Jodi Hills

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


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Passing Security.

I was getting my shoes scanned and my hands swabbed. I saw Dominique throw something into a bin and walk back through the scanner. Once cleared, I gathered my belongings, and some of my wits, and waited for Dominique to join me.  “You’re ok?” I asked. “I feel really swollen,” he replied.  We waited to board the plane to Paris. The short flight was rather uneventful, but for the unshowered man next to us.  We did the long walk through CDG airport and boarded our flight to the US. A few hours in, we both went to the bathroom. I waited for Dominique to return, still standing so Dominique could easily take his seat. It was taking him forever. When he finally returned he said, “This isn’t my belt.”  To which I replied, “Are those your pants?”  Mile high laughter at its best!!   He suffered the remaining hours, challenging the last notch.  Carrying the kind of laughter that keeps coming back for an encore performance.

As we were sharing this story with friends, it seemed even more funny. It occurred to me, if everything always went perfectly, what would we talk about? What would we laugh about. And oh how good it feels to laugh. An inner massage. A release. A joyful vulnerability that commands the getting through – the passing of security. 

Things will go wrong along the way, but what a glorious journey! We search not for perfection, but a story. A story that takes away your waist, your lap, your control, your breath… and gives you everything need.

Share your laughter. Share your joy. We’ll get more tomorrow.


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Belong.

To have walked a place is to possess it. I knew this before I even knew what the word meant. 

From my first visit I tried to memorize my grandparent’s farm. The house. The barns. Fences and trees. Knowing that I would need it one day. Not the things inside the rooms. Not the furniture or figurines. Not the rusting tools. Nor the worn clothing. But the security. I suppose that’s all a home is — this feeling that if you went there, they would have to take you in. And if in fact I carried it with me, this feeling, this home, then I could go anywhere. I could have everything, or nothing else at all, and I would have this. And I would be OK. So I memorized the steps. The pictures hanging on the walls. The variety packs of cereals in the cupboard. The smell of damp work from overalls hanging on the wall. Tables and rugs and boots. Desks and doors. Closets. 

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the For Sale sign in the front lawn of our home on Van Dyke Road. My mother was trying to say the words. I tried to listen as I went through the steps. “We’d find an apartment,” she said. I walked up the gravel driveway to the house. “And we’d be OK.” I opened the front door and clung to the overalls hanging in the entry. “Just the two of us,” she said. I walked up the three steps to the kitchen. Tears fell from her eyes as she tried to convince me. “It wasn’t my fault…” I went up the stairs to the first bedroom, the second, the sewing room. I walked the barn. Even the empty chicken coop. And I returned to her face. My mother’s face. Seeing her. Loving her. Trusting her. It didn’t matter where we were going. If we had everything, or nothing else at all, we had each other.

And I memorized each laugh. Each day. Each struggle. Each adventure. Every trip to every mall. Every pretty dress. Every conversation mixed with coffee and wine. Each moment with my mom. Knowing I would need it one day. And that day has come.

I walk the streets, the gravel paths of Aix en provence. I have filled out the forms. Followed the rules. Applied. Tested. And carry the card that says I belong. But I know the only way for that to be true is to walk it. This place. Gather it all in, step by step, and carry it with me. Scattering along the way, everything that I have collected through the years. Each story. Every pebble on the path that I walk daily is now mixed with my treasures. My memories. Dampened overalls and sparkling dresses. Laughs and loves. I am a part of it all. And I am home.


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Off to a different deck

My mom was dizzy for most of her life. An imbalance in her inner ear. We had only been on the cruise ship for a short time when it began — a tumbling in my brain that went directly to my stomach. An inner violence I had never felt before. I spent the first day hugging porcelain.  My mom seemed fine. I couldn’t believe it. How was she doing it? “Oh, I always feel like this,” she said, shrugging it off. And she went in search of the captain, humming the theme song to The Love Boat. 

