Jodi Hills

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


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Constant journey home.

I found myself at home in front of the US capitol. I didn’t expect to be so moved, but I was. Tears streamed down my face. Because I was home. And my French husband was home. And the people around me, people of every color, people speaking different languages, some laughing, some crying, all peaceful, all joyful, all were home. This is who we are. Who we have to be. Welcoming. Kind. Joyful.

Next we visited the National Gallery of Art. I stood in front of the collection of Cezanne. In front of the painting of L’Estaque. And once again I was home. I stood with my French husband, who’s mother had a house there, and we were home. Once again the tears were streaming.

What a privilege to feel at home. Perhaps it has to start in your own skin. Once you are comfortable within, I think you have the courage to seek, to reach out, to wander. Once you are comfortable within, you also have the courage to welcome those different from yourself.

So this is where we begin. Within. All on this beautiful, this constant journey home.


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Simply. Love.

She was immersed in gray, this young woman on Youtube. I watched her walk by the lake, in the fog, in the drizzle. The sky seemed to seep into the water, barely a difference. And she was so happy! Truly happy! The kind of heart-sighing that breaks into the widest smile of content. And just to confirm it, she said, “I love this weather. I wish I could live in this every day! It’s my favorite!” And I knew she meant it. You can’t fake that kind of happiness. She thought it was absolutely beautiful. She took photos and videos. Gasping in delight.

Normally, I am a person who can’t get enough sun. I feed off of it. I love the colors it creates, in nature, and in my heart. It is a warmth that I crave. But here she was, telling me how beautiful it was, the exact opposite of what I love, and you know, I could start to see it. Yes, it was beautiful. Because now I could see what she sees.

Now, I’m still going to hope for a sunny day. It is, and will always be my favorite. But I can appreciate that she loves what she loves in the very same way that I love what I love. Let’s slow that down a bit. She loves what she loves and it is beautiful. I love what I love, and it, too, is beautiful. That probably works not just for what, but for who…

It’s a pretty big world. Room enough for all kinds of love, I suppose. Maybe we should just let love, simply love.


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Surprise

Not that much surprised her anymore and she felt badly about that. She wanted to live in a world where it was surprising when someone left the one they promised to love. In a world where the words homeless and lonely weren’t commonplace. A world that was surprised, horrified, by violence and lies. Where it was simply unheard of to hurt a child. Where were all the surprises? Where was the pure and astonishing beauty of kindness? Was she foolish to believe such a world could exist?


This morning at breakfast I tasted something for the first time. When making jam, you have to boil the fruit with sugar for a long time. As it boils, a frothy substance rises to the top. Google told me that you spoon that off so your jam isn’t cloudy. Dominique told me to save it. It seemed strange to me, but so far, he hasn’t led me astray, so I saved it. We put it onto our croissants this morning. It was the most creamy, peachy deliciousness I have ever tasted. I guess goodness still rises to the top. I have tasted it. I believe in it.


Just the fact that I can trust the person that sits across my breakfast table, with my whole heart, is a beautiful surprise. The world may not be a perfectly surprising place anymore, but some people still are… therein lies the hope, and the most beautiful surprises of all.


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A bend in the river

I painted John Wayne because I love Joan Didion. In her piece, “John Wayne: A love song,” she described an image that jumped from my heart into my hands. And I painted, not just John Wayne, but I painted my heart, filled with the words that she, I, had longed to hear…filled with the promise of love, the promise of home.


“We went three and four afternoons a week, sat on folding chairs in the darkened hut which served as a theatre, and it was there, that summer of 1943 while the hot wind blew outside, that I first saw John Wayne. Saw the walk, heard the voice. Heard him tell the girl in a picture called War of the Wildcats that he would build her a house, ‘at the bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow’. As it happened I did not grow up to be the kind of woman who is the heroine in a Western, and although the men I have known have had many virtues and have taken me to live in many places I have come to love, they have never been John Wayne, and they have never taken me to that bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow. Deep in that part of my heart where the artificial rain forever falls, that is still the line I wait to hear.” Joan Didion.

I had just moved to France. I’m surprised at how easily I did it. I had been offered new places before, closer places, more predictable places I suppose. One would think that a Minneapolis girl could easily transition into a Chicago love, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the move. It wasn’t my bend in the river.When Dominique told me to stay, just stay, I could see the cottonwoods, for the first time, and I stayed.

And it isn’t about being rescued. I’m not sure I believe in that. But maybe it is about being saved. About saving each other. In tiny bits, every day, with just the smallest phrases, the smallest gestures, we can do that. We can be the heros and heroines for each other.

The painting I made of John Wayne rests in our salon. On numerous occasions, in a sea of indecipherable French words, I will hear someone yell out “John Wayne!” And I am home. Even my mother-in-law, with memory failing, names, people, places, even loved-ones sometimes forgotten, she can pull out the name John Wayne, and I smile, not just because she can still remember the name, but I think for a brief moment, she too, is taken to her own bend in the river, her true love, and she is home.


The “hot winds” blow all around us, forever. If we are lucky enough to find that cool place, that place that calls us, welcomes us, and gathers us in, then I guess, we may not always be safe, but we will be saved.


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In the garden

I used to say that I never needed anything but cement beneath my feet. I said it with certainty. I would only live in the city. Sidewalks and pavement. That’s all I needed. But comfort has a way of packing its bags, never leaving a forwarding address, and one day you find yourself in a different country, mowing the lawn.


