Jodi Hills

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


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This table is strong.

Some said it was in the way, my grandparents’ kitchen table. But for me, for my mother, it was something to lean on. The stability we craved.

The legs were at an angle, protruding just a little beyond the table top. You could kick it. Bump into it. Throw groceries, suitcases, all of your worries, on top of it. It was never going to crumble.

It took a while for my mother to get her legs beneath her. But she did. Oh how she did! And not just holding her up, but at that slight angle – that confident stride. Maybe they saw it in her first – the people of Alexandria. “Oh, I saw you walking yesterday.” “I see you out walking all the time.” “Aren’t you that lady that I see walking?” And when she answered yes to them, maybe she started to hear it herself. Yes. See it in herself. Yes, I am that lady.

I suppose we all have to become the stability that we crave. Table by table. Step by step. The sun rises with one question, we rise, and say simply, joyfully — Yes!

Whatever you need, this table is strong. Jodi Hills


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The scent of story.

I was only six when I was walked into the library of Washington Elementary. The door opened and it hit me immediately, the familiar scent. I didn’t have the words for it then. The knowledge. Certainly it could have been explained away with paper, and time. The aging, a slight dampness to it all. But I had smelled this before, this comforting familiar. And I needed no explanation, because I was home.

This welcoming scent – it was the same as the entryway to my grandparents’ home. Coats lined the wall. Dampened with work and story, they welcomed anyone who opened the door. They said, come in, you and your heart sit down. It was there I learned to trust. Trust in those who made the effort. Trust in those who worked hard to create something. Create a life.This library of coats. Of living.

When Mrs. Bergstrom, my first grade teacher, let go of my hand, I wasn’t afraid. She set me free in this open and beautiful world. There was life all around me. Book after book. Page after page. The words brushed against my arm, warm and worn, as the sleeve of my grandfather’s coat.

Some might say it is only nostalgia. But what is nostalgia? For me, it is not wanting to live in the past. No, for me, I see it as proof. A living and palpable proof of how it feels to be open. It is a reminder of how glorious life can be. A documentation of the extraordinary doors — the doors that let you in, the ones that set you free.

I don’t know what today will bring. But I know what it feels like to be open. I need no explanation. I brush against the familiar, and walk into the sun.


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Leap of faith.

It’s easy to put conditions on everything. “If the sun shines today, I’ll be happy.” “If this photo gets a lot of ‘likes’ I’ll be happy.” “If I get this done…” “If she tells me this…” “If he would just…” So many conditions. And I’m guilty of it too. We all want certain things. Need certain things. But what I want to do, what I’m trying to do, is start from a place of happiness. Start from a place of gratitude. Every morning. And then let the conditions fall away. Take away my ifs and just start being. Looking only inwardly. Not comparing my life, but living my life. The only competition should be with oneself. Am I living my best life?

When I visited the Brooklyn school district, I asked each young student what they were good at. They unapologetically told me of their gifts. Not bragging, but claiming their attributes. They were young enough to enjoy the gifts. I remember feeling the same. I was 5 or 6 when I began to paint. When I began to write. Not needing any encouragement. No social media. No pressure. I would go into my bedroom and color. Paint. Draw. Write. It was me. That’s what I cling to. What I believe in. The doing. The being. It’s a good day when I enjoy the process. Get the paint on my hands. Get the words on the page. Forever young enough to enjoy the gifts.

I read to the students my story “Leap of faith.” (The story of me daring to take my first real dive off the high tower.) When I was finished, one young man came up to me, and asked a very intelligent question. “What was that really about?” he asked, knowing it was deeper than just the water. “It’s about daring to be yourself.” I replied. He smiled like he knew. “I can do that,” he said. And he ran off to join his class. I know that he can!

“I don’t know if this is going to be the day that my feet will touch the sky…but I am going to climb that tower, and I am going to be scared and I’m going to be happy, and with the wind in my hair, my heart is going to lead me…and one way or another, I am going to fly!” (from the book, Leap of faith)

I’ll see you up there!


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In from the cold.

I must admit that I love summer. I would much rather be warm. But I’m glad I know it — the cold. The need to bundle. The having been through.

Just as you entered my grandparents’ house, there was a rack for coats. It was always full. Being a farm, someone was forever working outside, all through the year. Through rain. Through snow. And it was the coats, I suppose, that told you the story. Wet. Worn. Worked. Through. My heart, comforted with the damp smell, not of the weather, but the return. No matter what they had been through, they came back. I imagine this is the comfort I was seeking. To me, there was nothing warmer than trust.

Isn’t that what we are all seeking? This trust. This place to come in from the cold. To be bundled in a love that will always return. No matter what.

If you ask me today, where I came from, I will tell you someplace warm — someplace very warm.


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Never disposable.

I packed up the painting yesterday. UPS took it away in the afternoon. It is now on it’s way home. All is as it should be, still, there is a tiny hole in my soul that needs to be filled. I know what to do. I have done it time and time again. I must start a new painting. And the process will fill that little space, and with any luck, that painting will find a new home and I will begin the process again.


When I was a kid, I suppose I thought that I would learn something once, and that would be it. I would just know. I would feel something once, and I wouldn’t have to feel it again. Smiling now. It’s just not the way. I find myself learning things again and again. Patience. Trust. Love.


People will enter your life and you will love them. Sometimes they will hurt you. Sometimes you will hurt them, (“and that I think is worse” as Dorothy Parker taught us.) But, oh, that heart, oh, that resilient heart, will love again. And be loved again.


Sometimes people will lift you. Gloriously lift you. Sometimes they will leave you. And your sore heart keeps beating. You will learn trust again. You will learn patience, continuously.


I paint as instinctively as I breathe. And my heart just follows. Jumping each time into the deep end of the colors. Deeper. Deeper. Filling my lungs. Creating as deeply as I can, then rising to the surface. Breaking though. Releasing the breath that carried me. Letting it all go. Ready to do it all again. Trusting in that ever resilient, never disposable heart.

Let’s stand together in front of today’s blank canvas, and begin… again…


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Three minutes in the deep end.

My mother didn’t know how to swim. But she knew how to drive. And from the age of six, even on the harshest winter Saturday morning, she dropped me off at the Central Junior High School pool for swimming lessons. Under the domed roof, we learned to crawl – the crawl stroke. We learned to breathe, and to hold that breath. To trust our bodies. We learned the side stroke – pick an apple and put it in the basket. The breast stroke. The backstroke. We learned to dive. We learned to tread water. Three minutes in the deep end with our hands in the air. We swam 50 laps to pass the exam. We would be safe in any of the 10,000 lakes.

At noon my mother would pick me up. I exited the glass doors that surrounded the pool. Head steaming in the cold air, I wondered if my long blonde strands would freeze. They never did. My mother was never late to pick me up. Never. I never worried that she wouldn’t come.

Perhaps that is the sole reason I dared to go in the deep end. That I still do.

Teach me with honesty and I will know trust. Teach me with gentleness and I will know strength. Teach me with kindness and I will know love.