Jodi Hills

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


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At the core.

We arrived in this small city. At the visitor’s center, the attendant seemed shocked, not only that we entered, but that anyone did. It soon became clear that we were perhaps her first “customers.” She had long forgotten the facts they must have presented her with upon her hiring. She smiled, and struggled for something to say. When we asked about her city, she began each answer like an unprepared geography student when the teacher gave a pop quiz. “Where are the columns from?” I asked. “I wanna say…” and she paused, clearly searching her brain for something.

Loaded with two maps and no information, we wandered the city. It was functional. One might say even nice, but nothing stood out. Or nothing we could find. The afternoon was underwhelming and left us a bit weary. With one last attempt to save the visit, we walked the streets to find a restaurant. First restaurant, no parking. Second restaurant, no one inside – never a good sign. Third restaurant, ok,let’s give it a try. We ordered, and within a few minutes, a young couple sat down at the bar beside us. He asked politely if they could sit near us. And then thanked us. We already felt better. Polite. Young. Smiling. Maybe this was the city. We began to visit. Was that a custom beer they were drinking? Did they live here? And so it began. Jobs. Life. Travel. Art. Laughter. And here it was. Right next to us. The heart of the city. And the day was not only saved, but enjoyed, greatly.

It’s easy to find the obvious. The Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper. Go a little deeper. Attractions are everywhere. They don’t all have a brochure, but they can magical just the same. Worth the visit!


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Green. Golden.

It was not an accident that I ran into the stainless steel tree yesterday in the museum’s park. It was beautiful. Permanent. It would never die, I thought. And this seemed so appealing, just after hearing of her death. This tree would never die. Never.

It was an overcast day. No sun visible. And what if time did stop for us? What if it stopped now, and we were forever here? Never changing. No, I thought. I don’t want to be the stainless tree. With all of life’s flaws and heartaches. Goodbyes. Tears. I want to live. I want to feel it all. I don’t want to miss out on what today will bring. What tomorrow will bring.

Nothing is permanent. And that is frightening. But even more, to me, is to not really live. I want the chance to blossom. To bloom. To green. And with that, I will not get forever, but I will get now! A more beautiful now than any permanence could ever promise. A today of chance and hope and love and life.

We said goodbye to Rose Ann Maloney yesterday. She did not live a perfect, stainless steel life. It was filled with hellos and goodbyes and joys and heartaches and laughter and laughter, and work, and more work, and love – so much ever changing LOVE! So no, it was thankfully not stainless steel. It was not permanent. Not shiny. But make no mistake – it was green! It was golden!!!

In loving memory, I will repost a blog that she said was her favorite. She said it would help her be brave in her journey. Maybe now, for those saying goodbye, it will also, I hope lend some of that much needed bravery.

——
Barely more than air.

There is a group of migratory birds that, each year, flies 7000 miles over water, without stopping, without eating, without sleeping. They are able to shut down a piece of their brain. Their heart rate changes. Their digestive system adapts. These beautiful living beings, weighing barely more than air, have been given every tool necessary to make the journey. Each year, at the same time, in the same place, without worry, without discussion, they take the flight. They don’t gather and wonder, “Well, I don’t know, it’s a long ways… I’m not sure… It’s super hard…We could get hungry… Probably tired… Maybe we should wait…” No, these are the voices in my head, probably yours.

When I was five years old, I began to write and I began to draw. My mother said, no matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and create the feelings on paper. Feel them. Work through them. Resolve them. These words and colors would carry me through unimaginable things. They still do.

Sometimes I forget. Clogged down with little things like, oh, my computer isn’t working correctly, how can I possibly go on… I’m embarrassed to say that I can be grounded by the smallest things, when I know, I have been given everything I possibly need to make each day’s journey.

I, we, barely more than air, hold the most magical gifts. Here comes the sun, my friends. We can do this. The sky is open with possibility. I’ll see you up there.

———-

See you up there, Rose Ann!


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Never underestimate the power of a compliment.

They gave us free margaritas at the hotel last night. Why do free things taste so good? We could afford to buy a drink anywhere, but that’s not the same. This was given to us. No expectations. We didn’t have to drive. We didn’t have to do anything but enjoy it. Delicious.

Free. Nothing tastes better. Nothing feels better. A gift with no expectations. We stopped at Walmart to get water for the road. I had put on a dress to make the long freeway of the day a little more bearable. The Walmart greeter said, “Oh, you look so cute today!” It felt great! I felt great. And it was all free. Free for her to give. Free for me to enjoy!

