Jodi Hills

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


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The path.

I guess it’s the whole “if a tree falls in the forest…” thing, but I was thinking, does anything really happen if it’s not shared?

I began writing and painting at 5 years old. I would go into my room, and come out and present it to my mother — each chubby hand gripping the sides of the paper — as if I were offering the precious cargo of my heart, and I suppose I was. Because that’s the way she treated it, the way she treated me. And then it became real. Whatever I made was validated, and in a way, I became real too. No gift has stayed with me as long as this.

We drove to the Alps yesterday to see friends. They do not live in a palace, but for me, it seemed as such — because he built most of his home with his hands. And he was proud of it. And it was real. There was a pile of wood next to his garage, and for me, that seemed like a pile of gold. (Wood is scarce and expensive here, and I need it to stretch canvases and make frames.) He said I could take whatever I wanted. And I did. We filled the car with wood and possibility and I’m still smiling.

On the road I took a video of the mountains and countryside. I sent it to my mom. She said she felt like she was with us in the car, and of course she was.

I called my friend Sheila when we got home. I showed her the bag of treasures we purchased at the L’Occitane factory, (half way stop on the trip). I showed her the haul, and she gushed as only a true friend can, and when I lit the first candle and applied the hand cream, it was all real, so very real.

I write each day, still with the chubby little hands of youth, and offer my heart. Life is so much better when it is shared.


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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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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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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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Just ride.

The trees are blanketed in last night’s rain. They don’t seem burdened, but relieved. They received what they needed.

I remember summer mornings on VanDyke road. It was gravel then. After a rainy night, (not too much, just the gentle summer kind) the road was firm and tight. It felt like I could ride my bike so much faster. And everything smelled possible. I had no schedule. No direction. I just woke up. Wiped the seat of my bike, and rode. The tops of my shoes were wet. And it felt like I was a part of it all. No different from the ground I rode on. And somehow I knew, just like the dew covered grass, and the trees and the road, I too would be given everything I need.

I haven’t missed a day of writing in 406 days. Before I began this daily blog, I thought I would have to search for the subject. But all I really needed to do was wake up, and see. Every day the world offers more magic than I can contain on paper or canvas. The birds singing. The taste of butter in the croissants. The dew covered trees.

As I walked around the house this morning to open the shutters, the tops of my shoes dampened. I smiled. It’s harder now to let go of daily worries, but when I wake up and look around, and really see, I mean really see, I have everything I need, just as I always have. No different from the youth and dampened gravel of Van Dyke road. I am a country away, but still home. I smile, and hop on today’s ride.


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Sometimes she would whisper to her heart. It was usually just this, “yes.”

He began the song in a whisper, Nat King Cole. From the radio he graced our breakfast table. His opening of “Perfidia” was as gentle as the steam that rose from our coffee. “Mujer…” he sang, so softly, but never more clear to our hearts. We left our croissants on the table, and just listened.

In third grade, Mrs. Erickson carried a long stick. She didn’t slam it. She didn’t swing it. She held it. Third graders are not known for sitting still. There is so much to make the eye wander. The birds outside the window. The fidgeting boy in the desk next to you. The note being passed around. The answers on the smart girl’s paper. Mrs. Erickson told us once at the beginning of the school year, “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” She never said the words aloud again. But we knew. If the end of the stick tapped lightly on the front of your desk, or simply pointed in your direction…you looked at your own work.

I can see it now so clearly. She was brilliant. She didn’t need to wave her stick around, because it wasn’t about punishing, it was about teaching. I think she knew that “cheaters” weren’t bad, but simply not confident, not confident in their own work. And her tap, was a reminder, “Look, look right here, you can do this.”

I don’t know if everyone got that. It’s a lesson I’m still learning. Every day. It’s not that I have the want or the opportunity to “steal the answers” from someone else. But I do need a gentle tap, a whisper, to tell me that I can do this. I can do this in my way. In my time. The answers are right in front of me.

This morning Nat King Cole gave us a gentle tap.

I summon the daily courage needed, and I begin. “Yes,” I whisper. “Yes.”


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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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Lifted.

All of the trees in my grandparents’ yard were climbable, I suppose, but especially one. It was one of the biggest. It faced the road. Someone, I don’t know who, had pounded in strips of wood. If you could get one foot on the lowest piece, and reach your hand up to another, and pull, with all of your might, then up you would go.

There were 27 of us grandchildren. That tree had been marked and carved by every kind of shoe. And it stood strong. As strong, I imagine, as our need to get higher, to see more. get above and beyond.

And we did. We climbed. Higher and higher. And then, each of us, on different days, different years, we got high enough, and brave enough, and off we flew. With all of our wildly different high hopes.

I have flown far and wide, with the memory of trees — the strength of those who gave me a start, a rung to climb. And I give thanks. For I have been lifted, daily, knowing, we never really fly alone.


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Never finish.

There was a certain percentage of students at Washington Elementary that ate the Elmer’s glue. I must admit I liked the smell, but I never did eat it. I, along with the remainder of the class did however, put it on our fingertips, let it dry, and then peeled it off. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how satisfying that was.  This, along with a box of colored construction paper and Crayola crayons, could keep us busy during any rain altered recess. 

I was watching it rain yesterday afternoon through my office window, busy working on my new website. I have a small selection of paints at my desk, and a couple of brushes. 

I needed a recess — a rain altered recess. It’s amazing how it still can thrill me. The colors. The possibility. I knew at 5 years old, how magic this world was. Not only could it take you anywhere, but it would stay with you, inside of you, so permanent, so sure. I suppose it’s possible that I could have learned this on my own, I don’t know, but I give thanks every day for Washington Elementary. I give thanks for the teachers that introduced this world. What a gift they offered — this ability to go anywhere, even when the world was closed down…this ability to save yourself from the storm.  

I’m still learning. Still loving. I pray I never finish.


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Cherished.

My mom had a doll when she was a little girl. It was to be her last doll. She knew that. Time to be a big girl and stop playing, after all, there were so many real babies, her other 8 siblings. But even as children, I think we know, we can see the lines we are crossing, and it was special, she was so special, this beautiful baby doll.

One of the smiling faces pictured above was the culprit. Left it outside, up a tree, in the rain. Her poor little painted face was running down into her dress. That wasn’t the way she was supposed to go. She was beautiful, and meant to be cherished. But as I think of her, I suppose she still is, cherished, I mean. I’m still telling her story.

These two aunts, my mother’s sisters, have recently passed away. So I write the stories. The stories of little girls that still play in the rain and annoy their sisters. The stories to show how fragile life is, how precious. In hopes that the words can climb the tree and stop the rain, and hold them all close, all together.

Each line. Each day. So special. So beautiful. Cherished.