Jodi Hills

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


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The promised land.

“Don’t touch them,” I heard him say, while I was touching them. It was my grandfather’s voice in my head. He had said it when I found a fallen bird’s nest on his farm. The little bird beaks seemed to be crying out for me, but he said no, if I touched them, the mother would never come back. But surely it couldn’t be the same for bunnies I thought. Not the same for these beautiful cuddly little bunnies that I found on this day in the field next to our house. Bunnies were meant to be touched. To be held. They were accessible. Not like birds. Why, there was the Easter Bunny, and Bugs Bunny… chocolate bunnies, stuffed bunnies… Yes, I told myself, bunnies were meant to be held. There were three of them. No mother in sight. I placed one from each hand, back with the other. They squirmed and nestled and smiled. See, I told myself, they were just fine. The mother would come back.

I told my brother that afternoon what I had found. How I had picked them up. “Now you have to kill them,” he said.

“What?????? Noooooo! I would never!”

“Well, they are going to die anyway. Starve to death. Because the mother doesn’t like your smell.” And he walked away.

I stood motionless. How could he deliver this news and just leave me standing there. I was a murderer, and apparantly, I smelled.

I thought about getting my bow and arrow. The plastic one my aunt had purchased for me at Target. I could “do the right thing” (according to my brother) and kill them. I went into the garage to find my bow and arrow. I touched the string. Slid my finger along the faux feathers of the arrow. There was no way I could kill them. No way. I sat in the gravel at the end of the driveway, now not even certain that my own mother would return to me from work. Why would she? I was a smelly murderer.

When she finally pulled in, she didn’t even put the car in the garage. She stopped beside me. Opened the car door. I told her everything. She assured me that I was nothing of the sort, that mothers do come back. And as I sat on her lap next to the steering wheel, I could only believe her. She was proof.

The next day I searched for the bunnies. Praying for their mother’s return, as the weeds scratched my legs. I searched for hours, or maybe ten minutes, but there was no sign of any of them. No babies. No mother. My own mother went straight to the happily ever after…. “See, she said, “the mother came back and brought them to a new house and they are all just fine.” I believed her.

Years later, the first grown-up book we were assigned in middle school was “Of mice and men.” Lennie, the rabbits. It was all so sad. I wept for the story. For them. And I wept because I felt it all slipping away. I knew now. How could I go forward with this knowledge of unhappy endings? How did they carry it? I wept for my brother. My grandfather. How long had they carried this knowledge? I wept for my mother, who had to have known, but still lived on as proof — still passed on the possibility of happy endings. They all carried it, as best they could.

John Steinbeck says, “In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men (humans), if you understand each other you will be kind to each other.” I would have to choose my own path. Walk in my own truth. I suppose we all have to do that. And with each word that I write, maybe I understand them, and myself, just a little bit more. See the beauty of it all, just a little bit more. This I can carry. I smile, and walk on.


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Produce

I have professed my love for libraries, over and over. The Washington School Library. The Alexandria Public Library. One small room. One small building. Each opened a world to me that will never close. I can smell the wood that housed the paper. The slight hint of sweet mildew, like an open window.

The truth is, this was not my first impression of books. My first collection of words on pages — words mixed with colorful art – these books held the smell of fresh produce. It was at Olson’s Supermarket. My mother hoisted me into the shopping cart. The silver denting the back of my thighs. Legs dangling. Her purse beside me.

Just after the cart corral was a long display of Golden Books. I can feel my arms reaching. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She placed one in my chubby hand and I was changed. Words on paper. My arms will be forever reaching.

I can hear her voice reading each page. Night after night. Year after year. And then I started to hear my own. How do you thank someone for giving you the world? I suppose the only way I know is to use the same words I was given. Again and again.

I was speaking to the young woman who is currently working on my new website. Not a small task. She has to handle each piece of art, each word. She told me yesterday, because she is so immersed in all of the work, “I feel like I know you.” My heart is still smiling. My arms are still reaching. We are in different countries. From different generations, and my paintings of the apples remind her of her mother’s kitchen. Once again, the sweet smell of produce… My world opens, and I give thanks with the words that first saved me.


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Book lover.

Yesterday afternoon, I went through all the motions, but something was missing. It felt like my best friend had left town… well, not my best best friend, but a really good friend… and I felt a little hollow, like this really good friend came for a vacation and after having the most wonderful time they had to leave. And because we were good friends, we went deep, all the old and new stories. And we laughed and cried, and my heart was rattled in the best way. So letting go, I was bathed in a melancholy of saying goodbye to this very good friend… who was not really even a real friend friend, but a book — that’s right — yesterday afternoon I finished a book — a really good book.

“Now what?” I thought. “Am I supposed to just find a brand new friend — a new book — immediately?” We barely said goodbye and my heart tells my brain “just keep thinking about them!” “Remember when they… and then they did that, and you clutched your heart, and then they stayed up late with you, right beside you until you fell asleep… How can you just let them go? They’re still right there – on the nightstand.”

