Jodi Hills

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

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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.

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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.

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One moment, please.

It may have been Mark Twain, (some give credit to Charles Dudley Warner) but someone once said, 

“Everybody Talks About the Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It.”

My mother used to operate the switchboard for Alexandria Public Schools. Every winter those phones went crazy. Everyone wanted to talk about the weather! Are the buses going to be late? Why are the buses going to be late? If the buses are going to be an hour late, what time will they come? With the patience of a Nordic saint, my mother answered each call. “One moment please…” And the next call would come in. “What are you going to do about this damn storm?” he asked, not politely. She held her breath. Knowing she had her own damn storm to deal with. This life. I suppose everyone does. And most people don’t do anything about it. But she wanted to. And she did. She went to work every day. Put on her best clothes. Her best smile, sometimes merely painted on, but on none the less. And she worked, not just at this job, but at this life. To make it better for her. To make it better for me. Because she knew it was all just a moment. One moment. And she was going to live it. He shouted again on the phone line. She smiled. She was going to be more than fine. “One moment please…”
Sent from my iPad

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Leap of faith.

It’s easy to put conditions on everything. “If the sun shines today, I’ll be happy.” “If this photo gets a lot of ‘likes’ I’ll be happy.” “If I get this done…” “If she tells me this…” “If he would just…” So many conditions. And I’m guilty of it too. We all want certain things. Need certain things. But what I want to do, what I’m trying to do, is start from a place of happiness. Start from a place of gratitude. Every morning. And then let the conditions fall away. Take away my ifs and just start being. Looking only inwardly. Not comparing my life, but living my life. The only competition should be with oneself. Am I living my best life?

When I visited the Brooklyn school district, I asked each young student what they were good at. They unapologetically told me of their gifts. Not bragging, but claiming their attributes. They were young enough to enjoy the gifts. I remember feeling the same. I was 5 or 6 when I began to paint. When I began to write. Not needing any encouragement. No social media. No pressure. I would go into my bedroom and color. Paint. Draw. Write. It was me. That’s what I cling to. What I believe in. The doing. The being. It’s a good day when I enjoy the process. Get the paint on my hands. Get the words on the page. Forever young enough to enjoy the gifts.

I read to the students my story “Leap of faith.” (The story of me daring to take my first real dive off the high tower.) When I was finished, one young man came up to me, and asked a very intelligent question. “What was that really about?” he asked, knowing it was deeper than just the water. “It’s about daring to be yourself.” I replied. He smiled like he knew. “I can do that,” he said. And he ran off to join his class. I know that he can!

“I don’t know if this is going to be the day that my feet will touch the sky…but I am going to climb that tower, and I am going to be scared and I’m going to be happy, and with the wind in my hair, my heart is going to lead me…and one way or another, I am going to fly!” (from the book, Leap of faith)

I’ll see you up there!


Dress Designer.

We were shopping the City Center Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, my mom and I. The shops were magnificent. Such beautiful things. Could we afford them? No, of course not, but the real question was, could we afford not to look? We were dreamers. We had to see.

We dressed up to go shopping. (I suppose like one used to dress up to be on a plane.) We stopped at the Lillie Rubin store window. Such elegance. We began to enter the store when the longest legged clerk I had ever seen asked if we had an appointment. An appointment? “You need an appointment to enter,” she said, as if words could be an eye roll. My mom, without missing a beat replied, “Are the clothes busy?” I laughed out loud. Long legs turned and walked away. We laughed all the way to Dayton’s.

We had already survived much bigger rejections than a Saturday afternoon store clerk. This would never stop us. Life gives you the opportunity to decide. People can’t hurt you unless you give them the power. City Center is long gone. But we’re still here. Still shopping. Still dreaming. Still looking. Still laughing. Through everything, still deciding to make it a good day.

My mother was a dress designer. Not for Lillie Rubin, but for us. I give thanks for that, every day.


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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You have to dare to give of yourself, as freely

as the gift was given. As freely as this gift said yes to you, you

have to do the same. You have to say, yes, I see!

You have to be bold enough to embrace it, even when others will

tell you it isn’t there. That YOU aren’t there. You have to be bold

enough to say, I have been given a gift. I have been given a life

that is worthy of being seen. I am here. And that is something!” Jodi Hills

Dominique received a wine refrigerator for a gift. It arrived on a pallet. That was a gift for me. I took the pallet apart. No easy task. The extra long nails put up a fight, as I imagine they should – it’s their job. On a rainy afternoon, I separated each piece of wood. I cut the boards into equal lengths. Put them in my handmade square (also made out of scrap wood), nailed them together, and secured them with equal lengths on the back. It was strong. I sanded the new piece, smooth, but still revealing it’s beautiful flaws. It had been through a journey to get here, so why not show that? I gave it a light stain, then began to paint. And she arrived. Slowly, hair, eyes, a comforting smile. She would be my welcome into the studio. She would be my, “Well, we’re open. I’ve been waiting for you.”

You have to claim it.  This is my special place. I want anyone who enters, literally or virtually, to know it. And I need to remind myself of it, every time I pass through that beautiful door to my studio. I have been given a gift. I used to be afraid to say that – like maybe it sounded like I was bragging – but no, it is exactly the opposite. I have been given a GIFT – and what a gift – to be able to do what I love!  This is life! The thing is -we all have – we’ve all been given a gift!  But we do have to claim it. We have to be bold enough to live it – pull at the dirty nails and shape and form and glue and paint! We have to be bold enough to live it. 

