Jodi Hills

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


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Daring greatly.

It seemed easy to make friends in school. They sat you next to about 30 options. Gave you subjects to talk about. Offered common enemies like rules and detention. Supplied the games and gyms. Put you in pools and on buses, all together.

And that was enough for most. But it seemed like there should be more. “Wasn’t there more to it? Wasn’t it all supposed to mean something?” I asked my best friend in my yellow bedroom on Van Dyke Road. Cindy thought about it. I mean, she didn’t laugh, but really thought about it, and I suppose that’s why we were friends. We understood each other. Even in our preteens, we sought more than they could possibly offer at Washington Elementary, or even Central Junior High.

We both agreed that there had to be more. But how did you get it? That was the bigger question. I searched for years. I can’t tell you the exact moment. They came in whispers. Small bits. I wrote words for my mother. And we connected deeply. A poem for my grandfather’s funeral. And I was a part of a family. I began to expose my heart. I suppose I stopped looking for what could be offered to me, and began to offer what I had. And it was bigger! Better! It meant something! It meant all and more than I had dreamed of in shades of yellow. This is how I would connect. How I still connect.

He said I could pick out anything from his wood pile. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but for me it was priceless. A way for us to connect. And I had a long way to travel to catch up to this life-long friend of my husband. He helped me load the back of our car.

I cut the first strips of wood to stretch the canvas. No plans yet of what to paint, that would come. It always does if I just give it a path. I gessoed the canvas. And began in blue. The sea and sky and sand opened before me. The boats and nets and the fishermen — all daring greatly.

I searched my newly attained wood pile for the longest, straightest pieces. Sanded each length. And sanded again. And again. I cut them to length. Nailed them with the rusted hammer — once belonging to my husband’s father. Squared. Stained. Sanded again. Cut the strips for the backing. Placed the painting inside. It should also be mentioned that Michel, the man who let me pick freely from his pile of wood, was, for the majority of his life, a fisherman. A fisherman, I pause and smile. The blank canvas knew, perhaps even before I did. And this is how we connect. Connect our hearts. Our stories. By doing the work.

There is more. There is always more. But it won’t be given. We will have to search and throw our nets out to sea, continuously doing the work, ever daring greatly.


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A place for us.

Before my mother became the voice of Independant School District #206, she worked at 3M. I was pretty young. I have no idea what she did. She brought me to the office one day after school. It was huge. I saw rows of desks. Some men in polyester suits and wide ties. Women with phones attached to their heads. One man with hair greased smooth, bent down, reached out his hand and tossled my hair. I didn’t like it. I didn’t know him. His smile was too toothy. “We invented this here,” he proudly held out the famous yellow sticky note pad. “You can write all your notes on it,” he said, still grinning. So far, I had nothing to keep track of, nothing but the hem of my mother’s skirt.

I had to go to the bathroom. We walked through the kitchen. I could smell the coffee in continuous brew. I imagined it took a lot of coffee to keep those faces in constant grin. A woman was bending near a giant machine. It had a glass cover, displaying food items. She pulled a long silver handle, and the tin can made a thud. I’m not sure I could read yet, but I saw the picture on the can. It was spaghetti. Spaghetti in a can. Now this was something! It was ready? Immediately? I couldn’t believe my eyes! What an invention!

I begged and pleaded. I had to have a can of spaghetti. I must. It’s right there! Please! Please! I wasn’t one to really beg for things. And she was at work. No need for a scene. “But you’re not going to like it,” she said. I disagreed. Oh yes, I would love it! I returned from the bathroom to find my mother with a can at a table. I beamed. I beamed as I flipped the top open. I beamed as I inserted the plastic spoon. And then I stopped beaming. It was horrible. I didn’t want her to have to come here, every day. I didn’t know what “better for her” was, but I know I wanted it.

She worked at the clinic for a short time after this. And then the dream job — Alexandria Public Schools. Some kids would always ask me, “You like having your mother at the school? Right there with you???” And I did. I really did. I was proud of her. And with all due respect to Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, I was so happy that she found her place – her place to shine. And each time I walked past the large plate windows of the Superintendent’s office, on my way to gym, or band or choir, she would wave and smile. I waved back, and yes, I beamed! We joyfully kept “track of each other.” Always have. Always will.


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Another rock on the trailer.

I have told the story before — picking rocks in the field with my grandfather on his farm, but sometimes, I, maybe we, need to hear it again, and again. The following is an excerpt from “Something will grow from all this”:

“Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference. That’s how he could take such a mess and later make something grow out of it. The black that surrounded us would turn to green and gold. It amazed me and I wanted to be a part of it. It was hard, but that was ok. I did want to stay. My lip stopped quivering and I placed another rock on the trailer.”

