Jodi Hills

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


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Unstoppable.

During our latest trip to the US, I got to see one of my dearest friends. When we pulled into the parking lot of her building, I started to get emotional. I opened the door and I could see she was crying. That laughing cry that’s unstoppable. We danced around each other, so overcome with emotion we didn’t know where to land.
It had been a while for my eyes, but in my heart, no time had passed at all. We could finish each other’s sentences and jokes. We had shared everything. Our time. Our experiences. Our stories. Our fears. Our laughter. Our gum. Nothing had changed. Even as I’m typing this, my heart swells. She has seen me on my best days, and on my worst, and has befriended me unconditionally. And I will forever do the same for her.


You might think we are exactly the same. But other than our name, we really share nothing in common. We have lived, and continue to live completely different lives. We have different interests. Live in different countries. But for some glorious reason, she knows the language of my heart, and I hers.


I will never downplay the importance of family. But how can I stress the true importance of real, real and true friendship? I want to invent a new word. Because friend isn’t enough. Sister isn’t enough. So for now I will just say, she is my Jody Skinner. My one and true Jody Skinner.


I hope you all have one. This forever friend. This person that can crumple you in a fit of laughter. This person that holds so close to your heart, no matter the time. No matter the distance. Today, I encourage you to pick up the phone. Write a letter. Send an email. Do something. Hold them close. Together, you will be unstoppable.


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With strings attached.


I wasn’t sure if I’d remember. It’s been over a month since I made bread. But this morning my hands pulled out the flour, and yeast and sugar and oil. Sprinkled in a little salt without my having to think. They knew. They have done it a countless times before and needed no direction.


And so it is with seeing old friends. I saw her at Starbuck’s and our smiles challenged each other for size. Had it been minutes or more than a year, my heart didn’t know, didn’t care, it loved with no need for direction. We talked about nothing and everything. She gave me two dish cloths. Knit by her own hands. Folded. Tied with the tiniest of bows. Strings that attach directly to my heart.


Friendship doesn’t need conditions, but it does need strings. Strings that attach.


While we were at my mom’s, a dear friend of hers brought over a batch of cookies – made with her own hands. They were delicious, but more than that. They were time and care and concern and friendship. Strings that attached.


I have always trusted the makers. Those who use their hands and hearts to show you their love. And so I make the bread, and the words and the paintings to show you mine. I reach out. I reach back. Forever attached.


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— and my heart beside —

I’m not sure which lesson is hardest to learn, to be there for someone when they need you, or to let them be there for you when you need them.


My mother had two male friends. And they were good friends, to her and to each other. When one of them was near the end of his life, the other wanted so badly to be there, to help in the biggest, or smallest of ways. In any way. And not just wanted – needed. Really needed it. Needed to be by his side and show him that he mattered. Show him that their friendship mattered. To be let in this one last time. But the failing friend couldn’t do it. Couldn’t allow this last gift. He saw it as weakness – and not the final gift that he could give his friend.


I can’t claim to know either side of this exact experience, but what a lesson! For our daily lives. Some days we are the one who gets to stand strongly beside, and other days, we get to rely on that nearby strength. Both gifts. I want to be strong enough to stand. I want to be strong enough to let you in when I can’t.


And we do this together. Side by side. Each the better for it. No one keeping track of whose turn it is. Our shadows and hearts melding as one.


Emily Dickinson wrote, “It’s all I have to bring today — this and my heart beside –“


Beside. Today and every day. The perfect gift.


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Worth the time

Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time. Georgia O’Keeffe

She held the clipboard tightly to her chest. It was a listing of all the paintings I was showing at her gallery. She didn’t list the prices on the wall. Only on the secret clipboard. I wondered at first if this was a good idea. I watched her interact with the guests. She was in complete control. Like she was leading the dance. They followed her. Asked questions. Even if someone asked to buy a piece, she said she would write their name down and let them know at the end of the show. Really? Was this a good idea? I didn’t know, but I trusted her, and this dance, it was so lovely. So the evening went on. Glorious with anticipation. People chattered. Who would get the paintings? It was so exciting. Value was added with each inquiry, each name taken down. And she held it all close to her heart.


She took her time, you see. She made the people engage. Ask questions. Learn about the paintings. The meaning of each one. The stories behind them. And it all had worth, the paintings, the people, the time. She sold out the show. The only time this has ever happened for me. It was amazing! What a rare and precious gift. All because she took the time. And in the time, saw the worth, held it close to her heart.


I want to live like this. Make friends like this. Gather it all in, close to my heart, every story, every second. This life, it’s really quite a show!


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Unassuming strings


Yesterday three different people sent pictures to me of my artwork in their homes. I can honestly say this is nothing short of thrilling. Truly. I will most likely never visit the home in Germany that has the original painting of my clock radio and coffee cup. Nor will I step foot into the house in Ireland where my painting of Gregory Peck hangs. But in a small way, I am there. I am next to the cause that you represent. Next to your son’s image, who has passed. In your daughter’s bedroom where she practices her dance.


We have the saying, “no strings attached” – meaning, I guess, a gift, a connection without obligation. This is good. We should always give without expectations of getting something in return. But I’m thinking how nice it would be if we could, in this spirit, still make the attachments, the connections. Still become a part of other peoples’ lives, with the tiniest of unassuming strings. Strings that reached out in compassion, interest, the pure joy of association, connection. And maybe those tiny strings could weave a web of empathy. Supporting us in the most difficult times. Raising us together in our times of celebration.


Today, I link each letter, each word, each sentence, with the hope they form the smallest (but strongest) of unassuming strings, and somehow, we attach.


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Promise

Promise

It was raining the first time I had a meeting with Brett Waldman at his new office. He had just left his father’s publishing business and was starting his own. A new company. A new life. It seemed appropriate that it was raining. Things needed to be nurtured. This company needed to grow.

We had a good meeting. I read him my newest book — Believe. (I guess that was the appropriate book in all this rain.)

It was really coming down when I was about to leave. Brett pulled out an umbrella from the stand by the door. It matched the decor (of course it did) — that was Brett — every detail. I shook my head, no that’s ok. No, he said. Take it. Keep it. Forever. Brett is not a temporary person. When he gives you something, it is forever, like an umbrella, or his support.

I was outside of my apartment, making sketches of an umbrella in front of the door, in the rain. I would paint that umbrella. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was crazy. But I knew it deserved the permanence of paint and canvas. This was not an umbrella, but a promise. One I still believe in.