Jodi Hills

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


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To build.

I like to watch decorating videos on youtube. I viewed a lovely tour of a woman’s home. The next day, in my feed, another video popped up. I recognized her home in the thumbnail. This, however, was not more about her home, but it was another woman watching the same video I watched and giving her opinion. I didn’t need to see much of it before quitting. By “critiquing”, she meant she was just going to say everything she didn’t like about this woman’s home. Why would I want to see that? But even worse, the next day, (and I’m not kidding), in my feed there was a video of a woman critiquing the woman as she critiqued the very first video.

I have always been one who believed in the builders, the makers — of anything. I like the process. The courage in the attempt. The guts to then show how and what you made. (I just had a very vivid flashback to junior and senior high math! I get it now. It IS about the work.) Anyone can get to the answer. Anyone can buy the completed product. Critique the completed product.

And perhaps I, we, are just using the wrong word here – critique. Because of course, there is always room for “a detailed analysis and assessment of something” (as the dictionary defines critique.) A qualified evaluation that will help us learn and grow. But this is not what these videos were. “I don’t like it” is not really all that helpful.

And it occurs to me, I might be doing the same thing here… ugh… so gathering in my own advice, I will continue to celebrate the makers, those who attempt! Bravo to those who try. I can see it as I type it — “bravo” and “brave” are really just one letter apart – one tiny line. So bravo to the brave who dare cross it! Today, even if it’s just the day itself, let’s make something great!


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Sometimes she would whisper to her heart. It was usually just this, “yes.”

He began the song in a whisper, Nat King Cole. From the radio he graced our breakfast table. His opening of “Perfidia” was as gentle as the steam that rose from our coffee. “Mujer…” he sang, so softly, but never more clear to our hearts. We left our croissants on the table, and just listened.

In third grade, Mrs. Erickson carried a long stick. She didn’t slam it. She didn’t swing it. She held it. Third graders are not known for sitting still. There is so much to make the eye wander. The birds outside the window. The fidgeting boy in the desk next to you. The note being passed around. The answers on the smart girl’s paper. Mrs. Erickson told us once at the beginning of the school year, “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” She never said the words aloud again. But we knew. If the end of the stick tapped lightly on the front of your desk, or simply pointed in your direction…you looked at your own work.

I can see it now so clearly. She was brilliant. She didn’t need to wave her stick around, because it wasn’t about punishing, it was about teaching. I think she knew that “cheaters” weren’t bad, but simply not confident, not confident in their own work. And her tap, was a reminder, “Look, look right here, you can do this.”

I don’t know if everyone got that. It’s a lesson I’m still learning. Every day. It’s not that I have the want or the opportunity to “steal the answers” from someone else. But I do need a gentle tap, a whisper, to tell me that I can do this. I can do this in my way. In my time. The answers are right in front of me.

This morning Nat King Cole gave us a gentle tap.

I summon the daily courage needed, and I begin. “Yes,” I whisper. “Yes.”


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Nothing wasted.


“Inspire” is a tricky word. I think a lot of people want someone or something to inspire them. They want the “other” to do the work. But I’m not sure that can really ever happen. You have to want to be inspired. The receiver has to do the work. For example: living here in France, I can say that I receive a lot of inspiration from the Sainte Victoire mountain. Now, this giant rock isn’t really doing anything. It sits there. But if I watch it – watch it change colors in the different light, watch it turn black and gray under a cloud, turn so white that it’s almost lavender in the summer sun – if I do this, really see it then I am inspired. If I climb up its steep and rocky slope, breathe from my belly to my toes, rubber my legs, pump my arms, reach the summit, then really let it take my breath away – then I am inspired! If I paint it. Photograph it. Wave at it as we drive by – I receive all that it has to give. Inspiration is in the work of the receiver.


Cezanne painted the mountain countless times. He painted a simple apple again and again. He created his own inspiration. Some might look at my sketch book and ask, Why are you painting so many apples? Paint something different. But you see, I am. Every apple IS different. Every apple is unique in its shape and color. But you have to want to see it. And I do want to see it. I want to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I want to find the inspiration in everything – every day. It is on me to find it. Feel it. Use it. Enjoy it.


