Jodi Hills

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


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Give it a name.

I called it “the plant.” I’ve always believed if it’s special, you give it a name. Sure, it did house my car at night, but in the daytime, it was pure magic. I hung canvas on the walls and created a world, created a life. Lit by the glorious sun, and Christmas lights in the back, this was my sanctuary. It was always open — for creativity, for anyone to visit. And all who did visit the plant, were free to fling a brush of paint — to fling a brush in celebration, in frustration, whatever was needed. Because, like the song says, “Love made sweet and sad the same.” And that’s what we did, you see, made it all into the beauty of living, right there, by name, painted on the walls of my garage, on the walls of my heart.

If we are open, we will get to feel it all — everything between sweet and sad. We have to feel it all. And oh, how it matters – this beauty of living color — all of whom are let inside. In my heart, love will always have a name.


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Ensemble.

It was our first trip to New York together.  After my first show, I was getting my portrait taken by a photographer for a national magazine. This was a lot of first for one trip.

We were both high with excitement. It was all makeup and wardrobe changes and flashing lights. Neither my mom, nor I, could quit smiling. Near the end of the shoot, they even took our picture together. And we both ended up in the magazine!

They had a limo take us to the airport. Another first. I can’t imagine, any previous passengers  – even those laced with champagne – could have giggled more than we did. We weren’t even considering airport regulations. I arrived in my last outfit change, which was a red leather jacket (to go with my Slap on a little LIpstick book). It was a very light leather that snapped up the front – technically, it was just a top. And that’s how I wore it. But when we reached the security point, they immediately said I had to take off my “jacket.” But I’m not wearing anything else, I said. Pleaded. And even though I had the laws of fashion on my side, they had the actual law law, so I took it off. Put it in the bin, and walked through with only my bra on. Of course there was a large group of people traveling back to Wisconsin behind me, who found it all quite amusing. I put my “top” back on as quickly as possible. My mom walked through behind me. She looked at me in utter amazement and said, “They would have had to tase me.”

Ensemble was a verb for mother. She loved fashion. When she would come to my apartment in Minneapolis for the weekend, (which could often be just a day and a half) she would have a suitcase, hanging clothes, two or three bags for make-up and moisturizers, a bag for shoes, one for jewelry, and often an extra coat or two, just in case. It seemed exactly right to me. These weren’t “material things.” Those bags held confidence, and joy! They held dreams come true. And dreams to come! 

As I am packing my carry-on to come to Minnesota, for a mere few days, I am wondering how to explain all of this to the security guards, as they rifle through my make-up and jewelry. But I will stand tall, knowing everything I really need is already packed in my heart.

But if you see me, the next day off the plane, please forgive my appearance. For there will be jetlag, and it’s quite possible, I will have been tased.


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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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Life’s couture.

Yesterday I saw a photographer on Youtube manipulating a photo to make it seem old — like it was a memory lived, I suppose. The technique took some skill, certainly. And while the end result was interesting, I thought it lacked what the photographer wanted — the depth of an actual experience.  That feeling is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture.  And I began to think, would our time be better spent trying to capture real experiences, by, well, living?

Once the thought was in my head, spinning around like a kid on a ferris wheel — my brain urging “go ’round again, go ’round again — I began to see it everywhere, this attempt at manufacturing a life. I saw it in the catalogs. Buy our ripped jeans! What if we did the work in the jeans we owned? Wore them in the yard, the garden? Hung tools from belts? Bent? Stretched? Bounced children on bent knees? Wore them thread bare by living? 

I saw the paint splattered jeans on the next page. Couldn’t we just actually paint? Splatter our own clothes with life experience? These are the colors that I want to live in — the colors flung from my own hand and heart. 

It was everywhere. This manufacturing. Even with so-called friends. This trying to fill the life-size holes within us, with “likes” and “followers.” Certainly it has its place. I use it here, every day. To connect. Keep the strings attached through time and distance. But nothing will ever replace human contact. Sitting outside on a sunny day, laughing so hard with friends that waists become rendered useless, bent over by the weight of joy and memory. Nothing can replace the feeling of hugging someone, just a little longer. A kiss of a hand. An empathetic, no words needed, smile. A wave that can’t be contained in the hand, but must be lifted in the air with feet jumping! 

I sit here typing, with paint on my shirt. It is valuable, not because it will sell in a catalog, but because I lived in it. Life’s couture. And I will again today! My heart, threadbare as my jeans, telling my brain, “let’s go ’round again, ’round again!!!”


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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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Table by table.



We’re always told – “look at the big picture,” “the grand scheme of things.” I understand what that means and most of the time I agree, but I must admit, I can often be overwhelmed by the “grand scheme” of anything.

Every day I swim laps in the pool. Often times 100. But I never start out counting backwards from 100. I tell myself, just do twenty. And when I finish twenty, I think, well, 30 is easy, and I can do twenty easily later. So I do thirty. And slowly work my way to 50. 50 is fine for the day, and if I want to more later, I do it. And most days, I do. Et voila! 100.

This is the way I do most things. It works for me. Bit by bit. I need the tiny wins. So I let myself have them.

