Artizenship, Part 9: Small Worlds After All
Illustration: Jeremy Benson
The other day a friend and I took our bikes down the Napa River Trail, south from Third and Soscol along the train tracks, to JFK Memorial Park, where we turned a bend and suddenly found ourselves transported back in time, to Middle Ages Europe. There, in the soccer field north of the play structure, a small encampment of tents circled a roped-off arena, where two knights in full armor were sparring with homemade boffer swords. A young maiden saw us as we dismounted and called, “You’re just in time for the finals!” We watched the hand-to-hand melee, as a single knight conquered his challengers one by one, finally receiving the honor of her majesty Baroness Grimhildr, of Vinhold in the Principality of the Mists, in the Kingdom of the West.
This was only the beginning of a day of microcosmic discoveries. On our way back downtown, we passed the train yard where a parade of Speeder Car enthusiasts were wrapping up their valley-long tour along the Wine Train’s tracks. Later, we ended the day at Cadet, where we learned about the Brewster Kaleidoscope Society. A society! for Kaleidoscopes!
I love to discover the microcosms of interests and creativity that exist all around us, right in our own backyard, without our knowledge. Like lifting up a rock and seeing a world of life below, with its own language and rules, that would go on existing whether we notice it or not.
Of course everyone knows Napa Valley for its macrocosms of wine and food. But none of us, especially us Artizens, would like living here if it didn’t also support the little pockets of sub-communities we’ve found or created for ourselves off the beaten path—off the crushed and fermented grape trail.
The diversity of our individual interests, cultural identities, and artistic visions is what makes our community healthy.
And it’s because of the microcosms that I’m surprised, and pained, when residents and visitors alike suggest—or assume, based on what they see—that Napa County is not diverse. They need to walk slower, listen more, overturn more rocks. We all do. We tend to look only at the vines and the foliage, when we know a community like ours takes its flavors and nuances from deep below the surface.
Our communal terroir imparts subtle notes of medieval re-enactments and model train hobbyists, gives a balanced mouth feel of multigenerational residents blended with cross-continent migrants and transplants. Do I detect a bit of Oaxaca on the nose? An aftertaste of film buffs? I believe it’s the local street artists and collectors of blues records giving it the spicy, nut-meggy, peppery-ness.
Perhaps I’ve written these basic ideas here before. I repeat them because I think it’s important. It’s vital to recognize our diversity. We must be aware of all the microcosms making up our cosmos—and that each little insular world will go on whether we take notice; but better yet would be to look deeper, and see that each microcosm connects to all others, and it’s those connections that draw nutrients and keep the community strong.
So. Some questions to ponder—rhetorical, yes, but I hope they have answers:
What is a microcosm you are very interested in, but you don’t believe you could never, for whatever reason, be a part of it? What’s stopping you?
How does your art interact with your microcosm? How does your art support the existence of other sub-communities?
How do we as artist-citizens re-arrange our priorities to better serve all strata in the community-at-large?