Jodi Hills

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


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Seeing it through.

“There was the man who got on his horse one afternoon and told his wife he was going to bring in the cows. She watched him ride off across the flats. He came to their two mild cows, grazing half a mile from the house, and he rode around them and kept on going. She watched him to the top of the rise, a mile away, and she waited and waited. He never came back. “I don’t know what got into him,” his wife said. “He didn’t even say goodbye.” Hal Borland from “High, Wide and Lonesome”


When I start a new painting, I like to keep quiet. Those who know me don’t ask, “What is it going to be?” I suppose there are a few reasons for this. First, I’m often not sure. What I begin might turn into something else completely. That, to me, is never failure of losing the first, that is the magic of gaining what is to be. The magic that comes from seeing it through. Allowing it to become. Never abandoning the canvas, but working with it. Not forcing it to be something it isn’t, but allowing it to be what it wants to be.


Maybe she learned it from her father — the farmer who always came back from the field. But most certainly, I learned it from her, my mother. From her I learned the magic of seeing it through. The magic of no more abandonings. So today, if you’re wondering what the next painting will be… what tomorrow will bring…if you really need to know, know this, it’s going to be magic!


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An imperfect life.

When I walked into his new condo, downtown Minneapolis, I was immediately impressed. It was curated as only Ken could do. Right down to the last detail. Just as he had curated each show in Anne’s lovely gallery by Lake Minnetonka.  It smelled fantastic, that mixture of clean and possible — you know, the kind of light fragrance that just makes you want to dress better.  “Sex and the City” was looping on the television screen. The lighting — just enough to highlight the art and keep your skin tones youthful. The bathroom – manicured. The bedroom – so warm, pillowed. And there it was. Framed. On the shelf. My poem, “Again.”

Again, I live this day

for the first time.

I feel the possibility of this brand new sky, again,

and I make promises to the world and myself

that I will make the most of this moment

again and again.

And I make the same mistakes for the first time –

and I cry old tears – and smile new hopes –

and I try and I laugh and I hurt,

and I pray for answers to the same old questions,

asked again and again –

when the answer is still and again – love.

I am blanketed by the night sky

and dream sweet and scared

and happy again – to wake to this day

for the first time –

to live in the possibility of this brand new sky,

and love, like I never thought I would, again.

Whenever I see this poem, I think of him. He is living his life in fabulous Ken fashion. As flamboyant and imperfect as only he can. And I saw him — not the curated version, not his sparkles, or feathered hats, or flashes of orange and prescriptionless glasses — I saw him. 

This morning, I page through my book, “An imperfect life,” and I read this poem and others. Each a snapshot of people I’ve seen. I’ve known. And what an honor it is. I read, “Hit by a train,” and I am with my Aunt Kay. I read, “Grace sat with me,” and I am with my grandmother. “The truth about you” — my mother. “Big girl world” — my Aunt Karolynn. What a joy it is to see people. To know people. What a privilege when they invite you in. Ask you to stay. 

I breathe in the morning air. Ready. Again. Eat croissants with the one I love. Open. Again. To see the beauty of this imperfect day. “To live in the possibility of this brand new sky, and love!  

Good morning world! I see you!


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Red Rover.

There was a game we played in grade school — Red Rover. The game is played between two lines of players, positioned apart from each other, with hands or arms linked together. The game starts when the first team, calls a player out, by saying or singing a line like “Red rover, red rover, send ‘insert name here’ right over.”

The immediate goal for the person called is to run to the other line and break the other team’s chain (formed by the linking of hands). If the player called fails to break the chain, they have to join that team. However, if the player successfully breaks the chain, they may select either of the broken “links” and take the link to join their team. The game continues until there is just one chain.

Today, it seems we continue to play this game – over and over – never able to successfully make one chain. I’m not saying we should all have the same beliefs in every “game.” But we should be able to come together, in the largest sense. Treat each other with kindness and respect, embrace each other, with all our differences…practice decency.

