Jodi Hills

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

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At play.

I’m not sure we ever finished a game. There was softball. And kickball. And kick the can. And freeze tag. Regular Tag. One game morphed into the next in the empty field between our house and Dynda’s. With five girls, the Norton’s made it possible to do almost anything. If they showed up, teams were easily made. And that’s really all any of us had to do — just show up. Balls. Bats. Even bikes waited patiently in the grass, or the curb of the gravel road.

If we did keep some kind of score, it was forgotten. Erased by front stoop calls to dinner, or the dark of night. When I think back, it may be one of the greatest lessons I received in humanity. In love.

As we get older, we think we have to do something – and even worse – do the “right thing.” When someone is going through a difficult period, we struggle. “I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t know what to do.” We search for answers or solutions. But as with most things, we were given the tools from the start. We knew what to do. It turns out, it still holds true. All we have to do is show up. Be there for each other. Forgetting all the scores, remembering only to reach out an imperfect, sweaty, grass stained hand, and just be… together.

My lot is trampled. Sure. Worn even. For this I am blessed. My heart is at play. And I will never finish loving you.

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From chickens to tombstone.

On Monday, we stopped in a small village to visit the museum of Frédéric Mistral, a famous French poet. Of course it was closed. It was Monday after all, and it was France. The strong winds of the same name (mistral) blew us back into town on Tuesday.

Dominique drove down the alley behind the museum and stopped in front of two large white chickens and a black barking dog. His creative parking sense never ceases to amaze me. “Nice doggy…” he said while opening the door slowly. Clearly this dog didn’t speak English. 

We tiptoed to the closed door of the museum. The sign seemed to indicate that it should be open. But no. We walked across the street to the office of tourism, which in itself brought a smile — a town this size. Dominique inquired about the museum. “Oh, it would be closed for a year,” he said so casually in French. “Is there a place to sit?” I thought.  “You can go across the street to the cemetery and visit his tomb,” he said. There was no meter to our chicken coop parking, so we agreed. 

Inside the cemetery a small sign pointed to the tomb. They put a picture of it on the sign, which was clearly needed, because there was no name on the tomb. We stared for a minute through our blowing hair. Looked at each other and walked back towards the alley. The dog barked in his own angry language. The chickens joined in with theirs. We got out of the wind into the warmth of the car. 

I had wanted a famous poem. But I suppose we had written our own. From chickens to tombstone, we wrote the words that I will remember — with all due respect to Frédéric, probably much longer than any of his.

I live in the word. The sun is rising. Releasing the hounds. Releasing the poets. Let’s begin.



It was Don Quixote — the first professional play I ever saw. I suppose I’ve been chasing windmills ever since.

We boarded the big yellow school bus in Alexandria, Minnesota and took the two hour ride to Minneapolis. It was actually in Chanhassen, a smaller suburb. And we probably just called it “the cities” (short for Minneapolis and St. Paul). When I think about it, we did that for almost everything. Put a “the” in front of it. Claimed it. Gave it importance. As if it were the only. And for a long time, it all was, the only. My grandparents farm was “the farm.” Viking Plaza was “the mall.” The twin cities of Minneapolis and St.Paul — simply “the cities.”

But it was there, just a bus ride away, inside the Chanhassen dinner theatre, that I dared, maybe for the first time, to “dream the impossible dream.” Without my knowledge or permission, the tears flowed down my teenage face as the actor sang the song. I guess my heart always knew.

I wasn’t sure how I would survive my first birthday without my mom. How would I “bear with unbearable sorrow?” We went on a mini vacation – a quest. And there was the windmill. “The” windmill — My impossible dream. There was still joy. Incredible, possible, joy! I had, in fact, a wonderful birthday!  Truly! I will forever believe. Forever chase. 

It was mom who put me on that first bus. I won’t let her down. I will keep riding the wind.

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Daily posture.

For one day a year we placed the posture of our entire future into the hands of Miss Feldman — our track suited, middle school gym teacher. Shirtless, in a line of developing teenage girls, we stood single file in the basement of the Central Junior High girl’s locker room. One by one, Miss Feldman told us to bend over. Touch our toes. For some reason, we were perfectly trusting that her gym teacher education qualified her to assess the condition of our spines.

Waiting in line for maybe 10 minutes, I was able to create a scenario in which I had scoliosis. Stepping closer. Girl by girl. Of course I had it. Without any rhyme or reason, it became my reality. Forget the sports I played. Forget the health I enjoyed. I had scoliosis. Of course I did. Even in the damp coolness of the pink basement, I began to sweat. It was my turn. I bent over. It took maybe 5 seconds. “You’re fine. Next,” she said.

