Jodi Hills

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


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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Trampling over.

As I type this, there is a song stuck in my head. It’s a very old song, but one I only recently listened to the actual lyrics. And they are horrible. And yet the song is replaying in my head. I won’t give it more attention by repeating the lyrics, but basically she sings, that “her man” is not good looking, not smart, cheats on her, beats her, and yet, she “loves him so.” Ish. Ish. Ish. Why are we still putting things like this out there? Things like this that get stuck in our heads. Things that repeat and repeat until we actually believe them. This has to stop.

Now, I can’t control what’s on the radio, on the television, or internet. To be honest, sometimes I can barely control what’s going on in my own head. I have been guilty of allowing “old tapes” to play (as my mother would say). Old tapes of people telling me “you can’t…” “you shouldn’t…” “you aren’t…” “you’re not…” But I have become stronger at knowing when to tune out. When to follow my own song. How to change the channel in my own mind. Learning each day to become better.

Because the better days don’t just come. We become. We become the better day. So I greet the morning sun and say, “Actually, I can…”


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Slouching towards Bethlehem.

We lost a good writer this week — Joan Didion. But I take comfort in the fact that we didn’t lose the words. They will be here, as long as we need them. She wrote with such a clarity, even in times of complete distress. She wrote of the hippies, and drug culture in California. She wrote of losing her husband. Her daughter. She says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.”

One of my favorite titles was her book, “Slouching towards Bethlehem.” She took this title from the poet Yeats — “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Didion stands in the same position as Yeats’s narrator, describing a social disaster of her time, feeling the center starting to give out.

The “rough beasts” seem to surround us still, and always. But sometimes it feels they are doing a lot more than slouching. So I look to my center. To hold me. And I find it in the words. The words in poems. In books. In songs. The words that gather in my heart and spill to the page each day. I find it in the ones I love. Standing tall. Standing beside. Ever upward. Whenever I need them.

This is my core. My center. I believe it will hold. I tell myself today’s story. And I live.


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Leap of faith.

It’s easy to put conditions on everything. “If the sun shines today, I’ll be happy.” “If this photo gets a lot of ‘likes’ I’ll be happy.” “If I get this done…” “If she tells me this…” “If he would just…” So many conditions. And I’m guilty of it too. We all want certain things. Need certain things. But what I want to do, what I’m trying to do, is start from a place of happiness. Start from a place of gratitude. Every morning. And then let the conditions fall away. Take away my ifs and just start being. Looking only inwardly. Not comparing my life, but living my life. The only competition should be with oneself. Am I living my best life?

When I visited the Brooklyn school district, I asked each young student what they were good at. They unapologetically told me of their gifts. Not bragging, but claiming their attributes. They were young enough to enjoy the gifts. I remember feeling the same. I was 5 or 6 when I began to paint. When I began to write. Not needing any encouragement. No social media. No pressure. I would go into my bedroom and color. Paint. Draw. Write. It was me. That’s what I cling to. What I believe in. The doing. The being. It’s a good day when I enjoy the process. Get the paint on my hands. Get the words on the page. Forever young enough to enjoy the gifts.

I read to the students my story “Leap of faith.” (The story of me daring to take my first real dive off the high tower.) When I was finished, one young man came up to me, and asked a very intelligent question. “What was that really about?” he asked, knowing it was deeper than just the water. “It’s about daring to be yourself.” I replied. He smiled like he knew. “I can do that,” he said. And he ran off to join his class. I know that he can!

“I don’t know if this is going to be the day that my feet will touch the sky…but I am going to climb that tower, and I am going to be scared and I’m going to be happy, and with the wind in my hair, my heart is going to lead me…and one way or another, I am going to fly!” (from the book, Leap of faith)

I’ll see you up there!


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Dewey Decimal.

I suppose some might say that it has always been my nature to “worry.” Wednesday evenings before library day at Washington Elementary, I would wonder, will they give us enough time, will I find the book I want? And I hate to call it “worry,” really, it’s just that it all meant so much to me. The books, the library, the stories, I valued them. I loved them. So I took the time, mapped out the library on paper and in my head. Learned the sections of my favorite series. Studied the Dewey Decimal System. Made friends with the card catalog, not to mention the librarian. So yes, I thought about it a lot – but it wasn’t the agony of worry, it was love. And I will never regret giving them my time. My thoughts. My concern. Loving them with all of my heart.


Today, there are always concerns, and bigger ones at that. Family. Health. Life. World. But I would like to think I’m not just “worried.” Worry itself doesn’t seem to inspire much action. Concern, feelings, love, now that helps me. Makes me aware of the problems, the issues, and gives me the incentive to do something. Worrying, simply worrying about tomorrow, not only doesn’t help my tomorrow, but it loses my today. It’s not always easy. And I am certainly not perfect. Oh, that “worry” can sneak its way in, but when it does, I look for my tools. I Dewey Decimal it to the ground, and reach once again for the love. It, love, has always been the answer. Still, and again.


