Jodi Hills

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


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Never just a spoon.


We visited the sculpture garden in Minneapolis. Again. For the first time. The spoon and the cherry. Always beautiful. “But you’ve seen it before. A million times…” Sure. But each time it’s brand new in the most familiar way. The spoon told me it was all possible. Told me that people made art for a living. People created lives that were “extra” out of the “ordinary” – art out of spoons. Big lives from little towns. Standing in the shadow of its handle, the slight spray of the fountain whispered, “yes!”


It’s a long way from Minnesota to France. I didn’t bring much. Shipping is expensive. So when it arrived in the mail. Postmarked from my mom, I opened it slowly. This would be important. I gently tore the envelope to reveal a spoon. My favorite spoon. The spoon I used long before I saw the giant one with cherry. The spoon that my mother always took out of the drawer because she knew it was my favorite. The spoon that told me I was special. I was home. She sent me a piece of my forever home. My forever heart. Told me it was possible to carry it all with me. And it is. I do! I keep it by my desk. Each morning, it whispers, she whispers, yes!


Nothing is ordinary. Everything is extra. It’s never just a spoon.


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“J” is also for joy!

I saw these postcards in a vintage store in Minneapolis. I think the first letter I saw was a “C”. I immediately began looking for a “J”. I knew what I was going to do with it. I fished through the pile. Hundreds of cards. Finally. There is was. “J”. I knew I would change the name on the card to Jodi, even before I saw the name. Jovita. I had never heard of Jovita. Jovita Idar. A journalist. I found her in a book celebrating “the unsung women of American history.”

Unsung, I thought. So curious. How could she be unsung, when that’s all she did, every day, to get her voice heard. She sang. Every day she woke up and told her story aloud. Told the story of all those around her. Struggling to be found. Recognized. Heard. She wrote on paper. Captured it. For all the world to see. To hear.

In searching for myself, I found her. And that’s the beauty of it all, I suppose. When we find ourselves, we can see others so much more clearly. I know who I am. I know my story. I write it every day. I capture it on paper. On canvas. I sing! I listen. And so I see you. I hear you! What joy!


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I handed him my business card, the one with my grandfather on it. Is that Rueben? It’s hard to explain the joy I received with those three words. He knew my grandfather. Remembered his name. Said it out loud. Such a small thing I suppose, but oh, how those small things can swell with pride, and connection. Oh, how they can jump through those tiny cracks in your heart and completely fill them. My grandfather had 27 grandchildren, fifty-some great grandchildren. And on. It was hard to stand out in that crowd. To hold that farmer’s hand for more than a few minutes. But yesterday, in this Caribou, with this Dave’s recognition, I was holding it all in my hand, holding once again this overalled man’s hand, my mother’s father’s hand in mine, and we were all connected.


I have told you before, we called it “the farm.” (My grandfather’s place) “The” – as if it were the only one. And for us, it was. Yesterday, after Caribou, we went to the bank. I had met the teller once before a year ago. I asked to make a deposit. He said, “Aren’t you the artist?” The artist. “Yes,” I said, heart swelling still and again.


To see each other. To give each other the greatest gift of all. “The gift.” May we all be forever generous.


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Beauty of nowhere.


I can’t tell you exactly where I took this picture. Just outside of Alexandria. Maybe Carlos. On the side of the road. I’m sure it is passed by, over and over. Day after day. Just a swamp, you might think. In the land of 10,000 beautiful lakes, why a swamp? But look at it. Really look. The colors. The calm. The effortless confidence. The “I’m not trying to be beautiful, I just am.” Wow!


Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. You can, but it will never be the same. And I suppose we should be ever thankful for that. The town changes, sure. Everything does. But mostly, I change. We change. See things from a new perspective. This is one of the greatest gifts of travel. Not just to see all the beauty of the rest of the world, but to train your eyes to see. See everything. And in returning home, maybe the colors become a little brighter, the ordinary becomes a little more extraordinary.


Maybe in the nowhere of our being, we can make it somewhere! We can see the beauty all around us. Inside of us. Visit it daily. Share it with others. We can see and be the extra in all that is ordinary.


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Trampling over.


We went for a walk under a gray sky. We have been searching for the fall colors. At first glance, this did not seem to be the prettiest of days. Dominique was just a little behind me. I heard crunch, crunch, crunch! I looked back and he was smiling, ankle deep in a pile of leaves. Each crackle of the leaves said, “There is no such thing as time. There is no gloomy day. Only you. What you make of it!” The fallen leaves were not sad. They were not over. They had merely changed.


We came home and I painted the colors I longed for. The colors I heard in crackling leaves.


The sun is shining through the window this morning. A better day,” I thought. Then smiled. Better. Better days don’t just come. They are created by hands. Summoned by hearts. Invented by brains. Welcomed with courage. Light beams through open doors. Open minds. Paths to higher ground are made by trampling over discarded fears. We, in fact, are the better days ahead, if we choose, if we believe, if we try. If we reach in, reach out, and become. Be the better day.


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More side to side than forward.

