There is a natural instinct, I suppose, when you experience something wonderful, to want others to feel the same. “You’ve gotta taste this,” we say. “You’ve got to see this!” And I enjoy sharing things from around the world. But these are the obvious things. The guaranteed positive response. The Eiffel Tower, example. The Vatican. I feel blessed to have stood beside the Colosseum. Floated in Venice. But it’s not a surprise really. I expect people to like these photos.
Winter in Minneapolis. Not the expected destination for travel. But there is beauty. And I see it. Maybe it’s all just a reflection of the people I’m with, but the light!!!! The beautiful light of this city. One that I claim. This is something! I shared the image with my French family. When she replied, in French, how beautiful she thought the light was, it made me feel special. Not just because I took the photo. But that she could see it too. We were a little more connected. Sharing this truth.
It’s why I share the stories of the places I love, but even more so, the people. When I wrote this poem about my mother, The Truth about you, I did it because sometimes I just can’t imagine the incredible luck, the pure blessing, of having such a mother, and I just want everyone to know. To see it. To see her. So pardon my repeats, as I keep spreading the news. The joy. The love I have for my mom, my city. This world.
The light is coming in from the window. I hope when you see it this morning, you will know, it’s for you too!
I suppose it all takes time. To see the ordinary. And to appreciate it. Those of you that follow me here, have come, I hope, to know my grandparents, my mother, my schoolmates, and teachers. Some might say “just plain folks.” And that’s probably true. But maybe that’s the real beauty of it all. To find the spectacular in farmers, housewives and receptionists. To see the extraordinary in the daily living.
And in seeing them, it helps me see myself. Helps me find the gratitude of the day given. Of the toast for breakfast. The smell of coffee. The hand that reaches out for mine.
I am reading the book, “Love, Kurt (The Vonnegut Love Letters). I have this book, only because I have a special friend. Last year, together with our husbands, we went to Stillwater, MN. My friend and I stood in the bookstore as if before the Christmas morning tree. So many gifts in front of us, we had a hard time deciding. We each settled on our present. I loved her choice as much as mine. This year, she gave her book to me. Those simple words don’t seem to give it enough meaning, but I will tell you that it fills my heart. It brings me back to a laughter filled day on brisk streets and slow choices. It, for me too, is a love letter.
In the book, Kurt Vonnegut writes with his young pen, to his young wife, “Angel, will you stick by me if it goes backwards and downwards? Holy smokes, Angel: what if I turn out to be just plain folks?” Tears fill my eyes. I imagine we’ve all had the worries. Will I be special enough to be loved?
It’s these memories, of course, that give me that comfort. That give me the yes. My heart is packed full of the love from these glorious and plain folks. And I have loved them. Love them still. And I am one. Proud to be living with these extraordinary people. It is plain to see, they, we, are more than enough to be loved.
My shipping department.
There is an empty space where the painting hung. It sold yesterday, Lake Agnes. My first thought, of course, was of joy, but my second thought was of Herberger’s. More specifically, the Herberger’s store that used to be in Alexandria, Minnesota.
My mom, served as the unofficial ambassador. She knew every clerk. Every shopper. For her, and a majority of the town, Herberger’s was not just retail, but social.
Carol worked in the shipping department, right next to the office. My mom would see her when she went to pay her bill. They became friends. It was only after a few conversations that my mom was retrieving empty cardboard boxes to bring to me to use for shipping artwork. I was shipping daily to stores and galleries, so my box bill would have been a fortune. They had a need to recycle — it worked out well for everyone. My mom would fill the back of her hatchbacked Ford Focus and drive them to me in Minneapolis. We then took the time for coffee, wine and shopping. By Sunday evening her car was filled with bags from Anthropologie or Sundance or Macy’s, and the joyful cycle continued.
Of course nothing was the exact size. I became an expert at creating boxes. I could score and trim and shrink wrap and tape with the best of them. It might sound odd to say, but I was proud of it. Still am.
Yesterday I went to the garage and found two scraps (I use the term with affection) of cardboard, and a large amount of bubble wrap. The cardboard was from some garden tool that Dominique ordered, and the bubble wrap from a guitar that was given as a gift to the kids. They weren’t dirty, but still I vacuumed and wiped each piece sparkling clean. I wrapped it with precision. The box is square and strong. The painting is, and will be safe.
I smile as it sits beside me. Knowingly part of my story. Even as I live a country away, and Herberger’s is long closed, I know what, who, helped get me here.
The world is changing. Artificial intelligence is nipping at our heels. People are contemplating if it will take over the arts. I don’t think so. I certainly hope not. Sure, I suppose it’s possible to create the painting. But what you can’t manufacture is the story. The lives involved in one piece of art. Carol folding boxes. The Herberger’s store manager helping my mom load the car. My mom. Her love and support. Telling all who would listen. It fills me still.
