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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Heart on my sleeve.

In my small hometown, there was a large department store, named Herberger’s. For those of you unfamiliar, you could call it a Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Macy’s, Dillard’s…a rose by any other name. It was the anchor store of our Viking Plaza (or Vikedale as we so lovingly called it). And by my use of the word “was,” I’m sure you can see where this is going. Funny how we didn’t. We assumed it would always be there. For shopping, of course! But more than that. For social interaction. Walking inside on cold and snowy days. Visiting. Encouraging. Living.


The first time my French husband visited Alexandria, we went out to Herberger’s with my mom. We entered near the shoe department. “Hi Ivy!” she said as she handed the shoes to her customer. Sue in the bra department waved. “Hi Ivy!” she said from women’s wear. The manager of the store stopped and said hello as we went to men’s wear. This was a normal day for us. We, my mom and I had grown up together at Herberger’s. Survived lonely Sunday afternoons there. Celebrated grand events there. Tried on clothes after clothes. Complimented each other. Gained our confidence. Grew our audience. Came to life. So it wasn’t strange to me when Claudia at the makeup counter asked my mom if she was feeling dizzy because she knew my mother – knew her history – her health. But my husband had this strange look on his face. “What?” I asked him. Does everyone know your mother here? “Sure,” I smiled. “It’s Herberger’s. She’s probably like the mayor.”


When Herberger’s closed several years ago. It was a shock. We weren’t prepared to say goodbye, but then, I suppose, no one ever is. We had survived so many goodbyes before, and we would survive this one as well.


I was playing “fashion show” yesterday, in our home in France. I try on things in my closet. Put together a capsule wardrobe like I’m a star on Youtube…look in the bedroom mirror, then the bathroom, then the downstairs full length mirror that gets the best lighting… then into the salon to show my husband. When I first introduced him to the playing fashion show, I’m not sure he really understood the game, or that we were even playing… “You have to say lots of nice things about me…” “A little more…” He’s become an excellent player.


With each outfit change I am shouting with glee over the changing room walls, over the music playing on the speakers above us, racing my mother to the best lit mirror (of course she had that figured out!). We weren’t wrong when we assumed that it would always be with us. It is! Herberger’s is alive and well in the south of France.


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Seeing it through.

“There was the man who got on his horse one afternoon and told his wife he was going to bring in the cows. She watched him ride off across the flats. He came to their two mild cows, grazing half a mile from the house, and he rode around them and kept on going. She watched him to the top of the rise, a mile away, and she waited and waited. He never came back. “I don’t know what got into him,” his wife said. “He didn’t even say goodbye.” Hal Borland from “High, Wide and Lonesome”


When I start a new painting, I like to keep quiet. Those who know me don’t ask, “What is it going to be?” I suppose there are a few reasons for this. First, I’m often not sure. What I begin might turn into something else completely. That, to me, is never failure of losing the first, that is the magic of gaining what is to be. The magic that comes from seeing it through. Allowing it to become. Never abandoning the canvas, but working with it. Not forcing it to be something it isn’t, but allowing it to be what it wants to be.


Maybe she learned it from her father — the farmer who always came back from the field. But most certainly, I learned it from her, my mother. From her I learned the magic of seeing it through. The magic of no more abandonings. So today, if you’re wondering what the next painting will be… what tomorrow will bring…if you really need to know, know this, it’s going to be magic!


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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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Happy Day!

I suppose it’s not that exciting to try something new on December 29th, or the 30th. Nobody blows a horn or lowers a ball. But I thought it was fun. On the 29th I painted a woman on a block of found wood, in a style I don’t normally do. Crisp outlines. Bright colors. It was a good lesson in determined strokes. On the 30th, I painted a bird on crafted paper. “Well, that’s not new,” you must be thinking, but this time, I did it all with the same brush. No relying on the tools of the trade – testing my patience and skill.

January is almost upon us. I used to go to the New York gift show every January. I would come home with hundreds of orders to fill. Looking at the pile of papers was incredibly overwhelming. So I didn’t. I taught myself to finish an order. One at a time. Complete the work, box it, label it, claim the victory, then go on to the next. Clearly I wasn’t the first to think of this, but it seems to be a lesson worth learning again and again.

