Jodi Hills

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


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.


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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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Racing toward trouble.

I had to move to France to make these friends from California.

We were introduced online, connecting through the love of art and words. I was happy to see them posting pictures from their vacation in Aix en provence. I suppose everyone wants people to love the place they live. And then the true delight came when they asked if they could come to say hello.

It never occurred to me say no. The best things in my life have always started with yes.

“Don’t go to any trouble,” she emailed me. I smiled. My whole life, all I have ever wanted was “to go to the trouble.” Everything should mean something. It all deserves our effort. Our respect. Our attention.

And all this “trouble,” really takes so little. I only baked the croissants, and placed them on the table. Offered water. My heart. And my time. I received so much more than that in return. And it means something! To make new friends! What a thing!

I told them stories of my art, my books, my life, and our connection was real, not virtual. I have new friends. This is what keeps me racing toward all the “trouble” of my own life! It matters. Oh, how it matters! — not the location, but to love the “place” you live.

Merci, mes amis!


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Wearing my world.

I bought them at Ragstock in Minneapolis. A midnight-lake blue pair of corduroys. They are soft, sure. Great fit, yes. But why did I love them so? I mean, I woke up thinking about them. Excited to put them on. Even for me, that’s a bit much.

Yesterday, in a half run, eager to get into the studio to work on my current painting, it occured to me. I’ve had these pants before.

I was in the 5th grade. Herberger’s was still downtown, not at the mall. My mom bought this pair of pants for me. It was the end of the season sale. Summer was about to begin. No one wanted corduroys. Up until then, I hadn’t really thought about fashion. But there was something about these pants. The color of Lake Latoka after sunset. I looked at the tag. There was a big red slash. And I was hopeful. I tried them on. My legs slipped in like water. “They feel like I’m swimming,” I told my mother. Not a big fan of the water, I’m not sure she understood the reference, but she did understand the love of a new garment against your skin. She checked the tag, and smiled. Handed them to the woman behind the counter, who folded them, and put them in a bag, and handed them to my smiling hands. 

I wore them almost every day that summer. These corduroy pants. Even to Valley Fair with my cousins. They couldn’t understand why I would wear such hot pants on a humid summer day. “Maybe she likes them,” my aunt explained. I smiled. That seemed to be enough for them. I didn’t know how to explain that these weren’t just pants, they were a symbol of something bigger. They were a symbol of when I asked for the world, my mom could give it to me. 

I sat in front of my painting, wearing my world. Confident. Vulnerable. Open. I will never let that go.


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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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Just breathe.

There seemed to be holes everywhere in our neighborhood. Someone was digging a well. Planting a tree. Burying something you preferred not to know about. And as kids, in this neighborhood full of holes, we seemed to be constantly running. Chasing the sun, knowing it would set long before we were ready, and we would be called home.

It was behind our green house that I fell into my first hole. Maybe it was for the sewer pipe, I don’t know, but we were running. I was just a little ahead of Cathy. I turned the corner at full speed, laughing, not looking for danger (I had not yet been exposed). And then, from her perspective, I dropped out of sight. Literally. Flat on my back. I’m not sure who was more surprised. I couldn’t breathe. The wind was knocked out of me. I signaled with my shifting eyes, and head, and somehow she knew, like in every Lassie conversation, to go get a ladder. I say “a ladder,” because in this neighborhood full of holes, there would always be a ladder leaning against someone’s garage door.  By the time she returned, my lungs were once again filled with summer air and I climbed up the wooden rungs. 

Because that’s what we did, you see. We saved each other. And most importantly, I suppose, we offered up the reason to believe that someone would be there for us. And this is what kept us running. For me, it still does. It gives me the strength to keep going, even with the knowledge that life’s path is full of them – these holes that will try to swallow us. I still believe in the kindness of those around me. The ladders that will be offered. The strength to get myself higher. Forever chasing the sun.


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Daring greatly.

It seemed easy to make friends in school. They sat you next to about 30 options. Gave you subjects to talk about. Offered common enemies like rules and detention. Supplied the games and gyms. Put you in pools and on buses, all together.

And that was enough for most. But it seemed like there should be more. “Wasn’t there more to it? Wasn’t it all supposed to mean something?” I asked my best friend in my yellow bedroom on Van Dyke Road. Cindy thought about it. I mean, she didn’t laugh, but really thought about it, and I suppose that’s why we were friends. We understood each other. Even in our preteens, we sought more than they could possibly offer at Washington Elementary, or even Central Junior High.

We both agreed that there had to be more. But how did you get it? That was the bigger question. I searched for years. I can’t tell you the exact moment. They came in whispers. Small bits. I wrote words for my mother. And we connected deeply. A poem for my grandfather’s funeral. And I was a part of a family. I began to expose my heart. I suppose I stopped looking for what could be offered to me, and began to offer what I had. And it was bigger! Better! It meant something! It meant all and more than I had dreamed of in shades of yellow. This is how I would connect. How I still connect.

He said I could pick out anything from his wood pile. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but for me it was priceless. A way for us to connect. And I had a long way to travel to catch up to this life-long friend of my husband. He helped me load the back of our car.

I cut the first strips of wood to stretch the canvas. No plans yet of what to paint, that would come. It always does if I just give it a path. I gessoed the canvas. And began in blue. The sea and sky and sand opened before me. The boats and nets and the fishermen — all daring greatly.

I searched my newly attained wood pile for the longest, straightest pieces. Sanded each length. And sanded again. And again. I cut them to length. Nailed them with the rusted hammer — once belonging to my husband’s father. Squared. Stained. Sanded again. Cut the strips for the backing. Placed the painting inside. It should also be mentioned that Michel, the man who let me pick freely from his pile of wood, was, for the majority of his life, a fisherman. A fisherman, I pause and smile. The blank canvas knew, perhaps even before I did. And this is how we connect. Connect our hearts. Our stories. By doing the work.

There is more. There is always more. But it won’t be given. We will have to search and throw our nets out to sea, continuously doing the work, ever daring greatly.


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Fake books.

I had no idea. I saw youtube preview on decorating – the ten essential things he said he couldn’t live without. Was I living without? I decided to watch.

The usual suspects. Candles. Sure. Pillows. I’m in. But when he arrived at number four or five, he lost me. He pulled two large books from the bookcase. (You know I love books. I love words. I love anything bound together.) He was so excited — “Look you guys, fake books!” Nothing inside. Empty pages with fancy covers. He explained that you can get them for almost nothing and decorate your shelves. I still can’t believe it, even as I’m typing this. (Typing with the words that mean so much to me.)

Now, I love to “decorate” with books as well. Real books. Books that I have read. Books with words that still hover throughout the house. They have a life. A meaning. Books with paintings. Books with photographs. I love them all. They have an ever giving depth.

I suppose I want this with everything. Everyone. I want books with words. Slow cooked meals. Wine that has aged. And friends with souls. Deep souls. I don’t want fake — anything. 

There is so much pressure to have the best shelves, the most “friends,” the largest group of “followers.” Quantity. Quantity. Quantity. At any price. But as I see it, the only things worth having have to be real. Give me real. I want my shelves to be filled with the stories of life. The real stories. Even mine.

So I offer you this, from my imperfect heart — my pages may be tattered, dog-eared, but they will be filled with life, a real life, a gathering of cherished words. If we offer each other this, maybe life won’t always be pretty, but oh how rich it, we, will be!


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Sprigs of green.

I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive. 

They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!  

Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.