We have a very large yard. The french word for yard is jardin, or garden. I like this better. We have a big garden. Yard sounds more like a prison, but in a garden, you can roam and discover. And so I do. It took a minute for me to take in all of the beauty. The birds singing, the flowers blooming, the trees bearing fruit. Butterflies. All that “certainty” I carried for years flew off into the bluest of skies and I discovered a new way to live. Maybe with no certainty at all, but pleasure in this moment. And maybe that’s all we get. Maybe that’s all we need. Not certainty, but truth. A truth as pure and hopeful as children’s summer laughter.


I hear that laughter coming across the trees. I hear it in my heart. Even when I’m on my last leg of pushing that mower across a sea of green that I had once promised never to inhabit. Life changes. Daily. We can either shake our fists in the air, or fold them in thanks. Today, I choose thanks. Thanks for all the uncertainty, the newness, the unstable adventure of just living! Oh, look! The day’s beginning. Let’s enjoy the ride.


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Speak the words

I was twelve, maybe thirteen when I first read the poem, An elegy for Jane, by Theodore Roethke. I was in Mr. Rolfsrud’s classroom, top floor of Central Junior High. It was a warm day, nearing the end of the school year, so the classroom was closed in with stale air, and we were restless. But not Mr. Rolfsrud. He still donned a suit and bowtie, and never seemed to sweat. He loved poetry, and so did I. I loved to listen to him read aloud. Each word had importance, and he showed this by the way he spoke, and the way he dressed. When he got to the end of the poem, we knew the girl had died, and that the person writing the poem was not related to the girl, nor romantically involved with the girl, but he loved her all the same.

“Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.”

Some of the boys snickered. Girls coughed. We had no idea of love, not yet. How could we? Yet we were left to consider the impact of one human life on another outside the context of romantic or familial love. I’m not sure I understood then, but the words were crisp and strong and true, so I put them in my heart’s memory to unpack when needed.

And thankfully, and I do mean with thanks, I have unpacked them through the years. It may seem strange to say thankfully here because we know that someone would have had to die for these words to make sense. But what a privilege to love someone. To love someone enough to feel the pain of the loss.

Yesterday, when I saw that he had passed, the tears flowed. I certainly had “no rights in this matter,” but I knew my mother had loved him – she having “no rights in this matter” either. But he was her friend, her brother. I wish there was a different word to use here. Because it feels like more than that. He showed my mother respect and support in a time of her life when she needed it the most. All done with strength, human compassion, and a sense of humor. And in seeing this, still a teenager, I learned the value of respect. The value of human connection. He was a man who loved his wife, and his children, and still could offer love, not romantic, not familial, but love all the same, to the others around him. What an honor to see this, to know this man.

We are given examples of greatness throughout our lives, from poets to teachers, to generals. Often the world gets too closed in with stale air, and we become restless, distracted, but I pray I always find the time, in honor of people like Mr. Rolfsrud and Dr. Hovda, to “speak the words of love.”

(My deepest sympathies to Judy Hovda, David Hovda, and Kari Hovda Schlachter)


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Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.


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Lavender honey

It’s getting harder and harder to know who we can like anymore. “Sure he was a good painter, but a bit of a misogynist.” “He could really write, but he killed so many animals.” “Oh, sure, she can sing, but who did she vote for?” “Oh, I loved that movie, but I can’t watch it anymore, that actor… is that even a religion?”

It’s so much to think about. Can we separate? Do we have to? Is it censorship? Oh, my poor head. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy something. For what it is. So this morning, I opened the jar of lavender honey – made by hard working bees, in a sea of lavender, in an unchanging part of Provence. I spread it generously over my homemade bread. Let it sink into the crevices. Took a deep breath of the lavender, closed my eyes, and slowly took a bite. I let it rest on my tongue and carry me to the waving purple fields. Delicious. Pure. Joy. If I could eat an almost perfect poem, written by an almost perfect author, it would be lavender honey. Good morning, assurance.

I guess, for me it’s more than enough. I wake up with the one I love… and lavender honey too.


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Not disposable.

The radio in our kitchen plays beautiful music, when you turn it off.  It took a minute to understand that it wasn’t broken, just different.  If the light is shining on the small screen, that means it is off. I suppose in the time it took us to figure out this unique quality of our radio, we could have just thrown it away, bought a new one. But it was not disposable. It was a gift from someone we love, and it deserved our attention. Each morning, I put the coffee on the stove, plate the croissants, and turn off the radio. We begin, weird and wonderful, and filled with music.


If each radio is wired differently, just imagine us humans. We learn, live and love in so many diverse and sometimes challenging ways. We respond so differently. But we are not disposable. We can’t just throw people away. We need to take the time to understand what others are hearing, saying, living. With this understanding, this empathy — not sympathy — (I don’t feel sorry for my radio – I think it’s cool!) — we can truly love, and be loved.  And what glorious music that is!  Listen. 


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The good seeds.

Words are like seeds. They all grow. You tell someone something good, and they think about it. They smile. And those seeds are watered. But you must know, the same thing happens when you say something bad. And I’m not sure why, but those seeds, man, do they have the power to grow fast.

You can get yourself so entangled in their stems and leaves and branches, and soon, there you are, just stuck in them. I don’t want you to be be stuck there. I know what they said is hurtful. And it makes me sad…well, truthfully, it makes me angry. And I think maybe you need a little truth now. You need to know that you are really something.

And I’m not going to wasted my time here saying, “Oh, they are just ignorant, or living in fear…” Whatever. What I know for sure is, they are wrong. They are simply wrong.

I know you. I see you. I see your heart. You are beautiful, inside and out. Done. That is the truth. I will never tire of telling you the truth. And I will cut those hurtful words down. I will pull out every weed. You are free. They say the truth will do that, and I guess they are right. You are beautiful. You are bound by nothing. The wonderful thing about good words – the good seeds – you can just let them grow. And on the days that you need a little reminder, there they are – in full bloom. Just like you.