Jodi Hills

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


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Off to a different deck

My mom was dizzy for most of her life. An imbalance in her inner ear. We had only been on the cruise ship for a short time when it began — a tumbling in my brain that went directly to my stomach. An inner violence I had never felt before. I spent the first day hugging porcelain.  My mom seemed fine. I couldn’t believe it. How was she doing it? “Oh, I always feel like this,” she said, shrugging it off. And she went in search of the captain, humming the theme song to The Love Boat. 

I got a couple of shots from the ship’s doctor, easing the symptoms and allowing me to navigate while on the ship. The only problem was, it seemed to be overcompensating, and walking on land was a struggle. So this is what they meant by a drunken sailor?  It lasted even after returning home. The long hallway in my apartment building proved very challenging, and for nearly a week, I serpentined my way from the garage to my door.  Once again, I marveled at the silent strength of my mother, and kept walking.

Yesterday, I went out for my normal afternoon walk.  A quarter of the way through, my left earbud stopped working. It didn’t make sense to turn back, so I continued on. But it felt so strange. I couldn’t seem to adjust. I felt partial. Incomplete. Off balance. I kept walking. In search of my other voice. I only mention it because it occurred to me, this is what it’s like to lose someone you love. The world hasn’t changed, but your way of navigating through it is completely different. But you keep walking. The sun still shines. The trees are lovely. The ground is solid. The birds are humming. I see my mother skipping off to a different deck.

I was given the strength long ago. Now is the time to use it.


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Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”


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Lighthouses.

It sold almost immediately after she put it in the window of her gallery in Wayzata — this 4’ lighthouse painting. I suppose we are all looking for the light. We painters and sailors. We who bob up and down. Knocked over, then lifted, by the same waves.

I’ve always been a morning person. Everything seems possible in the morning. Everything lightened, not just in color, but weight. But, oh, that nighttime. That darkness. Oooh, that can really get away with me. I’ve always tried to fight it. But recently, I’ve tried something new. Not fighting, but challenging. Not going toe to toe with it, round and round with it in my brain. When those thoughts start creeping in, I acknowledge them. “I see you,” I say. “But not tonight. We can talk about it again in the morning if we need to.” It’s not a perfect system, but it seems to be helping.

I have always been up for a challenge. But rarely a fight. My grandfather taught me that in the fields. My mother taught me that in the trenches. Both houses of hope, of light.

I heard a line in a song once, “My heart is a boat on the sea.” That feels about right. So I keep riding the waves, toward the light. Hopeful for all the light to come. Grateful for all the shine I have been given.

The gallery was named The Good Life. How appropriate I thought, it is indeed. I woke to all of the possibilities coming through my window, and said to the sun, “Challenge accepted.”


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Something close to hope.

I battled my French lesson this morning, word by word, accent by accent. And “they” know when you are struggling — a little prompt comes up — “Even when you make mistakes, you’re still learning.” I smile and pray it is true, with everything I do.

Sometimes I’ll say a few words to a stranger in French, and they will answer in English. “Wow,” I think, “it’s really that obvious?”…as if the crutch of my broken language is dangling from under my arm. If only the real struggles of everyone were that easy to see.

It’s so easy to be unkind. To be impatient. I know it is a lesson, I, we, must work on daily. It’s impossible to see what everyone is going through. The “how are you”s and the “fines” just don’t tell the whole story. The limps of the heart go undetected. So I guess the answer is to just keep trying. Trying each day to be more kind. More empathetic. And even on the days we fail, when others fail, to understand that we are all still learning. Arriving at something close to hope, and beginning our journey again.


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Down a gravel road.

There was a simplicity to friendship, growing up on a gravel road. An afternoon could be filled with one stone and a one mile walk to town. Out of the driveway a mere few steps, I would begin kicking a stone down the road. Small kicks at first. Just in front of me. Then maybe a little harder as confidence increased. Avoiding the ditches. Making bargains with the stone itself — if I make it to Lee’s house without losing the stone, then this will happen, or if I make it to the Lake, for sure this — or maybe even to town, then I could really choose my fate. 

On the best of these days, I would hear running footsteps behind me. A neighbor. Maybe a Norton. A Holte. But always friendly steps. And without question, they would begin helping me kick the stone down the road. They never asked where we were going, or for how long. They never asked why. Just walked beside me. 

To have that clarity is a pure gift. If you have that now, and I can joyfully say that I do, then you have more than a friend, more than even family — perhaps we need a new word for these people — these glorious humans that will just help you get your stone down the road. 

My shoes are dusty. There are no more bargains to be made. Only the journey. The beautiful journey of this gravel road. And I give thanks every day, that I, we, don’t have to make it alone.


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Hand in hand.

I wave to it every day – the Sainte Victoire montagne. Even on the days when the clouds are low, making the mountain almost disappear (which is very rare), I offer my best parade salute, because I know it hasn’t gone anywhere. It is sure, and steady. Beautiful, whether I see it or not.

