Jodi Hills

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



Bracing her hands against her knees, still looking up at the painting, smiling, joyful tears filled her eyes. I stepped closer in, wanting too, to be caught in her moment of happiness.

It isn’t often that I get to finish the sale in person. Normally it’s online, and then I ship it out. The grateful emails are nice, but nothing like being face to face. Yesterday, I got to witness her reaction. In real life. In real time. Of course the money is always nice. There is validation to the dollar amount. But to see the reaction. To know that this painting brings her and her husband home, this is priceless. This is why I keep painting.

There is an intimacy to this life, that should never be missed. When people allow you into their moments, be it tears of joy, or sorrow, go all the way in. Stand beside the raised arms or bent knees and feel the moment. It is the most precious gift we have to give. We have to receive. It takes courage, for sure, to do both, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I hope you see these words each day as doors. As windows. Come in, you and your heart sit down.

1 Comment


I would always sit in the front row. I loved my English LIterature courses. I wanted to be a part of it all. My hand shot up before my mouth even knew what was going to come out. “You’ll think of something, ” my fingers encouraged as they waved in the air. It wasn’t about assuming I was right. Not about proving my point. I just wanted to be involved. To be among the words. Part of the discourse. 

I sat slunched in my chair. Sweating. Sick. My roommate had told me to stay in bed, but I didn’t want to miss out. Within the hour, my mom was on her way to pick me up from college and bring me back home for an emergency appendectomy. When Dr. Merickel gave the diagnosis of acute appendicitis, I smiled. He asked why I was smiling. “You said it was cute.” We hear what we want to hear. 

I went back to school two days later, a little lighter, but no less enthusiastic. All that learning prepared me for what was to come. Not in the way you might think. I didn’t learn any foreign languages. So when I moved to France, arms at my side, I feared the conversation. Even the most simple were acute! Trapped inside an introduction, I heard my brother-in-law introduce me as his belle-sœur, I beamed. I heard the word belle and thought “pretty.” And the word soeur meaning “sister.” It turns out that belle-sœur means sister-in-law. But once again, in this need to belong, to be a part of the conversation, I heard what I needed to hear. 

I don’t always get it right. I don’t think it’s always necessary. What we do have to be is brave. Curious. Willing to open our hearts and get involved. Be a part of it all. When I raise my hand today, it’s to wave you in. Welcome to my conversation. I’m glad you’re here.

Leave a comment

Find the good.

The first set of paper dolls I received was for my 7th birthday from Wendy Schoeneck. My mother had always taught me to smile when receiving a gift. I didn’t know why she had made such a point of it. I suppose up until then, I had always been thrilled with my presents. Wendy was smiling so intently, watching me tear the wrapping paper. So pleased with what was about to be revealed. I scraped the yellowed Scotch tape from the last reluctant piece, only to reveal, to my horror, Buffy and Jody paper dolls. Not only had they spelled my name wrong, but Jody was the boy. I glanced up at my mother. I knew she knew. I guess her constant reminders paid off, because I forced a smile in Wendy’s direction. She couldn’t seem to tell that it was more pain than gratitude.

We played music. Pinned the tail on the donkey. Dropped the clothespins in the bottle. Passed around the presents. Laughed and held sweaty hands in circles. All had been forgotten and forgiven.

One of my presents was a Winnie the Pooh giant story book. We all started to sing the Pooh song, when one of the girls noticed that Winne the Pooh could quickly and easily be translated to Wendy the Pooh. Others joined in. Some giggled. But not Wendy. I knew she felt bad. I opened the box of paper dolls and my mom got out the scissors. We cut out the clothes and quickly forgot about both Poohs. It was a good gift after all. Wendy was smiling. My mom was smiling. And so was I, for real this time.

Sometimes it’s hard to see life’s gifts. They often come ill-wrapped at unwelcomed times. But even the hardest day is kind enough to pass. Find the good. It’s out there.

1 Comment

The wayward pony.

I suppose everything is about context. It’s not like I’d normally be afraid of a pony. (I’ve even painted them.) But yesterday, when I looked up from the path to turn the corner and almost ran into one, I must say it was alarming. And he wasn’t alone. There was a donkey. A llama. Many sheep. Rams. Other ponies. I don’t know who was in charge of this gang by the river. There were no other humans in sight. Neither the sheep, nor the donkey seemed to care that I was there, but what I can only assume as the lead pony, looked at me like I was the suspicious one.

After taking pictures, I kept walking. The whole path seemed different. I felt disoriented. This path, that I could normally navigate in my sleep, suddenly felt completely strange. Had that always been there? What about this? Did I miss my turn?

I started to take inventory. I knew this rock. This tiny bridge. To walk up the slope on the left side. The smell of these trees. The purple flowers growing out of the concrete fence. I knew this path.

