Jodi Hills

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


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Being small.

John Prine sings, “I remember everything…every single blade of grass holds a special place for me.” I hear the words in my heart and I’m back on VanDyke Road. It’s a summer day. Bits of green stick to my legs and I’m soaked in sun. Red shoulders. Cheeks. Carrying a plastic bow and arrow from Target. Arrows not strong enough to puncture the ground, but strong enough to make me a cowgirl, a big girl, as my mother told me to be. A big girl that could stay alone during school’s summer vacation and imagine a ranch of hired hands, working cattle and horses, and filling a backyard with “Big Valley” moments, “Bonanza” rescues, and every Disney movie hero. Only until 4:30, then my mom would come home from work. I let the bow drop from my hand into the blades of grass I counted. Each a different color of green. I dropped my arrow. And I was gloriously small. I was saved. She held me close. Every day. My heart beat full. I remember everything.


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Carry it with you.

I can get distracted. So easily. So many “shiny objects” in a day. And it’s easy to let things slip by. “I’ll email them tomorrow.” “I’m sure someone else has taken care of it.” “My vote doesn’t really count anyway.” We can justify almost anything. But can we? Really? Every day, we stand for something. Either by taking a stand, or not taking one. Everything matters. Everything counts. Now some might say, “Oh, lighten up…” But maybe that’s what I am doing. When I believe in something, love something, someone, stand for the things I believe in, it gives me great joy. Such great joy! And the thing is, nothing is lighter than joy. It’s so easy to carry it with you. I want that joy. And so I love and I live and dance my way through the shiny objects of the day, and then I pause. I stand. And I believe.


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First, the field…


I have been commissioned to paint a field of poppies. Looks pretty green for poppies, you’re thinking. Yes, for now. But first the field… my grandfather taught me that, I suppose, on his farm. Each year he would take the browns and turn them into greens, and eventually into gold. “You can’t glamorize the dirt,” he said. It was work. So much work. Rocks needed to be picked. Dirt turned. Seeds planted. Watered. Care. So much care.


And so I paint the same way. I cut the wood. Stretch the canvas. Gesso. Prepare. Underpaint. Start with the field. My hands dirty. My heart full of promise that the flowers will come. Patient. Care. So much care.


Life is very messy. Terribly messy. My Uncle Nick passed away yesterday. I can’t glamorize that. I know he suffered. But I believe in the golden fields. Those of my grandfather. I believe they are there now. Together. Held with care. So much care.


Today, maybe, the poppies…


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Steady.

“Focus on something steady,” she always tells me. I do. Every morning, for my yoga session. I was looking out the window, this morning, as I usually do. I like to focus on a tree for balance. Keeps me strong. Sturdy. Rooted. Standing strong in tree pose, a squirrel ran up the branches (on the tree outside, not me). My focus darting along with it, I lost my balance. Nearly tipping over. Back to the tree. Back to my balance.


It makes me laugh, because that is so typical of my life. I try very hard to stay on track (as crooked as my track sometimes runs). But it’s my normal. My balance. And it works for me. I keep my heart steady above my anchored feet, my reaching arms. But even in my practice, my trying, my hold steady, my brain will shout out “Squirrel!” And go racing after it. I forgive myself and look back to my heart, pumping still steady through my veins.


Nature is filled with every kind of normal. Every kind of distraction. We choose what to grab on to. Focus on. Lean against. Grow with. I heard once, a tree is never foolish enough to fight amongst its own branches. And so, too, I let my heart and brain reach as far as they can, then gather it all in, in my ever green, ever practicing core.

Focus on something steady today, my friends.


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10,000 lessons.

We’re crossing bigger waters today, but we always find our way to the comfort of shore. And how would I have ever dared without the waves that first rocked me? Gently. Easily. Each one saying, you know there’s more…we taught you well. Go see. And they did teach me well – these 10,000 lakes, this Minnesota. With each arm splashing, leg kicking, breath-losing, breath-taking wave – taught me when to dive, when to keep my head up. Gave me laughter. Washed me clean.

Today is a day to keep my head up. I won’t let my teachers down. Thank you, Minnesota.


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Magic wandering.


“Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person. Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often, you meet someone from your tribe.” — Carrie Fisher


It took me a long time to find my tribe, but not my magic person. She gave birth to me. She was the one who gave me the courage to go look for the rest of our tribe.


Through the years, we have gathered each other in. You know the reflection of your heart when you see it. And oh, what a delight! Yesterday we walked into their condo, and just resting, on the coffee table, one of my books, “astonish”… welcoming us, reassuring us, we were, still, and again, home.
In this book I encourage you to “surround yourself with these people…A world of people opening doors and highways and hearts, just by living. Just by being bold enough to be themselves and to share their amazing gifts…they give us reasons every day to hope, to believe, to try.”


Keep your eyes open today. There is magic wandering.


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Willow.

There is an old Native American proverb that states, “No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves.”