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Chances are.

The statistics teacher thought that if he showed us a real life example, it would be easier for us. So he began explaining the amount of possibilities that existed for our combination locks. X could be this. And solve for Y. And what if this? And show your work. The numbers and letters banged around in my head. I left my locker unlocked for the rest of the school year.

People really love us in the clunkiest of ways. We’re all so different. And to match what is needed with what is given, well, when you think about it, (here comes all that banging around again), it’s really something that we can get along at all.

But when we are open, and let each other fumble along in our own peculiar ways, it can be so magical, so uplifting. Maybe we can all be a little better at finding the beauty in the attempts. I want to be better. Better, not just at loving you, but letting you love me. And I suppose, if we did that for each other, well, chances are, as the song says, our chances are awfully good.


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Pillowing.

“Your heart pillows to mine, and I am home.” It is a simple sentence. One I wrote for my book, “Home.” I also made it into a picture that hangs in our upstairs hallway. To take a noun – pillow – make it a verb, and everyone still knows exactly what it means, this is a thrill!


I have always loved words. I grew up with them. They are a living force in my life. An exchange of goods – as my mother read to me before bed. An exchange of goods, as I read to her my blog each day.


This lifeforce – these words – how do I give thanks for them? As the lyrics say in the song “To Sir with Love,” — “How do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” For that’s what these words have done. They have raised me from a child. From my first visit to the library at Washington Elementary. To today, as I arrange them together, hopefully in a new way, on this page, eagerly trying to lift, to inspire, to connect. So to thank them, in my most humble way, I can only use them to the best of my ability. Use them for good. (Because make no mistake, they are tools – these words – and just as easily as they can build, they can also destroy). I pray that I, we, use them well. Share them with kindness, with as much love as they were first shared with me, by a woman, who I would grow to resemble in looks, who I long to resemble in heart. She laid them so gently in my bed, these words, so softly, so comforting, one might even say she pillowed them.
Don’t spare your words. Share them. Mean them. Thoughtfully, gently, use them well.


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Louder.

I didn’t say hardly anything from the 1st grade until 5th grade. I suppose I was a little afraid — but I think it was more that I was finding my voice. Listening. Gathering. Learning. Confidence fueled by friendship, in the 5th grade teamroom of Washington Elementary, I started to find it — this voice.

Barb, Lori, Wendy and I went into the janitor’s closet just across from our classroom. Sitting against the mops and buckets, we laughed and encouraged and talked. And talked. Perhaps it was the inspiration of hard work all around us, (for it is work), we gained the confidence of “something to say!” We were studying school safety, so the four of us decided to put on a play. Oh, the confidence of gathered youth! Of course we did! I went straight from “mouth closed” to “center stage.” They clapped for us, and we clapped for ourselves. What joy, this confidence. My tiny voice inside of me was getting louder and louder.

Every morning, in France, I go to my new “janitor’s closet” to work on my French. It is terrifying to raise my voice here. I don’t yet have the confidence of my 5th grade self. But each day, with a new word, I speak a little louder. Sometimes at the breakfast table. (where sometimes my husband claps for me). At the grocery store (where I sometimes clap for myself). And slowly it comes.

We will be challenged every day. From language to health. Relationships. Struggles. And we will be asked to do the work. Some days will always be easier than others. But on the hardest ones, I must think back to my blossoming self. How excited I was to dare — dare to find my voice — My self! How excited I was to say, Listen up world, my voice is getting louder and louder.

Today, surround yourself with those who will applaud your attempt! Dare to join in the clapping. Join the conversation of this wonderful life!


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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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Never disposable.

I packed up the painting yesterday. UPS took it away in the afternoon. It is now on it’s way home. All is as it should be, still, there is a tiny hole in my soul that needs to be filled. I know what to do. I have done it time and time again. I must start a new painting. And the process will fill that little space, and with any luck, that painting will find a new home and I will begin the process again.


When I was a kid, I suppose I thought that I would learn something once, and that would be it. I would just know. I would feel something once, and I wouldn’t have to feel it again. Smiling now. It’s just not the way. I find myself learning things again and again. Patience. Trust. Love.


People will enter your life and you will love them. Sometimes they will hurt you. Sometimes you will hurt them, (“and that I think is worse” as Dorothy Parker taught us.) But, oh, that heart, oh, that resilient heart, will love again. And be loved again.


Sometimes people will lift you. Gloriously lift you. Sometimes they will leave you. And your sore heart keeps beating. You will learn trust again. You will learn patience, continuously.


I paint as instinctively as I breathe. And my heart just follows. Jumping each time into the deep end of the colors. Deeper. Deeper. Filling my lungs. Creating as deeply as I can, then rising to the surface. Breaking though. Releasing the breath that carried me. Letting it all go. Ready to do it all again. Trusting in that ever resilient, never disposable heart.

Let’s stand together in front of today’s blank canvas, and begin… again…