At around the 16th century Puritan communities in England began to name their children after virtues. It is from this practice that we have names like Prudence, Felicity, and Hope. I thought this was a very good idea—especially since the intention was that in naming a child after a virtue perhaps it would be a constant reminder regarding the importance of their namesake. So, when I found out I was pregnant I decided that I too would pick a name that would represent a very fine virtue.
Rose Chekhov Smith
As a high school graduation present to myself I purchased a 1929 leather bound book entitled The Works of Anton Chekhov. There was a mysterious inscription in pencil that said, “Born from Eleanor December 8, 1935”. By spring of my freshman year at art school in San Francisco I was finally able to read my soft leather Chekhov. To say it affected me would be an understatement. It was known in my circle that if I had any money it would be spent on art supplies. One caring friend called and told me he was taking me out to dinner—especially since I answered his question, “Are you eating anything besides dry cereal?” wrongly. (Now mind you my dear parents did take very good care of me and generously put me up in a very nice apartment on the top of Nob Hill and certainly gave me enough of an allowance that any reasonable girl could survive on.) When he picked me up what he surely was expecting was his old friend hopping down the steps of her building in a smart little black dress. What he got was a very improvised version of a character in one of Chekhov’s stories. I was wearing a long, flowing wool skirt, a little blouse, and a super long chiffon scarf wrapped round and round my neck. There was some heavy sighing on his part and maybe a little look of regret, but he still took me to one of our favorite places and laughed as I ate everything in sight.
Besides possibly dressing super weird, Anton Chekhov carries an even greater risk, and that is the totally unexpected literary landmine—“Late-Blooming Flowers” is perhaps one of the best short stories ever written—however, it has a hard landing (and a pretty turbulent mid-flight too). Honestly, I do not think I could even feature it in my Book Pharmacy as I would never want to cause any of my beloved astronauts, ground dwellers, or saints to wander around their neighborhoods (or spaceships) in their bathrobes for a couple of days.
Rose Dostoevsky Smith
A friend of mine invited me to go to his workplace’s Christmas party. There was a secret Santa gift exchange, and my friend received a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. After dinner, the music and dancing commenced. Somehow, the gentlemen who worked at his company decided that I would be their dancing partner for the night. It began with one, then two, then it was a kind of line. Not once did they let me sit down. Mind you they were all terribly shy and gentlemanly. However, they not once let me take a break. My friend was no aid, and every time I would eye him to come rescue me all he would do was laugh hysterically. At the end of the night when we said our goodbyes in front of the restaurant (he was still laughing) I eyed his secret Santa gift and smiled to myself knowing that he would soon get his due. Dostoevsky goes sharp and hard—on the human psyche, on sex, on friendship, on wealth, on murder. The Idiot by Dostoevsky is actually my favorite Russian novel, but seriously do I want my poor child to see the world through a man who collected his genius while living in exile in Siberia?
Rose Tolstoy Smith
Apart from Anna Karenina’s suicide in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for which I am always like really Anna? Really? You should have started a second life shacked up with an atheist mathematician. Anna, you would have been wearing men’s suits and smoking little cigars in no time! All of Tolstoy’s writing, but particularly in his masterpiece War and Peace, carries an amazing life affirming message: that it is the experiencing and not the thing being experienced that is the true place of existence, of meaning, of joy. Life is not really about the stuff that happens to us, it is actually about the mind that is witnessing it all.
There are many wild stories regarding Buddha and his past lives. In one of them a king thought the Buddha had slept with his wife. The king’s soldiers finally caught up with him in the forest where he was meditating. One slashed him with his sword and the Buddha simply laughed and said that they had not come close to touching him. Angry, the men began to cut him into pieces, and each time the Buddha would laugh and say, “No, not yet. You have not even come close to touching me.”
I named my daughter Rose Tolstoy Smith.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.