Jodi Hills

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

Leave a comment

Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”


The exchange.

She has short term memory loss, my mother-in-law. She arrived with flowers for me (courtesy of her other son). I thanked her. Hugged them close to me, draping myself in the fragrance. I held them out to her so she, too, could breathe them in. She thought I was giving them to her as a gift. She smiled with a grand “merci!” — and I was gifted again.

It’s not always clear who is gifting whom. Who is the one helping. Most of the time, I think we all receive in the exchange. And we need to move freely between the roles. Sometimes I think it is maybe easier to be the giver, the strong one. Allowing yourself to be the one who is vulnerable, perhaps this takes the most strength of all. 

I leaned on you today. I’m not sure if you even knew, but I wanted to thank you. I felt you holding my heart. It made me happy. And I was strong. I hope I can do the same for you, if so, we can do anything.

Leave a comment

Little things.

There was always a kleenex in my grandma’s pocket. A breath mint in my mother’s purse. 

We think we have to do the grandiose gestures to be loved. I have been guilty of this, for sure. But I teach myself, daily, as I remember the little things, that life is a series of smalls, little pieces of love and kindness that fit into those tiny spaces of your heart, and fill it.

Maybe it was because she started when I started. Since I was five, I went into my room and came out, presenting it to my mother. She said it was great – and I believed her. She used the same words that others would come to use, but when she said them, and oh, I can still hear it (please let me forever hear it), yes, when she said it, it meant the world to me. When she said the word “beautiful, it wrapped around my heart, the “b” connecting the vowels around each beat, into the “ful” – and yes, my heart was so full! 

I guess nothing becomes familiar in true love. Never ordinary. You can say the words again and again — I love you — and when it’s real, little sparks continue to fly. When they enter a room, these loves, it’s the grand float of the parade we’ve stood on cement sidewalks waiting for in the heat of the summer sun. The same sidewalk where grandma handed you a Kleenex, after your Crazy Dayz grab bag from Ben Franklin turned out to be a dud. The same sidewalk where mother slipped a mint into your sweaty hand, as you were daring to say hi to the teenaged carry-out boy from 7th grade English. The same sidewalk your husband-to-be switched places with you so you would be out of traffic’s way. 

I march in the parade of little things. I hear the tiny words, “I love you,” and believe them. Step outside with me today. Wave your hands in figure eights. True love is passing by.


Mailboxes on gravel roads.

My first experience with the U.S. mail service included Bazooka Joe gum wrappers. Besides the delightful cartoon, you had the opportunity to order the most magnificent (but almost immediately disposable) plastic items from the company. Cameras that no film would fit into. Key chains that hooked only to belt buckles because I was 6 years old — I didn’t have keys to anything. The items didn’t really matter. It was the anticipation of receiving something. Watching for the mail carrier to slow down. Then stop. In front of the line of mailboxes. Did he open ours? I think that was Weiss’s box. No, maybe it was ours. Day after day. Impossibly early, I waited for the delivery. Legs and arms browning in the summer sun. Waiting. Then it happened. He lowered the door. Our door. Our name faced the ground. He placed the tiny brown box inside. Shut the tiny door. And pulled away. Before the dust settled from his rear tires, my hand was on the mailbox. My name was on the package. My name. I was something. Someone. Part of this exchange. Part of this world. I held the package to my heart. I belonged.

I saw a recent video. They showed pictures of mailboxes to young children. They had no idea what they were looking at. They explained the mail exchange. They seemed unimpressed. But they neglected to tell the real story. It wasn’t just a delivery system. It was neighborhoods. And gravel roads. And trust. And anticipation. And summer. And connection.

I suppose that’s why I write. Why I paint. To keep the stories alive. To get you to slow down as you pass by. Maybe even stop. Connect.

To belong — it may be the key to everything.

1 Comment

Test cookie.

All ovens are different. All recipes. Even recipes that you have made again and again can turn out differently depending on the day. Maybe it’s the weather. The brand of flour you used. The way you stirred the dough. It could be any number of factors. So I always make a test cookie. Just one tiny cookie. See if the dough is right. Maybe I need to add a little flour. Or turn down the temperature of the oven. Sometimes it’s perfect on the first try, but not always. And I don’t get angry at the dough – how silly would that be? I just make the necessary changes. And it works. It works because I give myself a chance to make a mistake. A chance to correct it. 

I want to be that generous with everything I do. Give myself a chance to make mistakes. Not beat myself up over it. Make corrections. Make adjustments. Maybe each day isn’t a delicious batch, and that’s ok. Maybe today is just my test cookie. Either way, it’s going to be ok, and eventually, if not immediately — delicious!

Leave a comment

…And so it begins.

I always asked for art products each Christmas. Maybe a craft. Shrinky-dinks. Candle makers. Paints or pencils. Sketchbooks. Anything that could be made into something. I suppose I’ve forever been an artist, but there was more to it than that. I think I knew there would always be the 26th. The day after. No more presents to open. Festivities done. Decorations coming down. In all that ending, I would have something to begin. 

