Jodi Hills

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


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Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Recent and frequent tears have not made my heart, nor mind, any less wide-eyed. I jerked my head around to see the horses. The horses clopping behind me on the path. Gathering speed. Louder. The horses I knew would be there. I stopped. Looked. The clip-clop continued in my ear buds. The path behind me was empty.

I was listening to the Paris Review. They were playing a short story about a man visiting a town. All were on horseback. The reality of their podcasts is unprecedented. I don’t know how they produce it, but the sounds they create are alive. Separate from the narrator, the horses approached. The sound got nearer. So real. So magical. I could feel the breath of them behind me.

Further down the path, when the horses returned, the character’s departure, the clip-clip continued. This time, it wasn’t so startling, but more comforting. I liked thinking of them by me. Behind me. Walking with me. And I was no longer afraid, but comforted. I continued down the path, deep inside the magic.

I passed by my mother’s picture as I first went out the door for this particular walk. I had just been working on my computer, and I had this thought — What happened to her email? Where did they go now? The reminders from Sundance catalog — this turquoise coat that she would love. What happened to all the emails we had exchanged. Promises. Love. Were they still hovering? If I sent one now – to her address – her address that carried my birthday numbers — where would it go? Could she see it?

I stepped onto the path and hit play. Trying to drown out the typing in my head, when the horses startled me. They were so alive. The presentation so real. My heart was so willing to believe in them that fear turned into comfort.

I’m typing the words now. My cheeks still rosy, more from magic than from the cool winter air. Each word is filled with love. Filled with chance. Filled with a comforting joy that walks beside me. Magic that I don’t need to understand, that I just believe. Unconditionally. My mother is with me. Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Wide-eyed. I hit send.


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I am here.

In the fifth grade team room of Miss Green, Mr. Andert, and Mrs. Pohlman, we were allowed to begin. And I mean begin anything. Without plans. Without direction. Without fear. 

The janitor’s closet was directly across from our classroom. During a rainy day recess, Wendy Shoeneck, Lori Patri, Barb Duray and I used it as our office. Amid the smell of disinfectant and the wet mop in the bucket, we came up with the idea of putting on a play for our classmates. We had no reason to believe we would be good at it. We had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be… so we continued. We had no script. No decisions were made other than to just do it. 

We flung the door open and told Miss Green of our plans. I don’t remember asking, maybe we did, I hope we did, nonetheless, she said sure, and when the class convened after recess, we began. We drifted between themes of don’t use drugs, be nice to everyone, some school bus songs…I remember jumping and waving, and soon the whole class was singing. It maybe lasted 5 minutes. But you don’t need a long time to get a real taste of freedom, a real taste of joy.  

We were rangled back to our desks and the day continued with books and structure. But the afternoon smiles never left our faces.  

I had been shy for my first four grades. Some said painfully — I had never seen it as pain. When they mentioned it on my report cards, my mother always told them, “When she has something to say, she’ll say it.”  My mother never lied to me, so I believed her, and lived in my quiet world pain free. She was right, and it happened for me in fifth grade. Maybe it was due to the open team room. Maybe it was because of the open teachers. The safety of friends. Or maybe it was just my time. But I give thanks for it all. I never turned back after that. 

I have no real plan for the day. I have no reason to believe it won’t be good. I fling open the door — here I am — powered by the freedom to live my joy.


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For the green.

I grew up thinking they were all green. My grandparents had apple trees. So many apples. Bushels and baskets filled. We would pick and climb. Using the stick with the jagged bag, getting the highest ones. The ground splattered with those that just couldn’t hang on anymore. The cows filled. Our bellies as well.  

We never had to buy apples. Every green summer visit to the farm, we went home with brown paper bags filled. Marked by the sweetest to the most sour. My mom loved the sour ones. I suppose one would say tart, but my youthful palette could only think of sour. I always reached for the sweet.

You can imagine my surprise when I went through the school lunch line for the first time. Plastic tray in my chubby hands. I sidestepped single-file with all of my classmates. The lunch lady put the plate filled with something resembling meat and potatoes on my tray. Sidestep. A small carton of milk. Sidestep again. She placed it on my tray — a red apple. Red? Why was it red? Apples were green. Weren’t they green? I looked around to view what I imagined would have been a collective shock, but no one else was surprised. 

