Jodi Hills

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


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The weight of the magic.


Not everyone liked to be called up to the black board. I did. When Mrs. Bergstrom began asking a question, I was suddenly the tallest person in the room. Everyone sank lower in their desks, to discourage her from calling on them — as if she might think, well, I couldn’t possibly ask them to walk all the way up here to the board, they are but floating heads…” It never worked. She called on everyone.


When it was my turn, I ran, hand reaching out for the chalk. I could barely hear the question over my heart racing. I loved the feel of the chalk in my chubby little fingers. Once in a while, she would hand over her personal piece of chalk – the one with the wooden holder. The weight of it was magnificent. It felt powerful and important. As I wrote the answer, any answer, it felt like my hand was sledding across the fresh fallen snow – gliding, surely, easily, making tracks of white. This feeling far surpassed any worry of right and wrong. There was only this. This magic from head to hand to board.


I’m working on some new projects with my publishers. They are in the United States. I am in France. In these separate countries, in different hours of the same day, we communicate in real time, face to face, actions and creations are immediate. Immediate. Imagine that!
In our discussion, they wanted to know my favorite pencil. I knew immediately. It is the woodless graphite pencil I purchased from the Musée Soulages Rodez. The weight of it is, once again, magnificent! It feels possible. Magic! It feels like no worry of right and wrong. It glides with youth across the page. The one I race to. That is a worthy pencil!


Without saying all of that, when they asked me why, I immediately drew this bird. In real time. Maybe a minute, or two. “Because, this!” I drew. This! With this pencil, it is “my turn.” I guess I’ve always understood the importance of that. Even when fear hides all around me, sometimes even within, I will forever race towards the weight of the magic!


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Ida painted too.

It’s no secret that I have always loved Georgia O’Keeffe. Yesterday, to my surprise, I learned that she had a sister, Ida, who also painted. Experts say that if she had had the support of an Alfred Stieglitz, she could have been equally celebrated. But she had a different story. And the world, someone decided, didn’t need another O’Keeffe.

Since I was a young girl, my mother was friends with Diane Larson. A lovely woman. She was kind. True. And when she smiled at you softly, you felt cared for, hugged. There wasn’t a lot of truth that I could see at that age, and it was comforting. She was a teacher. I would see her in the halls of Central School. She didn’t embarrass me by actually speaking, but she smiled, and I knew she was watching out for me. She was the extended care of my mother.

She hung my childish art in her beautiful home. Saved a folder of my poems and scribbles, as if they were treasures. I didn’t need a second mother. I already had my “Georgia.” But this Diane Larson, this Ida, she painted too, and I felt extra loved.

She died yesterday. For most, she will go unnoticed. But that does not mean she is not celebrated. She fits easily into the halls of my heart, still watching over, smiling. A continuous joy. An unending love. The world needs every Ida, every Diane.


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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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To build.

I like to watch decorating videos on youtube. I viewed a lovely tour of a woman’s home. The next day, in my feed, another video popped up. I recognized her home in the thumbnail. This, however, was not more about her home, but it was another woman watching the same video I watched and giving her opinion. I didn’t need to see much of it before quitting. By “critiquing”, she meant she was just going to say everything she didn’t like about this woman’s home. Why would I want to see that? But even worse, the next day, (and I’m not kidding), in my feed there was a video of a woman critiquing the woman as she critiqued the very first video.

I have always been one who believed in the builders, the makers — of anything. I like the process. The courage in the attempt. The guts to then show how and what you made. (I just had a very vivid flashback to junior and senior high math! I get it now. It IS about the work.) Anyone can get to the answer. Anyone can buy the completed product. Critique the completed product.

And perhaps I, we, are just using the wrong word here – critique. Because of course, there is always room for “a detailed analysis and assessment of something” (as the dictionary defines critique.) A qualified evaluation that will help us learn and grow. But this is not what these videos were. “I don’t like it” is not really all that helpful.

And it occurs to me, I might be doing the same thing here… ugh… so gathering in my own advice, I will continue to celebrate the makers, those who attempt! Bravo to those who try. I can see it as I type it — “bravo” and “brave” are really just one letter apart – one tiny line. So bravo to the brave who dare cross it! Today, even if it’s just the day itself, let’s make something great!


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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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Sometimes she would whisper to her heart. It was usually just this, “yes.”

He began the song in a whisper, Nat King Cole. From the radio he graced our breakfast table. His opening of “Perfidia” was as gentle as the steam that rose from our coffee. “Mujer…” he sang, so softly, but never more clear to our hearts. We left our croissants on the table, and just listened.

