Jodi Hills

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


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Rolling and tumbling.


It was our first real restaurant date a decade ago. His first time in Minneapolis, he wanted to see the Mississippi River. We sat outside on a sunny day. My heart was all jimbly – that feeling of not falling, but rolling and tumbling into love.

We had been exchanging emails. My first said, “I hope our worlds collide.” I can’t say why I used that word – I had never before. But I did. And he came to Minneapolis from France. We sat by the river at the Wilde Cafe. Eating. Drinking. Rolling. Tumbling. We went inside after eating, to pay and use the restrooms. There was a small table with postcards and advertising. I came out of the bathroom and he was holding one. Smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Across the top of card it said – Collide.

Routines can set in through the years with coffee and croissants. And while they provide comfort, sometimes, you have to take a minute and remember why you started the journey. Why you jumped in, heart first. Sitting in the same place yesterday, I, we, could feel the “wilde”. I loved the restaurant. The coffee. The plated food. Delicious. My city. The city that let me in, and let me go. I loved it more. The sun. The breeze. The river. This man. All knowing my name. My heart. All willing to collide with me – heart to heart. And perhaps even more importantly, willing, joyfully, to keep rolling along beside me.

A new day is beginning. I want to keep that feeling alive. I encourage you to do the same. Taste the coffee. Smile at the sun. Fall in love with your life. And keep rolling.


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By name.

Maybe it was because of the pink nose. Maybe my name selection was limited to cartoons. I named him Bozo – the first cow that wasn’t afraid to come to the fence where I stood with fallen green apples.

No cow had come on his own before. I had stood by that electric fence so many times. Afraid one would never come. Afraid one would. And on this day, this beautiful clown came toward me. Lumbering. My heart beat so quickly. My eyes moved from my hand, to the fence, to his face. Then I started to call him by name. “Come, Bozo, come…” The pink of his nose came closer. My hand reached over the fence. I was terrified, or excited – sometimes I think they are the same. I may have closed my eyes when I felt it, the roughness of his tongue that slurped the apple from my hand. “Bozo!” I screamed in delight.

I have always named everything. And everyone. I still do. The trees in our yard. The plants in our house. If I feel the connection, I name it. To be named is to be seen. And we all want that. I can hear Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, call out my name — perhaps the first non-family member to do so. I was seen in the world. From that day on, I suppose, I wanted to hear it – my name, again and again. I want to give that gift in return.

So I dare reach over today’s fence, and call to you. I am terrified and excited. It means something. To be vulnerable. Willing. To put ourselves out there. To call each other by name. To really see each other, and connect! To give each other this gift – again and again.


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You know, you don’t have to follow.

There is a path easily made when things go wrong. I have walked that path before. Paved with anger, and how could they, and how stupid… It seems the stones just lay themselves — welcoming, encouraging.

I could see it happening at baggage claim. With each person. The temperature kept rising. The stones kept falling. We could have easily taken to it. It was so open. And I’m no saint. I have to admit that I can get impatient with incompetence. But usually, it only ends up making me feel bad. Makes my heart knotted and I hate feeling like that. So selfishly — and I don’t mean that as a bad word – I mean to take care of myself, I, we took a different path. The bags weren’t going to come faster if I shook my fist harder.

So we went to Whole Foods. Bought sushi. Spent the afternoon with real friends. We ate. We laughed. Lounged on sofas as comfortable as the palette of our matching personalities. We told the stories. Drank the coffee – told the stories faster and laughed louder.

Maybe it was my grandfather who first told me, find your own path. My mother repeated it. And I have wandered and stumbled and fumbled my way along, but oh, what a journey! It has been written before – “the road less traveled”, I suppose – but I think it’s worth repeating again and again. I know I need to hear it. Make your own way, at your own pace, with your own unknotted heart.


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Daily choice.

Maybe it wasn’t the first time. But it was the first time that I heard it – on the radio. I didn’t sleep the greatest last night, so at the breakfast table, waiting for my coffee to kick in, everything was kind of a blur. Even the music seemed muted. But then, clear as the sun shining through the window, I heard the announcer say it – Minneapolis. My heart paused. And I smiled. It may seem like nothing, but it felt big for this French radio station to say my city’s name. (I know it’s not mine alone, but it is mine, and I joyfully claim it.) It felt like being seen. Being welcomed. Now, I’m no fool, (well, sometimes) I know it was because they had just played a Prince song, but it still felt great. It felt like I nod in my direction.

