Jodi Hills

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


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Rock solid.


We always raced toward the stillness. We began at the stairs of my grandparents’ house — 4 or 5 cement steps that led to the door that no one ever used. On your marks, get set… Go! And we were off, my cousins and I, wheeling and willing ourselves to the first base – the giant rock at the end (or beginning) of their driveway. The stone had to be touched, then we made a sharp right to the first apple tree, touching the boards that were hammered into the trunk for stairs . Then came the field. The cow field. We were supposed to touch the nearest cow. This meant you would have to duck under the electric fence, avoid the cow “pies” and dare to get get close enough to touch one of those giant beasts. They, not wanting to play, looked at us with faces that said, move on to the next base. We slightly bent down as we ran near the fence and waved in the direction of a moo, and this satisfied us all. We ran around the back of the house, past the rhubarb in the garden, touched the garage, ran to the barn, touched a tractor, then raced back to the front steps.

The rules were loose. The laughter was free. The races were never won or lost. Perhaps we were just gathering it all in. Each touch preserved in time. I can feel it — all — still. Sometimes I think, how smart we were — to take it all in. I have to will myself to be that smart now. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily race. But I remind myself to take the time to touch it – the stillness around me. I suppose it is there, in this stillness, that we gather in the meaning — the laughter, the love, the rock solid joy of being alive.

Summer is racing towards autumn. I can feel the slight change in the air. We sit on the front steps for a moment. Talk about what a run we had! The slips on corners, and grass stained knees, and we laugh from the lowest parts of our bellies. We look through the corners of eyes and feel the sun… “You wanna go one more time?” Yes! The answer was, and always will be — yes!!!


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In close.


I rarely saw my grandmother without an apron. There were so many children. Grandchildren. The kitchen was always in motion. I liked standing next to her. So close. When she wore the embroidered apron – the one with the flowers – I would press my head as close to her hip as I could. This hug, when held for longer than she had time for – (yet she never pushed me away) – this hug could produce an imprint on my cheek of the same flowers. An imprint that didn’t last long on my face, but still remains on my heart.

Dishes clanked. Smells arose. Voices jabbered. And then the whirlwind would stop. She needed something from the basement. She told me to run and get it. The basement. I’ll admit I was afraid. Being only apron high, it wasn’t unusual, but I wanted to be brave. My grandmother canned. There was a whole wall of canned good down there. But to get to what she needed, I would have to go descend the darkened stairs. Past the hooks of overalls that looked like men waiting. I would have to tune out the furnace. The creaks of wood. She pushed the small of my back in the direction of the stairs. Of course I would do it. I held my breath, as if going under water. Raced my bumper tennis shoes down the steps. Grabbed the glass jar filled with what I could only imagine was a science experiment and ran back up the stairs. I handed it to her beaming. She had no idea what I had risked, but she hugged me just the same.

Yesterday, we went to see Dominique’s mother. She clings to the day. Leaving, sad, I heard through the open windows of the house next door, the clanking of the dishes. Silverware. Glass. Stove. A woman singing over the din. The sounds of life. I smiled, feeling the embroidered flowers on my heart.

This love. Knowing your heart, if you’re giving it all, will break and mend and break again. Still, I, we, will risk any darkened stairs to experience it. The sun begins to light today’s path. To this day, this life, I make a promise to feel it – really feel it – and, joyfully, I pull myself in close.


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…if I went with you

Today is Napoleon’s birthday. I’m not proud to say that I didn’t know this before coming to France. I suppose it is important to me now, because I can see that it is important to them. Empathy. 

The thing is, we think we know. I’m smiling as I type this. There is so much that I, we, don’t know. And that’s the first step to learning, I guess. Admitting it. And then doing something about it. 

I have told you how important the library was to me. So important that I used to worry about it. The night before library day at Washington Elementary, my mother would have to comfort me. Ease me into sleep. “But what will I pick out?” “What if there isn’t enough time to choose the right book?” “There are so many.” She didn’t laugh at me. She gave me a solution. “Find a series you like,” she explained. “Then each week you can pick another one from that series.” I did that. My first series was Cowboy Sam. I loved the linen covers. The drawings of cowboys. The adventures. The stories. So it’s not surprising that cowboys were in my heart from the age of six. There were so many books. I devoured them. So full, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What’s taught is what’s known. But at some point you have to take on the responsibility of learning. Teach yourself. I recently finished the book, “The Sentence,” by Louise Erdrich. It is a beautiful book. Filled with the heart and soul and voice of Native Americans. There is so much to learn. But each word lays a rock, creating the path of empathy. People always say, “I hope our paths cross some day.” When they do, and I hope they do, I pray it on this path — this path of empathy.

