Jodi Hills

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


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Delicious

It’s natural to want someone to love what you love. Most afternoons, my husband and I enjoy iced vanilla lattes. I love being the barista. I measure, and pour and stir. The color fits perfectly into my most calming palette. It is cool and soothing, and I’ll say it – extremely delicious! I am proud of it. I delight in it. I want to share it!

When she came over in the afternoon, I thought I would surprise her with this tremendous gift. I was sure she would say, “Wow!” as I do every day with each sip. I poured and measured and stirred with anticipation. Upon entering our salon, I offered up my most treasured afternoon delight. “Oh, no…” she waved it off, “I don’t like milk with my coffee.” Oh, no? How could this be? No wow? I hadn’t seen this coming at all. The conversation moved on and I stood motionless with a latte in each hand.

I’ll admit it stung for a minute. I think my first reaction is, you don’t like me? We probably all have that reaction on some level. This is something, I, we, need to get over. We don’t all like the same things. We don’t even like the same people, but we can still come together. We can still enjoy what we enjoy. And let others enjoy what they enjoy. Believe what they believe. Love who they love. We can do this, if we make the effort.

We all enjoyed a day in the sun. In the pool. I roasted marshmallows over an open flame. Some people love them. She did. I don’t really, and yet she still likes me. I smile. We can do this.


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I stand.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. It’s two hours of pushing, seemingly all uphill. It’s not bad at the beginning. I am plugged into a podcast or music, the sun is shining, and my legs are strong, having forgotten about the last mow. About half way through, it gets hotter, my legs get weaker, but I turn up the volume on the music and trudge on. I push and the mower fills with clippings. I stop. I empty the container. (At the start I lift and dump, and eventually near the end, just kick it until the clippings fall into a pile.) I pull the string to restart. Push, kick. Pull. Push, kick pull. I shove my sweaty hair deeper into my hat, tighten my shorts and keep mowing. My shoulders feel hot. My belly feels empty, and I keep pushing. When about 90% finished, I start to think I’m really going to make it. This time I will finish without having to refill the gas tank. I’m sure I mowed much faster this time and I won’t need to refuel. Yes, just a few more times up and back and… chug, chug, stop. Bad words race in my head. I push the mower to the garage. Lift the gas tank, which now weighs more than I do, refill the tank, pull the string. Pull the string again. And again. It starts. I walk it back and finish the mowing. Done. Sweet and glorious done. I walk the mower back to the shed, not kicking out the last clippings, oh, I’ll do that next time… I take off my gloves, my hat, my shoes, sit at the outdoor table and look at my work. It’s beautiful. Has there ever been a greener lawn? Has grass ever looked so inviting? I mean, it is magnificent! Worth every step. I think that people should see this. Maybe we’ll have a barbecue, with family. They’ll ask if I mowed the lawn and I will beam – yes! of course! Take your shoes off, I’ll say. Drink the wine. Feel that carpet of green. Yes, yes, we will celebrate this mow! It is glorious. It is summer! I stand on grass stained legs, and feel lucky, proud even. I mowed the lawn!
I think of my gay friends. Some people wonder, “Why do they have to have a parade?” Why? Why? Think of all they have been through! All the uphill trudging just to be seen. I am ready to throw myself a parade after mowing the lawn. If they had a “green lawn mowing flag” I’d be waving it up and down the streets of Aix en Provence. Yes, I say! Have the parade! Wave those colors! It’s glorious!


I think of my cancer-surviving friends. Some may wonder, “Do they really need to buy the survivor t-shirt?” Do they?????? Yes! Yes, of course they do! And they should. Cover the world in pink and celebrate each glorious survival! Wear the banner proudly! You did survive! How beautiful is that??!!!! Feel the glorious earth of another day under your feet! You did it. You can feel lucky, proud even! You DID survive!


We shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our victories, our accomplishments. And we must never block the way of others celebrating theirs. You can join in, or not, but clear the way when the flags of joy are raised. Remember in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout, at the end of the trial, is told “Stand up, your father’s passing…” That’s what I think of – when I see the struggles, the trials, you have endured. For you, (and maybe even me), I have nothing but respect. And so I stand.


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Joyfully unprepared.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore for the first time in over a year. How delicious! I had thought all morning, “Today, I want to buy myself a treat.” Now you might think a treat would involve sugar, or chocolate, and it sometimes does, but this time, I wanted a treat to fill my soul.

We only had a few minutes before our meeting, so I circled the wooden table holding the books in English. Each title smiled and reached out its hand. I wanted to bring them all home. I let my fingertips graze the covers. And they stopped. On a sky blue. The color, arresting. The title contained the word Chicago. I was already in flight. Saul Bellow wrote words of praise regarding this author. Saul Bellow – I was back in college, studying literature. The author – a single mother, and I was in Minnesota, with mine.