Life can throw you the strangest curves. And you can’t prepare for everything. And sometimes each step can become unfamiliar. When it happens, it may sound silly, but I always take my own inventory. Am I safe? Yes. Am I loved? Yes. Do I have to be afraid? No. I step aside from the wayward pony, smile, and keep walking.


Doing Better.

It’s no secret that I read a lot. Often they make the books into movies. Often I’m disappointed. For me, the words seem to paint a more realistic picture. A vivid representation of the person or people inside the story. Not tainted or swayed by the pressures of Hollywood. I wonder when we were first sold the idea that people, in order to be a hero, or heroine, had to “look the part.” I, I say with great fortune, have lived a life to the contrary. 

I have written about so many that have saved me through the years. Mr. Whitman, the caretaker of the cemetery, dirtied and slumped from the weight of burying the people from town. My grandfather, callused hand reaching behind his stained overalls to bring me along, bring me through. Chubbied Grandmother wiping kitchen hands on apron, just to give us something sweet. Wearied teachers, still finding a way to say the words that just might carry us. Tear-stained mother who laughed with unfaltering grace. 

So it came as a surprise to me, the woman in New York standing in front of my portrait of Maya Angelou — a sage I return to again and again. She read the words and seemed to be moved. She praised them. I thanked her. She wanted to buy copies, but whispering sheepishly now, “maybe without the picture.” Whispering even lower now, “you know, maybe she could be a bit polarizing to my customers.” 

I laughed. How ironically and completely opposite of the words that she claimed to love. 

Kindness. Truth. Beauty. Wisdom. Hope. Leadership. Strength. Love. It comes in all sorts of “packaging.” Each a gift. 

Maya would have forgiven her. As she always said, “When we know better, we do better.” I put the words and paintings before you, before myself, daily, in the hopes of doing just that… better.

Leave a comment

Security and Surprise

I don’t know who it belonged to. It certainly wasn’t my grandma — even though we found it, my cousins and I, in her upstairs closet. Digging beneath the sombrero, the military uniform and the extra bedding, we jumped back, toppling over each other on the hardwood floor. Was it alive? It had eyes! Fur! What was it??? With a pool cue from the corner of the closet, we moved it into view. A dead fox. Long straight, headed and tailed. Did it crawl in from the field for a siesta (under the sombrero on this Minnesota farm)? And then died? We kicked it down the stairs beside my grandma standing in front of the kitchen sink. (She was always in front of the sink, yet the dishes were never done — but that’s another story.) 

“It’s just a stole,” she said, “a fox stole.” Not understanding the word, we assumed the dead fox was now some sort of robber. “No, to wear around your neck,” she said. The explanations kept getting worse. It was unimaginable. We threw it at each other. Maybe she said who it belonged to, but I don’t think so. We soon grew tired of it. We would have left it on the kitchen floor, but she told us to put it back, never asking why she wanted to keep it. We loved her. So we did. 

The only accessory we knew Grandma Elsie to wear was an apron. And that was enough for us. She donned what some called sensible shoes and house dresses, which made it easy, I suppose, for us to forget that she was not just a grandma, but a woman of this world. 

Pardon the reference, but it’s hard to see “everything, everywhere, all at once.” We get bits of people, glimpses really. We grab onto the parts that serve us best, and a lot remains, well, in the closet. This is not to say we need to know everything about everyone. But I think it’s good to realize that we don’t know everything. People have riches and reasons that we will never realize. And instead of being afraid of that, we should respect it, celebrate it even. 

I don’t know if my grandma was ever in Mexico. But in my head she was. Possibly even wearing a fox stole. Or maybe it was just Great Aunt Ellen’s. Maybe she bought it at Tvrdik’s garage sale, just up the road. It doesn’t really matter. What I love is that there was a world to discover in her home. A home where we were allowed to run free. To become exactly who we wanted to be. This beautiful farmhouse, with security and surprise, that grew so much, grew so many.


Look up.

A jolt rushes through my body like lightning. Straight up through my back and out the top of my head. It takes only a millisecond for my brain to realize that the tip of my shoe has hit a rock mid-step on the gravel path. Not enough to fall, but enough to be grateful to still be standing. It’s funny how we always look back to see the culprit. Like it matters which rock. But I do. And I won’t remember it. I probably won’t even remember the feeling. 

You’d think growing up on a gravel road, that I would be accustomed to it all. Wearing the scars on knees and elbows and knuckles. But I can still get tripped up from time to time. Yet I don’t stop. I’m out there. Daily. Twice daily. Because I love it. Still.

I imagine it’s the same with the heart. If mine had stopped wandering the gravel every time it got bruised or scraped, I would be stuck. Alone. But thankfully, the beat that carries me is skinned-knee tough, and it keeps choosing love. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

They say when walking or running, you need to always look ahead — that you’ll fall a lot more if you’re focused on what’s beneath you, if you’re looking down. Always good advice, I suppose, for everything. Today, I will forget my near fall, and feel the open path in front of me. Sometimes, you just have to look up!

