Jodi Hills

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


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Masterpiece.


I don’t create a masterpiece every day. Wait, now I have to look up the word masterpiece. If by one definition — something “considered to be the greatest work of a person’s career” — then no, I don’t. But if you look at another — “a supreme achievement” — then maybe yes, maybe I do. Maybe we all do.

I was fumbling through a difficult afternoon yesterday. Emotions tangling my every move. Every step a trip. Everything seemed too big. I didn’t want to do it – any of it. It was all too much. I needed something small. Contained. Doable. 6” x 6”. This seemed reasonable. I could navigate half of a foot. I opened my sketchbook. Reached for a single pencil. No decisions of color or brush. Just hold the pencil. Feathers appeared lightly. Then shading. And it felt familiar. New, but not frightening. Pencil lines became darker. More confident. And there it was. A bird. My bird. My something doable. My moment of getting through. I smile because I get to know — I get to know the effort it took to get through the moment — the effort it took to achieve this tiny bird. To navigate the afternoon, all 6 inches of it — an achievement, nothing short of supreme.

We don’t get to know every inch of every person. I don’t know what you’re tackling today. What you’re trying to get through. But I care. And I understand the effort it takes. And I applaud the efforts! I applaud the masterful achievements — the supreme achievements of our daily lives.

Perched on the new day, I shout to the opening sun, my lifting heart, to each master rising – one and all — Bravo!


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Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”


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The exchange.

She has short term memory loss, my mother-in-law. She arrived with flowers for me (courtesy of her other son). I thanked her. Hugged them close to me, draping myself in the fragrance. I held them out to her so she, too, could breathe them in. She thought I was giving them to her as a gift. She smiled with a grand “merci!” — and I was gifted again.

It’s not always clear who is gifting whom. Who is the one helping. Most of the time, I think we all receive in the exchange. And we need to move freely between the roles. Sometimes I think it is maybe easier to be the giver, the strong one. Allowing yourself to be the one who is vulnerable, perhaps this takes the most strength of all. 

I leaned on you today. I’m not sure if you even knew, but I wanted to thank you. I felt you holding my heart. It made me happy. And I was strong. I hope I can do the same for you, if so, we can do anything.


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…And so it begins.

I always asked for art products each Christmas. Maybe a craft. Shrinky-dinks. Candle makers. Paints or pencils. Sketchbooks. Anything that could be made into something. I suppose I’ve forever been an artist, but there was more to it than that. I think I knew there would always be the 26th. The day after. No more presents to open. Festivities done. Decorations coming down. In all that ending, I would have something to begin. 

Each year my French family asks me what I would like. My go-to answer is, still, anything to do with art. They ask what. Doesn’t matter. What kind? Doesn’t matter. What brand? Doesn’t matter. I guess because it ALL matters. It all works for me. It’s not just love, it is love extended. It fills the hole of the day after and turns it into the day of! Uplifting the let-down. Offering the start of a new season. It gives. It becomes.

Maybe that’s what true love is. Joy in life’s 26th. Wonder in the ordinary. Lights in our darkest hour. Beginnings. Again and again. Celebration all year long. That’s what I wish for you! May you find it today, and every day. Happy 26th!


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The whisper of “there, there…”


It’s so easy to see the things I should have done. The things I should have said. (Or shouldn’t have). And they fly around my brain, buzzing really, until I swat away the pesky “shoulds” and start living the calm of “what is”. Here. Maybe it lacks the clarity of then, but residing in the now, with all of its unknown, uncertainty, it is so quiet. And in this quiet I can hear the thoughts. The thoughts of the person I want to be. So I write them. Paint them. Knowing this moment too will pass. And I will need the reminders. The reminders to hug longer. Laugh louder. Speak softer. Cry more freely. Forgive. Smile. Trust. Hope. Be curious. Love abundantly, and then a little more – even myself.

I am quick to make the grocery list. We are out of coffee. Mouthwash. Seeing it, I laugh. None of it is important, if I don’t do the above. So I step inside the quiet of morning. The whisper of “there, there…” of right now, and I just see…. No should haves. No could haves. I just am. Not perfect. But always original. Note to self.


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The shape of love.

Just one letter separated the two words. And barely even a letter, only the slightest curve between the “a” and the “o”. Hallowed. Hollowed. They were in the poem she sent me. It was beautiful for so many reasons, but for me, this tiniest of movements that could change one word to another, one emotion to another, filled me with hope, filled me with love.

That’s why I have always loved words. Books. Therein lies the possibilities.

We went to Book in Bar yesterday – my favorite bookstore in Aix. The comfort was palpable. As we stood by the coffee bar, waiting for our cappuccinos, I saw it. Flâneuse, by Lauren Elkin. A Chicago friend had tagged me in a post about it just the day before. I have never been one to ignore magic, so I picked it up, sat with it at our table. Hallowed.

I suppose I think, if I live in the word, I might too possess the skills to make the same changes. To take an empty day, and fill it.

As I wander (the meaning of flâneuse) through the “a”s and “o”s of my day, I will choose the magic. Choose the hope of each word and place it into that hollow part of my heart, and fill it. I will write my story. Live my story. Share my story. For I have to believe — it’s the most beautiful magic of all!


