Jodi Hills

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


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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Swagger.

For a brief period he was the principal at Washington Elementary. Bob Jones. As solid a man as his name could convey. A bald head and a smile so big it seemed to lift his steps – giving life to the verb swagger. He was, as our first grade teacher taught us in spelling class when differentiating the words principle and principal, yes, he was indeed our “pal.”

We wanted him to like us. What a gift that is for a principal to have. It was my cousin Vicki who gave me my first opportunity to speak with him. I get goose bumps remembering. Vicki, several years my senior, asked me one weekend, “Do you think he remembers me?” Remembers you??? He’s a rock star, I thought. “Ask him,” she giggled in delight. One thing about Vicki, she was always giggling. A giggle that made things seem possible. And so I agreed to do it. I would ask him, during his Monday morning stroll through the school.

I barely slept Sunday night. I waited near the back doors that opened to the playground. His usual rounds took him there just a little after 8am. I wouldn’t hear him coming, I would just have to wait – one never hears swagger. And there he was. White belt. White shoes. (I hope it was spring.) I stepped in his tracks. So nervous and excited, I blurted it out with no context. “Do you remember Vicki?” He stopped. He stopped for me! He bent down on one knee. “What’s this now?” he asked. “Vicki. My cousin. Vicki Hvezda. She wants to know if you remember her.” He smiled, even bigger than normal. “Aaah, yes, one of the Hvezda girls.” I beamed and ran to my class, as if she would be waiting there for the answer. I carried that answer with me for the rest of the week. I couldn’t wait to tell her. He remembered her. He stopped for me.

I’m giggling, even today. He left soon after and rose through the ranks of the school system. But for a moment, he was ours – our Bob Jones – and he saw us.

I guess we all want to seen.

It may seem crazy, but it was this simple pear – this tiny, still life – that reminded me of this story. But how beautiful, I think. How fitting. It all matters. The tiniest of moments that lift our faces, and fill our hearts’ pockets. I carry it all with me. Life’s swagger.


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Lemonade.

It never occurred to me to have a lemonade stand. I don’t remember that anyone did when I lived on VanDyke Road. There were garage sales – sure. My grandma loved those. She loved chance. The possibility of finding a treasure. She ordered from Publisher’s Clearing House – which would explain that one year for Christmas when I received a pair of red lace women’s undergarments (I was maybe seven.) She walked the streets of “Crazy Days” – purchasing anything in a brown paper “grab bag.” This is where I got the idea to have my own “Crazy Days.” I had a few old broken toys to put in school lunch sacks. (This will tell you how well we did when my grandma purchased similar grab bags at the Ben Franklin.) I priced them at 10 cents and a quarter. Kathy and Renee Norton combined their allowances and each bought one. I was sitting on our front steps when they came walking back to our house, heads hung low. Mrs. Norton told them to get their money back. “Oh, Grandma,” I thought. Of course I gave them their money back. We never spoke of it again. I suppose that was the real treasure. I guess we were making “lemonade” all along.


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Swooping in.

I don’t know what they looked like, the radio announcers on KXRA, the early morning show. But once, maybe twice a year, I imagined them in full super hero gear, red capes, powerful arms reaching out to save the day. 

We didn’t get that many “snow days” – days when the weather closed the schools – but oh, when they came, it was glorious. The seed would be planted before bedtime. The bad weather might be on its way. It was like going to bed on Christmas Eve, so filled with hope you could barely sleep. When the alarm went off, we raced to windows, praying to see only snow. And if there was a pane filled with white, we raced to the radio. Did they say it? Did they announce it? Usually it would start with a delay… two hours late… no, that wouldn’t do. “Close it, close it, close it,” we pleaded with the radio airwaves. A delay meant still getting dressed. No school meant pajama day. Pajama day – PLEASE! The announcer started reading the school districts by number. Please 206, please 206. And when you heard it – oh my! And it wasn’t like we were tired – no just the opposite. How exhilarating! The freedom! The possibilities in that day. All because those super heroes on KXRA said our school district number out loud on the radio – but what I heard, what we heard was “You’re free!!!”