This painting that I sell today is of Lake Agnes. One of the first lakes I knew in my hometown. It will ship from France and travel to Arkansas, carrying the stories of those who first lifted me.
We never make the journey alone.
We took the bus from the roller rink to city park. Our sweaty legs were the only things grounding us to this world and the green pleather bus seats. We hovered between the exaltation of this finale to the fifth grade, and the silent wishing that this day would never end.
We jumped on picnic tables and rolled in the promise of summer grass. Our teachers started a fire and passed around graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey chocolate bars. Some of the boys lunged with the toasting skewers, fighting off the time. Then blackened their marshmallows in the fire. The girls roasted theirs to a delicate brown. The hot marshmallow melted the chocolate sandwiched between the graham crackers. We all shook our heads in agreement to the name — s’more! For that’s all we wanted — more!
Perhaps it was the crash of the sugar high that silenced us on the bus ride back to school, but I think it was more than that. The open windowed breezes blew through t-shirts and pony tails, as our heads rested on classmates’ shoulders. Maybe we knew how special this day was. How exotic to catch yourself in transition. The magic of this moment, no longer a fifth grader, not yet in junior high…just here, together, joyfully sweated in our exhaustive friendships of youth. I mean we used everything. We spared nothing. We gave each other every laugh. Every tear and fear. We faced every open window. Together. Knowing we had it all. Knowing there would be more.
I laughed the first time I saw them in the exotic aisle of the grocery store here in France. Hershey Bars. Exotic! And then I was transported in time and place. Tasting this magical day of so long ago, so far away. And in that moment, I thought, they got it right. What could be more magical than this? More exotic?
I stood silent. Catching myself in the between. Hovering in this space of brand new and brand familiar. My imaginary pony tail brushed across my face and I smiled.
I will give everything. And humbly shake my head in the agreement, “S’more!”
I had played on teams for years before I understood that the “A” in “Bring your A game” didn’t stand for Alexandria. But I liked that it did. I mean I always knew that it meant the coach wanted us to be our best. To do our best. For ourselves. For our team. For our hometown – Alexandria. I suppose, in a joyful way, I will always want to do my best for this place.
Now there are other cities that do this for me as well. New York. Paris. They make me want to be a better artist. A better human. I read books by great authors, in hopes of becoming a better writer. I visit museums. Watch videos. Sketch. Learn. Repeat. And maybe most importantly, I try to surround myself with people who are doing the same. Not the same things necessarily, but trying to do their best at whatever they do. Because as we learned in school, you always play better against the better team.
My mother (Ivy) didn’t know anything about sports. But oh, did she have game! And she brought it. Even in her toughest times. She brought it with style. Elegance. Lipstick. Grace. And an endless supply of breath mints in her purse. She taught me more about winning than any coach. Any team. Winning was playing when you didn’t feel like it. Winning was getting up. Getting dressed. Presenting your best self to this world. Not to convince them, but to convince yourself — you were worthy, you were someone. Winning was laughing beyond the tears. Winning was loving, beyond a cracked heart. Winning was teaching your daughter to be her best. Do her best.
I have a lot to live up to. That is not pressure, but a welcome challenge. The sun is coming up. I reach for the best inside of me — not just my A-game, but my I-game as well. I smile in the mirror. And put a breath mint in my purse.
“Hi, Jod…” I can’t play it for you. The only recording of it is in my head. You’ll have to trust me. The sound of it is so beautiful. Like the first bird you hear in spring. The lilt of song that tells you all is well, just as it should be. A joyful ease, with just a glint of what could be. That is what I heard when my mother called my name.
I knew when she said it, “Hi, Jod,” that there was no news to tell. Just a sharing of gathered interests. Gathered hearts. Maybe a new outfit from Sundance. Something that made her laugh. Something she still hoped for — those were my favorites – to hear her still hope for something, like a Spring coat, or a gentle kiss.
People memorize stanzas of songs, of poems, to feel something, with far less meaning. How lucky am I? To have it all in just two words. So easy to carry in my heart’s pocket.
I started a new book yesterday. “Trajectory,” — collection of short stories by Richard Russo. In the first story, a group of intellectuals are discussing the “greatest lyric poem ever written.” They made the ruling that to nominate a poem you had to be able to recite the whole thing from memory, and then make your case for its greatness. One person recited “Kubla Khan” in its entirety. All the greats. But when it came to this one man’s turn, he recited a children’s poem. Everyone knew it. With its “childish iambic downbeat.” Everyone laughed and enjoyed it, but then insisted he explain why this was the greatest poem ever in the English language. “Because,” he said, suddenly serious, his eyes full, “when I speak those words aloud, my father’s alive again.”
Tears of joyful tenderness fell down my face. And I heard the words, “Hi, Jod.” These two words, for me, the greatest poem ever written.