Decency. It sounds so simple: “Please” and “thank you,” “have a nice day” and “yes, you, too.” But what does it mean to be decent during a pandemic?

In Albert Camus’s The Plague, published in 1947, he writes about a plague outbreak in North Africa. In it, the physician Bernard Rieux says: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency.”

I guess there are some lessons we have to learn over and over. But I still believe we can come together. Red Rover, Red Rover…


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Chances are.

The statistics teacher thought that if he showed us a real life example, it would be easier for us. So he began explaining the amount of possibilities that existed for our combination locks. X could be this. And solve for Y. And what if this? And show your work. The numbers and letters banged around in my head. I left my locker unlocked for the rest of the school year.

People really love us in the clunkiest of ways. We’re all so different. And to match what is needed with what is given, well, when you think about it, (here comes all that banging around again), it’s really something that we can get along at all.

But when we are open, and let each other fumble along in our own peculiar ways, it can be so magical, so uplifting. Maybe we can all be a little better at finding the beauty in the attempts. I want to be better. Better, not just at loving you, but letting you love me. And I suppose, if we did that for each other, well, chances are, as the song says, our chances are awfully good.


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Days of thanks.

This past Labor Day, we visited Washington, D.C. It was a warm day — just enough heat to let down your defenses and let you feel at one with nature. No difference between your body temperature and the air surrounding you. We walked freely and easily to each monument. The stairs to Lincoln were long and high, and worth each sweaty step. I couldn’t help but notice each of us wore a warm and glistening glow, from the sun sure, the labor of the steps, but mostly, I think, from the hope and promise that sat before us.


With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it is good to remember how Lincoln transformed this holiday for us all. There is much controversy with the holiday beginnings, as there should be, I suppose, but Lincoln took the holiday and turned it into a day of thanks, for all to celebrate.
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, who began using her columns to push for nationalizing Thanksgiving and celebrating it on the last Thursday in November. (A good woman behind every man as they say – and this time – out in front). She wrote a letter to Lincoln, stressing the urgency of making Thanksgiving “a National and fixed Union Festival” that would offer healing to a torn nation.

After receiving her letter, Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a day when we would give thanks “as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People,” including “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands.”


This “sojourner” wants to give thanks, every day. I understand how blessed, I am, we are, to stand in the labor, the hope that each day brings.


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Unshackled.

It’s funny how we can all be looking at the same thing, and see something so different. When for each of us, I suppose, it is so clear, so very, very clear. But maybe it’s so clear, that it’s invisible.

We will never all have the same vision. And we shouldn’t. We need the open eyes and hearts of everyone to make this world interesting. Beautiful. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we won’t. But I think the key is to know why we are choosing to see what we see. Am I looking out of love, or out of fear? Am I blocking the path for others, or clearing a way? Do I really have the whole picture?

We were driving along the Mediterranean and Dominique pointed out an island. It seemed pretty close. If I opened the car window, I thought, I could just reach out… He told me it was two miles away. I saw a few swimmers braving the cooler temperatures and thought that island must seem an eternity away, if even visible from behind each wave. Same island. Different perspective.

We are all looking. Seeking. Wondering. There is so much to see. And we all want to be free to see it in our own way. But to truly be free, we have to learn. We have to understand that while some of us are on the open road, others are fighting a continuous wave. All to get to the same place of joy. The same place of understanding.

I guess the answer is to seek wisdom. Find grace. Teach. Reveal. Oh, education, the great unshackling! Free from our own ignorance, then, I imagine… oh, the things I imagine!!!! It’s so beautiful! Can you see it?


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This little light of mine.

We got a new vacuum cleaner. It has a very bright headlight. It was amazing, and a little bit frightening, what I could see in the corners, under furniture — see what I had been missing. The great revealer, this light. It was so satisfying to know that I was actually making a good cleaning. It felt good, and I found myself vacuuming with enthusiasm. I can’t go back now, to the old vacuum, the old way…I know too much.

