Jodi Hills

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


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Look what we’re protecting.

The Art Institute of Chicago was the first major museum I ever visited.

It felt like I had been walking forever in the cold and wind from the hotel. Barely looking up. The cold of the sidewalk seemed to seep into my shoes, up my legs, slowing each step. The sidewalks were clear of snow, but I still felt like I was trudging. I could see the crowd of feet before me. The stairs. I stopped. Looked up. There they were. Standing guard. The lions. So majestic. So beautiful. Proud even. And why not?! Look what they were protecting! Before I stepped one foot inside the museum, I knew this was important.

It was easy to recognize what the lions represented. I had seen it my whole life. I had lived it. My mother had always been the lion who stood guard in front of my heart. Told the world it was important. Valuable – this life. As I grew older, I tried to do the same for her. I hope I did. I hope I still am. Because it is something. She is something!

The roles can and will reverse, at any given moment, throughout our lives, switching back and forth from the protector to the protected. But if we can approach both roles with a ferocity of grace, then each cold and trudging step along the way, will be more than worth it!


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Grace. For now.

Grace. For now.

I opened the wood filler to repair the corners of the frame. I rolled it around my fingers as instructed and this scent came to life. What is that? I know that smell. And then it took me – one straight shot from the south of France to the New Brighton basement of my aunt in Minnesota. My aunt Karolynn was a hairdresser. She had a full set-up in her basement. And by full set-up, I mean a chair, a mirror, and a sink. I’m neither ashamed, nor proud, to tell you that she used to, right there in that basement, give my hair a “perm.” (A permanent wave for those under a certain age.) I suppose it was a hairstyle. I suppose it was a trend – this completely unnatural kink of blonde curls. Oh, I wanted it at the time. I really did – along with so many others. Everyone had one. Women and men alike. And that was the smell — the lingering odor of my first lesson in the grace of not getting what you wish for. Yes, I wanted the permanence of this “perm.” I wished my hair would stay this way forever. Thank goodness it didn’t!

Through the years, I know that I have wished, and hoped, even prayed for some things to happen — some things that I was just certain would be great for me — devastated in the moment they didn’t happen — thrilled years later when I see and live the alternative! Relationships, jobs, moves, life… it’s funny how we can be so certain, and so wrong. Be careful what you wish for, they say…and I suppose they are right. But I’m not sorry for the wishing, the trying, the impermanence, the lessons, the growth. How would I know anything if I didn’t stay in motion? And on my way I try to remember that certainty is not the reward — it’s grace through the uncertain times, this is the gift, the only thing to really hold on to.

I repair the damaged frame, knowing that it won’t last forever — knowing that I will make it beautiful for now, and that is enough, more than enough, that is good – always.


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Delivered.

When riding with my Grandma Elsie in her car, we would always listen to the station that played Paul Harvey, along with the grain report. I knew the language. So when I found the journal of my great grandmother in Grandma Elsie’s house, I recognized the words immediately. She wrote the daily farm report. The prices of grain. The weather. The needs of the house. The needs of the farm. She never wrote of emotion. The closest she came was reporting the neighbors who stopped by. All with the same equal tone. Life went on with the planting, the harvesting, and the rest. When her husband got cancer, in the throat, she wrote of the progress, with the same distinctions. Listing of medicines and sleep patterns. No change in her voice. He got worse. Slept less. More pain. She kept writing. His life was failing, along with her pencil. She wrote less. Felt more. And then one day, the only entry was this – “…my heart…” And I knew exactly what she meant.

She may not have recognized her journal as art, but that’s exactly what it was. She was making art. Brene Brown tells us that the magic of art is to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time. That’s what my great grandmother was doing. And I suppose it is what I do. It is what I have always done — before I heard of Brene Brown — before I heard of my great grandmother. I began writing and drawing from the age of five or six. My mother says I would go into my room and whatever I was feeling, happy, sad, I would capture on paper, and then let it go. I’m still doing that.

