Jodi Hills

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


Body work.

Several times a year in school they would send a note home for us to give to our parents asking to collect for the food drive. My mother would laugh and say, “We’d just have to go pick it up later…”

I suppose you are only poor if you think you are poor. We never did.

We had an old blue station wagon. It started to rust around the wheel areas — Minnesota! My mother taught herself (without the internet) to sand it down, prime it, and paint it. We needed it to last. So she did the “body work.” And it did.

I suppose that’s why I write. I remember the stories, sand them down, paint them for all the world to see. Because they are our greatest assets. The lessons. The love. The work. They keep us rich, and, oh, how I, we, need them to last.

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There used to be a ballpark.

I wonder if the birds realize how much things have changed. Do they fly over and think, “Wow, they are really packing the houses in!”? Are their favorite trees still there? Do they move their nests from year to year?

We were driving down Van Dyke Road yesterday. The first road I remember. The first road my feet touched. Probably my knees. My bike tires. But for the sign with its name, it was almost unrecognizable. Every empty lot that we ran around, cut across, kicked balls, and chased each other in, every lot was filled. House after house.

Frank Sinatra sang, “There used to be a ballpark”:

And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green.
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I’d never seen.

We went to see the Nortons – anchors of our former VanDyke Road neighborhood. We laughed and hugged, with the joy I remember, the joy that still lives on, maybe not on the same road, but always in the path of my heart.
The birds are still singing, because they know where to look. Up. Always up. Sitting in the Norton house our spirits were forever young, forever “warm and green.”


A place at the table.

I had to hold my hand over my mouth more than once. The laughter from the table was so powerful, my lips could barely contain themselves. One hand holding my mouth, the other hand reaching, reaching across the table, needing to touch the person who said the funniest thing, touch the person and feel the laughter through fingers and arms and try to gather it in my belly before it shot out of my mouth!

We had dinner with friends last night. Dear friends. I suppose we are all looking for our tribe. And when you find it, you just know. You gather together, not because of a game on television. Not because blood tells you that you should, but because this is your place. Your place at the table. No explanations necessary. Nor apologies. Just understanding. Curiosity. Interest. Kindness. Laughter and love.

If you can find this, a table at which to share a dream, a possibility, a laugh, a memory, a deep joy, oh, then give thanks! Give thanks at this table. What a gift it is to have friends!

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I love to get dressed up. I don’t mean ball gown dressed up, (though I’m not against that for sure), but dressed nicely, put together, perhaps a scarf that matches my purse. To ensemble – yes, I made that a verb – feels wonderful. I have named my gloves — Ava Gardner, my sunglasses — Anna Wintour. Sure, some will call it vain, and it probably is, a little, but for me, it feels more like a confidence boost. Like there’s a superpower hidden right there inside of my gloves. And I suppose, if you believe it, it’s true.

I couldn’t have been more shy when I was a little girl. Not in Kindergarten, nor 1st grade, not 2nd, 3rd or 4th. As I got older I avoided speech classes. I didn’t want anything to do with it. So it surprises even me, that I can now give speeches, presentations, in front of any group. And even more surprising – I love it! I adore it. Yesterday I spoke to a group of Special Education teachers. I put on my green dress, with, of course, my matching green boots, my French scarf, and performed with confidence and strength.

Now, I know that the confidence comes from work. The writing. The painting. The living. The practicing. I put my heart and soul and hardworking hands into every performance. The work, the substance of my efforts, is an eggplant, for sure. Strong, sturdy, deep purple. And I know this. I live by this. But because I have put in the time, to grow, to make my “eggplant” strong, on those days that I get to perform, I put on the clothes, that take me from eggplant to aubergine. Because we get to decide, don’t we! We get to decide who and what we want to be! No one can tell us, or force us, not even our former selves! So I do the work. Smiling. Knowing, in a world of purple, I can be aubergine!

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Out of the tree of life.

A red plum in France is called prune rouge. I like the sound of it. Elegant, I think. We have a tree in our front yard. Each year she gives us the most delicious harvest for making jam. It’s my favorite. Of our fruit trees, peach, apricot, cherry (she is yet to produce enough for jam) and plum, the plum, or prune rouge is the most difficult to make into jam because the fruit is very small and the pit is very big, and very attached. But the reward! As the fruit turns from yellow to pink to the most glorious, well rouge, aaah, it is magnificent. And the taste! The taste bursts into Frank Sinatra singing, “Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a plum!”

I heard once, and it took a long time to learn, but I believe it now, “One doesn’t love a home less for having suffered in it…” Things happen. Hurtful things. But I suppose, only where there is love can there be pain. People, places, that you don’t know, that you don’t care about, they can’t hurt you. But they can’t give you anything really. To really love someone, love something, there is always the risk of being hurt, well, more than risk really, you will get hurt. But the reward! When you take that hurt, grab it with both hands, break it apart, tear away the pit of it all, it can transform – you can transform, into something absolutely delicious!

Coming home now, I can see this place for all the rouge it contains. All the gifts it has given me. And I am grateful for it all, the pain, the work, the possibility, the start, and most of all the love! For giving me the lyrics to my song, “Still it’s a real good bet, the best is yet, to come!”

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Nothing else would I trade for this.

