On Don Quixote and the Art of Writing

Their a certain satisfaction to ticking off a book as “read” on Goodreads, a feeling of accomplishment that you’ve made it through another world and learned a lot more about life in general, even if (ESPECIALLY if) you’ve just read a piece of fiction.

But there’s also a pain, a grief for a lost friend or that you feel at the end of an adventure. In this most recent case, it’s been an adventure that has taken me seven months to complete, followed me across many countries (in trains, on beaches, in parks) and reminded me why my life goal is one of dedication to the written word.

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Don Quixote triumphant in Madrid

Of the Adventures of Don Jaime de Adelaide and How He Came to Know Don Quixote

I began reading the masterpiece The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha sometime in August last year, I can’t remember exactly when. Carrying this weighty tome in the form of a weightless digital copy in my modern smart phone, I adventured with Don Quixote to Mannheim, Germany, a far-away land that he had never entered in “life”. Over long and numerous bus-rides and quiet nights, I read through about one hundred pages of Don Quixote’s complete adventure (slow and plodding process, really). Over the next months, throughout my adventures all over Europe, I took Don Quixote with me everywhere. I remember reading his tale on the banks of Lake Como in Italy, over Freiburg’s Münster in Germany, in the middle of the wide green countryside of Yorkshire, England.

Don Quixote is an explorer. His story has been read across the world, translated into countless languages and become regarded as one of the most important pieces of literature ever (as one of Europe’s first proper novels, it’s no surprise really). At something like 1,000 pages of dense, ye’ olde text, however, it is no easy read. Modern readers who plunge straight in and give it their all will definitely be rewarded. It is a classic story that will always be relevant, so long as imagination and media still exist.

The story of a man obsessed with fantasy and chivalry is still a potent and realistic one. Think about how many of us have been lost in worlds of video games or film. How many Star Wars nerds (something I’m very close to being myself), for example, have taken to living out their fantasy in some way by transforming the spaces around them with merchandise. Think about how the culture of the Otaku has exploded in this century. Don Quixote is just the original, and the greatest, geek. He’s a deplorable and wonderful inspiration, someone who took an ordinary life and turned it into something extraordinary through a combination of grit, imagination and madness.

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Gustave Doré’s Don Quixote

Don Quixote is is full of lovable and endearing characters, but also a whole bunch of vile and cruel ones. It’s been said that Cervantes (a name I can never not read in my head without using an exaggerated Spanish “Therrbantes”) was one of the most ingenious witnesses of the human condition, and I’m inclined to agree. He seemed to get down to the heart of what it was to be a contemporary man in those times. Of course, he never really hit the same mark with his female characters, who lack the complexity and depth of his male heroes. Despite these complaints, we must read the novel in relation to the time it was born in. It was a time in which men and women had very defined roles… which is disappointing to think about, as we haven’t come all that much further 400 years later.

Don Quixote’s madness is made honourable through Cervantes’ writing, turned into something glorious and worthy of imitation. Even if most of the characters of the tale trick and harm Don Quixote, the reader is almost left wishing to set out on their own mad adventure… well, at least I did! How fun it would be to roam around Australia on horseback (or, better yet, in a junker V8, Mad Max style) righting wrongs and protecting children and maidens.

One of my favourite things about Don Quixote is that, somehow, the comedy still holds up. 400 years later, I can still read this book and smile and laugh at it. Perhaps that’s a symptom of humanities desire for constancy, that it’s because there is some universal experience, or perhaps it’s because it just touches all the right points, tickles the funny bones that we all have hidden under flesh and blood. Of course, not everyone’s going to be rolling on the floor laughing at Don Quixote, but the fact that many people still do is something very impressive.

All in all, Don Quixote is a sprawling text that seems to contain some giant portion of the whole world within it. Reading it, piece by piece, was like taking a second adventure. Combining it with my recent overseas experience, I feel all the more richer as a human being and incredibly inspired. If one man can write a text like Don Quixote and have it reach the status it enjoys today, imagine what any of us could do in the future. Imagine what the next Don Quixote will be, what people will be reading in the next 400 years (if it’s not Don Quixote still!)

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Your valiant author mounts his own Rocinante in Murcia

Of the Adventure That Don Jaime was Inspired to Undertake and Other Tales of Interest

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the only thing that I’ve really wanted my whole life is to keep writing and somehow make a living from it. In fact, every professional position I’ve ever held (apart from a year as an Oompa Loompa in a local chocolate factory) has been one in which I’ve used words. Be it for arts and book reviews, for corporate communications and PR or for my own enjoyment, I feel most natural, and most alive when I’m creating powerful paragraphs.

Perhaps one of the most important things to me in recent times has been this blog. It’s given me the chance to voice my opinions, vent my thoughts and let people know what I’ve been up to. Not only that, but it’s been an incredibly therapeutic exercise. Before starting my blog I was a good one for bottling things up and stewing for too long over the negatives. The simple act of repeatedly focusing on and writing about positives has changed my mental landscape completely, to the point where I look back on some old and angsty writing notes and see a completely different person. The old James was someone lacking in maturity and courage, who’d rather sit and dwell than take up lance and shield and do.

Like Don Quixote, I decided that I could take life into my own hands, that I wasn’t a victim. If you want to live a certain type of life, then you have to go out and grab it. It may not seem possible at first, in fact, it probably sounds painful to even here that previous sentence of advice. I know that whenever I was told that in this past, to go and take action, I felt that I was a failure because my depression and anxiety was stopping me from taking that action. Now though, after defeating my fears, living in a whole ‘nother continent, reading many tales of encouragement and inspiration and even writing some of my own (convincing yourself you’re happy through writing is a magical cure, even if you don’t feel it at first!) I feel like I’ve come a tremendously long way.

Writing is one of the most powerful tools we have. It’s a way to communicate our own feelings and even effect them. It’s a two-way street upon which the mind is constantly travelling, in one way or another.

And that’s why I want… no, I need to keep writing. Like knight errantry is to Don Quixote, now my hero, creativity is to Don Jaime de Adelaide. Some people might think I’m mad, but I don’t see myself repenting or relenting for a long, long time yet. There are still many adventures to be told.

 

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