The beautiful thing is, we can all do this. Now, you might say, oh I can’t draw, I can’t write, I can’t sing… but I disagree. You can do all of these things. If you can think, you can write. If you can feel, you can draw. If you can move, you can dance. If you can speak, you can sing. Art is simply the release of your emotion – in any form that you choose. And the same release can be experienced by reading, by viewing. If I write something and it makes you feel your own story, that is art. If you hear a song on the radio and it makes you dance in your kitchen. This is art. It is everywhere. It is healing. It is beautiful.

Today, and every day, is filled with this magic. Yes, it is exciting. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is joyful. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, it is so very beautiful! I feel it! And, oh, my heart…YES!


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Hope.

Hope.

If I would have painted the clouds I saw yesterday, you may have said, “Well, that’s just wrong. Clouds don’t look like that.” But I saw them. From the pool. I was doing laps and out of the goggled corner of my eye, I saw something so blue, so white, I had to stop. I took off my goggles and looked up at the sky. It was so beautiful. The sky was blue. The kind of blue that artists try to invent and call their own. And the clouds — they weren’t puffs of white, or animals, or anything familiar — it was as if nature had taken its incredibly large brush and flung it across the sky. Not contained by recognizable shapes, but just pure motion. I told myself to breathe and look. A part of me wanted to jump out the pool and grab my camera, so I could capture it, stop it, but it was a windy day, and I knew if I took the time to dry off, go upstairs, get the camera, the magic could be gone, offering this vision of hope (For that’s what it felt like – pure hope) to some other person, looking up in the summer sky. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to miss it. Because maybe that’s the way hope works — it’s always there in constant motion — we think it has to stop for us, but maybe, maybe we have to stop for it. Just stop and see it. Feel it, believe in it. And I do. Fear wanted me to race after my camera, stop time. Hope told me to just stop. Feel. And believe.

I don’t want it to end. So I tell you. And it lives on. And maybe you tell someone else, and maybe we all live a little lighter, a little more hopeful, a little less fearful, under the ever changing strokes of white and blue. That can’t be wrong.


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Pulling nails

Yesterday I spent two hours pulling nails and unscrewing screws out of reclaimed wood. I like to call it reclaimed, and not used. Used sounds almost damaged, doesn’t it? Sure it is worn and in need of a little repair, but it has worth. So much worth.


To reclaim, by definition is “to retrieve or recover something previously lost.” This wood may no longer be an armoire, but now it will have new life. It may become the four pieces of wood that support the canvas that proudly displays the portrait of the previously unseen person. There is worth in that! A portrait held in front of the woman who says, “I never saw myself as beautiful, until today.” Now this is the ultimate joy, for me the creator, the wood, the canvas, the paint, the staples, the nails… for we all have a part in it. Even the armoire that no longer exists, lives on in this new face.


If we can see the beauty that comes from each step, and not just the final outcome, then maybe on those days that we are asked to pull the nails, we can still find the joy. There is no doubt you will be asked, for yourself, and for others. You will be asked to be the wood, be the canvas, the paint… and in time, without your knowledge or permission, you will be the one who shines – the face in full claim on the canvas.

So I, we, pull the nails, and reclaim the day.


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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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Yellow

For a brief moment when I was a young girl, I had a yellow bedroom. It was all mine. I got to pick out the carpeting and the bedspread. All yellow! It was the most cheerful place in the world. It was my world. Until one day, not long after, I could probably count the sleeps, I came home on my bicycle and there was not just a “for sale” sign next to the driveway, but it was flagged with “sold.” I didn’t know we were moving. I didn’t know the “we” only included my mother and I. The house, my father, the yellow, the cheer — all gone. For a long time I was sad about this. I didn’t want to love things. Afraid to love people, because they, like my father, could leave. They, like my house, my yellow, could be taken away.


But could they, really?


It took a while, as most good things do, but I came to realise, I still have the color yellow. I still love it! I love the cheerfulness. And so I paint it. I paint the lemons and the pears. The suns. They can never be taken away. The yellow on my pants, my canvas, my fingertips, my soul – all mine! Forever. My choice.