You know we can do this for each other. All the time. It really is so easy. Let me be the first (and hopefully not the last) to tell you how important you are to me, and this world. Let me tell you how beautiful you are – inside and out! Let me tell you – thanks for being my friend!!!! Make today delicious, for yourself, and all those around you.


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Black barns.

I have never smoked. I don’t really care about tobacco, but I was interested in the black barns of Kentucky. The woman at the tourist office told us they were used for tobacco. The black kept the barn hotter, and helped in curing the tobacco. So many are no longer in use, but I think they are still beautiful. They are so different from the red barns I grew up with.

We stopped at the Muhammad Ali museum in the next leg of this journey. I was never a boxing fan, but I was interested in the man. He was not a perfect human, but I haven’t seen one yet. I do know that he helped raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, the Olympics, the Civil Rights movement, and being human. I think that is beautiful.

It’s getting harder and harder to know who and what we are supposed to like anymore. We are constantly being told you can’t like this painter because he said bad things. Can’t like this music because the singer was a drug user. Can’t shop here, they support the wrong ideas. Can’t be friends with them, they voted wrong. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that chicken.

And I want to support the things I believe in. I really do. But I want to know the world. Experience different things. Meet different people. Eat some chicken. So what do I do? What do we do?

If I write about something you aren’t interested in one day, does that negate the 20 other times you laughed or cried when you read my words. I hope not. I hope we can all be open to each other. I hope we can all believe in different things, and still be kind to each other. Walk different paths, and be open. Look differently. Laugh differently. And still believe in love.

I will sketch the black barns. The champion horses. The beautiful losers just wandering the field. And maybe when I get home I will paint the black barn. I don’t think my red barn will mind at all. I want to find the beauty. I think it’s even there in the search. Probably there, most of all.


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Slugger.

He was an older man in the church we attended. If I did know his name, I don’t remember it now. But I remember him. I remember his voice. He always greeted me with, “Hey, Slugger!”

I was just a young girl. I threw like a girl. I hit like a girl. And I was proud of it. I loved it. The sport was fun, but I think it was more the sun. The freedom of summer. The belonging with the girls. I suppose it was the first time I belonged to something bigger than myself.

When my parents divorced, it seemed this church decided to break up with us as well. I didn’t understand. My mother didn’t understand. It was subtle at first. Doors dropped in front of us. Coffees cancelled after services. We didn’t belong anymore. In a place where all should be welcomed, we were forgotten, all but for this one voice. This old man, who still saw me. Still called me by my heart. Still recognized the strength inside me. Didn’t see me as broken, but a fighter, possibly even a winner. Those two words, “Hey, Slugger!” — the most Christian words I ever heard.

Yesterday, we went to the home of the Louisville Slugger. I didn’t buy a bat. I didn’t need one. I know who I am. I have faith. And I am strong.

I want to be a voice that gives you hope, gives you strength. You can do this! We can do this! I believe it! C’mon team!


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Go higher.

We almost past by this store yesterday, until we saw the sign, “This store voted number one in Midway, by owner.” We turned around and went inside. A store with a little pride and a big sense of humor, we couldn’t miss that! It was a delightful store. And we almost missed it. The people inside were welcoming. Funny. And they had great merchandise. And we saw it all because they presented themselves in the best manner. Maybe we could all do that.

Even at our most poor, my mother always looked like a star. She dressed well. Put on her make-up. Put on a smile, sometimes gutted there by pure will, but it was always there. She looked great! Still does. Because she cared. We were at the downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s store. It had many levels. The levels got more expensive with each escalator ride. She didn’t even look at the first level. At the second, she glanced around and said, “Ewwww, this looks like stuff we could afford…”. We laughed and went higher.

Through the years she found the sales. Put things on lay-a-way. Saved. Wished. Styled. And always looked wonderful. She taught me that. What a gift. It’s never about money. It’s about style. And if that style can include a little pride, self-esteem, and a great sense of humor, that will take you pretty far, and you’ll look good along the way.

She will always be voted #1 mother, (by her daughter.)


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Willow.

There is an old Native American proverb that states, “No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves.”

I was talking with my mom yesterday. She had just gone for a treatment in the hospital. She gets one every four weeks. She told the nurses about her new dress from Sundance. Showed them pictures. They shared laughs and compliments. “It’s my family,” she told me. Now I don’t take offense to this – I know I am my mother’s family – always will be, but I am forever joyed when she can find peace and laughter and support – and isn’t that what family is? – or should be.

