Jodi Hills

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


As I flutter by.

I was more following it, than chasing it. Fluttering really. Doing my best to keep up. My grandfather didn’t really imagine that I could catch this butterfly, so his warning was light, but effective. “Don’t touch the wings,” he said. Me, still imagining my chubby legs were a match for these wings, questioned, “But why? They’re so pretty!’ He explained something about the powder rubbing off…they could lose their ability to fly. “You don’t want that to happen,” he said. Of course not. But just a bit of that desire remained. A bit of that doubt.

I didn’t have google at the time. Nothing to fact check. He had never lied to me. So I just kept fluttering. 

When I reached school age, I learned more. The challenge of the caterpillar to “become.”  It seemed unimaginable. Unbelievable! How did it survive — and not just survive, but turn into something so incredibly beautiful? I read it in books. Saw the images. But really?  How could this be?

I counted the sleeping pills on my mother’s nightstand. She was so sad. I didn’t know how long a human could cocoon. Nobody taught me that. 

But somehow, there would be proof in her wings. And I got to flutter beside her. And she beside me. Nothing more magical than that.

The fragile colors came to life in my sketchbook yesterday. Each with a hope and prayer that we could all be that gentle with one another. We could flutter, and flatter, and lift, and love. We could give each other the time needed to change. To grow. To become. We could give each other the chance to fly — just a smiling thought this morning, as I flutter by.

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The next flight awaits.

I painted a new bird this week. I love to paint birds. For me, one is completely different from the other (and I’ve painted a lot of them.)  Some might ask, “Don’t you get tired of it, painting the birds?” To this I would reply, “No, do you get tired of feeling good?”  

Because I do, feel good, when I paint them. I love how they are always looking. They were given wings, the chance to fly, and it doesn’t seem like they want to waste it. So playful in the sky. Stopping for brief moments on branches, then looking, knowing, the next flight awaits. The goal is not to finish, but to continuously become!

I’m launching a new website today. A new flight. It’s exciting! I feel perched, but ready to fly again. What a glorious feeling to become. To know my story isn’t finished yet. 

If you are reading this, your story is just beginning as well. Today is the branch that will launch you into the sky. A sky filled with beginnings — if you dare to take them. And oh, I hope you take them! Please take them! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “One way or another, I am going to fly!” I’ll see you up there!

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“It was so windy that day,
I couldn’t stand up straight.
It blew my hair this way and that way,
and sucked the tears right out of my eyes.
It was so windy that day,
I tried to tell you I loved you,
but you couldn’t hear me.
Deaf to my cries, your ears heard a different calling.
It was so windy that day.
On hands and knees I crawled to your side.
I reached up to you, begged you to hang on.
I closed my eyes with visions of our hands joined,
like they were before the storm.
The wind shook my insides, leaving me hollow.
I opened my eyes and you were gone.
It was so windy that day.

What used to blow through me, now gives me wings.” Jodi Hills

I love to paint birds. Perhaps because the woman who raised me is one – a bird. A beautiful, delicate, resilient bird. And it seems so obvious to me, to represent strength in this form.

It has been so windy here for several days. And not just breezy, I mean wind. Stronger than Minnesota wind. Stronger than Chicago wind. WIND! Even the giant pine trees in our yard succumbed to the pressure of it all. We woke to find giant branches lying across the lawn. And these weren’t old brittle branches, these were strong, still dampened with the hold of youth, lying in defeat on the ground. But the birds are still singing. I hear them. Living through it all, these tiny little birds, still vibrant, still singing.

I guess it’s a choice, every day. You can fight the wind, like a branch, or ride the wind, like a bird. I know this song… it has called me for years, lifted me. I’m not afraid. I’m flying.

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Shiny black and blue.

When it comes to reading, I suppose I am a bit of a magpie – chasing after the words – grabbing, feeding off of them like shiny objects. They are all so beautiful. I want to gather them in my little nest of daily stories. 

There was a woman in our home town. She picked through the garbage cans of main street. This was long – long before it was cool. Long before people made Youtube videos of treasures found. She was alone in her picking, and we made fun of her. Not to her face, but I can see now that doesn’t really matter. I can blame youth. Inexperience. But now that I see… I have no more excuses. 

