Jodi Hills

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


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Nothing small.

“Why didn’t you tell me I was small?” she asked her mother.
“Because I never thought so,” she replied.
“No really. Am I small?” she asked again.
“You fill my heart with joy. Could anything small do that?” her mother replied.
She smiled. And felt a world of possibility.
“I wish I were beautiful,” she told her mother.
“You light up the sky, my love.” Her mother showed her the stars.
“What if I’m not smart enough?” she cried before leaving.
“You are stronger than you think.” Her mother held back her tears.
“What if I’m not strong enough?” her mother asked the open sky.
“I love you,” she sang to her mother as she flew.
Love held her. Could anything small do that?

(Chickadee – from the book “Bird Song” by Jodi Hills)

I found something huge yesterday. (Yes, I’ve been deep diving in the cleaning department). Well, what I found is only about 1″ x 1/2″, but to me it’s huge! A pencil sharpener. Even in its original packaging. Unopened. Sometimes the universe just knows what you need. (Or maybe it always does, and we’re just not looking.) And the most important thing of all – it works!!! That may not seem extraordinary, but believe me, I have a lot of pencils, for all types of drawing, and I, until yesterday, did not have a pencil sharpener – that worked. I have one that you just spin and spin and spin and nothing ever happens. I don’t think you should have to lose weight while sharpening a pencil. I have another that, no matter what you put in, it only takes out that one side, and you’re left with the shard of wood that you try to pick off, and it gets stuck in your fingernail, and you start all over again, getting the same result. I have another that absolutely fits no pencil that I own. I have no idea what it’s for. And my last one, has the most voracious appetite, eating everything inserted. None of these I actually purchased. They were all left behind from Dominique’s family. (Maybe left behind for good reasons.) But yesterday, aah yesterday, I found it. I opened it with such hope — oh, the tenacity of HOPE! — yes, I opened it and tried the closest pencil. The most perfect point. I tried another. Perfect. Easy. I tried charcoal. Yes. Lead, yes! Colored – sure, why not! Soft – no problem. Perfect points all. I wanted to fling open the doors of the studio and shout to the world – it works – it really works! I raised up my best Sally Field’s impression to the sky, “You like me – you really like me!”

I know it’s a pencil sharpener, yes, it’s small, but it takes that one thing in my life and makes it so much easier, makes it delightful. Nothing small can do that.

I guess it’s always the little things that make up a grand life. If you look at the ingredients of a croissant, it’s almost nothing, and extremely ordinary, but rolled and rolled, it becomes something magical. And shared with someone you love — even better. While eating our croissants at breakfast my husband said, “We have to find or make these for your mother, because she would really love them.” I told my mom that later in the day. She beamed – I could feel it over the telephone. He had thought of her. Just a little thing, but oh, so magical. The universe does this for us every day. Certainly we can do it for each other.


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Surprise

Not that much surprised her anymore and she felt badly about that. She wanted to live in a world where it was surprising when someone left the one they promised to love. In a world where the words homeless and lonely weren’t commonplace. A world that was surprised, horrified, by violence and lies. Where it was simply unheard of to hurt a child. Where were all the surprises? Where was the pure and astonishing beauty of kindness? Was she foolish to believe such a world could exist?


This morning at breakfast I tasted something for the first time. When making jam, you have to boil the fruit with sugar for a long time. As it boils, a frothy substance rises to the top. Google told me that you spoon that off so your jam isn’t cloudy. Dominique told me to save it. It seemed strange to me, but so far, he hasn’t led me astray, so I saved it. We put it onto our croissants this morning. It was the most creamy, peachy deliciousness I have ever tasted. I guess goodness still rises to the top. I have tasted it. I believe in it.


Just the fact that I can trust the person that sits across my breakfast table, with my whole heart, is a beautiful surprise. The world may not be a perfectly surprising place anymore, but some people still are… therein lies the hope, and the most beautiful surprises of all.


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Nothing here I can’t rise above.

