Jodi Hills

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


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Something cracked, something broken.


The first time I wore plaster was in the fifth grade. I broke my arm ice skating during the Valentine’s Day party. I waited patiently in the nurse’s office of Washington Elementary. My mom came from work and drove us to the clinic. The sleeve of my winter coat dangled from the left side as I breathed in the antiseptic smell. My mother touched my knee so I would stop kicking the bed as we waited for the doctor to return with the xrays. He clicked the black sheets into the light that hung on the wall and said, “See right here… that’s where it’s broken.” We both agreed, but I’m not sure either one of us saw it. He dipped the strips of plaster and wrapped it warmly around my arm. It was as white as his coat. “Tomorrow all your friends can sign it,” he said. Oh, he didn’t have to tell me. That was the only thing I was looking forward to. I barely slept through the night.

Maybe the teachers gave them the permanent markers. They must have. Soon I was encircled with eager fifth graders, armed with all colors of opened Sharpies. Almost high from the smell and the attention, I presented my open canvas and each kid fought for the prime real estate of my cast. 

I don’t know how we knew. But we all did. Maybe it was a right of passage. This ritual. This coming together over something cracked, something broken. It was so beautiful. It would have felt no different had they lifted me above their heads and passed me around the classroom. 

It happens less frequently now. And maybe with less fanfare. Maybe it’s because the wounds get less visible when we’re older. Maybe our collective groups get smaller. But I consider myself lucky. Blessed. I still have those people in my life who surround me with support. Sometimes with just a few words, but they fit into the prime real estate of my heart and fill it. And I am lifted, with a permanent high. 

All we have to do is be good to each other. Be there, for something cracked. Something broken.


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The patience chair.


I had never restored or recovered chairs before moving to France. I had never done a lot of things. But maybe that was the first thing I had to learn — learn to no longer say “I never do that,” and replace it with, “I haven’t done that yet.”

Patience is another thing…I’m still working on that one daily. When painting on fabric, after the paint dries (this is key) you need to set the paint. I do this by ironing the piece, then washing the fabric in really hot water. Then another soak in fabric softener, and another pass with the iron. When making the cover for this chair, it sounds silly now, but I was impatient. There were other places to sit in the house, sure, but I wanted it done. I skipped the ironing, didn’t wait a full 24 hours for it to dry, put it in the wash basin, and voila – I ended up with a bucket of brown water and a faceless canvas.

I hung it outside on the clothes line. And took some deep breaths. What I ended up with, after painting it again, was something I liked a great deal better. I love this face. This chair. My patience chair.

It’s funny what we get in a rush to do. And I want to be patient. With feelings. With others. Even with myself. Would that it were all so easy to “hang out on the line.” But I’m trying. Maybe we all could try a little harder (or softer) to let things just be… give it a minute and see…and start again…

This day is brand new. I haven’t done any of it — yet! I brush past the cool crisp sheets of it all, waving in the morning breeze. Let’s begin. Softly.


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Eager hearts and fingers.

Mr. Opsahl’s art room was lined with windows. Street level. In all the other classrooms of Washington Elementary, you would be reprimanded for staring out the window. But not here. Not in the art room. We were encouraged to look at everything. Even out the window. Find your palette, he said. I’m not sure we even knew what that meant, but to be free to wander, beyond the glass — glass smudged with eager hearts and fingers — this was something! He gave us, not just a way beyond, but a way home.

My palette has changed from time to time. From year to year. Adapting to the ever changing needs of hearts and fingers. Today I live here. In the calm of blues and greens, browns, tans, beiges and taupes. Grays and creams. All things natural. Telling myself — all is as it should be. Resting in earth and sky. The here and there melding together. One. A gift I was given. A gift I continue to give.

Take a look around. Find your palette. Give yourself permission to create the world you need. Dare to smudge the windows with hopes and dreams. Find your colors of comfort and beyond. Find your way home.


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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.


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No goodbyes.

We always made one last trip to the lake, my mom and I, after running along the Magnificent Mile for two days. In measured steps, we walked the quiet Sunday morningsidewalk. Past the water tower. The drowsy Drake hotel. Then under the street. Up to the beach. There it was. Lake Michigan. Always important. Never urgent. And we breathed. Offering thanks, with the slow reverence it deserved. Both of our wrists still marked by the weight of shopping bags, we held out our hands and waved, not goodbye, but in recognition.

Some days, I still try to urgent away the emotion. I could vacuum. And dust. Ironing needs to be done. And I could write lists of more things to do. But then there is the important. Calling. In waves. So I take out my sketchbook. My paints. Tape off a square. Imagine the calm. And with blued brush, I gently put it on the paper. And I feel it all. The tender of memory and time. I smile and breathe in the important, and watch the urgent roll on by.


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Something close to hope.

I battled my French lesson this morning, word by word, accent by accent. And “they” know when you are struggling — a little prompt comes up — “Even when you make mistakes, you’re still learning.” I smile and pray it is true, with everything I do.

Sometimes I’ll say a few words to a stranger in French, and they will answer in English. “Wow,” I think, “it’s really that obvious?”…as if the crutch of my broken language is dangling from under my arm. If only the real struggles of everyone were that easy to see.

It’s so easy to be unkind. To be impatient. I know it is a lesson, I, we, must work on daily. It’s impossible to see what everyone is going through. The “how are you”s and the “fines” just don’t tell the whole story. The limps of the heart go undetected. So I guess the answer is to just keep trying. Trying each day to be more kind. More empathetic. And even on the days we fail, when others fail, to understand that we are all still learning. Arriving at something close to hope, and beginning our journey again.


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Songs of hope.

I dug half of the hole yesterday. Moving dirt and rolling stones. It’s going to be the new home for our walnut tree (Uncle Wally).  He’s getting too big for the front of our house. I’ve told him it’s coming, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare anyone for a change that big. 

We live in one of the sunniest places on the planet, and for this I am most grateful. I love the sun! But the ground is hard and dry. Not so easy for digging a hole. That’s why I only did half.

I was feeling sad when I went to bed last night. All of my own life changes weighing heavy on my heart. And so I prayed for the speed and warmth of the morning sun. 

I woke to the patter on the windows. It was raining. My sarcastic first thought was – thanks a lot. I went downstairs to make the coffee and croissants. From the kitchen window I could see my half finished hole.  I rolled my eyes, but then looked again. Of course, the rain. The rain would make the ground softer. Easier to move. Easier to help Uncle Wally. Each drop was a gift. An answered prayer. 

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find
You get what you need.”


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Rugged path.

Everything can be explained away. But why would you want to? 

I was walking down the gravel path in Aix. There is a specific sound to footsteps on gravel. Almost a gathering in and a crunch. I know this sound. I grew up on a gravel road. Now, if you google it, it says that Softer surfaces like gravel reduce the force of impact with your running stride and may allow you to recover more quickly from the workout. Plus these softer surfaces require you to use stabilizing muscles that may grow lax on the road or sidewalk. I’m sure all of that is true. For me though, it’s the familiar of it all that helps the most.

Yesterday, desperately in need of this “softening” and “stabilizing,” I set out on our gravel path. Half way on my journey, I saw a sign — painted in yellow on a giant rock. Now I’m sure it can all be explained away. Perhaps it was put up for a running group. Directions for their race. But all I saw was the word “Ivy.” My mother’s name. Ivy. My heart smiled. I was home.

I guess we all choose to see what we want to see. Choose to feel what we want to feel. And for me, today and everyday, I am going to believe in the magic of it all. I’m going to believe in my feet, my heart, and the love that is always out there, leading me on this, sometimes rugged, but always beautiful path. 

My heart is well traveled.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.