Jodi Hills

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


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Waking in color.

I can still feel it when I go into the hospital – any hospital – any country… I am a teenager, and the doctor’s are rebuilding me joint by joint. Most of the time, it started the same. In the dark of early morning. (I still don’t like waking in the dark.) We’d often stay, my mom and I, at my Aunt Karolyn’s house in Minneapolis. She would take us out at the crack of dawn. None of us having slept. Anxiety that we all carried in different ways behind slight smiles. Quietly we’d weave into the shift worker’s traffic. She’d drop us off at the nearest door. Forms were filled. Each letter rising higher in my throat. Gowns. IVs. I can feel my heart tighten as I type. I don’t know if it was worse being put to sleep, or waking up from the anesthesia. I threw up going in, and coming out. But I made it. We made it.

Wheeled back into that generic room, she stood out like a flower – my mom. Tall. Dressed in yellow, or turquoise. Her signature colors. Her signature warmth. And I was saved. Over and over we did it. 20 times. And she was there.

Nurses would often say, “Oh, I can tell you are mother and daughter.” “Oh, yes, you look alike.” “I can see it!” And mostly what I felt was relief. Yes, it was a compliment, I thought she was beautiful, is beautiful. But what I saw in her, every time I woke up in a strange room, a sterile room, she was color, she was familiar, she was warmth, she was home. And if they could see even a tiny bit of that in me, then I thought, now I don’t just have something to save me, I have something to give.

And I do. I try anyway. In every card, painting, book. I want you to feel the comfort in it all. The words. The paint. I want you to awaken to the colors I’ve been given. The colors I share with you. The colors that are bursting inside of you right now. Feel the compliment of love. The security. The joy. The love, and then pass it on. We’ll all be saved.


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Dabbling through time.


In my dream this morning, I was trapped in some sort of a space continuum. I say “some sort of” like I actually know what any kind of a space continuum is… In my dream I did though. There were all of these pockets of time to move through, and in some we would get stuck, trapped, others pushed us away. I suppose, not a lot different from real time.

We had Mallards in the lake across from our house. A lake not clean enough for swimming. With ducks that didn’t seem all that “special.” Everyone wanted to see the Loons. Wanted to hear the call of the Loon. It was haunting. Celebrated. Told a story of love’s travels like a train in the distance. We had the trains. We had the quacks of the Mallards. But I wanted a Loon. Wanted to be a Loon.

It was one of our science teachers that told us they were dabbling ducks. Dabblers. I liked the name. And suddenly these Mallards became more interesting. They had a story. And now, when I walk by the lake, see them tip over like a tea kettle, I smile. They are dabbling for their life, popping up and down, through pockets of time and lake.

Life on Van Dyke Road is a pocket of time for me. I travel in and out of it. There were many hard times. But I found that I too am a dabbler – able to tip over and pick out the goodness and pop myself up again. I tell my story, not always with the glorious call of the Loon – the voice I thought I needed, but still, I am proud to quack it aloud. I am a dabbler, from Minnesota. And I will continue to pop myself up, and tell my story, our story, again and again. We can’t all be loons, but we all have a song.


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In the flutter.

It’s funny to see sea gulls in the parking lot by Cub Foods.  No sea. No lake. (And there would be a lot to choose from.) Was there even a puddle? You have wings, I thought. It seemed so clear. Just fly. There is so much better out there for you. And you’ve been given the tools. 

How many times have I told that to myself through the years? It’s so easy to get stuck. To settle.  But I’m learning. Every day. Seeing. The value of time not wasted. Gifts not wasted. Seeing. The choices. Myself. And that’s the key I suppose. First you have to see yourself. Really look. Is this what you wanted? Is this what you think you deserve? A parking lot puddle? Or are you willing to take a chance on yourself? Take a chance on your own wings and fly?  

Nobody told me that I had wings. (But I could hear it in the flutter.) No one told me to paint. To write. To explore. No one said, you know you really are worthy of true love — from others, from yourself. And even as I’m typing this, I’m not sure anyone can – which is ironic I suppose, because I’m trying to tell you. And smiling. So I’ll only tell you this —- You do have wings. What you do with them is your choice. How you live, how you love, it’s all up to you. I can only suggest, flap around a little, listen to the flutter, it’s telling you, “There is so much more than puddles.”


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Being a cardinal.

We never imagined ourselves as the toughest. We were birds. We played other schools that were tigers, bears, bison, wolves, eagles even… And when I say we played, we really did play. We had fun. I’m not certain if that’s why everyone joined, but I think so. And we were proud to be cardinals. Lovely red birds who played in the afternoons. No one was ever really threatened or intimidated by us, the cardinal girls, but still in the song we sang on the bus, we deemed ourselves mighty — “We are the cardinals, mighty, mighty cardinals, everywhere we go – oh, people wanna know- oh, who we are – so we tell ‘em… (and repeat).

And I think mighty be the exact right word here. Sure, we competed. We even won sometimes. But there was so much more. We did everything together. Dressed together. Hoped together. Sang together. Won and lost. Even cried sometimes. All together. And those years in school, when hope was really all I had — to do it together, was everything. And maybe only a couple of girls knew my story, but it didn’t matter. I don’t think we needed details. They didn’t seem to. I was part of something, and I, we, knew it was way more important than being the best – it was about wanting the best for each other. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves — I guess that, by my definition is mighty.

