Jodi Hills

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


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The Farm Report.

Maybe it was different. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it. But what I remember of the news is this — riding in the front seat of my grandmother’s car. Windows open. The smell of earth. Bare legs stuck to the seat. Grandma’s house-dress waving in the breeze, and the flap of her upper arms. The news we listened to was only this — The Farm Report, and Paul Harvey. The voices melodic. Familiar. Simple. And we were saved.

I was washing the breakfast dishes. Looking out the window. Contemplating, agonizing, over this morning’s news. I opened the window. “Please just drive,” I thought. Drive us in open-earth-smelling air away from all this heartache. This killing.

I looked down below the window. “Uncle Wally” (the baby walnut tree) was standing strong. The tulips, looked dry, a little watering needed. The roses — full bloom, nothing to do but enjoy. My “farm report.” My heart calmed to a simpler time. I wish it for everyone.

I will not take up arms to fight arms. It is not my nature. It is not my belief. I can only offer my humble words. String them together, and possibly you can find some comfort in that. Some release. Some hope. Maybe, if we all could do that for each other — be the voices of common sense, common understanding, maybe we could all be saved. Maybe it’s too simple – but I pray it’s possible.

When Paul Harvey signed off, he always said, “Good day…” Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought his voice raised up a little at the end, as if maybe it were a question. And maybe it was. Maybe he was asking us to be better, to be more human, asking us to please, make it a good day.

Today, I will ask myself, and ask the same of you, “Good day…?”


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The captain’s table.

It was my first job after college. To say I was green would be an understatement. I had heard once in college the best way to keep the conversation going was to say, “Yes, and…” So that’s what I did, with everything. Even to things that clearly the correct answer would have been no. Like do you know how to work on the computer. Certainly I did not. I didn’t even own one, but yes, I said, and I learned. Quickly. Do you know how to layout a catalog, work with Adobe programs — certainly I did not, but yes, and I learned. They asked me to design the flyer for the company cruise. I remember the tag line, “Oooh weee, Oooh wee baby…” (for those of you who don’t know, that song continues – “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”) The most joyful yes I knew. They asked me if I wanted to go along, be the “Julie” from Love Boat. Yes, I said. You can take someone, they said, a friend, or significant other. I didn’t have a boyfriend, well, not one that I was willing to invest a week in. So I asked my mother. She said yes. 

Now to put it in perspective, it was not that long before that we had lived in an apartment where you couldn’t drink the water. It was not that long before that my mother lived on Heath Ice cream bars, because she was just too broken hearted to eat.  So to find ourselves at the captain’s table was more than a delightful surprise. We dressed up, made our faces up, our hair up, and our chins up, and sat as if we had always been there – up! Smiles, through course after course, we seemed to get higher and higher. And looking at my mother, I knew this is where she had always belonged. Where I had always seen her, even on dry ground, the dryest ground of a gravel road.

They, he, and she, will all try to tell you no. In their own fear, they will want to keep you down. “No, you can’t! No, you don’t belong here. No.” Just make sure your heart isn’t one of them. Make sure your heart believes in you – gives you the courage to look up – to say YES!

I see my mother at the captain’s table, and think, what a gift she gave herself – and what a gift she gave to me! Over all the negative voices that surrounded her, surrounded me, she said, YES! And I still believe.The sun is coming up – Oooooooh weeeeeeeee, Baby!


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Time for an upgrade.

I wasn’t having the best day the other day. I was worried about something that seems too ridiculous to mention now. But I had another task to complete. I was working on the “about me” page for my website upgrade. I had a few photos in mind that I wanted to put with the story. As you might imagine, I have tons of photos on my computer – art, travel, family… I started searching. At first it seemed laborful. So many photos. Then I started really looking at them. I started remembering. Enjoying. Giving thanks. What an adventure! And I felt a little embarrassed that I was squandering my day with worry. I looked at everything that was, and I couldn’t wait to see what could be!!!!  

A lot of you say that what I write is such a good reminder for you. I’m reminding myself along the way. We all have to do the work. And as laborful as it seems sometimes, it’s so worth it. 

