Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…


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Being small.

John Prine sings, “I remember everything…every single blade of grass holds a special place for me.” I hear the words in my heart and I’m back on VanDyke Road. It’s a summer day. Bits of green stick to my legs and I’m soaked in sun. Red shoulders. Cheeks. Carrying a plastic bow and arrow from Target. Arrows not strong enough to puncture the ground, but strong enough to make me a cowgirl, a big girl, as my mother told me to be. A big girl that could stay alone during school’s summer vacation and imagine a ranch of hired hands, working cattle and horses, and filling a backyard with “Big Valley” moments, “Bonanza” rescues, and every Disney movie hero. Only until 4:30, then my mom would come home from work. I let the bow drop from my hand into the blades of grass I counted. Each a different color of green. I dropped my arrow. And I was gloriously small. I was saved. She held me close. Every day. My heart beat full. I remember everything.


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With strings attached.


I wasn’t sure if I’d remember. It’s been over a month since I made bread. But this morning my hands pulled out the flour, and yeast and sugar and oil. Sprinkled in a little salt without my having to think. They knew. They have done it a countless times before and needed no direction.


And so it is with seeing old friends. I saw her at Starbuck’s and our smiles challenged each other for size. Had it been minutes or more than a year, my heart didn’t know, didn’t care, it loved with no need for direction. We talked about nothing and everything. She gave me two dish cloths. Knit by her own hands. Folded. Tied with the tiniest of bows. Strings that attach directly to my heart.


Friendship doesn’t need conditions, but it does need strings. Strings that attach.


While we were at my mom’s, a dear friend of hers brought over a batch of cookies – made with her own hands. They were delicious, but more than that. They were time and care and concern and friendship. Strings that attached.


I have always trusted the makers. Those who use their hands and hearts to show you their love. And so I make the bread, and the words and the paintings to show you mine. I reach out. I reach back. Forever attached.


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Steady.

“Focus on something steady,” she always tells me. I do. Every morning, for my yoga session. I was looking out the window, this morning, as I usually do. I like to focus on a tree for balance. Keeps me strong. Sturdy. Rooted. Standing strong in tree pose, a squirrel ran up the branches (on the tree outside, not me). My focus darting along with it, I lost my balance. Nearly tipping over. Back to the tree. Back to my balance.


It makes me laugh, because that is so typical of my life. I try very hard to stay on track (as crooked as my track sometimes runs). But it’s my normal. My balance. And it works for me. I keep my heart steady above my anchored feet, my reaching arms. But even in my practice, my trying, my hold steady, my brain will shout out “Squirrel!” And go racing after it. I forgive myself and look back to my heart, pumping still steady through my veins.


Nature is filled with every kind of normal. Every kind of distraction. We choose what to grab on to. Focus on. Lean against. Grow with. I heard once, a tree is never foolish enough to fight amongst its own branches. And so, too, I let my heart and brain reach as far as they can, then gather it all in, in my ever green, ever practicing core.

Focus on something steady today, my friends.


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Standing on the beast.

The bronze statue The Fighter of the Spirit, by Ernst Barlach stands near the 24th Street entrance of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The statue shows a winged man holding a sword vertically, tip up, and standing on the back of a snarling beast. The statue was commissioned by the University of Kiel (Germany) and was originally placed in front of its church (Holy Spirit Church). The statue did not fit with the ideals of the ruling National Socialist party; it was vandalized and condemned as degenerate art. As a result, the statue was removed and cut into four pieces, in preparation for melting down. However, the pieces were hidden on a farm and didn’t resurface until 1946. The statue was repaired and placed in front of the Church of St. Nicholas. Two copies of the statue were made at this time; the Minneapolis Institute of Art acquired one copy in 1959. This glorious spirit survived.


Growing up, I too, had my own snarling beast. (We all do at some time.) But it was my mother who was always “tip up,” (many times saved by a farmer) — ready to fight, to declare a different life, a better life, a life above the snarls. What a direction she was given, and then gave to me! She, this fighting spirit, my mother, pointed me straight to what I love. Straight to what I live.


The beasts will always try to run in our paths, but we stand tall. Forever tip up.


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Magic wandering.


“Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person. Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often, you meet someone from your tribe.” — Carrie Fisher


It took me a long time to find my tribe, but not my magic person. She gave birth to me. She was the one who gave me the courage to go look for the rest of our tribe.


Through the years, we have gathered each other in. You know the reflection of your heart when you see it. And oh, what a delight! Yesterday we walked into their condo, and just resting, on the coffee table, one of my books, “astonish”… welcoming us, reassuring us, we were, still, and again, home.
In this book I encourage you to “surround yourself with these people…A world of people opening doors and highways and hearts, just by living. Just by being bold enough to be themselves and to share their amazing gifts…they give us reasons every day to hope, to believe, to try.”


Keep your eyes open today. There is magic wandering.


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Hold on to.

We asked for directions to the museum. She said we go up to the store “that has red things in the window, you know like tractors… sometimes they’re open, sometimes they’re not, but either way, turn right there, and go to the park and walk through in at an angle, no need to walk around, and then go up the hill, you can walk it, it’s easy, I walk there, and then there it is – right there!” She said it all in one breath. Dominique looked at me, “What?”

We got to the store with the red things. They were wagons. We had one as kids. I suppose it was my brother’s first. So many things were. But I do remember getting dragged behind him. Rust on my white summer shorts from the chipping red. (He had used that wagon for many years before I arrived.) I was dirty, but happy to be included at arm’s and wagon handle’s length.

As we got older, he no longer got to do all the firsts. I find my own, and my others. But he was there. I have the rust stains to prove it.

We don’t see each other often. We are sometimes open, sometimes not. The directions aren’t always clear. But I trusted him once. To lead me. To carry me. That is something to hold on to.


