Jodi Hills

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

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The Italian.

I found the laminated card that my mom kept in her purse. It listed of all my surgeries. She grew tired of remembering and writing them down for insurance purposes, so she typed up a card and handed it to them. There were over twenty. Joint by joint.

She was the first to sign each plaster cast. I don’t know which number surgery we were on, (I suppose I could check the list)…but it was a full length cast on my left leg — she wrote in big blue sharpie — “Nurse Linda.” “Who’s that?” I asked, still in a bit of an anesthetized fog. “Me,” she said proudly, “If I’m going to be playing nurse all the time, I should be able to pick my own name.” I smiled. She struck a pose at the side of my hospital bed. We laughed until I threw up in the plastic bean beside me. She wiped my face with a warm washcloth. “Thank you, Linda.”

She had to use vacation days from work to be with me. She brushed it off, while I apologized. “Nurse Linda doesn’t care. It’s part of her job.” She made everything easier. With just those two words — Nurse LInda — she made even my plaster covered existence lighter. Trips to the hospital became vacation. Vacation from the norm. Vacation from reality. She did, in fact, have the power to heal me.

I had just started this recent painting. I emailed the beginnings to a friend of mine. “Is it a nurse?” she asked. I hadn’t thought about it yet, but of course it was — she was. This beautiful Italian woman appearing on my canvas was healing me. Taking me to a different time, a different place. A vacation for my heart and mind.

My mother’s name would change from time to time as needed. From Linda, she went to Goober, to Sparkle, Little Sister, Gilbert, (and now, she is “The Italian.”) We changed and grew. Adapted. Healed. And most of all, we had FUN — the greatest healer of all, I suppose. And even though none of this may continue, make no mistake about it – it is permanent! A love written in Sharpie. A love laminated on my heart.

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Until I let go…

I suppose the combinations are near infinite. Paper and paint. For a Christmas gift I received this tablet and a set of pastels. The person who bought them together wasn’t wrong. It was printed right there on the box and the tablet cover. They were supposed to get along. But I didn’t love how the pastels felt against it. The paper didn’t seem to want to hold the delicate medium. A few days ago I started using acrylics with this paper. Instant love. The paint grabbed onto the surface like it was meant to be there. The paper welcomed it home.  The combination worked perfectly, without the “should haves” and “supposed tos” of the manufacturer’s suggestions.  

When I was younger, I wasted a lot of time trying to fit into these guidelines. Trying to make people love me the way I needed to be loved. Or possibly worse, accepting “love” that I knew would never hold. It wasn’t until I let go, that it all started to come together. I let go of the norms. The rules placed upon me, or maybe the rules I placed upon myself. Either way, I released them. And everything that was once forced became natural. Became Art. Became Love. Beautiful.

Love, real love, is never wrong. You get to decide on your family, your friends, your life. And when you find it, it will just work. Without force, it will hold. You will be held in the open arms of “welcome home.”

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Be the giggle.

As someone who grew up in the ice and snow of a Minnesota winter, I consider myself a bit of an expert, but through the years I have found nothing to be as slippery as old habit.

I decided to take a new path yesterday. I turned left instead of right out of our driveway. Across the bridge then towards the city. Cars raced past me. It was louder. The sidewalk seemed a little harder. Maybe I should just turn back, I thought. But I kept going. Turned to go down the embankment. I could hear the sound of the river. Bienvenue, it rolled. The ground softened. The colors brightened. I stopped thinking and started looking. Flowers were new. Listening. Two young girls giggled as they waded in the sea of white flowers. It’s hard not to smile when you hear giggling. And soon everything seemed to be — the water, the trees, the fountain, the birds — they were all in on it…

There are days, I must admit, when my brain wanders down a negative path. And it knows the way. So easily it can slide. And replay the tapes of negativity. Over and over. Step after slippery step. I’m getting better at catching it – before I slide too far. I really have to take a sharp turn to a new thought. And it can be as simple as changing rooms. Reading a book in a new chair. Going outside. Turning left.

As uncomfortable as change can be, it may also be the gift we are looking for. The gift we can’t seem to find sliding down the same old path. A butterfly kissed my cheek just before arriving back home. I get it. The universe wants us to be happy!

Some might lose their way today. If you’re able, be the giggle that walks beside, then leads them home.


Coffee and love.

I remember the last coffee my mom and I had with my grandma. She was sitting at her round table when we opened the door. An empty cup with coffee grounds just within reach. I bent down to hug her. She reached up her arms to grab hold. So frail. She started to push herself up against my shoulders.  “No, no… you don’t have to get up.”  “Yes, I do,” she said, “You’re here.” I knew I was loved.