Today’s yellow sun jumps from the sky into my hands and onto the page. Nothing wasted.


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This little light of mine.

We got a new vacuum cleaner. It has a very bright headlight. It was amazing, and a little bit frightening, what I could see in the corners, under furniture — see what I had been missing. The great revealer, this light. It was so satisfying to know that I was actually making a good cleaning. It felt good, and I found myself vacuuming with enthusiasm. I can’t go back now, to the old vacuum, the old way…I know too much.

I suppose it’s that way with everything. At least I would hope so. But in so many ways, I think we are failing. In the few minutes of news a day that I allow myself (my heart can’t take too much), I see, what I can only call filth. The absolute worst of us, making the same mistakes over and over. And we allow it. We shine the light on it, and still refuse to see it. We have to do better than this. We know better. Right and wrong are not that difficult to see.

Get your house in order, they say. And I guess that’s right. I will do my best in my little corner of the world. Try to make it as beautiful as I can. It was what we were taught, wasn’t it? This little light of mine? I’m gonna let it shine.


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Rise up.


She sang with her whole body, this woman in the choir. I was just a child at Bethesda Lutheran Church. Sitting in the pew in front of the choir loft. The crowd was silent as she swished to the music stand. I know now that it was her nylons rubbing together, but then it seemed as if she were floating. She was more strapped in, than wearing that polyester dress. The fabric gripping each curve of her torso, rising up to the gold plated brooch on her shoulder. The organist began the intro, and I heard her breathe in. I could feel myself being pulled back with the intake. I turned around, resting my head on the wooden pew. It would not be enough to say she “sang” this song, this hymn, “The old rugged cross,” but more that this music rose from within her. It rolled, so majestic, through each ripple of that Lutheran polyester, gathering strength in her core, building through her heart, and then, like powerful lava flowed over the congregation. She said she would cherish the old rugged cross, and I, we, believed her.


I want to say her name was Doris. I’m sorry if that’s not right. But I can see her, to this day. Rising above us all, with this gift of song.


I don’t think I can recite most of the things we had to memorize. I can’t recall the sermons. But I remember the pure grace I saw with this woman. This unconventional beauty.


My mother is still waiting for a call of support from her church. It’s only been six years since she received her first diagnosis of cancer. But, at the same time, she has been given love. Friends who show up with cookies. Rides to doctor appointments. Beautiful cards. And books. Phone calls of laughter. Hugs of encouragement. Shared tears. For what is church, other than the kindness of people. The grace of the imperfect, rising up! I give thanks for each Doris willing to carry your burden for just a few moments. Moments that will last a lifetime.


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Cardinal on my sleeve.

We sang a cheer in high school –


“We are the cardinals!

Mighty, mighty cardinals!

Everywhere we go – oh,

people wanna know – oh,

who we are,so we tell ’em…

We are the cardinals… (and repeat and repeat)


I never thought about it then, really, but what a lesson. I’m not sure that people often describe cardinals as mighty, but we did. And why not? It was our decision after all. We were cardinals. That was the mascot we were given. We could choose to wear it proudly, or sink behind someone else’s fragile truth.

So the black and red became a symbol of strength to us. A symbol of celebration in victory. A symbol of perseverance in loss. And we were nothing, if not mighty!


You get to decide what makes you strong. You get to decide who you are. Stand up in the colors you were given, and the colors you create. Even with the most fragile of wings, you can choose to be mighty!

I paint the birds again and again. They are my heart. My fragile, but ever-winged, mighty heart! The heart I wear proudly on sleeve, and in song, because I still think, maybe, you just “might wanna know – oh…”


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What if!

The Edina Art Fair was my first art show. I didn’t even sign up for it. A friend of mine filled out the forms. Applied. And I got in. She didn’t tell me until I had a booth assignment. There was no backing out. Sometimes decisions get made for you. And thank goodness for that!