If you’re a reader, I would recommend almost anything by Andre Dubus II, or III. Like his father, the son has a gift to tell a tale, stark, simple, full. In his memoir, Townie, he writes about running with his father. His parents divorced, they didn’t have a lot of time together. His father never really asked to spend time with his son, other than running. The first time he asked, the son had no running shoes. He was too embarrassed to tell his father. He didn’t want to make it seem like his single mother couldn’t provide – she was working night and day, after all. So he grabbed his sister’s tennis shoes as his father waited out in the car. His sister’s shoes were at least one size too small. But they were the only ticket for time with his father. He crammed his toes in and jumped in the car. He tells of the experience much better than I, but his toes began to bleed early on. He didn’t say a word. He wanted the time. His father knew he was lagging behind, but thought it was just because of the hills they were climbing. He told him, on the hills, go as hard as you possibly can, as fast as you can, and so he kept running. For the words spoken. The time spent. His feet now glued to his shoes, lungs burning, he kept running. When finished, they found a fountain. Old style. Water rusted. Tin tasting water. The best, he says, he ever drank. Part of his skin came off with those shoes. But what he remembers to this day, was being with his father.

What we will do to be with the ones we love.

These connections, they are really all that matter. Yesterday we watched my niece run in a cross country race. She was brilliant. Fast. Strong. I was so proud of her. But I saw something else. There was a young handicapped runner, running in the race before my niece, still running to complete the race as this new group completed their two mile course. Yes, he was slow. Each step, hop, jog, was an effort. He went more side to side than forward. The race that followed his race had completed and he kept running. His mother ran beside him. Each wearing purple. Their colored shirts blending together as they ran. More heart, I imagine, than all the other runners combined. I don’t know if they finished. It doesn’t matter. They ran together. They will always remember this. I will remember.

Some days it seems easier to let a day go by, let a birthday slip by, let the years go by without taking the time for those around us. I don’t want to chase the racing time. Chase the days slipping away. Let me ever run beside the ones I love.

Lace up. It’s going to be a beautiful day. A memorable day. Together.


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Flung.

She ran up to me in the checkout line in Menards with the exuberance of an airport pick-up. (If you’re old enough to remember when you could meet someone at their gate and greet them as they got off the plane and entered back into your world.) Arms flung around each other as if no time had passed, or perhaps to gather in all the time that had. Either way, it worked. I was wrapped and cuddled by this girl of my schools days, this bundle of youth, this Jenny, and it was delightful!

It was only a few minutes. She needed to return to all the others wanting to “save big money…” and I needed to become an adult again. But what a trip. A trip back to high school halls filled with laughter and hope and running. A trip to the colors of red and black uniforms – cheering, competing, becoming…


Moments. Gifts. So easily given. Without cost. Forever priceless. Today is another chance to give. To receive. I greet the morning with arms flung! Thank you, Jenny!


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The little china pig.

The Little China Pig — it is my first memory of a book. I was six years old. In the hospital in St. Cloud. They wouldn’t let my mom stay overnight with me. I was terrified. She gave me this book. (Books, forever to be my grace and pacifier.). I clung to each page. The story was about a little China Pig in a store who so wanted to be taken home. So wanted to be loved. Cared for. Taken home. I guess we all want that. Even the little girl in the hospital bed next to mine. Crying. I

cheerleaded each word over to her bed. And we were saved.
Yesterday I went into Cherry Street Books. I asked Lee for a certain title that I wanted to give for a gift. She walked me over to the section, and there it was, right next to all of my books — books that I have written, illustrated, placed right there, on the shelf. My cheerleading heart threw its hands in the air — I was home. Always saved.


I guess I have always lived in the word. What a glorious world! May it never be lost on me. May my heart forever be joyful, writing, sharing…home.


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Eager hearts.

We drove by Washington Elementary yesterday. It isn’t a school anymore. Condos now. It’s funny to think of people living in all of my learning. My cursive writing. My sentence forming. My coloring. And milk drinking – reluctantly. And nap taking – reluctantly. They are now living in my library. My sacred library, where all things were deemed possible. They are living in my gym and my cafeteria. In my paper cutting, math problems, hand raising, pledge of allegiance, whispers, laughter-filled, question-filled youth-filled rooms. And I am happy for them! So happy. It must still fill the air. I could feel it as we drove by. I can feel it as I’m typing this now, just as if I’ve jumped off the golden bus, with jimbly legs and eager heart, ready to start the day.
They live in that now – those condo dwellers. I wonder if they know it was me when they have that extra step, that feeling of maybe today, that flash of wonder… we gave that to them.


On Saturday we will watch my gazelle like great niece run Cross Country. And she will do the same for us. Fill us with heart racing, jimbly legs, and all the gifts of youth. And I, we, will still believe, all things, all golden things, are possible.


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Sometimes, you just have to look up.

It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. — John Holmes

Yesterday I was walking under a clear blue sky. No breeze. No noise. The quiet of autumn’s gift of transition. What a gentle way nature has to ease us into winter. In this stillness I sensed movement. Not a sound. What was it? I looked up. A parachuter. Falling. Swaying. So softly. And I was happy. For him or her. To feel the lightness of being. 

I kept walking. There was another. Again. Just swaying in the blue.  Wow, I thought. Two. And 15 minutes later. A third. Three parachutes. In this small town. That was unusual. And mostly because, it occurred to me, I never saw a plane. I never heard a plane. They had to jump out of something. I was so close to the airport. So under the same sky. And I never saw the plane. I have no idea where they came from. They were here. Under, in, the same blue sky. Daring a fall. Living a dream. And I was happy for them.

Being from this small town in Minnesota, I grew up without a lot of differences. People looked like me. Talked like me. But for having a heart of an artist, I was a same.  My work, my life, my love, would not only introduce me to others, but help me become one. It would dare me to leap into the unknown. Dare me to stand as an other. Dare me to grow. Have empathy. Compassion. Understanding. A life leaping with faith. 

Today, I will walk, not afraid of what could appear, out of the blue, but hoping someone does! And join them, in the lightness of being.