“You’re right. I know it,” I tell my heart. “But wait, I’m just going to get a sample, on my ipad, it’s not like a real book. I probably won’t even like it.”

I scroll through all of the latest reviews, book sites, what-to-read-nexts… “Well, here, I’ll just download this one. It’s not like I care. I don’t really need it.” One hand on the friend friend, or book book, and I hit “sample.”

I tried to read a little before I slept. But the memory was still so fresh. Still alive beside me. And I missed them — all the characters in Cloud Cuckoo Land. I remember when they said “she leaned into the needle of loneliness…” and I put my ipad down. Stopped the new sample. And said a proper goodbye.

I’m jealous of you, you who haven’t read it yet. You who get to experience it for the first time. If it’s possible for you to have any outside thoughts when you are reading, please tell them that this book lover misses them.

If you’re not a reader — (and I so hope you are) — find something that makes you feel the same way. They say runner’s get a “high” — maybe you can do that. Or garden. Or sing. Play an instrument. Bake. Eat. Travel. But love! Whatever you do — love it! Love it so much that you are willing to let it crack you open, and through the cracks will come spewing the words that you’ll have to share with the humans that you love even more! Share your words. Meld your stories. Live.

It’s a new day and my joyful broken heart is ready to love again.


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Dewey Decimal.

I suppose some might say that it has always been my nature to “worry.” Wednesday evenings before library day at Washington Elementary, I would wonder, will they give us enough time, will I find the book I want? And I hate to call it “worry,” really, it’s just that it all meant so much to me. The books, the library, the stories, I valued them. I loved them. So I took the time, mapped out the library on paper and in my head. Learned the sections of my favorite series. Studied the Dewey Decimal System. Made friends with the card catalog, not to mention the librarian. So yes, I thought about it a lot – but it wasn’t the agony of worry, it was love. And I will never regret giving them my time. My thoughts. My concern. Loving them with all of my heart.


Today, there are always concerns, and bigger ones at that. Family. Health. Life. World. But I would like to think I’m not just “worried.” Worry itself doesn’t seem to inspire much action. Concern, feelings, love, now that helps me. Makes me aware of the problems, the issues, and gives me the incentive to do something. Worrying, simply worrying about tomorrow, not only doesn’t help my tomorrow, but it loses my today. It’s not always easy. And I am certainly not perfect. Oh, that “worry” can sneak its way in, but when it does, I look for my tools. I Dewey Decimal it to the ground, and reach once again for the love. It, love, has always been the answer. Still, and again.


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Pillowing.

“Your heart pillows to mine, and I am home.” It is a simple sentence. One I wrote for my book, “Home.” I also made it into a picture that hangs in our upstairs hallway. To take a noun – pillow – make it a verb, and everyone still knows exactly what it means, this is a thrill!


I have always loved words. I grew up with them. They are a living force in my life. An exchange of goods – as my mother read to me before bed. An exchange of goods, as I read to her my blog each day.


This lifeforce – these words – how do I give thanks for them? As the lyrics say in the song “To Sir with Love,” — “How do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” For that’s what these words have done. They have raised me from a child. From my first visit to the library at Washington Elementary. To today, as I arrange them together, hopefully in a new way, on this page, eagerly trying to lift, to inspire, to connect. So to thank them, in my most humble way, I can only use them to the best of my ability. Use them for good. (Because make no mistake, they are tools – these words – and just as easily as they can build, they can also destroy). I pray that I, we, use them well. Share them with kindness, with as much love as they were first shared with me, by a woman, who I would grow to resemble in looks, who I long to resemble in heart. She laid them so gently in my bed, these words, so softly, so comforting, one might even say she pillowed them.
Don’t spare your words. Share them. Mean them. Thoughtfully, gently, use them well.


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Become.

From my downward dog yoga position I can see into the bedroom behind me. Sitting at the edge of the bed, he had started getting dressed, but stopped to read a few more pages in his book. It made me smile. He had put it down a few minutes before, but it drew him back in. I have always trusted people who live there – in the word. People who love to read.


The vulnerability of the author. The empathy of the reader. The ability to imagine. Become. Understand. Live. I know that people say it all the time, but reading! – please read. Teach your children to read. I don’t mean just knowing how to recognize the words, but teach them how to really read – how to crawl between the letters and become.


All the questions. All the answers, they’re all there, written, or waiting to be written. Dreams. Hopes. Adventures. All there. Distractions. Me too. Survivals. Maps. Doors. All there, tangled in each letter.


From the age of 6, in a hospital in St. Cloud, reading showed me how to survive, and then put a pencil in my hand and taught me how to thrive. I won’t tell you what to read. It can be anything. But read. Aloud. Silent. Often. Again. Crawl through. Become.