There is no snow in Aix en Provence. All of our trees are in bloom. On our way home from dinner last night in Marseille, it was late, and we started talking about sleep, bed… and for some reason we brought up pajama day – what if tomorrow was pajama day? It felt good to dream about it. Wait for it. We smiled all through breakfast, knowing we had the power to decide. We had the power to be our own super hereos. To swoop in, no matter the weather, and claim the day. All things possible. Everything in bloom. 

Now, I am no Patty Wicken (our local radio star), but I tell you in my best radio voice, save yourself today, do something you love, be someone you love, because in the blossom of today – You are free!!!


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Shiny black and blue.

When it comes to reading, I suppose I am a bit of a magpie – chasing after the words – grabbing, feeding off of them like shiny objects. They are all so beautiful. I want to gather them in my little nest of daily stories. 

There was a woman in our home town. She picked through the garbage cans of main street. This was long – long before it was cool. Long before people made Youtube videos of treasures found. She was alone in her picking, and we made fun of her. Not to her face, but I can see now that doesn’t really matter. I can blame youth. Inexperience. But now that I see… I have no more excuses. 

When you first look at a Magpie, you think you know, well, of course – it’s black and white. But when you really look – I mean really – you see the blacks are not just black, but so many shades of blue – maybe brown eyes – maybe a hint of green in the changing light. I paint them now and discover all that I haven’t seen. 

Her name was Bernice — this woman who had the courage to search for treasures in our home town. I see her now, so black she is blue – such a beautiful blue. And I thank her for giving me a chance to really see. A chance to wonder about what else I am missing. A chance to search for the shiny objects, hidden in plain sight. And so I read, and I write, and I paint, and I fly! Singing thanks to the Magpies, thanks to Bernice.


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Creating a song.

My mom and I drove to Galveston for the sole reason of the Glen Campbell song of the same name. It wouldn’t be the last time I was lured by the romance of a song.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles, LA. We can thank Lucinda Williams for that. I (we) have been singing her song “Lake Charles” since we entered the South. The glorious power of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe that’s the best thing about all of the arts — seeing things as others see them. In the city where we live in France, Aix en Provence, the Sainte Victoire mountain is the star. Cezanne painted it again and again. I have often wondered if it would have had the same appeal if he hadn’t shown us the beauty that he saw. I’m not sure, because now I can’t unsee it. And it is beautiful.

I write of the simple things. Paint them as well. Some might even say ordinary. I tell you of my home town. My mother. My grandparents. My school. For me, none of it is ordinary. And maybe you see it. See them. And maybe it helps you see the extraordinary beauty of your own life. And with any luck, that beauty gets stuck in your head, like a favorite song.


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Home town.

In Kindergarten, Mrs. Strand had the audacity to leave us mid year to give birth to twins. In the first grade, Mrs. Bergstrom, hair pulled back in a bun, wore her long pencil skirt and wool sweater all the way until summer break. We knew she would never leave. She taught us the meaning of the word trust, and then taught us how to spell it. She was opening our worlds. Then one day, she lined us up, single file, and quietly led us up the stairs, turned us to the left, opened the big wooden door. All was silent but for the singing of my heart’s choir! The library! All those books. A conversation from wall to wall. Information. Entertainment. Belonging. Yes, most of all the belonging. I knew I would be both comforted and launched — I suppose the perfect definition of home.


And I was home. Here in the words.


Yesterday we arrived in Laurel, Mississippi. Being an HGTV fan, I wanted to see it all. Where they filmed. What they made. The houses they transformed. People have told me, oh, you’ll be disappointed – it’s only make believe.


We pulled into town and the first thing I saw were the giant books painted on the side of the building. I smiled. I have always been one made to believe — the very day I stepped through the big wooden door at Washington Elementary. I know all is not always as it seems. But it is always what you choose to see. Today I choose to see the magic of it all — from the giant books on the side of a building to the promise of a small home town. It’s hard to hear the doubters over the singing of my heart.