Jodi Hills

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


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.


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The yellow dress.

I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in. 

It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart. 

We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.  

We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!  

There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.


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She’s here!

I was at the New York library last night (in my dream). It is so rare that I have a good dream, I must tell you about it. To put it in perspective, if I don’t wake up screaming, it’s a good night. And those bad dreams, they can linger, not just through the morning, but for days. So this dream — this rare and glorious good dream — I put it to words, with hopes that it will linger.

I could smell the wood. And the paper. For me, libraries have always carried the scent of permanence and possibility. In the library was the perfect place for this dream to occur, amid the realm of all things possible. Dominique and I were donating our old books to the librarian. She was kind and grateful and wanted to visit. I told her of my love for books, and that, humbly, I too, was an author. She smiled and said she knew, and pulled out my most recent book, Pulling Nails. I beamed. She asked if I would mind signing a copy for the library. Of course! And maybe one for a fan, she asked. A fan? And then she stepped into the room — this beautiful woman — my grandma! My Grandma Elsie. And she was holding my book. (Tears of tenderness roll down my face as I type.) I was so happy to see her! Dominique look! It’s my Grandma! She held out my book and said, It’s gorgeous! (It’s gorgeous — you have no idea what those words will forever do to my heart!) And in my dream, I knew it was a dream, and I said out loud, …But she’s here! And she was. I can still feel her smiling.

I don’t know what dreams really are. I’m not sure that anyone does. The so-called experts say it means “this”, or “that”, but perhaps they are only as accurate as our local weather reporters making educated guesses. All I know for sure is that this morning the sun is shining and my heart is full — and it is as real as anything could be. I choose to call that love. Love that fills the air with the scent of permanence and possibility — and it IS gorgeous!

Good morning!


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Porches.

I suppose I’ve always been a romantic. I have never experienced a poverty of imagination.

I was often alone as a child. That’s not meant to be sad, and it wasn’t. It gave me time to create. We had a large green lawn on Van Dyke Road. On summer days, I took all of my dolls, stuffed animals, anything that could possibly have a personality, and placed them on the grass. They went to the circus. I tossed them in the air. They hung off branches, and bounced on basketballs. They visited other states and countries, as I walked them all through Hugo’s wheat field behind our house, dragging them in a rusted red wagon. They were rust stained, grass stained, and exhausted. And they were so happy. I suppose by “they” I mean me.

As I read more, learned more, I became more curious. What would it be like there? It must be exciting, I thought. I could hear horns honking in New York. Porches creaking in New England. Beaches in California. Cowboys in the south. And I imagined it all. How the sun felt as it beat against the writer’s shoulders. How the fire crackled with love and gathering. Paint splattered studios and hands. Everything was romantic.

I can still do it. I still do it. But the trick, or the blessing, is to see that romance, in the actual – the everything around you. And I do see it now. Oh, it can get lost, so easily – caught up in the ordinary, or the overwhelming events of life. But then I stop. Breathe. Gather all the romance around me until my chubby, youthful arms are full! Because I AM in love with my bathroom. The candles I light every morning when I take a shower. I adore breakfast with my husband – talking and dabbing every speck of croissant off of the plate, as to not miss a single taste. I am love with the violets and reds and yellows of springtime in Provence. I melt when I hear the birds singing, because I know that I have the paint and the hands, and the time, to capture them on canvas. To carry them with me, like a favorite song. Everything is not too much.

Maybe one of the best gifts that Van Dyke Road gave me was space. It wasn’t crowded. No dream was too big. I filled my heart, my brain, our front lawn, the gravel road, with the romance of all things possible.

The sun is shining – rich with possibility. My heart’s porch is sending you an invitation to the day! Isn’t it romantic?!!!


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Seven or eight good naps.

Certainly I have never been mistaken for normal. But what does that even mean? And should it be something we strive for?

The world is ready at a moment’s notice to tell us what is good. What is beautiful. Right down to the color of the year. Do people actually paint their interiors because they saw a color survey on Instagram? We are bombarded with what we “must have” from Amazon. What everyone is buying from IKEA. Fast fashion from H & M. 

I guess we are filled with this from the day we are born. We are told what is beautiful. What is good. It used to be Norman Rockwell that captured the moment. And if you didn’t have the father at home smoking a pipe by the fireplace, then you weren’t supposed to be happy. You weren’t complete. They showed us in books and on television. If you didn’t drive the right car, or drink the right cola, how could you be happy?  

I gave up those standards long ago – some by choice, others by force, but it all turned out to be a gift. I got to make my own standards. My own happiness. 

