Jodi Hills

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


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“I’ll take that in mauve.”

I was reminded of a story yesterday. It seems as though I’ve told it so many times, but it was fresh to her — this woman purchasing my original painting of Brittany. Brand new. And as she got more excited to hear, I became more excited to tell. She had saved some of the first cards that I had ever sold, for over twenty years, one being “Mother’s Cloud.”

This particular poem I had written as a birthday gift for my mom. I wrote the words of my heart, and hers. Typeset them artistically. Printed. Framed. And it hung in her dining room. It was Rose Virnig who came into my mother’s dining room, looked at the picture, and said, “I’ll take that in mauve.” (As if I had some stock room filled with many colors.) I looked at my mom, and asked, without moving my lips, “Can I actually sell your birthday present?” Her response, in these exact words, “Take the money, Pea Brain.” It still makes me laugh these decades later.

It’s always been personal. Every sale. Every card. Every magnet. Every book. It’s my story. And yesterday, as I was sharing with this new customer (connection sounds better) some of the stories, they weren’t just fresh for her, they were fresh for me. And I shared them again with my mother, and they were fresh for her. Our stories are as real, as new, as powerful, as we allow them to be. They can transport us in time and space, and heart. They keep us living. They keep us alive.

The conversation with my mother switched from art to shopping, (as it often does.) What was the name of that store? The one where I bought that outfit? With shoulder pads? Oh, I got so many compliments on that outfit. You know the store – at Ridgedale – all the jewelry in front…It starts with a G. My brain kicked in after we ended the conversation and I had to call back immediately. It was Gantos. Oh, yes! Gantos. And we were young and in a dressing room in Minnetonka.

I will finish packing up the original painting today and send it off to California. It will carry with it a bit of France, a bit of my mother, a bit of Minnesota, a great deal of my heart. And it will gather in her stories, of why she saved the cards that she bought in Omaha. Why they gave her the courage to move to California. Why she bought the new painting. And the story will grow. Continue. Connecting us all.

As I look out the morning window, everything seems fresh, brand new, with just a hint of mauve.


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A part of the story.

First I sanded it. Then cut it. Then sanded it again. It smelled brand new, this wood — this wood that he gave to me from the scrap pile. I squared it. Nailed it. Then stretched the material over this frame. I gessoed the canvas, and gessoed it again. And then I began to paint. I was invested long before the image came out. Long before the yellows and greens. Before the dimension rose from the surface. It was a part of me. A part of him. A part of the field of overgrown weeds, on the side of the mountain. A part of the story.

I was reading the reviews to the last book I read — a book that I adored. I wanted to be a part of the group – a part of the people talking about the experience. Most of the reviews were positive, but there was one that I just couldn’t believe. Now, I know that everyone doesn’t like the same thing, and that’s fine, but this negative review was so ridiculous in its reasoning. It said,(surrounded by a lot of other unflattering words) “it was just a bunch of stories.” What??? I still can’t believe it. Yes, it was, as you say, a bunch of stories. It was a grouping of beautiful stories. A gathering of lives. Because isn’t that all we are – a gathering of stories? Those we have lived through. Shared. The stories that trigger your memory. The stories that help you get through your own story. Gather you into mine. The stories that make a path. Guide you into the future. Comfort you in the darkness. Laugh with you in the light. These are our lives. All of these stories. And to me, that is beautiful!

These stories of my mother, my grandparents, my schoolmates and friends, these are the piles of scattered wood that, when treated with care, take on new form, new life. I know this painting of the lemons won’t last forever. But I’d like to think that one day, after it hangs in one home, then another, maybe it gets painted over, and hung again, or maybe restretched with a new canvas, maybe the wood frames a different painting, or braces a different structure, maybe eventually it burns in the fireplace, and comforts you as you share your story with the one you love.

Life…it’s never just a lemon. Share your story.


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The poet.

The poet.A cow hung from the tree outside my grandparents’ window. It swayed without skin. Raw. I knew how this must feel. To be without skin. My mother told her parents that my father had left.

They say when you lose one of your senses, the others become stronger. It was not one of the five, but I had lost my sense of comfort, and all the others were working in overdrive. I could hear the flies buzzing, the tears falling. The gray clouds were palpable. The slightly forever over-cooked pans on my grandma’s stove wafted in the thick air. I stared at the cow. I stared at my grandfather. Back and forth, as if to ask if this was my mother’s fate. My grandfather said very little, ever. So when he did, you listened. “No,” he said, “this will not break your mother.” He found the words. The ones I needed.

Today we are living without hugs. Without touching. Displays of comfort hover somewhere in between six feet of social distancing. We need to find the words to take their place. We need to find the words that hold and gather. The words that offer the “there, there.” The words that fall into each other’s arms with laughter. The words that smile and hold and forgive and offer hope. We have the words. Let’s use them.

Adrienne Rich writes, “It is always what is under pressure in us, especially under pressure of concealment–that explodes in poetry.”

Let yourself explode today – offer the words of kindness and strength. You are the poet. Find the words.