Yes, today is New Year’s Eve! And that IS special! But so is tomorrow and the day after that, and the one after that. I don’t know what lies ahead. And I can’t plan the entire year. I wouldn’t even want to. Today my hands and heart will covered in December 31st, truly worthy of celebrating! Happy Day!


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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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No measuring cups.


It wasn’t often that I saw my Grandma Elsie without an apron covered in flour, that I saw the kitchen sink empty, her cupboards clear… You entered her house through the always unlocked door, directly through her kitchen. First impressions. It was always full. She was permanently baking and cooking, but rarely cleaning. This is not an insult. I have always admired her ability to let things roll. She didn’t seem overly concerned about the little things. She made it all look so easy. We asked her once about leaving the door unlocked, wasn’t she worried that someone could just walk in, in the middle of the night. “Well, maybe they’ll clean something…” was her response.


They say she never measured anything while cooking. I’m not certain it’s true, but it would be within her character. I started baking when I moved to France. I have no American measuring cups, and only a single French one. There is a lot of guessing. Not to mention the translating of recipes. The swapping out of ingredients (Chocolate bars are in the “exotic” aisle of the grocery store.) I’m not sure why I started. I don’t remember the first thing I baked. I’m going to guess cookies. I suppose for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid to do it. There was no one who would judge me, or make fun of me. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. For the first time in my life I was secure that my love would not be measured by kitchen triumphs or failures. I was simply loved. It’s amazing what that confidence can do for you.


I think of my Grandma now as I bake for Christmas. I think of how she must have felt loved. So loved that she could dance in her kitchen, covered in flour, with the sink full of dishes. And I am so happy that she had that. That confidence. That love.


Now with all those children, all those years, all that living, of course she must have had her share of heartache. Of concern. I suppose, even worry. But she showed none of it. Not with her hands. With those hands, covered in flour, covered in dust, she held. She gave. She touched.


Love is never measured.


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I have to believe.

I graduated high school with a cast on my ankle. I graduated college with a full length cast on one leg and an ankle cast on the other. I had over 20 surgeries. And I never thought of myself as weak. I think if you carry, (sometimes kick) your backpack filled with hardcover books across an icy campus, while on crutches, you can consider yourself strong.

In between the plaster I wore what Fleet Farm would call work boots. I wore them with jeans. I wore them with dresses. If this had happened in today’s fashion world of “the clunkier boot the better,” no one would have noticed, but I was well ahead of my time. And they did get noticed, and people were not always complimentary.

My mother, knee deep in grief during my teenage years, found a way to get herself dressed, and not just dressed, looking good dressed, fashionable well beyond her monetary and emotional means dressed, carrying herself with dignity, with purpose, with strength well ahead of her time. How could I not put on a pair of boots and believe that my feet would take me where I need to go?

Yesterday I wrote in permanent marker all over my Dr. Martens. These boots, I thought, need to tell the story I’ve been writing for years. These boots need to walk in the strength of all the words that have carried me. Remind me of where of where I’ve been. Take me, wherever I need to go. I believe.


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Filled.

There is a substance I use once in a while when I make a frame with reclaimed wood. The wood is never perfect of course, and sometimes when I cut the angles, little pieces will chip away, and so to make them strong enough, I add this putty to fill in the gaps or cracks and it not only becomes stronger, it has more character, and a new life.

There are days that chip away at my heart, and I think, if I only I had some of that to fill it in. Strengthen it. Some days it takes longer than others, but once I let go of the Oh, why?’s and the poor me’s, (can you imagine a piece of wood whining to his carpenter?) I can see that I do have it – have had it all along, just what I need to fill in the cracks. Sometimes it comes in the form of words, sometimes a book, a conversation, a hand, a smile, all just love, finding the right shape, to crawl inside the tiny cracks and fill them.

And on those days, when I let myself be filled, I give thanks, not only for the love, but the cracks that let it in, the narrows that give it a home, the imperfections that make it my own.