Jodi Hills

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


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Racing toward trouble.

I had to move to France to make these friends from California.

We were introduced online, connecting through the love of art and words. I was happy to see them posting pictures from their vacation in Aix en provence. I suppose everyone wants people to love the place they live. And then the true delight came when they asked if they could come to say hello.

It never occurred to me say no. The best things in my life have always started with yes.

“Don’t go to any trouble,” she emailed me. I smiled. My whole life, all I have ever wanted was “to go to the trouble.” Everything should mean something. It all deserves our effort. Our respect. Our attention.

And all this “trouble,” really takes so little. I only baked the croissants, and placed them on the table. Offered water. My heart. And my time. I received so much more than that in return. And it means something! To make new friends! What a thing!

I told them stories of my art, my books, my life, and our connection was real, not virtual. I have new friends. This is what keeps me racing toward all the “trouble” of my own life! It matters. Oh, how it matters! — not the location, but to love the “place” you live.

Merci, mes amis!


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Life’s couture.

Yesterday I saw a photographer on Youtube manipulating a photo to make it seem old — like it was a memory lived, I suppose. The technique took some skill, certainly. And while the end result was interesting, I thought it lacked what the photographer wanted — the depth of an actual experience.  That feeling is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture.  And I began to think, would our time be better spent trying to capture real experiences, by, well, living?

Once the thought was in my head, spinning around like a kid on a ferris wheel — my brain urging “go ’round again, go ’round again — I began to see it everywhere, this attempt at manufacturing a life. I saw it in the catalogs. Buy our ripped jeans! What if we did the work in the jeans we owned? Wore them in the yard, the garden? Hung tools from belts? Bent? Stretched? Bounced children on bent knees? Wore them thread bare by living? 

I saw the paint splattered jeans on the next page. Couldn’t we just actually paint? Splatter our own clothes with life experience? These are the colors that I want to live in — the colors flung from my own hand and heart. 

It was everywhere. This manufacturing. Even with so-called friends. This trying to fill the life-size holes within us, with “likes” and “followers.” Certainly it has its place. I use it here, every day. To connect. Keep the strings attached through time and distance. But nothing will ever replace human contact. Sitting outside on a sunny day, laughing so hard with friends that waists become rendered useless, bent over by the weight of joy and memory. Nothing can replace the feeling of hugging someone, just a little longer. A kiss of a hand. An empathetic, no words needed, smile. A wave that can’t be contained in the hand, but must be lifted in the air with feet jumping! 

I sit here typing, with paint on my shirt. It is valuable, not because it will sell in a catalog, but because I lived in it. Life’s couture. And I will again today! My heart, threadbare as my jeans, telling my brain, “let’s go ’round again, ’round again!!!”


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Washed clean.

I walked through the garage and into our front yard. The grass was damp. I could see that Cathy was in the empty lot before Dynda’s house. It had just rained, this being spring. I didn’t walk on the road because I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty. I chose wet instead. I crossed through the line of trees that separated the lots. The leaves dampened my shirt. She sat there, near a big puddle. Her hands were covered in mud up to her elbows. It was hard for me to breathe. “Let’s make mud pies,” she said. I liked neither mud, nor pie, but I did like Cathy, so I walked a little closer. She passed to me a clump of wet soil, as if it were a gift. I held on for as long as I could, mere seconds. “My mom is calling,” I lied. She looked confused as I dropped the muck. I ran with arms extended. “Maaaaaaaaaaaaam!  Mom!” I yelled as I got closer. She ran out the door with the urgency I required. “What????” she asked. Not seeing my most obvious emergency. I thrust my hands in her direction. I shook them towards her. How could she not see?  Look! My hands. She smiled in acknowledgement. She knew I didn’t like my hands dirty. “Please…” my outthrust hands pleaded. She grabbed the hose, and I was saved.

I don’t know why it terrified me so – to have dirty hands. But it did. My mother never made fun of me. Never questioned why. Never told me how to feel. She just helped me wash them. And later, we had a good laugh. 

Through the years, there would be countless times that I, or she, would find ourselves in a mess. Sometimes created. Sometimes thrust upon us. But I never felt judged. We simply helped each other cry — washed ourselves clean. Helped each other grow. Helped each other laugh. And we were saved. 

I hope you have this. This person beside you. Who will reach out to your dirtiest of hands. Who will help you cry. Help you laugh. Just be there. Be there for you as you battle through love and fear. Battle through the letting in and the letting go. Be there when you call their name, with outstretched hands. And even more than this, I hope you ARE this person. (Just as I hope that I am.) 

Be there, as we all try to come clean.


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Refer a friend.


There is a concept on the internet market called “refer a friend.” If you refer a new customer (we’ll call them a friend) to a website you have used, this “friend” will get a free gift or discount, and you in turn will get a free gift or discount. I can honestly say that I’ve never used it. Maybe I’ve never been that sure about a product.


It got me thinking though, in real life, it’s a pretty good concept. I have both felt and seen what the power of friendship can do. My mother has a friend, a dear friend, that has been extraordinary. She, even in her own difficult times, has been able to offer my mom a care that only a true friend can. And because of her, my mother has more to give. Together they create a comfort and a joy — (just like the song says, I suppose). Free gifts exchanged daily.


Go ahead and buy whatever you want. That’s up to you. I will only offer this small bit of advice. Find a friend like this. Be a friend like this. Giving. Open. Freely exchanging. Because it is so true, you always get more than you give, and they in turn will have more to give – and the circle of love continues. Of this I am very sure!

(This post is dedicated to Sara. Standing strong with her in this difficult time.)


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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.