Jodi Hills

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


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First, the field…


I have been commissioned to paint a field of poppies. Looks pretty green for poppies, you’re thinking. Yes, for now. But first the field… my grandfather taught me that, I suppose, on his farm. Each year he would take the browns and turn them into greens, and eventually into gold. “You can’t glamorize the dirt,” he said. It was work. So much work. Rocks needed to be picked. Dirt turned. Seeds planted. Watered. Care. So much care.


And so I paint the same way. I cut the wood. Stretch the canvas. Gesso. Prepare. Underpaint. Start with the field. My hands dirty. My heart full of promise that the flowers will come. Patient. Care. So much care.


Life is very messy. Terribly messy. My Uncle Nick passed away yesterday. I can’t glamorize that. I know he suffered. But I believe in the golden fields. Those of my grandfather. I believe they are there now. Together. Held with care. So much care.


Today, maybe, the poppies…


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10,000 lessons.

We’re crossing bigger waters today, but we always find our way to the comfort of shore. And how would I have ever dared without the waves that first rocked me? Gently. Easily. Each one saying, you know there’s more…we taught you well. Go see. And they did teach me well – these 10,000 lakes, this Minnesota. With each arm splashing, leg kicking, breath-losing, breath-taking wave – taught me when to dive, when to keep my head up. Gave me laughter. Washed me clean.

Today is a day to keep my head up. I won’t let my teachers down. Thank you, Minnesota.


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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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I have to believe my feet will take me where I need to go.


When I was in high school I had surgery on my right ankle. For the first time, and eventually the sixth time. For many years, and for good reason, my ankle was very weak. The doctor recommended that I wear work boots. Work boots. This would be a new addition to my wardrobe. I wanted to be a girly girl, like the girly girl my mother was. Fashionable. Pretty. I saw her get dressed for work. Taking care with each piece of clothing. Right down to the shoes. Shoes. Not work boots. But I needed them. So there was only one thing to be done. Not hide them. Celebrate them. (This was long before chunky was in. Long before Dr. Martens boots.) I had to make them my own. So I wore them with everything. Pants, rolled up and pinned, of course! Dresses! Full view. I was proud of them. I had my own style. I walked steady, and sure — even when I wasn’t — probably the greatest lesson my mother ever taught me.


It wasn’t easy for her, to get dressed for work each day. Answer the school phones with a greeting that people still remember to this day. But she did it. Broken, weak, for sure, (also for good reason) but she put one foot in front of the other and did it with style. I would do the same, in my own way.


Some people in this world stomp and trudge and carry on. While others, they make a path — believe in those people. Be one of those people. And your feet will take you where you need to go.


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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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Because you would be the only one who understands.


My mother used to keep a list, a laminated list, of all my surgeries. I had had over 20, so to remember the dates and places, was just too much. There was no MyChart, or other computer app at that time. We didn’t have cell phones, or ipads, so she typed (on a typewriter) each procedure, laminated it, and kept it in her wallet. And each time I went to a new hospital, of course they would ask about my history, and she would whip it out, no explanation required.


What a gift to have someone who knows you. Knows your history. Because she did that, you see, with all my emotions. Whenever something came up in my life, I didn’t have to relive the past. Didn’t have to justify my feelings. Never had to explain why this event would trigger something in me. She knew. She knows me. She always knows me. The events of my life are laminated in her heart. And hers in mine. Forever safe. Forever understood.


I hope you have that with someone. I hope someone has that with you. What a gift to be understood. What a gift to understand!


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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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Growing the herd.

I first learned about herds on my grandfather’s farm. He had a herd of cows. “Why do animals need to be in a herd?” I asked him. “If the herd doesn’t pull together, it can be in danger. The herd knows its survival is dependent on the herd.” I shook my head. It made sense, but it also made me nervous. We, my mother and I, were in trouble. We had lost our herd. He could see me doing the math in my head, subtracting all those who had gone away. “How many does it take to make a herd?” I asked, hoping, pleading, begging with my heart for it to be a small number. I’m sure he could see my desperation for a clear and concise answer. “Two,” he said, and took my hand. Looking back, I’m not sure if he meant him and me, or my mom and me, but either way I was happy. I was a part of something. I would survive.

I’ve heard it used, and overused, the phrase – “We’re all in this together.” (I think I’ve used it myself.) But are we? Humans are herd animals. We do need each other. In a perfect world, I guess we would be – one human race – one herd, helping each other live a little better, a little stronger.

Each day I reach out my hand with words and paintings in hopes to strengthen the herd. You reach back by telling me your experience. And we find out a few more things about one another. My mom exclaimed in delight the other day, “I didn’t know Lynn Norton liked Jeopardy!” And we are all a little more connected.

The herd is as strong as we make it. Reach out your hand.