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On the promised land.

We took the bus all the way to St. Cloud (an hour away) to play in the grade school summer softball tournament. It was so hot. By the time we got there, the iron-on patches that spelled out our team’s name began peeling off of our t-shirts.

The score was low and close. Dehydrated, we made it to the bottom of the ninth, up by one. As the visiting team, we just had to hold them off. Three outs. That was it. I played catcher. I beat my right fist into my oversized glove with my name written on it. I called for the pitch. (We had no special pitches, so I was just calling for the ball.) She threw it with the most magnificent arc. Almost impossible to hit. The batter had to wait for it to come down from the blazing blue sky. The batter swung. From the sound alone, I knew she only got a piece of it. I jumped up slightly from my crouch. Legs spinning. Eyes looking upward. My head was so far ahead of my feet. All I had to do was catch this ball and we would win. I chased my heart down the third base line. Head and glove extended. There was no physics to explain how my feet kept my face above the dust of the field’s sand and clay. My heart clearly defied the rules of balance. And I kept running (more falling forward at a wicked pace.) The ball fell into the web of my glove. I could hear the cheers and feel the waves of arms around me. But there was no way for me to stop. I just kept falling forward, heart filled. I was well beyond third base when I tumbled into the green of the outfield. Ball still in glove. We had won.

Some days I still feel like that. Feet spinning, trying to catch up to my heart. And I’ve had my share of face-plants in the dirt, scraped knees, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, so I keep running, falling forward…because, I guess, when it comes to following my heart, joyfully, there’s just no way for me to stop.


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Comic strips and soap operas.

I started a new book recently. I’m really enjoying it. This is the point where most people ask “What’s it about?” I always think of the quote by the author,
J.R. Moehringer, “I hate when people ask what a book is about. People who read for plot, people who suck out the story like the cream filling in an Oreo, should stick to comic strips and soap operas. . . . Every book worth a damn is about emotions and love and death and pain. It’s about words.”

I don’t know the first thing about farming. I can barely name the machinery. But I do know about farmers — or at least one — my grandfather. I can tell you about a pipe in the top pocket of striped overalls (the stripes carrying each season like the rings of a mighty oak.) Walks from the house to the middle of the field. A foot in each furrow. Rocks picked with roughened hands (hands that we all reached for.) Words of wisdom, scattered like seeds. Faith, that keeps you planting, again and again. Red paint chipping. Hair lines receding. A love that never stops growing. As far as I know, that’s what farming is about. Beautiful!

For me, books, paintings, days, are all meant to be lived. Really lived. Not driven by plot, but by heart. And that heart is meant to be roughened, reached, scattered, and planted. Forever growing.

Today, set aside your daily planner, and really live — that’s when the beauty comes — and maybe, just maybe, that’s what it’s all about.


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The kitchen cow.

You could see a cow from almost every window in my grandparent’s home. Maybe it was just too many reminders for my grandma on this particular day. I never thought of her having a middle name. I barely thought of her first name. She told me while sitting at the kitchen table – it was Gladys. Her middle name. She said she liked it. I could see a bit of a twinkle in the eye that rested above her curled lip. She was thinking about something…  And I suppose it was the first time I saw her not just as a grandma, but a woman. A woman of this world. And she looked beautiful. “But Elsie is nice,” I said. “Ah, it’s a bit too much like a cow…You can call me Gladys if you like,” she said. And her apron started to disappear. I smiled, knowing I had witnessed something so very special. She slapped her hands on her thighs. The apron reappeared and she went back to the sink. I grabbed her from behind, and I hugged, again, and for the first time.  

At our kitchen table here in France, I sit at the chair that faces my little cow. I painted it years ago. It rests just over Dominique’s shoulder. All of my worlds, open, with each morning croissant. The radio was playing Cabaret this morning. Liza sang “I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie.” My heart grins. For, I too, for just a brief moment had, not just a grandma, but a girlfriend…who let me in, well beyond the kitchen, inside her private twinkle.


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Wagons filled.

It wasn’t a recognized brand name. The only “flying” it did was behind me as I ran. But I loved that wagon. It carried everything that was important to me. As red as I imagined my heart to be, I filled it with stuffed animals and baby dolls. I put a blanket down first so their backsides didn’t turn orange. Yes, it was rusted, but not through. It was strong. Carrying every dream that I imagined for myself, and all those I pulled behind. 

They were bounced over gravel day after summer day. To the circus and picnics. To schools and playgrounds. To airplanes. To malls. To weddings. To the future. Anything, anywhere I could imagine. My fingers gripped the handle. My heart gripped the possibilities. I had everything. 

I will admit in recent days, I have felt that if I were to touch my heart, my hand would come back orange. Tear-rusted. And it might be true. But I don’t love it any less. I don’t want to love anything less, or anyone less. So I feel it. Embrace it. And hang on! Because now is the time for more. More feelings. More dreaming. More possibilities. More love. Heart wagons filled and racing behind legs of youth. Forever with me. With us. As long as we hold on.