Jodi Hills

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


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Wearing my world.

I bought them at Ragstock in Minneapolis. A midnight-lake blue pair of corduroys. They are soft, sure. Great fit, yes. But why did I love them so? I mean, I woke up thinking about them. Excited to put them on. Even for me, that’s a bit much.

Yesterday, in a half run, eager to get into the studio to work on my current painting, it occured to me. I’ve had these pants before.

I was in the 5th grade. Herberger’s was still downtown, not at the mall. My mom bought this pair of pants for me. It was the end of the season sale. Summer was about to begin. No one wanted corduroys. Up until then, I hadn’t really thought about fashion. But there was something about these pants. The color of Lake Latoka after sunset. I looked at the tag. There was a big red slash. And I was hopeful. I tried them on. My legs slipped in like water. “They feel like I’m swimming,” I told my mother. Not a big fan of the water, I’m not sure she understood the reference, but she did understand the love of a new garment against your skin. She checked the tag, and smiled. Handed them to the woman behind the counter, who folded them, and put them in a bag, and handed them to my smiling hands. 

I wore them almost every day that summer. These corduroy pants. Even to Valley Fair with my cousins. They couldn’t understand why I would wear such hot pants on a humid summer day. “Maybe she likes them,” my aunt explained. I smiled. That seemed to be enough for them. I didn’t know how to explain that these weren’t just pants, they were a symbol of something bigger. They were a symbol of when I asked for the world, my mom could give it to me. 

I sat in front of my painting, wearing my world. Confident. Vulnerable. Open. I will never let that go.


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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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Sunday. Sun day.

The grandkids now have an exchange student staying with them from Germany. Yesterday, in the afternoon sun, wearing the Minnesota Vikings caps we gave to them, we played our version of baseball in the backyard. Two French kids, one German, one American, wearing football caps, playing baseball in the south of France. Not a bad Sunday afternoon.

When I was in highschool, we called them foreign exchange students — but there was nothing foreign about this kid. He fit right into our cornucopia. After, what I loosely call, “the baseball game,” they wanted to go to my painting studio. He looked at everything. Each painting. Wanted to know the stories behind them. He was thoughtful and interested. After looking, touching, he went to one of the smallest paintings I have, right by the front door. He said with all certainty, “This one is my favorite.” I smiled at Charles, because we knew the story. 

When Charles was very young, he came into my studio. I had just started a new painting, immersed in the blue of a new sky. “But where is the sun?” he asked. I hadn’t gotten to the sun yet, so I told him it was coming. He watched, eagerly. And as it appeared, for one brief moment, I held his sun in my hands. 

“That’s Charles’ Sun,” we both said at the same time. Now, that might seem like a small thing, but it felt like magic. 

Most people gravitate to the largest of my paintings. The grand scene from New York – 8 feet tall. Or the people swimming in a 7′ sea. But this kid, German, but not foreign at all, went directly to Charles’ Sun, and he connected us all. 

It’s easy to find the differences. But really, we all just want a Sunday afternoon. With room to play. Room to grow. To learn. To connect. We can do this. For each other. For our world. We’re holding the sun in our hands.


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The go-ahead to go deep.

I couldn’t start a new book last night. I was still ruminating over the one I finished in the afternoon. I love to read. I can’t get enough of it! But sometimes, when it’s really good, I have to sit in it for a minute. Letting it wash over me, as I float through the wave of words. Bobbling, buoyed through sentences like:

“It was a form of naïveté, he thought, the way she continued to believe that all it took to get through life was grit. Sure, grit was critical, but it also took luck, and if luck wasn’t available, then help. Everyone needed help. But maybe because she’d never been offered any, she refused to believe in it.”

I started a new painting recently. I can’t tell you what it is yet. I don’t want the magic to slip away. It has to come slowly. Stroke by stroke. And this is a very personal painting. So I’m in deep. Really deep. Sometimes I think, with feelings, even the best feelings, we have this need to get through it. See how it all ends. And as filling as this is, to create a new life on canvas, sometimes it’s overwhelming. But I don’t want to rush through it. I want to feel it. I want to accept the help it offers. Because maybe that’s the best help of all — the allowing to feel, the go-ahead to go deep, and the assurance that you will be lifted, buoyed. Held. Helped. 

There are so many quotes I could give you from this last book I read, but I don’t want to rush you to my favorite parts. You should be able to experience it, just as I did. Word by word. Stroke by stroke. For the amount of books that I read, it is rare for me to recommend one. This one is “Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus. 

I’m excited to paint again today. To feel it all. You will see it in good time. But today, I ask you to bobble along beside me. Assured. Held. Buoyed. In the deep.


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Oh, how the light streams in!


It’s easy to confuse darkness with worry. I’ll admit I can drape myself in it — in those wee, small hours of the morning. I make the coffee just a little stronger. Force the croissant past the lump in my throat. Still, it can cling, those worries that come only from loving someone.