I got a couple of shots from the ship’s doctor, easing the symptoms and allowing me to navigate while on the ship. The only problem was, it seemed to be overcompensating, and walking on land was a struggle. So this is what they meant by a drunken sailor?  It lasted even after returning home. The long hallway in my apartment building proved very challenging, and for nearly a week, I serpentined my way from the garage to my door.  Once again, I marveled at the silent strength of my mother, and kept walking.

Yesterday, I went out for my normal afternoon walk.  A quarter of the way through, my left earbud stopped working. It didn’t make sense to turn back, so I continued on. But it felt so strange. I couldn’t seem to adjust. I felt partial. Incomplete. Off balance. I kept walking. In search of my other voice. I only mention it because it occurred to me, this is what it’s like to lose someone you love. The world hasn’t changed, but your way of navigating through it is completely different. But you keep walking. The sun still shines. The trees are lovely. The ground is solid. The birds are humming. I see my mother skipping off to a different deck.

I was given the strength long ago. Now is the time to use it.


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The Promise.

There is a plot device known as Chekhov’s Gun. The famous playwright states that if you introduce a gun in the first act, it better go off by the third. In other words, don’t make promises that you don’t intend to keep.

Perhaps the hardest promises to hold sacred are the ones we make to ourselves. I am asked again and again – how… How do you keep writing? How do you keep painting? What inspires you? What motivates you? I’m flattered that people think I may hold some secret. I don’t. What I do hold, is something close to my heart, a promise I made long ago, not to waste my time. Not to waste my gifts. (And I used to be afraid to use that word — gift — as if it were bragging. Quite the contrary. Gifts deserve full recognition – gratitude. What better way to give thanks than to acknowledge them. Use them.)

I was given an empty frame in my first act, and I made a promise then and there, age five, to fill it. So I do, daily. With words and paint, and heart.

There are no rules to say that we have to enjoy our lives. No regulations that say we have to accomplish our goals. No patrols to say that we have to act like it matters, that it all matters. But then there’s the heart. The heart that says to your brain, “You promised…”

** Photo is opening from my book, “astonish.”


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The exchange.

She has short term memory loss, my mother-in-law. She arrived with flowers for me (courtesy of her other son). I thanked her. Hugged them close to me, draping myself in the fragrance. I held them out to her so she, too, could breathe them in. She thought I was giving them to her as a gift. She smiled with a grand “merci!” — and I was gifted again.

It’s not always clear who is gifting whom. Who is the one helping. Most of the time, I think we all receive in the exchange. And we need to move freely between the roles. Sometimes I think it is maybe easier to be the giver, the strong one. Allowing yourself to be the one who is vulnerable, perhaps this takes the most strength of all. 

I leaned on you today. I’m not sure if you even knew, but I wanted to thank you. I felt you holding my heart. It made me happy. And I was strong. I hope I can do the same for you, if so, we can do anything.


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On the promised land.

We took the bus all the way to St. Cloud (an hour away) to play in the grade school summer softball tournament. It was so hot. By the time we got there, the iron-on patches that spelled out our team’s name began peeling off of our t-shirts.

The score was low and close. Dehydrated, we made it to the bottom of the ninth, up by one. As the visiting team, we just had to hold them off. Three outs. That was it. I played catcher. I beat my right fist into my oversized glove with my name written on it. I called for the pitch. (We had no special pitches, so I was just calling for the ball.) She threw it with the most magnificent arc. Almost impossible to hit. The batter had to wait for it to come down from the blazing blue sky. The batter swung. From the sound alone, I knew she only got a piece of it. I jumped up slightly from my crouch. Legs spinning. Eyes looking upward. My head was so far ahead of my feet. All I had to do was catch this ball and we would win. I chased my heart down the third base line. Head and glove extended. There was no physics to explain how my feet kept my face above the dust of the field’s sand and clay. My heart clearly defied the rules of balance. And I kept running (more falling forward at a wicked pace.) The ball fell into the web of my glove. I could hear the cheers and feel the waves of arms around me. But there was no way for me to stop. I just kept falling forward, heart filled. I was well beyond third base when I tumbled into the green of the outfield. Ball still in glove. We had won.

