Jodi Hills

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

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When Van Gogh and Gauguin painted their now famous empty chairs, they weren’t just painting still-lifes. They were painting portraits. Portraits of who sat in those chairs. The conversations had. The lives lived.

At first glance, the unwilling eye might see an empty chair at an odd angle. The eye unwilling to look beyond the very simple things taught and told. They eye stuck in the “well it has to look this way to be right.” But the forgiving eye. The open eye. The compassionate eye will not just see, but feel the colors. How one color helps pop the other. How one life helps the other live. At every angle.

Our relationships change and grow through the years. Our eyes and hearts have to be able to see things from a different angle. We will be asked to see impossible things. Live through impossible things. And still, somehow, we will be asked to find the beauty. The beauty of the lives that change our ordinary into extraordinary. Every turn. Every angle. Perspective.

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Heart open, love called her name.

I don’t write every day because I have the answers. I wish I did. But what I do have, are the questions. I know enough to know I need to learn. Every day. I need to grow. I need to be curious.

Because, let’s be honest, we are rarely even given the “answers,” when we search. And maybe we don’t need all of them. Maybe we don’t need to be sure. Maybe we just need to be open. Things arise every day out of our control. And we are rarely ready. Ready can be so misleading I think. Who is really ready for anything? All we can do is be open to the experiences ahead. The challenges ahead. The miracles ahead.

Good or bad, today will be a climb. I’m not really ready, but I am open. Wide open. Wide open to the challenge. Wide open to let the love out. Take as much in as I can. And to be aware that this is happening for all of us. For me, that is not the answer, but the comfort — comfort in the pure randomness of it all, that it could happen to anyone at any time – pain, happiness, confusion, even love!


Still. Life.

I love to paint pears. Maybe it’s the subtle colors. Not the vibrancy of a lemon, or an apple, no, somewhere in between. Calm. And a little more fragile than most. A lemon is so strong. Skin so tough, but not a pear. An apple. Sturdy. But a pear, it seems to need another pear. (And what a beautiful thing to need each other.) I almost always paint them together. One leaning against the other. One standing a bit stronger while the other rests. I love the image. I live the image. I hope we all do. We take turns in our strengths. In our weaknesses. And if we can stand beside each other — firm when we need to, gentle when we can’t, then we can artfully live the most beautiful lives. Beautiful. Still.

I wrote in my book, “friend” — “Thanks for abiding by the unwritten rule that only one of us can freak out at a time…and for allowing me the extra turns.” I have found a few pears in my life. What a gift! I’m waking up with two today!

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Last ten miles

I used to drive a lot to Chicago from Minneapolis. It was a good 6 hours. And they went pretty quickly. Singing to the radio. Mile after mile. Dreaming. Always dreaming. But those last ten miles. Oh, those last 10 miles, took forever. So close. Not yet there.

Maybe your heart gets ready before the rest of you. That beating heart – so anxious to be held in the arms of “oh how we’ve been waiting, just for you!” That eager beating heart, so ready to be filled! So 10 miles ahead of your brain and your feet. And all I can do is race after it.

We are waiting at the airport for our last flight. Our last “ten miles.” And then. Home. Well, more than that really. Heart. Mother. That’s where we are going. Racing after my heart. So eager. So ready to be home. I’m coming, Mom!

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Hold on to.

We asked for directions to the museum. She said we go up to the store “that has red things in the window, you know like tractors… sometimes they’re open, sometimes they’re not, but either way, turn right there, and go to the park and walk through in at an angle, no need to walk around, and then go up the hill, you can walk it, it’s easy, I walk there, and then there it is – right there!” She said it all in one breath. Dominique looked at me, “What?”

We got to the store with the red things. They were wagons. We had one as kids. I suppose it was my brother’s first. So many things were. But I do remember getting dragged behind him. Rust on my white summer shorts from the chipping red. (He had used that wagon for many years before I arrived.) I was dirty, but happy to be included at arm’s and wagon handle’s length.

As we got older, he no longer got to do all the firsts. I find my own, and my others. But he was there. I have the rust stains to prove it.

We don’t see each other often. We are sometimes open, sometimes not. The directions aren’t always clear. But I trusted him once. To lead me. To carry me. That is something to hold on to.

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…Even on fragile legs.

When I watched her dance, I couldn’t believe that those legs could be that strong. Not only to lift her in the air, but then brace her as she came back down. Simply amazing the strength. Maybe that’s why I love dance so much. This elegant combination of beauty and strength.

The champion horses in Kentucky display this same recipe for beauty. These massive animals, carried so elegantly on seemingly fragile legs. Amazing! How do they do it? I paint them with as much respect as the dancers.

Perhaps I’m only able to recognize the beauty in both because my mother has displayed this same combination of beauty and strength my whole life. I know she often worries, or says, “I want to be brave.” And she is, oh, she is! She is the dancer that doesn’t see the audience standing on their feet in awe. She is the Thoroughbred that runs through and past the finish line.

When I first started painting, even the most simple of characters, my mom would say, “oh, she looks like me…” And of course they all did. They do. I see her in everything. I guess that’s how it is when you love someone. You see their beauty – everywhere.

I paint the horse and I smile. I am a dancer. A race horse. My mother.

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No slip of beauty

I don’t know if she was born with it. Maybe all kids have it, if given the freedom. But she has something – some may call it confidence, or a lack of shame. Maybe it’s a mixture of both, combined with the essence of youth.

She isn’t afraid to try anything. And she isn’t afraid to fail. In fact, she doesn’t see it as failure. She can finish a painting that some may see as juvenile, or crude, but she thinks, “Voila!” – and couldn’t be more proud. She can put on a swimsuit, never giving a thought to her baby fat that still clings around the middle. Not a worry. She’ll even run in her swimsuit – (a nightmare for most of us.). She’ll sing songs with no idea of the lyrics. OUTLOUD! She attempts a new language with no fear of mispronouncing the words – in fact it’s your fault if you don’t understand. She dances. She laughs. She is a super hero!

I don’t what the years will bring. I don’t know what she’ll become. Who she’ll become. I only pray she keeps the tightest hold on this – whatever this is – this confidence, this youth, THIS!

I see it in her, and I can still feel my own. Feel myself flying on my banana seat bike, without boundaries or limitations. Believing! I am so grateful for the reminder she brings. And if she’ll let me, I will help her hold on, hold on with the might of youth, so she’ll never feel the fear that living can bring, the shame in any attempt, the slip of beauty. We need to protect her. Protect THIS! Celebrate THIS! We ARE her, we are THIS!

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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!


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.