Jodi Hills

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


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Growing poppies.

My grandmother was a dreamer. My grandfather was a worker. And together they created a life of faith. I think that’s what faith is, believing in things some people may call unimaginable, but you imagine them anyway, and work towards them. My grandfather was the muddied rack of coats that hung just inside of my grandmother’s unlocked door, the door she kept open, hoping to let in her next big thing! And it worked. The house – this home – this giver of nine lives, stood strong.


I knew the poppies would come. Because I put in the work. Because I believe in what I imagine. I show you the painting today, so you too, can believe in all of the things clearly and unclearly imaginable and reach out your own weary and working hands, and grow your fields of rouge!


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Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I was waiting for my mom to come out of the doctor’s room. I couldn’t go in with her. Covid. Most of the chairs were filled in oncology. The weight of that…things didn’t stop just because of Covid. People still got cancer. It filled the room. I sat on a small chair with a desk, just outside the door. The chair was formerly filled with a greeter I suppose, or support person — no longer able to be present. I opened the drawer. There was a pad and few crayons. I wrote a note and left it on top of the desk – “If you see this, I’m wishing you a good day.”


We had to go back to oncology the next morning. As we walked out the door, the woman working the front desk called out my name — “Thanks for writing that note!” she said. It travelled through the weight of the room and fit directly into my heart. She knew me. She saw me. And I was saved.


My grandfather told me years ago, if you want to feel better, focus on someone else. I often forget. And then he angel pokes my self-focusing heart, lifts my hand, and I try to do better. Always try to do better. And so I’m sending out the words again today, to cut through whatever weight is clouding your room, “If you see this, I’m wishing you a good day!” A good day that will save us all.


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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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Being small.

John Prine sings, “I remember everything…every single blade of grass holds a special place for me.” I hear the words in my heart and I’m back on VanDyke Road. It’s a summer day. Bits of green stick to my legs and I’m soaked in sun. Red shoulders. Cheeks. Carrying a plastic bow and arrow from Target. Arrows not strong enough to puncture the ground, but strong enough to make me a cowgirl, a big girl, as my mother told me to be. A big girl that could stay alone during school’s summer vacation and imagine a ranch of hired hands, working cattle and horses, and filling a backyard with “Big Valley” moments, “Bonanza” rescues, and every Disney movie hero. Only until 4:30, then my mom would come home from work. I let the bow drop from my hand into the blades of grass I counted. Each a different color of green. I dropped my arrow. And I was gloriously small. I was saved. She held me close. Every day. My heart beat full. I remember everything.


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Carry it with you.

I can get distracted. So easily. So many “shiny objects” in a day. And it’s easy to let things slip by. “I’ll email them tomorrow.” “I’m sure someone else has taken care of it.” “My vote doesn’t really count anyway.” We can justify almost anything. But can we? Really? Every day, we stand for something. Either by taking a stand, or not taking one. Everything matters. Everything counts. Now some might say, “Oh, lighten up…” But maybe that’s what I am doing. When I believe in something, love something, someone, stand for the things I believe in, it gives me great joy. Such great joy! And the thing is, nothing is lighter than joy. It’s so easy to carry it with you. I want that joy. And so I love and I live and dance my way through the shiny objects of the day, and then I pause. I stand. And I believe.


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First, the field…


I have been commissioned to paint a field of poppies. Looks pretty green for poppies, you’re thinking. Yes, for now. But first the field… my grandfather taught me that, I suppose, on his farm. Each year he would take the browns and turn them into greens, and eventually into gold. “You can’t glamorize the dirt,” he said. It was work. So much work. Rocks needed to be picked. Dirt turned. Seeds planted. Watered. Care. So much care.


And so I paint the same way. I cut the wood. Stretch the canvas. Gesso. Prepare. Underpaint. Start with the field. My hands dirty. My heart full of promise that the flowers will come. Patient. Care. So much care.


Life is very messy. Terribly messy. My Uncle Nick passed away yesterday. I can’t glamorize that. I know he suffered. But I believe in the golden fields. Those of my grandfather. I believe they are there now. Together. Held with care. So much care.


Today, maybe, the poppies…


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With strings attached.


I wasn’t sure if I’d remember. It’s been over a month since I made bread. But this morning my hands pulled out the flour, and yeast and sugar and oil. Sprinkled in a little salt without my having to think. They knew. They have done it a countless times before and needed no direction.


And so it is with seeing old friends. I saw her at Starbuck’s and our smiles challenged each other for size. Had it been minutes or more than a year, my heart didn’t know, didn’t care, it loved with no need for direction. We talked about nothing and everything. She gave me two dish cloths. Knit by her own hands. Folded. Tied with the tiniest of bows. Strings that attach directly to my heart.


Friendship doesn’t need conditions, but it does need strings. Strings that attach.


While we were at my mom’s, a dear friend of hers brought over a batch of cookies – made with her own hands. They were delicious, but more than that. They were time and care and concern and friendship. Strings that attached.


I have always trusted the makers. Those who use their hands and hearts to show you their love. And so I make the bread, and the words and the paintings to show you mine. I reach out. I reach back. Forever attached.


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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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Steady.

“Focus on something steady,” she always tells me. I do. Every morning, for my yoga session. I was looking out the window, this morning, as I usually do. I like to focus on a tree for balance. Keeps me strong. Sturdy. Rooted. Standing strong in tree pose, a squirrel ran up the branches (on the tree outside, not me). My focus darting along with it, I lost my balance. Nearly tipping over. Back to the tree. Back to my balance.


It makes me laugh, because that is so typical of my life. I try very hard to stay on track (as crooked as my track sometimes runs). But it’s my normal. My balance. And it works for me. I keep my heart steady above my anchored feet, my reaching arms. But even in my practice, my trying, my hold steady, my brain will shout out “Squirrel!” And go racing after it. I forgive myself and look back to my heart, pumping still steady through my veins.


Nature is filled with every kind of normal. Every kind of distraction. We choose what to grab on to. Focus on. Lean against. Grow with. I heard once, a tree is never foolish enough to fight amongst its own branches. And so, too, I let my heart and brain reach as far as they can, then gather it all in, in my ever green, ever practicing core.

Focus on something steady today, my friends.


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10,000 lessons.

We’re crossing bigger waters today, but we always find our way to the comfort of shore. And how would I have ever dared without the waves that first rocked me? Gently. Easily. Each one saying, you know there’s more…we taught you well. Go see. And they did teach me well – these 10,000 lakes, this Minnesota. With each arm splashing, leg kicking, breath-losing, breath-taking wave – taught me when to dive, when to keep my head up. Gave me laughter. Washed me clean.

Today is a day to keep my head up. I won’t let my teachers down. Thank you, Minnesota.