Most of her cups were stained. Not dirty, but showed the years of use. We took two from the cupboard and sat with her. I had just sold a painting. I remember telling her for how much, and she made the big “OOOOOH” sound with her rounded mouth and clapped her hands together. With that one sound, I received more than any payment. 

It wasn’t long before her head was asleep against her fist. We washed the cups and helped her to bed. The waft of coffee and love followed us out the door.

I suppose that’s why I write the stories each day — to keep the smell of love brewed alive and following. My grandma’s love. My mother’s love. 

Not that long ago, I was struggling through the tears of tenderness. I was writing this daily blog. A dear friend told me, “You don’t have to do it every day.” “Yes, I do,” I replied, “She was here.”

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In full Selma.

I don’t know where I heard the name before, but when I saw her — this little stuffed duck that my mother gave to me for Easter — I knew her name was Selma. She was the brightest yellow I had ever held in the palm of my hand. In the palm of my heart.

It was years later, perhaps well beyond what some might call my “stuffed animal” years, (but maybe with your own mother, you never outgrow them), that she gave me a squishily wrapped Easter present. It was Selma. And not just Selma for me, my mom called her by name as well. The original duck? No. The original love? Indeed. I guess that never changes. 

I name the trees in our yard now. The plants in our house. I have always thought when love blooms so beautifully, it deserves a name. I’d like to think that they are all in on it — as nature blossoms in bright Selma all around me. Maybe that’s what Easter is — at least it is for me — a love that continues to bloom and bloom, forever in the palm of my heart.

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Mystery and Peace.

I didn’t see it the first time I passed. There is a giant stone marking the gravel path that I walk on every day. (And I must add, I pay attention to the stone because it reminds me of the one that marked the driveway to my grandfather’s house.) 

It’s close to an hour by the time I make my way out and back, searching for asparagus. Instead of walking past the large stone a second time, I cut through the field, usually rich with asparagus, and then wind my way up the large hill. As I started back down something caught my eye. I wasn’t sure what it was. A woman sitting on the stone? An animal? I couldn’t quite make it out. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I saw it. Four rocks placed perfectly in order to balance on the large one. No glue. No cement. Nothing to hold them, but balance.

Voices carry easily on this path. But I never heard anyone. Never saw anyone. Had they brought the stones with them? How did they manage to find them? Place them? In such a short time. 

I hadn’t seen the art of balancing stones until I moved to France. With mountains and rivers so near, the options are plentiful. With mild research, I found that it was all a meditation in balance. Finding the core strength to stand tall, no matter what nature throws at you. 

I suppose I’ve felt off balance for a few months now. Losing my mother was like losing one of the rocks that held me upright. I hope it’s not arrogant to think this is a sign for me. I don’t think so. Maybe we’re all here to give each other signs. To pick up the stones, when others are weary. To give each other hope. Through words. Paintings. Gestures. Even rocks. And if we can do that for each other, then I think we can create a world of balance that we all long for.

My grandfather gave me this. My mother did too. Maybe they still are. Or maybe the duty has been passed along the path. I find comfort in it all. 

A few days ago a friend of mine sent an email and signed it, Mystery and Peace. I guess that says it all. I hope you find both on your path today.

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I had played on teams for years before I understood that the “A” in “Bring your A game” didn’t stand for Alexandria. But I liked that it did. I mean I always knew that it meant the coach wanted us to be our best. To do our best. For ourselves. For our team. For our hometown – Alexandria. I suppose, in a joyful way, I will always want to do my best for this place. 

Now there are other cities that do this for me as well. New York. Paris. They make me want to be a better artist. A better human. I read books by great authors, in hopes of becoming a better writer. I visit museums. Watch videos. Sketch. Learn. Repeat. And maybe most importantly, I try to surround myself with people who are doing the same. Not the same things necessarily, but trying to do their best at whatever they do. Because as we learned in school, you always play better against the better team. 

My mother (Ivy) didn’t know anything about sports. But oh, did she have game! And she brought it. Even in her toughest times. She brought it with style. Elegance. Lipstick. Grace. And an endless supply of breath mints in her purse. She taught me more about winning than any coach. Any team. Winning was playing when you didn’t feel like it. Winning was getting up. Getting dressed. Presenting your best self to this world. Not to convince them, but to convince yourself — you were worthy, you were someone. Winning was laughing beyond the tears. Winning was loving, beyond a cracked heart. Winning was teaching your daughter to be her best. Do her best.