I was talking with my mom yesterday. She had just gone for a treatment in the hospital. She gets one every four weeks. She told the nurses about her new dress from Sundance. Showed them pictures. They shared laughs and compliments. “It’s my family,” she told me. Now I don’t take offense to this – I know I am my mother’s family – always will be, but I am forever joyed when she can find peace and laughter and support – and isn’t that what family is? – or should be.

I have always found my branches in the art communities. We have often referred to ourselves as the “land of misfit toys” – but a family just the same. Similar interests, goals, longings, aspirations — support, no judgements.

Outside of a gallery in Minnetonka, Minnesota, I used to watch a weeping willow tree. How it moved. As a whole unit. Such grace. At first sight, I was a little sad, our family had never moved like that. Oh, some branches coupled together from time to time, which was nice, but never like this. Never the whole, gathering strength in the wind. Never the whole, bracing against the storm. But then it occurred to me. I had found that flow in another place. Another family. And I was complete.

Family doesn’t need to be blood. How limiting is that? Family is family. You just have to find it. And when you do, you know it. And oh, how comforting. How beautiful. How fresh and green. What a flow. What a dance!

Yesterday, my husband and I (my newest family) visited a beautiful horse park. It was gorgeous. Barns of champion racers. Stunning animals. A strong, elegant, willow tree greeted us at the gate. Gathered in this new place, this place I would not stay, I was home. In this ever changing world, this not so ever green world, joyfully, I join in the family dance.


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Find the good.

I don’t have all the answers. But I have a lot of them (that work for me). And I guess that’s the key.  

You know what’s best for you. You know what will fulfill you. You set the bar for yourself. Others’ successes do not hurt you. Be happy for them. Others’ failures do not lift you.

They may not even feel they’ve failed. They get to decide that for themselves. You have the answers for you.

I was about to say that yesterday was a bit of a stressful day, but I’m stopping myself because the day itself was actually perfect. The day was sunny, open, and offered every opportunity.  There were stressful moments though, within this lovely day. And in those moments, this is where all the work pays off. This is when I need to use all the tools I have been given, created, found, discovered – that work for me. First on the list is always my happiest of places – the painting studio. I took out my bird sketchbook, and penciled in the first bird. My heart rate slowed. I took out the paints. I must have been smiling. The paint moved from palette to brush to paper (sometimes to fingers and clothes), and I became the weight of the bird. I let him dry and did the second one. I know what calms my heart. The day held the same ingredients of every good day I have ever experienced – it was up to me to find it. Find the good.  

Today is beginning with the same sun. The birds are singing, as if to remind me who I am. I smile because I know the song. I know myself. It’s going to be a wonderful day.  



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The sweet spot.

I have always been drawn to the still life. And not just in painting. The living as well. That doesn’t mean not doing anything. Quite the opposite. I like doing something all the time. My morning schedule is filled with breakfast, Duolingo, blogging, yoga and swimming. Which connects me to an afternoon of painting, discovering, filling, learning. But nothing is done in a frenzy, or a fever. All work to keep my spinning brain and feeling heart at a manageable pace. If my home is in chaos, it rattles my soul, so I work very hard to keep it calm. Things in place, keep my focus in place. My focus in place, I can find the most real part of me. And this is the sweet spot I suppose. The spot that I want to share. That’s the spot where I want to find people. This, I think is where we can make the true connections. It’s hard to connect to a spinning top.

Somewhere along the way, busy became a symbol of status. I’m not even really sure what the word means. We all have things to do. We all live under the same time, the same sun and moon. It seems like busy means “I’m so important,” or “what I’m doing is my important than you,” or “I have worth.” But how can we see the value in each other if we race around in circles? I want to see your worth, but I’m going to need you to slow down and actually show me who you are. Slow down and let me show you who I am. And here, we won’t be busy, but oh, it will true, still, and forever sweet!


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— and my heart beside —

I’m not sure which lesson is hardest to learn, to be there for someone when they need you, or to let them be there for you when you need them.


My mother had two male friends. And they were good friends, to her and to each other. When one of them was near the end of his life, the other wanted so badly to be there, to help in the biggest, or smallest of ways. In any way. And not just wanted – needed. Really needed it. Needed to be by his side and show him that he mattered. Show him that their friendship mattered. To be let in this one last time. But the failing friend couldn’t do it. Couldn’t allow this last gift. He saw it as weakness – and not the final gift that he could give his friend.


I can’t claim to know either side of this exact experience, but what a lesson! For our daily lives. Some days we are the one who gets to stand strongly beside, and other days, we get to rely on that nearby strength. Both gifts. I want to be strong enough to stand. I want to be strong enough to let you in when I can’t.


And we do this together. Side by side. Each the better for it. No one keeping track of whose turn it is. Our shadows and hearts melding as one.


Emily Dickinson wrote, “It’s all I have to bring today — this and my heart beside –“


Beside. Today and every day. The perfect gift.