I suppose it’s that way with everything. At least I would hope so. But in so many ways, I think we are failing. In the few minutes of news a day that I allow myself (my heart can’t take too much), I see, what I can only call filth. The absolute worst of us, making the same mistakes over and over. And we allow it. We shine the light on it, and still refuse to see it. We have to do better than this. We know better. Right and wrong are not that difficult to see.

Get your house in order, they say. And I guess that’s right. I will do my best in my little corner of the world. Try to make it as beautiful as I can. It was what we were taught, wasn’t it? This little light of mine? I’m gonna let it shine.


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To flutter.

I woke up to another 5-star review on my Etsy page. She said my painting “was her very favorite in her whole house!” Just a few words strung together, but they fit perfectly into my heart and filled it!
It’s amazing what we can do for each other. Just the tiniest bits of kindness. Humanity. It’s so contagious. I give you a piece of my heart. You pass it along to someone else. It flutters and flies and fills the air.


Some will call it the butterfly effect — how the simple flapping wings of butterflies in India can change the weather in Iowa. I am not a scientist, but I have seen this play out with humans. I have seen the flapping of kindness change the behavior of many. I have seen the soaring effects, the light and airy beauty of it all. And I want to be a part of it. A part of the beauty. Of the changes.


Today, can we let go of all the things that are weighing us down? The weapons of bigotry, and hate. Fear and anger. Can we just let them go and fly? Oh, how I hope so! Let’s fill the sky. We can be the change.
I’ll see you up there!


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Black barns.

I have never smoked. I don’t really care about tobacco, but I was interested in the black barns of Kentucky. The woman at the tourist office told us they were used for tobacco. The black kept the barn hotter, and helped in curing the tobacco. So many are no longer in use, but I think they are still beautiful. They are so different from the red barns I grew up with.

We stopped at the Muhammad Ali museum in the next leg of this journey. I was never a boxing fan, but I was interested in the man. He was not a perfect human, but I haven’t seen one yet. I do know that he helped raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, the Olympics, the Civil Rights movement, and being human. I think that is beautiful.

It’s getting harder and harder to know who and what we are supposed to like anymore. We are constantly being told you can’t like this painter because he said bad things. Can’t like this music because the singer was a drug user. Can’t shop here, they support the wrong ideas. Can’t be friends with them, they voted wrong. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that chicken.

And I want to support the things I believe in. I really do. But I want to know the world. Experience different things. Meet different people. Eat some chicken. So what do I do? What do we do?

If I write about something you aren’t interested in one day, does that negate the 20 other times you laughed or cried when you read my words. I hope not. I hope we can all be open to each other. I hope we can all believe in different things, and still be kind to each other. Walk different paths, and be open. Look differently. Laugh differently. And still believe in love.

I will sketch the black barns. The champion horses. The beautiful losers just wandering the field. And maybe when I get home I will paint the black barn. I don’t think my red barn will mind at all. I want to find the beauty. I think it’s even there in the search. Probably there, most of all.


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Slugger.

He was an older man in the church we attended. If I did know his name, I don’t remember it now. But I remember him. I remember his voice. He always greeted me with, “Hey, Slugger!”

I was just a young girl. I threw like a girl. I hit like a girl. And I was proud of it. I loved it. The sport was fun, but I think it was more the sun. The freedom of summer. The belonging with the girls. I suppose it was the first time I belonged to something bigger than myself.

When my parents divorced, it seemed this church decided to break up with us as well. I didn’t understand. My mother didn’t understand. It was subtle at first. Doors dropped in front of us. Coffees cancelled after services. We didn’t belong anymore. In a place where all should be welcomed, we were forgotten, all but for this one voice. This old man, who still saw me. Still called me by my heart. Still recognized the strength inside me. Didn’t see me as broken, but a fighter, possibly even a winner. Those two words, “Hey, Slugger!” — the most Christian words I ever heard.

Yesterday, we went to the home of the Louisville Slugger. I didn’t buy a bat. I didn’t need one. I know who I am. I have faith. And I am strong.

I want to be a voice that gives you hope, gives you strength. You can do this! We can do this! I believe it! C’mon team!