Jodi Hills

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


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A look around.

Of course I’m going to finish it. I always do. I never leave a book, just in case… But this will take some effort, this book, because so far, (and I am more than half way into it) I have yet to find a character to empathize with…no one seems real, not to mention likable.  I’m not going to reveal the title, because for you, it might be great. You might relate to one or all of the characters. And that’s for you to decide. 

In any book, I enjoy a flawed character. It’s not like I’m looking for perfection. Because the flaws make people interesting. Human. And that’s what I’m not finding in this book. And maybe that’s on me as well. I have to find a way to see them as human. Part of the journey is up to me. I have to see them.

I suppose that’s the real lesson, isn’t it? I have been proposing this since I wrote my first book, “I am amazed.” I would often take the book to schools and read to the kids, all grades. After reading, I had them do an exercise – pick another student and write down something amazing about them. I encouraged them not to just pick out their friends. And they didn’t. They wrote beautiful things about each other, and their teachers too. They could see each other. One school made a mural of all the attributes and left it up for the school year. They claimed, and I hope it’s true, that bullying decreased, and everyone was just a little more gentle with each other. That is amazing.

So I will finish this book. And I will try harder to empathize with characters not common in my world. I will try to see them. I want to be better at this. Every day. And what if we all did that? Not just with characters in books, but also the ones at the grocery store, the bank, the school, in the car next to us, all the characters who vote and wander, and read, and see us as the different ones. Maybe we all do that for each other. Wouldn’t that be amazing?


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Produce

I have professed my love for libraries, over and over. The Washington School Library. The Alexandria Public Library. One small room. One small building. Each opened a world to me that will never close. I can smell the wood that housed the paper. The slight hint of sweet mildew, like an open window.

The truth is, this was not my first impression of books. My first collection of words on pages — words mixed with colorful art – these books held the smell of fresh produce. It was at Olson’s Supermarket. My mother hoisted me into the shopping cart. The silver denting the back of my thighs. Legs dangling. Her purse beside me.

Just after the cart corral was a long display of Golden Books. I can feel my arms reaching. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She placed one in my chubby hand and I was changed. Words on paper. My arms will be forever reaching.

I can hear her voice reading each page. Night after night. Year after year. And then I started to hear my own. How do you thank someone for giving you the world? I suppose the only way I know is to use the same words I was given. Again and again.

I was speaking to the young woman who is currently working on my new website. Not a small task. She has to handle each piece of art, each word. She told me yesterday, because she is so immersed in all of the work, “I feel like I know you.” My heart is still smiling. My arms are still reaching. We are in different countries. From different generations, and my paintings of the apples remind her of her mother’s kitchen. Once again, the sweet smell of produce… My world opens, and I give thanks with the words that first saved me.


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Book lover.

Yesterday afternoon, I went through all the motions, but something was missing. It felt like my best friend had left town… well, not my best best friend, but a really good friend… and I felt a little hollow, like this really good friend came for a vacation and after having the most wonderful time they had to leave. And because we were good friends, we went deep, all the old and new stories. And we laughed and cried, and my heart was rattled in the best way. So letting go, I was bathed in a melancholy of saying goodbye to this very good friend… who was not really even a real friend friend, but a book — that’s right — yesterday afternoon I finished a book — a really good book.

“Now what?” I thought. “Am I supposed to just find a brand new friend — a new book — immediately?” We barely said goodbye and my heart tells my brain “just keep thinking about them!” “Remember when they… and then they did that, and you clutched your heart, and then they stayed up late with you, right beside you until you fell asleep… How can you just let them go? They’re still right there – on the nightstand.”

“You’re right. I know it,” I tell my heart. “But wait, I’m just going to get a sample, on my ipad, it’s not like a real book. I probably won’t even like it.”

I scroll through all of the latest reviews, book sites, what-to-read-nexts… “Well, here, I’ll just download this one. It’s not like I care. I don’t really need it.” One hand on the friend friend, or book book, and I hit “sample.”

I tried to read a little before I slept. But the memory was still so fresh. Still alive beside me. And I missed them — all the characters in Cloud Cuckoo Land. I remember when they said “she leaned into the needle of loneliness…” and I put my ipad down. Stopped the new sample. And said a proper goodbye.

I’m jealous of you, you who haven’t read it yet. You who get to experience it for the first time. If it’s possible for you to have any outside thoughts when you are reading, please tell them that this book lover misses them.

If you’re not a reader — (and I so hope you are) — find something that makes you feel the same way. They say runner’s get a “high” — maybe you can do that. Or garden. Or sing. Play an instrument. Bake. Eat. Travel. But love! Whatever you do — love it! Love it so much that you are willing to let it crack you open, and through the cracks will come spewing the words that you’ll have to share with the humans that you love even more! Share your words. Meld your stories. Live.

