Jodi Hills

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


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Looking for things to steal.

I guess I’m always looking for things to steal – two petite jars of French honey from First Class, and a glance of the Eiffel Tower through my passenger’s window on the right.

It’s a standing joke I have with friends. They have good taste. And as a compliment, I say if I were a different person, I would totally steal it. I have filled my imaginary bags of loot through the years, and we laugh. But the truth is, I am always trying to take something with me. The funniest line over dinner. Maybe a recipe. That feeling of pure comfort that only comes from true relationships. True hearts. Those moments that you can’t quite put your finger on, but want them never to end. MAGIC. That’s all I’m really trying to steal, a bit of the magic.

We just landed in Paris. My safe is full. Thank you, Mom. Minnesota. Alexandria. Friends. Family. History that begins and begins. Forever thieves of time. Of hearts. You have mine. I carry yours.


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Rolling and tumbling.


It was our first real restaurant date a decade ago. His first time in Minneapolis, he wanted to see the Mississippi River. We sat outside on a sunny day. My heart was all jimbly – that feeling of not falling, but rolling and tumbling into love.

We had been exchanging emails. My first said, “I hope our worlds collide.” I can’t say why I used that word – I had never before. But I did. And he came to Minneapolis from France. We sat by the river at the Wilde Cafe. Eating. Drinking. Rolling. Tumbling. We went inside after eating, to pay and use the restrooms. There was a small table with postcards and advertising. I came out of the bathroom and he was holding one. Smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Across the top of card it said – Collide.

Routines can set in through the years with coffee and croissants. And while they provide comfort, sometimes, you have to take a minute and remember why you started the journey. Why you jumped in, heart first. Sitting in the same place yesterday, I, we, could feel the “wilde”. I loved the restaurant. The coffee. The plated food. Delicious. My city. The city that let me in, and let me go. I loved it more. The sun. The breeze. The river. This man. All knowing my name. My heart. All willing to collide with me – heart to heart. And perhaps even more importantly, willing, joyfully, to keep rolling along beside me.

A new day is beginning. I want to keep that feeling alive. I encourage you to do the same. Taste the coffee. Smile at the sun. Fall in love with your life. And keep rolling.


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Waking in color.

I can still feel it when I go into the hospital – any hospital – any country… I am a teenager, and the doctor’s are rebuilding me joint by joint. Most of the time, it started the same. In the dark of early morning. (I still don’t like waking in the dark.) We’d often stay, my mom and I, at my Aunt Karolyn’s house in Minneapolis. She would take us out at the crack of dawn. None of us having slept. Anxiety that we all carried in different ways behind slight smiles. Quietly we’d weave into the shift worker’s traffic. She’d drop us off at the nearest door. Forms were filled. Each letter rising higher in my throat. Gowns. IVs. I can feel my heart tighten as I type. I don’t know if it was worse being put to sleep, or waking up from the anesthesia. I threw up going in, and coming out. But I made it. We made it.

Wheeled back into that generic room, she stood out like a flower – my mom. Tall. Dressed in yellow, or turquoise. Her signature colors. Her signature warmth. And I was saved. Over and over we did it. 20 times. And she was there.

Nurses would often say, “Oh, I can tell you are mother and daughter.” “Oh, yes, you look alike.” “I can see it!” And mostly what I felt was relief. Yes, it was a compliment, I thought she was beautiful, is beautiful. But what I saw in her, every time I woke up in a strange room, a sterile room, she was color, she was familiar, she was warmth, she was home. And if they could see even a tiny bit of that in me, then I thought, now I don’t just have something to save me, I have something to give.

And I do. I try anyway. In every card, painting, book. I want you to feel the comfort in it all. The words. The paint. I want you to awaken to the colors I’ve been given. The colors I share with you. The colors that are bursting inside of you right now. Feel the compliment of love. The security. The joy. The love, and then pass it on. We’ll all be saved.


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Buoyed.

I could feel our friendship slipping away at Le Homme Dieu beach. We had been best friends. Inseparable really, for the whole school year. Sleep overs every Friday night. A secret language whispered across the desks of the classroom. Navigating through all the changes together. Would it be time to start wearing a training bra? And what were we training for? It was all so exciting. So thrilling. A little terrifying, but we were doing it together.