We see what we choose to see. Hear what we choose to hear. The signs may come in whispers — sometimes even with accents barely understood. But they will come — if we are open. And they are magic, if we believe. And oh, how I want the magic. Need it. Welcome it. 

This day is not mine alone, but it will be mine, if I choose to claim it. If I choose to find the magic, maybe as joyfully as only fools can. I nod to the sun. Pause. And welcome the day.


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Crossing over.

It’s no surprise that I write about my grandparents, my mother, my childhood experiences. The stories, not only on the page, but on the canvas, straight from my heart. It is the most vulnerable, but the most rewarding thing that I do.

I suppose I have been practicing since I was a child. Showing my work, my heart. Building my courage, my strength. More confident in myself, my story. So it came as a bit of a shock when I moved to France and realized I would not only have to start over, but build a bridge, and cross over. A bridge on paper, on canvas, on heart.

I’m not going to say it’s not terrifying, this vulnerability, but when you get something back, oh my, there is nothing like it! Each day when I write these blogs something magical happens. I tell you a bit of my grandmother, and you respond with your memory of yours. Bike for bike, we exchange our stories. Our stumbles on gravel roads and our victories in schools. This is glorious. This is living — this sharing — these connections.

The French, as a whole, are pretty protective of their feelings. They are not fast and loose with praise or compliments. I’m certain that I can be terrifying to them at times, running with arms waving, hugs approaching, feelings everywhere, heart dripping from my sleeve… but it’s the only way I know how to build this bridge, make a connection.

Yesterday, on Instagram, I received a letter from a French woman. She wrote, in French, that her daughter had sent her one of my pieces of art, because it reminded her of her grandmother. She told me that her mother, who has passed on, loved art, but never dared show anyone. She thanked me for the reminder of her mother. How it connected her to her daughter. And wished me well with my art — hoping that I would sell lots of work from my gallery!

This is amazing for two reasons. First, that I read and understood her message, in this new language. This has been a long time coming. And I don’t want to gloss over the victory! Second, that she, this French woman, risked all of her Frenchness and exposed her heart. She dared, as her mother hadn’t… and we connected! For me, (and I hope for her too) this is heart waving fantastic!

I know it’s not easy, this offering of your heart, but oh — OH! — how important it is! If you can, today, offer someone a compliment. Tell a bit of your story. Be vulnerable. Feel everything! Connect. Risk. Build a bridge. DARE to cross over.


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Sparks flying.

“On the days that I can’t create something beautiful, at least let me have the wisdom to see it.” Jodi Hills

Shawn, Pat and Kalee, my cousins in Minneapolis, had a saying. I lived in a small town two hours away, so I didn’t know if everyone said it, or if it was just them. I didn’t really care. I liked it and picked it up immediately. If something wasn’t any good, (in their opinion), like a tv show, for instance, they said it was “beat.” They had cable tv, so as they flipped through the summer daytime shows, over and over I heard, “that’s so beat.”

Once beaten through all the channels, we went down to their basement. It smelled of laundry and the perm solution my aunt used on hair of the neighborhood ladies. They had something new they said. Something so not beat. It was a way to make small rubber animals. I was intrigued. There was a “solution.” Poured into a hot iron mold. Tweezers to pull it out. This glue-like smell overpowered the “perm” solution. The electrical sockets were filled. Our fingers partially burned. But within hours, we were still alive, hadn’t burned the house down, and we possessed one green plastic frog, a spider, and something a little harder to identify. In less time than they took to create, they were lost in the neighbor’s pool.

My husband has old tools, parts, some unidentifiable things, from his father and grandfather. We could make a sculpture! I could see the figure as I pulled out the parts. There was a head. Arms. Legs. It’s perfect. He showed me how to weld. Masked. Sparks flying! This is so not beat, I thought!

It sits in our entryway. Under one of my paintings. Next to our picture. Above the book entitled, Wisdom.
My daily reminder to create something beautiful. And on the days that I can’t, I pray for the wisdom to see it. Take a look around, and you will too!


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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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The scent of story.

I was only six when I was walked into the library of Washington Elementary. The door opened and it hit me immediately, the familiar scent. I didn’t have the words for it then. The knowledge. Certainly it could have been explained away with paper, and time. The aging, a slight dampness to it all. But I had smelled this before, this comforting familiar. And I needed no explanation, because I was home.

This welcoming scent – it was the same as the entryway to my grandparents’ home. Coats lined the wall. Dampened with work and story, they welcomed anyone who opened the door. They said, come in, you and your heart sit down. It was there I learned to trust. Trust in those who made the effort. Trust in those who worked hard to create something. Create a life.This library of coats. Of living.

When Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, let go of my hand, I wasn’t afraid. She set me free in this open and beautiful world. There was life all around me. Book after book. Page after page. The words brushed against my arm, warm and worn, as the sleeve of my grandfather’s coat.

Some might say it is only nostalgia. But what is nostalgia? For me, it is not wanting to live in the past. No, for me, I see it as proof. A living and palpable proof of how it feels to be open. It is a reminder of how glorious life can be. A documentation of the extraordinary doors — the doors that let you in, the ones that set you free.

I don’t know what today will bring. But I know what it feels like to be open. I need no explanation. I brush against the familiar, and walk into the sun.


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Peace leads to joy.

In the fifth grade at Washington Elementary, I was ahead in my studies, so Miss Green said I could go upstairs to assist the third grade teacher. Oh, yes. What an opportunity! I felt so old and smart. These poor, lowly third graders surely needed all the wisdom I could impart. I walked tall into their classroom. I stood next to their teacher. Certainly we were equals. They were about to start a section in science. Biology. Not my favorite, but I was still confident. I walked behind her to the giant glass box. Frogs. My heart rose a little in my chest. I didn’t like frogs. Perhaps it was the years of torment from an older brother who thought sticking one down your summer tank top was hilarious! (It wasn’t.) Still, I thought, they’re in a glass cage. How bad could this be? My question was soon answered by one of the third grade boys who opened the cover. Frogs began jumping everywhere. It was an infestation, biblical in nature. The teacher ran around, grabbing. Children screamed and threw. No, not me. I raced to the door, and took the stairs two at a time to get back to the comfort of my classroom. “They didn’t need me after all…” I said as I humbly and quietly returned to my desk. I wrote over and over in my journal – “not today.”

It had been just weeks earlier at our yearly safety assembly that our principal told us when faced with something that made us uncomfortable or nervous, not to engage, but to remove ourselves from the situation. Who knew how valuable this information could be?! Still is.

As grownups, it gets a little harder to see the chaos of certain people or relationships — it’s usually a little more subtle than flinging frogs — but just as chaotic. And sometimes we can feel compelled to argue our point, louder, faster, as they fly overhead. But I’m right!!!! I’m right!!! Only it just adds to the screaming. I know I’ll be taught this lesson again and again. I walk out into the calm of the sun, the quiet peace of the morning, smile, and tell my heart, “not today.”


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Heart giggles.

“Sit up straight. And settle down.” These were very confusing directions for us, the six year olds of Mrs. Bergstrom’s first grade class. We breathed in. Slouched over. Looked around. Up. Down. Got the giggles. Giggles so loud that she repeated it again – “Sit up straight and settle down!” Snorts and hoots shot from our hand covered mouths. Giggles should never be contained.

Oh, but they tried. Tried to contain us. Keep your desk orderly. Sharpen your pencils. Eyes to the front. It was like this in every class. Even in gym class there were rules to be followed. But once a week, in the lower level of Washington Elementary, we were marched in, single file, and then set free! It was Mr. Opsahl’s art room. It was filled with color. Paper. Glue. Paint. Sticky things. Beautiful things. Possibilities. Here our imaginations were not only welcomed, but encouraged. Imagination – or mind giggles – burst into full color, like the NBC peacock!

It was a garden view classroom, meaning our heads were at street level. We could see the cars, sometimes the pedestrians. In all the other classrooms, I, we, looked out the window, in hopes of joining this outside world. But not in the art room. Here, I hoped people could see in, see into our magical world. See us making hand puppets, face masks, flower pots. I guess I knew, even then, how beautiful this world was. And I wanted everyone to feel it.

Some might say, well, it’s because you were (are) an artist…but it was more than that, more than art. It was freedom. It was joy. And what a glorious way to learn. One day, Mrs. Bergstrom took a break from the rules, and said we could experience our English lesson by using the hand puppets we made in art class. The hand puppets that were created from empty toilet paper rolls and papier-mâché. Fingers full of promise, behind a sheet of plywood with a stage cut window, we put on magical, nonsensical, plays and songs that contained the day’s vocabulary list. I fell a little more in love with art that day. A little more in love with words. And a little more in love with Mrs. Bergstrom. We expected this from Mr. Opsahl, this loosening of the reins, but with Mrs. Bergstrom, donned in her pencil skirt, and neatly bunned hair, this was something! Truly something!

If you can, do that for someone today. Loosen the reins, give the unexpected compliment, the unsolicited kindness. Be the giggle in someone else’s heart.