Jodi Hills

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


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Fake books.

I had no idea. I saw youtube preview on decorating – the ten essential things he said he couldn’t live without. Was I living without? I decided to watch.

The usual suspects. Candles. Sure. Pillows. I’m in. But when he arrived at number four or five, he lost me. He pulled two large books from the bookcase. (You know I love books. I love words. I love anything bound together.) He was so excited — “Look you guys, fake books!” Nothing inside. Empty pages with fancy covers. He explained that you can get them for almost nothing and decorate your shelves. I still can’t believe it, even as I’m typing this. (Typing with the words that mean so much to me.)

Now, I love to “decorate” with books as well. Real books. Books that I have read. Books with words that still hover throughout the house. They have a life. A meaning. Books with paintings. Books with photographs. I love them all. They have an ever giving depth.

I suppose I want this with everything. Everyone. I want books with words. Slow cooked meals. Wine that has aged. And friends with souls. Deep souls. I don’t want fake — anything. 

There is so much pressure to have the best shelves, the most “friends,” the largest group of “followers.” Quantity. Quantity. Quantity. At any price. But as I see it, the only things worth having have to be real. Give me real. I want my shelves to be filled with the stories of life. The real stories. Even mine.

So I offer you this, from my imperfect heart — my pages may be tattered, dog-eared, but they will be filled with life, a real life, a gathering of cherished words. If we offer each other this, maybe life won’t always be pretty, but oh how rich it, we, will be!


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And then I see it from your side…

I read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, in the first bedroom that I remember. It was small. I shared it with my sister. Already a teenager, she didn’t appreciate my still childlike enthusiasm. I suppose it took up too much space. But it WAS big. This love I had for words. This adventure it was taking me on. Books. Stories. It was just so magical. The books didn’t just show you the river, they took you for a ride. And oh, how I wanted the ride. I suppose I still do.

Seeing the Mississippi River, in Mississippi, Louisiana, it’s not the same as in Minnesota, where I grew up. Yes, the water, the banks, I guess they are not that different, but the stories it rolls along… The stories. If you pay attention, you can hear them. And if you really listen, with any luck, (more grace, I suppose) you can feel them. But that takes up space. And only an open heart and mind has room for that.

Our country is divided. You could say by race, or religion, or politics, but maybe it all comes down to understanding — learning —education — seeing the other side of the river.

Tom Sawyer said, “Right is right and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.” I want to do better. I know we have many rivers to cross. But my heart is open. My mind is open. Tell me your story. I’m listening. Let’s ride!


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Home town.

In Kindergarten, Mrs. Strand had the audacity to leave us mid year to give birth to twins. In the first grade, Mrs. Bergstrom, hair pulled back in a bun, wore her long pencil skirt and wool sweater all the way until summer break. We knew she would never leave. She taught us the meaning of the word trust, and then taught us how to spell it. She was opening our worlds. Then one day, she lined us up, single file, and quietly led us up the stairs, turned us to the left, opened the big wooden door. All was silent but for the singing of my heart’s choir! The library! All those books. A conversation from wall to wall. Information. Entertainment. Belonging. Yes, most of all the belonging. I knew I would be both comforted and launched — I suppose the perfect definition of home.


And I was home. Here in the words.


Yesterday we arrived in Laurel, Mississippi. Being an HGTV fan, I wanted to see it all. Where they filmed. What they made. The houses they transformed. People have told me, oh, you’ll be disappointed – it’s only make believe.


We pulled into town and the first thing I saw were the giant books painted on the side of the building. I smiled. I have always been one made to believe — the very day I stepped through the big wooden door at Washington Elementary. I know all is not always as it seems. But it is always what you choose to see. Today I choose to see the magic of it all — from the giant books on the side of a building to the promise of a small home town. It’s hard to hear the doubters over the singing of my heart.


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The good review.

