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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Sprigs of green.

I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive. 

They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!  

Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.

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It never occurred to me to have a lemonade stand. I don’t remember that anyone did when I lived on VanDyke Road. There were garage sales – sure. My grandma loved those. She loved chance. The possibility of finding a treasure. She ordered from Publisher’s Clearing House – which would explain that one year for Christmas when I received a pair of red lace women’s undergarments (I was maybe seven.) She walked the streets of “Crazy Days” – purchasing anything in a brown paper “grab bag.” This is where I got the idea to have my own “Crazy Days.” I had a few old broken toys to put in school lunch sacks. (This will tell you how well we did when my grandma purchased similar grab bags at the Ben Franklin.) I priced them at 10 cents and a quarter. Kathy and Renee Norton combined their allowances and each bought one. I was sitting on our front steps when they came walking back to our house, heads hung low. Mrs. Norton told them to get their money back. “Oh, Grandma,” I thought. Of course I gave them their money back. We never spoke of it again. I suppose that was the real treasure. I guess we were making “lemonade” all along.

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365 better days.

Practice makes perfect. I guess we heard that in school – though we rarely saw evidence of it. I practiced my clarinet. I missed notes. Often. So did Brenda, beside me. Even Jan, who sat first chair. But oh, how we played! And when our parents stood for us at the end of the spring concert, it was, as they say, perfection.

I went to volleyball practice, daily during the season. We never won a championship. But win or lose, legs stuck to the fake green leather seats of the bus, we sang, “We are the champions!”

I paint in my sketch book every day. I practice. Try new techniques. It doesn’t make me a perfect painter. (I’m not even sure what that would mean.) But it does make me perfectly happy. I feel like I make progress. I feel like I get better. And maybe that’s what the saying should have been all along. Practice makes better.

I have not missed a day writing this blog, not for 365 days. One solid year. That’s a practice. In the play “Rent,” there is a song, “Seasons of love.” In it they sing, “Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.
How do you measure, measure a year?” I have measured mine in paint strokes, and softball fields, summer vacations and childhood friends. Measured in tears and coffee cups, and hammers and nails, and libraries. In planes and croissants, and hugs, and laughter. Measured in each word I send out to you. Measured in each word you send back to me – and I am better because of it.

The sun is up. I’ve had my croissant with the one I love. Good morning, my beautifully imperfect world! Let’s get to practicing!

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A story.

We passed by the Javits Center yesterday. I used to do the shows there twice a year to show my work to gift stores and galleries. To build a store and carry it across the country, set it up, sell, smile, stand, and stand and stand on the concrete floor — not an easy task. It might surprise you to know that I didn’t think of any of that as we drove by in a yellow cab. I didn’t feel my aching feet, I felt my swelling heart. To interact face to face with people. To invite them into your world and see them react with hands clutching hearts, this will live within me forever.  

Our US journey will be coming to an end soon. We’ve seen so many wonderful places, but what is filling my heart is the interactions with people.  I did a special limited edition of my newest book, Pulling Nails, and distributed during this trip. It is a compilation of my art and blogs. My heart. I got to see so many of you wonderful people. And even if Covid and the weather kept the interactions brief, I valued every second!  Such a joy to run to cars for curbside pickup. To meet for coffee. To share a smile. A hug. A story.  To see my words clutched in your hands, held to your heart — this is everything. 

I write every day, not just so you hear my story, hear the stories about the people I love, but so you’ll share yours. And then we are all connected. No matter where we go, how tired are feet are, our hearts, these connections will lift us, carry us, on and through. We are all here to tell a story.

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Hearts of youth.

We started making our boxes about a week before the 14th. Covering former shoe boxes with pink and red hearts. Tin foil to add texture and shape. Folding strips of paper to make springs so the hearts would jump (almost) from the box. Anything to make our Valentine mail boxes stand out. Get noticed. Cutting a hole in the cover — awaiting our special deliveries. It was Valentine’s Day at Washington Elementary. And we did everything we could to encourage the love.

Our mothers bought us packets of premade Valentines to give to the class, but we made hearts with our hands to give to those we truly loved. We were supposed to give a Valentine to each classmate. I’d like to think we did, but I don’t think so. Even with the purest hearts of youth, it’s hard to get everything right.