I heard a familiar voice in the dressing room next to me. I had met my mother at the Macy’s in St. Cloud to do a little shopping for the upcoming launch of my book, Friend. As I lived in Minneapolis, and she in Alexandria, it was half way for us both. I opened the door a crack to see who belonged to the voice. A short, blonde woman passed by – oh, Kari Ness – I had gone to high school with her. My mom popped in. I think I saw Kari Ness, I said. We both stepped out. No one was there. We continued through the racks of clothes. And there she was. She introduced us to her mother-in-law. And it began. I heard something about fashion, and she owned a store, San Francisco I think, it was all happening so quickly. What are you here for? she asked. Before I answered, “What are you shopping for? What do you need? A black and white event, I said. For my new book. She grabbed me by the hand. Took me to dresses. Put this on. I’m sure I said yes – who knew at this point? What’s happening? my mom asked. I didn’t know, but we were both smiling from ear to ear. And you’ll need shoes, she said, and started instructing the clerks in the shoe department. I don’t even remember trying on the dress, but I was wearing it. Three clerks were running to get shoes for me. Kari’s mother in law was directing the Macy’s orchestra and all we could do was dance along. It was glorious! Within minutes I had a fabulous dress, and hosiery and shoes and a handbag. There, she said. I’m not certain that I even spoke to Kari. I hope I thanked her. It was spectacular. For a few minutes in the St. Cloud Macy’s, I was a princess! I was a model! And it was a ride I will never forget.

My mom and I went to Ciatti’s restaurant afterward. Bags in tow. Ordered two glasses of wine, and relived it again and again with each sip.

Bobby Darin sang a song, “And the curtain falls.” It plays in my head as I remember these moments:

Your cheers and laughter
will linger after
They’ve torn down these dusty walls
If I had this to do again
And the evening were new again
I would spend it with you again
But now the curtain falls.
Your cheers and laughter
will linger after
They’ve torn down these dusty walls
People say I was made for this
Nothin’ else would I trade for this…

Life happens where and when you allow it. People and places will take you on unforgettable rides – I only encourage you to take them. Hop on! Your cheers and laughter will forever linger after. I hear them now!

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One moment, please.

It may have been Mark Twain, (some give credit to Charles Dudley Warner) but someone once said, 

“Everybody Talks About the Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It.”

My mother used to operate the switchboard for Alexandria Public Schools. Every winter those phones went crazy. Everyone wanted to talk about the weather! Are the buses going to be late? Why are the buses going to be late? If the buses are going to be an hour late, what time will they come? With the patience of a Nordic saint, my mother answered each call. “One moment please…” And the next call would come in. “What are you going to do about this damn storm?” he asked, not politely. She held her breath. Knowing she had her own damn storm to deal with. This life. I suppose everyone does. And most people don’t do anything about it. But she wanted to. And she did. She went to work every day. Put on her best clothes. Her best smile, sometimes merely painted on, but on none the less. And she worked, not just at this job, but at this life. To make it better for her. To make it better for me. Because she knew it was all just a moment. One moment. And she was going to live it. He shouted again on the phone line. She smiled. She was going to be more than fine. “One moment please…”
Sent from my iPad

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Another look.

The thing is, we always think we know… we look at the surface of things and think – that’s simple – that’s it – and we move on. But in this way, we only get to the next thing, the surface of the next thing, and then what, again? There has to be more than this. And this “more” I’m thinking of, reaching for, longing for, is in the depth, not the breadth.

I love putting things together. Giving things texture. Meaning. The three paintings that I have pictured here, one might think the commonality is green. But the reason I put them together at first was not because of the green. I really didn’t even put them together, they gravitated to each other. I didn’t paint them at the same time. Not from the same tube. But later, when I made postcards of the paintings. Held them in my hand, it was so easy to see why they fit together. It was their beautiful strength in their own fragility. All. This force that carried them from within. This beautiful belief in their own possibility. This gentle and beautiful strength.

Maybe you have to live it, to see what others are living. To see their “green” for all it really means. And I want to see it. I want to see it in you. Possibly even me. And so I rise, and take another look.


Find the good.


Our 7 hour flight from Paris to New York turned into 11. The first four hours, we didn’t move an inch. It could have been frustrating, and frankly, it was, but then a local boy saved me. I searched through the movies. Nothing. I couldn’t think. TV series. Nothing. Try the comedians. Mostly French, it was Air France. Then at the end of the line. Louie Anderson. Oh, Louie. It was not lost on me that he took his own long flight just the day before. Sometimes angels get their wings very quickly. I tuned in and started laughing almost immediately. Maybe it was because of the name – Anderson, the familiar – we grew up with him — or maybe just because he was hilarious and I really needed a laugh. And oh, how I laughed. Through my mask. Through the waiting. There was joy. Thank you, Minnesota. Thank you, Louie. Even stuck on a plane in another country, you were welcoming us home.

Sometimes I forget to look for the silver linings. Sometimes they show up all on their own. Even the hardest days are kind enough to pass. Find the good. It’s out there.

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Travel day.

Today we will be traveling from Marseille to Paris. Paris to New York. New York to Minneapolis. The fact that I get to type words like travel and Paris and New York and Minneapolis, and that I have stories from each place, memories, footprints, even artprints…this fills me!

Maybe it was from Ernest Hemingway that I first learned about this “feast.”

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway, to a friend, 1950

My “lucky enough” was that I always found a way to feast, even with what some would call absolutely nothing. But what they couldn’t see was I had words. I had hands. I had paint. I had an imagination. This took me everywhere — long before I stepped onto a plane. And it has stayed with me. Hemingway was right. It does stay with you – if you carry it, nurture it, give thanks for it – every day!

Zipping up the luggage now. Giving thanks. Time to feast! Bon appétit!