Jodi Hills

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


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Joyfully unprepared.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore for the first time in over a year. How delicious! I had thought all morning, “Today, I want to buy myself a treat.” Now you might think a treat would involve sugar, or chocolate, and it sometimes does, but this time, I wanted a treat to fill my soul.

We only had a few minutes before our meeting, so I circled the wooden table holding the books in English. Each title smiled and reached out its hand. I wanted to bring them all home. I let my fingertips graze the covers. And they stopped. On a sky blue. The color, arresting. The title contained the word Chicago. I was already in flight. Saul Bellow wrote words of praise regarding this author. Saul Bellow – I was back in college, studying literature. The author – a single mother, and I was in Minnesota, with mine.

We had to leave. I purchased the book. Is it risky to buy a book within two minutes? Never hearing of the author? Never hearing of the book? But we had already been on a trip, you see… no longer strangers. In those two minutes, I had been taken on a journey, without even opening a page. The only risk would be to stop now. The book is sitting on my nightstand.

If you’re looking for certainty, living is probably the wrong business to be in. Life is chance. Risk. Stumbles. Unlit paths. But, oh, what a journey! If you take it. If you wait until you’re certain, until you’re prepared (whatever that means)… you won’t do anything.

Nothing prepares you for this day.
Your heart is cracked open.
So you cry.
The world keeps turning.
So you live.
No one tells your heart to stop beating.
So you love!
Nothing prepares you for this beautiful day.

Pull the book of today off the shelf. Open it wide. Dare to fill your soul. Dare to enjoy the ride!


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Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.


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Give

There was a slowness of time that gathered at the farm. We raced with youthful legs – legs that spun underneath us like on the cartoons – and yet the day seemed to last forever. Legs that carried no weight of worry, but only the sticky pink of dripped watermelon.
My grandfather didn’t play with us. He had work to do. The farm demanded it. And he did it. He didn’t join us for birthday parties. I don’t imagine he ever wrapped a present. But he gave me a gift I still open, almost daily.
He didn’t say much, but when he did, you listened. Pipe in one hand, the other smoothing out the line of his overalls. He spoke slowly. My father was gone. My mother was sad. My legs gave way to the weight of it all. “Focus on someone else,” he said. Someone else??? What was he talking about? My legs couldn’t move. “Give your attention, your time, anything, to someone else. Trust me.”
How did he know? Maybe because he gave his hands to the soil. Maybe because he had nine children. He knew.
I can get overwhelmed. Easily. And it can swallow my attention – me, me, me. And then I remember, I open the gift. That beautiful gift. Focus on something else. Someone else. And I am saved.
My legs are strong today. Strong enough to run beside you under the sun of this possible June day. Strong enough to give.


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Welcome

You have to dare to give of yourself, as freely

as the gift was given. As freely as this gift said yes to you, you

have to do the same. You have to say, yes, I see!

You have to be bold enough to embrace it, even when others will

tell you it isn’t there. That YOU aren’t there. You have to be bold

enough to say, I have been given a gift. I have been given a life

that is worthy of being seen. I am here. And that is something!” Jodi Hills

Dominique received a wine refrigerator for a gift. It arrived on a pallet. That was a gift for me. I took the pallet apart. No easy task. The extra long nails put up a fight, as I imagine they should – it’s their job. On a rainy afternoon, I separated each piece of wood. I cut the boards into equal lengths. Put them in my handmade square (also made out of scrap wood), nailed them together, and secured them with equal lengths on the back. It was strong. I sanded the new piece, smooth, but still revealing it’s beautiful flaws. It had been through a journey to get here, so why not show that? I gave it a light stain, then began to paint. And she arrived. Slowly, hair, eyes, a comforting smile. She would be my welcome into the studio. She would be my, “Well, we’re open. I’ve been waiting for you.”