But then I walk into our office space. Surrounded by windows. And the light! Oh, how the light streams in and bounces off of my work. From paintings to poems, it says, “Look here. Right now. There is light.” And joyfully, I believe in it. I believe in the prayers said under my grandma’s quilt. I believe in the hope that each morning brings. I believe in the beauty of now. There is no “down the road,” only looking at the length that stretches from my heart to my hands. And they both know what to do. I smile. And begin. In this glorious light.


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Welcome to the garden.

I received this comment yesterday on my post —

“Your mom was the first person I met in Alexandria. She was the receptionist at the school and I was there to interview for a teaching position. She was so warm and welcoming. I have never forgotten her kindness. She is a beautiful lady inside and out.”

I have heard this so many times through the years. She wasn’t just the receptionist for the schools, but for the town of Alexandria. And what a welcome she gave. Even at her lowest times she was a light. Of all the lessons I learned in school, and there were many, this is maybe one of the most important. You get dressed for the day. You carry yourself with grace. With empathy. You do your job. You present your best self. You make the effort. You dig deep — even when you’re not sure if there is any there. You keep digging.

Life is challenging. Daily. And you don’t know what you will meet — who you will meet. For someone, you are going to be the only light they see today. Don’t hide it. Be the one who dares to dig. Who dares to shine. It matters. This is OUR garden.


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Pause.

Perfection is not something I’ve ever tried to capture on the canvas. I guess I’m looking for character. Something that changes your breath just a little. That pause that says I’m interested.

Beauty is so subjective. Even for myself, it’s hard for me to describe why something is beautiful. Why did I want to paint this house? I guess it’s there in the pause. That moment passing by when I think about the lives inside. Was there the smell of coffee? Toast on the morning table? Did they sit together? Smile across a table? Were hands reached out without words? Were the dreams the same as when the siding was new?

This is what makes my brush move across the canvas. Through the nooks and imperfections. Whether I’m painting a house, or a portrait. All the beauty lives there. And I pause.

I am not a perfect person. I can get impatient. I’m in a hurrry for the results that would make my life easier. I suppose we all feel that sense of urgency. And in most cases, it’s so ridiculous. I can see it (just after it occurs). So what if they want to turn left on this busy street? Repeat the same joke? What difference does it make if they have 13 items in the 12 item cash line? My hands have come to understand the beauty, and they tell my brain to pause. Tell my heart to pause. “There is beauty here, and you’re going to miss it.” So I breathe. Brush, my hands across the weathered siding of my heart. Beauty lives here. I pause to feel it.


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Next year’s garden.

Maybe there’s only two ways to look at things — there is no point to anything, or there is a point to everything.

I am a bedmaker. Some might ask, “What’s the point? — You’re going to mess it up again tonight.” I understand. But for me, I like a made bed, so I make it. And it matters to me. It starts my day the way I like it. So it goes with everything, I suppose, we either decide that it matters or it doesn’t. And that’s how I fill my day. My time here.

One of my dearest friends is a hospice nurse. She had a patient. A woman. This woman knew what was happening. She was completely aware. Not naive to the very brief time ahead. But one day, when this hospice nurse arrived, the woman was busy. She was planning next year’s garden. What would be planted and where. Seeds. Earth. Growth. All going down on the plan. On the paper. And that’s how they spent their day. Their whole day. Another nurse asked, “Well, is she in complete denial?” “No,” my friend said, “Today she just wanted to spend the day living. Not dying. Doing something she loved.”

I pray I do this every day — spend the day living. So I write the stories. Paint the paintings. Some might ask what’s the point? Did the painting sell? Were the words best sellers? The point is in the doing. The making. The living. And it matters. I have to believe that. So I wake up early, sort through the words — the seeds of my heart — and I plant my garden. Every day.

Here’s to forever gardening.


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Rolling beside you.

There was no registry then. No services. If you babysat, word got around. If parents went out for the evening, and returned to the same amount of children as when they left, it was considered a success, and they passed along your phone number.

And it wasn’t like we as babysitters did any checking on the parents. (Nor did our own parents.) Because strangers paid the most money. Tourists visiting for the summer, could pay up to a dollar an hour. A dollar! Had we even considered the risks, which we didn’t, it would have been worth it.

I can’t believe we weren’t terrified. Getting into the stranger’s car. (Sometimes on the back of a motorcycle.) Only teenagers. Waiting. 2am. 3am. A cat nobody mentioned jumping out of the darkness. Thinking about it now, it sounds like a horror film. But yesterday, as my friends and I reminisced, it became a comedy. Bent over laughing from the mere thought that we got in any car! “Any car!” “For a dollar an hour!”

Once survived, I suppose everything eventually becomes a comedy. And it binds us. That cleansing laughter, that joy that clears a path to the purest part of your heart and soul, maybe this only comes from the ones that really know you. On this path, you can call all those who walk beside you, (and roll beside you) true friends.

Leaving the park the other day, I saw two little girls holding hands. It struck something inside of me. I clasped my two hands together – trying to remember. What did that feel like? I wanted to recreate it. That trust. That beautiful feeling of thinking, this is my friend!!! That feeling that was so powerful, so alive, you just had to grab on to it.

I’m smiling now. Feeling, all of it. Grabbing hold with my chubby little hands. I have such friends. Forever.


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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.