I have a lot to live up to. That is not pressure, but a welcome challenge. The sun is coming up. I reach for the best inside of me — not just my A-game, but my I-game as well. I smile in the mirror. And put a breath mint in my purse.


The promise of spring.

The first sign of spring came when Sylvia Dynda hung her weekly wash out on the line. Damp white cotton, blowing in the gentle breeze — a breeze warmed with a promise written by Hemingway himself — “There would always be the spring…” It would be years before I read the line, before I could read at, but I knew… And so with my freshly exposed skin, I ran through the empty lot that separated our houses, and under the sun I danced through this sea of white. Clothes that were alive! Clothes that cooled my sun-surprised shoulders and warmed my summer eager heart. It was a promise of forever, and I immersed myself in it.

She must have known it too, Mrs. Dynda, because there would be no other reason to let the quite possibly dirty hands of an unrelated neighbor girl touch her freshly laundered clothing. Sometimes I could see her smiling through the newly replaced screen door that her husband Frank put up for the summer. I knew she knew. And so I would dance.

Yesterday was the first time I washed my mother’s ruffled blouse. Her blouses were always whiter than any other person’s. Always clean. Always pressed. Always spectacular. I didn’t want to mess this up. I washed a basin. Washed it with a new washcloth, just in case. Added the water. The delicate detergent. Gently wooshed it with my clean hands. Let it soak. Then hung it on our clothesline. Our new spring breezes were strong. I watched over it. This was more than just a blouse on the line, this was the promise of forever. The promise that my mother would always be with me. I let the sleeves ruffle my arms. Dance damply around me. She made it to the south of France. And I would make it through this spring. It was promised on Van Dyke road. It was promised today. I knew she knew. And so we would dance.


True blue.

I got my driver’s license at 16. Not long after, I had a cast on both legs. A full length plaster on my left, from ankle to hip. And on my right from my toes to my knee. I could still walk. A little like Frankenstein. I couldn’t sneak up on anyone, but I kept moving. I could ride my ten speed off-brand bike. I tied a shoe lace around the right pedal to hold my foot in place and rode one legged from Jefferson Street. I could still drive. My mom had a sturdy (even more than we thought) used Chevy Malibu station wagon, in light blue. To get into the driver’s seat, I opened the door wide, lifted my left straight leg, (there was no way to back in) and in one full swoop, I grabbed the steering wheel, slid my left leg under the dash, hoisted myself up by that same light blue wheel, and seated myself at the ready. I’m not saying it was smart, or even legal, but I did it. Somehow we all survived. Me, my mom, and the Blue Chevy.

You never know what will end up supporting you. I suppose it’s the same way with friends. There is no way to anticipate or predict even what you will need. It’s not like you can go to the car dealership and hang from every wheel before you buy the car. But in this life we are gifted by the strength of others. Those beautiful friends who will support you, the full weight of you, when you need them. Without knowledge or permission we grab them by the wheel, and they hold. Some for a lifetime. True blue. I give thanks for them, every day.


Dear. Someone.

I was just a few years her elder, my cousin Dawn. But it was in those years that I had learned to color within the lines. And more significantly (I’m not saying for the better) I had begun to care about it. We were at my grandma’s house, coloring in the sewing room. She, still free from any worry of boundaries, took her crayon in her tiny fist, and moved it with reckless abandon across the coloring book. I tried to hold in my horror – I hope I did. But these were the wildest, most furious purple lines I had ever seen. It was indecipherable what the underlying outlines had recommended. Still, she held it out – held it up – proudly. “I think it’s pretty good,” she claimed, “you know sometimes, I scribble.” (As if to say she hadn’t then.) I envied her assuredness. I stayed within the lines. Ready too, I suppose, to hold mine equally out to the world, just as she had done, and say clearly, “Dear Someone,…Maybe it’s all been a letter. A reminder. A plea. An offering. An outreach. Sometimes appearing on canvas. Sometimes in a book. Sometimes just a scribble on a notepad. Sometimes even indecipherable. But I think in each of our own extraordinary ways, every day, inside and outside the lines, sometimes with confidence, other times with fury, sometimes in colors so weak they can barely be seen — each day we write the letters. Letters that contain giant hopes of connecting, of being seen, of being loved, of giving thanks. Letters that ask to be seen. Letters that say, “I see you.” Letters that open days, open doors and open hearts. Letters that ask for the help. Letters that offer it. Letters that know today it might be me, tomorrow it might be you. Letters that know both words are true for all. Dear. Someone.

So we wake each morning and present to the mirror, present to the world, our masterpieces and our scribbles, each beginning with a clear and hopeful “Dear Someone,…”