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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A blink of blue

We decided to get lunch before taking pictures at the lake. It was a beautiful, sunny day when we went into the restaurant. We had the most delicious sushi. We stepped outside under a gray cloud. Wow – that changed quickly. Still, we went to the lake. The sky, was a mixture of grays and whites. Full of movement and rumble. It wasn’t the beauty we had seen just 45 minutes ago, but it was beautiful! We walked along the shore. The golden leaves popped out against the gray. The lake’s sky, as if to thank us for still coming out in the ever changing weather, blinked a brilliant shot of blue. It was so magnificent! It lit the air and my heart with hope.

Life moves and changes – often faster than we’d like, but we still need to show up. Find the beauty. And forever cling to even the smallest blink of blue, the promise of hope. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It’s beautiful!!


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Green. Golden.

It was not an accident that I ran into the stainless steel tree yesterday in the museum’s park. It was beautiful. Permanent. It would never die, I thought. And this seemed so appealing, just after hearing of her death. This tree would never die. Never.

It was an overcast day. No sun visible. And what if time did stop for us? What if it stopped now, and we were forever here? Never changing. No, I thought. I don’t want to be the stainless tree. With all of life’s flaws and heartaches. Goodbyes. Tears. I want to live. I want to feel it all. I don’t want to miss out on what today will bring. What tomorrow will bring.

Nothing is permanent. And that is frightening. But even more, to me, is to not really live. I want the chance to blossom. To bloom. To green. And with that, I will not get forever, but I will get now! A more beautiful now than any permanence could ever promise. A today of chance and hope and love and life.

We said goodbye to Rose Ann Maloney yesterday. She did not live a perfect, stainless steel life. It was filled with hellos and goodbyes and joys and heartaches and laughter and laughter, and work, and more work, and love – so much ever changing LOVE! So no, it was thankfully not stainless steel. It was not permanent. Not shiny. But make no mistake – it was green! It was golden!!!

In loving memory, I will repost a blog that she said was her favorite. She said it would help her be brave in her journey. Maybe now, for those saying goodbye, it will also, I hope lend some of that much needed bravery.

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Barely more than air.

There is a group of migratory birds that, each year, flies 7000 miles over water, without stopping, without eating, without sleeping. They are able to shut down a piece of their brain. Their heart rate changes. Their digestive system adapts. These beautiful living beings, weighing barely more than air, have been given every tool necessary to make the journey. Each year, at the same time, in the same place, without worry, without discussion, they take the flight. They don’t gather and wonder, “Well, I don’t know, it’s a long ways… I’m not sure… It’s super hard…We could get hungry… Probably tired… Maybe we should wait…” No, these are the voices in my head, probably yours.

When I was five years old, I began to write and I began to draw. My mother said, no matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and create the feelings on paper. Feel them. Work through them. Resolve them. These words and colors would carry me through unimaginable things. They still do.

Sometimes I forget. Clogged down with little things like, oh, my computer isn’t working correctly, how can I possibly go on… I’m embarrassed to say that I can be grounded by the smallest things, when I know, I have been given everything I possibly need to make each day’s journey.

I, we, barely more than air, hold the most magical gifts. Here comes the sun, my friends. We can do this. The sky is open with possibility. I’ll see you up there.

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See you up there, Rose Ann!


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What if!

The Edina Art Fair was my first art show. I didn’t even sign up for it. A friend of mine filled out the forms. Applied. And I got in. She didn’t tell me until I had a booth assignment. There was no backing out. Sometimes decisions get made for you. And thank goodness for that!

My booth was very rudimentary. I had no idea what I was doing. But my mother stood bravely beside me, and we laughed from the inside of our hearts and exchanged the art for their money. I sold out the first day. I spent that whole night creating and creating. Fueled with a new confidence and joy. The next day. Sold out again. This was actually happening.

