49"h x 15"L x 17"w; 1992
Don Quixote is among my favorite books. When I read it as a young adult, I couldn’t help but identify with his struggles. We often come of age with lofty ambitions, and an idealism that is doomed to be challenged. We tilt at our own windmills, and we get beat down. It is the way of things, as often as not, and for some more than others.
Unlike Don Quixote, I was not really a reader. I was more a maker of things with my hands. I had a fairly pronounced reading disability that was identified when I was a kid, but I don’t know if it was a chicken and an egg sort of thing, where I didn’t want to read, so I couldn’t read, or the fact that I was part of a family of many serious readers, and thus, that niche was pretty well filled. I don’t know if there was anything that could have been done about it, or even if anything should have been done. Whatever the case, I had no great concern that a remedy be found. I liked making things and doing things far more than I cared to read about the making and doing of things. I sort of saw reading as a vegetative state, not unlike sleeping or loafing, but I did succeed at reading “Remarkable Ramsey, the Talking Dog” cover to cover, which I highly recommend. After struggling through a few college courses that required lots of reading, I began to see more value in learning to read, or at least to see the absurdity that the professor couldn’t or wouldn’t just tell us what we needed to know. I would have listened.
But after Tori and I got married, the incentive to read became significant. We didn’t have, or want a television, but we had an old claw-foot tub, and bath-time became story-time. Of course bath-time is naked-time, and a newlywed young man isn’t of a mind to throw away a chance to hang around with his naked spouse. We nakedly read various classics, from Mark Twain to Ayn Rand, whatever Tori brought home from the public library. I struggled to keep pace with reading orally, even more than silently. As time went on, I began to see the lines of text as one line at a time, one idea at a time, as opposed to an oppressive great gob of words scattered all over the page, much too cluttered to comprehend. I also took the advice of my older brother, and got a newspaper subscription, and read it daily with interest. Over a number of years, I came to read at a more comfortable pace, and with better retention, eventually coming to happily devour what had been just so much chicken scratching.
But more to the point of my piece, “Don Quixote”, I think that in the reading of this most marvelous creation of Cervantes, I began to feel the story as if I was in the story, and that was a new feeling for me. I could feel his need to be chivalrous, his desire for respect, and his unwavering commitment to do what needed done. I wanted to do, not what was easy, or responsible, or even at all practical, but rather, what was in my heart. Art isn’t a responsible career. It doesn’t come with a retirement package of defined benefits. It doesn’t have any sort of job security, or union protection. There is no clear path forward to success, or any general guidelines as to what people might want from one’s efforts. One might just feed a family, if the stars align. But I had the right partner, in my wife, and I had a ranch workers ethic of going to work every day. I had a desire to make things that interested me, and I’ve lived in an era of art appreciation. In short, I understand Don Quixote, I know what drove him to tilt at windmills, and I wanted the challenge of making my own way work.