Jodi Hills

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


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You know, you don’t have to follow.

There is a path easily made when things go wrong. I have walked that path before. Paved with anger, and how could they, and how stupid… It seems the stones just lay themselves — welcoming, encouraging.

I could see it happening at baggage claim. With each person. The temperature kept rising. The stones kept falling. We could have easily taken to it. It was so open. And I’m no saint. I have to admit that I can get impatient with incompetence. But usually, it only ends up making me feel bad. Makes my heart knotted and I hate feeling like that. So selfishly — and I don’t mean that as a bad word – I mean to take care of myself, I, we took a different path. The bags weren’t going to come faster if I shook my fist harder.

So we went to Whole Foods. Bought sushi. Spent the afternoon with real friends. We ate. We laughed. Lounged on sofas as comfortable as the palette of our matching personalities. We told the stories. Drank the coffee – told the stories faster and laughed louder.

Maybe it was my grandfather who first told me, find your own path. My mother repeated it. And I have wandered and stumbled and fumbled my way along, but oh, what a journey! It has been written before – “the road less traveled”, I suppose – but I think it’s worth repeating again and again. I know I need to hear it. Make your own way, at your own pace, with your own unknotted heart.


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Crossing over.

It’s no surprise that I write about my grandparents, my mother, my childhood experiences. The stories, not only on the page, but on the canvas, straight from my heart. It is the most vulnerable, but the most rewarding thing that I do.

I suppose I have been practicing since I was a child. Showing my work, my heart. Building my courage, my strength. More confident in myself, my story. So it came as a bit of a shock when I moved to France and realized I would not only have to start over, but build a bridge, and cross over. A bridge on paper, on canvas, on heart.

I’m not going to say it’s not terrifying, this vulnerability, but when you get something back, oh my, there is nothing like it! Each day when I write these blogs something magical happens. I tell you a bit of my grandmother, and you respond with your memory of yours. Bike for bike, we exchange our stories. Our stumbles on gravel roads and our victories in schools. This is glorious. This is living — this sharing — these connections.

The French, as a whole, are pretty protective of their feelings. They are not fast and loose with praise or compliments. I’m certain that I can be terrifying to them at times, running with arms waving, hugs approaching, feelings everywhere, heart dripping from my sleeve… but it’s the only way I know how to build this bridge, make a connection.

Yesterday, on Instagram, I received a letter from a French woman. She wrote, in French, that her daughter had sent her one of my pieces of art, because it reminded her of her grandmother. She told me that her mother, who has passed on, loved art, but never dared show anyone. She thanked me for the reminder of her mother. How it connected her to her daughter. And wished me well with my art — hoping that I would sell lots of work from my gallery!

This is amazing for two reasons. First, that I read and understood her message, in this new language. This has been a long time coming. And I don’t want to gloss over the victory! Second, that she, this French woman, risked all of her Frenchness and exposed her heart. She dared, as her mother hadn’t… and we connected! For me, (and I hope for her too) this is heart waving fantastic!

I know it’s not easy, this offering of your heart, but oh — OH! — how important it is! If you can, today, offer someone a compliment. Tell a bit of your story. Be vulnerable. Feel everything! Connect. Risk. Build a bridge. DARE to cross over.


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Sparks flying.

“On the days that I can’t create something beautiful, at least let me have the wisdom to see it.” Jodi Hills

Shawn, Pat and Kalee, my cousins in Minneapolis, had a saying. I lived in a small town two hours away, so I didn’t know if everyone said it, or if it was just them. I didn’t really care. I liked it and picked it up immediately. If something wasn’t any good, (in their opinion), like a tv show, for instance, they said it was “beat.” They had cable tv, so as they flipped through the summer daytime shows, over and over I heard, “that’s so beat.”

Once beaten through all the channels, we went down to their basement. It smelled of laundry and the perm solution my aunt used on hair of the neighborhood ladies. They had something new they said. Something so not beat. It was a way to make small rubber animals. I was intrigued. There was a “solution.” Poured into a hot iron mold. Tweezers to pull it out. This glue-like smell overpowered the “perm” solution. The electrical sockets were filled. Our fingers partially burned. But within hours, we were still alive, hadn’t burned the house down, and we possessed one green plastic frog, a spider, and something a little harder to identify. In less time than they took to create, they were lost in the neighbor’s pool.

