Jodi Hills

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


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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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Standing on the beast.

The bronze statue The Fighter of the Spirit, by Ernst Barlach stands near the 24th Street entrance of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The statue shows a winged man holding a sword vertically, tip up, and standing on the back of a snarling beast. The statue was commissioned by the University of Kiel (Germany) and was originally placed in front of its church (Holy Spirit Church). The statue did not fit with the ideals of the ruling National Socialist party; it was vandalized and condemned as degenerate art. As a result, the statue was removed and cut into four pieces, in preparation for melting down. However, the pieces were hidden on a farm and didn’t resurface until 1946. The statue was repaired and placed in front of the Church of St. Nicholas. Two copies of the statue were made at this time; the Minneapolis Institute of Art acquired one copy in 1959. This glorious spirit survived.


Growing up, I too, had my own snarling beast. (We all do at some time.) But it was my mother who was always “tip up,” (many times saved by a farmer) — ready to fight, to declare a different life, a better life, a life above the snarls. What a direction she was given, and then gave to me! She, this fighting spirit, my mother, pointed me straight to what I love. Straight to what I live.


The beasts will always try to run in our paths, but we stand tall. Forever tip up.


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Magic wandering.


“Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person. Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often, you meet someone from your tribe.” — Carrie Fisher


It took me a long time to find my tribe, but not my magic person. She gave birth to me. She was the one who gave me the courage to go look for the rest of our tribe.


Through the years, we have gathered each other in. You know the reflection of your heart when you see it. And oh, what a delight! Yesterday we walked into their condo, and just resting, on the coffee table, one of my books, “astonish”… welcoming us, reassuring us, we were, still, and again, home.
In this book I encourage you to “surround yourself with these people…A world of people opening doors and highways and hearts, just by living. Just by being bold enough to be themselves and to share their amazing gifts…they give us reasons every day to hope, to believe, to try.”


Keep your eyes open today. There is magic wandering.


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Hold on to.

We asked for directions to the museum. She said we go up to the store “that has red things in the window, you know like tractors… sometimes they’re open, sometimes they’re not, but either way, turn right there, and go to the park and walk through in at an angle, no need to walk around, and then go up the hill, you can walk it, it’s easy, I walk there, and then there it is – right there!” She said it all in one breath. Dominique looked at me, “What?”

We got to the store with the red things. They were wagons. We had one as kids. I suppose it was my brother’s first. So many things were. But I do remember getting dragged behind him. Rust on my white summer shorts from the chipping red. (He had used that wagon for many years before I arrived.) I was dirty, but happy to be included at arm’s and wagon handle’s length.

As we got older, he no longer got to do all the firsts. I find my own, and my others. But he was there. I have the rust stains to prove it.

We don’t see each other often. We are sometimes open, sometimes not. The directions aren’t always clear. But I trusted him once. To lead me. To carry me. That is something to hold on to.


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Go higher.

We almost past by this store yesterday, until we saw the sign, “This store voted number one in Midway, by owner.” We turned around and went inside. A store with a little pride and a big sense of humor, we couldn’t miss that! It was a delightful store. And we almost missed it. The people inside were welcoming. Funny. And they had great merchandise. And we saw it all because they presented themselves in the best manner. Maybe we could all do that.

Even at our most poor, my mother always looked like a star. She dressed well. Put on her make-up. Put on a smile, sometimes gutted there by pure will, but it was always there. She looked great! Still does. Because she cared. We were at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s store. It had many levels. The levels got more expensive with each escalator ride. She didn’t even look at the first level. At the second, she glanced around and said, “Ewwww, this looks like stuff we could afford…”. We laughed and went higher.

Through the years she found the sales. Put things on lay-a-way. Saved. Wished. Styled. And always looked wonderful. She taught me that. What a gift. It’s never about money. It’s about style. And if that style can include a little pride, self-esteem, and a great sense of humor, that will take you pretty far, and you’ll look good along the way.

She will always be voted #1 mother, (by her daughter.)


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Beating.

There is no vacation from your heart. It’s forever with you.

Even as we travel, I always take time to create something. Daily blogs. Sketches. Small paintings. It’s who I am. It’s my heart. I don’t need a break from my own beating.


I started painting and writing when I was five or six years old. My mother says I would go into my bedroom, and no matter what I was feeling, it would end up on paper. Felt. Resolved. I know I am one of the lucky ones. Not because I have something I love to do – I believe everyone has that – but because I knew what it was early. And continue to do it.


Every bird in the sky, and each of us on the ground were put here to do something. Find your reason. For yourself and for the world. The scariest part I suppose is claiming your gift. Daring to do it. Once you’re doing it, you’re doing it. No fear in flight.
You can flap and flutter all you want. Fighting it. Digging your feet in the ground. But your heart won’t rest. Each beat telling you – “Just do it already. I’m right here with you.“


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Somewhere. Here.