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Black barns.

I have never smoked. I don’t really care about tobacco, but I was interested in the black barns of Kentucky. The woman at the tourist office told us they were used for tobacco. The black kept the barn hotter, and helped in curing the tobacco. So many are no longer in use, but I think they are still beautiful. They are so different from the red barns I grew up with.

We stopped at the Muhammad Ali museum in the next leg of this journey. I was never a boxing fan, but I was interested in the man. He was not a perfect human, but I haven’t seen one yet. I do know that he helped raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, the Olympics, the Civil Rights movement, and being human. I think that is beautiful.

It’s getting harder and harder to know who and what we are supposed to like anymore. We are constantly being told you can’t like this painter because he said bad things. Can’t like this music because the singer was a drug user. Can’t shop here, they support the wrong ideas. Can’t be friends with them, they voted wrong. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that chicken.

And I want to support the things I believe in. I really do. But I want to know the world. Experience different things. Meet different people. Eat some chicken. So what do I do? What do we do?

If I write about something you aren’t interested in one day, does that negate the 20 other times you laughed or cried when you read my words. I hope not. I hope we can all be open to each other. I hope we can all believe in different things, and still be kind to each other. Walk different paths, and be open. Look differently. Laugh differently. And still believe in love.

I will sketch the black barns. The champion horses. The beautiful losers just wandering the field. And maybe when I get home I will paint the black barn. I don’t think my red barn will mind at all. I want to find the beauty. I think it’s even there in the search. Probably there, most of all.


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Slugger.

He was an older man in the church we attended. If I did know his name, I don’t remember it now. But I remember him. I remember his voice. He always greeted me with, “Hey, Slugger!”

I was just a young girl. I threw like a girl. I hit like a girl. And I was proud of it. I loved it. The sport was fun, but I think it was more the sun. The freedom of summer. The belonging with the girls. I suppose it was the first time I belonged to something bigger than myself.

When my parents divorced, it seemed this church decided to break up with us as well. I didn’t understand. My mother didn’t understand. It was subtle at first. Doors dropped in front of us. Coffees cancelled after services. We didn’t belong anymore. In a place where all should be welcomed, we were forgotten, all but for this one voice. This old man, who still saw me. Still called me by my heart. Still recognized the strength inside me. Didn’t see me as broken, but a fighter, possibly even a winner. Those two words, “Hey, Slugger!” — the most Christian words I ever heard.

Yesterday, we went to the home of the Louisville Slugger. I didn’t buy a bat. I didn’t need one. I know who I am. I have faith. And I am strong.

I want to be a voice that gives you hope, gives you strength. You can do this! We can do this! I believe it! C’mon team!


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Willow.

There is an old Native American proverb that states, “No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves.”

I was talking with my mom yesterday. She had just gone for a treatment in the hospital. She gets one every four weeks. She told the nurses about her new dress from Sundance. Showed them pictures. They shared laughs and compliments. “It’s my family,” she told me. Now I don’t take offense to this – I know I am my mother’s family – always will be, but I am forever joyed when she can find peace and laughter and support – and isn’t that what family is? – or should be.

I have always found my branches in the art communities. We have often referred to ourselves as the “land of misfit toys” – but a family just the same. Similar interests, goals, longings, aspirations — support, no judgements.

Outside of a gallery in Minnetonka, Minnesota, I used to watch a weeping willow tree. How it moved. As a whole unit. Such grace. At first sight, I was a little sad, our family had never moved like that. Oh, some branches coupled together from time to time, which was nice, but never like this. Never the whole, gathering strength in the wind. Never the whole, bracing against the storm. But then it occurred to me. I had found that flow in another place. Another family. And I was complete.

Family doesn’t need to be blood. How limiting is that? Family is family. You just have to find it. And when you do, you know it. And oh, how comforting. How beautiful. How fresh and green. What a flow. What a dance!

Yesterday, my husband and I (my newest family) visited a beautiful horse park. It was gorgeous. Barns of champion racers. Stunning animals. A strong, elegant, willow tree greeted us at the gate. Gathered in this new place, this place I would not stay, I was home. In this ever changing world, this not so ever green world, joyfully, I join in the family dance.


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Somewhere. Here.

The principal is your pal. That’s how we learned to spell the word. It still goes through my head while typing. I loved school. I’m not sure if I was actually pals with any of my principals, but I know I had a respect for them. A little bit of a healthy fear. And that may be why I was never sent to my “pal’s” office, but I think it was more because I was so busy trying to learn. I wanted to learn everything. See everything. Because in this way, the school was more than my friend, it was my ticket. You might think I would say “ticket-out” here, but that’s not the way I saw it. Yes, we did live in our own sort of Mayberry, and I did want to see more of the world, but it wasn’t so much about getting out, but getting in – becoming a part of the rest of the world. Belonging. And that’s a big difference. I was looking for a way in.

I’m still finding it every day. I have seen things around the world that I only imagined. I’ve stood next to things that before only existed for me in books, in libraries. I have traveled through countries big and small. Yesterday, in the US, in North Carolina, we went through Andy Griffith’s hometown – the real “Mayberry.” Andy was a real pal I suppose. The authority, with a gentle touch. I know this wasn’t real, but it felt familiar. Familiar perhaps not in the sense that I actually lived it, but dreamed it. Hoped for it. Longed for it – that place that welcomes you, that lets you in, that place that doesn’t care how you got there. It turns out it was never a place at all, but an experience. A feeling. A love.

We asked the man carrying laundry on the street where the Andy Griffith museum was. He smiled. Started walking us in the direction. We thanked him. “Welcome to Mayberry!” he beamed as he said it. What a pal, I thought. We belonged.