Jodi Hills

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


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Growing poppies.

My grandmother was a dreamer. My grandfather was a worker. And together they created a life of faith. I think that’s what faith is, believing in things some people may call unimaginable, but you imagine them anyway, and work towards them. My grandfather was the muddied rack of coats that hung just inside of my grandmother’s unlocked door, the door she kept open, hoping to let in her next big thing! And it worked. The house – this home – this giver of nine lives, stood strong.


I knew the poppies would come. Because I put in the work. Because I believe in what I imagine. I show you the painting today, so you too, can believe in all of the things clearly and unclearly imaginable and reach out your own weary and working hands, and grow your fields of rouge!


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Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I was waiting for my mom to come out of the doctor’s room. I couldn’t go in with her. Covid. Most of the chairs were filled in oncology. The weight of that…things didn’t stop just because of Covid. People still got cancer. It filled the room. I sat on a small chair with a desk, just outside the door. The chair was formerly filled with a greeter I suppose, or support person — no longer able to be present. I opened the drawer. There was a pad and few crayons. I wrote a note and left it on top of the desk – “If you see this, I’m wishing you a good day.”


We had to go back to oncology the next morning. As we walked out the door, the woman working the front desk called out my name — “Thanks for writing that note!” she said. It travelled through the weight of the room and fit directly into my heart. She knew me. She saw me. And I was saved.


My grandfather told me years ago, if you want to feel better, focus on someone else. I often forget. And then he angel pokes my self-focusing heart, lifts my hand, and I try to do better. Always try to do better. And so I’m sending out the words again today, to cut through whatever weight is clouding your room, “If you see this, I’m wishing you a good day!” A good day that will save us all.


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Being small.

John Prine sings, “I remember everything…every single blade of grass holds a special place for me.” I hear the words in my heart and I’m back on VanDyke Road. It’s a summer day. Bits of green stick to my legs and I’m soaked in sun. Red shoulders. Cheeks. Carrying a plastic bow and arrow from Target. Arrows not strong enough to puncture the ground, but strong enough to make me a cowgirl, a big girl, as my mother told me to be. A big girl that could stay alone during school’s summer vacation and imagine a ranch of hired hands, working cattle and horses, and filling a backyard with “Big Valley” moments, “Bonanza” rescues, and every Disney movie hero. Only until 4:30, then my mom would come home from work. I let the bow drop from my hand into the blades of grass I counted. Each a different color of green. I dropped my arrow. And I was gloriously small. I was saved. She held me close. Every day. My heart beat full. I remember everything.


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Carry it with you.

I can get distracted. So easily. So many “shiny objects” in a day. And it’s easy to let things slip by. “I’ll email them tomorrow.” “I’m sure someone else has taken care of it.” “My vote doesn’t really count anyway.” We can justify almost anything. But can we? Really? Every day, we stand for something. Either by taking a stand, or not taking one. Everything matters. Everything counts. Now some might say, “Oh, lighten up…” But maybe that’s what I am doing. When I believe in something, love something, someone, stand for the things I believe in, it gives me great joy. Such great joy! And the thing is, nothing is lighter than joy. It’s so easy to carry it with you. I want that joy. And so I love and I live and dance my way through the shiny objects of the day, and then I pause. I stand. And I believe.


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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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Steady.

“Focus on something steady,” she always tells me. I do. Every morning, for my yoga session. I was looking out the window, this morning, as I usually do. I like to focus on a tree for balance. Keeps me strong. Sturdy. Rooted. Standing strong in tree pose, a squirrel ran up the branches (on the tree outside, not me). My focus darting along with it, I lost my balance. Nearly tipping over. Back to the tree. Back to my balance.


It makes me laugh, because that is so typical of my life. I try very hard to stay on track (as crooked as my track sometimes runs). But it’s my normal. My balance. And it works for me. I keep my heart steady above my anchored feet, my reaching arms. But even in my practice, my trying, my hold steady, my brain will shout out “Squirrel!” And go racing after it. I forgive myself and look back to my heart, pumping still steady through my veins.


Nature is filled with every kind of normal. Every kind of distraction. We choose what to grab on to. Focus on. Lean against. Grow with. I heard once, a tree is never foolish enough to fight amongst its own branches. And so, too, I let my heart and brain reach as far as they can, then gather it all in, in my ever green, ever practicing core.

Focus on something steady today, my friends.


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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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A blink of blue

We decided to get lunch before taking pictures at the lake. It was a beautiful, sunny day when we went into the restaurant. We had the most delicious sushi. We stepped outside under a gray cloud. Wow – that changed quickly. Still, we went to the lake. The sky, was a mixture of grays and whites. Full of movement and rumble. It wasn’t the beauty we had seen just 45 minutes ago, but it was beautiful! We walked along the shore. The golden leaves popped out against the gray. The lake’s sky, as if to thank us for still coming out in the ever changing weather, blinked a brilliant shot of blue. It was so magnificent! It lit the air and my heart with hope.

Life moves and changes – often faster than we’d like, but we still need to show up. Find the beauty. And forever cling to even the smallest blink of blue, the promise of hope. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It’s beautiful!!


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Standing on the beast.

The bronze statue The Fighter of the Spirit, by Ernst Barlach stands near the 24th Street entrance of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The statue shows a winged man holding a sword vertically, tip up, and standing on the back of a snarling beast. The statue was commissioned by the University of Kiel (Germany) and was originally placed in front of its church (Holy Spirit Church). The statue did not fit with the ideals of the ruling National Socialist party; it was vandalized and condemned as degenerate art. As a result, the statue was removed and cut into four pieces, in preparation for melting down. However, the pieces were hidden on a farm and didn’t resurface until 1946. The statue was repaired and placed in front of the Church of St. Nicholas. Two copies of the statue were made at this time; the Minneapolis Institute of Art acquired one copy in 1959. This glorious spirit survived.


Growing up, I too, had my own snarling beast. (We all do at some time.) But it was my mother who was always “tip up,” (many times saved by a farmer) — ready to fight, to declare a different life, a better life, a life above the snarls. What a direction she was given, and then gave to me! She, this fighting spirit, my mother, pointed me straight to what I love. Straight to what I live.


The beasts will always try to run in our paths, but we stand tall. Forever tip up.


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Magic wandering.


“Years ago, there were tribes that roamed the earth, and every tribe had a magic person. Well, now, as you know, all the tribes have dispersed, but every so often you meet a magic person, and every so often, you meet someone from your tribe.” — Carrie Fisher


It took me a long time to find my tribe, but not my magic person. She gave birth to me. She was the one who gave me the courage to go look for the rest of our tribe.


Through the years, we have gathered each other in. You know the reflection of your heart when you see it. And oh, what a delight! Yesterday we walked into their condo, and just resting, on the coffee table, one of my books, “astonish”… welcoming us, reassuring us, we were, still, and again, home.
In this book I encourage you to “surround yourself with these people…A world of people opening doors and highways and hearts, just by living. Just by being bold enough to be themselves and to share their amazing gifts…they give us reasons every day to hope, to believe, to try.”


Keep your eyes open today. There is magic wandering.