The epigraph to this book reads as such, “From the time of birth to the time of death, every word you utter is part of one long sentence.” — Sun Yung Shin, Unbearable Splendor.

It is within this bearable and unbearable splendor that I write each day. Continuing the sentence. Searching for the beauty. The understanding. The peace. Empathy. Hoping to look up from the dust on my own shoes, to see you, looking up, seeing me. Splendor.

Happy Birthday, Napoleon. Let’s take that walk.


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Ten thousand and one.

Maybe it’s because the brain and the heart are composed of about seventy percent of it. Or maybe it’s because I grew up in the midst of 10,000 lakes. But I have always been comforted by the water. The color blue.

It feels certain – this color blue. Like the words of a favorite song. Words that come so easily. Without thinking. Rolling gently in. Words that comfort. Caress. Hold. Gather. So I paint it, this song, this color and I am home. 

When I was a young girl, and we lost our home, we (my mother and I) moved to an apartment. And when you lose a home, you don’t just lose the walls — you lose the familiar, the comfort, the neighborhood. You lose the sound of screen doors swinging. Mothers calling kids home for dinner. 

Everything changed. I could no longer identify the cars passing merely by the sound of their tires on the gravel. I couldn’t smell the lake from across the street. I had lost the certainty of “blue.”

And being young, I could only see so far ahead. I believed what was in front of me. I believed there were these 10,000 lakes. No more. I believed there was a home. One home. No more. We were given only so much. 

OH, to be so joyfully wrong! Well, I was right about one thing – we are “given” a finite amount – but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out and get more on our own. Find more. Search. Build. I learned if I wanted to have a home, I had to make one. First in my heart. Then in my head. I needed to feel the water flowing through them both. The cool, comforting blue carried within. This was my home. Is my home. My 10,001. (and counting.) No one can ever take that away.

The world, people, will always throw out limitations. Struggles. It, they, will try to block you, box you in. But you don’t have to be one of them. They can tell you that “you can’t…” “you don’t…” you aren’t…” But listen to the water. It’s still flowing. Softly, gently, telling you, “aaah, but I am!”


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Racing the wheat.

I’ve always gotten up early. Even as a kid, even (and maybe especially) in summertime. This extra light given, after a long Minnesota winter, this was something not to be missed. I would start wearing shorts as soon as the last patch of snow disappeared. My white winter-hidden legs were almost lavender. Exposed to the fresh, crisp air of sun’s warmth and freedom. It was as close to being a newborn as I could imagine. 

I suppose it was the possibility that I loved most of all. To be out in it. To be a part of it! Sun in my face, light breezes carrying, even lifting my knees, urging them to race — this is summer — this is life! And so I ran. I ran on gravel. I ran on tar. Slipped in morning’s wet dew. I ran in fields behind our house, racing the wheat – who would grow faster? 

It was always a surprise when the fields were cut. And my legs were tan. Where did summer go? But wasn’t it wonderful to still be surprised?!

I got up early this morning. Kissed by sun and warmth. Born again. Legs exposed — heart too – still believing that summer will never end.


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As I flutter by.

I was more following it, than chasing it. Fluttering really. Doing my best to keep up. My grandfather didn’t really imagine that I could catch this butterfly, so his warning was light, but effective. “Don’t touch the wings,” he said. Me, still imagining my chubby legs were a match for these wings, questioned, “But why? They’re so pretty!’ He explained something about the powder rubbing off…they could lose their ability to fly. “You don’t want that to happen,” he said. Of course not. But just a bit of that desire remained. A bit of that doubt.

I didn’t have google at the time. Nothing to fact check. He had never lied to me. So I just kept fluttering. 

When I reached school age, I learned more. The challenge of the caterpillar to “become.”  It seemed unimaginable. Unbelievable! How did it survive — and not just survive, but turn into something so incredibly beautiful? I read it in books. Saw the images. But really?  How could this be?

I counted the sleeping pills on my mother’s nightstand. She was so sad. I didn’t know how long a human could cocoon. Nobody taught me that. 

But somehow, there would be proof in her wings. And I got to flutter beside her. And she beside me. Nothing more magical than that.

The fragile colors came to life in my sketchbook yesterday. Each with a hope and prayer that we could all be that gentle with one another. We could flutter, and flatter, and lift, and love. We could give each other the time needed to change. To grow. To become. We could give each other the chance to fly — just a smiling thought this morning, as I flutter by.


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Lazy Susan.

Whoever this Susan was, I liked her. And she couldn’t have been all that lazy, I thought, because her cupboard was always full. I thought Susan was the one who bought all the candy in that cupboard. Whenever we wanted a treat at my Grandma’s house, she would point to the corner cupboard and say Lazy Susan. My eager chubby brain and fingers didn’t take the time to analyze that this was just what the spinning rack was called — the spinning rack that held all my grandma’s candy. I liked believing some magical woman named Susan kept her cupboard full. Like maybe she worked directly with the Tooth Fairy. 