My husband has old tools, parts, some unidentifiable things, from his father and grandfather. We could make a sculpture! I could see the figure as I pulled out the parts. There was a head. Arms. Legs. It’s perfect. He showed me how to weld. Masked. Sparks flying! This is so not beat, I thought!

It sits in our entryway. Under one of my paintings. Next to our picture. Above the book entitled, Wisdom.
My daily reminder to create something beautiful. And on the days that I can’t, I pray for the wisdom to see it. Take a look around, and you will too!


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As I flutter by.

I was more following it, than chasing it. Fluttering really. Doing my best to keep up. My grandfather didn’t really imagine that I could catch this butterfly, so his warning was light, but effective. “Don’t touch the wings,” he said. Me, still imagining my chubby legs were a match for these wings, questioned, “But why? They’re so pretty!’ He explained something about the powder rubbing off…they could lose their ability to fly. “You don’t want that to happen,” he said. Of course not. But just a bit of that desire remained. A bit of that doubt.

I didn’t have google at the time. Nothing to fact check. He had never lied to me. So I just kept fluttering. 

When I reached school age, I learned more. The challenge of the caterpillar to “become.”  It seemed unimaginable. Unbelievable! How did it survive — and not just survive, but turn into something so incredibly beautiful? I read it in books. Saw the images. But really?  How could this be?

I counted the sleeping pills on my mother’s nightstand. She was so sad. I didn’t know how long a human could cocoon. Nobody taught me that. 

But somehow, there would be proof in her wings. And I got to flutter beside her. And she beside me. Nothing more magical than that.

The fragile colors came to life in my sketchbook yesterday. Each with a hope and prayer that we could all be that gentle with one another. We could flutter, and flatter, and lift, and love. We could give each other the time needed to change. To grow. To become. We could give each other the chance to fly — just a smiling thought this morning, as I flutter by.


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Hope chest.

Before I knew what it was, I began filling mine. I had overheard some older cousins and aunts talking about it around my grandmother’s kitchen table. From what I knew of hope, you couldn’t actually see it, nor did I see any physical “chests” within this conversation, so I took it literally, as children often do, and assumed it was my own chest, the chest that housed my heart, and this I thought, was the place to put all the hopes that I could carry.

I walked around the farm that day. And I listened. My grandfather hoped for rain. I put it in my chest. My mother hoped for peace and an appetite. They fit in nicely. It felt exciting to fill my hope chest. I hoped my older cousins would pay attention to me. I smiled and put it in my chest. I felt safe, and almost powerful. And surprisingly, lighter. With everything I put in, I just became lighter. This was the real treasure, I suppose, learning that hope will never weigh you down.

Even when I learned the so-called truth of these hope chests years later, I stuck with my own version. I went to France with almost no belongings. They would have cost a fortune to ship. But what the airlines didn’t know, didn’t weigh, was “my hope chest” — my hope chest that was completely full, bursting even. Loaded with every story, every life event, every day survived, every smile, every dream — every, well, hope really — all still within me. 

And in my hope chest, there are no expiration dates. Everything remains fresh, light, and new. A small cage of ribs protects them easily. They are mine. As long as I’m willing to carry. 

You have one too, you know. Oh, how I encourage you to use it. Fill it. Walk with it daily. And see it for the real and only treasure there is – a heart filled with hope.


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Above the gap.

We were in an elevator in Chicago. The Lenox House Suites. I was just out of college. My first job in advertising. The magazine I placed ads in had comped rooms at this hotel. Twice a year I would take my mother. We stayed for free. More than that, I suppose, we were free! Free to be whomever we wanted. Free from the knowledge of our pasts. Free from judgements or any “should-haves” or supposed-tos”. We were brand new. As new as the city after the great fire. (And we had lived through our own.)

