Jodi Hills

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


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The curator

I have always loved to decorate and redecorate. Arranging and sorting and assembling. I love mixing textures. Gathering hard and soft items. It makes everything more interesting. It’s a continuous process. Sometimes I sell a painting and it needs to be replaced. Or I make something new and it “would just go perfectly there.” Or the light changes with the seasons and I switch things up. Or maybe I learn something, I feel something different, I grow. It all reflects in the museum of my home. For it should be a museum. A collection of life. A collection curated with each lived experience.


The curators of the finest museums decide what stays and what goes. What is given importance. The art of saying no to some things and making the most of the best. And it’s forever changing. And these curators (the good ones) don’t say, “Well, I changed it once – it has to stay this way forever!” They enjoy the process. This beautiful process of balancing the permanent pieces – the core of their identity – with the temporary pieces that are highlighted and then passed along.


I love being the curator of my home. It doesn’t frighten me. It inspires and invigorates. This is the way I want to look, too, at my life, not just my home. I want to be the curator of my life. Enjoying the process. Hanging on to my core, but not being afraid of change. Adapting to the changing light and season. Learning. Growing. Embracing the permanent hearts, and letting go of those who were only meant to be temporary. To confidently say no. To joyfully say yes! It will be a constant process. And it will be beautiful!


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Courage


All I wanted to do today was quit. I couldn’t get my french lesson. I typed and spoke and hit those buttons over and over again. Wrong. “Common mistake,” it replied. I could feel that hole in my stomach getting bigger and bigger. But I kept going. Foot in each furrow. Slugging along. The calories from my croissant long burned up. Until finally, finally… “You’ve reached your daily goal.” Thank God! And I’m still here.


On these days, when I finish, and I do make myself finish, I take a deep breath, and look around, a little embarrassed of the struggle. And maybe it’s not the struggle that embarrasses me, maybe it’s feeling “common.” I don’t want to feel common, ordinary, just one of those silly people who can’t get through anything. I wish it never gave me that reply. And maybe it’s worse because I pair it with all the things I see online – the youtube videos – “I learned Portuguese in 7 days,” “Fluent in one week,” “I learned this language while in the bathroom,” (that one I actually heard in real life! Ugh!


Then I talk myself off the ledge, and write my daily blog. (I haven’t missed a day in over 100 days — nothing ordinary about that!) I guess the key is to stop listening to the negative voices around us, and to stop comparing ourselves. We all have our own paths. And we find our own way. We get through things in our own time. We must never tell each other how to learn, how to grieve, how to feel, or how to live. Each of our struggles and victories is special. Maybe you did learn Portuguese in 7 days, well, good for you! But I survived today’s lesson and didn’t pass out! Good for me!!!


Today, and every day, let’s celebrate the courageous, the uncommon heroes, the humble winners, the losers who play again and again just for fun. I’m already feeling better. The sun is shining. (And we have more croissants.) Nothing is Common. That’s extraordinary!


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I’m not too busy

I picked some peaches off the tree this morning. The temperature was perfect. The kind of temperature that you don’t have to brace yourself for when you open the door (if you’re from Minnesota, you know what I mean). This kind of morning you can wander outside, it feels the same temperature as inside, like the whole world is your domain. In this world I plucked the ripe peaches off the tree and put them in a bowl. Peaches, I thought…and in french – peches… is it les peches? des peches? Follow my brain here… De peche mode – the band, oh yes, 90’s music… oooh, the 90’s, wait, that’s 30 years ago, wow, time…time is really something. Do I have the time to make peach jam? Do I have any time? No. No one “has” time, I guess. Because I don’t think you can really possess time at all. Time is there, like a gift. We can enjoy it, or not… but we can’t own it. Can’t manipulate it, create it, change it, borrow it. I guess it’s like love. It’s a gift. To be enjoyed. Picked. Treasured. Like the peaches on this tree. In my time, I’m going to make the jam, share it with those around me, and hope they can feel the love in that. Because it’s there. Given. OH, my bowl is full. What a lovely day!


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Louder.