I have always found my branches in the art communities. We have often referred to ourselves as the “land of misfit toys” – but a family just the same. Similar interests, goals, longings, aspirations — support, no judgements.

Outside of a gallery in Minnetonka, Minnesota, I used to watch a weeping willow tree. How it moved. As a whole unit. Such grace. At first sight, I was a little sad, our family had never moved like that. Oh, some branches coupled together from time to time, which was nice, but never like this. Never the whole, gathering strength in the wind. Never the whole, bracing against the storm. But then it occurred to me. I had found that flow in another place. Another family. And I was complete.

Family doesn’t need to be blood. How limiting is that? Family is family. You just have to find it. And when you do, you know it. And oh, how comforting. How beautiful. How fresh and green. What a flow. What a dance!

Yesterday, my husband and I (my newest family) visited a beautiful horse park. It was gorgeous. Barns of champion racers. Stunning animals. A strong, elegant, willow tree greeted us at the gate. Gathered in this new place, this place I would not stay, I was home. In this ever changing world, this not so ever green world, joyfully, I join in the family dance.


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Beating.

There is no vacation from your heart. It’s forever with you.

Even as we travel, I always take time to create something. Daily blogs. Sketches. Small paintings. It’s who I am. It’s my heart. I don’t need a break from my own beating.


I started painting and writing when I was five or six years old. My mother says I would go into my bedroom, and no matter what I was feeling, it would end up on paper. Felt. Resolved. I know I am one of the lucky ones. Not because I have something I love to do – I believe everyone has that – but because I knew what it was early. And continue to do it.


Every bird in the sky, and each of us on the ground were put here to do something. Find your reason. For yourself and for the world. The scariest part I suppose is claiming your gift. Daring to do it. Once you’re doing it, you’re doing it. No fear in flight.
You can flap and flutter all you want. Fighting it. Digging your feet in the ground. But your heart won’t rest. Each beat telling you – “Just do it already. I’m right here with you.“


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Somewhere. Here.

The principal is your pal. That’s how we learned to spell the word. It still goes through my head while typing. I loved school. I’m not sure if I was actually pals with any of my principals, but I know I had a respect for them. A little bit of a healthy fear. And that may be why I was never sent to my “pal’s” office, but I think it was more because I was so busy trying to learn. I wanted to learn everything. See everything. Because in this way, the school was more than my friend, it was my ticket. You might think I would say “ticket-out” here, but that’s not the way I saw it. Yes, we did live in our own sort of Mayberry, and I did want to see more of the world, but it wasn’t so much about getting out, but getting in – becoming a part of the rest of the world. Belonging. And that’s a big difference. I was looking for a way in.

I’m still finding it every day. I have seen things around the world that I only imagined. I’ve stood next to things that before only existed for me in books, in libraries. I have traveled through countries big and small. Yesterday, in the US, in North Carolina, we went through Andy Griffith’s hometown – the real “Mayberry.” Andy was a real pal I suppose. The authority, with a gentle touch. I know this wasn’t real, but it felt familiar. Familiar perhaps not in the sense that I actually lived it, but dreamed it. Hoped for it. Longed for it – that place that welcomes you, that lets you in, that place that doesn’t care how you got there. It turns out it was never a place at all, but an experience. A feeling. A love.

We asked the man carrying laundry on the street where the Andy Griffith museum was. He smiled. Started walking us in the direction. We thanked him. “Welcome to Mayberry!” he beamed as he said it. What a pal, I thought. We belonged.


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Self evident.



The first thing we saw while visiting the home of Thomas Jefferson was a collection of tools. A hammer. It made me smile. You would have thought the Declaration of Independence would be front and center, but it came after. Of course it did. First, there was work to be done. And there still is.

It was, I suppose, self evident that all men were created equal. Yet, they still had slaves. Today, we don’t have slaves, but there is still so much work to do. So the “hammer”, the work, must remain in the foreground. Knowing this, is a start. Maya Angelou always rings in my ear, “When you know better, you do better.” I want to do better – in everything.

I’m working on a collection of my daily blogs. It is entitled, “Pulling Nails.” Each time I make a frame at home in France, I take the reclaimed wood, pull out the nails, sand it, sand it again, and again, cut, strengthen, build something stronger, and it is beautiful. I suppose that has always been my goal. Take what has been given, and make it better. I hope I can do this. I hope we all can do this. Pull the nails and make something beautiful.

Let’s get to work.