The small elevator was filled with eager visitors — ready to hit Michigan Avenue. It was always slow, but this ride seemed a little more clunky. It lurched its way to the ground floor,and then fell about a foot or so lower. The doors opened. Everyone froze. Should we move? Were we safe? Murmurs of “someone should do something…” “should we call someone?” “someone needs to do something…”  

I heard my mother say quite loudly and clearly, “Not me,” as she elbowed her way from the back of the elevator, clearing a path for her and me, and she hoisted herself above the gap, turned back for me, and we were off.

I suppose that’s what I love most about her. She decided. (Still does.) When her world was falling apart around her, she decided, “not me.”  Just like Peggy Lee, she seemed to ask, “Is that all there is to a fire?” “Is that all there is????”  We were dancing on Michigan Avenue before the others even left the elevator.

Today, I, we, hoist ourselves above the gap, and keep dancing…


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Map girl.

Before GPS. Before cell phones. We had to navigate on our own. Research the directions. Write them down on paper. 

When traveling with my mother, I would drive and she would read from the papers that I gave her. I wrote the directions clearly, and precisely to arrive at our destination. Without exception, holding the directions in her hands, she would ask, “But how will we get home?”  I’m still smiling.

Now, you might be smiling too, even laughing, but the truth is, she wasn’t that wrong. Finding our way is not always that easy. Retracing steps may not always be possible. Sometimes “the way” gets blocked. We can get pushed. Distracted. Forbidden even. And then what? 

Some say follow your heart. Others say use your head. Others still, stop and ask for help. I’ve done them all, sometimes all at the same time. And sometimes, finding our way home means not returning at all, but starting fresh. 

Each day I find myself making maps. Because I suppose that’s what all these things are about — maps — little ways that direct me to comfort, to joy, to home. Each story written, each painting painted, each table set, each loaf of bread baked, all little maps to lead me home. 

We have the luxury of GPS now, but only you can find your way. Take your time. Make your maps. Enjoy the journey.


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Produce

I have professed my love for libraries, over and over. The Washington School Library. The Alexandria Public Library. One small room. One small building. Each opened a world to me that will never close. I can smell the wood that housed the paper. The slight hint of sweet mildew, like an open window.

The truth is, this was not my first impression of books. My first collection of words on pages — words mixed with colorful art – these books held the smell of fresh produce. It was at Olson’s Supermarket. My mother hoisted me into the shopping cart. The silver denting the back of my thighs. Legs dangling. Her purse beside me.

Just after the cart corral was a long display of Golden Books. I can feel my arms reaching. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She placed one in my chubby hand and I was changed. Words on paper. My arms will be forever reaching.

I can hear her voice reading each page. Night after night. Year after year. And then I started to hear my own. How do you thank someone for giving you the world? I suppose the only way I know is to use the same words I was given. Again and again.

I was speaking to the young woman who is currently working on my new website. Not a small task. She has to handle each piece of art, each word. She told me yesterday, because she is so immersed in all of the work, “I feel like I know you.” My heart is still smiling. My arms are still reaching. We are in different countries. From different generations, and my paintings of the apples remind her of her mother’s kitchen. Once again, the sweet smell of produce… My world opens, and I give thanks with the words that first saved me.


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My way.

They said I was “painfully shy” – my grade school teachers. But I wasn’t hiding. I was listening. There was a voice inside that I needed to hear. It was whispering, but I knew it was important. And I couldn’t hear it in the chaos — the running and screaming of youth. So yes, I was quiet. But none of it was painful, not for me.

We all learn and grow in our own ways. The only “right way” is the one you choose for yourself. 

I grew into my voice. My life. My way. I hope I still am, growing. Listening. Watching. And as Frank Sinatra sang at our breakfast table this morning, “not in a shy way…”  “Oh no, no not me,” I AM doing it my way. We smiled and listened, and ate the bread I made with my own hands.

The only thing I really fear is wasting time. And maybe the only way we can waste our time is by trying to live someone else’s life. Trying to live in the chaos of other standards. 

I can feel it when I’m “off.” I’m pretty sure we all can. And it’s usually when the voices of others try to take over the voice that lives within me. But I have found the ways to make it stronger, louder, more clear — with words and paint, and homemade bread. With breakfast conversation and music and love. With the smell of cut wood and grass stained shoes. With an unchartered path, and a hand to hold. This is the song that I’m living. The song that has always lived within. My way.


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.