It wouldn’t be possible to paint a giant canvas every day. Not for me. It would take too much of my heart and soul and brain. So I make sketches. Small paintings. And it fills me. Gives me practice. Gives me joy. Confidence. Sets me up for the larger works. So I paint a small vase with a small apple on a small table. And it is complete. It is enough. I am enough. And I guess that’s where I’m trying to get to every day — where we all need to get to every day — that place where we know we are OK, we are good, we are enough.

Take the journey today. Lap by lap. Table by table. And know that you are enough. What could be more “grand” than that?


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Every medium.

I like to switch mediums. There is a feel to each. There is a feel that transfers from canvas to paint to brush to hand to heart. And so it is with charcoal and wood. The charcoal grabs onto the wood differently. Not smoothly, like the paint. It doesn’t have the same ease, but it wants to hang on, just the same. I don’t fault it for not acting like paint. It’s not paint. It’s charcoal. And it wants to be beautiful. It is.

I had lunch with a school friend the other day. We were reminiscing. My husband asked us about the diversity of our class. We struggled. Wanting to reveal it. It wasn’t there. So when I went to college, thankfully, joyfully, so necessarily, my world colored in so many ways. People of different color, of different country, of different religion and language. Every medium. And I had to learn. We all had to learn. (Have to keep learning.) People respond differently. And different is not wrong. Different is not frightening. Different is paint on canvas, charcoal on wood. And it is beautiful.

It’s easy to get stuck. Stuck in what we know. With who we know. And change can be frightening. Even a little messy. But if we allow it, feel it, let it move from hand to heart, oh, how beautiful it can be.

There is paint on my keyboard. Charcoal under my nails. Touching each word. Not perfect, but reaching out to you, with every medium of my heart, trying to be beautiful.


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Happy Day!

I suppose it’s not that exciting to try something new on December 29th, or the 30th. Nobody blows a horn or lowers a ball. But I thought it was fun. On the 29th I painted a woman on a block of found wood, in a style I don’t normally do. Crisp outlines. Bright colors. It was a good lesson in determined strokes. On the 30th, I painted a bird on crafted paper. “Well, that’s not new,” you must be thinking, but this time, I did it all with the same brush. No relying on the tools of the trade – testing my patience and skill.

January is almost upon us. I used to go to the New York gift show every January. I would come home with hundreds of orders to fill. Looking at the pile of papers was incredibly overwhelming. So I didn’t. I taught myself to finish an order. One at a time. Complete the work, box it, label it, claim the victory, then go on to the next. Clearly I wasn’t the first to think of this, but it seems to be a lesson worth learning again and again.

Yes, today is New Year’s Eve! And that IS special! But so is tomorrow and the day after that, and the one after that. I don’t know what lies ahead. And I can’t plan the entire year. I wouldn’t even want to. Today my hands and heart will covered in December 31st, truly worthy of celebrating! Happy Day!


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Acts of light.

I just finished watching the movie Power of the Dog on Netflix. The young cowboys of 1925 worked the cattle farms in the shadow of the mountains. I imagine, without maps, or education, they had no idea what, if anything, existed beyond the giant barrier. “What do you suppose it is?” one asked the other, as the sun lit the mountain.

Emily Dickinson lived all her life in the small town of Amherst, Massachusetts. When she died in 1886, her sister Lavinia found a single box that contained hundreds of poems. In all of them, she envisioned worlds far beyond the apparent simplicity of her daily life — looking for acts of light.

I don’t know if it is luck, chance, fate, that gives us our place in the world. We all begin somewhere, at some time. I guess the key is to be forever curious, no matter where we are, what time we are in. We don’t know what lies ahead. But I’d like to believe it will be forever well lit.

So today, I hang the Christmas lights. I hang the lights to welcome the songs and the gathering. To welcome the questions and the faith. To welcome the joy of the season, and of the coming year. Forever envisioning the worlds within and beyond my simple life. I welcome the comfort, the warmth, the kindness of simple acts of light.


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Palette.

I think it’s safe to say I am acquainted with quite a few people in this world. But it is even safer to say, I know, really know, only a few. I guess to know someone, you can’t just see the lovely painting of their life. The finished product. Perfectly on display. When you are privileged enough to really know someone, they let you see their palette. All the messy colors that created the art of their life. The colors of each lesson learned. Each struggle survived. The tears and laughter. The victories and burdens. The efforts of each application to the canvas. Sometimes thrown. Sometimes stroked.

It’s messy to love people. But what a beautiful honor. When someone offers you a peak into their soul, a walk through the palette of their heart – take it! But also, take care as you step through the vulnerability of the beautiful imperfections. Meld their colors with yours and see what life can bring.

Sometimes, when wearing my painting clothes, (or in most cases, I could just say clothes, because they all eventually get a little splattered), I remember which painting the color belongs to. And I am connected to the art. The memory. I am connected to my own life.

Often in the art world, people want a certificate of authenticity. Proof that it’s real. I suppose we all want that in everything. So I show you my heart, my palette, the paint on my hands, on my pants, and give you this vulnerable view so you can know that it’s a safe place — a safe place for us all to show our true colors — and delight in the the wondrous splatter of it all!