You’ll have to wait to see my “about me” page. It’s coming soon. But I encourage you, from time to time, make it a task for yourself — pull out the box of old photos, scroll through your computer, read your journal, listen to your heart. What you have lived through is amazing! Gather that strength and then go out and make some new memories! It’s about you, and it’s about time! Enjoy your day!


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Fool’s tulip.

I wrote a poem – my grandparent’s story – it begins:

She was a beauty like he’d never seen,
Elsie turned his head with a smile,
When Rueben looked back
He knew for sure
That she’d be in his heart for a while.

“I’m such a stubborn man, Elsie,
I’m stubborn as a mule.”
She said, “I love you just the same.”
He said, “Then I hear you love a fool.”

And he fell for her as only fools can.
The story of Rueben and Elsie began.

Yesterday I walked into our yard — maybe not in the best of moods. I saw a sea of dandelions. “Stupid dandel -“ I couldn’t finish. It was another yellow that took my breath away. A yellow tulip. My favorite. It had popped up in the middle of our yard. Almost daring me to notice it amid the other yellow. And I did. We normally get a row or two of orangeish-red tulips in a different part of our garden, but here it was, yellow, as if the universe knew I loved a yellow tulip, knew I needed one. (Even believers sometimes like to see it first hand). Now, some might say, “Oh, that’s rubbish to believe such a thing – to believe it grew for you.” (Rubbish — apparently the nay-sayers in my head are from a 1960’s play in England). But it’s not rubbish – not to me. It’s my favorite flower. My favorite tulip. And it arrived just when I needed it. And oh, how I believe in the magic of it all. So, no, it’s not rubbish. And yes, I am proud to be as gloriously foolish as my grandfather, and I fell for her, this tulip, as only fools can… this is the magic of how my day began.


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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Yellow.

We have a group of people here in France called the “yellow jackets” – those protesting, well, I’m not even sure what they are protesting… They have lost a lot of momentum, probably because, as near as I can tell, that had nothing to stand on, or for. I remember watching the news in Paris when they were interviewing them on the streets. When the reporter asked why they were in the streets, why they were protesting, so many said, “Well, I’m just not happy…”. I laughed. Not happy. Since when was any government, any other person really, responsible for your happiness. And this is not unique to France. We have these people in the US. You see them all over the world.


Happiness is not a gift. Happiness takes work. It’s a process. A practice. It’s the art of finding a bit of joy in the smallest of things. The courage to look, in the most unlikely places. The guts to keep trying, to keep searching. And I will never belittle the effort. Some days will always be easier than others. Some days you only have to get over the fact that UPS is running late. Other days, your heart may be ripped in two. There is no “yellow jacket” for that. But there is always yellow. The promise of the bird singing in the tree. The dawning of a new day sun. The joy, that if you dig, deeply, and then have the courage to look up, it will carry you on wings — yellow wings of hope, of guts, of joy.


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The short lens.


Yesterday, the first of January, we decided to take a walk up the small mountain close to our home. (In France we would call it a hill, but coming from Minnesota, it feels like a mountain.) The morning air was as fresh as a new year could bring. Going up the hill (mountain), the sun was out, but as we neared the top, we became one with the clouds and the fog. It was so beautiful!


We love to travel. We want to see and do everything! The world is really a magical place. So magical, that sometimes I forget to see what is right in front of us. I can get caught up in the what else, instead of focusing on the right here. So on this first day, this morning of the new year, I took the camera to celebrate the extraordinary of our every day!


And the universe was right there to help me focus on the right here. It brought the fog, as if to say, there’s no need to look that far ahead. Focus on what’s right in front of you. It’s so simple. But it’s true. I am one, for sure, who needs to learn that lesson again and again. I can get caught up in the awfulizing of the future – what if this happens, or that, or what will we do if they… It’s all out of my control. My vision. What I have is right in front of me. And if I take the time to see it, really see it — oh, it is beautiful! So very beautiful.


I want to see this day, this year, with the short lens. Live this life without worrying about everything that lies ahead. Without worrying beyond the fog, beyond what I don’t know. I want to see the beauty of the right here. Right now. And know that it is more than enough! More than I could ever capture. I walk joyfully, lightly, in the clouds, and give thanks.