Some days I still feel like that. Feet spinning, trying to catch up to my heart. And I’ve had my share of face-plants in the dirt, scraped knees, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, so I keep running, falling forward…because, I guess, when it comes to following my heart, joyfully, there’s just no way for me to stop.


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The kitchen cow.

You could see a cow from almost every window in my grandparent’s home. Maybe it was just too many reminders for my grandma on this particular day. I never thought of her having a middle name. I barely thought of her first name. She told me while sitting at the kitchen table – it was Gladys. Her middle name. She said she liked it. I could see a bit of a twinkle in the eye that rested above her curled lip. She was thinking about something…  And I suppose it was the first time I saw her not just as a grandma, but a woman. A woman of this world. And she looked beautiful. “But Elsie is nice,” I said. “Ah, it’s a bit too much like a cow…You can call me Gladys if you like,” she said. And her apron started to disappear. I smiled, knowing I had witnessed something so very special. She slapped her hands on her thighs. The apron reappeared and she went back to the sink. I grabbed her from behind, and I hugged, again, and for the first time.  

At our kitchen table here in France, I sit at the chair that faces my little cow. I painted it years ago. It rests just over Dominique’s shoulder. All of my worlds, open, with each morning croissant. The radio was playing Cabaret this morning. Liza sang “I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie.” My heart grins. For, I too, for just a brief moment had, not just a grandma, but a girlfriend…who let me in, well beyond the kitchen, inside her private twinkle.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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My heart’s umbrella.

I woke up to the rain. It hasn’t rained here since the spring. I listened to the drops against the window. The trees must be so happy, I thought. The grass. The plants. They’ve all been suffering.

Growing up in Minnesota, whenever it rained, someone always said, “Well, we needed it.” I guess that happens everywhere. There must have been a time when this wasn’t true. Louie Anderson even had a bit on it, saying, it could be flooding and someone will still say, “Well, we needed the rain…”  or they’d often throw in – “Well, the farmers…” Like anyone knew what the farmers needed. 

So I was happy for the trees, the garden, smiling even, until I walked into our office. That so lovely and needed rain had pounded through our windows. The floor was wet. Paintings were wet. It was a mess. It has happened before. We thought we had the problem fixed. Apparently not. I’ve cleaned up most of it. Paintings are drying. And I didn’t even cry. (This matters because I’m a big crier. It doesn’t take a lot to make this happen.) But not today. I wiped with towels. And more towels. Put them in the washer. And did my French lesson. Still no tears. 

It didn’t matter if I was happy about it or not, the trees and grass were still happy. And I could hear the Louis Anderson of my Minnesota heart saying, “Well, we needed it…” and I smiled.

My cheeks are dry. We don’t always get what we want, sometimes we get what we need.


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Weighted Treasures.

I never used to go to thrift stores. I’m not proud to say that I looked down on them. It seemed we all did. (Not my grandma though. Ahead of her time perhaps, she loved a good garage sale.)

With time, knowledge, a little luck and grace, I, we, gained a new perspective. Now I love it — thrifting. Searching for that golden ticket. The treasure. And this trip to the US, I found several. Two t-shirts (both Alexandria Cardinals – gotta represent!), and two pants. Score!

Yesterday, wearing one of each, I took some photos in the garage. Pairing my paintings with some of Dominique’s old tools. I thought the combination was beautiful. Diamonds and rust, as the song says.

That’s the funny thing about beauty, it changes, if you are open to it. Want to see it. And oh, how I want to see it. And it occurred to me, the best way to see it, to allow yourself to be knocked off balance by something new, is to have the assuredness of love around you. Those people you can count on. Those people who will love you, no matter what you are wearing. Who will love you through trends and times of sorrow, and times of success. Steady. True. Love.

If you have this, and oh how I hope you do (I wish it for everyone), then use it as the weighted treasure it is, to balance yourself as you create new things, discover new things, as you reach for the beauty that swirls all around you!