Yesterday I felt a little off. The whole day. I just couldn’t find my footing. My place. I don’t really know why it happens, but every once in a while it does. And why wouldn’t it? I guess it would be more strange if it never did. There is probably a way to live this life without feeling anything. Protect yourself from the lows by never experiencing the highs. Guard yourself from any sort of pain by refusing to love. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to feel it, really feel it. I want this life to shake me up with joy, dampen me with tears of tenderness, and rattle me to the core with love. Because that is something. That is a life lived! But with all that shaking and rattling, I know I’m going to get knocked off my feet once in a while. But, OH!, do I know how to rise!


I think it’s easier to trust people with a little dirt on their knees. I brush mine off and tell you that you can trust me. I brush mine off and tell the mirror that I can trust myself. The sun has risen, and so have I! It’s going to be a great day!


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Don’t dig your toes in.

We have become polarized in so many ways the past few years. “But they didn’t vote right.” “They aren’t wearing a mask.” “They’re protesting the wrong way.” “Who do they think they are?” “They can’t be serious!” “It’s just so obvious!!!” Each side certain of their beliefs. And not just certain, planted, stuck.

I started practicing yoga. There is a pose called tree pose. You have to balance on one foot, bringing your other heel half way up that balanced leg. When you feel steady, you can bring your hands to your heart, and eventually make branches by reaching your hands above your head. Tree Pose improves your sense of balance and coordination. Regular practice will improve your focus and your ability to concentrate in all areas of your life, particularly during those times when you might normally feel “off-balance.” This pose has a positive impact on the grace and ease with which you approach all circumstances, even outside of your yoga class.

The yoga instructor I listen to online tells me something every day (and I need to hear it every day). In the middle of the pose, when you might start to wobble, she says, “Don’t dig your toes in the ground, it won’t make it any easier.”

Don’t dig your toes in. I need to hear that. To live that. People will have different opinions. Different likes. Different tastes. And the human reaction is often to fight back immediately, as if the angered certainty will change someone’s mind. It doesn’t.

Instead, I want to focus on my own quiet certainty – my own balance. From my toes to my hands, my hands that gather first at my heart, as they should, then over my head. That quiet balance that works for me. That gives me strength. That gives me peace.

I wiggle my toes, because even in all the uncertainty, life is still fun, life is still filled with grace. Find your balance. Enjoy your day!


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Until today

I’ve never tried charcoal on wood before, until yesterday. I found a piece of wood from an old bureau that was cut apart and in the scrap pile. I sanded it down. Gave a coat of acrylic white, just for a base, and then drew with the charcoal. It went on so smoothly. It was as if the wood wanted it. It welcomed and held the charcoal and the rub of my fingers, like no other material I had used before. It was new and familiar at the same time.


It’s amazing what you can do, what you can learn, just by adding two words to your vocabulary — “until today.” I have never made brioche, until today. I have never seen the sun rise in those colors, until today. I have never dared to ask for it, until today. I never thought I could survive that, until today. I never thought myself capable of letting go, of becoming, until today. I never believed it was possible, until today.


Today is a day to try something new — or even again, for the first time — like love! It just might be strangely brand new and gloriously familiar, all at the same time. Today!


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The show

The show.

My first solo show in France was in a cathedral in Carpentras. You can imagine the size by its title “cathedral” – had it been small, I guess it would have been a church. And it was huge! Both impressive and intimidating. How would I fill such a space?

The answer was in the window of the small house next to the cathedral. It was one of the most beautiful windows I had ever seen. It stopped me in the street. Bold red shutters framed the window, dressed in the most delicate lace, and accented with flowers that grew on the sill. The marks from the latches breathed a daily opening. This window was alive. It was filled with life. And I knew what my show would represent – a life – my life.

I filled the cathedral with my story — with the same hopes of presenting, I guess, just like this window, that someone lives here. Someone lives in these paintings. Amid all of these colors and strokes is a life, framed with the boldness of red, the fragility of lace and the daily growth of a flower.

The largest cathedrals we have to fill are the lives we are living. And life, for sure, can be both impressive and intimidating, but oh, how beautiful! What a show! How are you going to fill yours today? Open the shutters wide — let’s begin.


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Blue Mind

I wanted to tell her that there is this thing – something better than a thing – this phenomenon that happens when you are close to the water. It’s called Blue Mind. I had only heard of it a few days ago, but had experienced it my whole life.


