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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy birthday, Dr. Chekhov

I am a complicated girl, (whatever that means), and my thing for complicated boys is well known, but on today's date in 1860, a man was born with whom I've always had the most straightforward relationship of adoration: happy birthday, Anton Chekhov! I don't want this post to descend to the level of second grade show-and-tell ("This is Mr. Chekhov. Mr. Chekhov is a writer. I like Mr. Chekhov very much. He is good."), nor should you have to sit through me gushing about, you should go read him and let him change your life the way reading him for the first time at age 14 changed mine. The way continuing to read him continues to change mine.
Because Chekhov is a riddle: how did a man with a childhood of such cringing brutality, "squeeze the slave out of" himself to become a vibrant, sensitive, revolutionary author? And if you read "sensitive" to mean "weak"...ha. In Tsarist Russia, he had the courage to empathize and see people as something more than simply "categories" or lessons to be told. He never preached, he experienced. By the time of his death, at age 44(!), he had written the plays and hundreds of short stories which changed, and continue to change, the world. Not interested in Russia, or Russian culture? You don't have to be because Chekhov writes about people, people like you and me, who just happen to be Russian.
In the late 1990s, I went to his grave in Moscow...and was of course very depressed. My favorite author...dead. (And the people who "wrote" that "book" He's Just Not Into You alive...oy!) But then I realized that he was actually far more alive than many people and authors who are quote unquote alive: every time someone reads one of Chekhov's stories, or letters or sees a play...Chekhov lives.
Guess what? Its never too late to change your life...thank god, right? Go to the library, get a good translation of his short stories, curl up and...see why more than 100 years later, we give thanks for having been lucky enough to have had someone like Chekhov. Happy birthday, my love...

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