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Delivered.

When riding with my Grandma Elsie in her car, we would always listen to the station that played Paul Harvey, along with the grain report. I knew the language. So when I found the journal of my great grandmother in Grandma Elsie’s house, I recognized the words immediately. She wrote the daily farm report. The prices of grain. The weather. The needs of the house. The needs of the farm. She never wrote of emotion. The closest she came was reporting the neighbors who stopped by. All with the same equal tone. Life went on with the planting, the harvesting, and the rest. When her husband got cancer, in the throat, she wrote of the progress, with the same distinctions. Listing of medicines and sleep patterns. No change in her voice. He got worse. Slept less. More pain. She kept writing. His life was failing, along with her pencil. She wrote less. Felt more. And then one day, the only entry was this – “…my heart…” And I knew exactly what she meant.

She may not have recognized her journal as art, but that’s exactly what it was. She was making art. Brene Brown tells us that the magic of art is to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time. That’s what my great grandmother was doing. And I suppose it is what I do. It is what I have always done — before I heard of Brene Brown — before I heard of my great grandmother. I began writing and drawing from the age of five or six. My mother says I would go into my room and whatever I was feeling, happy, sad, I would capture on paper, and then let it go. I’m still doing that.

The beautiful thing is, we can all do this. Now, you might say, oh I can’t draw, I can’t write, I can’t sing… but I disagree. You can do all of these things. If you can think, you can write. If you can feel, you can draw. If you can move, you can dance. If you can speak, you can sing. Art is simply the release of your emotion – in any form that you choose. And the same release can be experienced by reading, by viewing. If I write something and it makes you feel your own story, that is art. If you hear a song on the radio and it makes you dance in your kitchen. This is art. It is everywhere. It is healing. It is beautiful.

Today, and every day, is filled with this magic. Yes, it is exciting. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is joyful. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, it is so very beautiful! I feel it! And, oh, my heart…YES!


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I stand.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. It’s two hours of pushing, seemingly all uphill. It’s not bad at the beginning. I am plugged into a podcast or music, the sun is shining, and my legs are strong, having forgotten about the last mow. About half way through, it gets hotter, my legs get weaker, but I turn up the volume on the music and trudge on. I push and the mower fills with clippings. I stop. I empty the container. (At the start I lift and dump, and eventually near the end, just kick it until the clippings fall into a pile.) I pull the string to restart. Push, kick. Pull. Push, kick pull. I shove my sweaty hair deeper into my hat, tighten my shorts and keep mowing. My shoulders feel hot. My belly feels empty, and I keep pushing. When about 90% finished, I start to think I’m really going to make it. This time I will finish without having to refill the gas tank. I’m sure I mowed much faster this time and I won’t need to refuel. Yes, just a few more times up and back and… chug, chug, stop. Bad words race in my head. I push the mower to the garage. Lift the gas tank, which now weighs more than I do, refill the tank, pull the string. Pull the string again. And again. It starts. I walk it back and finish the mowing. Done. Sweet and glorious done. I walk the mower back to the shed, not kicking out the last clippings, oh, I’ll do that next time… I take off my gloves, my hat, my shoes, sit at the outdoor table and look at my work. It’s beautiful. Has there ever been a greener lawn? Has grass ever looked so inviting? I mean, it is magnificent! Worth every step. I think that people should see this. Maybe we’ll have a barbecue, with family. They’ll ask if I mowed the lawn and I will beam – yes! of course! Take your shoes off, I’ll say. Drink the wine. Feel that carpet of green. Yes, yes, we will celebrate this mow! It is glorious. It is summer! I stand on grass stained legs, and feel lucky, proud even. I mowed the lawn!
I think of my gay friends. Some people wonder, “Why do they have to have a parade?” Why? Why? Think of all they have been through! All the uphill trudging just to be seen. I am ready to throw myself a parade after mowing the lawn. If they had a “green lawn mowing flag” I’d be waving it up and down the streets of Aix en Provence. Yes, I say! Have the parade! Wave those colors! It’s glorious!


I think of my cancer-surviving friends. Some may wonder, “Do they really need to buy the survivor t-shirt?” Do they?????? Yes! Yes, of course they do! And they should. Cover the world in pink and celebrate each glorious survival! Wear the banner proudly! You did survive! How beautiful is that??!!!! Feel the glorious earth of another day under your feet! You did it. You can feel lucky, proud even! You DID survive!


We shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our victories, our accomplishments. And we must never block the way of others celebrating theirs. You can join in, or not, but clear the way when the flags of joy are raised. Remember in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout, at the end of the trial, is told “Stand up, your father’s passing…” That’s what I think of – when I see the struggles, the trials, you have endured. For you, (and maybe even me), I have nothing but respect. And so I stand.