Traveling to a New America – Arts & the World of Napa

Napa Valley Arts Association Yesterday, I spent two hours giving a talk and doing readings from one of my books, then holding an open  discussion with the wonderful members of the Arts Association of Napa Valley.

Part of the conversation centered around the mood of divisiveness we are experiencing in America at this time.  These were some of peoples’ comments:

– “It’s so easy to get caught up in taking sides. We’re divided in this country right now, especially politically, and I find that when I jump to one side, there’s a certain type of energy that gets generated, and I jump to the other side, and there’s a different kind of energy, and I know that that’s not the answer, that somewhere else is the answer.  So I’ve been telling myself lately that no matter what’s going on, no matter how I feel about it, it’s better to try to find that middle way, and to try to not polarize my own mind about what’s going on.  It helps somewhat, but it’s still a struggle.”

– “In a Sunday school class, when I was a teenager, we were asked what our tenets were, what did we live by, and I was roundly criticized for not using any of the Baptist rhetoric, but instead saying: live and let live.  I think we could all benefit by remembering the word tolerance.  I think there’s a great deal of comfort in being tolerant of all kinds of different viewpoints, being able to say we agree to disagree, rather than barking at each other and causing discord.”

– “I think in our school system we should have classes on compassion, a class on other beliefs and acceptance, and I think it should be part of the way our children are raised, because I don’t think people are getting it in their homes.”

– “Last year, I did an art project that was inspired by a sign that I saw right after the election.  I was photographing vineyards right here in Napa and the sign had the word hate in it, and at this intersection it was just radiating this awfulness, and it stuck with me.  I did my photograph and drove home.  I started thinking about what would it would be like if instead of seeing hate, we saw a visual representation of love, kindness and compassion.  So I started working on heart art.  I got together people and we made quotations of love, kindness and compassion on all the trees aligning the street in downtown Calistoga.  Then I did a project at St. Helena elementary school, and all the children were involved one way or another, they all had their names on little hearts that were on the garlands and arches, and they made great big collage hearts, and a good friend of mine who is a music teacher had them for their spring concert, all the songs had to do with friendship, kindness and compassion and love.  And the children …  That was how I spent last year…  My vision was to see hearts stretching as far along Highway 29 and vineyards as possible.”

– “Learning how to listen, to friends and to people who are not friends.  Don’t just jump out in somebody’s face because you don’t agree with them.  We have to learn to listen, and then take what’s being given to us, and where do you stand at that point.  We’re in a huge society, and we have to work together to make this a free country, and by jumping on everybody, it’s not going to happen.”

– “You’re reading about Emerson and Walt Whitman and the whole American enlightenment period of the 19th century, and it seems so strong, and then between 1917 and 1947, a hundred million people were killed by each other on this planet.  How does one grasp that – that so many people can try to be enlightened and yet with the forces of politics around the world, or suspicion or whatever, a hundred million people turn on each other.  It’s just staggering.”

– “Oftentimes, people are afraid to speak about their own spirituality or their hopes for the future.  It seems very easy to throw out racist epithets.  I mean, it’s so easy to spew negativity and sometimes so hard to talk about positive things.  It’s almost as if there are boundaries you don’t want to go beyond to influence other people and yet that’s the message that you’re sending.  Why is it so easy for some people to speak in such fear and hatred, but hard to speak of goodness?”

– “We want to be with like-minded people, it’s almost primal.  Right now, I want to surround myself with loving, like-minded people.  I feel like I fit in, I’m not zigging when everyone else is zagging.  But that instinct also has a shadow side to it also.  If you become too separate from everybody else, you need validation for that, so you turn against someone who is thinking differently about things.  So our primal instincts of wanting everyone to validate who we are, it has two sides, it has a real big shadow side.”


Traveling to a New AmericaJames Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books that are opening the way to a new vision of ourselves, a new dream of America, a new religion for the world.  This year, he is traveling to towns and cities all across America, meeting people, giving talks and readings, and holding discussions about the future of America – all under the banner of “Traveling to a New America.”

Follow the journey on Facebook.

To arrange talks, contact the author.

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