It’s a new day and my joyful broken heart is ready to love again.


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Fake books.

I had no idea. I saw youtube preview on decorating – the ten essential things he said he couldn’t live without. Was I living without? I decided to watch.

The usual suspects. Candles. Sure. Pillows. I’m in. But when he arrived at number four or five, he lost me. He pulled two large books from the bookcase. (You know I love books. I love words. I love anything bound together.) He was so excited — “Look you guys, fake books!” Nothing inside. Empty pages with fancy covers. He explained that you can get them for almost nothing and decorate your shelves. I still can’t believe it, even as I’m typing this. (Typing with the words that mean so much to me.)

Now, I love to “decorate” with books as well. Real books. Books that I have read. Books with words that still hover throughout the house. They have a life. A meaning. Books with paintings. Books with photographs. I love them all. They have an ever giving depth.

I suppose I want this with everything. Everyone. I want books with words. Slow cooked meals. Wine that has aged. And friends with souls. Deep souls. I don’t want fake — anything. 

There is so much pressure to have the best shelves, the most “friends,” the largest group of “followers.” Quantity. Quantity. Quantity. At any price. But as I see it, the only things worth having have to be real. Give me real. I want my shelves to be filled with the stories of life. The real stories. Even mine.

So I offer you this, from my imperfect heart — my pages may be tattered, dog-eared, but they will be filled with life, a real life, a gathering of cherished words. If we offer each other this, maybe life won’t always be pretty, but oh how rich it, we, will be!


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You are part of my story, and it is beautiful.

Becky gave me one red cherry yesterday.  It was delicious. I named our cherry tree Becky. It seemed so obvious to me. Tom Sawyer describes Becky Thatcher when he first sees her, “the new girl in the garden… a lovely little creature…wearing a white summer frock.” How could this not be our Becky — our lovely cherry tree. She is, in fact, the newest of our trees. She hasn’t yet produced what one might call a real crop. Just a smattering of red cherries, but the most beautiful cherries I have ever seen.  

Summertime, to me, will always mean youth. The days are brighter, longer. Everything greens and blooms and grows, and somehow, I feel, so do I. 

Probably the first to bloom in my brain were the words of Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn. At the time they seemed more real than almost anyone I knew.  They jumped off the page. They were alive. They were my American childhood.

Through the years these books have been banned. But then again, so have I. I remember one church that wouldn’t let us in because my mother was divorced. We couldn’t go to the golf club because we were too poor. (And this I realize is nothing compared to how others are banned, but I, we, felt it just the same.)  And maybe it’s childish, (and part of me hopes so, because how pure is that!) but I still believe that we can learn and grow and become better. We can treat people better. All people. We can take the light of summer and start to see who we really are. Possibly even bloom. Summer is so open. So freeing. Maybe we can be the same. 

The birds are singing. I see Becky swaying in the morning breeze. Everything is still possible.


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She’s here!

I was at the New York library last night (in my dream). It is so rare that I have a good dream, I must tell you about it. To put it in perspective, if I don’t wake up screaming, it’s a good night. And those bad dreams, they can linger, not just through the morning, but for days. So this dream — this rare and glorious good dream — I put it to words, with hopes that it will linger.

I could smell the wood. And the paper. For me, libraries have always carried the scent of permanence and possibility. In the library was the perfect place for this dream to occur, amid the realm of all things possible. Dominique and I were donating our old books to the librarian. She was kind and grateful and wanted to visit. I told her of my love for books, and that, humbly, I too, was an author. She smiled and said she knew, and pulled out my most recent book, Pulling Nails. I beamed. She asked if I would mind signing a copy for the library. Of course! And maybe one for a fan, she asked. A fan? And then she stepped into the room — this beautiful woman — my grandma! My Grandma Elsie. And she was holding my book. (Tears of tenderness roll down my face as I type.) I was so happy to see her! Dominique look! It’s my Grandma! She held out my book and said, It’s gorgeous! (It’s gorgeous — you have no idea what those words will forever do to my heart!) And in my dream, I knew it was a dream, and I said out loud, …But she’s here! And she was. I can still feel her smiling.

I don’t know what dreams really are. I’m not sure that anyone does. The so-called experts say it means “this”, or “that”, but perhaps they are only as accurate as our local weather reporters making educated guesses. All I know for sure is that this morning the sun is shining and my heart is full — and it is as real as anything could be. I choose to call that love. Love that fills the air with the scent of permanence and possibility — and it IS gorgeous!

Good morning!


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Mon préféré

We got a new refrigerator yesterday. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that it’s the most beautiful fridge in the world. My very favorite. It is shiny and clean, and it works! Sure, it doesn’t have all the “bells and whistles” – to be honest, I’m not even certain what that would include. But I’m in love with it. The rack that holds the water bottles – how could anything be so magnificent? It’s ours. And it’s my favorite.

I hold that feeling as I climb the stairs to begin my daily routine. The first of which is to practice my French. I have found a new website that offers up random questions that you can discuss. Today’s question was “Who is your favorite author, and why?” In my office, I am surrounded by books. I love to read. I love writers. I love words. To Kill a Mockingbird sits right behind my head. It is glorious. I remember the first time I read it, and the last (which won’t be the last). Ernest Hemingway rests beneath it, reminding me “there would always be the spring.” There is Elizabeth Strout who so elegantly takes me back to Maine. Joan Didion who inspires me daily. George Saunders. Joyce Carol Oates. Virginia Woolf who challenged me. And John Kennedy Toole who made me laugh out loud by myself. I won’t go through every book and author — there are just too many. And I love them all. But the question lingers, and I think about each word of it. It isn’t who wrote your favorite book. The question is, who is your favorite author. To which I answer, it’s me. Hold on, hold on, hold on… not so fast to judge me… let me explain.

I am not the best writer. I look up to all the authors that I have mentioned and more! So many more. I envy the perfect words they choose – in the perfect order. They are magnificent. And I haven’t sold the most books. I won’t be on everyone’s best seller list. Most people won’t even know my name. No, I am not the best writer. But I will tell you this. Writing has always been my comfort, my joy. I have told you from the age of five, I began writing and drawing. No matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and put it down on paper. Words have always saved me — from the darkest of times, and they have rejoiced with me in the brightest. They have held me. They have lifted me. And so I write. Every day. And I love it. So, yes, I am my favorite author. I would hope the same for all, with everything!!

I have to believe I am living with the best husband. That I have the best mother. That I am living my best life. (And I have the best refrigerator). Otherwise, what am I in this for??

I want you to be in love with your life. As I have said before, Do something you love. Be someone you love.

Good morning, my friends. Welcome to the day — it just might be my (your) favorite!


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A story.

We passed by the Javits Center yesterday. I used to do the shows there twice a year to show my work to gift stores and galleries. To build a store and carry it across the country, set it up, sell, smile, stand, and stand and stand on the concrete floor — not an easy task. It might surprise you to know that I didn’t think of any of that as we drove by in a yellow cab. I didn’t feel my aching feet, I felt my swelling heart. To interact face to face with people. To invite them into your world and see them react with hands clutching hearts, this will live within me forever.  

Our US journey will be coming to an end soon. We’ve seen so many wonderful places, but what is filling my heart is the interactions with people.  I did a special limited edition of my newest book, Pulling Nails, and distributed during this trip. It is a compilation of my art and blogs. My heart. I got to see so many of you wonderful people. And even if Covid and the weather kept the interactions brief, I valued every second!  Such a joy to run to cars for curbside pickup. To meet for coffee. To share a smile. A hug. A story.  To see my words clutched in your hands, held to your heart — this is everything. 

I write every day, not just so you hear my story, hear the stories about the people I love, but so you’ll share yours. And then we are all connected. No matter where we go, how tired are feet are, our hearts, these connections will lift us, carry us, on and through. We are all here to tell a story.


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Home town.

In Kindergarten, Mrs. Strand had the audacity to leave us mid year to give birth to twins. In the first grade, Mrs. Bergstrom, hair pulled back in a bun, wore her long pencil skirt and wool sweater all the way until summer break. We knew she would never leave. She taught us the meaning of the word trust, and then taught us how to spell it. She was opening our worlds. Then one day, she lined us up, single file, and quietly led us up the stairs, turned us to the left, opened the big wooden door. All was silent but for the singing of my heart’s choir! The library! All those books. A conversation from wall to wall. Information. Entertainment. Belonging. Yes, most of all the belonging. I knew I would be both comforted and launched — I suppose the perfect definition of home.


And I was home. Here in the words.


Yesterday we arrived in Laurel, Mississippi. Being an HGTV fan, I wanted to see it all. Where they filmed. What they made. The houses they transformed. People have told me, oh, you’ll be disappointed – it’s only make believe.


We pulled into town and the first thing I saw were the giant books painted on the side of the building. I smiled. I have always been one made to believe — the very day I stepped through the big wooden door at Washington Elementary. I know all is not always as it seems. But it is always what you choose to see. Today I choose to see the magic of it all — from the giant books on the side of a building to the promise of a small home town. It’s hard to hear the doubters over the singing of my heart.


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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!