My booth was very rudimentary. I had no idea what I was doing. But my mother stood bravely beside me, and we laughed from the inside of our hearts and exchanged the art for their money. I sold out the first day. I spent that whole night creating and creating. Fueled with a new confidence and joy. The next day. Sold out again. This was actually happening.

It probably took her 10 minutes to fill out the form. She maybe doesn’t even remember doing it. But I will never forget. It changed my life. It changed my mom’s life. What an impact!

Through the years, when I’ve relayed this story, some people have said – oh, that was way too risky. What if you wouldn’t have sold anything. She would have made things miserable for you. No, I say. Because just the fact that she believed in me enough to fill out the forms, that told me something, gave me something. That alone would have changed my life.

And we need to stop with all the “what if it doesn’t happen?”… and believe in the “what if it does!” Believe in each other. Stand up for each other with wildly high hopes. Stand beside each other with wildly full hearts! And believe that the best could happen! And what if it does!!!!!


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Kick. And push. And soar!

There was such freedom in it. Learning to swing. The first few years, having to ask, can you push me? Again? Knowing if they left, it would be all over. It was so limiting. So discouraging. Just you, hanging there. But then one day it happens. Fed up with the waiting. The depending. You push off from the ground. Reach your legs forward a little. Then ride it back. Curling your legs in. A little further this time. Pointing your toes. Back again. Further. Hugging in your knees. Then releasing. Pointing those toes to the sky. Hair blowing. Heart racing. Legs pumping. You are doing it on your own. How glorious! You’re swinging! All on your own!

I guess that’s what happiness is. You can wait around for someone else to make you happy, or you can figure it out on your own. You can create your own joy. You can pump and reach and fling yourself into the beauty all around you! Then you have something to share.

And, if you’re lucky, someone might come along and sit beside you. Fly along beside you. And you can turn to them and smile – a smile that says – hey, this is really some ride!

My legs are pumping. The day begins. I’ll see you up there!


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Lifted

Is it fear, or anger? Sadness… I don’t know. Is it just the nature of the flight? He couldn’t stay. He told you that. It was hard to believe, but it was true. He had to leave. The agonizing weight on his wings, he couldn’t explain. Not just a pull, a desire, but a life altering weight that he just couldn’t release here, and so he had to go. He found a way. In his mind his only way. And I, you, we, would have done anything to change his mind, but it was his mind, his flight to change. And so now… now? We wonder, we what if?, we cry, and wail, and yes, sometimes anger… and we look, look for answers, reasons. But I am not one that can say everything happens for a reason… some things are beyond reason, beyond our understanding… and so we look again. We look, not to make sense, not to understand, but to cope.

And how do we cope?

My grandfather told me that when it is too hard, looking at your own life, you look to someone else. How can I help them? In helping them, we too, help ourselves. We become aware. Maybe we help them, and they become a little more aware, aware that there is still kindness, and we become aware that we can still care with our broken hearts, and all this awareness leads to a new day, and maybe a few new choices, and maybe, just maybe, the weight is lifted from one, and then another.


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Nothing here I can’t rise above.

Yesterday I felt a little off. The whole day. I just couldn’t find my footing. My place. I don’t really know why it happens, but every once in a while it does. And why wouldn’t it? I guess it would be more strange if it never did. There is probably a way to live this life without feeling anything. Protect yourself from the lows by never experiencing the highs. Guard yourself from any sort of pain by refusing to love. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to feel it, really feel it. I want this life to shake me up with joy, dampen me with tears of tenderness, and rattle me to the core with love. Because that is something. That is a life lived! But with all that shaking and rattling, I know I’m going to get knocked off my feet once in a while. But, OH!, do I know how to rise!


I think it’s easier to trust people with a little dirt on their knees. I brush mine off and tell you that you can trust me. I brush mine off and tell the mirror that I can trust myself. The sun has risen, and so have I! It’s going to be a great day!