What I love about my youthful heart, it didn’t feel bad. It stayed quiet, but happy. I smiled, filled with my special knowledge.

It was Autumn. I helped my grandma pick the remaining apples from the tree. Not many. Just a few held on to summer. The basket wasn’t heavy, but we carried it together. Each grasping a wire handle. Stride for stride. I knew this was something special. For the green. For the grandma.  

“They come in red too, you know,” I said as we walked to the house. “Yes,” she smiled. “I like that we have green,” I said. She nodded, “Me too.” We moved through the grass as one. It was, we were, something special. I keep holding on.


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All suitcases roll beautifully when empty.


It really came down to the color. They all seemed to roll beautifully — these new suitcases in the store. I tested many. Each one. Each brand. All glided across the polished floor. I picked one, sure that my next trip would be so much easier.

I removed the tags. Filled it. Full. Struggled over the rug. Through the door. Down the stairs. Hallway. Trunk. Airport. It didn’t seem all that easy. I labored with the weight. 

What seems so incredibly obvious, has taken me decades to learn. And maybe I should say understand, because to be honest, I’m still learning it. I still struggle with, “But I need it…I can’t leave it behind…”  Even more importantly, I need to learn it – for my head, my heart. How glorious it would be to roll around this world, unburdened by the weight of it all. All those conversations playing over and over in my head. The weight of worry and what ifs. The weight of well, they should have, and why can’t they…  and why didn’t I…  I’m learning to lighten the load. I don’t want to be crushed by this passage of time. Day by day. I want to let go, and enjoy the journey. 

It’s all kind of funny, when you think about it — this baggage. We have the power to choose. It can’t follow us on its own. It has to be dragged. I smile at this morning’s sun…empty handed.


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Carry it with you.

The first time Dominique came to Minneapolis, it was summer. Welcome breezes waved through our clothes as 90 degrees reflected off the Mississippi River.  Exposed arms and hands brushed and held. We dined al fresco. And stole kisses in the never ending light. We moved easily from house to car to dry sidewalks and green grass. The tumble of August, said, “Go ahead, “fall in love!”  And we did!

The second time he came to Minneapolis it was 40 below zero. Our breath was the only thing dancing in the air, inside the car…and this is when I knew he really, really, really loved me.  

Helen Keller was quoted, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” I believe it. And so it is with my Minneapolis. My mother. My husband. My friends. Every beautiful moment, love’s eternal warm breezes, flowing within my heart — deeply. I keep tumbling.


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Off to a different deck

My mom was dizzy for most of her life. An imbalance in her inner ear. We had only been on the cruise ship for a short time when it began — a tumbling in my brain that went directly to my stomach. An inner violence I had never felt before. I spent the first day hugging porcelain.  My mom seemed fine. I couldn’t believe it. How was she doing it? “Oh, I always feel like this,” she said, shrugging it off. And she went in search of the captain, humming the theme song to The Love Boat. 

I got a couple of shots from the ship’s doctor, easing the symptoms and allowing me to navigate while on the ship. The only problem was, it seemed to be overcompensating, and walking on land was a struggle. So this is what they meant by a drunken sailor?  It lasted even after returning home. The long hallway in my apartment building proved very challenging, and for nearly a week, I serpentined my way from the garage to my door.  Once again, I marveled at the silent strength of my mother, and kept walking.

Yesterday, I went out for my normal afternoon walk.  A quarter of the way through, my left earbud stopped working. It didn’t make sense to turn back, so I continued on. But it felt so strange. I couldn’t seem to adjust. I felt partial. Incomplete. Off balance. I kept walking. In search of my other voice. I only mention it because it occurred to me, this is what it’s like to lose someone you love. The world hasn’t changed, but your way of navigating through it is completely different. But you keep walking. The sun still shines. The trees are lovely. The ground is solid. The birds are humming. I see my mother skipping off to a different deck.