Something was lost when I learned there was no Susan fairy, nor Tooth, but I gained something better — the knowledge that I had a grandma who would keep her cupboard filled with treats – easy access treats – on the bottom shelf – the bottom spinning shelf – all for us to enjoy. And she didn’t buy what some called the “grandma treats” like hard mint candies, or burnt-orange peanuts. No she had Slo-pokes, and Black cows. Sugar Daddies. Toasted marshmallows. Chocolate bars and more chocolate bars. 

And as I got older. More truths came out. More losses. But one thing remained constant. The easy access of things given at my grandparent’s farm. The easy access of open spaces to run in. Secret rooms to hide in. Endless fields that said, be yourself. An open cupboard that said, keep believing in magic. And a love that remained full. Always within reach.


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Ida painted too.

It’s no secret that I have always loved Georgia O’Keeffe. Yesterday, to my surprise, I learned that she had a sister, Ida, who also painted. Experts say that if she had had the support of an Alfred Stieglitz, she could have been equally celebrated. But she had a different story. And the world, someone decided, didn’t need another O’Keeffe.

Since I was a young girl, my mother was friends with Diane Larson. A lovely woman. She was kind. True. And when she smiled at you softly, you felt cared for, hugged. There wasn’t a lot of truth that I could see at that age, and it was comforting. She was a teacher. I would see her in the halls of Central School. She didn’t embarrass me by actually speaking, but she smiled, and I knew she was watching out for me. She was the extended care of my mother.

She hung my childish art in her beautiful home. Saved a folder of my poems and scribbles, as if they were treasures. I didn’t need a second mother. I already had my “Georgia.” But this Diane Larson, this Ida, she painted too, and I felt extra loved.

She died yesterday. For most, she will go unnoticed. But that does not mean she is not celebrated. She fits easily into the halls of my heart, still watching over, smiling. A continuous joy. An unending love. The world needs every Ida, every Diane.


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On being pink.

There is a pink blossomed tree in our front yard. Nestled against the greens, it really shines. But would it? Without this sea of green? These glorious supporting characters in this summer spectacular! And this is to take nothing away from them — each one, on any other given day when the pink is not in bloom, could play the leading role. Because they are not just green — these emerald, lime and apple greens, these olive, jade, even silver greens!  All beautiful! And maybe most importantly, all secure in their own worth. Secure enough to let the pink tree have it’s moment — to let the pink tree shine!

I’m not sure I would be able to notice this without the example my mother set for me. She, no wall flower, always wanted to present herself in the very best manner. She, who would stand in line for the Clinique promotion, memorize the best mirrors at Daytons, thumb through the catalogs, iron and pop her white collars — this beauty, was never, is never afraid to let me shine.  

What a gift! To be celebrated for all your pinkness! I suppose the only way to give thanks is to pass it on. To see, to allow, to find joy in the glorious colors of all. This, my friends, is a day to shine.  

“You do the impossible every day. You warm people with your own brilliant light, and make them believe it is they who really shine.” jodi hills


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Hope chest.

Before I knew what it was, I began filling mine. I had overheard some older cousins and aunts talking about it around my grandmother’s kitchen table. From what I knew of hope, you couldn’t actually see it, nor did I see any physical “chests” within this conversation, so I took it literally, as children often do, and assumed it was my own chest, the chest that housed my heart, and this I thought, was the place to put all the hopes that I could carry.

I walked around the farm that day. And I listened. My grandfather hoped for rain. I put it in my chest. My mother hoped for peace and an appetite. They fit in nicely. It felt exciting to fill my hope chest. I hoped my older cousins would pay attention to me. I smiled and put it in my chest. I felt safe, and almost powerful. And surprisingly, lighter. With everything I put in, I just became lighter. This was the real treasure, I suppose, learning that hope will never weigh you down.

Even when I learned the so-called truth of these hope chests years later, I stuck with my own version. I went to France with almost no belongings. They would have cost a fortune to ship. But what the airlines didn’t know, didn’t weigh, was “my hope chest” — my hope chest that was completely full, bursting even. Loaded with every story, every life event, every day survived, every smile, every dream — every, well, hope really — all still within me. 

And in my hope chest, there are no expiration dates. Everything remains fresh, light, and new. A small cage of ribs protects them easily. They are mine. As long as I’m willing to carry. 

You have one too, you know. Oh, how I encourage you to use it. Fill it. Walk with it daily. And see it for the real and only treasure there is – a heart filled with hope.