Jodi Hills

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


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Peace leads to joy.

In the fifth grade at Washington Elementary, I was ahead in my studies, so Miss Green said I could go upstairs to assist the third grade teacher. Oh, yes. What an opportunity! I felt so old and smart. These poor, lowly third graders surely needed all the wisdom I could impart. I walked tall into their classroom. I stood next to their teacher. Certainly we were equals. They were about to start a section in science. Biology. Not my favorite, but I was still confident. I walked behind her to the giant glass box. Frogs. My heart rose a little in my chest. I didn’t like frogs. Perhaps it was the years of torment from an older brother who thought sticking one down your summer tank top was hilarious! (It wasn’t.) Still, I thought, they’re in a glass cage. How bad could this be? My question was soon answered by one of the third grade boys who opened the cover. Frogs began jumping everywhere. It was an infestation, biblical in nature. The teacher ran around, grabbing. Children screamed and threw. No, not me. I raced to the door, and took the stairs two at a time to get back to the comfort of my classroom. “They didn’t need me after all…” I said as I humbly and quietly returned to my desk. I wrote over and over in my journal – “not today.”

It had been just weeks earlier at our yearly safety assembly that our principal told us when faced with something that made us uncomfortable or nervous, not to engage, but to remove ourselves from the situation. Who knew how valuable this information could be?! Still is.

As grownups, it gets a little harder to see the chaos of certain people or relationships — it’s usually a little more subtle than flinging frogs — but just as chaotic. And sometimes we can feel compelled to argue our point, louder, faster, as they fly overhead. But I’m right!!!! I’m right!!! Only it just adds to the screaming. I know I’ll be taught this lesson again and again. I walk out into the calm of the sun, the quiet peace of the morning, smile, and tell my heart, “not today.”


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.


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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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Picture this.

By the end of the day, I am tired — which is a good thing. It’s a lot to keep one’s house in order. I don’t mean making sure there are no dishes in the sink (Well, of course I mean that too. I hate dirty dishes in the sink) but I mean the bigger picture. The bigger picture for me is working at my craft, painting, writing; learning (oh boy, I have so much to learn, not the least of which, French, and the toughest one, learning each day to be a better human); attending to the needs of those closest to me, which often includes just listening, caring, loving. My big picture might seem small, but it seems to fill my day. I can’t understand how people have the time to police the actions, thoughts, beliefs of others. It seems to me we all have enough to do to keep ourselves in order. How little exists in the life of a person who tries to control someone else?

Now I’m not saying we turn a blind eye to the events around the world. No. Absolutely not. (This for me falls under the being a better human category.) We stand up for what we believe in. But, in my humble, and maybe naive mind, I don’t think standing means knocking down the so-called others. But for one, aren’t we all others?

Being a human. This is something. Overwhelming at times for sure. But when my big picture gets way too big, I try to simply look around. Is there love? Yes. Is there hope? Sure! Is there joy? And how! Is the sink clear? You bet! (or that’s betcha for my Minnesota friends) I grab the nearest sketchbook and paint a pear. I call my mother. I kiss my husband. I take a walk in the sun. More than enough to fill my heart, to fill my day.


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Sprigs of green.

I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive. 

They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!  

Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.


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Duck, Duck…

Never had we been so divided. I was only in grade school, but rules had already been made. Followed. Lived. It was when I went to visit a cousin that everything changed. We went to the playground. Lots of children were there. Enough to play a game. We decided on “Duck, Duck…” (A group of players sits in a circle, facing inward, while another player, who is “it”, walks around tapping or pointing to each player in turn, calling each a “duck” until finally calling one a “gray duck”, which designates the chosen player as the chaser. The chaser then stands and tries to tag the chasee (it), while the chasee tries to return to and sit where the chaser had been sitting before.) Much to my surprise and horror, the player who walked around the group first did not call out “gray duck,” but goose! Goose! I was appalled!  The game was “Duck, Duck…Gray Duck. For me, for everyone in my school, it had always been Gray Duck. How could it possibly be goose??? I stopped the game. Goose??? What is this Goose?? They had never heard of gray duck. We defended our sides, for a matter of minutes. Turns out the game was exactly the same, no matter what we called the person who was “it.” We continued to play in the sun. 

I feel like the lesson is pretty obvious. I just wish we all could see it, today, as adults. All the time we waste, arguing over nothing, fighting over nothing, when all we really want is to spend another day chasing under the sun. I reach out my sweaty hand of youth — Come play.


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Worth a second look.