Of course I was fine. Now laughing.

The power of suggestion is strong. I learned that early on. Every day before going to school my mother would say, “Goodbye. I love you. Have a nice day.” I guess the key word was “have.” It gives you all the power. (A power never to be given away!) She didn’t say, “I hope it’s a good day.” She told me to have one. Now, you might say, well, everyone says that. But sometimes we don’t always see the power within that statement. The power within ourselves. So I remind you. I remind myself. To have a nice day.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the worry of it all. Life is challenging. And there are so many things we can’t control. So on the days when I’m stuck in a line of doubt, I go through my personal checklist. Are you loved? Yes. Do you love? Yes. Safe? Yes. Capable? Yes. Willing? Oh, yes! Do you have scoliosis? No! “You’re fine,” the mirror answers. “Have a nice day!”

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Humble joy.

I think initially we all thought they were just part of the ceiling, if we gave them any thought at all. But then came the day when we entered the gym. All dressed in our onesies. Blue stripes on top. Blue shorts on the bottom. Our common humility. We stepped out of the changing room. There they were hanging. Mr. Christopherson stood proudly beside them. Even though we lived weekly through our own Lord of the Flies experiment each week under the guise of Physical Education, we were still shocked.

Of course being only in elementary school, we hadn’t yet heard of Dorothy Parker, but it was written all over our faces — “What fresh new hell is this?”

He scrambled up half way on one of the ropes. See? So Easy! None of us were buying it. We formed three short lines. All fighting to be at the end. It was a lot to expect of us. Just an hour before we were practicing our instruments in this very gym. And I had the upper body strength of a pre-teen clarinet player to prove it.

To say we failed at rope climbing would be an understatement. Failure would mean that some proper attempts were actually made. Perhaps the only ones victorious were those, and there were a few, who actually made it to the next class without rope burns under their arms and between their thighs. They were the only ones who showered that day.

I’ve heard recently that most schools have outlawed this certain practice. As with so many other things. But I’m not sorry we went through it. I’m not sorry we were given impossible tasks, and struggled together. I’m not sorry we played our band instruments with no chance of ever becoming musicians. We were learning. And we were happy. We found joy — humble, breathtaking joy.

I look at the morning sky. I don’t know if ropes will drop, or skies will be clear. Either way, I know I can make it. I will find a way to be happy. Fresh. New. Joy.

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That flattering light.

That flattering light.There is a story of a young girl who saved herself from a herd of elephants. She turned left, when they turned right. “It wasn’t just by chance,” her mother recalled. “She knew that elephants leave the same way they came in.”

I suppose that’s true for humans as well. It reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”  Now the easy lesson would be just about the so-called “others.” And it’s an important one to learn, for sure. But I also want to be aware of the same, when it comes to myself.

People often say, when caught in a certain situation, acting in an unbecoming way, “Well, that’s not really me.” The truth is, if you do it, it is. But, I’m still a believer. For them. For me. It doesn’t mean that change is impossible, it means, most of us, most of the time, just don’t do it. We stomp our big gray feet in and out, in the same way. 

I wasn’t even sure where I would find the hope in this story, until I started typing. But when I saw it, the word, it became so clear. Unbecoming. By definition, it is unflattering. So the opposite would have to be — “become.” We, I, have to stop doing things for the mere reason of “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” We CAN change. We CAN become. If we want to. I want to. Whether it’s the way I came in, or not, I’m going to keep walking toward, and one day in, that flattering light. I will become.


A joyful ease.

“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.

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Field trip.

It wasn’t my usual kind of podcast, but it came on as I was walking. I half listened as I searched for asparagus. It was something about bats. Rabies. Shots. The woman said she had to get the shots just because a bat was in her house. The doctor said the teeth of the bats are so small you won’t even wake up if they bite you in your sleep. I searched the ground for green stems. And then they said something about rabies in your system. That it could last for a year? Or did they say years? How long? Like decades, or a couple years? I was really worried now. Really listening. Because surely we were all exposed, if not bitten, in the complete darkness of Crystal Cave on our fifth grade field trip.

The teachers were so excited as they passed out the permission slips. My first thoughts were, “Here we go again…” I can’t say there was actually one paper I ever wanted my mother to sign. Each one sent us off to the deep woods. A cave. A bog. Stomping. Roaming. Through fields covered in snow. In darkness. Sometimes both. 

