Jodi Hills

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


Super Chickens


We have four chickens. I love them all equally. I think they produce eggs fairly equally, even though Dorothy may have slowed down a little. Dorothy is the oldest. Yes, I named them. Dorothy Parker, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlie Parker and Tony Parker. They are the Parkers. They live behind our house. They have a large fenced in area just for them, but Sarah Jessica has learned how to let herself in and out. I knew she was smart. After listening to a podcast on TedTalks this morning, they may all be even smarter than I think. Here’s a bit of it:

An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University named William Muir studied chickens. He was interested in productivity — I think it’s something that concerns all of us — but it’s easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.

Now, as I’ve gone around the world talking about this and telling this story in all sorts of organizations and companies, people have seen the relevance almost instantly, and they come up and they say things to me like, “That superflock, that’s my company.” Or, “That’s my country.” Or, “That’s my life.”

Turns out, that chickens aren’t so different from us humans. We are taught over and over that we have to compete with everyone. We are shown, by so many, more than ever now it seems, in order to be successful we have to put someone else down. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.

The speaker, Margaret Heffernan, goes on to say, “I realized how much more we could give each other if we just stopped trying to be superchickens… and there’s a lot at stake now, and we won’t solve our problems if we expect it to be solved by a few supermen or superwomen. Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure.”

We have so much to learn from each other. This is why I write. Why I paint. I want to find the best in people. Possibly even myself. I know what brilliance surrounds me, in my family, my friends, my community, my chickens. We do all have value. And what if we saw that? What if we brought that out in each other? Amazing. Some might even say super!


At least have a cookie.

So the other day I was making cookies… I will pause here for that to sink in… If you have known me for years, you would understand that is not something I would have said regularly – or ever. Until moving to France, I had never made cookies. Well, at home I mean. In school, we had Home-Economics. I believe my kitchen-mate was Ellen Patrick the day we made cookies and she set the potholders on fire. It’s hard to top that. In France, however, I decided that I wasn’t going to say, oh, I never do that… instead, I was going to adopt the attitude of “I haven’t done that yet.” And so now, quite often, my hair smells of sugar and platters are filled with cookies.

So the other day I was making cookies, and singing… yes, I sing when I bake, and not only then… Sometimes a song that I’ve heard before jumps into my soul, and it feels like I’m hearing it for the first time, over and over and over again! On this day, I was Norma from Sunset Blvd., and it was “As if we never said goodbye.” I stirred and crooned with all my heart. The line that really got to me was, “Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for?” And standing in the kitchen, elbow deep in dough, smelling of sugar and vanilla, I tell you… no… there hasn’t … this is the moment… right here… right now. And what a glorious feeling. To love that moment, to love being alive… yes! The cookies are almost gone. But the feeling remains. I want to find that moment, every day, as often as I can. I want to be present in that moment where I think, for something as simple as baking, painting, napping, loving, shopping, singing, eating, praying, “Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for?”

I hope you feel it too. I hope you feel it now. I wish for you that moment! And while you’re waiting for your moment, at least have a cookie!



The gift.

potrait-collage-36In the book, “A tree grows in Brooklyn,” Francie and her little brother go to be vaccinated. They go to the doctor alone because their mother works. As kids do, they played in the mud before the visit. The doctor takes Francie first and says, “Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor, but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm, nurse.”

The book goes on to explain Francie’s reaction:

After the doctor’s outburst, Francie stood hanging her head. She was a dirty girl. That’s what the doctor meant. He was talking more quietly now asking the nurse how that kind of people could survive; that it would be a better world if they were all sterilized and couldn’t breed anymore. Did that mean he wanted her to die? Would he do something to make her die because her hands and arms were dirty from the mud pies?
She looked at the nurse… She thought the nurse might say something like:
Maybe this little girl’s mother works and didn’t have time to wash her good this morning,’ or, ‘You know how it is, Doctor, children will play in the dirt.’ But what the nurse actuallly said was, ‘I know, Isn’t it terrible? I sympathize with you, Doctor. There is no excuse for these people living in filth.’
A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb. The nurse had chosen the forgetting way. Yet, as she stood there, she knew that years later she would be haunted by the sorrow in the face of that starveling child and that she would wish bitterly that she had said a comforting word then and done something towards the saving of her immortal soul. She had the knowledge that she was small but she lacked the courage to be otherwise.
When the needle jabbed, Francie never felt it. The waves of hurt started by the doctor’s words were racking her body and drove out all other feeling. While the nurse was expertly tying a strip of gauze around her arm and the doctor was putting his instrument in the sterilizer and taking out a fresh needle, Francie spoke up. ‘My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be suprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me.’

“You don’t have to tell him. You told me.” Those words hit me deep in my soul. How can we be so cruel? We must do better.

When I started painting portraits, I saw people seeing themselves in a new way. Alicia looked at her portrait and didn’t speak. I was worried. Didn’t she like it? “Are you OK?  Do you like it?” She still couldn’t speak, but I could see her head moving. And tears were flowing into her smile. I still wasn’t sure. I touched her shoulder. She caught her breath. “I just never saw myself as beautiful before,” she said. I could tell it was the first time. The first glorious time. She was always beautiful, I just gave her the opportunity to see it. And she did see it, her gift to me.

Only cowards try to bring people down. Only cowards belittle people. Cowards bully people. Make fun of people. Cowards. Unacceptable. What if today we stood up, and told people, not what they’ve heard for years, not what they’ve believed about themselves, not what they reluctantly accept, but we tell them something they don’t know. We tell them the truths of “you are beautiful,” “you are lovely when you smile,” “you are a person never to be left,” “you are creative,” “you are imaginative,” “you are wonderful,” “you are my friend,” “you are possibility,” “you are loved,” “you are life!”

I have been hit by cruel words. And I have been graced by comforting words. Please, let us choose comfort. Let us choose grace. Tell someone they are beautiful. Give yourself that gift today.