Jodi Hills

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


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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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Reaching out. Reaching forward.

When searching in the yard for all the tennis balls, (that we use as baseballs, so I, as the pitcher, don’t get killed), the kids found something more. Behind the tool shed, past the wire fence, past the two lines of trees that separate us from our neighbors yard, sat a big dog, eagerly waiting with a yellow ball in his mouth.

I don’t know who hit the ball that far — well, I know it wasn’t Margaux, but there he sat, smiling with his discovery. They reached their hands through the fence. Faces pressed up against the wire to get full arm’s length. He crawled up slowly as if to say it was OK. Released the ball. And one of them threw it back over the trees. We couldn’t see where the ball landed, but the dog knew, and brought it back immediately. And so the unlikely game of fetch began. Through the fence. Through the trees. Over and over. It would be hard to say which side was more delighted.

Children find a way. Perhaps because they are open beyond fences. They see beyond the trees, the obstacles. They find the joy.

It’s easy to get stuck in life’s daily obstacles. Blocked by others. Trapped by our thoughts. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to see all the possibilities. See with the eyes of youth. Not the dim view of experience. Because sometimes, the past is kept well, in the past. And the clear view is led with hearts and hands reaching out, reaching forward. Beyond the fenced fear. Into the bright light of today. Smiling. Eager!


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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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Looking for things to steal.

I guess I’m always looking for things to steal – two petite jars of French honey from First Class, and a glance of the Eiffel Tower through my passenger’s window on the right.

It’s a standing joke I have with friends. They have good taste. And as a compliment, I say if I were a different person, I would totally steal it. I have filled my imaginary bags of loot through the years, and we laugh. But the truth is, I am always trying to take something with me. The funniest line over dinner. Maybe a recipe. That feeling of pure comfort that only comes from true relationships. True hearts. Those moments that you can’t quite put your finger on, but want them never to end. MAGIC. That’s all I’m really trying to steal, a bit of the magic.

We just landed in Paris. My safe is full. Thank you, Mom. Minnesota. Alexandria. Friends. Family. History that begins and begins. Forever thieves of time. Of hearts. You have mine. I carry yours.


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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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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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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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Buoyed.

I could feel our friendship slipping away at Le Homme Dieu beach. We had been best friends. Inseparable really, for the whole school year. Sleep overs every Friday night. A secret language whispered across the desks of the classroom. Navigating through all the changes together. Would it be time to start wearing a training bra? And what were we training for? It was all so exciting. So thrilling. A little terrifying, but we were doing it together.

That summer, she living in Victoria Heights, went swimming at Lake Le Homme Dieu beach. I was a Latoka girl – had been ever since I could ride a bike. It was mid summer when she invited me to a small party, probably birthday, at Le Homme Dieu. My mother dropped me off. There was splashing and high pitched squeals. Water flying. Sand kicked up from heels. The same thing was happing at Latoka, but it felt different. I felt different. They all seemed to be in step. They knew each other’s moves. They had their own water dance. I tried to feel my way into the crowd, timing it, like Double Dutch. I felt like I was tripping. My best friend was making new friends. She fit into a new crowd. I was happy for her, and a bit sad. I didn’t have the word for it then – this melancholy – , but I knew the feeling. I knew the school year would bring changes. We would go in different directions. It had already happened before. A couple of times. Each change survived, and thrived. The newness conquered. Then enjoyed.

Yesterday, I went swimming at that same Le Homme Dieu beach. Just a slight touch of autumn whispered in the air. I was a child again. Buoyed by the same waters of youth. I now live in the French language of this lake. Bigger changes than I ever could have imagined. But life gave me the tools. I suppose it always does.

There is a melancholy in air. I feel it every year. And it doesn’t scare me. I enjoy it actually. Change is going to come, going to be survived, enjoyed even, as we kick up the sand, splash in the water, and navigate life’s dance.