Jodi Hills

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


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I am here.

In the fifth grade team room of Miss Green, Mr. Andert, and Mrs. Pohlman, we were allowed to begin. And I mean begin anything. Without plans. Without direction. Without fear. 

The janitor’s closet was directly across from our classroom. During a rainy day recess, Wendy Shoeneck, Lori Patri, Barb Duray and I used it as our office. Amid the smell of disinfectant and the wet mop in the bucket, we came up with the idea of putting on a play for our classmates. We had no reason to believe we would be good at it. We had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be… so we continued. We had no script. No decisions were made other than to just do it. 

We flung the door open and told Miss Green of our plans. I don’t remember asking, maybe we did, I hope we did, nonetheless, she said sure, and when the class convened after recess, we began. We drifted between themes of don’t use drugs, be nice to everyone, some school bus songs…I remember jumping and waving, and soon the whole class was singing. It maybe lasted 5 minutes. But you don’t need a long time to get a real taste of freedom, a real taste of joy.  

We were rangled back to our desks and the day continued with books and structure. But the afternoon smiles never left our faces.  

I had been shy for my first four grades. Some said painfully — I had never seen it as pain. When they mentioned it on my report cards, my mother always told them, “When she has something to say, she’ll say it.”  My mother never lied to me, so I believed her, and lived in my quiet world pain free. She was right, and it happened for me in fifth grade. Maybe it was due to the open team room. Maybe it was because of the open teachers. The safety of friends. Or maybe it was just my time. But I give thanks for it all. I never turned back after that. 

I have no real plan for the day. I have no reason to believe it won’t be good. I fling open the door — here I am — powered by the freedom to live my joy.


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Before the doing.

The scariest part of doing something, anything really, is always before the doing. Once you are doing it, you’re doing it! Time, energy, thought, are all put toward the action itself.

I love to paint dancers. For me, they symbolize the transition from complete vulnerability to pure beauty. Now, I suppose that can be said about every form of artistry — singing, painting, acting, playing — and perhaps the most artistic (and surely most vulnerable act of all) — to love. And it is easy to see the beauty of those in mid dance, of the completed painting, the lovers in love, but what I want to capture is the beauty of the pre-dance. The beauty in the vulnerability. The bravery, just before you let yourself go. Because I think if we allow ourselves to see that this too is beautiful, we won’t be so afraid of it. We won’t get stopped before we even begin.

And so I paint the dancers, pre-dance. A gift I want to give to all of the little boys and girls that dance around the world, and the one that still fumbles around in my heart.

Be brave, you dancers, and painters, you musicians and builders, you teachers and lovers. Let’s be beautiful! Let’s dare the daily dance!


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Masterpiece.


I don’t create a masterpiece every day. Wait, now I have to look up the word masterpiece. If by one definition — something “considered to be the greatest work of a person’s career” — then no, I don’t. But if you look at another — “a supreme achievement” — then maybe yes, maybe I do. Maybe we all do.

I was fumbling through a difficult afternoon yesterday. Emotions tangling my every move. Every step a trip. Everything seemed too big. I didn’t want to do it – any of it. It was all too much. I needed something small. Contained. Doable. 6” x 6”. This seemed reasonable. I could navigate half of a foot. I opened my sketchbook. Reached for a single pencil. No decisions of color or brush. Just hold the pencil. Feathers appeared lightly. Then shading. And it felt familiar. New, but not frightening. Pencil lines became darker. More confident. And there it was. A bird. My bird. My something doable. My moment of getting through. I smile because I get to know — I get to know the effort it took to get through the moment — the effort it took to achieve this tiny bird. To navigate the afternoon, all 6 inches of it — an achievement, nothing short of supreme.

We don’t get to know every inch of every person. I don’t know what you’re tackling today. What you’re trying to get through. But I care. And I understand the effort it takes. And I applaud the efforts! I applaud the masterful achievements — the supreme achievements of our daily lives.

Perched on the new day, I shout to the opening sun, my lifting heart, to each master rising – one and all — Bravo!