There are so many challenges. It’s easy to get angry. And that’s ok if it thrusts us into doing the work, but that’s where we always need to get to – the place of doing the work. I have thrown my share of rocks with anger, but I want to move them now – move them with purpose. Make a difference. Make something grow. Just like my grandfather. 

The sun is coming up. It is not the beginning, it is not the end, it is the time to do the glorious and sometimes unglamorous work. I give thanks for the opportunity, smile, and place another rock on the trailer.



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The garden.

The yard will need a lot of work when we get home. Living in an apartment for years, I never really knew what it took to keep up a yard, a garden. There is digging and moving and poking and nourishing and raking and watering, and mowing. It takes sweat and time and faith. And then it’s calm. The peace of the green grass under a blue sky. Serenaded by the birds. Calm. Home. 

I suppose that’s what we all want. I thought that’s what we all wanted. Peace. And yet, here we are again — war. As if we’ve learned nothing. And I’m at a loss for what to write. What to paint. Does it make a difference? Does it make a difference if we post the pictures of those suffering, scared, fleeing? And it’s so easy to say “look how wrong they are” and then fight with our neighbors about masks and politics. We have to do better. We know better – don’t we? Please, let us know better. 

Spring is on the way. A most glorious time of year. Beauty at every turn. But it expects things from us. It expects us to participate in all this glory. We have to participate. Be sowers of green. Of peace. We have to do the work. With our hands and our hearts. And we can’t give up. We know after each winter, there will be work to be done. And so it is with peace — constant work to be done. I don’t have the answers, but I have hope, and hands and a heart, and I’m going to keep trying. For calm. For home. For us. For all. Peace.


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Nothing wasted.


“Inspire” is a tricky word. I think a lot of people want someone or something to inspire them. They want the “other” to do the work. But I’m not sure that can really ever happen. You have to want to be inspired. The receiver has to do the work. For example: living here in France, I can say that I receive a lot of inspiration from the Sainte Victoire mountain. Now, this giant rock isn’t really doing anything. It sits there. But if I watch it – watch it change colors in the different light, watch it turn black and gray under a cloud, turn so white that it’s almost lavender in the summer sun – if I do this, really see it then I am inspired. If I climb up its steep and rocky slope, breathe from my belly to my toes, rubber my legs, pump my arms, reach the summit, then really let it take my breath away – then I am inspired! If I paint it. Photograph it. Wave at it as we drive by – I receive all that it has to give. Inspiration is in the work of the receiver.


Cezanne painted the mountain countless times. He painted a simple apple again and again. He created his own inspiration. Some might look at my sketch book and ask, Why are you painting so many apples? Paint something different. But you see, I am. Every apple IS different. Every apple is unique in its shape and color. But you have to want to see it. And I do want to see it. I want to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I want to find the inspiration in everything – every day. It is on me to find it. Feel it. Use it. Enjoy it.


Today’s yellow sun jumps from the sky into my hands and onto the page. Nothing wasted.


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Opportunity

Opportunity.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

I knew my parents went to “jobs,” but my first real lesson in work came from my grandfather. My mother dropped me off at the farm in the morning. It was a day that my grandfather was going to pick rock. (clear the fields of the big rocks so it could be prepared for planting). I told him I wanted to go with him. At first he said no, it was too hard, but my quivering lip made him give in and off we went. He told me that he couldn’t “glamorize the dirt” – it was dirt, and the rocks were heavy, but all you had to do was pick up a rock and place it on the trailer. That made sense. Seemed easy enough.

Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference. That’s how he could take such a mess and later make something grow out of it. He seemed to be grateful for all of it. The black that surrounded us would turn to green and gold. It amazed me and I wanted to be a part of it. It was hard, but that was ok. I kept picking.

People often ask me how to start their own art business. Like there is some magical solution. The simple answer is – you do the work. You have to pick the rock. You paint. You paint over again. You dig through the scrap pile and find your wood. You stretch your canvas. You study. You feel. You paint. You do it because you have to – you want to – you need to – and that is when you have something green that grows, something gold that shines. You make the work. In between all of that you study the masters. You improve from your mistakes. And you learn all of the other lessons of marketing and selling and collecting. There is work. And it’s not all glamorous, but it is wonderful!

I guess it’s true for any profession, and not only that, just for living. You have to do the work. You have to do the work just to get through the challenging days.

My mother, just like her father, is still teaching me. She picks the rocks of her cancered field every day. When she goes to the hospital, she puts on (not her overalls) but her best dress, her most joyful outfit, and she radiates in the hospital waiting room that illness seems to cover in gray. She is grateful for each day. She is green. She is golden.

There is work to be done. Every day. I tell you now, as I tell myself, “Clear the fields. The opportunity is here! Please don’t miss it.”