Each year my French family asks me what I would like. My go-to answer is, still, anything to do with art. They ask what. Doesn’t matter. What kind? Doesn’t matter. What brand? Doesn’t matter. I guess because it ALL matters. It all works for me. It’s not just love, it is love extended. It fills the hole of the day after and turns it into the day of! Uplifting the let-down. Offering the start of a new season. It gives. It becomes.

Maybe that’s what true love is. Joy in life’s 26th. Wonder in the ordinary. Lights in our darkest hour. Beginnings. Again and again. Celebration all year long. That’s what I wish for you! May you find it today, and every day. Happy 26th!


Dampened straw.

I wrote it years ago — Careless with my Christmas. A story about how I just didn’t fit into the Norman Rockwell painting of it all. So I stopped trying — not giving up on Christmas, but letting go of the idea of what it was “supposed to look like” — I stopped trying to paint myself into someone else’s picture and start living in my own. Maybe we all do that – try to fit into some impossible, and inevitably disappointing version of the “perfect Christmas.” That perfect version only happened once, and to be honest, it wasn’t even all that perfect — it included rejection and wandering and acceptance, and and hope and love, rugged ground, and straw — but that was the real beauty, I suppose, the grace that lay in all those imperfections.

I made a promise to myself, those many years ago, that I wouldn’t waste another Christmas, trying to make it perfect. I looked into the manger of my heart and promised I would take care, appreciate, and never let another slip away. We’re not given that many.

I’m not saying it has been easy. Last night, the first Christmas Eve without my mom, I fought those tears of tenderness all evening. And then, I couldn’t. We opened up our Christmas fortune cookies (I told you I had gladly given up on the “normal.”) The print was way too small. Margaux read it aloud in French, and then English — “When two hearts are connected no distance is too far.” I guess it wasn’t chance that I received that message. I let the tears flow. And it was OK. It was good to feel it.

I wasn’t careless with the tears. I let them fall gently. Held them in my hands. Dabbed the lines. And took the dampened straw of my heart back down to the lit tree where we opened presents. And hugged. And smiled. And loved.

Today, we will do it again. And it will be different. Possibly even difficult at moments, but it will be beautiful.

Take care of your heart. Take care of each other. Take care of this perfectly imperfect, Christmas Day.

Leave a comment

Tiny airplanes. Little horses.

We were both surprised to see how excited he was for the carnival. Charles is at least 6’ tall, but only 14. His voice changed before his heart. He wanted to go on the rides. The city of Aix doesn’t have room to house giant rides for the Christmas fair. They are mostly for toddlers. Tiny airplanes. Little horses. We could see he was disappointed. Sometimes, you just want to be small.

Some might say I’m too big to miss my mom. But nobody told my heart. So I eagerly await in the blinking light of the Christmas tree, for a miracle twice my size. A miracle of joy. A miracle of peace — one that passes all understanding. I still want to ride the tiny airplanes. The tiny horses. To feel the magic of the season — the magic of being small.

Leave a comment

Trusting the tumble.

I remember shopping for this top with my mom. It was called a poet blouse. I knew it would be perfect for her. It had been sewn for her by name.

She loved poetry before I knew what words were. She recited them to me. Read them to me. Maybe it was the rhythm, the flow. I couldn’t have understood what the words meant — not yet — but I could feel them, as they gently tumbled from her mouth, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a tear. I followed both. Trusting the path.

When I was able to understand the words, I began to write my own. And most were for her. I rolled them out in new order. Changing nouns to verbs as needed — (“your heart pillows to mine, and I am home.”) The freedom was delicious. Filling. Energizing. Each word lifted us from the ordinary to the extraordinary. A language we traveled. Together.

I wore that poet blouse yesterday. I could feel it all the way to my toes. I, we, rode the tumbling poem of yesterday, with a smile, with a tear, together.

1 Comment

All overmixed paint turns to brown.

You can see it in a painting. In a poem. When it’s just trying too hard. Overworked. Exhausted. It sucks the beauty right out of it.

I called her Grandma Lois. We weren’t related, but for the love of painting. She was hovering in her eighties. Still brush in hand. I offered my youth. She offered her experience. Our palettes combined. She told me the hardest thing for her had always been learning when to stop. To look at what she had painted and say, this is good – what I’ve created – it’s enough. To learn, and create again — that was the real beauty, she said. We smiled. Painted. Connected.

On canvas, I have learned this. It’s harder in real life. There are some people with whom you think, if I just tried a little harder, maybe if I was just a little brighter, better — if I was just more beautiful, inside and out, maybe they would see me. All overmixed paint turns to brown. Some people just won’t see you. And you have to walk away. Step aside and say, what I offered, it was enough.

Surround yourself with those who can see it. Can see you. In the purest, most simple strokes. Wow – to sit in that beauty – that beauty of being. Knowing your all, their all, is more than enough. Not gasping, just breathing. This, I think, is the art of loving, of living. This is good. This is beautiful.