It probably took her 10 minutes to fill out the form. She maybe doesn’t even remember doing it. But I will never forget. It changed my life. It changed my mom’s life. What an impact!

Through the years, when I’ve relayed this story, some people have said – oh, that was way too risky. What if you wouldn’t have sold anything. She would have made things miserable for you. No, I say. Because just the fact that she believed in me enough to fill out the forms, that told me something, gave me something. That alone would have changed my life.

And we need to stop with all the “what if it doesn’t happen?”… and believe in the “what if it does!” Believe in each other. Stand up for each other with wildly high hopes. Stand beside each other with wildly full hearts! And believe that the best could happen! And what if it does!!!!!


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Delivered.

When riding with my Grandma Elsie in her car, we would always listen to the station that played Paul Harvey, along with the grain report. I knew the language. So when I found the journal of my great grandmother in Grandma Elsie’s house, I recognized the words immediately. She wrote the daily farm report. The prices of grain. The weather. The needs of the house. The needs of the farm. She never wrote of emotion. The closest she came was reporting the neighbors who stopped by. All with the same equal tone. Life went on with the planting, the harvesting, and the rest. When her husband got cancer, in the throat, she wrote of the progress, with the same distinctions. Listing of medicines and sleep patterns. No change in her voice. He got worse. Slept less. More pain. She kept writing. His life was failing, along with her pencil. She wrote less. Felt more. And then one day, the only entry was this – “…my heart…” And I knew exactly what she meant.

She may not have recognized her journal as art, but that’s exactly what it was. She was making art. Brene Brown tells us that the magic of art is to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time. That’s what my great grandmother was doing. And I suppose it is what I do. It is what I have always done — before I heard of Brene Brown — before I heard of my great grandmother. I began writing and drawing from the age of five or six. My mother says I would go into my room and whatever I was feeling, happy, sad, I would capture on paper, and then let it go. I’m still doing that.

The beautiful thing is, we can all do this. Now, you might say, oh I can’t draw, I can’t write, I can’t sing… but I disagree. You can do all of these things. If you can think, you can write. If you can feel, you can draw. If you can move, you can dance. If you can speak, you can sing. Art is simply the release of your emotion – in any form that you choose. And the same release can be experienced by reading, by viewing. If I write something and it makes you feel your own story, that is art. If you hear a song on the radio and it makes you dance in your kitchen. This is art. It is everywhere. It is healing. It is beautiful.

Today, and every day, is filled with this magic. Yes, it is exciting. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is joyful. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, it is so very beautiful! I feel it! And, oh, my heart…YES!


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Hope.

Hope.

If I would have painted the clouds I saw yesterday, you may have said, “Well, that’s just wrong. Clouds don’t look like that.” But I saw them. From the pool. I was doing laps and out of the goggled corner of my eye, I saw something so blue, so white, I had to stop. I took off my goggles and looked up at the sky. It was so beautiful. The sky was blue. The kind of blue that artists try to invent and call their own. And the clouds — they weren’t puffs of white, or animals, or anything familiar — it was as if nature had taken its incredibly large brush and flung it across the sky. Not contained by recognizable shapes, but just pure motion. I told myself to breathe and look. A part of me wanted to jump out the pool and grab my camera, so I could capture it, stop it, but it was a windy day, and I knew if I took the time to dry off, go upstairs, get the camera, the magic could be gone, offering this vision of hope (For that’s what it felt like – pure hope) to some other person, looking up in the summer sky. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to miss it. Because maybe that’s the way hope works — it’s always there in constant motion — we think it has to stop for us, but maybe, maybe we have to stop for it. Just stop and see it. Feel it, believe in it. And I do. Fear wanted me to race after my camera, stop time. Hope told me to just stop. Feel. And believe.

I don’t want it to end. So I tell you. And it lives on. And maybe you tell someone else, and maybe we all live a little lighter, a little more hopeful, a little less fearful, under the ever changing strokes of white and blue. That can’t be wrong.