I’m still working on my Valentine carrier — my heart — I suppose we need to, every day. No longer to get noticed, but just to be open, to receive. And with my chubby, unsure fingers, I cut and paste and create, in my own imperfect way, and give to the one I love. I fold these words, to spring from my heart – Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Bruce Springsteen sang of “Glory Days,” ironically when we were still in high school. And for me, that seems about right. To keep it there. I can’t say that I have once really looked back and thought those were the best days of my life. Not because they were bad, but because I want to enjoy the time I’m in. Right now.

She emailed me this morning. Said she walked into her friend’s house, and there was my bluebird. Hanging on the wall. And just like that, the three of us, who had gone to high school together, were all connected. Maybe for the first time. I know these two “girls” now as women of the world (maybe still with young girls’ hearts), and with all apologies to Bruce, what could be more glorious than that?

To let people become. To allow them to learn and grow…find their own happiness. Find the life they love…and then see them, in all their glory, in every shade of blue, nothing could make me happier.

This is the time. Right here. Right now. “I wink with a young girl’s eye.”

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In our travels, the greatest common denominator (look, I’m finally using that high school math) is the “selfie.” People taking pictures, seemingly, not of the experience they are having, but creating some sort of proof that they were there. For example, the amount of selfie sticks in Venice almost obstructed the 360 degrees of beauty. What are they missing in trying to gain all this proof?

When I cook, I like to serve everything on a platter. I like a good presentation. I like a set table. In two weeks of making meals at my mother’s house, I have yet to take a picture of the food.

My niece took us out for a joyful lunch yesterday. Not one picture of the food. I can still feel the hug hello. I can feel the hug goodbye. I remember the conversations. I’m still laughing. I can still hear both nephews saying “I love you.” Proof.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story, a good photograph, a good memory. But I’m probably most pleased when I get home from a vacation, a lunch, an event, and think, “Oh, I was having so much fun, I forgot to take a picture.” My heart feels full. My brain races over the experience. My face opens in a continuous smile. And if those I’m with feel it too, then that’s all the proof I need – I was there – I am here!

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Holding on.

Sunday afternoons were always the longest. Especially in winter. When it got dark so early. I read. There was that. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her Sunday afternoons, I imagined were full. With Ma and Pa, and Mary, and that little one that nobody really liked. I laid on the floor and walked to their “Little House in the Big Woods” — before they moved to the Prairie. Everyone remembers the Prairie – maybe because of the television show, but for me it was that book – Little House in the Big Woods – because it was the first book in that series that I owned. That I could hold and smell and turn the pages. That I could read and read again on dark, Sunday afternoons.

My mom often laid beside me. Both of us near a speaker of our giant console. Only a few records, she played over and over. Barry Manilow. Frank Sinatra. Worn from the play on those dark days.
She always told me, “One day, the days are going to go so fast. Filled with so much joy, we’ll barely be able to hold on.”

She was more than right. Nothing is lighter than joy, and oh, how it can fly. Sometimes, I try to catch it all in the blur that passes, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, art, love, travel, France, glasses — clinking, laughter, food passed around tables, and words shared in whispers and dog-eared books. And it is fast — this traveling at the speed of joy. Sometimes I wonder, how will I hold on, and then I see, my hands knowing, folded together in thanks, holding. On.

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Baby Dragons.

At Washington Elementary, if it was warm enough for normal school attendance, it was warm enough to play outside. Even on the coldest of winter days, we bundled, which really ate into our recess time, and played with the vigor of youth!

On our playground, front and center, was a grand set of “monkey bars.” We didn’t question it then, but these monkey bars had a giant head of a dragon. And on this dragon we would climb and jump, secure that if we fell, we would be safe in our winter’s bundle. Sometimes, someone lost a bit of their tongue on a dare – just like in the Christmas movie – when dared to stick their tongue on the frozen bars. But mostly we ran. We jumped. We climbed. Huffing and puffing in the winter cold, like baby dragons. So thrilled by the sight of our own breath! We were alive!

Yesterday, two friends made the two hour drive from Minneapolis in the bitter cold (below zero), just to see me for 10 minutes and get signed copies of my newest book. They even brought presents! My mom watched in delight from the upstairs window. (No COVID spreading here.) My friends and I laughed and danced around in the cold. Hugging and laughing like baby dragons. And it is was as thrilling as it was on the playground so many years ago, to see my own laughter — as it hung in the air — proof that joy could be found on any day — in any temperature! What a glorious feeling to be alive!!!