When I take a swim in the pool in the morning – it transports me back to 10 years old, riding my bike to Lake Latoka. Not parking the bike, just letting it fall into the sand. Kicking off my shoes, and shorts, racing into the water. Then floating. And swimming. And feeling the everything and nothing of being weightless. The everything and nothing of being without worry. This glorious everything and nothing buoying me for an endless summer.


Now the “experts” will say that Blue mind” is characterized as a mild state of meditation that evokes a sense of calm, peacefulness, happiness and contentment. It’s your brain’s subconscious, positive reaction to being on, in or near water. You instantly feel a higher sense of wellbeing, slower breathing and lower heart rate.


That sounds right too. And I wanted to tell her all of that, but I didn’t know all of the French words, and she was crying, and it seemed too long to explain. I started to say something and the sight of the Mediterranean Sea caught my eye and my breath.

I learned a long time ago that joy arrives in every shade of blue. I smiled. Hugged her, and thought, we could probably just go outside.


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Peach

Living in an apartment most of my young life, I didn’t really understand the basement of my grandmother. The room at the bottom of the stairs was stacked with glass jars filled with fruit and vegetables. She “canned.” I didn’t really know what that meant. No one really explained it to me. I’m ashamed to say, I wondered if we, they, were poor. Did we have to save this food in these jars? Were we preparing for something terrible to happen? I didn’t know – and I was afraid to ask.


I loved my grandma. She had a twinkle that came from some inner assuredness, so my worry didn’t last long. And I forgot about it.
Peaches have begun to pop out on our front yard tree. Each year when they blossom and then give fruit, it feels like a tiny miracle. They are beautiful. A melding of orange and yellow and red. I imagine the tiny angels that come in the night with brushes and release all the colors, just for us to give a wow in the morning sun!


In a few weeks, I will pick these peaches and peel them. After I take the skin off, the fruit is almost without color, a pale yellow at best, but then when I boil them, they release into the most glorious color of, well, peach! It is stunning. And the magic continues.


As each jar is emptied, over fresh baked bread, or brioche, or just by the spoonful, I am taken on a sticky hand trip, across the ocean, chubby fingers locked in my grandma’s, walking down the stairs to her glorious basement. “I see it now,” I tell her. “It’s magic and it’s beautiful!”

My grandma came last night with the other angels. The peaches fill the tree and the morning air says, “Wow!”


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Give

There was a slowness of time that gathered at the farm. We raced with youthful legs – legs that spun underneath us like on the cartoons – and yet the day seemed to last forever. Legs that carried no weight of worry, but only the sticky pink of dripped watermelon.
My grandfather didn’t play with us. He had work to do. The farm demanded it. And he did it. He didn’t join us for birthday parties. I don’t imagine he ever wrapped a present. But he gave me a gift I still open, almost daily.
He didn’t say much, but when he did, you listened. Pipe in one hand, the other smoothing out the line of his overalls. He spoke slowly. My father was gone. My mother was sad. My legs gave way to the weight of it all. “Focus on someone else,” he said. Someone else??? What was he talking about? My legs couldn’t move. “Give your attention, your time, anything, to someone else. Trust me.”
How did he know? Maybe because he gave his hands to the soil. Maybe because he had nine children. He knew.
I can get overwhelmed. Easily. And it can swallow my attention – me, me, me. And then I remember, I open the gift. That beautiful gift. Focus on something else. Someone else. And I am saved.
My legs are strong today. Strong enough to run beside you under the sun of this possible June day. Strong enough to give.


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Open

There is something about an open book that invites you in. I saw a bookstand online and I knew I had to have one. Anything worth having is probably worth making. So I did. I don’t have all the “proper” tools, but I have tools — tools, if used in my own clunky, but effective way, can get the job done. Now this treasured book of art sits wide open, inviting you in.
I think the same is true for me. I don’t have all the “proper” tools to survive in a different country. I speak this new language in my own, clunky way, and know that anything worth having, like a life, is worth making. So I make it with all of my homemade (heartmade) tools, and I come to it wide open.
Today, there is a scent of freshly cut wood in the air. A scent of work, and hope, and possibility. Inviting me! Inviting you!