I was given the strength long ago. Now is the time to use it.


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The V in my voilà!

I suppose there’s an art to everything, and a Google page to go along with it. I was watching a video on how to create a better product photograph. I was intrigued because he said you could create beautiful photos without spending a lot of money on professional cameras, lighting, backdrops, etc. The key was to create texture and depth. I know there are apps to make everything. Dump your product onto the screen and voilà! But true to form, I wanted to be the depth in my photo – the v in my voilà!

I had just finished making the side table/foot stool out of a stump in our yard. Never had I sanded so much. Sanded and sanded. Until I was not just touching the wood, it was touching me. Then I stained it. Got the hand truck and hauled it into our library. Now for the backdrop. “You’ll be surprised to know,” he said on the video, “you already have one of the best backdrops, and it’s in your kitchen.” A baking sheet. A used one of course. And this I had. With the life of every croissant, cookie and loaf of bread that I had baked. I used paper to reflect the natural sunlight coming through the French doors. And, well, voilà!

I write about daring to embrace the beauty of all the imperfect lives around you, what better way to display it? Today, if you’re taking a photo, or just glancing in the mirror, don’t forget to see the the beauty in the imperfections — don’t forget to be your own V!


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Sofly, gently, joyfully.

My mother loved to dance. And she had the gams to prove it. Every Saturday night at the Glenwood Ballroom, her size 10’s glided across the polished wooden floor. Her heart knew the word to every song and easily instructed her feet.

She taught me how to do the same in our kitchen. Rugs kicked aside. Music turned high. She would always lead. I’d watch her eyes. Feel for the ever so slight movement of her hand against mine. And soon we were in the living room. Down the hall. Spinning. Through the bedroom. Back in the kitchen. Never pushed. Always led. With movements so graceful. So subtle. There wasn’t a difference between my hand in hers, or when I let go. I see now that that was the true gift. The ever gift.

There is no difference between the two pictures I have posted. Different times. Different countries. Sure. But for me, in both, I am being led, softly, gently, joyfully, oh so joyfully in the dance.


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Before the doing.

The scariest part of doing something, anything really, is always before the doing. Once you are doing it, you’re doing it! Time, energy, thought, are all put toward the action itself.

I love to paint dancers. For me, they symbolize the transition from complete vulnerability to pure beauty. Now, I suppose that can be said about every form of artistry — singing, painting, acting, playing — and perhaps the most artistic (and surely most vulnerable act of all) — to love. And it is easy to see the beauty of those in mid dance, of the completed painting, the lovers in love, but what I want to capture is the beauty of the pre-dance. The beauty in the vulnerability. The bravery, just before you let yourself go. Because I think if we allow ourselves to see that this too is beautiful, we won’t be so afraid of it. We won’t get stopped before we even begin.

And so I paint the dancers, pre-dance. A gift I want to give to all of the little boys and girls that dance around the world, and the one that still fumbles around in my heart.

Be brave, you dancers, and painters, you musicians and builders, you teachers and lovers. Let’s be beautiful! Let’s dare the daily dance!


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Being wren.

I always find it surprising when people are shocked by “celebrities” passing. (Not to mention being shocked by who people think ARE celebrities.)

The eagle and the wren are living in the same sky. I don’t imagine one envies the other. “Look at how big and strong they are. They could survive anything. They are so lucky!” “Look at how quick and small they are! They could flee or hide from any situation. They are so lucky!” It sounds funny to imagine. But we do the same thing every day, with people. Full of envy for their situation. |Boy, if I had their money, I’d be happy.” “If I had their job, I’d be happy.” “Their life must be so easy!” So in want of their eagleness, we forget the joy of being wren.

Of course I’ve been guilty of it all. And it’s not out of great humility that I say I want to enjoy the small things. No, just the opposite. I don’t want anything to seem small. Because it isn’t really. The little things of every day turn out to be what matters most of all. We are all under the same sky, trying to have a good day. What could be more important than that? Who could be more special than the people we love?

As I flit and flutter through the coming day, I only ask for the wisdom to see it — the beauty within wing’s reach.