigenous?” he jabbed playfully.
“Trisha taught me. She teaches me about Africa all the time, since she studied that in college, too. I’m going there, one day,” I declared. “For research purposes, of course,” I quickly added. “Or maybe to work.”
Shepherd nodded. His straight expression told me he expected me to go on with my previous explanation, but had tucked this declaration in his mind somewhere.
“If I don’t have the susposition,” I stumbled over the word this time, but quickly corrected myself, “the supposition that there is a god of some sort, then I would have to discard my fifth assurance in life, and I would have to find one to fill its place, and I cannot find another fifth.”
“Do there have to be five?”
I nodded in my matter-of-fact way. “I’ve already spent five years studying five assurances, and there can’t be any less now, or any more. Five is a beautiful number, mathematically.”
“You can’t argue with that: five really is a beautiful number. But what about mathematics as one of your assurances?”
She shook her head. “Can’t. Nope.”
“Why?” He looked perplexed by my certainty.
I continued to shake my head and sighed heavily. “There are imaginary numbers. You can’t put assurances in something that contains imaginary components.” I hoped to sound sophisticated enough to be taken seriously.
“Are there not imaginary gods?”
I shook my head and smiled. “But there’s a real one somewhere, and he fills the whole universe, canceling out all the notions of the imaginary ones. Imaginary numbers are real and scientifically proven.”
“And yet a god is not.” He dipped his head to look at me over the rim of his glasses.
I was ready with my own arsenal of answers, and showed my confidence with a smile. “And there are irrational numbers. You can’t put your assurance on something irrational.”
Shepherd laughed heartily. “Love is irrational, Cornelia, I can assure you of that.”
“Shepherd!” I gave a mock scowl, and huffed.
“You’ll need every rebuttal I can give, my Cornelia, because men will be intimidated by you and will look for any and every loop-hole they can find to make you look unintelligent. And my daughter is smarter than all of them.”
“So you’re helping me?”
“Of course.” His smile had to be the handsomest I could ever imagine. I determined long before that day that one day I would marry a man like Shepherd.
I felt my ten year old heart melt as I gazed into his eyes. “So do you love me irrationally?”
“On days like today, absolutely.”
I kicked him playfully before resuming my air of sophistication.