I was listening to an interview yesterday with the author, Ann Patchett. You may know her from her books, Commonwealth, and the Dutch House. She is an accomplished writer. She has won many awards and her books are best sellers. The interviewer asked her about reviews and she said she rarely read them, and certainly never the bad reviews. She said she has a group of people around her, good friends, that shield her from these. But the crazy thing is, she explained, strangers, people who love her books, buy her books, wait in line for her to sign the books, some of these people still want to remind her of bad reviews. She said people will even take the time to cut out a bad review from the newspaper and bring it to her when they want their book signed. What?????And in all the years she has written, all the book signings she has done, no one has ever cut out a good review and brought it to her. This seems insane for so many reasons.

I have to believe this is some sort of flaw in these particular people. This can’t be human nature –this need to bring people down, the people you like, respect, love even… Because if it is a flaw, it can be fixed. And it must be fixed. Perhaps it is insecurity, jealousy, anger… I don’t know… but it has to end.

There is an old Native American Proverb —
No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves. Perhaps we could be as smart as the trees. Grow together. Learn together. Support each other. Stand in line. Slip gently across the table, the good review.


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Klickitat street

It’s no secret that our thoughts control our hands.


My grade school travels were never alone. For a good two years I was accompanied by Beverly Cleary’s kids from Klickitat Street. Cleary was one of my favorite childhood authors. Yesterday, making the blog journey back to my own Klickitat Street (which we named Van Dyke Road), my thoughts were consumed with Beezus and Henry and Ribsy and Ramona.


It wasn’t like I stayed with them all day, but subconsciously, they must have wandered through my head, in their wide-legged, hurried steps of youth, because when I sat down to paint, there she was — slowly emerging with a smile that said, “I knew you’d come back for us.”

Beverly Cleary. Smiling. In the certainty of black and white – the certainty that maybe only lasted those two years I spent with them on Klickitat Street. The certainty I carry with me today when I need sure footing. When I need my thoughts to be pure.


Because our thoughts lead to actions. Have you ever heard yourself say, “I’m just so tired of this… just sick and tired of it all…” What have you claimed? What have you made yourself. You’ve secured that fact that you are sick and you are tired. We become our thoughts. I know only because I do it. We all do it. But when I find myself there, I try to go through my list? My list of haves… my list of blessings… and almost always, those thoughts can magically make the journey from my head to my heart to my hands, and I can walk in a better day. A better day — maybe not perfect — there are so many things out of our control, I know. But I think it’s always a good day if I can take a walk on a path of joy, a path of hope, a path of positive action. Who knows where it may lead? Who will join you?


I give thanks for all the fictional and nonfictional characters — (and yes, please let me be surrounded with the wonderful world of living “characters”!) — they, you, bring me so much joy — a joy that only makes me want to do more – be more — and be better! Today I call you Beverly. Tomorrow, by your name. I will come back for you. Again and again.


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Joyfully unprepared.

Yesterday we went to a bookstore for the first time in over a year. How delicious! I had thought all morning, “Today, I want to buy myself a treat.” Now you might think a treat would involve sugar, or chocolate, and it sometimes does, but this time, I wanted a treat to fill my soul.

We only had a few minutes before our meeting, so I circled the wooden table holding the books in English. Each title smiled and reached out its hand. I wanted to bring them all home. I let my fingertips graze the covers. And they stopped. On a sky blue. The color, arresting. The title contained the word Chicago. I was already in flight. Saul Bellow wrote words of praise regarding this author. Saul Bellow – I was back in college, studying literature. The author – a single mother, and I was in Minnesota, with mine.

We had to leave. I purchased the book. Is it risky to buy a book within two minutes? Never hearing of the author? Never hearing of the book? But we had already been on a trip, you see… no longer strangers. In those two minutes, I had been taken on a journey, without even opening a page. The only risk would be to stop now. The book is sitting on my nightstand.

If you’re looking for certainty, living is probably the wrong business to be in. Life is chance. Risk. Stumbles. Unlit paths. But, oh, what a journey! If you take it. If you wait until you’re certain, until you’re prepared (whatever that means)… you won’t do anything.

Nothing prepares you for this day.
Your heart is cracked open.
So you cry.
The world keeps turning.
So you live.
No one tells your heart to stop beating.
So you love!
Nothing prepares you for this beautiful day.

Pull the book of today off the shelf. Open it wide. Dare to fill your soul. Dare to enjoy the ride!


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I’m not too busy.

