Jodi Hills

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


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Love called her name.

I arrived in Marseille yesterday afternoon. Somehow my heart was moving my feet, without any assistance from my brain. The one-way doors to the public area were just past the luggage carousels. The people in front of me, clearly had no luggage, and started to walk through. From a distance, I could see Dominique in his red cashmere sweater (the one I gave him for his birthday). My heart ran through the “no re-entry doors” – straight to his arms. We hugged for the forever that we have promised, and then he said, “Did you get your luggage?”

There is a joke, I don’t quite remember, about “renouncing all of your material goods at the airport,” and clearly, I had done just that. We had to search two floors of the airport for security guards to get us back in. And we did. I got my luggage, but not before my heart got what it needed most.

I suppose some might think – “Well, that’s embarrassing” – but I’m thankful, thankful for a love that rules over everything. I hope on this day of thanks, and every day, we can all say the same.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.


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Possibility

I was thrilled when I heard that all the girls had to take shop class — thrilled, that is, until I learned that it wasn’t going to be at the mall, but in the lower level of Central Junior High, with the saws, sanders, wood, and the three-fingered instructor.

Looking back, it was quite progressive. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky we were. Everyone took everything – no question of gender. We had the funds, not only for these courses — woods, plastics, metals, drafting, cooking, sewing — but we also had band and choir and gym and swimming! Exposing us to a world beyond the brick walls. (Even beyond the mall.)

I suppose it was the smell that I first fell in love with – the smell of cut wood. It had the air of possibility. Week by week our projects progressed. “It has to be flush,” he said. So we sanded again and again. We built small bookshelves. Carrying it home on the bus, was one of my proudest days. It trophies in my hands and lap. The younger kids brushed their hands along the wood, to see if what I was telling them was true, that we had spun the wood like magic into these silky smooth creations. I have been in love with wood ever since.

Yesterday, a friend of ours drove two hours from the mountains to our house. He handed me a stack of wood. Freshly cut. Freshly sanded. Spun magic. I placed them on the work bench, like the trophies they were. I asked Dominique later in the evening, what else was he doing in town. Nothing. He had driven four hours just to give me this gift. My seemingly full heart swelled a bit more. I brushed my hands along the wood to see if what he was telling me was true. It was. We have the magic of such a friend. On a day, perhaps when I needed it most, I was given the air of possibility.


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Down a gravel road.

There was a simplicity to friendship, growing up on a gravel road. An afternoon could be filled with one stone and a one mile walk to town. Out of the driveway a mere few steps, I would begin kicking a stone down the road. Small kicks at first. Just in front of me. Then maybe a little harder as confidence increased. Avoiding the ditches. Making bargains with the stone itself — if I make it to Lee’s house without losing the stone, then this will happen, or if I make it to the Lake, for sure this — or maybe even to town, then I could really choose my fate. 

On the best of these days, I would hear running footsteps behind me. A neighbor. Maybe a Norton. A Holte. But always friendly steps. And without question, they would begin helping me kick the stone down the road. They never asked where we were going, or for how long. They never asked why. Just walked beside me. 

To have that clarity is a pure gift. If you have that now, and I can joyfully say that I do, then you have more than a friend, more than even family — perhaps we need a new word for these people — these glorious humans that will just help you get your stone down the road. 

My shoes are dusty. There are no more bargains to be made. Only the journey. The beautiful journey of this gravel road. And I give thanks every day, that I, we, don’t have to make it alone.


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Hand in hand.

I wave to it every day – the Sainte Victoire montagne. Even on the days when the clouds are low, making the mountain almost disappear (which is very rare), I offer my best parade salute, because I know it hasn’t gone anywhere. It is sure, and steady. Beautiful, whether I see it or not.

When I was in the third grade, in the days when an 8 year old could walk unaccompanied through the streets of a small town, we began what we called “Wednesday school.” For those who wanted, you could take the hour or two to walk to your church for religious studies. The church we attended did not offer a class, and wasn’t in town, so I was told I could walk to First Lutheran. I had never been there before. The group of girls that knew the way took off running down the street. I had to go to the bathroom. I was sure I could catch up. But when I opened the front door of Washington Elementary, they were gone. Never was the speed of youth so prevalent. I started walking. I got to Broadway. Looked left. No one. Looked right – only Big Ole, the statue that claimed America’s birthright. I crossed the street. It’s funny how my heart began to beat faster, but my feet were moving slower. I turned left. Then maybe right. Sweating. No longer moving in one direction or the other, only spinning. I called out to no one. And that’s who answered. I bent down to grab my knees. I pretended to be tying my shoelaces, but really it was the only way I knew to give myself a hug. I breathed in the slowness and certainty of the path that got me here, and I started walking back. There was Broadway. There was Big Ole. Still there. My heart started to calm. I crossed the street and opened the big wooden doors. Walked up the terrazzo stairs to my classroom. The door was closed. Gerald Reed was sitting alone beside the door. I waved, and smiled at his familiar face. I sat down beside him. Neither one of us asked why we were there. Our hands were right beside each other on the floor. I don’t know if he took mine, or I took his, but we sat quietly, together, hand in hand, until the others returned. Acceptance, without question. We had received maybe the best lesson after all.