1 Comment


I fell in love with France again yesterday. I finally received news of my visa. It should be in my hands on Monday. It was all just paperwork. I had done everything correctly. Followed all the rules. Passed the exams. In my head, I suppose, I knew it would come, but my heart… As the delay turned from months to almost a year, I was getting very anxious. Because without this French visa, I was basically held prisoner. Sure, I could leave, but I wouldn’t be allowed back in France. Back home. And it began to change the colors of everything. I walked in the shadows. How can you love the very thing that grips your ankle? Pulls at the back of your shirt?

It was just a few words that Dominique received on his phone, telling us that we could come in on Monday. I was out kicking my daily path when he passed the message on to me. I floated down the hill on tears of joy. The Sainte Victoire mountain winked at me to say, “I love you too.” And it was true, I was in love again.

This morning’s croissant tasted rich in French butter. We spoke of Paris. The Olympics will be coming here soon. The thumb that tipped my scale has been released and I feel, oh, so very light! I am in love.

I guess all love is based in freedom. It can’t be contained or held captive. No one can be forced into the feeling.

The very thing that makes me want to stay is knowing that I’m free to come and go. Love’s shutters are flung wide open! Bonjour!

“Let someone in. Let someone go. After you’ve seen it all, you won’t remember the windows and doors, but who passed through.” Jodi Hills


Hands at the wheel.

There are scientific studies that show actual hormones are released when you share, physically increasing feelings of well-being.

I didn’t have the words for it then. I barely do now. But I didn’t need the proof either. I knew for certain that every event — every book signing, gallery show, television appearance was extraordinarily better with my mother by my side. And it wasn’t just about the event itself. Her involvement started long before. Upon initial creation of the words or painting, she was first to see. From the very beginning she was my safe space for this most vulnerable act of sharing my heart and soul. Each time, preparing me a little bit more. Giving me the courage and confidence to risk it all and show others.

Some have explained artists as a giant nerve, sent out to experience all the feelings, returning as proof that it could be felt, or reminding those who have forgotten, or bringing in those who had to turn away. I can’t be certain, but it feels pretty real to me. I do know one thing for sure, I wouldn’t have dared the nerve without my mother beside me. And even if I had, it certainly wouldn’t have been as fun!

Because it was never in just the allotted hours. No, an event from 2pm – 5pm on a Saturday afternoon started with morning giggles. Extra-hot, skim, vanilla lattes. Outfits laid out. Jewelry arranged. Swapped. More giggles. Make-up. Fashion show. Compliments exchanged. A very light lunch. Nibble really. As not to ruin the ensemble or lose the buzz of caffeine. Then the glorious event. Laughter and hugs and tender, joyful tears. Still flying high, we would make it to a favorite restaurant. The wine and plates shared. Slowly. Mapping out and traveling the day again. Returning home. All exposed nerves filled to capacity, safely tucked in. Muted giggles swallowed in pillows.

Listening to a podcast yesterday, a woman was explaining her time as a Donut Dolly, working for the Red Cross overseas in WW2. With the same courage as any soldier, these women braved the front lines to bring the much needed supplies of coffee, treats, news, letters, smiles, compassion, comfort. Dodging bombs and boosting morale. She spoke of her best friend beside her. She explained that she “drove the truck,” but it was her friend “who brought the joy.”

Tears streamed down my face. People have told me through the years how brave I have been. To follow my dreams. Risking my heart. Exposing my life through the work. And yes, I did dare to “drive the truck.” But just as brave, just as valuable, it was my mother who sat beside me, bringing the joy.

We’re still doing it. Hands at the wheel, I gather in her joy. And the journey continues.

Leave a comment

Raison d’être.

I was maybe five or six the first and only time my mom told me to clean my room. I didn’t like it at all. Not for the reasons you may think. It was because I didn’t like being seen in this way. A mess. I suppose I just loved her so much, I wanted her to see the best of me. And she was right. This wasn’t my best. Bed undone. Clothes on the floor. I knew, even then, what this space was for. My room to create. I needed this space to gather all my feelings on paper. And she knew it too. The space to make sense of all the things we were feeling, this would save us. Saves me still. It and I became clear, as she smiled from the doorway.

I didn’t have the words for it then. And certainly not the French words. But I hear them. Daily. “Ma raison d’être.” My reason for being.

This is what I’m making space for. A clear path to feel it all. A way for everything to get in. For everything to get through. Because as hard as it is sometimes, I do want to feel it. All of it. I think that’s why I’m here. My reason for being. To feel it and capture it with words and paint. To unclutter the path so we can all make our way…together.

Sometimes one of you will pick out a few words, a phrase from the daily post, and walk it back to me. This is my mother’s smile from a path made clear, and I know, I’m exactly where, who, I’m supposed to be. I’m smiling too.