That summer, she living in Victoria Heights, went swimming at Lake Le Homme Dieu beach. I was a Latoka girl – had been ever since I could ride a bike. It was mid summer when she invited me to a small party, probably birthday, at Le Homme Dieu. My mother dropped me off. There was splashing and high pitched squeals. Water flying. Sand kicked up from heels. The same thing was happing at Latoka, but it felt different. I felt different. They all seemed to be in step. They knew each other’s moves. They had their own water dance. I tried to feel my way into the crowd, timing it, like Double Dutch. I felt like I was tripping. My best friend was making new friends. She fit into a new crowd. I was happy for her, and a bit sad. I didn’t have the word for it then – this melancholy – , but I knew the feeling. I knew the school year would bring changes. We would go in different directions. It had already happened before. A couple of times. Each change survived, and thrived. The newness conquered. Then enjoyed.

Yesterday, I went swimming at that same Le Homme Dieu beach. Just a slight touch of autumn whispered in the air. I was a child again. Buoyed by the same waters of youth. I now live in the French language of this lake. Bigger changes than I ever could have imagined. But life gave me the tools. I suppose it always does.

There is a melancholy in air. I feel it every year. And it doesn’t scare me. I enjoy it actually. Change is going to come, going to be survived, enjoyed even, as we kick up the sand, splash in the water, and navigate life’s dance.


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The gift of summer ending.

It’s easy, I suppose in the heart of the summer to let a day just slip away. I try not to, but it can happen. “Oh, it’s hot – I don’t want to set the table…I’m tired from mowing the lawn…we could just have a pizza…” And the day disappears.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of summer is that it ends. I can feel it. It’s not here yet, but it is around the bend, telling me, reminding me, urging me, to enjoy the moment.

Yesterday was some of summer’s finest work. Yellow sun, bouncing off tanned shoulders. Not too hot, just warm enough to welcome the pool. Hair still wet, I gave the white cloth a whip into the tiny breeze, flinging it over the outdoor table. I placed the pool-blue plates with waves, atop the large white chargers. A wine glass next to each. Summer in the south of France calls for a rosé. White napkins. I cut the peppers, green and red, the eggplant – aubergine — and cooked them on the outdoor plancha. Next came the fish — rougets – in my opinion one of the Mediterranean’s finest. We toasted the day as the gift it was given. Not looking ahead. Not looking behind. We always eat slower outside. Gathered in a sea of green, we are still… and ever.

I was having such a good time, I forgot to take a photo. And perhaps that is the best compliment I can give the day. To be in it. Truly in it. Maybe that’s the only way to say thank you – thank you for this beautiful day!

If it never ended, I wonder if I would give it the reverence it deserves? I’m not sure. But I know this — yesterday was a beautiful day, and I, we, enjoyed it. The morning sun is telling me, reminding me, urging me, to do the same today.

Our someday is now.


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Welcome to the garden.

Our fruit trees had a bad summer. Wait, that could be a mistake…I don’t know if their summer was good or not… maybe they had a great summer, taking this time off. What I should say is that they didn’t produce any of their usual fruit.  

This winter, there was a sudden warm up, then cold again, and they got very confused. It threw off their timing. And they took the summer off. To regroup.  They are still lovely. They flowered. Greened. Stood tall in the summer sun. Still valuable. Still part of our garden community.  I would, will, never stop loving them. 

Trini Lopez is the name of our lemon tree by the front door. He has yet to produce a lemon, but again, I love him. He greets me every morning by the kitchen window, with a green so full, leaves so hopeful, that I think, I, too, want to grow.  

This patience that I have with our garden, I fear, maybe I’m not that patient with humans. I am quick (I hate to admit) to think people are lazy. But maybe I, we, don’t always know what the person is going through. Maybe they aren’t being lazy at all. Maybe they are recovering from their own difficult winters. Maybe they are slowly, as best they can, growing into themselves. Finding their way to the sun. Maybe they are offering, not the usual gifts, but other ones. Maybe this year’s fruit is a delicate shade. Maybe this year’s fruit is a place to lean on, in the comfort of silence. 

You know that friend, (I hope we all have one), with whom you can sit, without words or entertainment. Just sit in the comfort and safety of their company. I want to be that friend. I want to be as patient with love, with growth, as the trees in our garden. I want to give you (and myself) a chance to grow, or better yet, to just be. To calmly, daily, without demand, or judgement, greet those who dare the morning, and say, “Welcome to the garden.”


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This table is strong.

Some said it was in the way, my grandparents’ kitchen table. But for me, for my mother, it was something to lean on. The stability we craved.

The legs were at an angle, protruding just a little beyond the table top. You could kick it. Bump into it. Throw groceries, suitcases, all of your worries, on top of it. It was never going to crumble.

