Jodi Hills

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


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Of being carried.

I was watching something on netflix. I don’t even remember the movie. But an image I’ve seen a million times, on the screen, in real life, a young child being carried. And it struck me so – I wish I could remember that – that feeling of being lifted. Of being carried. Of being relaxed. Feet dangling. At ease. Held up. I have no memory of this. I’m not sure most people do.

I went to bed after the movie. Still a bit anxious from the news of the day. He knew that. I explained thoughts in fragments. Puzzles of emotions. He has a way of brushing the tear, not from my eye, no, he lets it fall to the bottom of my chin, and then catches it. Telling me it’s ok to feel. Allowing me to feel. And he’ll be there. He is there. And I know it. I release the air that worry tries to trap in my lungs, and I breathe. And breathe again. And I sleep. Feet dangling. I do remember.


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In the painting.

When you open the refrigerator door in our second kitchen, it’s pretty easy to tell we live in France. The Camembert fromage (cheese) wafts its unique “bonjour” and I know we are home.


And what a glorious thing it is to make yourself a home. I don’t mean to fill…but to actually create. To curate your space with a life that is yours. What could be more beautiful? Each painting, each photograph, a story. Each book, a conversation. A place to launch. A place to land. As unique and full of feeling as an original painting. A painting in which you can see each stroke. See where one color blended into the next. Actually feel the hands that made it.


I grew up in the painting — the neighborhood — of Van Dyke Road. The Vasek’s lived in the first house. The dust from the gravel road gathered on their screen door, giving it a creak to announce each visitor. They seemed especially old, probably because I was especially young, but I would visit them. How odd it must seem now, to say we, young and old, would visit our neighbors, walk through their unlocked, creaking doors and visit their curated world. Each stroke that was unique to their “birthplace of America.” It was a light peach colored home, and smelled, not of age, but of time. Time of food cooking on the stove. It was worn, the welcome rug, the railing at the front door. I didn’t have words for it then, but what a glorious gift, what a symbol of love, community, and peace, to wear the railing of your heart’s door with the hands of those around you.


I suppose that’s why I paint. To welcome you, near and far, into my world. To see the strokes of my life, and tell you, young and old, this is my neighborhood, my creaking door, my welcome mat, my heart — “Come in, you and your heart sit down.”


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The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.


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The short lens.


Yesterday, the first of January, we decided to take a walk up the small mountain close to our home. (In France we would call it a hill, but coming from Minnesota, it feels like a mountain.) The morning air was as fresh as a new year could bring. Going up the hill (mountain), the sun was out, but as we neared the top, we became one with the clouds and the fog. It was so beautiful!


We love to travel. We want to see and do everything! The world is really a magical place. So magical, that sometimes I forget to see what is right in front of us. I can get caught up in the what else, instead of focusing on the right here. So on this first day, this morning of the new year, I took the camera to celebrate the extraordinary of our every day!


And the universe was right there to help me focus on the right here. It brought the fog, as if to say, there’s no need to look that far ahead. Focus on what’s right in front of you. It’s so simple. But it’s true. I am one, for sure, who needs to learn that lesson again and again. I can get caught up in the awfulizing of the future – what if this happens, or that, or what will we do if they… It’s all out of my control. My vision. What I have is right in front of me. And if I take the time to see it, really see it — oh, it is beautiful! So very beautiful.


I want to see this day, this year, with the short lens. Live this life without worrying about everything that lies ahead. Without worrying beyond the fog, beyond what I don’t know. I want to see the beauty of the right here. Right now. And know that it is more than enough! More than I could ever capture. I walk joyfully, lightly, in the clouds, and give thanks.


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Find your way home.

I painted a portrait of this dog for my book, “Home.” I had the original leaning up against the wall in my apartment. You could see it when you opened the door. My neighbor’s dog, Daisy, spotted it immediately the first time she passed by. Daisy, normally the calmest service dog, went wild with excitement. Finally, she must have thought, someone like me! She only saw in once, but she remembered, and she always wanted in my apartment. I sold the original after the gallery show. I didn’t have the heart to tell Daisy her friend wasn’t there anymore. Because when she saw me. Heard my door open, she still felt the presence of her friend. I let her keep that gift.


