Jodi Hills

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


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Already flying

.

The groups had already formed in high school. In this small school of a small town, the grouping off included — the athletes, the musicians, the scholars, and the good looking, the smokers, the rich, and the poor, and the religious and the lost. We disguised all the groups, covered up the broken hearts and broken homes with silk graduation gowns and marched through the gymnasium. We flung our tasseled hats as they flung us out the double doors, and we began again.

Dorothy Parker wrote the words that I copied from the school library and placed in my pocket —

“Once when I was young and true.
Someone left me sad —
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.”

I crumpled the paper and left for college. It was freeing this life. To begin again. To learn again. But still the groups formed as we thought we were making such grown up choices. Gown and hats, this time in the outdoor courtyard. They said words I don’t remember in microphones and flung us off again.

Without knowledge or permission, I began living the second half of the poem,

“Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.”

So if I wasn’t to be flung, or do the flinging, where did I fit in?

We are all trying to find our way. We get tossed into groups and stereotypes. Lost in should-haves and supposed-tos. And the only way that I can see to survive is to keep learning. What a glorious thing to keep learning. To get beyond the first half of the poem. Beyond the second. To write your own. And write it again. No more gowns to hide behind. No more, this need to be flung…because I was already flying, no need to fling, there was room for all of us.

What a thing it is to fly. I write the words, and begin again.


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Just breathe.

We knew a little about team work, from playing in school sports, or even gym class, but this was different. We weren’t just working together, “It was more than that,” he said. We had to breathe together. Breathe together? All of us? Was that even possible?

We were just a group of teenagers in a band. We had never heard of breathing exercises. Certainly never heard of yoga. We were preparing for the state high school band tournaments in Minneapolis. Maybe some of us had grand aspirations, but I don’t really think so. We got to get out of school early. Ride a bus to Minneapolis. That was about it. But for some reason he believed in us. Wanted us to believe in ourselves. Reach for something more. And he stood in front of us, with that baton, that wiggle, all that hair, smiling, and we started to believe too.

It was the first time I even brought my clarinet home. Practiced. This was new. For most of us. We were all learning our individual parts, but it wasn’t enough he said. He said we had to be “one.” And the only way we could be “one” was to breathe together. For the first time I listened to my own breath. I was aware of my actions. Aware of the girls on either side of me. The boys behind me. We had different interests. Different skill levels. But we could do this. We could breathe together. We could do this for ourselves. We could be better. And we were. Every day.

That bus ride to the competition was fantastic. We sang. Arm in arm. Shoulder to shoulder. Our instruments snuggly packed in the compartments below. We played better than we ever had. Cohesive. One unit. It sounded beautiful — to us. We didn’t make it past the first round. I don’t suppose that was the ending you imagined. You were expecting some sort of victory. OH, but you see we were victorious. We thought so! And he thought so, our conductor, Mr. Christianson.

On the bus ride home we sang and laughed, still arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, because we had done what we thought impossible. We became one. And that was the victory after all. We were part of something. I can hear a big band song on the radio today, and feel it!. I breathe in, once again, the gift he gave us, the gift we gave ourselves. And I belong.


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Family farm.

I don’t remember which pronoun we used. I have to choose one now to write this story, so I will say he, and respectfully hope that that’s correct.

My mother’s cousin was born a female, but lived as a man. Now, see, I’m not even certain that’s the right way to put it, because I’m sure to him, he was born a man, and lived as a man. I want to move beyond my clunky way of describing him and get on to the heart of the story.

This was long before support groups. Long before anyone thought of being politically correct. Long before people spoke of gender. Certainly no one ever heard of fluidity. These were farmers. They spoke of farming.

And he was an excellent farmer. The hardest worker in the family. My mom spoke of how he saved the family farm. I only have one image of him, and that is leaning against the barn. Overalled. Tired — I pray from working.

I was too young to judge, to be unkind. I hope we all were.

I bring it up because it occurs to me, at some point in our lives, we have all found ourselves, leaning against the family farm, tired, wanting only to be accepted for who we are, the work we have done, praying for the kindness of fresh eyes and open hearts.

Tanned and weathered by the heat of so many summer suns, I stop, under today’s and think, what a glorious time to grow.


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A cow’s shoes.

My grandfather had cows. The herd had to be moved often. He explained that if he didn’t move them out of the grassy field, they would eat until their stomachs exploded. I don’t know if that’s true, or something he told us to keep us quietly watching the herd for hours, just for the chance to see one of them rocket into space.

I remember judging them. How stupid could they be, I thought. I still sometimes do, until mornings like this one. Mornings when I cross the line of just enough lavender honey to make the toast delicious — cross the line into wow, my racing heart and sleeping brain. That was a lot of honey!

It’s these humbling repeated lessons that keep my judgements at bay. (Not as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it.) We never know what the others are going through. And why they are going through it. Why something that is so easy for you is hard for them, and vice versa. I guess the only thing we can do is remember to be kind, to them, and to ourselves, because the roles will continue to reverse from day to day.

