Jodi Hills

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


2 Comments

One

She, at the age of ten, already has a vastly greater grasp of the french language than I do. It is humbling for sure, and that’s not a terrible thing, but sometimes I wonder, what do I have to offer if I can’t convey it? Then we go to the studio. My paint. My brushes. My canvas. This is my language. And she wants to learn. I give her a small canvas and ask her what she’d like to paint. Immediately she looks around – at everything I’ve done. (And that’s when I think, I do have something to offer.) The apples. She wants to paint the apples in a bowl. I place that painting in front of her. Tell her to just draw in pencil at first. Give herself a good start. She chooses the paints. We create a palette. Slowly we go through each step. The light. The shading. The mixing. She is interested. Curious. And she is learning. It is a beautiful thing. We are different in age and culture and language and knowledge, but here, we are one heart, one creation, and that is everything.

It’s not easy to come together. Efforts need to be made. Egos must be put aside. We have to be curious. Interested. Yes, it can be difficult, but the rewards — immeasurable. Stop looking for the things that make us different – because you will find them — it’s so easy. Look for the things that can bring us together. And look again. And again. One creation. One heart. Everyone. That’s everything.


1 Comment

Growing the herd.

I first learned about herds on my grandfather’s farm. He had a herd of cows. “Why do animals need to be in a herd?” I asked him. “If the herd doesn’t pull together, it can be in danger. The herd knows its survival is dependent on the herd.” I shook my head. It made sense, but it also made me nervous. We, my mother and I, were in trouble. We had lost our herd. He could see me doing the math in my head, subtracting all those who had gone away. “How many does it take to make a herd?” I asked, hoping, pleading, begging with my heart for it to be a small number. I’m sure he could see my desperation for a clear and concise answer. “Two,” he said, and took my hand. Looking back, I’m not sure if he meant him and me, or my mom and me, but either way I was happy. I was a part of something. I would survive.

I’ve heard it used, and overused, the phrase – “We’re all in this together.” (I think I’ve used it myself.) But are we? Humans are herd animals. We do need each other. In a perfect world, I guess we would be – one human race – one herd, helping each other live a little better, a little stronger.

Each day I reach out my hand with words and paintings in hopes to strengthen the herd. You reach back by telling me your experience. And we find out a few more things about one another. My mom exclaimed in delight the other day, “I didn’t know Lynn Norton liked Jeopardy!” And we are all a little more connected.

The herd is as strong as we make it. Reach out your hand.


1 Comment

Speak the words

I was twelve, maybe thirteen when I first read the poem, An elegy for Jane, by Theodore Roethke. I was in Mr. Rolfsrud’s classroom, top floor of Central Junior High. It was a warm day, nearing the end of the school year, so the classroom was closed in with stale air, and we were restless. But not Mr. Rolfsrud. He still donned a suit and bowtie, and never seemed to sweat. He loved poetry, and so did I. I loved to listen to him read aloud. Each word had importance, and he showed this by the way he spoke, and the way he dressed. When he got to the end of the poem, we knew the girl had died, and that the person writing the poem was not related to the girl, nor romantically involved with the girl, but he loved her all the same.

“Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.”

Some of the boys snickered. Girls coughed. We had no idea of love, not yet. How could we? Yet we were left to consider the impact of one human life on another outside the context of romantic or familial love. I’m not sure I understood then, but the words were crisp and strong and true, so I put them in my heart’s memory to unpack when needed.

And thankfully, and I do mean with thanks, I have unpacked them through the years. It may seem strange to say thankfully here because we know that someone would have had to die for these words to make sense. But what a privilege to love someone. To love someone enough to feel the pain of the loss.

Yesterday, when I saw that he had passed, the tears flowed. I certainly had “no rights in this matter,” but I knew my mother had loved him – she having “no rights in this matter” either. But he was her friend, her brother. I wish there was a different word to use here. Because it feels like more than that. He showed my mother respect and support in a time of her life when she needed it the most. All done with strength, human compassion, and a sense of humor. And in seeing this, still a teenager, I learned the value of respect. The value of human connection. He was a man who loved his wife, and his children, and still could offer love, not romantic, not familial, but love all the same, to the others around him. What an honor to see this, to know this man.