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Leap of faith.

It’s easy to put conditions on everything. “If the sun shines today, I’ll be happy.” “If this photo gets a lot of ‘likes’ I’ll be happy.” “If I get this done…” “If she tells me this…” “If he would just…” So many conditions. And I’m guilty of it too. We all want certain things. Need certain things. But what I want to do, what I’m trying to do, is start from a place of happiness. Start from a place of gratitude. Every morning. And then let the conditions fall away. Take away my ifs and just start being. Looking only inwardly. Not comparing my life, but living my life. The only competition should be with oneself. Am I living my best life?

When I visited the Brooklyn school district, I asked each young student what they were good at. They unapologetically told me of their gifts. Not bragging, but claiming their attributes. They were young enough to enjoy the gifts. I remember feeling the same. I was 5 or 6 when I began to paint. When I began to write. Not needing any encouragement. No social media. No pressure. I would go into my bedroom and color. Paint. Draw. Write. It was me. That’s what I cling to. What I believe in. The doing. The being. It’s a good day when I enjoy the process. Get the paint on my hands. Get the words on the page. Forever young enough to enjoy the gifts.

I read to the students my story “Leap of faith.” (The story of me daring to take my first real dive off the high tower.) When I was finished, one young man came up to me, and asked a very intelligent question. “What was that really about?” he asked, knowing it was deeper than just the water. “It’s about daring to be yourself.” I replied. He smiled like he knew. “I can do that,” he said. And he ran off to join his class. I know that he can!

“I don’t know if this is going to be the day that my feet will touch the sky…but I am going to climb that tower, and I am going to be scared and I’m going to be happy, and with the wind in my hair, my heart is going to lead me…and one way or another, I am going to fly!” (from the book, Leap of faith)

I’ll see you up there!


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Pull over fantastic!

There is a Prada store alongside the road near Marfa, Texas. Prada Marfa is a permanent sculptural art installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. The installation, in the form of a freestanding building—specifically a Prada storefront—was inaugurated on October 1, 2005.

I suppose it can be argued as a statement against consumerism, but that was all lost on me, when we saw it, in this middle of nowhere…the extreme unlikeliness of it all, it just seemed so beautiful.

A picture came up in my photo memories — me, standing in front of a Christmas store window in Paris. That is “pull over to the side of the road” fantastic — the unlikeliness of it all. I mean, I was born in Alexandria, Minnesota! It took me years to see it – but what a gift – to begin there. A gift to begin with (you probably are thinking I would have said “nothing” here) but to begin with desire, hopes and dreams and the belief that if I kept driving, driving through this empty dessert, something magical would happen — and that, is not nothing! That is something! And something magical did happen! Continues to happen! Every day! You just have to be willing to search for it, long and hard, and pull over to enjoy it when it does.

I remember it was an extremely cold day in Paris. The winter winds were blowing. Most people walked with their heads down, bracing the cold and the wind, having seen it all before. But this was Christmastime, in Paris, and I couldn’t keep my head down. I could barely keep my feet on the ground. I stopped in front of each window. Big smiles – the unlikeliness of it all! The magic of this season, this life! I am the Prada store in Marfa. That is my Christmas miracle – every day!


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Fumbling towards grace.

If you think you have nothing to learn, try inserting your USB cable into the port the first time. Nothing more humbling than taking three times to insert a two sided object.

Life can be just that – so humbling – but that’s not a bad thing. (I don’t mean in a degrading way… we should never “put down” or diminish.) But to be humble, is to be open. Open to learning. Trusting. Letting go. Open to the understanding that we are not the center of the universe, but a part of it all the same. A part of all the beautiful stumbling and fumbling along. And if we saw that, maybe we could be a little more gentle, not just with others, but with ourselves.

Oh, be it ever so humble, and the universe knows that it has to be, that we have to be…because it’s all impermanent…
but the grace that comes from the living in,
the living through, this can never be taken away.

It’s what keeps me going. Knowing all of this is inside of you, inside of me. And keeps me forever fumbling towards grace.