We were on the radio yesterday. Telling our story. What a delight! How did we fit together? How did we fit in this town? It felt like red and black joy. I was, again, a dancing cardinal!

It’s human nature I suppose to want to know all the details. But when you are welcomed, just for being you, brought into the colors without judgement, oh, what a feeling! People who will laugh with you. Ride with you. Win and lose with you, and still find a reason to sing — surround yourself with these people — people filled with hope, friendship and love — this is one mighty team! Everywhere I go-oh, I want people to know-oh, Yes, I am a cardinal…


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For the birds.

I used to think they were so stupid. It’s funny that we jump to “stupid.” In actuality, I guess I was afraid of them – the Canadian geese. Sure, I had been chased a little walking past Lake Henry, but never harmed, only hurried. (That hurrying was really my own doing. My own enemy.)

We saw a flock yesterday, overhead. In their usual “V”, heading south. How beautiful, I thought. And smart. I guess it’s all about perspective.

I went for a walk. I stopped by a little swamp. How lovely, I thought. I should take a picture. I took different angles. Look at the moss. The wildflowers. That bird on a twig. All the colors of green – the mixture of blue sky and yellow sun. So calm. So alive.

Living here, I must admit that I didn’t see it. It was all so ordinary. And swamps like these – you couldn’t swim in them. And I loved to swim – so for me it was useless. But when you live a little more. See a little more, you can see the beauty in things that are not meant just for you. This swamp is for the birds (I laugh when I type it) – for the fish, and flowers. For the greens of every growth. Seeing it, I was happy, for all of them – which made me happy for me, just to see it.

I heard the familiar honk overhead. The geese already knew. They weren’t so stupid after all.

Today will bring beauty. If I have the curiosity to look around. The wisdom to look up.


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A soft touch.

The dentist told me that I’m brushing my teeth too hard. That was humbling. You’d think after brushing my teeth this long, I would know how to do it. “Doucement,” she said. (Meaning gently.)

When they say it never rains here, it’s not like the song…we live in one of the sunniest parts of the world. It’s in my nature not to waste it. While the sun is shining I think, “I can do this, and this, and don’t forget… keep going…” And I like it. I enjoy it. I need it. But once in a while, it’s in my best interest to just slow down a little. The universe, being much more wise, saw that maybe it was time for me to be calm. But it took a darkening of the skies, and a few loud rumbles to make it happen.

I turned on my desk lamp. Opened my sketchbook. Took out the colored pencils. Rolled them through my fingers. I like the sound of the wood clinking with possibility. I sketched out a bird. Slowly. Colored in it’s wings. Feathers. Found a pastel stick to create the white areas. Pastels require the softest of touch. Doucement. And there was my bird. My gentle, little, rainy day bird.

Sometimes we are hardest on ourselves. Impatient. Unforgiving. And we need a little reminder to be gentle. Take this bird to be just that. And be kind today — to yourself. Hold the pastel of your heart softly, without judgement, and know that it’s not wasteful to be still. It’s healthy, necessary. Doucement, my friends…Doucement.


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Journey home.

It’s funny how sure adults were of what would and wouldn’t kill you. “It wouldn’t kill you to clean your room.” “It wouldn’t kill you to do your homework.” And it turns out they were right. So far. 

There was an early and late bus that took students home from school. The early bus took the kids up to the sixth grade. Brought them home, then returned to the junior and senior high schools and made the same route. 

I rode the early bus. My brother and sister, if they rode at all, having friends with cars, came later. One day, feeling particularly alone — alone with the knowledge that I was assigned my first book report — I decided not to get off the bus. My plan was to ride back with the bus driver to the high school and wait for the older students, hoping my brother and sister would come along and help me carry this new burden of schoolwork. The bus driver stared at me. I could see he wasn’t thrilled with my plan. We sat outside the high school. Waited. And waited. Nervous sweat collected between my thighs and the green pleather seat. Neither my brother, nor my sister came. No one came. Not one student. All the other buses left. I smiled nervously as he stared at me in the rear view mirror. Would he still bring me home? What had I done? My plan not only left me alone, but I wasn’t even at home. I didn’t speak. I clutched my notebooks to my chest. I didn’t know if he could see my lips moving, as they pleaded silently, “Please please please bring me home.” He started the engine. My heart beat once again. He drove from the high school to Big Ole – the giant Viking Statue one mile from our house. He pulled the giant silver handle that opened the door. “It wouldn’t kill you to walk from here,” he said. I stared only at my feet as I raced out the door. 

“Wouldn’t kill you… wouldn’t kill you…” The words repeated in my head as I kicked the dirt down the gravel road. What did he know? And wasn’t there anything in between? Nothing between this fear and death?  These were my only options?  

