There’s a scene in “As You Like It,” Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, in which Rosalind, the beautiful daughter of the exiled king, turns toward her cousin and asks:
“What shall be our sport, then?”
It’s a throwaway line; the cousins are talking about love, and fate, and how to kill time. But in most performances of the play, Rosalind delivers this line with a spark of knowing mischief. It’s as though she’s asking a purely rhetorical question. And the implied answer seems to be: Everything.
Was this the moment, back in 1987, when Dr. David Walters decided to name his second daughter after Shakespeare’s heroine?
“I think my dad was impressed because she had real agency,” says Rosalind Walters, the heroine’s namesake and current Senior Content Strategist at Paradowski.
She doesn’t wait around for other people to fix things for her. She figures it out herself.
If you know anything about Rosalind (our Rosalind, the non-fictional one), you know that agency and self-determination were core values of her family. “Since we were really little, my parents were big advocates of being able to solve your own problems,” she remembers. “It’s not like you could never come to them with questions, but they had to be good questions.”
Still, it’s a risky thing, naming your child after a literary character. It sets certain expectations, and can lead to unfortunate gaps between the perfect, heroic personalities of fiction and the far messier conglomeration of strengths and weaknesses that make up flesh-and-blood humans.
And yet, whether by chance or dint of will, Dr. Walters and Rosalind’s mother, Stephanie, seem to have gotten it right. Their Rosalind bears an uncanny resemblance to Shakespeare’s:
Although, there is a tomboy streak in there somewhere, and then there’s the decision to abandon music (a beloved family tradition) in favor of sports, which we’ll get to in a bit.
But first, we need to talk about language. If there’s a single thread that runs through Rosalind’s personal and professional lives, it’s a love of words. Not just English words, either. From an early age, Rosalind and her siblings (she has three: an older sister, Tori, and two younger brothers, Campbell and Darwin) propped themselves in front of the TV and gorged on Spanish-language soap operas. “My dad was born in England, but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 23, and spent a lot of time there meeting people and learning the language,” she says. “And he felt it was important to pass along Spanish to us.” All of the Walters children picked up some fluency, though her sister Tori ditched Spanish somewhere along the way in favor of Russian.
After graduating from Mt. Vernon Township High School, Rosalind matriculated to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where she majored in English. Not content with mastery of a single language, she spent a semester studying in Argentina. The experience lit a fuse, and after earning her degree she took a job as a staff writer and translator for The Argentina Independent, an English-language, online publisher based in Buenos Aires.
“It was scary interviewing people in a foreign language, especially knowing that I was butchering most of the words, or not using the accent I’m supposed to be using,” she says.
For a year, big chunks of her time were spent in front of mirrors, practicing her questions, or hunched over tape recorders, listening to interviews over and over, trying to get her translations right.
There were a couple of embarrassing moments when she ran headfirst into the language barrier.
Like the time she scored an interview with the official photographer of Racing Club de Avellaneda, one of the biggest professional soccer teams in Argentina. “I thought it would be a fun sports-slash-human-interest kind of piece,” she recalls. During the course of the interview, talk turned to Rosalind’s favorite player, Gabriel “El Demonio” Hauche, and how he was single and Rosalind was single and, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Rosalind could interview him, too? Except maybe the verb she used was “to meet,” she doesn’t remember. The photographer took another look at the lovely young woman in front of him, retranslated everything in his head, and said, “Aha! Yes, I can get you a date with him!” Initially horrified at the misunderstanding, she stammered, “No, no! That’s not what I meant. Como se dice ‘interview’? Solamente ‘interview’!”
But then, being Rosalind, someone raised to solve her own problems, after all, she sat up straight and said, “You know, actually it would be fine if you could get me a date with him. Perfecto. Muchas gracias.”
Days later, listening to playback of the interview, her editor asked,
“What the hell am I listening to here? Did you just ask the photographer to set you up with their midfielder?”
Here’s something else you should know. If you need a peacock,
This is really not a problem; it would only take a couple of hours. Southern Illinois is crawling with these birds, apparently, and Rosalind would know. She grew up there, on a small hobby farm that her parents bought after her father accepted a position at St. Mary’s Good Samaritan. He was about to uproot his young family from the decidedly non-rural environs of Long Beach, California, and the only way to placate his daughter was with the promise of farm animals.