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Dinner Theatre.

We were waiting to be served. And waiting. Dishes were clinking and clanking from the chosen few that already had their meals. The Chanhassen Dinner theatre was filled in the dim theatre light. Table by table people were delivered their pre-play food. Of course all were appeased with a complimentary glass of wine. And then another. The kitchen must have been having a problem. No explanations were brought forward. We were getting so hungry, my mother and I. 

We loved going to the theatre. We saw almost everything. It wasn’t just about the performance, we had a production of our own. The pre-shopping at Ridgedale or Southdale. The getting dressed while sipping skim vanilla lattes. Make-up. Hair. A dash of perfume. The excitement building. The drive to the theatre. Walking from the parking lot without wrinkling. Everything building toward the peak of receiving this meal. So the additional 30 to 40 minute wait seemed like a lifetime. The extra glass of wine was not in the schedule, and it started to take hold. My mom was getting chattier. Looking over this shoulder and that. “What could be taking so long?  Are they ever going to serve us?  I don’t understand. This has never happened before…”  She couldn’t get the next line out without laughing — the “Don’t they know who we are???” line. Oh how we laughed. Laughed with wine. Laughed without worry. Laughed with the knowledge that we WERE important – the most important of all (at least to each other). 

When the plates finally arrived, my mother napkined her lap, (a napkin that was already filled with laughter-tears). I did the same. She sat up straight. I followed. She smoothed out the sleeves of her ultra-white ruffled blouse. She was pure elegance, I thought. She balanced the fork in her polished hand. Lifted the vegetable to her mouth. She nodded in approval as she chewed. Swallowed, and said, “These are the best damn peas I’ve ever had!” I flung my napkin to my face to keep the laughter from snorting out of my nose. 

I don’t remember which play it was. I’m sure it was good. But I will never forget those peas. My mother.

We think it’s the big things we will miss. I suppose it never is. Today, share something small with someone you love. A bit of your heart. A giggle. It may just last a lifetime.


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All overmixed paint turns to brown.

You can see it in a painting. In a poem. When it’s just trying too hard. Overworked. Exhausted. It sucks the beauty right out of it.

I called her Grandma Lois. We weren’t related, but for the love of painting. She was hovering in her eighties. Still brush in hand. I offered my youth. She offered her experience. Our palettes combined. She told me the hardest thing for her had always been learning when to stop. To look at what she had painted and say, this is good – what I’ve created – it’s enough. To learn, and create again — that was the real beauty, she said. We smiled. Painted. Connected.

On canvas, I have learned this. It’s harder in real life. There are some people with whom you think, if I just tried a little harder, maybe if I was just a little brighter, better — if I was just more beautiful, inside and out, maybe they would see me. All overmixed paint turns to brown. Some people just won’t see you. And you have to walk away. Step aside and say, what I offered, it was enough.

Surround yourself with those who can see it. Can see you. In the purest, most simple strokes. Wow – to sit in that beauty – that beauty of being. Knowing your all, their all, is more than enough. Not gasping, just breathing. This, I think, is the art of loving, of living. This is good. This is beautiful.


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Wagons filled.

It wasn’t a recognized brand name. The only “flying” it did was behind me as I ran. But I loved that wagon. It carried everything that was important to me. As red as I imagined my heart to be, I filled it with stuffed animals and baby dolls. I put a blanket down first so their backsides didn’t turn orange. Yes, it was rusted, but not through. It was strong. Carrying every dream that I imagined for myself, and all those I pulled behind. 

They were bounced over gravel day after summer day. To the circus and picnics. To schools and playgrounds. To airplanes. To malls. To weddings. To the future. Anything, anywhere I could imagine. My fingers gripped the handle. My heart gripped the possibilities. I had everything. 

I will admit in recent days, I have felt that if I were to touch my heart, my hand would come back orange. Tear-rusted. And it might be true. But I don’t love it any less. I don’t want to love anything less, or anyone less. So I feel it. Embrace it. And hang on! Because now is the time for more. More feelings. More dreaming. More possibilities. More love. Heart wagons filled and racing behind legs of youth. Forever with me. With us. As long as we hold on.


