I went to see the opera Don Quixote this weekend. I was a devoted lover of the Met when I was in New York but it was here in my hometown of Seattle that I was first introduced to the opera. When I was in high school I was in an actual opera club (I know, NERD ALERT); we would pay five dollars each to go to dress rehearsals and before the performances this incredibly charismatic young guy named Jonathan would come to our school and explain to us the opera’s story and historical context. Jonathan worked as the translator for the Seattle Opera House and spoke something like eight languages fluently. Naturally we were all in love with him.
I saw the musical version of Don Quixote when I was a kid but watching it this time, I found I related to the errant knight in a way I hadn’t noticed before. I wondered, watching Cervantes’ funny, tragic, romantic tale unfold if being a writer doesn’t require something of a quixotic nature. After all, for those of the artistic persuasion, is it really so bad to be thought of eccentric and even be laughed at if one is also loved? If one is living honestly? And a writer’s foes, much as they seem real are more windmills than giants; we aren’t after all talking about lives lost when we talk about the written word. I also completely understand about Dulcinea. There’s just no love like an unrequited love for a dreamer; unlike messy, unsatisfying, real-life love, it stays safely in the beautiful, impenetrable kingdom of the imagination where every fiction writer is most comfortable. In the end Don Quixote is a noble figure who is misunderstood by most of the people around him, people who don’t understand why he does what he does. Find me a writer who doesn’t relate to that.
It’s true that being dreamy and unrealistic has its consequences but in the end, my heart is with Cervantes: Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it ought to be.
Are you a dreamer or a pragmatist?