When you first look at a Magpie, you think you know, well, of course – it’s black and white. But when you really look – I mean really – you see the blacks are not just black, but so many shades of blue – maybe brown eyes – maybe a hint of green in the changing light. I paint them now and discover all that I haven’t seen. 

Her name was Bernice — this woman who had the courage to search for treasures in our home town. I see her now, so black she is blue – such a beautiful blue. And I thank her for giving me a chance to really see. A chance to wonder about what else I am missing. A chance to search for the shiny objects, hidden in plain sight. And so I read, and I write, and I paint, and I fly! Singing thanks to the Magpies, thanks to Bernice.

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Journey home.

The only creative power I know is that of what might roughly be called ‘love’; not of course a sentimental love: a far more impersonal and less individual emotion. I sometimes think that migratory birds may have it for each other. They fly in the same direction, and have never been seen to interfere with each other’s flights.” Phyllis Bottome

It’s always a bit of an adjustment, returning home after traveling. My brain is usually just a beat off, but in that beat I find myself falling in love again with my own life. What a gift that is! Everything is brand new, just for a moment. The morning croissant, just a little more flavorful. The bathroom lighting, more forgiving than the last hotel. My pillow — my pillow!! The paintings on the wall, in the studio — my heart. The candles lit. The windows open. The trees in the garden know my footsteps. The birds are singing. I am in love.

I sat down to make my first painting after this trip, this migration, and I am the bird after a long flight. I am filled with all the colors of travel, and all of the life of the familiar. My brain, still a little fuzzy, relies on my hands, my heart, for they know what to do — and I follow. Stroke by stroke. Bird by bird. I know who I am. And I am home.  

It is my wish for everyone. The sky is big, and meant to be shared, meant to be loved, knowing we are all on this beautiful and constant journey home.


Remembering to fly

I could see him from my window, this bird. He was at the bottom of the large pine. A tiny little thing, dwarfed by this massive tree. He started climbing. Hopping really. Up, so slowly. I could hear the little click of his feet (claws?) grab onto the bark. Click, hop. Click, hop. He wasn’t making much progress. I had never seen a bird make so much effort, struggle, to climb a tree. There was an alternative… I kept watching. He was about a quarter of the way. Click, hop, Click, hop. I wondered when he was going to realize it. You know, that he could just fly. Half way up, there it came – the realization – oh, yeah, I have wings. And in two seconds he was at the top. Then floating in the sky. What a relief! How delightful – I could see it in his wings.

Yesterday, after waiting two and a half hours from his initial phone call saying he was near, the FedEx man called and said in fact he wasn’t going to come at all. Like it was just some option. Like when you call for a pick-up, he’ll swing by if he has the chance…. Aaargh. So frustrating. I got upset. It happens all the time. The anger was building inside of me. Rising. Climbing. Click, hop!!!! CLICK, HOP! It took about 15 minutes until I decided to jump into the pool. The water was lifting. I started doing laps. The strokes started to release it all. I was getting lighter. In the pool, I started to fly.

I had thought the bird so silly for not realizing the lesson he had learned so long ago. Then I saw myself. How easy it is to forget. And so we live and learn, sometimes the same lessons over and over, again and again… yesterday’s lesson — patience.

This morning the sun is shining in a bright blue sky! I hope I remember to fly!

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Barely more than air.

There is a group of migratory birds that, each year, flies over 7000 miles over water, without stopping, without eating, without sleeping.  They are able to shut down a piece of their brain.  Their heart rate changes.  Their digestive system adapts. These beautiful living beings, weighing barely more than air, have been given every tool necessary to make the journey.  Each year, at the same time, in the same place, without worry, without discussion, they take the flight. They don’t gather and wonder, “Well, I don’t know, it’s a long ways… I’m not sure… It’s super hard…We could get hungry… Probably tired… Maybe we should wait…”  No, these are the voices in my head, probably yours.

When I was five years old, I began to write and I began to draw. My mother said, no matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and create the feelings on paper. Feel them. Work through them. Resolve them.  These words and colors would carry me through unimaginable things.  They still do.  

Sometimes I forget. Clogged down with little things like, oh, my computer isn’t working correctly, how can I possibly go on… I’m embarrassed to say that I can be grounded by the smallest things, when I know, I have been given everything I possibly need to make each day’s journey.  

I, we, barely more than air, hold the most magical gifts.  Here comes the sun, my friends.  We can do this. The sky is open with possibility.  I’ll see you up there.