“I got a pet sheep,” Rosalind remembers, along with some ducks, chickens and—you guessed it—peacocks.
Talking with Rosalind today, it’s easy to picture the young girl who managed to extract a promise of peafowl from her father. And it’s equally easy to appreciate how hard it would have been for Dr. Walters to say no.
She is deceptively intelligent and persuasive. That’s not to suggest she doesn’t immediately come across as smart. It’s just that her demeanor is so upbeat, and her delivery so unassuming and earnest, you don’t register the precision with which she is communicating to you.
Listening back to a recording of our conversation, I notice that her answers are crisp and direct, devoid of the “ums” and “likes” that punctuate most people’s speech. She’s also extremely deft at parsing my weird gotcha questions about technology and its effects on language.
Here’s her take on the potential impact of the internet on regional speech patterns:
“It’s having an effect, absolutely. Technology has been a great equalizer in communication, from things like voice and speech technology to translation and language programs. The ability to communicate globally and be understood has probably never been higher. But it does come at the price of losing some of those more subtle or distinct nuances. Technology always comes with tradeoffs, as anything does, but in this case I think it’s worth it.”
Rosalind is also reflexively modest and effortlessly fluent in discussing her artistic pursuits.
She mentions casually that she paints watercolors. Then, when asked to supply samples, she proffers two perfect renderings of Chinese Lanterns, each executed with a few confident strokes. She also compulsively paints jellyfish, a subject she has been fascinated with ever since she was stung by one. “They’re incredibly beautiful, but in a way that’s hard to pin down.”
(Author’s note: I was once bitten by a German Shepherd. I did not subsequently decide to paint portraits of it, nor will you ever hear me describe it as beautiful. Mine is a harder and less forgiving heart than Rosalind’s.)
When I ask her who her favorite writer is, she doesn’t hesitate: “Vladimir Nabokov.”
Favorite Nabokov book?
“Pale Fire. It’s probably a tie between Pale Fire and Lolita. But I’ll say Pale Fire.”
“People just misunderstand Lolita. They take it at face value, when really, to me, good literature should make you think about what’s happening beneath the surface. This is what Nabokov does best, and he learned to do it in a few languages, which is pretty powerful. I think he writes the best in English. My sister has read him in Russian, and I’ve read him in Spanish. Actually, Lolita is one of the ways I’d practice my Spanish. I’d read it in English and Spanish and see how it matched up. At any rate, I think it’s a pretty amazing look at the psychology of (Humbert Humbert). Not so much Lolita; I think we know what’s going on with her. But to see it as just something tawdry is to misread it. How much does any writer really mean on the surface? It’s what’s underneath the text that matters most.”
This collision of aesthetic appreciation and contextual analysis is incredibly astute, and makes perfect sense when you consider the backgrounds of her parents. Stephanie was a biochemist, and David went on to become an OB/GYN. But off the clock, they were both artists. Stephanie had studied ballet through college, and David taught himself to play just about every instrument under the sun.
“I think in another life, he would have tried to become a rock star,” says Rosalind.
As it turned out, David channeled his musical aspirations into his children, each of whom learned to play the violin. Each of them, that is, except one.
“I really liked sports,” Rosalind explains now. “I wanted to play soccer and tennis. And there just wasn’t enough time in the day. But the official reason I gave my dad for why I didn’t want to play violin is because I didn’t like to stand up for long periods of time, which is what we had to do during our lessons.”
And he bought that?
“Yes. I guess he did. He also understood how competitive I was. I wanted to compete and be part of a team in a way I wasn’t getting from music. But the standing up was part of my argument.”
But, just for clarity, don’t you have to do a lot of standing up in soccer and tennis?
“That’s not standing up, that’s running.”
And with that, it’s time to end our conversation. Rosalind has a conference call with one of the creative teams, during which she’ll continue her quest to build sturdy bridges between the worlds of data and language.
I get up to leave, and she remains there with her laptop, exactly as you’d expect: