Jodi Hills

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


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One

She, at the age of ten, already has a vastly greater grasp of the french language than I do. It is humbling for sure, and that’s not a terrible thing, but sometimes I wonder, what do I have to offer if I can’t convey it? Then we go to the studio. My paint. My brushes. My canvas. This is my language. And she wants to learn. I give her a small canvas and ask her what she’d like to paint. Immediately she looks around – at everything I’ve done. (And that’s when I think, I do have something to offer.) The apples. She wants to paint the apples in a bowl. I place that painting in front of her. Tell her to just draw in pencil at first. Give herself a good start. She chooses the paints. We create a palette. Slowly we go through each step. The light. The shading. The mixing. She is interested. Curious. And she is learning. It is a beautiful thing. We are different in age and culture and language and knowledge, but here, we are one heart, one creation, and that is everything.

It’s not easy to come together. Efforts need to be made. Egos must be put aside. We have to be curious. Interested. Yes, it can be difficult, but the rewards — immeasurable. Stop looking for the things that make us different – because you will find them — it’s so easy. Look for the things that can bring us together. And look again. And again. One creation. One heart. Everyone. That’s everything.


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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!


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A nice thought.

We arrived at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe a little later than expected. It was only going to be open for about an hour longer. We went to the cashier to buy our tickets. She greeted us nicely, but we could tell she was a bit distracted. Her computer was giving her problems. We’ve all been there and know how distracting that can be. “Two?” she asked, and kept willing the machine to work. “Yes,” we smiled. I could see the beautiful works out of the corner of my eye. I was so excited to go inside. I had read books on Georgia. Read her letters. Studied her paintings. Visited her home. Even painted her. My smile must have been huge – as I’m smiling while I write this. “Go ahead and go in,” she said. Not out of frustration any longer, just kindness. “Oh, wow – that’s great! Thank you!” It made the whole experience even better than I could have imagined. Kindness will always do that I suppose. In the best of situations. In the worst.

Georgia wrote in a correspondence to a close friend, “You are one of my nicest thoughts.” I think about the museum — the woman who let us in for free, even though she was clearly having a hard time. She created an image as lovely as the paintings inside. We are all creating images, all the time. With our actions, our interactions. Our faces. Our hearts. I think the best we can do is to try and make them beautiful.

We may not always succeed, but there is beauty in the attempt, and anyway, it’s a nice thought.


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Grace. For now.

Grace. For now.

I opened the wood filler to repair the corners of the frame. I rolled it around my fingers as instructed and this scent came to life. What is that? I know that smell. And then it took me – one straight shot from the south of France to the New Brighton basement of my aunt in Minnesota. My aunt Karolynn was a hairdresser. She had a full set-up in her basement. And by full set-up, I mean a chair, a mirror, and a sink. I’m neither ashamed, nor proud, to tell you that she used to, right there in that basement, give my hair a “perm.” (A permanent wave for those under a certain age.) I suppose it was a hairstyle. I suppose it was a trend – this completely unnatural kink of blonde curls. Oh, I wanted it at the time. I really did – along with so many others. Everyone had one. Women and men alike. And that was the smell — the lingering odor of my first lesson in the grace of not getting what you wish for. Yes, I wanted the permanence of this “perm.” I wished my hair would stay this way forever. Thank goodness it didn’t!

Through the years, I know that I have wished, and hoped, even prayed for some things to happen — some things that I was just certain would be great for me — devastated in the moment they didn’t happen — thrilled years later when I see and live the alternative! Relationships, jobs, moves, life… it’s funny how we can be so certain, and so wrong. Be careful what you wish for, they say…and I suppose they are right. But I’m not sorry for the wishing, the trying, the impermanence, the lessons, the growth. How would I know anything if I didn’t stay in motion? And on my way I try to remember that certainty is not the reward — it’s grace through the uncertain times, this is the gift, the only thing to really hold on to.

I repair the damaged frame, knowing that it won’t last forever — knowing that I will make it beautiful for now, and that is enough, more than enough, that is good – always.


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Delivered.

When riding with my Grandma Elsie in her car, we would always listen to the station that played Paul Harvey, along with the grain report. I knew the language. So when I found the journal of my great grandmother in Grandma Elsie’s house, I recognized the words immediately. She wrote the daily farm report. The prices of grain. The weather. The needs of the house. The needs of the farm. She never wrote of emotion. The closest she came was reporting the neighbors who stopped by. All with the same equal tone. Life went on with the planting, the harvesting, and the rest. When her husband got cancer, in the throat, she wrote of the progress, with the same distinctions. Listing of medicines and sleep patterns. No change in her voice. He got worse. Slept less. More pain. She kept writing. His life was failing, along with her pencil. She wrote less. Felt more. And then one day, the only entry was this – “…my heart…” And I knew exactly what she meant.

She may not have recognized her journal as art, but that’s exactly what it was. She was making art. Brene Brown tells us that the magic of art is to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time. That’s what my great grandmother was doing. And I suppose it is what I do. It is what I have always done — before I heard of Brene Brown — before I heard of my great grandmother. I began writing and drawing from the age of five or six. My mother says I would go into my room and whatever I was feeling, happy, sad, I would capture on paper, and then let it go. I’m still doing that.

The beautiful thing is, we can all do this. Now, you might say, oh I can’t draw, I can’t write, I can’t sing… but I disagree. You can do all of these things. If you can think, you can write. If you can feel, you can draw. If you can move, you can dance. If you can speak, you can sing. Art is simply the release of your emotion – in any form that you choose. And the same release can be experienced by reading, by viewing. If I write something and it makes you feel your own story, that is art. If you hear a song on the radio and it makes you dance in your kitchen. This is art. It is everywhere. It is healing. It is beautiful.

Today, and every day, is filled with this magic. Yes, it is exciting. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is joyful. Yes, it is challenging. Yes, it is so very beautiful! I feel it! And, oh, my heart…YES!


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Pulling nails

Yesterday I spent two hours pulling nails and unscrewing screws out of reclaimed wood. I like to call it reclaimed, and not used. Used sounds almost damaged, doesn’t it? Sure it is worn and in need of a little repair, but it has worth. So much worth.


To reclaim, by definition is “to retrieve or recover something previously lost.” This wood may no longer be an armoire, but now it will have new life. It may become the four pieces of wood that support the canvas that proudly displays the portrait of the previously unseen person. There is worth in that! A portrait held in front of the woman who says, “I never saw myself as beautiful, until today.” Now this is the ultimate joy, for me the creator, the wood, the canvas, the paint, the staples, the nails… for we all have a part in it. Even the armoire that no longer exists, lives on in this new face.


If we can see the beauty that comes from each step, and not just the final outcome, then maybe on those days that we are asked to pull the nails, we can still find the joy. There is no doubt you will be asked, for yourself, and for others. You will be asked to be the wood, be the canvas, the paint… and in time, without your knowledge or permission, you will be the one who shines – the face in full claim on the canvas.

So I, we, pull the nails, and reclaim the day.


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The day.

On the north end of Van Dyke Road, there was an untouched, magical place, we appropriately called “The North End.” It was just past Norton’s house, down the hill. If I were to see the distance now, it would make me laugh. If I were to see what was built there now, it might make me cry. I guess in my 6 year old brain, the magic lived there because it was raw. Anything was possible. Dirt and trees and water and whatever my imagination could bring to life. Each journey down Van Dyke Road on my banana seat bike brought me to someplace new. I lived out the adventures of Nancy Drew, and Ramona “the pest” and Cowboy Sam. I was Laura Ingalls Wilder in search of her Pa. I was Jody Foster in every Disney special. I was and could be anything.


I guess that’s why we called it “The” North End. It was special. It was our only and every. It wasn’t “a” north end – “a” would have meant ordinary – “the” made it something, something special!


We did that a lot, named things for what they were. My grandparents lived not on a farm, but it was “The Farm.” That’s what we called it — “The Farm.” Because it was special, our only and every.


And I needed both, the possibility of The North End, and the assuredness of The Farm.


Today I picked the greenery in the yard for the front entry of the house. It is all special. Because this is The Day we are given. Our only and every, and it is magical. It is raw and open. It is filled with the comfort, and the possibility. It, we, can be anything! Today – The Day!


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Yellow

For a brief moment when I was a young girl, I had a yellow bedroom. It was all mine. I got to pick out the carpeting and the bedspread. All yellow! It was the most cheerful place in the world. It was my world. Until one day, not long after, I could probably count the sleeps, I came home on my bicycle and there was not just a “for sale” sign next to the driveway, but it was flagged with “sold.” I didn’t know we were moving. I didn’t know the “we” only included my mother and I. The house, my father, the yellow, the cheer — all gone. For a long time I was sad about this. I didn’t want to love things. Afraid to love people, because they, like my father, could leave. They, like my house, my yellow, could be taken away.


But could they, really?


It took a while, as most good things do, but I came to realise, I still have the color yellow. I still love it! I love the cheerfulness. And so I paint it. I paint the lemons and the pears. The suns. They can never be taken away. The yellow on my pants, my canvas, my fingertips, my soul – all mine! Forever. My choice.


I didn’t know that yellow would not only give me joy, but freedom. The song is playing in my head now, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…” And I don’t – have anything to lose. I am free. Free to love. Free to live. Oh, the yellowness of it all! I grab my brush and smile. I give my heart and beam.


I had a yellow bedroom. That will never again make me sad.


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Never flat.

“She was strong, and oh, so beautiful. And every once in a while, she would relax into the leaves that held her, trust in them, and then, well, then, she’d take your breath away.” Jodi Hills

When you paint, you start seeing more colors, everywhere. Nothing is flat. You see the layers in the mountains, the trees, the faces. The leaves on the tree aren’t green. They are green, and blue, and gray, and yellow, and white, and brown. The Sainte Victoire mountain switches from lavender to gray, white, purple and black, depending on the sun, the clouds. So it is with skin, of any color, there is really every color, in every face. And it changes, depending on the sun for sure, but also the light from within.

Since I started writing the daily blog, everything I see becomes a sentence. And that sentence becomes a paragraph, that leads to a memory, a feeling, an emotion, a story. Nothing is flat.

When I first met her, she was so strong. Intimidating really. But beautiful. She told me this was her favorite flower. It struck me as strange at first…I couldn’t imagine her softening, letting her guard down long enough to breathe it in… but she said it, in a sentence so sure, I believed her, and what a relief, to see her in this light, to see her in the soft white of the flower. She’s got a new mountain to climb. And she’s struggling. She may think that’s a weakness. I hope not. I think it may be the strongest thing I’ve ever seen her do. And she’s never been more beautiful.

Our colors, our stories, are never flat. But these daily mountains we are asked to climb, these colorful, ever-changing, steep, heart-racing, cheek flushing, knee buckling mountains, in every color, with any luck, well, they’ll just take our breath away.


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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.