We had to leave. I purchased the book. Is it risky to buy a book within two minutes? Never hearing of the author? Never hearing of the book? But we had already been on a trip, you see… no longer strangers. In those two minutes, I had been taken on a journey, without even opening a page. The only risk would be to stop now. The book is sitting on my nightstand.

If you’re looking for certainty, living is probably the wrong business to be in. Life is chance. Risk. Stumbles. Unlit paths. But, oh, what a journey! If you take it. If you wait until you’re certain, until you’re prepared (whatever that means)… you won’t do anything.

Nothing prepares you for this day.
Your heart is cracked open.
So you cry.
The world keeps turning.
So you live.
No one tells your heart to stop beating.
So you love!
Nothing prepares you for this beautiful day.

Pull the book of today off the shelf. Open it wide. Dare to fill your soul. Dare to enjoy the ride!


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Yellow

For a brief moment when I was a young girl, I had a yellow bedroom. It was all mine. I got to pick out the carpeting and the bedspread. All yellow! It was the most cheerful place in the world. It was my world. Until one day, not long after, I could probably count the sleeps, I came home on my bicycle and there was not just a “for sale” sign next to the driveway, but it was flagged with “sold.” I didn’t know we were moving. I didn’t know the “we” only included my mother and I. The house, my father, the yellow, the cheer — all gone. For a long time I was sad about this. I didn’t want to love things. Afraid to love people, because they, like my father, could leave. They, like my house, my yellow, could be taken away.


But could they, really?


It took a while, as most good things do, but I came to realise, I still have the color yellow. I still love it! I love the cheerfulness. And so I paint it. I paint the lemons and the pears. The suns. They can never be taken away. The yellow on my pants, my canvas, my fingertips, my soul – all mine! Forever. My choice.


I didn’t know that yellow would not only give me joy, but freedom. The song is playing in my head now, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…” And I don’t – have anything to lose. I am free. Free to love. Free to live. Oh, the yellowness of it all! I grab my brush and smile. I give my heart and beam.


I had a yellow bedroom. That will never again make me sad.


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A change is gonna come


Our nephew turns 16 today. In the US, that means one thing – driver’s license.


The first time I was behind the wheel was when I was 12 years old. My sister had her license and she was driving us out to see my grandma. We were in a more than sensible car (meaning huge) and on equally large, unoccupied, roads that led to the open fields of farms. For the most part, it was safe. She asked me if I wanted to try, (asking in a way that a younger sister couldn’t really refuse.) She pulled over to the gravel shoulder and we switched sides. Gas. Break. Wheel. The essentials were slightly explained. I pushed on the gas slowly. Never had I felt so disconnected. The steering wheel certainly wasn’t connected to the tires. My rubber arms were not connected to the wheel, and my brain seemed to be separated from the whole experience. You know how when you wiggle a jump rope against the ground and it jumps back and forth in a squiggle – that’s how it felt to be driving. I drove for what felt like a lifetime (probably less than half a mile). I was never so happy to see the driveway of my grandparent’s house. I stopped the car. My sister made the turn toward the house. My heart started beating once again.


We didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to. But I must admit there was a tiny spot in my heart that was changing from fear into excitement. I guess that’s what we call growth.


In a few years I would take the classes, behind the wheel and in the classroom. I would be given all the tools I needed to make the transition in my life. To take the steps toward this glorious freedom.


Today, when faced with any new challenge, when I feel the rubber arms and heart of uncertainty, I think of guiding that beast of an Impala along the road, and know that I will be given the tools, the gifts, the lessons, to change fear into life, and keep moving along this exciting path. The state of Minnesota gave me a license to drive. The universe gave me an open road.


Happy Birthday, Oliver! Happy Travels!!!!

(Not the Impala, but I haven’t painted one of those yet. )


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Venice

I have come to rely on the improbability of it all.


Venice is remarkable for so many reasons. It is a visual feast. The churches, museums, and bridges, stunning by themselves, and then you add the fact that it’s all on the water…not near, but on the water… you can only shake your head and smile, marveling in the unlikely beauty of it all.


When you visit a place like Venice, there are certainly attractions that are written up in the textbooks, the guidebooks, highlighted on the maps, and of course they are noteworthy, but after leaving, I find myself remembering the little things. Clothes hanging on the line outside of the windows. Small boats, not for tourists, but the local bringing groceries to his small one item pizza restaurant. And I feel as though I walked through a painting. As if I stepped into a forgotten master’s piece. No longer a voyeur, but a participant.


I guess for me, that’s the greatest take-away from any travel. I am learning each day to be a participant. Not just on vacation. Not on the weekends. But in the ordinary events of each given day. If laundry on the line is beautiful in Venice, it can be beautiful in Aix en Provence, or Alexandria, Minnesota. Things are remarkable everywhere.


When I think of what I, we, you, have survived, it is as unlikely as a city floating on water. When something as improbable as the city of Venice still exists, it makes me believe that anything can happen. Any time. Anywhere. And it does. We are the tiny miracles, the tiny red miracles afloat in a sea of blue, participating in the remarkable beauty of today.