We are given examples of greatness throughout our lives, from poets to teachers, to generals. Often the world gets too closed in with stale air, and we become restless, distracted, but I pray I always find the time, in honor of people like Mr. Rolfsrud and Dr. Hovda, to “speak the words of love.”

(My deepest sympathies to Judy Hovda, David Hovda, and Kari Hovda Schlachter)


1 Comment

Gratitude is everything

I found an old piece of framed panel deep in storage. Nothing on it. I don’t know if the person who bought it, made it, meant to put something on it, a picture, paint something, write something…and maybe they thought to do it, but time raced away and carried the thought with it and it just got buried. I dug out the panel. Sanded it. And knew I had to write something on it immediately. I couldn’t let the moment just slip away. We’re not given that many. But what did I want to say? I looked around and thought, today, I have everything, and if I write it all down, everything that I have today, then I will always have it. I have a husband who loves me. A mother who loves me. Children I’m not really related to. I have friends, dear friends, even the ones I don’t get to see very often, who still reach out. I have my health, and my curiosity. I have the desire to create, and the hands to do it. I have a house, and food and security and dresses that make me want to do the yoga. I have memories of places that I’ve seen, and maps of places I want to go. I recall, but not very often, the harder times that I made it through, that keep me honest, that teach me empathy. I have the knowledge that, even without money, I have always been rich. Rich! Today, I have everything, and I am so grateful.


2 Comments

Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.


Leave a comment

Two-fer

The parking spaces in France are incredibly small. Whenever we enter a garage we always look for a double opening — or as I like to call it, a two-fer. With a two-fer we have plenty of room to get in and out. No damage to our car, or the ones next to us. No worries. Luxurious. It’s just that little something extra that makes our lives easier, and so much better. Why wouldn’t we always look for that – in everything? Especially with each other. What if we gave this to those around us, the space to move freely, the luxury of no worries, no damage…


I painted a sweet little bird the other day on a panel. It seemed so obvious to paint another one on the other side. Whoever buys this bird – or that one, will get a little something extra — for no other reason than just to feel special.


I hope you can find that space today – that two-fer – in your travels, in your heart.


Leave a comment

A beautiful mess


There is a trend on Youtube where creators give sketchbook tours. They film as they page through their perfect sketchbooks – each page the best work they can possibly do – masterpieces. It’s not unpleasant to look at – but it feels a bit inauthentic. (I’m not sure I even sure I like that word – “authentic” – since Oprah it has become so overused – ironically taking out the authenticity of even the word.)

The sketchbook was created as a place to work things out. Find yourself – your strengths, your weaknesses. Explore new ideas. A safe place to simply try. I look at it like a true friend, maybe a family member. That person who not only allows you to be yourself, but encourages it. That person who wants nothing more than for you to create the best you. And the only way to do that really is to explore the options. This true friend, this sketchbook, allows you to take that trip. Fall. Rise. Change. Grow. And they remain, steady, true, with you throughout the journey.
To not embrace the beauty that the sketchbook allows, to me, is really saying, “I don’t trust you enough to show you myself, all of my imperfections and talents.” The gift exchanged between sketchbook and hand, is the trust, the journey. These are the gifts exchanged, I believe, between real friends.

Each day, I trust the pages and playfully explore the gifts I’ve been given. I am not perfect. But I am me.
What a blessing to be yourself. I give thanks each day for the open pages, the people in my life who allow me to be me. I hope, I pray, I promise to try to return the favor every day — to open this day and get joyfully, imperfectly, and delightfully messy.


Leave a comment

Dig deep

We have a large garden. Which means we also have a lot of weeds. And oh, the strength of weeds. They seem to be able to survive anything. Their only weakness comes after the rain. When the rain soaks the ground around them, everything loosens. Lets go. And it is so much easier to pull out the weeds. From the roots. Get rid of them.