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To become.

I am bombarded with Birkenstocks. I’ve only recently come to like them. I saw a documentary on the company right before traveling to the US in September. What I remembered most was the CEO saying he neither wanted, nor needed celebrity endorsements. He was confident in their product. The airline lost our luggage, and I was in need of a pair of shoes. So I tried my first pair. And I loved them. People can change.

I looked online to find some for my husband. With one look, I have been pegged. Now all I receive are Birkenstock ads. Over and over and over. But that’s what the internet does. The slightest movement and you are forever tagged as that kind of person. And that’s one thing for a computer. I can let that go. But it got me thinking, do we do that as humans? To each other? I’m so afraid that we do.

I know for certain that I am not the same person I was at 14, or 17. I’m really not even the same person that I was last month. Life changes. We change. With any luck, a bit of grace, for the better. And I want people to see it. Of course we all do. But I am just as guilty as the next person…seeing someone that I went to high school with, and still thinking of them as they were, the jock, the brain, the stoner… But I don’t want to be stuck there, so why would I, should I, want to hinder the growth of others? We all need the chance to grow. To wander. To learn. To become. Every day.

As I scroll through the morning ads, I smile. I, we, are not stuck. We are not trapped. We are not one thing. We are allowed to change our shoes, our minds, even our hearts. We are allowed to grow. Welcome to the garden.


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Joie de vivre.

Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.

The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.

It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.


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Possibility

I was thrilled when I heard that all the girls had to take shop class — thrilled, that is, until I learned that it wasn’t going to be at the mall, but in the lower level of Central Junior High, with the saws, sanders, wood, and the three-fingered instructor.

Looking back, it was quite progressive. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky we were. Everyone took everything – no question of gender. We had the funds, not only for these courses — woods, plastics, metals, drafting, cooking, sewing — but we also had band and choir and gym and swimming! Exposing us to a world beyond the brick walls. (Even beyond the mall.)

I suppose it was the smell that I first fell in love with – the smell of cut wood. It had the air of possibility. Week by week our projects progressed. “It has to be flush,” he said. So we sanded again and again. We built small bookshelves. Carrying it home on the bus, was one of my proudest days. It trophies in my hands and lap. The younger kids brushed their hands along the wood, to see if what I was telling them was true, that we had spun the wood like magic into these silky smooth creations. I have been in love with wood ever since.

Yesterday, a friend of ours drove two hours from the mountains to our house. He handed me a stack of wood. Freshly cut. Freshly sanded. Spun magic. I placed them on the work bench, like the trophies they were. I asked Dominique later in the evening, what else was he doing in town. Nothing. He had driven four hours just to give me this gift. My seemingly full heart swelled a bit more. I brushed my hands along the wood to see if what he was telling me was true. It was. We have the magic of such a friend. On a day, perhaps when I needed it most, I was given the air of possibility.


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Let’s talk all night.

When I was a little girl, my mom would gather blankets and pillows in a pile for me beside her bed. She called it my nest. 

I fell in love with Dominique ping by ping. Our first correspondence was on the phone. Text by text. Word by word. 

My mom came to help me with an event. I inflated the air mattress for her to sleep on. First, we put it in the living room. But then, because of the time difference in France, as our night began, so did Dominique’s morning, and my phone began to ping. He was on the fast train to Paris. I ran out to the living room to show my mom. After several pings, and giggles, we squeezed her mattress beside my bed. A nest. “Let’s talk all night,” we agreed. There are some moments you never want to end.

We did it often. The magic was never lost on us. We did it in Minneapolis. Chicago. New York. After a show. A book signing. To fit into this world of laughter and praise and love. Art and music and wine and food. It was glorious. And we wanted it to last. To never end. I still do.

I am nested in the memory of it all. Here in the south of France, beside the one I love. I was sent off with a glorious giggle and a love that still nests beside me. In my head, my heart, I am gathered in, and I know, still, if I but ask, we can talk all night.