When I was in the third grade, in the days when an 8 year old could walk unaccompanied through the streets of a small town, we began what we called “Wednesday school.” For those who wanted, you could take the hour or two to walk to your church for religious studies. The church we attended did not offer a class, and wasn’t in town, so I was told I could walk to First Lutheran. I had never been there before. The group of girls that knew the way took off running down the street. I had to go to the bathroom. I was sure I could catch up. But when I opened the front door of Washington Elementary, they were gone. Never was the speed of youth so prevalent. I started walking. I got to Broadway. Looked left. No one. Looked right – only Big Ole, the statue that claimed America’s birthright. I crossed the street. It’s funny how my heart began to beat faster, but my feet were moving slower. I turned left. Then maybe right. Sweating. No longer moving in one direction or the other, only spinning. I called out to no one. And that’s who answered. I bent down to grab my knees. I pretended to be tying my shoelaces, but really it was the only way I knew to give myself a hug. I breathed in the slowness and certainty of the path that got me here, and I started walking back. There was Broadway. There was Big Ole. Still there. My heart started to calm. I crossed the street and opened the big wooden doors. Walked up the terrazzo stairs to my classroom. The door was closed. Gerald Reed was sitting alone beside the door. I waved, and smiled at his familiar face. I sat down beside him. Neither one of us asked why we were there. Our hands were right beside each other on the floor. I don’t know if he took mine, or I took his, but we sat quietly, together, hand in hand, until the others returned. Acceptance, without question. We had received maybe the best lesson after all.

I don’t know what today will bring, but I wake and wave joyfully at all that is seen and unseen, because I still believe in the beauty, the goodness that rests just within reach.


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Journey home.

It’s funny how sure adults were of what would and wouldn’t kill you. “It wouldn’t kill you to clean your room.” “It wouldn’t kill you to do your homework.” And it turns out they were right. So far. 

There was an early and late bus that took students home from school. The early bus took the kids up to the sixth grade. Brought them home, then returned to the junior and senior high schools and made the same route. 

I rode the early bus. My brother and sister, if they rode at all, having friends with cars, came later. One day, feeling particularly alone — alone with the knowledge that I was assigned my first book report — I decided not to get off the bus. My plan was to ride back with the bus driver to the high school and wait for the older students, hoping my brother and sister would come along and help me carry this new burden of schoolwork. The bus driver stared at me. I could see he wasn’t thrilled with my plan. We sat outside the high school. Waited. And waited. Nervous sweat collected between my thighs and the green pleather seat. Neither my brother, nor my sister came. No one came. Not one student. All the other buses left. I smiled nervously as he stared at me in the rear view mirror. Would he still bring me home? What had I done? My plan not only left me alone, but I wasn’t even at home. I didn’t speak. I clutched my notebooks to my chest. I didn’t know if he could see my lips moving, as they pleaded silently, “Please please please bring me home.” He started the engine. My heart beat once again. He drove from the high school to Big Ole – the giant Viking Statue one mile from our house. He pulled the giant silver handle that opened the door. “It wouldn’t kill you to walk from here,” he said. I stared only at my feet as I raced out the door. 

“Wouldn’t kill you… wouldn’t kill you…” The words repeated in my head as I kicked the dirt down the gravel road. What did he know? And wasn’t there anything in between? Nothing between this fear and death?  These were my only options?  

Step by step I got closer to home. I walked past the geese. Up the hill. Past Vacek’s. Lee’s. The Lee kids had gotten off the bus. Lucky ducks. I heard dishes clanking through windows. Voices talking on telephones, as the long phone cords were stretched through screen doors onto the front steps. I wasn’t alone. The sounds of life on VanDyke road carried me to the green house. Through the garage. Into the living room. I opened the encyclopedia that began with the letter of my project. And began. Stronger. 

Maybe this is where I learned to trust my own feet. Began to believe they would carry me where I needed to go. They have. Rocks in shoes have been as much gifts as well lit paths. And I am strong. 

Today, listen for the sweet sounds to carry you. Trust in each step. Look around. This is our long, and beautiful, constant journey home.


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Passing through.

Yesterday, after posting my daily blog, I learned something new about one of my friends. The news itself was not expected, but receiving news, getting information, learning with each story told, this is not unexpected. Because, I suppose, that’s what these posts are about — these words, an entry to discussion, a connection to others. Opening doors.

I think I’ve always been fascinated with doors. These symbols of coming and going. The ever changing aspects of life. The letting in. The letting go. The moving past. Moving on. The learning. The adventure launched. The welcome home. Open doors.

I hope with each word that I write, each stroke that I paint, you can feel the turn of the doorknob, hear the creak of the hinge, see the light of the new day, and make your way through. Finding a safe place to share your story, opening another door for someone else. Allowing the sweet breeze of life itself to pass on through.

“Let someone in. Let someone go. After you’ve seen it all, you won’t remember the windows and doors, but who passed through.” Jodi HIlls


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Map girl.

Before GPS. Before cell phones. We had to navigate on our own. Research the directions. Write them down on paper. 

When traveling with my mother, I would drive and she would read from the papers that I gave her. I wrote the directions clearly, and precisely to arrive at our destination. Without exception, holding the directions in her hands, she would ask, “But how will we get home?”  I’m still smiling.

Now, you might be smiling too, even laughing, but the truth is, she wasn’t that wrong. Finding our way is not always that easy. Retracing steps may not always be possible. Sometimes “the way” gets blocked. We can get pushed. Distracted. Forbidden even. And then what? 

Some say follow your heart. Others say use your head. Others still, stop and ask for help. I’ve done them all, sometimes all at the same time. And sometimes, finding our way home means not returning at all, but starting fresh. 

Each day I find myself making maps. Because I suppose that’s what all these things are about — maps — little ways that direct me to comfort, to joy, to home. Each story written, each painting painted, each table set, each loaf of bread baked, all little maps to lead me home. 

We have the luxury of GPS now, but only you can find your way. Take your time. Make your maps. Enjoy the journey.