Jodi Hills

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

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“I’ll take that in mauve.”

I was reminded of a story yesterday. It seems as though I’ve told it so many times, but it was fresh to her — this woman purchasing my original painting of Brittany. Brand new. And as she got more excited to hear, I became more excited to tell. She had saved some of the first cards that I had ever sold, for over twenty years, one being “Mother’s Cloud.”

This particular poem I had written as a birthday gift for my mom. I wrote the words of my heart, and hers. Typeset them artistically. Printed. Framed. And it hung in her dining room. It was Rose Virnig who came into my mother’s dining room, looked at the picture, and said, “I’ll take that in mauve.” (As if I had some stock room filled with many colors.) I looked at my mom, and asked, without moving my lips, “Can I actually sell your birthday present?” Her response, in these exact words, “Take the money, Pea Brain.” It still makes me laugh these decades later.

It’s always been personal. Every sale. Every card. Every magnet. Every book. It’s my story. And yesterday, as I was sharing with this new customer (connection sounds better) some of the stories, they weren’t just fresh for her, they were fresh for me. And I shared them again with my mother, and they were fresh for her. Our stories are as real, as new, as powerful, as we allow them to be. They can transport us in time and space, and heart. They keep us living. They keep us alive.

The conversation with my mother switched from art to shopping, (as it often does.) What was the name of that store? The one where I bought that outfit? With shoulder pads? Oh, I got so many compliments on that outfit. You know the store – at Ridgedale – all the jewelry in front…It starts with a G. My brain kicked in after we ended the conversation and I had to call back immediately. It was Gantos. Oh, yes! Gantos. And we were young and in a dressing room in Minnetonka.

I will finish packing up the original painting today and send it off to California. It will carry with it a bit of France, a bit of my mother, a bit of Minnesota, a great deal of my heart. And it will gather in her stories, of why she saved the cards that she bought in Omaha. Why they gave her the courage to move to California. Why she bought the new painting. And the story will grow. Continue. Connecting us all.

As I look out the morning window, everything seems fresh, brand new, with just a hint of mauve.

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Stay connected.

My mother has had the same phone number as long as I can remember. Oh, there have been slight variations. The full number remains the same, but in the beginning we used to only dial the last five digits. Years later, kicking and screaming, we had to dial 7 digits. Then, if out of town, the full 7, along with the 3 numbers of the area code. 

I laugh when I think of how tragic we thought each move was. How would we ever survive???? We did.

It’s amazing how many things, through these many years, I have thought would be unsurvivable, unbearable, unforgivable. And yet…

Even though most circumstances move from the unforgettable to the forgettable – I try to pull them up once in a while, when I’m in the middle of a difficult time. Not to dwell, but to learn, to comfort even. Look, I say, you made it through this, and I pull up the memory like a five digit number. And when things get really hard, I can reach as far as 10. And I survived. We survived. We will make it through this day as well. 

It’s good to remember that you are never alone. Someone, somewhere, has gone through and survived what you are dealing with today. And sometimes, that someone, is you. Don’t ever forget how strong you are.

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Tiny baskets.

I was wearing my Mona Lisa sweatshirt from the Louvre when we visited the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi. Founded in 1923, it was the first art museum in Mississippi. Worlds apart. Same goal.

The Lauren Rogers Museum has an extensive Native American basket collection. Beautiful weaving. The finest detail. Within this collection, it boasts of the smallest woven baskets ever seen – or almost seen. You have to look through a magnifying glass, and still, it is barely visible. I suppose the first question many people ask is, “Why?” Baskets were made to be used. Functional. Carrying the essentials of food. So why the microscopic basket. What could it carry?

I suppose as any artist or creator, I have asked myself the same question. Is it important to make the art? What does it matter? What could my words, my paintings possibly carry? But any of these microscopic doubts are always erased by connections. Connections with you.

I recently spoke to a group of Minnesota teachers at a conference in Brainerd. After speaking, I was selling cards and books and art. As they carried their selections up to me, each person also carried their story. One woman needed the cardinal book, “Here I am,” because her young son had died and this is how he spoke to her. Another needed the lipstick book because, her mother, like mine, always told her to “slap it on.” Each person connected to a different piece in a different way. Bringing with them their stories, taking with them mine — tiny baskets.

I could feel it yesterday. This American girl, now living in France, wearing an Italian masterpiece, standing in a Southern museum, with Native American art, I knew, the importance, the significance of all, even the smallest of us, perhaps especially. And it matters. We are connected. Carried.

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Heart strings.

She sent a picture of the Kentucky Bourbon Balls she made yesterday. It was after our first trip to Kentucky this year that I made them. And instantly I was in love. Well, what’s not to love? Sugar! yes! Pecans! yes! Bourbon, chocolate, yes, yes!!! So I wrote a story. Took the pictures and passed it on to my little world. She, seeing, feeling this love, decided to make them for herself. We are connected in so many ways, but once again, yesterday, we, from across the sea, were gathered in.

You never know what it will be that connects us. But I’m a firm believer in throwing out a lot of heart strings, hoping, knowing that some will attach. And when they do — oh, how delicious!!! Because that’s really all we have, all we are, these connections. They give us strength, purpose, joy, the ability to live, more importantly the reason to live.
I’m reaching out again today. I know you are out there. I can feel it. The strings of my heart whisper yes. Yes!

We are only as strong as our connections.

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I’m enjoying this practice of sharing a story each morning. It has become part of my routine. I had thought of doing it for a long time, but I was a little afraid of the process. How would I come up with a new idea each day? There are challenges, for sure (it’s not coal mining hard, but it does take some effort.) The key for me has been this, the art of noticing. It sounds simple enough, and it actually is, but you do have to practice it. And once in the practice, you will (forgive me) “notice” how easy it is to notice things.

But it can’t stop there – noticing is the key to gratitude.

This morning I was awakened by the sweetest sound – birds singing. And oh, how they say. So joyful. I woke up smiling. Thank you birds. Thank you morning. Thank you “not waking up to an alarm clock.”

Gratitude alone, though, can become complacent without action. So I painted the birds that sang to me this morning. I put the bird paintings on my computer so I can share them with you. And with a piece of luck, this yellow will make you smile. This smile will brighten your face, which will brighten the face of the person next to you. And we start a chain. A chain of gratitude.

Some of you will share the story that this brought to your mind. This yellow, this bird, this awakening. And your story will make me think, hey, did you notice the… and we’re off again! Thank you for that. Thank you for this chain.

We are only as strong as our connections.

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