In 2019, we went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.  


I don’t want to gloss over anything in that sentence.  We were traveling – oh the glorious days of travel.  Van Gogh, after Cezanne (I live in Aix en Provence, so I want to, and am slightly obligated to profess this) is one of my favorite artists.  Amsterdam – it never ceases to amaze me the places I’ve been able to see – truly.

So, that Spring of 2019, the museum was having an exhibition “The Joy of Nature”, featuring David Hockney alongside Vincent Van Gogh.  David Hockney has always expressed a fascination with Van Gogh.  They both paint in full movement with visible brush marks.  Hockney says, “When you’re drawing one blade of grass you’re looking and then you see more. And then you see the other blades of grass and you’re always seeing more.”


That’s what I want – to always see more!  This is the joy of learning from those who went before us.  Then taking that knowledge and expanding it, creating beyond it, becoming that blade of grass for someone else.  
A few years ago, I created the book, “I’m not too busy.”  It’s all about taking the time to see everything and everyone around us. I illustrated each page with blades of grass.  If you’re not paying attention, you will miss that the grass is growing on every page, until you reach the end, when it is in full bloom.  

I don’t want to miss anything.  I want to enjoy every moment. 

We were walking back to our hotel after a full day in the city.  Seeing, eating, exploring, laughing, drinking – there’s a lot to do – and of course by the end of the day, your feet do get tired – your whole body gets tired…but as I put each foot in front of the other, it occured to me this simple thought, “I’m walking in Amsterdam.”  I said it over and over. I was no longer aware of my feet, but my steps. Each step was magical. I was in a new country, a new city, a new life, wasn’t that amazing???  


When I’m done typing here, I’m going to go for a walk around our house.  (Covid restrictions do apply).  But I will not say, I am in quarantine. I will not say, but we could be going places – doing things – why can’t we… NO… I will say, the sky is blue, the grass is green, not every blade, but most – and I will look at them all, and joyfully know, “I’m walking in Provence!”  (And isn’t it amazing!)  


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Read. Rinse. Repeat.

Last night I finished the book, “Big little lies,” by Liane Moriarty.  Oooh, I want to say things, but the ride was so good because of the not knowing — so I’ll only say this, enjoy the ride.  


I am a reader.  I have always loved to read.  I love libraries and books and ebooks and magazines and well, things with words.  I love the smell of slight mildew on paper, getting so deep into a book that you’re almost wet. This escape, travel, immergence, I love it all, all the time.  


There is an art to the book review. I love listening to the New York times book reviews podcast.  They know how to review a book.  For real reviews, I recommend them.  As for me, I won’t give you the thumbs up, or likes, or ranking, I can only review a book by how much I miss it when I’m done reading it.  


I have been voracious this past year, and often lonesome.  If I must rank, I would have to say the book I miss the most is Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.  Not since college has my heart and mind been cracked this wide open, where so much gets in and rattles around, and remains, a permanent jangling.  I remember sitting in the classroom, reading Shakespeare aloud, dancing about the textbooks.  What was this noise?…this ballet of words, straining muscles and stretching brain limbs. This is Hamnet. It will test you and bruise you and comfort you. It will leave you with a tiny little hole in your heart, the shape of a feather and a page.  If you like that, (which I do) (my husband thinks that sounds like pure torture), then open up Hamnet and break your heart. 

If you’d like to make some new friends this year, let me introduce the following.  I won’t review each one, but I will tell you that I really enjoyed our time together!


The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Separation Anxiety, by Laura Zigman

Dear Edward, by Anne Napolitano

Chances Are…, by Richard Russo

Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson

The Shakespeare Requirement, by Julie Schumacher

Every single book by Elizabeth Strout – I mean every single book – many times!

Writers and Lovers, by Lily King

Pretend I’m Dead, by Jen Beagin

Words between Us, by Erin Bartels

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Younson

Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips

The Most Fun we ever had, by Claire Lombardo

The Dutch House, by Anne Patchett

Fleishman is in trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

The Editor, by Steven Rowley

This should get you started.  No time is ever wasted inside the pages.  Read anything.  Everything. Become a part of the story, your story. It’s beautiful!