It took a while for my mother to get her legs beneath her. But she did. Oh how she did! And not just holding her up, but at that slight angle – that confident stride. Maybe they saw it in her first – the people of Alexandria. “Oh, I saw you walking yesterday.” “I see you out walking all the time.” “Aren’t you that lady that I see walking?” And when she answered yes to them, maybe she started to hear it herself. Yes. See it in herself. Yes, I am that lady.

I suppose we all have to become the stability that we crave. Table by table. Step by step. The sun rises with one question, we rise, and say simply, joyfully — Yes!

Whatever you need, this table is strong. Jodi Hills


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A soft touch.

The dentist told me that I’m brushing my teeth too hard. That was humbling. You’d think after brushing my teeth this long, I would know how to do it. “Doucement,” she said. (Meaning gently.)

When they say it never rains here, it’s not like the song…we live in one of the sunniest parts of the world. It’s in my nature not to waste it. While the sun is shining I think, “I can do this, and this, and don’t forget… keep going…” And I like it. I enjoy it. I need it. But once in a while, it’s in my best interest to just slow down a little. The universe, being much more wise, saw that maybe it was time for me to be calm. But it took a darkening of the skies, and a few loud rumbles to make it happen.

I turned on my desk lamp. Opened my sketchbook. Took out the colored pencils. Rolled them through my fingers. I like the sound of the wood clinking with possibility. I sketched out a bird. Slowly. Colored in it’s wings. Feathers. Found a pastel stick to create the white areas. Pastels require the softest of touch. Doucement. And there was my bird. My gentle, little, rainy day bird.

Sometimes we are hardest on ourselves. Impatient. Unforgiving. And we need a little reminder to be gentle. Take this bird to be just that. And be kind today — to yourself. Hold the pastel of your heart softly, without judgement, and know that it’s not wasteful to be still. It’s healthy, necessary. Doucement, my friends…Doucement.


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The weight of the magic.


Not everyone liked to be called up to the black board. I did. When Mrs. Bergstrom began asking a question, I was suddenly the tallest person in the room. Everyone sank lower in their desks, to discourage her from calling on them — as if she might think, well, I couldn’t possibly ask them to walk all the way up here to the board, they are but floating heads…” It never worked. She called on everyone.


When it was my turn, I ran, hand reaching out for the chalk. I could barely hear the question over my heart racing. I loved the feel of the chalk in my chubby little fingers. Once in a while, she would hand over her personal piece of chalk – the one with the wooden holder. The weight of it was magnificent. It felt powerful and important. As I wrote the answer, any answer, it felt like my hand was sledding across the fresh fallen snow – gliding, surely, easily, making tracks of white. This feeling far surpassed any worry of right and wrong. There was only this. This magic from head to hand to board.


I’m working on some new projects with my publishers. They are in the United States. I am in France. In these separate countries, in different hours of the same day, we communicate in real time, face to face, actions and creations are immediate. Immediate. Imagine that!
In our discussion, they wanted to know my favorite pencil. I knew immediately. It is the woodless graphite pencil I purchased from the Musée Soulages Rodez. The weight of it is, once again, magnificent! It feels possible. Magic! It feels like no worry of right and wrong. It glides with youth across the page. The one I race to. That is a worthy pencil!


Without saying all of that, when they asked me why, I immediately drew this bird. In real time. Maybe a minute, or two. “Because, this!” I drew. This! With this pencil, it is “my turn.” I guess I’ve always understood the importance of that. Even when fear hides all around me, sometimes even within, I will forever race towards the weight of the magic!


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The scent of story.

I was only six when I was walked into the library of Washington Elementary. The door opened and it hit me immediately, the familiar scent. I didn’t have the words for it then. The knowledge. Certainly it could have been explained away with paper, and time. The aging, a slight dampness to it all. But I had smelled this before, this comforting familiar. And I needed no explanation, because I was home.

This welcoming scent – it was the same as the entryway to my grandparents’ home. Coats lined the wall. Dampened with work and story, they welcomed anyone who opened the door. They said, come in, you and your heart sit down. It was there I learned to trust. Trust in those who made the effort. Trust in those who worked hard to create something. Create a life.This library of coats. Of living.

When Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, let go of my hand, I wasn’t afraid. She set me free in this open and beautiful world. There was life all around me. Book after book. Page after page. The words brushed against my arm, warm and worn, as the sleeve of my grandfather’s coat.

Some might say it is only nostalgia. But what is nostalgia? For me, it is not wanting to live in the past. No, for me, I see it as proof. A living and palpable proof of how it feels to be open. It is a reminder of how glorious life can be. A documentation of the extraordinary doors — the doors that let you in, the ones that set you free.

I don’t know what today will bring. But I know what it feels like to be open. I need no explanation. I brush against the familiar, and walk into the sun.