I suppose that’s the way it works for all of us. We spend our time searching for someone who makes us feel less alone, who makes us feel more like ourselves, who makes us feel alive! What a gift that is when you find it!


“All the songwriters and poets have tried to tell us, what all the homesick children and the soldiers know, what the girl in the red shoes and the barking dogs know, what the signs waiting at the airport terminals say and the whistle of the train screams – “There’s no place like home!” (From the book “Home”)


I continue to paint the portraits. The landscapes. The doors. All in hopes of helping you find your palette, your familiar, your heart…to find your way home.


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In from the cold.

I must admit that I love summer. I would much rather be warm. But I’m glad I know it — the cold. The need to bundle. The having been through.

Just as you entered my grandparents’ house, there was a rack for coats. It was always full. Being a farm, someone was forever working outside, all through the year. Through rain. Through snow. And it was the coats, I suppose, that told you the story. Wet. Worn. Worked. Through. My heart, comforted with the damp smell, not of the weather, but the return. No matter what they had been through, they came back. I imagine this is the comfort I was seeking. To me, there was nothing warmer than trust.

Isn’t that what we are all seeking? This trust. This place to come in from the cold. To be bundled in a love that will always return. No matter what.

If you ask me today, where I came from, I will tell you someplace warm — someplace very warm.


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The journey.

It happens with a really good book. I have this urgency to keep reading and this need for it to never end. This push and pull inside my brain and heart – keep reading one tells the other, no, wait, slow down. It’s happening right now with the book, “Our Country Friends.” I read last night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, then woke up early to continue. My eyes still scratchy with sleep I plowed through each word. Slow down my heart urged, but my brain’s hand kept pointing forward.


We were driving to Chicago, my mom and I. It was winter and the trip was always a gamble, but one we were so willing to take. If we could make it beyond Tomah, Wisconsin, without a snowstorm, we were safe. As we neared this critical halfway point, the snow began. Then harder. We kept singing to the radio as the view got whiter and whiter. “Do you think we’ll be smart enough to pull over if it gets too bad?” my mother asked. Before I, or she, could respond, the barrier across the freeway had been lowered and we were forced to pull off the exit. “I guess not…” we said together.


I don’t remember what we bought on that trip to Chicago – that shopping excursion – but I do remember the journey. The journey together. I suppose that’s everything, isn’t it? I closed my book and went down to make breakfast. I wanted it to last a little longer. I want it all to last a little longer.


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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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“Fall”ing.

I love summer. I won’t deny it. But I’m not going to live for it, only it. I would lose so much. The colors of autumn. The crackles underfoot. There is a peace that comes. A slower speed. A much needed rest.


It takes me a bit to see it. To feel it. To remember my sweater. Sock my feet and close the doors. But the never-ending song of the birds in our trees reminds me — there is a melody here — a song of the season — worthy of being sung. Sung without the pining away for green. Sung for the beauty of now.


I shuffle in the fallen leaves. Grab my brushes and capture the soft colors, the non- demanding colors of autumn. And I see it. The beauty of this autumn day.


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In plain sight.

We were going through some of my grandmother’s things after she passed away. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nor my hands. There it was. Something I had made when I was in 5th grade art class. A piece of bark from a local tree. A few pink straw flowers glued inside a crevice. An angled piece of wood nailed to the back so it would stand. And oh, how it stood – for decades. It stood for family and belonging. It stood for a life recognized. Seen. Mattered. And so I return the favor now, with her picture standing next to my sewing machine. Her picture guiding me through each stitch. A life – her life – one that is seen, recognized. A life that matters. Still.

When I walk into my brother-in-laws house in Aix en provence, the first thing I see is the painting I did of three yellow apples. Even if I fumble the language. Stumble over the culture. I am seen. I belong. What a gift! Oh, how it matters to this imported heart!

The thing is, we think “Oh, they must know…” But people don’t always know, until you show them. Show them how you feel. And even if they do know – a reminder, well, that just feels good. All the time!

Here’s to living in plain site! I see you! I give thanks for you. Every day!