I brought the paper home reluctantly. Dangling it out the bus window, hoping… Crumpling it in my pocket. My mother pulled it out in the laundry. “Oh, you forgot this…” she said. “Forgot…” I thought. “So you’re going to Crystal Cave?” she asked. “I don’t have to,” I thought. “Well, that sounds like, you know, fun…” she tried to convince both of us. (Knowing full well it was something she would never enjoy.) “Or a nightmare,” I said under my breath. “What’s that?” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. “Fun, I guess.” She took that awful pen and signed it, almost apologetically. “We’ll go to the mall this weekend,” she said, touching my face.

I laid awake the night before the field trip. Still trying to think of ways to get out of it. What were my symptoms for strep throat? Mono. People got mono all the time. I was a terrible liar. I kissed my mother goodbye, as if going off to war, and got on the bus.

As far as I know, we all survived. But there were bats. Lined up on the side of the cave. I know I saw them. We could have all been bitten by those silent killers. I googled Crystal Cave after coming home from my walk. They are still open. Still in business. If lots of fifth graders had died, surely they would have shut the place down. Maybe we were safe after all. Still…

I hear dogs howling this morning. They are hunting wild boar. In the woods, on the side of the small mountain (large hill) I walk each day. Apparently we have a surplus. I saw the signs posted yesterday. It sounds exactly like something we would have ridden to see in a big yellow school bus. I smile. And give myself permission to find my own path. My own way. 


727 home runs.

I could tell you I did. There are no records to prove it. No one kept the stats. And to be honest, there was never a wall that the ball had to clear. We didn’t have stadiums. We had parks. And if you hit the ball beyond the outfielders, you had a pretty good chance of a home run. And if the infielders would happen to overthrow, underthrow, or just completely miss from base to base, which happened often, and you kept running, and they kept throwing, you could often round the bags without being tagged. A home run. Now in the major leagues they would never score it as that. Maybe a single with three errors. But this was summer softball. A league of our own. And if you scored with one swing of the bat, that my friend, was a home run. And when my mom got home from work, she stopped everything. Even if there were groceries to be put away. And I’m sure her feet hurt from heeled shoes. Legs to be freed from pantyhose. But no, before she did anything, she stopped and asked about my day. My game. As if it were the only thing in the world. She didn’t care about softball. She didn’t ask if we won or lost. She cared about me. I listed off the victories – “a homerun, a single and a double.” (When I think about it, I rarely got a triple. Once you got to third base, you just kept going, no matter what.) I could have told her anything, I suppose, but when I was finished, she raised her hands and cheered! Fists nearly to the ceiling, my heart not far behind.

I haven’t missed a day of writing these posts, these blogs, in 727 days. Again, no one other than me is keeping the stats. Some days I will get 30 likes. Some days 100. I started writing them mostly to get the two handed cheer from my mom. Nothing will ever compare to this. I can still feel it, with each word I type. Each letter is a foot on a sanded field. Each sentence a run toward the base. A paragraph to first. To second. A story each day, just trying to race home. Race home to the one who will lift you. Love you — hands raised in the air kind of love!  No matter the score. 

The sun is coming up, my heart is not far behind. I’m ready to play.
I will spread my wings and call this home.


The Painful Blossom.

Nature has it right. Never is it more beautiful than when it is about to grow. Full blossom. And proud! “Look! Things are changing,” the trees say joyfully in pink and yellow and white. If they are afraid, they don’t show it. And the transition can’t be easy. They are awakening from winter. Changing shape. Having to rely on sun. On rain. Fully exposed. 

The obvious teacher of this would have been my grandfather. A farmer. Riding, guiding, nature’s wheel. And he did — teach me. Never shying away from the difficulty. “I can’t glamorize the dirt,” he told me. It was real. Rocks needed to be picked. Hands would be recognizably changed. But each year he too changed the fields from black to green to gold. Fully exposed. Fully beautiful.

But maybe the best teacher was my mother. When her seasons changed abruptly from married to single. From sure to uncertain. Fully exposed, each morning, she willed herself into the light. Smoothing the lines on her face. The seams of her skirt. Allowing the painful blossom. Allowing the beauty of growth.

The petals slowly falling on the trees remind me, it is once again my turn. It’s time to grow. Fully exposed, but never alone. Each petal a sign of those who have gone before me. In perfect harmony I hear them. My mother, my grandfather. “Look,” they say, “things are changing!” My smile blossoms. I am not afraid.