The first time we went to Lafayette, a few years ago, we didn’t really like the city. To be fair, we didn’t really see it. We lost a tire (we found it, as it rolled past our moving rental car) and spent the afternoon at the gas station. By the time it was finished, we asked the station attendant, where was the city center. He seemed baffled and said, “I think we’re in it.”  Banking this as truth, we drove on. 

Just before arriving in Lafayette this year, I asked Dominique, “Have we been here before?” We relived the runaway tire story and laughed. We both decided, “Not really.” In the daylight this time, we could see all the signage urging us to try the boudin balls. We love trying local food. Winding our way through the barriers set up for the Mardis Gras parade, we stumbled upon a small restaurant that said, “still open.” We ordered the pride of Lafayette – the boudin – not really in a ball, but more of a sausage – and it was delicious. We started to really see Lafayette. We went to an antique shop. They had real antiques, not Chinese remakes. We browsed slowly, thoughtfully, wishing we had more room in our suitcases. We visited with the owner. He was delighted we were visiting from France. We praised his store. Offered our apologies for not being able to buy anything because of the travel. He went into the back room. Came back with little packets. “I want you to have these.” They were flower seeds. Almost weightless, but for the meaning. “Plant them when you get back, then you will have a part of us there.”

Lafayette in the light of day. In the light of the people. Beautiful. We really saw it. 

It is springtime now in the south of France. Soon we will plant these flower seeds, and get a second look (or third) at Lafayette. And I suppose that is what spring is all about – giving us a second look, another chance. Another chance to see the beauty that this world holds. The weight of this! The importance! I don’t want to miss a thing!


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A pocket full.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” she would say to me. Nothing I said was crazy or stupid, or even childish, even though I was merely a child. This is one of the best gifts my mother gave me. She listened. 

I was a dreamer. She knew this. Right from the start. She didn’t have money to feed these dreams. Didn’t know the “right people.” But she had something better. She believed in them, me, and allowed them to come to life. “What is it you’re dreaming of?” she asked. I would tell her. And she grabbed the words, as if they lingered in the air, and handed them to me. “Not put it in your pocket,” she’d say. “We always need a dream in our pocket.”

When I got older, we loved to take trips to Chicago. A long weekend would be filled with shopping and walking and museums and coffee and wine and more shopping. On the drive home, we always filled our pockets with what would be the next visit. 

Before leaving for the US last month, I purchased a new sketch book. Just five euros, but something to look forward to. Priceless. In it yesterday I painted a woman’s portrait. I hope you can see it in her eyes – she has a dream in her pocket. And so do I. Always will.


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The anticipation of youth.

I always trust a town with a coffee shop. We stopped yesterday in Jennings, a tiny, really tiny town, just outside of Lafayette. A sign hung at the entrance, “Making people tolerable since 2013.” We smiled and knew we were home.

Maybe it has come with age, or from living in France, but I have gained appreciation and the patience to wait for my order. Because it won’t be fast here – in the south – in a small cafe. No, you will wait, even if you’re the only ones there. But it was worth it. The lattes – perfection. The ingredients the same, but they added a little anticipation to make it just a lot more delicious.

It hung on the wall in the restroom – this coffee cup made from “string art.” String art was probably the first real art that I made as a child. I say real, because it wasn’t with a kit, or something you filled in from the store, it was all hand made. A piece of wood. Nails. Lots of nails, and string. Oh, how I loved to make it. I made it again and again. Gave it to my mom’s friends. And when I saw it hanging on Diane Larson’s wall, I think that was the beginning for me. I was an artist. I was home.

This coffee cup that hung in the restroom in Jennings, Louisiana, was not new. It was falling apart at the bottom. Some may not even call it art. But it was for me. More than that really. Because in it, I could feel it – all the anticipation of youth! What a feeling! I carry it with me as I greet the new day, again and again, and I give thanks for each beginning! How delicious!


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Creating a song.

My mom and I drove to Galveston for the sole reason of the Glen Campbell song of the same name. It wouldn’t be the last time I was lured by the romance of a song.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles, LA. We can thank Lucinda Williams for that. I (we) have been singing her song “Lake Charles” since we entered the South. The glorious power of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe that’s the best thing about all of the arts — seeing things as others see them. In the city where we live in France, Aix en Provence, the Sainte Victoire mountain is the star. Cezanne painted it again and again. I have often wondered if it would have had the same appeal if he hadn’t shown us the beauty that he saw. I’m not sure, because now I can’t unsee it. And it is beautiful.

I write of the simple things. Paint them as well. Some might even say ordinary. I tell you of my home town. My mother. My grandparents. My school. For me, none of it is ordinary. And maybe you see it. See them. And maybe it helps you see the extraordinary beauty of your own life. And with any luck, that beauty gets stuck in your head, like a favorite song.