I have this thought that maybe we’re the same. I think it’s ok to cry. For me, when I need to loosen the fear, or anger, maybe the sadness, I let the tears flow. And all those weeds around my heart start to loosen. I’m able to pluck them out and focus on what I have. What is growing inside of me. Growing every day. And it is beautiful!


I watched the Andy Griffith show as a kid. (Still do when I get the chance) It always made me laugh. One day Aunt Bea arrived at the Sheriff’s office, very upset. Crying and breathing heavy, Deputy Fife, in his Fife-like way, huddled around her, saying… “We should loosen something… what can we loosen?” It’s so funny, but so true.


If you need to loosen something today, I’m with you. If you need to let it rain, I’ll cry with you. And if you need to dig deep, I’ll grab my shovel. We’re in this together — in this beautiful garden together! Let’s grow.


1 Comment

Rose Ann and the Sainte Victoire

I’m not sure I would have even met her if my brother hadn’t married her daughter. And yet, with this one choice, not made by me, she became family. She was just always there. My brother was now TomandRenae, (not just Tom), and Renae’s mom was now RoseAnn. As familiar as that, in one instant. She included us in every holiday meal. It took awhile for our unsteady hearts to believe that we weren’t being included, but we just belonged. This is what she gave us. How can that be anything other than family?


When I say her name, an image of a nurse comes into my head. The old-fashioned kind, (I don’t mean that in a bad way) – you know the image, white uniform, white stockings, white shoes, even the paper hat. There was something solid about that uniform. Something to lean on. I guess that is RoseAnn. Something solid. Something to lean on. Sometimes that can seem unapproachable, all this strength, but when you need it, and oh, sometimes we really need it, it’s good to stand beside all of that white.
And there are surprises. Moments of vulnerability. An unexpected softness that invites you in. When the uniform is off. And we’re just people. Just gathering from the land of misfit toys for a wedding, or a thanksgiving. And it is something to believe in. Because you’ve seen every angle.


The first iconic image I passed in France was the Sainte Victoire. The mountain that Cezanne painted again and again. This giant white rock sits just outside of our home. Every day when I pass it, I say hello. Thank it for being solid. Constant. Beautiful. Even on rainy days, when the sides are dark, or when the clouds can make it almost disappear, I know it is there. That is comfort. Had I not met Dominique, I may never have known this certainty.


Small decisions join us. Bring us together. And we are stronger because of it – because of them. I wave to the Sainte Victoire this morning. I wave to RoseAnn. We are all in this together. We greet each other. We support each other. We lean on each other. It is beautiful. It is strong. It is something to believe in. 


1 Comment

Harmony.

Harmony.Jan was always first chair of the clarinet section. From the fifth grade, through senior high, I don’t remember a time when she didn’t sit proudly in the first row, right in front of the conductor. I don’t know if she felt the competition. I’m sure she practiced. A lot more than the rest of us. For some reason, I never saw band as a sport. For me, it was about the collective music. As individuals, (but for the exceptions like Jan) we really didn’t sound that good. But there is a phenomenon in music when people perform together, even if not everyone is in tune, or in sync, collectively it just sounds better. And that sound carried us. Held us. Gathered us in. I didn’t think of myself in the second row, I was part of the band. I belonged.

Yesterday, at our Easter table, we gathered. American, French, German. Through the years, we have navigated to our respective chairs. My husband at the head, me just next to him. Grown children – their children, in-laws, all around. It is not lost on me that when I jump from my chair to gather something from the kitchen, more bread, more water, a bigger spoon, I pass by my clarinet that rests in the corner of the library. The music here is sung in many languages, (it doesn’t matter that my French is not that good, their English, not much better). In my own rhythm, I have found my place in the band. It is not a competition. We gather around, we gather in. Conversation and laughter play in tune, and the music gives us a place, a place at the table. The band plays on…