When I was in kindergarten, first grade, and second and third, even fourth… my yearly review always noted that I was so quiet. “She works really hard. Does well…but so quiet.” My mother – a defender from the start would always reply, “When she has something to say, she will say it.”

I carried that with me. It fit into that tiny place in my heart, and filled it. For that’s what I was doing – filling my heart, my soul, my brain, and my courage (wherever that is carried – probably in all of those places). I believed that when they were full, full all the way into my throat, that I would speak, really speak. But something magical happened. As I became more full, of knowledge, and hope and questions, and dreams, all these things began to channel to my hands. My hands. I had hoped to fill my mouth with all of these feelings, but they had a path of their own, and they went straight for my hands.

Whatever I was feeling, happy or sad, I would go into my room and draw a picture. Or write a poem. From the age of 5 or 6 it began. Slowly, softly. I had a voice, it was just coming through my hands.

Through the years, more people began to hear it. Hear it, me. Understand, me. I did have something to say, just a different way to say it. Words and colors mixed together to create a noise for all the world to see, to hear.

What’s even more beautiful, in finding my voice, I found a way to listen. Sharing my stories and life, opens others, and they feel safe to share their stories with me, with others. And to me, that feels like living. Really living. Each time someone tells me their story, I am filling up, able to share more, and it is a beautiful cycle. A beautiful noise.

We all have a voice. A story. Something to share. No one should be silenced. Listen. Share. Believe. “When you have something to say, say it.” Find a way. You have a voice. I’m listening.


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Still

By nature, I guess I’m a bit of a worrier. Not that things are going to be bad necessarily, but I’m constantly thinking about the what if, the what next. I have found comfort in making. Making anything. When you’re creating something, you have to stay in the moment. If you are building a frame, you first have to find the wood. Then cut the wood. Then sand the wood. Then nail it together. Then sand the wood again. Then stain it. If you were to get ahead of yourself, stain it before you sand it for example, it wouldn’t work. And so I create, step by step. Patience. A virtue to be learned daily.


Painting is the same for me. Building the canvas. Then gessoing the canvas. Then beginning with the image. It takes a while to appear. Whether painting a person, or a pear, to give it life, it must have layers, depth, thought… time. Step by step. Stroke by stroke. Patience.

I have done both enough to know that it will work out, or should I say, that I will work until it does.


Yesterday I made a frame for my pear. A patient pear that deserved to be completed. I carry the lessons of this “still life” into today, and wish the same for my heart and mind — to be patient, to be still, and know that it will all work out as it should. And it will be beautiful.


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Fruits doux

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Yesterday morning we put on new pants and went to the center of Aix. It felt like a day for new pants, as our stores have been closed for over a year. Masked and motivated we walked on Rue d’Italie, per the suggestion of our favorite pastry chef. (We went there the day before, fully clothed, but not in new pants, and the pastry master — although a master — was not making what we were looking for — hand crafted marzipan candies in the shapes and colors of realistic fruit. We have specific needs.) With our new information, and new pants, we set out on our adventure. Maybe that’s the gift that Covid has given us – a renewed sense of appreciation for the little things, like sweet and glorious handmade candies, from an open store, in an open city.
We walked up close to the window. Maybe… no, just callisons filled the window (also an amazing french delight, but again, the heart, or mouth, wants what it wants.) But wait, no, let’s go inside. There! There they are! Yes! Victory! Look at those beautiful candies. Should we get two bags? (in my defense, the bags are very small — tres petits!) Do we need two? We need two. She placed them in our beautiful sack for confiserie and we stepped lightly and joyfully (in my heart I was skipping like a schoolgirl) back to the car.
We took off our masks. Opened the bag, and each ate one. Slowly. C’mon! It was vacation! It was summer! It was open streets and soft sugar goodness! We ate a second, and Dominique told me to hide the bag. We finished the bag after lunch. I would have eaten anything for lunch just to get back to the candy.
I know we will finish the second bag today. We bought them to eat, to enjoy! There’s no need to put off deliciousness. Yesterday was an adventure. We filled our hearts. We fed our souls. We tasted this life!!!!
I can’t wait to taste today! Bon appétit!


