Jodi Hills

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


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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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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Summer of ‘63

I was given a small photo of three boys fishing at the lake. He was commissioning me to create a large painting of the image. First I made the lake. The shoreline. The dock. Then each brother, in order of their age. Just as they would have entered this life, they appeared on the canvas. I don’t paint anything I can’t feel, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel this much. Perhaps it was so emotional because this is where I, too, began. Near this lake. In this small town. Perhaps because I knew what their futures held. Part of me wanted to tell each one what was to come…but that wouldn’t be right, even if possible. For they, all three were safe in this moment. Pure. And this is where I would capture them. Forever innocent, in the summer sun of 1963. Full of hope.


I didn’t notice until I was finished the date on the side of the photograph – it was January, 1964. Clearly this picture wasn’t taken in January in Minnesota. But I imagine the photographer, the boys’ mother or father, must have been waiting to finish the roll of film. We used film back then. And if you bought a roll, of say 36, then you waited patiently, or not patiently, until you finished the roll, and then brought it to the film corner in the drug store to be developed. I imagine they finished the roll at Christmas time, and then had it developed.


Maybe time moved slower then. Summers lasted longer. Still, they, we, couldn’t stop it. Probably the best we can do is capture the moments. On film. On canvas. In our hearts. And feel everything. Feel the heat of the sun. The possibility rolling in with each gentle wave. The time when the common goals of youth kept us together. Easily. Slowly.


Today, these three young boys are fishing together in the south of France. Hopeful, excited, ready to go home.


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The cracks

I wish I could have learned everything when I was six. I wasn’t afraid then. I took swimming lessons every Saturday morning at the community pool. It was so easy to jump into the water. Even before we knew how to crawl stroke, we splashed and floated and became one with it. I guess that was the key. We didn’t fight the water. Oh, there was always one kid, terrified, kicking, thrashing, who would disappear from the pool never to be seen again. Never to learn how to swim. Never to join in the birthday parties, or summer afternoons at one of the 10,000 lakes. What a thing to miss!


Adult days can be overwhelming. We face unimaginable things. Things that seem unpassable. But there is always a crack to get through, if we become like water. Water can always get through, even the smallest opening. When Bruce Lee said, “be like water, my friend” he simply meant to be flexible in both mind and body. It’s about not being rigid and stubborn in your beliefs and practices. But instead, about being open-minded and able to change and adapt to the circumstances we are put into. The older we get, the easier it is to be rigid. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to be forever six, loose and open and possible!


Perhaps that’s why I paint the water, again and again – as a reminder to “be possible,” I tell myself with each stroke – find the openings, become the water, get through. The water moves through my hands, my heart, my head, and I learn today’s lesson again. And, I give thanks for the cracks, thanks for the six year old heart that beats within me and says, “Everything is possible! Don’t be afraid.” Because this day, what a thing to miss!