I didn’t know that yellow would not only give me joy, but freedom. The song is playing in my head now, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…” And I don’t – have anything to lose. I am free. Free to love. Free to live. Oh, the yellowness of it all! I grab my brush and smile. I give my heart and beam.


I had a yellow bedroom. That will never again make me sad.


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A place to land.

We never used the front door of my grandparents’ house. Well, not the door, but the small cement staircase in front of it, yes, always. It was a place to rest. We chased round and round the house in our summer worn tennis shoes. (We never played tennis in them.) Not Nikes, or Adidas, but colors. I liked blue. Some of my cousins had white, or black. I didn’t care about the brand, the mark, I only remember asking when trying them on at Iverson’s shoes, “Are they fast?” The answer was always yes, with a smile. And so we raced in white and black and blue streaks around the apple trees. Grass stained and out of breath, we’d flop onto the front stairs, chests heaving with the satisfaction of youth. These stairs contained breath, and lemonade, and watermelon slices, (and black seeds), and the welcome of home.

Yesterday, I framed this painting. Painted on panel, the edges seemed so incomplete. Nowhere for your eye to land. And this painting needed it, a place to land, I suppose just as much as we do. The frame, simple, vintage, does just that. Gives the eye, the brain, the heart, a place to rest. Without it, all the feelings just wander off and get lost. You might not even know that’s what’s happening, but you can feel it.

On my grandparents’ front steps, I don’t suppose I knew exactly what was happening, but I felt it. I felt it as sure as the heat of the summer air. A warmth that would take us through every cold winter that followed. A strength, a solid, that would ground us in every storm. Even just in memory, hold us in the comfort of home.

I smile now, knowing the salesperson at Iverson’s shoes was completely right, those shoes, those summers, were certainly fast!


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In the garden

I used to say that I never needed anything but cement beneath my feet. I said it with certainty. I would only live in the city. Sidewalks and pavement. That’s all I needed. But comfort has a way of packing its bags, never leaving a forwarding address, and one day you find yourself in a different country, mowing the lawn.


We have a very large yard. The french word for yard is jardin, or garden. I like this better. We have a big garden. Yard sounds more like a prison, but in a garden, you can roam and discover. And so I do. It took a minute for me to take in all of the beauty. The birds singing, the flowers blooming, the trees bearing fruit. Butterflies. All that “certainty” I carried for years flew off into the bluest of skies and I discovered a new way to live. Maybe with no certainty at all, but pleasure in this moment. And maybe that’s all we get. Maybe that’s all we need. Not certainty, but truth. A truth as pure and hopeful as children’s summer laughter.


I hear that laughter coming across the trees. I hear it in my heart. Even when I’m on my last leg of pushing that mower across a sea of green that I had once promised never to inhabit. Life changes. Daily. We can either shake our fists in the air, or fold them in thanks. Today, I choose thanks. Thanks for all the uncertainty, the newness, the unstable adventure of just living! Oh, look! The day’s beginning. Let’s enjoy the ride.

Transition

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I woke up wondering how I would make the transition from yesterday’s post into today’s. Not like Casey Kasem (the famous radio host) ranting about making the transition from an uptempo song to a somber dedication – I wasn’t that concerned, but it was on my mind. But that’s life, isn’t it, making the transitions? It’s easy, or perhaps more understandable, to be in the middle of something. For example, it’s easy to be in love, and it’s easy to be single, but to make the transition from one to the other… well, I think we’ve all been there. Life gives us constant change, and we have to make the transitions.

Each morning, when I’m doing my French lessons, I know that right after I will be writing the daily blog. Some days I have an idea, and other days I don’t. I just begin to write. Beginning is always the most difficult. Once I start. The words flow. And I let them. I don’t edit. I hope that’s not too obvious… or maybe I do… I hope you can tell that each post is coming straight from my heart.

We’re all asked to go through things, impossible things. Here, in these transitions, is where we need the most grace, from ourselves and from each other. In the transition is where each new day begins. Each opportunity. Each glorious awakening. Believe in the unbelievable. Find the joy. Good morning!

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