The principal is your pal. That’s how we learned to spell the word. It still goes through my head while typing. I loved school. I’m not sure if I was actually pals with any of my principals, but I know I had a respect for them. A little bit of a healthy fear. And that may be why I was never sent to my “pal’s” office, but I think it was more because I was so busy trying to learn. I wanted to learn everything. See everything. Because in this way, the school was more than my friend, it was my ticket. You might think I would say “ticket-out” here, but that’s not the way I saw it. Yes, we did live in our own sort of Mayberry, and I did want to see more of the world, but it wasn’t so much about getting out, but getting in – becoming a part of the rest of the world. Belonging. And that’s a big difference. I was looking for a way in.

I’m still finding it every day. I have seen things around the world that I only imagined. I’ve stood next to things that before only existed for me in books, in libraries. I have traveled through countries big and small. Yesterday, in the US, in North Carolina, we went through Andy Griffith’s hometown – the real “Mayberry.” Andy was a real pal I suppose. The authority, with a gentle touch. I know this wasn’t real, but it felt familiar. Familiar perhaps not in the sense that I actually lived it, but dreamed it. Hoped for it. Longed for it – that place that welcomes you, that lets you in, that place that doesn’t care how you got there. It turns out it was never a place at all, but an experience. A feeling. A love.

We asked the man carrying laundry on the street where the Andy Griffith museum was. He smiled. Started walking us in the direction. We thanked him. “Welcome to Mayberry!” he beamed as he said it. What a pal, I thought. We belonged.


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Big Harriet.

We stood next to her statue in Annapolis, Maryland. Harriet Tubman. I towered over her in physical size. She was so small. Yet, she towered over me in strength.

The only way I know how to thank someone for their gifts, is to show them that I really see them. I begin by making a sketch. “I do see you,” I say with each pencil marking. But knowing this, I also know that she can see me. We are connected now. And what does she see? Am I continuing the work? Am I doing the work? Because there is work to be done for sure. And acknowledging this is where I begin. Where I continue. Until each color comes to life off the page. Each statue dances off their podiums and rejoices in the progress. The victories. The work has to continue.

Yesterday I saw Harriet. She lifts me. She inspires me. Could anything small do that?


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I am here.

You won’t find it on a website. Siri doesn’t have it in her system.  But I stumbled upon it. (On accident? Are there any really?) The Vanadu House. It is not a museum. There are no lines. Not even other visitors when we went there, (the next door neighbor worked slowly on his porch) But make no mistake, it was art. The house, the camper, the three cars parked along the house — all art. If you rush by, you might think it is junk, but no. Each item seems curated. Thoughtfully placed. Each quote intelligent. Quotes like:

“The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” ― James Baldwin


And this person, this artist, is doing just that — making a place to fit in. And aren’t we all doing that? Trying to do that? Find our place in this world? And I suppose that is art at its finest. Showing the beauty of the curated heart, the curated mind, the curated life. We piece together the knowledge, the relationships, the struggles, the victories, and we try to make it as beautiful as we can. And it is. Not all the same for everyone. It doesn’t have to be, and why would we want it to be? We can stand in lines, stand in place, and wait for someone to tell us what is beautiful, how to live our lives, or we can create places of beauty – lives of beauty. And whether or not anyone drives by, bothers to notice, you are still beautiful. We are still beautiful.


Today I move. I create. I fit. I am here. And it is beautiful.


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Find the good.

I don’t have all the answers. But I have a lot of them (that work for me). And I guess that’s the key.  

You know what’s best for you. You know what will fulfill you. You set the bar for yourself. Others’ successes do not hurt you. Be happy for them. Others’ failures do not lift you.

They may not even feel they’ve failed. They get to decide that for themselves. You have the answers for you.

I was about to say that yesterday was a bit of a stressful day, but I’m stopping myself because the day itself was actually perfect. The day was sunny, open, and offered every opportunity.  There were stressful moments though, within this lovely day. And in those moments, this is where all the work pays off. This is when I need to use all the tools I have been given, created, found, discovered – that work for me. First on the list is always my happiest of places – the painting studio. I took out my bird sketchbook, and penciled in the first bird. My heart rate slowed. I took out the paints. I must have been smiling. The paint moved from palette to brush to paper (sometimes to fingers and clothes), and I became the weight of the bird. I let him dry and did the second one. I know what calms my heart. The day held the same ingredients of every good day I have ever experienced – it was up to me to find it. Find the good.  

Today is beginning with the same sun. The birds are singing, as if to remind me who I am. I smile because I know the song. I know myself. It’s going to be a wonderful day.