I don’t know what she gave up so I could do it, but it must have been something. We didn’t have extra money. Maybe not even enough. Perhaps that was one of the gifts she gave me, the not knowing.
It was hidden, the store. No signs. No advertising. But someone had told my mother about it. She knew I would love it. I loved everything about art. We climbed the back stairs. When we reached the top it was a sea of white. Statues. Figurines. Pots. Bowls Plates. All unfinished ceramics. I knew how the scientists felt when they discovered the lost city. It was so beautiful. So much possibility. “And you just paint it. At home. No need for firing.” I could barely hear the words she was saying. My head was spinning.
And so it began. Each Saturday we climbed those stairs. My mom would let me pick out something, and all week, after school, after homework, I would paint. It was glorious. I filled my mom’s apartment. If she needed something for her dresser, I painted it. Birthdays, I painted it. What we didn’t have room for, we gave away. Because she knew, I knew, it was never about the having afterwards, it was the doing. It was the making. The feeling of accomplishment. I suppose at that time there was so very little that made either of us feel worthy. But this did. She was able to give me this opportunity to create, and I was able to do it. And exchange of love’s wealth. The feeling was palpable. It jimbled around my heart, my belly, and I was alive!
We went to the museum a few days ago. Each time I go, I have the same feeling — all jimbly. It’s the only word I have ever had to describe it. And it never fails. Every room. Every painting. Every statue. I am a child climbing the stairs to possibility, filled with the wealth of love. My mother gave me that. I will be forever filled. Forever grateful.
The first time Dominique came to Minneapolis, it was summer. Welcome breezes waved through our clothes as 90 degrees reflected off the Mississippi River. Exposed arms and hands brushed and held. We dined al fresco. And stole kisses in the never ending light. We moved easily from house to car to dry sidewalks and green grass. The tumble of August, said, “Go ahead, “fall in love!” And we did!
The second time he came to Minneapolis it was 40 below zero. Our breath was the only thing dancing in the air, inside the car…and this is when I knew he really, really, really loved me.
Helen Keller was quoted, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” I believe it. And so it is with my Minneapolis. My mother. My husband. My friends. Every beautiful moment, love’s eternal warm breezes, flowing within my heart — deeply. I keep tumbling.
We were waiting to be served. And waiting. Dishes were clinking and clanking from the chosen few that already had their meals. The Chanhassen Dinner theatre was filled in the dim theatre light. Table by table people were delivered their pre-play food. Of course all were appeased with a complimentary glass of wine. And then another. The kitchen must have been having a problem. No explanations were brought forward. We were getting so hungry, my mother and I.
We loved going to the theatre. We saw almost everything. It wasn’t just about the performance, we had a production of our own. The pre-shopping at Ridgedale or Southdale. The getting dressed while sipping skim vanilla lattes. Make-up. Hair. A dash of perfume. The excitement building. The drive to the theatre. Walking from the parking lot without wrinkling. Everything building toward the peak of receiving this meal. So the additional 30 to 40 minute wait seemed like a lifetime. The extra glass of wine was not in the schedule, and it started to take hold. My mom was getting chattier. Looking over this shoulder and that. “What could be taking so long? Are they ever going to serve us? I don’t understand. This has never happened before…” She couldn’t get the next line out without laughing — the “Don’t they know who we are???” line. Oh how we laughed. Laughed with wine. Laughed without worry. Laughed with the knowledge that we WERE important – the most important of all (at least to each other).
When the plates finally arrived, my mother napkined her lap, (a napkin that was already filled with laughter-tears). I did the same. She sat up straight. I followed. She smoothed out the sleeves of her ultra-white ruffled blouse. She was pure elegance, I thought. She balanced the fork in her polished hand. Lifted the vegetable to her mouth. She nodded in approval as she chewed. Swallowed, and said, “These are the best damn peas I’ve ever had!” I flung my napkin to my face to keep the laughter from snorting out of my nose.
I don’t remember which play it was. I’m sure it was good. But I will never forget those peas. My mother.
We think it’s the big things we will miss. I suppose it never is. Today, share something small with someone you love. A bit of your heart. A giggle. It may just last a lifetime.
I called it “the plant.” I’ve always believed if it’s special, you give it a name. Sure, it did house my car at night, but in the daytime, it was pure magic. I hung canvas on the walls and created a world, created a life. Lit by the glorious sun, and Christmas lights in the back, this was my sanctuary. It was always open — for creativity, for anyone to visit. And all who did visit the plant, were free to fling a brush of paint — to fling a brush in celebration, in frustration, whatever was needed. Because, like the song says, “Love made sweet and sad the same.” And that’s what we did, you see, made it all into the beauty of living, right there, by name, painted on the walls of my garage, on the walls of my heart.
If we are open, we will get to feel it all — everything between sweet and sad. We have to feel it all. And oh, how it matters – this beauty of living color — all of whom are let inside. In my heart, love will always have a name.