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Jonquil.

In my teen years, I had twenty surgeries, from head to toe. I was dressed in plaster for high my school graduation and my collage graduation. My mother was dressed in teal and yellow and white. She always dressed up for each surgery. She would enter the hospital as hopeful as a spring morning. You know those mornings when you are a kid, summer vacation just beginning, a slight hint of spring in the morning air, but you knew this day, this morning would bring with it the warmth of joy and endless possibilities — that’s how my mother entered my hospital room.

I see these colors now, and I can only look up. That’s what she gave me, you see, hope. I have carried it in those colors every day. Carried, it so easily, for nothing is lighter than joy.

Flowers come burst into our yard each spring, wild in the best sense. Free and wild. I had to google them to see what they were. Jonquils. Jonquils – I smiled. That’s what he called her, in the hospital elevator, my mother – dressed in the hope of spring. He could see her beauty, and he named it – Jonquil.

I liked that I had (have) a word for this beauty. That she had it. I hope she still carries it with her, as I do.

I walk past the flowers now and I am filled with the air of youth. I capture the colors on canvas. The smell of hope is in the air as this near-summer day begins, I smile, and can only look up.


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An imperfect life.

I met Gary after writing my first book, “I am amazed.”  He lived in the word. A master of selling books because he loved them. In a sea of words floating on the shelf, he could quote any, find any, recommend any, and still, he loved mine.  For this first time author, it was a joy, a privilege. He was my Statue of Liberty, welcoming me into a brand new world.  

It was my first book-signing at the Borders bookstore. His smile stretched wider than the arms he put around me. He gathered me into his store, and then into his story. He told me that he had HIV. How he got it. He told me of his love for bicycles, racing. His partner. He read passages out of my book aloud, the ones that touched his heart, and I was in. Each word was a key into his world. 


I got to run around Gary’s world for many years. I did book signings with him. He came to my art shows. He sold my painting, “An imperfect life.” And wasn’t he living it??!!  Really living it!


After Borders closed, I followed him to the Uptown bookstore. I can still smell the books, hear his nervous laughter, almost a giggle that seemed surprised that he was lucky enough to live within these words and phrases. 


Gary died a few years ago.  I didn’t get to say goodbye.  This made my heart sore for a moment, this not saying goodbye, but I have found more joy in knowing that I got to say HELLO!  


What a privilege to connect with people. All of us living these completely different, glorious and imperfect lives.  Let someone in. Let someone go. After you’ve seen it all, you won’t remember the windows and doors, but who passed through.  


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Wink and a smile

Richard Diebenkorn is not a household name.  Not like Matisse or Picasso.  I have probably heard or seen his name once or twice in the last twenty years, and I live in this world.  Yesterday I watched a short video on the exhibit in which he was paired with Matisse.  Their collective artistic styles melded so beautifully together.  And it was like seeing him again, for the first time. It made me smile. Just a few hours later I was reading in a new book, “We Run the Tides.”  A young person is attending a party at a friend’s house – he asks where the bathroom is and the mother says, “turn left at the Diebenkorn. ” He has no idea what that is – that it is even a painting – but I do, and it makes me smile.  Two Diebenkorns in one day.  

Some may call it chance, or coincidence… I don’t know what it is really – but I like it when it happens.  It feels to me like a nod from the universe, a wink from an angel… just to let you know that hey, I see you, you’re on the right path.  Sometimes, when you’re driving a long distance, and you know you’re on the right freeway, but after a few miles a small green sign on the side of the road confirms your route – it feels comforting – it feels like that.  


Maybe we don’t always see the signs, the green ones or the colorful Diebenkorns, but I think once we start seeing them, it gets easier. I’m not sure they happen more frequently, we just become more open to them, more open to seeing what we need to see.  And when we can do that, find the good, oh how much better the days, the miles in between can be.  Today, take a look around, and if the universe, or that wayward angel gives you a nod, or a wink, be sure to give one back!