I won’t pretend to know what you are going through today. But I will tell you, whatever it is, I care. From the bottom of my honey-filled heart, I do care. And I’ll walk with you to the next field.


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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Joie du jour.

We have a small group of orange lilies that grow wild in our yard, along with large patches of purple irises. They are so beautiful. I love fresh flowers in the house, so one year I cut several bouquets and brought them in. They died almost immediately.

If you know me, you know I love words. There are a few though, that I don’t like hearing — for example, “should have…” — “Oh, you should have done it this way…” (when obviously I didn’t or we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and like Cher and everyone knows, I can’t turn back time.). Or “supposed to” — “You’re supposed to do it like this, because everyone does.” (I learned a long time ago, I am not everyone, nor, really, is anyone.)

We all learn and grow in our way. What if we allowed each other to do this?! What a glorious, colorful, beautiful world this would be.

I step outside this morning into a sea of purple. They are beautiful, just as, and where they are! Good morning, flowers! Good morning all!


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Beyond all labels

It doesn’t surprise me when I start speaking that people recognize immediately that I’m not French. I mean, I hear it too. But what does surprise me, and it has happened many times, is when people ask if I’m American before I even open my mouth. What is it? It doesn’t make me feel bad, I’m proud to be an American…but what is it about me that people see as different?

I guess we all wear our history, without even knowing it. So I’m thinking, if I can’t even identify it in the face I see every day in the mirror, what makes me so certain I can identify it in others. It’s time to look beyond the label.

I painted the American-made wine years ago. What I remember is not the label, but the evening. I was with my publishers/friends in my living room. The warmth of the candles. The greater warmth of the conversation. I was home. Years later I painted the French-made wine. We bought the bottle of wine from a small vineyard, and a vintage frame from the same village. It was an intimate adventure. New, and familiar. I wanted to capture it on canvas. In my studio, I painted the bottle. I was home.

Is it too spot on to say it’s what’s inside? I don’t think so.

No matter where we are, I suppose, we are all on a journey — a constant journey home. That feels comforting to see it — beyond all labels – in the hearts of others – and the one that beats inside.

Cheers!


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…and if I did that for you

I am working feverishly to prepare for the launch of my new website. Taking photos, scanning, making new prints, cards, displays. I am always surprised at how subjective the eyes are. At first glance, I see what I want to see. Then I look again. Wait. Is that the best scan? Is that the right color? Then the camera shows  a different look. Then I put it on the computer, and there is something else I didn’t see. And wait, print it out on paper – oh, yes, another look. And still, I show it to someone, and they see something different. 

When I painted this wren, I know what I was thinking, so my eyes saw that story. When I showed it to my friend, she saw her sister. And I saw her heart. When I painted the image of our coffee pot, my husband’s son said he could see our reflection in the image. Did I paint it there, or does his heart just know us, know our home, our kitchen, our breakfast table? 

We see the world with our hearts, our minds, our experiences. And if we’re lucky, we see, too, through the eyes of those around us. It’s really not enough to just look. We have to start seeing each other in every possible light. 

…and if you did, see that I am not just my face, but all that I have faced, and if I did that for you…


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Every medium.

I like to switch mediums. There is a feel to each. There is a feel that transfers from canvas to paint to brush to hand to heart. And so it is with charcoal and wood. The charcoal grabs onto the wood differently. Not smoothly, like the paint. It doesn’t have the same ease, but it wants to hang on, just the same. I don’t fault it for not acting like paint. It’s not paint. It’s charcoal. And it wants to be beautiful. It is.

I had lunch with a school friend the other day. We were reminiscing. My husband asked us about the diversity of our class. We struggled. Wanting to reveal it. It wasn’t there. So when I went to college, thankfully, joyfully, so necessarily, my world colored in so many ways. People of different color, of different country, of different religion and language. Every medium. And I had to learn. We all had to learn. (Have to keep learning.) People respond differently. And different is not wrong. Different is not frightening. Different is paint on canvas, charcoal on wood. And it is beautiful.

It’s easy to get stuck. Stuck in what we know. With who we know. And change can be frightening. Even a little messy. But if we allow it, feel it, let it move from hand to heart, oh, how beautiful it can be.

There is paint on my keyboard. Charcoal under my nails. Touching each word. Not perfect, but reaching out to you, with every medium of my heart, trying to be beautiful.


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Chances are.

The statistics teacher thought that if he showed us a real life example, it would be easier for us. So he began explaining the amount of possibilities that existed for our combination locks. X could be this. And solve for Y. And what if this? And show your work. The numbers and letters banged around in my head. I left my locker unlocked for the rest of the school year.

People really love us in the clunkiest of ways. We’re all so different. And to match what is needed with what is given, well, when you think about it, (here comes all that banging around again), it’s really something that we can get along at all.

But when we are open, and let each other fumble along in our own peculiar ways, it can be so magical, so uplifting. Maybe we can all be a little better at finding the beauty in the attempts. I want to be better. Better, not just at loving you, but letting you love me. And I suppose, if we did that for each other, well, chances are, as the song says, our chances are awfully good.