Step by step I got closer to home. I walked past the geese. Up the hill. Past Vacek’s. Lee’s. The Lee kids had gotten off the bus. Lucky ducks. I heard dishes clanking through windows. Voices talking on telephones, as the long phone cords were stretched through screen doors onto the front steps. I wasn’t alone. The sounds of life on VanDyke road carried me to the green house. Through the garage. Into the living room. I opened the encyclopedia that began with the letter of my project. And began. Stronger. 

Maybe this is where I learned to trust my own feet. Began to believe they would carry me where I needed to go. They have. Rocks in shoes have been as much gifts as well lit paths. And I am strong. 

Today, listen for the sweet sounds to carry you. Trust in each step. Look around. This is our long, and beautiful, constant journey home.


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The weight of the magic.


Not everyone liked to be called up to the black board. I did. When Mrs. Bergstrom began asking a question, I was suddenly the tallest person in the room. Everyone sank lower in their desks, to discourage her from calling on them — as if she might think, well, I couldn’t possibly ask them to walk all the way up here to the board, they are but floating heads…” It never worked. She called on everyone.


When it was my turn, I ran, hand reaching out for the chalk. I could barely hear the question over my heart racing. I loved the feel of the chalk in my chubby little fingers. Once in a while, she would hand over her personal piece of chalk – the one with the wooden holder. The weight of it was magnificent. It felt powerful and important. As I wrote the answer, any answer, it felt like my hand was sledding across the fresh fallen snow – gliding, surely, easily, making tracks of white. This feeling far surpassed any worry of right and wrong. There was only this. This magic from head to hand to board.


I’m working on some new projects with my publishers. They are in the United States. I am in France. In these separate countries, in different hours of the same day, we communicate in real time, face to face, actions and creations are immediate. Immediate. Imagine that!
In our discussion, they wanted to know my favorite pencil. I knew immediately. It is the woodless graphite pencil I purchased from the Musée Soulages Rodez. The weight of it is, once again, magnificent! It feels possible. Magic! It feels like no worry of right and wrong. It glides with youth across the page. The one I race to. That is a worthy pencil!


Without saying all of that, when they asked me why, I immediately drew this bird. In real time. Maybe a minute, or two. “Because, this!” I drew. This! With this pencil, it is “my turn.” I guess I’ve always understood the importance of that. Even when fear hides all around me, sometimes even within, I will forever race towards the weight of the magic!


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Limitless.

I can still remember the smell — the sweetness of wax, color, and possibility — opening the box of Crayola crayons for the first time in Washington Elementary. I had a box of 24. Not the largest box, but not the smallest. And I loved it. Oh, how I loved it. 

Jackie sat next to me in a brand new designer mark dress — both her dress and hair, freshly ironed. I can see her opening that box of 64 — that box of 64 that also had the sharpener. I could hear the ooohs and aaahs of those who gravitated around her. What would she create? Oh, surely it would be beautiful! It had to be beautiful with all those colors!

Mrs. Strand directed us to sit at our desks. She told us to pull out our blank, white construction paper. Not our Big Chief tablets, those were ruled, she explained. Those we would use for writing. What I concluded from these directions then, with our paper and our crayons — there were no rules!  Yes, I thought! There was that smell of possibility once again. 

Mrs. Strand then gave us the gift that I am most grateful for – the gift of time. Time to create. Whatever you want, she said. I can still feel the paper between my fingers. The feel of how the waxy colors connected.

I never spoke in class. I was very shy — some said, painfully, but it felt good to me. I was just waiting. Preparing. And I used the 24. And combined and shaded. Multiplying my colors. Creating depth. Well beyond 24. Beyond 48. Beyond 64. It was limitless. I had time. And a quiet confidence. 

Someone had taught me. Through lesson or example, I can’t be sure. I suppose it was my grandfather, grandmother, mother — probably all three. Use what you have. This was so freeing. It kept me free from the jealous ooohs and aaahs. Kept me free from worrying about what every other “Jackie” had. This gift created a world of wonder at my own fingertips. It still carries me. 

I found a box of colored pencils yesterday. Probably Dominique’s kids left them behind. Almost unused. Pencils are not my normal medium, but there it was, a box full of possibility. So I took the time. I shaded and combined. And it was all limitless once again. No rules. No constraints. No numbers. It, I, smelled of everything possible.

The morning sun is rising. The sky is open with possibility. I’ll see you up there!


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Racing the wheat.

I’ve always gotten up early. Even as a kid, even (and maybe especially) in summertime. This extra light given, after a long Minnesota winter, this was something not to be missed. I would start wearing shorts as soon as the last patch of snow disappeared. My white winter-hidden legs were almost lavender. Exposed to the fresh, crisp air of sun’s warmth and freedom. It was as close to being a newborn as I could imagine. 

I suppose it was the possibility that I loved most of all. To be out in it. To be a part of it! Sun in my face, light breezes carrying, even lifting my knees, urging them to race — this is summer — this is life! And so I ran. I ran on gravel. I ran on tar. Slipped in morning’s wet dew. I ran in fields behind our house, racing the wheat – who would grow faster? 

It was always a surprise when the fields were cut. And my legs were tan. Where did summer go? But wasn’t it wonderful to still be surprised?!

I got up early this morning. Kissed by sun and warmth. Born again. Legs exposed — heart too – still believing that summer will never end.