Jodi Hills

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


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The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.


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Winter boats.

It’s easy to love the summer of someone. The well lit, sun filled long days of them. But when the tanned shoulders are covered, with no aid of chilled rose wine in clinking glasses, you have to really love them. Just them.

But, oh, the winter boats. They are so beautiful. Resting on the shore. This is when you know. You know you can trust the love of the winter boats. The ones who will sit with you when the waters have cooled. Will be there, when no fireworks light July’s sky. Will be there, just be there, for you.

What a joy it is to not look back, nor forward, just beside. True love rocks gently.


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Summer of ‘63

I was given a small photo of three boys fishing at the lake. He was commissioning me to create a large painting of the image. First I made the lake. The shoreline. The dock. Then each brother, in order of their age. Just as they would have entered this life, they appeared on the canvas. I don’t paint anything I can’t feel, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel this much. Perhaps it was so emotional because this is where I, too, began. Near this lake. In this small town. Perhaps because I knew what their futures held. Part of me wanted to tell each one what was to come…but that wouldn’t be right, even if possible. For they, all three were safe in this moment. Pure. And this is where I would capture them. Forever innocent, in the summer sun of 1963. Full of hope.


I didn’t notice until I was finished the date on the side of the photograph – it was January, 1964. Clearly this picture wasn’t taken in January in Minnesota. But I imagine the photographer, the boys’ mother or father, must have been waiting to finish the roll of film. We used film back then. And if you bought a roll, of say 36, then you waited patiently, or not patiently, until you finished the roll, and then brought it to the film corner in the drug store to be developed. I imagine they finished the roll at Christmas time, and then had it developed.


Maybe time moved slower then. Summers lasted longer. Still, they, we, couldn’t stop it. Probably the best we can do is capture the moments. On film. On canvas. In our hearts. And feel everything. Feel the heat of the sun. The possibility rolling in with each gentle wave. The time when the common goals of youth kept us together. Easily. Slowly.


Today, these three young boys are fishing together in the south of France. Hopeful, excited, ready to go home.


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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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The cracks

I wish I could have learned everything when I was six. I wasn’t afraid then. I took swimming lessons every Saturday morning at the community pool. It was so easy to jump into the water. Even before we knew how to crawl stroke, we splashed and floated and became one with it. I guess that was the key. We didn’t fight the water. Oh, there was always one kid, terrified, kicking, thrashing, who would disappear from the pool never to be seen again. Never to learn how to swim. Never to join in the birthday parties, or summer afternoons at one of the 10,000 lakes. What a thing to miss!


Adult days can be overwhelming. We face unimaginable things. Things that seem unpassable. But there is always a crack to get through, if we become like water. Water can always get through, even the smallest opening. When Bruce Lee said, “be like water, my friend” he simply meant to be flexible in both mind and body. It’s about not being rigid and stubborn in your beliefs and practices. But instead, about being open-minded and able to change and adapt to the circumstances we are put into. The older we get, the easier it is to be rigid. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to be forever six, loose and open and possible!


Perhaps that’s why I paint the water, again and again – as a reminder to “be possible,” I tell myself with each stroke – find the openings, become the water, get through. The water moves through my hands, my heart, my head, and I learn today’s lesson again. And, I give thanks for the cracks, thanks for the six year old heart that beats within me and says, “Everything is possible! Don’t be afraid.” Because this day, what a thing to miss!


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Beside still waters

I was watching a Youtube video by Laura Kampf. She is a maker. She builds things mostly out of salvaged products. Beautiful things. She passed by a broken park bench near the water where she lived, and she thought this beautiful view couldn’t be wasted, so she brought the bench home with her, repaired it and brought it back to the same spot. It wasn’t long and some vandals broke it again. She had to search for it this time, but she found it, dragged it home (a very heavy bench), and painstakingly repaired it again — this time stronger than ever – metal, and wood, lots of time, lots of care. When she was asked, “Why would you go to all of this trouble, again?” she replied, “Imagine a world where things are repaired one more time than they are broken.”

I am far away from the city I still refer to as home – Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is struggling now. It has been wounded and broken, deeply, but I know that it will be healed, rebuilt. I know the people. Good people. It will be healed with music and art. It will be healed with builders and workers. It will be healed with the disinfecting sun that shines off the lakes that surround the city. It will be repaired one more time than it is broken, and it will once again rest beside still waters.

Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Lake of the Isles. I have painted you. Believed in you. Loved you. And I, we, will do you proudly once again. Still.

“How do you know that? Where’s the proof?” they ask me. “Well, there’s my heart,” I say, “It’s, joyfully, in repair.”


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Blue Mind

I wanted to tell her that there is this thing – something better than a thing – this phenomenon that happens when you are close to the water. It’s called Blue Mind. I had only heard of it a few days ago, but had experienced it my whole life.


When I take a swim in the pool in the morning – it transports me back to 10 years old, riding my bike to Lake Latoka. Not parking the bike, just letting it fall into the sand. Kicking off my shoes, and shorts, racing into the water. Then floating. And swimming. And feeling the everything and nothing of being weightless. The everything and nothing of being without worry. This glorious everything and nothing buoying me for an endless summer.


Now the “experts” will say that Blue mind” is characterized as a mild state of meditation that evokes a sense of calm, peacefulness, happiness and contentment. It’s your brain’s subconscious, positive reaction to being on, in or near water. You instantly feel a higher sense of wellbeing, slower breathing and lower heart rate.


That sounds right too. And I wanted to tell her all of that, but I didn’t know all of the French words, and she was crying, and it seemed too long to explain. I started to say something and the sight of the Mediterranean Sea caught my eye and my breath.

I learned a long time ago that joy arrives in every shade of blue. I smiled. Hugged her, and thought, we could probably just go outside.