You have to claim it.  This is my special place. I want anyone who enters, literally or virtually, to know it. And I need to remind myself of it, every time I pass through that beautiful door to my studio. I have been given a gift. I used to be afraid to say that – like maybe it sounded like I was bragging – but no, it is exactly the opposite. I have been given a GIFT – and what a gift – to be able to do what I love!  This is life! The thing is -we all have – we’ve all been given a gift!  But we do have to claim it. We have to be bold enough to live it – pull at the dirty nails and shape and form and glue and paint! We have to be bold enough to live it. 

So I welcome myself to this day. I welcome you to this day! We are here!!! And that is really something! (Oh, and I almost forgot – there’s also the wine.)


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Rolling.

There was a Ben Franklin store in the middle of Broadway. It was right next to the theatre. They sold penny candy. Before the matinee, we would take our quarters and buy full sacks of candyand take them to watch the feature movie.
As a kid, I didn’t think there could be anything better. But my grandma did. She loved the Ben Franklin too, but more than the candy. In the middle of summer, the local merchants held Crazy Days. Often spelled Crazee Daze, or with a backwards“c” – maybe a crooked “d” – anything to promote just how crazy these deals were going to be. They lined the sidewalks with all kinds of product. It looked like a carnival when you were a kid,or a grandma who was waiting for the next big deal! Most likely it was just the unsold merchandise they wanted to get rid of before the next season, but that reality had not yet set in – for either of us. I’m not sure for my grandma, if it ever did.


At Ben Franklin they had “grab bags.” Brown paper sacks filled with mystery merchandise. Each had a small price written in marker on the front, and you had to buy it sight unseen. Now, some told of the great surpises that were found, for only a nickel, only fifty cents – why it just can’t be – how lucky! My grandma told of these stories too, but had never actually experienced such a thrill. “But maybe this time…” she wouldalways say. I walked the crazy sidewalks with her and we finished at Ben Franklin. She gave me a quarter to pick out any sack I liked. She picked out many.


You have to know a little bit about my grandma. She loved to play games of any kind. Cards. Dice. She wasn’t the kind of grandma to let you win. No, she enjoyed beating you. Not in a mean way, but like in a kid-like way… like your older sister of brother would. She loved to play. She wouldn’t teach you the rules, she said you’d pick it up as we played – meaning she would beat you and beat you until you finally caughton. There was a dice game. You had to roll the numbers in a certain sequence, and if you didn’t, you lost your turn. And the pure joy she got when you lost your turn was beautiful. She would swipe in with her swollen farm hands and scoop up those dice before you knew what happened. “Ooooooo, she lost it!” she would say, almost giggling. She loved to play so much that it was infectious. You never felt hurt or sorry, just watching her play, made you want to play. So we rolled the dice. And we kept rolling.


We brought our Ben Franklin sacks to her car and opened them one at a time. With such anticipation I removed the top staple. Unwrinkled the sack. I pulled out a plastic face that was knitted into a cover for a kleenex box. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. “Ooooooo,” my grandma said, “She lost it!” And oh, how we laughed. My grandma knew how to laugh. She knew how to play. We would go back the next year, and roll again.


My mother loved Frank Sinatra. We listened to the same records over and over on our giant stereo. It looked like a piece of furniture. About the size of a small sofa. Speakers on each end.On long Sunday afternoons, we would each lie on opposite sides of the stereo, our heads in front of a speaker, and Frank would sing. Sunday afternoons were long. My father was gone. My mother was sad. The sun went down early on winter days. In the dark. No money. No company. We lied beside Frank and he told us, with such certainty, we had to believe, “Maybe this time,” he sang, “I’ll get lucky… all of the odds are in my favor, something’s bound to begin… maybe this time, maybe this time, I’m gonna win…”


Was it the American spirit? The Hvezda spirit? The spirit of women? Something made us believe. Something made us keep rolling. Keep trying. Something made us believe beyond the season. Maybe this time it’s going to last. Maybe this time we might win. We believed. We all kept rolling.