I don’t know what today will bring, but I wake and wave joyfully at all that is seen and unseen, because I still believe in the beauty, the goodness that rests just within reach.


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Took comfort.

“This is the new normal,” they say. If that’s the case, then for the past decade, (possibly my whole life) I have been racing through normals at record speed.

Each day I do my French lesson. Each day new scenarios arise. Like trying to learn the difference between who and what (qui and que). Sounds basic, right? Sounds simple. But the who and the what jump from sentence to sentence, so I ask for the rule? Most of the time the answer is you just have to accept it – this randomness – and memorize it. Aaaaah, accepting, like that ever comes easy…

I used to sell my work at an annual event held by The Hazelden Treatment centers. I do not happen to struggle with addiction, but as they read through my work, it was easy to see that the “what” could be anything, at any time, and the “who” certainly was all of us. I guess it all comes down to life. To living. And I take comfort in the pure randomness that surrounds me, accepting that no one escapes, knowing that it could happen to anyone, at any time…pain, happiness, confusion, even love.

They say a prayer that I’m certain most people know. I know it. But sometimes knowing it isn’t enough. I have to know it, and accept it. And as I type the word accept, I understand, it is a word of freedom, not unlike forgiveness (and I’ve struggled with that one too). Accepting, as I see it in this new light is a release, a letting go, not a giving up, or giving in, not bending over, but learning to fly. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

I finish my French lesson for the day. Instead of shaking my fist at this language, I am going to keep flapping my wings, taking comfort, joy, in this beautiful random of blue.


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The new math.

She started us off with the times tables. Each day Mrs. Bergstrom would hand out a new sheet. The ones and twos were easy. Then they got a little harder. Threes and fours and up the multiplication ladder. This times this. Over and over. We learned them all. We could feel ourselves growing. Taller in our wooden chairs with each number, multiplied again and again. And just as our spines straightened, she let us have it! Right between our confident hands. Division. If we hadn’t already learned it on the playground, here was proof positive that everything was divisible. 

We started off slow, but then came brackets and points. New math. Always new math. Our erasers shrank as our brains tried to grow. And with each change it became more clear — there would never be just one way to do things. 

I bought an empty frame at Emmaüs (our version of Goodwill). I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew it would be something. I looked through my completed paintings. Nothing quite fit. The standard route of painting a picture, then framing it, was not going to be possible. I had to come at it from the opposite way. I needed to paint something to fit the frame. 

It doesn’t exist anymore, this “north end” as we called it. The wild untouched land at the end of Van Dyke Road. I have no photographs, but for the ones in my heart’s memory — this strange mix of fear and possibility. I tiptoed down the gravel road in trepid tennis shoes. Everything was divisible, and when I did, divide fear with possibility, I always came up with this, an adventure, a life. 

I painted my north end. A combination of Minnesota and France. And it fit beautifully into my frame. Into my life. This times this. This divided by that – I am, and always will be, whole.


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Always with you.

I’m currently reading the third book in the Beartown series by Fredrick Backman — The Winners. All are set in Sweden, but easily could be any town, could be my town. Perched against my Alexandria Girls Hockey t-shirt (the one I bought this trip at Endless Treasures for $3.00) as I read, it IS my hometown.

Their collective identity is based upon the local hockey club. Some fit in. Some try to fit in. Others don’t fit in at all. All with their own struggles – trying to stay in, trying to get it, trying to figure out why they don’t even see the door.

I played on several teams in school. I liked sports. The activity. But maybe most of all, I wanted to wear the red and black. Not to stand out, but to blend into the sea of the town’s colors. To be accepted. Buoyed. To be identified as part of the team.

Because every town needs to label you with something… I could hear it, we all could hear it – whispers of divorce, trouble, “broken” — and I suppose that’s the one that disturbed me the most – this broken. How dare anyone decide how your home is standing. My home wasn’t broken. It changed, of course, but it stood, and I, we, deserved to wear the colors. So I put them on for volleyball, for basketball, for track. I wore them, fragile, scared, and hopeful. Hopeful that one day, I could call this, not just my home, but my hometown, all of it.

Wearing my Cardinal t-shirt in the south of France, that day has come. Not because “they” chose, but because I did. I claim the streets, paved and graveled. The houses grand and small. The neighbors on porches, waving from car windows. All trying their best, sometimes failing, sometimes winning, bobbing up and down in lakes of red and black. I remember everything. And while the struggles were often real, the treasures are indeed endless.


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First Class.

On the flight home, from Minneapolis to Paris, we were bumped up to First Class. It was glorious. Of course there was champagne. White table cloths. Bigger televisions. Warm towels. And that was nice, for sure, but really, and we both agreed, the glorious part was being able to lie down. To let out that sigh, that sigh of relief, that letting go of airport stress, lonesome hearts, and weary bodies. Not to be crushed or crammed, but to exhale and just be long. 

It occurred to me as I was typing — to belong, is really just that — to be long. I consider myself blessed to have this. With my husband. My mother. And a few close friends. This ability to stretch out my heart, lying in complete comfort, complete rest, knowing it will be safe on this journey. There is nothing more luxurious than this.

So in the exhale of morning, I give thanks for these people — you who bump me to first class, every day. 

(This is where the bell dings and we prepare for take-off. The sun shines “welcome aboard.”)