We always ask each other in the morning “did you sleep well?” “Why not” is our usual response. We have different sleeping habits, my husband and I, neither “perfect.” Rarely do either of us sleep “all in a row.” And certainly not for eight hours. And I suppose I used to think, well, I must have slept badly. But years ago, I gave that up. Why was it bad? Did I sleep some? Rest some? How do I feel? Fine? Then what was so bad? So when he asked me this morning, “très bien dormi?” I replied, “I had seven or eight really good naps.” 

It’s going to be a great day!


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365 better days.

Practice makes perfect. I guess we heard that in school – though we rarely saw evidence of it. I practiced my clarinet. I missed notes. Often. So did Brenda, beside me. Even Jan, who sat first chair. But oh, how we played! And when our parents stood for us at the end of the spring concert, it was, as they say, perfection.

I went to volleyball practice, daily during the season. We never won a championship. But win or lose, legs stuck to the fake green leather seats of the bus, we sang, “We are the champions!”

I paint in my sketch book every day. I practice. Try new techniques. It doesn’t make me a perfect painter. (I’m not even sure what that would mean.) But it does make me perfectly happy. I feel like I make progress. I feel like I get better. And maybe that’s what the saying should have been all along. Practice makes better.

I have not missed a day writing this blog, not for 365 days. One solid year. That’s a practice. In the play “Rent,” there is a song, “Seasons of love.” In it they sing, “Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.
How do you measure, measure a year?” I have measured mine in paint strokes, and softball fields, summer vacations and childhood friends. Measured in tears and coffee cups, and hammers and nails, and libraries. In planes and croissants, and hugs, and laughter. Measured in each word I send out to you. Measured in each word you send back to me – and I am better because of it.

The sun is up. I’ve had my croissant with the one I love. Good morning, my beautifully imperfect world! Let’s get to practicing!


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This time, she was not going to miss it.

Things were laid out pretty clearly. Summer vacation from school was three months. I had one bicycle to ride to town. Softball games were twice a week. In each game you got up to bat 3 to four times. You knew the amount of opportunities, and you had to make the most of them.

It’s not so clear as you get older. You don’t know, “will I go here again?”, “will I see them again?”, “will I feel this way again?” The opportunity you’ve been waiting for, may come only once. And as I think about it, I suppose they don’t really “come” at all – these opportunities. We have to make them. Find them. Create them. Invent them. And that sounds frightening at first, but if you’re not “waiting” — if, in fact you are creating it, then you probably won’t miss it. And I don’t want to miss a thing. This moment. This day. This feeling. I want it all.

I was maybe only 10 or 11 years old. It was the one softball game my brother came to see me. I was so nervous. I wanted him to be proud of me. I got up to the plate. Rhonda Steen was pitching. I hated her (only as a pitcher – as a girl, she was delightful.) She was impossible to hit. Why, on this one time, this one visit, did it have to be her? My sweaty palms clutched the aluminum bat. My knees shook. Strike one. I didn’t move. Strike two. I didn’t move. I looked back through the screen fence at my brother. She let go of the ball. I watched in slow motion as it rose above me, behind me, right in the zone. Strike three. I slunk back to the dugout. It was a terrible feeling. And really, up until this point, quite unfamiliar. I was a good hitter. Usually a home run every game. But nervous, worried, this time, this opportunity, I didn’t take my shot. He didn’t have to tell me, “Better to go down swinging,” but he did. I already knew. I never wanted to feel that way again.

Challenges arise every day. New country. New language. New family. Of course I’m still nervous. I still get worried. Scared. But I’m swinging. With all my might, I’m swinging!


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A pocket full.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” she would say to me. Nothing I said was crazy or stupid, or even childish, even though I was merely a child. This is one of the best gifts my mother gave me. She listened. 

I was a dreamer. She knew this. Right from the start. She didn’t have money to feed these dreams. Didn’t know the “right people.” But she had something better. She believed in them, me, and allowed them to come to life. “What is it you’re dreaming of?” she asked. I would tell her. And she grabbed the words, as if they lingered in the air, and handed them to me. “Not put it in your pocket,” she’d say. “We always need a dream in our pocket.”

When I got older, we loved to take trips to Chicago. A long weekend would be filled with shopping and walking and museums and coffee and wine and more shopping. On the drive home, we always filled our pockets with what would be the next visit. 

Before leaving for the US last month, I purchased a new sketch book. Just five euros, but something to look forward to. Priceless. In it yesterday I painted a woman’s portrait. I hope you can see it in her eyes – she has a dream in her pocket. And so do I. Always will.