In third grade, Mrs. Erickson carried a long stick. She didn’t slam it. She didn’t swing it. She held it. Third graders are not known for sitting still. There is so much to make the eye wander. The birds outside the window. The fidgeting boy in the desk next to you. The note being passed around. The answers on the smart girl’s paper. Mrs. Erickson told us once at the beginning of the school year, “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” She never said the words aloud again. But we knew. If the end of the stick tapped lightly on the front of your desk, or simply pointed in your direction…you looked at your own work.

I can see it now so clearly. She was brilliant. She didn’t need to wave her stick around, because it wasn’t about punishing, it was about teaching. I think she knew that “cheaters” weren’t bad, but simply not confident, not confident in their own work. And her tap, was a reminder, “Look, look right here, you can do this.”

I don’t know if everyone got that. It’s a lesson I’m still learning. Every day. It’s not that I have the want or the opportunity to “steal the answers” from someone else. But I do need a gentle tap, a whisper, to tell me that I can do this. I can do this in my way. In my time. The answers are right in front of me.

This morning Nat King Cole gave us a gentle tap.

I summon the daily courage needed, and I begin. “Yes,” I whisper. “Yes.”


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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Dewey Decimal.

I suppose some might say that it has always been my nature to “worry.” Wednesday evenings before library day at Washington Elementary, I would wonder, will they give us enough time, will I find the book I want? And I hate to call it “worry,” really, it’s just that it all meant so much to me. The books, the library, the stories, I valued them. I loved them. So I took the time, mapped out the library on paper and in my head. Learned the sections of my favorite series. Studied the Dewey Decimal System. Made friends with the card catalog, not to mention the librarian. So yes, I thought about it a lot – but it wasn’t the agony of worry, it was love. And I will never regret giving them my time. My thoughts. My concern. Loving them with all of my heart.


Today, there are always concerns, and bigger ones at that. Family. Health. Life. World. But I would like to think I’m not just “worried.” Worry itself doesn’t seem to inspire much action. Concern, feelings, love, now that helps me. Makes me aware of the problems, the issues, and gives me the incentive to do something. Worrying, simply worrying about tomorrow, not only doesn’t help my tomorrow, but it loses my today. It’s not always easy. And I am certainly not perfect. Oh, that “worry” can sneak its way in, but when it does, I look for my tools. I Dewey Decimal it to the ground, and reach once again for the love. It, love, has always been the answer. Still, and again.


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Become.

She sits in front of my easel, my brushes, this portrait I painted of Beverly Cleary. She made a path for me to travel when I was just a child with her books, Ramona the Pest, Henry and the Paper Route, Henry and Ribsy… and on and up the open road of imagination. What a gift she gave. How could I not bring her on my continuing journey?!

And it is so light, this joy — so easy to carry. No need for baggage.

Joy is different from memory. Memories can fade in and out. Change. Be forgotten. Some can even weigh us down. But that joy — oh, that joy, those feelings that permanently uplift, light the way… these are the things we must focus on – place front and center. So when faced with our challenges, our work, our daily life, the first thing we see is that upturned brow of curiosity that says, “I am interested,” — that gentle smile that says, “I know you can do this!”, that face that says, “I’ll be with you along the way.”

It is a blessing to find that joy — perhaps even more, to one day become that joy. I raise my brow, my lips, my brushes, my pen…and give thanks for the well-lit path before me.


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Pillowing.

“Your heart pillows to mine, and I am home.” It is a simple sentence. One I wrote for my book, “Home.” I also made it into a picture that hangs in our upstairs hallway. To take a noun – pillow – make it a verb, and everyone still knows exactly what it means, this is a thrill!


I have always loved words. I grew up with them. They are a living force in my life. An exchange of goods – as my mother read to me before bed. An exchange of goods, as I read to her my blog each day.


This lifeforce – these words – how do I give thanks for them? As the lyrics say in the song “To Sir with Love,” — “How do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” For that’s what these words have done. They have raised me from a child. From my first visit to the library at Washington Elementary. To today, as I arrange them together, hopefully in a new way, on this page, eagerly trying to lift, to inspire, to connect. So to thank them, in my most humble way, I can only use them to the best of my ability. Use them for good. (Because make no mistake, they are tools – these words – and just as easily as they can build, they can also destroy). I pray that I, we, use them well. Share them with kindness, with as much love as they were first shared with me, by a woman, who I would grow to resemble in looks, who I long to resemble in heart. She laid them so gently in my bed, these words, so softly, so comforting, one might even say she pillowed them.
Don’t spare your words. Share them. Mean them. Thoughtfully, gently, use them well.