So I welcome myself to this day. I welcome you to this day! We are here!!! And that is really something! (Oh, and I almost forgot – there’s also the wine.)

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Truth or dare.

My mom’s sister Karolynn lived in Minneapolis with her three children. It was a distant suburb, but coming from Alexandria (a small town two hours away) it seemed exotic.

My three cousins were just a bit younger, so I was always excited to pass some knowledge on to them, as my older brother did to me. When I went for a visit in the summer of fifth grade, I took the Greyhound bus by myself. I don’t know what year people turned from interesting to dangerous, but this was still a year of interesting bus riders.

I don’t remember ever being inside. We swam in the pool. And the neighbor’s pool. We ran around the house. Rode our bikes to the park. My aunt gave us Lucky Charms for breakfast and bologna sandwiches for lunch. She dropped us off at Valley Fair before opening hours and picked us up after closing. Again, we were lucky enough to run wild amongst the interesting.

I had just learned how to play Truth or Dare. Did they know how? No. Great. I will teach you. One person has to pick a task, either to tell the truth to an agreed upon question, or to perform the task that the others decided you should do. Like what kind of dare? they asked. Oh, nothing scary, none of us wanted that – you know something crazy or funny. Like what? I had something in mind. You know, you could ask me to do something embarrassing. Like what? Like, oh, I don’t know, you could make me go tell your mom that she’s the best aunt in the world… Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?? The truth is, I had wanted to do it, but I just didn’t have the language yet, or the courage. Oh, yes they said, that would be embarrassing – go do that! That was the dare. I acted a bit reluctant, and then ran into the house. My aunt was doing laundry. The others peaked through the back door and listened. “You have to say it really loudly so we can hear,” they said. I ran down the stairs and hugged my aunt’s waist. “You’re the best aunt in the whole wide world!” And I ran up the stairs to my giggling cousins. I could feel her smiling behind me. I dared to love them all.

It’s not always easy to say how we feel. I think I haven’t told people enough. I want to do better. People should know. My aunt should know. My cousins should know — summer days in New Brighton were wonderful. Today, as we all run off in different directions, I hope they can still feel me smiling.

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The memory of snow

The memory of snow.If you are from Minnesota, you will have a memory of snow. Many. I remember bundling. These were not days of Polar fleece. No slim down jackets and pants. No these were days ofbundling. You put on all that you had to keep you warm, and then started to layer with your sibling’s larger clothes, until you almost couldn’t move. You bundled until the sweat started forming on the back of your neck, and the thoughts began to disappear of what you were going to do when you actually got out there.

A fresh snow could mean any sort of building. A fort. A man. Balls. On this day, I began rolling. The bundling made it hard to bend, so I made it bigger and bigger. Big enough that I stood upright to roll. And I rolled. And I rolled. My snowball was huge. It was the largest ever seen on Van Dyke Road. I kept rolling. The Norton girls would be so jealous.I rolled. My brother might notice me. Maybe even talk to me. I rolled. My mittens were wet. My hair was sweaty and freezing under my stocking cap. I rolled. It stood nearly as tall as my ten years. I rolled. Pushed. Grunted. The front yard was almost cleared. Brown grass caught a rare glimpse of the sun. And I rolled. Until I couldn’t. Until there was no snow left to pick up. Until I could push no more.

And there it was. The largest snowball I had ever seen. It was beautiful. White, bright snowball. I loved it. The kids talked about it on the school bus. Neighbors gave the thumbs up as they passed by. It was as large as the rock at the end of my grandparents’ driveway. It marked our house. Our winter. Our youth. My mom took my picture with it that day. And again in March. It was still there. And in June. Still there. Getting smaller, but still reached the top of my hand. The marigolds were coming up in the row that lined the driveway. And it was still there. I posed in front of the orange and gold flowers, in my orange and gold pants set, with one hand on the remaining snowball.

I had built something that lasted. Beyond the norm. Beyond its season. People throughout history have been doing it. In clay, and marble. Building their stories. Without our stories, we are nothing. So we carve, and forge and build and write and paint to tell our stories. To place them at the edge of a town’s road and say, we were here, we are here. Here is the viking-sized evidence of our lives.



When I first arrived in France, and people asked me where I was from (I assume that’s what they were asking) I would say Minnesota… they stared blankly back at me…  Midwest… Nothing… Minneapolis… Oh, race cars… No, that’s Indianapolis, actually I’m originally from Alexandria, Minnesota… The sound of crickets… It’s the birthplace of America (you have to be from Alex to know this), but whatever… 

So it was a grand surprise when cleaning out the closets of my mother-in-law, with my husband, that we found a Minnesota Twins Jersey. Twins! I screamed. No one knew, or even cared. Minnesota Twins – baseball – “We’re gonna win Twins, we’re gonna score!…”  nothing.  Well it’s from Minnesota – like me – it’s just my size – like me, it must be for me.  Meant to be! Imagine that!  A Minnesota Twins Jersey in L’estaque, France.  What are the odds?  Now, I know some will call it fate, kismet, a coincidence, but I think, obviously, there’s a rational explanation for this, and I’ve actually been suspecting it for a long time now —  I’m Cinderella. 

A dream is a wish your heart makes