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Mindful

The Old French dictionary defines the word memorial as “to be mindful of.” I like this. Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Perhaps by this definition, it should be every day.


I give thanks for all those who have made a path before me. Those who have fought for it. Plotted. Planted. Dug deep. Mapped. Weathered. Walked. The soldiers. The grandparents. The children. Each and every loved one who fought for lifetimes, and always left too soon.


Today, I also want to be mindful of the living. While they are alive! Reaching out hands and hearts and smiles. Wiping away tears. Laughing a little louder. Holding hugs just a little bit longer. It’s a beautiful day to remember. It’s a beautiful day to live.


Happy Memorial Day! (and Happy Birthday, Dominique!)


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Green apples

I didn’t know apples came in different colors until I visited my grandparents’ farm.  Apples were just red, weren’t they?  The good ones? 
But here they were – so many apples – green apples. Hanging from the trees. Beautiful shades of green. Some with green and pink. Some with green and red. They were so beautiful. Each tree had its own flavor, and each flavor had its own variation. 

We helped my grandmother pick the apples each year. Baskets and baskets of apples from the tree. My grandfather gave the fallen apples to the cows. Because they’re rotten, I thought. I wouldn’t give them something rotten, he assured me. Nothing was wasted. Everything had value. Even me.


George Washinton often referred to his home in Mount Vernon, as his own personal vine and fig.  “May the children…who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

In the shade of green apples, Rueben and Elsie Hvezda created our “own personal vine and fig.” Because of them, I rest there, even today.  

I believe there comes a responsibility with that, the luxury of being well rested. 

Today, take a breath and enjoy that comfort. And then, invite someone in. All must be welcomed.


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Grace.

Boxing has been described as one hurt demanding another.  One punch thrown, and then the counter.  It would have been easy for her to live this way.  She had been hurt so much.  She had taken punch after punch.  And she knew some became used to it.  Some embraced it.  It’s hard not to. It hard to turn from the violence that climbs in the ring with you each day.  But she didn’t want to fight anymore.  She didn’t want to carry pain with her, heavy, like a broken promise.  So maybe one hurt did demand another.  The only way out was to stop hurting.  Stop being hurt.  And so she climbed between the ropes.  Left the smell of sweat and anger behind.  Prayed that one act of bravery demanded another.  Prayed that one smile demanded another.  Prayed that one joy demanded another.  And it did.  Gentle people surrounded her now.  People with love and laughter.  People with hearts.  She is living proof that one grace demands another.  


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Good morning, Corrigan!

In fifth grade we went orienteering. There was nothing in our history that said we would be good at orienteering. Most of us, in our 10 or 11 years on this earth, had never even heard of it. But off we went. Handing in our signed parental waivers as we filed into the big yellow school bus, perhaps as unaware as livestock heading off to market. We stopped in the middle of the largest forest we had ever seen. Surely this was the beginning of a horror film. We stomped into the wooden cabins and waited. Of course we would wait for dark. That’s exactly how it would read in the script. We were assigned teams. We didn’t pick teams like in sports. No one had any idea who would actually be good at this, so it would have been hard to choose key members. There were brief instructions. No one listened. We assumed, as in our monthly fire drills at school, we would march out, and somehow march back in. We were given compasses and charts and courses. Each team was to finish a specific course, mark it on the maps and return to base camp. Teachers waited up in the trees, to watch us, or to frighten us. I imagine, as with any disaster, perhaps a plane crash – just before the point of impact when people start wishing they had listened to the preflight instructions – we began questioning each other, “does anyone know how to do this?” We didn’t. There was something about stars, I think. Maybe these compasses. And suddenly it became very clear that it was dark, and we were in the woods. We started running. This made the most sense. We picked any check point we could find. As fast as we could. And later than anyone expected, even with the running, we miraculously found our way back to the cabins.
In 1938, Douglas Corrigan made a flight plan from New York to California. Twenty eight hours after taking off, he landed in Ireland. He got out of the plane and said, “Where am I?”  To the amusement of both sides of the Atlantic, he stuck to his story of a malfunctioning compass.  He was given the name Wrong-Way and written into the history books.  Up until then, he had been merely a footnote.
The chaperones came down from the trees, and avoided being “up a creek,” as we were all alive and safe.  While no team exceeded expectations, our team ended up doing the wrong course, in the wrong direction, with the slowest time.  They gave us paper certificates, clearly made from the cabin’s photocopier, with the Wrong-way Corrigan award (or citation). We were no longer footnotes of the fifth grade. 
At some point we all have to find our way. Some of us need to follow the wrong path beforewe find the right one. Perhaps most of us. The wrong job. The wrong love. The wrong town. Sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way. Sometimes you have to take the wrong path. Draw the wrong perspective. Then things can become clear. I have done all. I have stumbled over my own heart and path, every day. But both are mine. Mine to walk. Mine to share. There’s no compass for that. There’s only faith. And the stars.