On my kitchen wall is a poster of an image by Picasso. It is black and white. In the foreground a knight sits upon a horse, holding a lance and carrying a shield upon his back. Another rather less imposing figure approaches him on a donkey. Picasso depicts both knight and horse as tall and thin, drawing them with sharp, irregular lines. The approaching figure and the donkey, in contrast, Picasso renders round and squat using primarily soft, smooth lines. In the left upper corner of the picture is the sun, not quite a circle but oddly convincing nevertheless. In the distance are windmills.
Picasso’s theme, of course, is Don Quixote. The windmills are intended to evoke one of the most famous stories in Western literature, of the half-mad, eternally deceived, yet valiant knight Don Quixote who travels about the Spanish countryside with his companion Sancho Panza, and who in the episode suggested by the picture attacks windmills believing that they are giants.
Don Quixote is the creation of the Spanish writer Cervantes, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and the book which bears Quixote’s name is among the first–if not itself the first–novels ever written. The character created by Cervantes is so famous that his name is used as an adjective to describe any foolishly fearless crusader fighting an impossible enemy–quixotic.
I feel quixotic sometimes. Although I don’t doubt my own sanity, I do seem to take on too many battles, try to understand too many things, try to tackle enemies too numerous and too strong. So be it. I have a strong education, a wide range of experience, a good sense of humour, occasional wit, a mind that delights in analysis, and, while I don’t have money, that fact does not seem to prevent me from living my life pretty much on my own terms. Thus, in a way I am privileged. And happy. And often damned sarcastic. And ever ready to take on windmills.
So why am I here, really? Why have I begun this project? It’s because the world in all its wonder and squalor so often provokes in me a need to comment. Sometimes I have to say something because I’m angry. Sometimes because I’m amused. Sometimes because someone else’s take on a vital topic is so ill-informed that the educator in me emerges.
I come from a line of gadflies. My grandfather was a Wobbly. He told me a little about his work organizing unions in the early twentieth century when such work was practically treasonous. He mentioned how people worked twelve hour days and weren’t given time off for coffeebreaks, and how breaks were managed anyway by the simple expedient of tossing an occasional wrench into the machinery. Everybody got to rest while the machinery was being repaired. My grandfather was deported by the authorities of his day for his union activities (not, so far as I know, for tossing wrenches, per se) but he came back to Canada regardless and lived under a pseudonym which he eventually passed on as the family name. His work and the work of countless people like him resulted in whatever protections workers enjoy today. I don’t remember my grandfather ever taking credit for who he was or what he did, but I was always proud of him.
In our era and where I live, there are other problems to be solved, other things to think about.
I hope to make a nuisance of myself too.