Jodi Hills

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

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Passing Security.

I was getting my shoes scanned and my hands swabbed. I saw Dominique throw something into a bin and walk back through the scanner. Once cleared, I gathered my belongings, and some of my wits, and waited for Dominique to join me.  “You’re ok?” I asked. “I feel really swollen,” he replied.  We waited to board the plane to Paris. The short flight was rather uneventful, but for the unshowered man next to us.  We did the long walk through CDG airport and boarded our flight to the US. A few hours in, we both went to the bathroom. I waited for Dominique to return, still standing so Dominique could easily take his seat. It was taking him forever. When he finally returned he said, “This isn’t my belt.”  To which I replied, “Are those your pants?”  Mile high laughter at its best!!   He suffered the remaining hours, challenging the last notch.  Carrying the kind of laughter that keeps coming back for an encore performance.

As we were sharing this story with friends, it seemed even more funny. It occurred to me, if everything always went perfectly, what would we talk about? What would we laugh about. And oh how good it feels to laugh. An inner massage. A release. A joyful vulnerability that commands the getting through – the passing of security. 

Things will go wrong along the way, but what a glorious journey! We search not for perfection, but a story. A story that takes away your waist, your lap, your control, your breath… and gives you everything need.

Share your laughter. Share your joy. We’ll get more tomorrow.

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Carry it with you.

The first time Dominique came to Minneapolis, it was summer. Welcome breezes waved through our clothes as 90 degrees reflected off the Mississippi River.  Exposed arms and hands brushed and held. We dined al fresco. And stole kisses in the never ending light. We moved easily from house to car to dry sidewalks and green grass. The tumble of August, said, “Go ahead, “fall in love!”  And we did!

The second time he came to Minneapolis it was 40 below zero. Our breath was the only thing dancing in the air, inside the car…and this is when I knew he really, really, really loved me.  

Helen Keller was quoted, “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” I believe it. And so it is with my Minneapolis. My mother. My husband. My friends. Every beautiful moment, love’s eternal warm breezes, flowing within my heart — deeply. I keep tumbling.

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Being wren.

I always find it surprising when people are shocked by “celebrities” passing. (Not to mention being shocked by who people think ARE celebrities.)

The eagle and the wren are living in the same sky. I don’t imagine one envies the other. “Look at how big and strong they are. They could survive anything. They are so lucky!” “Look at how quick and small they are! They could flee or hide from any situation. They are so lucky!” It sounds funny to imagine. But we do the same thing every day, with people. Full of envy for their situation. |Boy, if I had their money, I’d be happy.” “If I had their job, I’d be happy.” “Their life must be so easy!” So in want of their eagleness, we forget the joy of being wren.

Of course I’ve been guilty of it all. And it’s not out of great humility that I say I want to enjoy the small things. No, just the opposite. I don’t want anything to seem small. Because it isn’t really. The little things of every day turn out to be what matters most of all. We are all under the same sky, trying to have a good day. What could be more important than that? Who could be more special than the people we love?

As I flit and flutter through the coming day, I only ask for the wisdom to see it — the beauty within wing’s reach.

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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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Little things.

There was always a kleenex in my grandma’s pocket. A breath mint in my mother’s purse. 

We think we have to do the grandiose gestures to be loved. I have been guilty of this, for sure. But I teach myself, daily, as I remember the little things, that life is a series of smalls, little pieces of love and kindness that fit into those tiny spaces of your heart, and fill it.

Maybe it was because she started when I started. Since I was five, I went into my room and came out, presenting it to my mother. She said it was great – and I believed her. She used the same words that others would come to use, but when she said them, and oh, I can still hear it (please let me forever hear it), yes, when she said it, it meant the world to me. When she said the word “beautiful, it wrapped around my heart, the “b” connecting the vowels around each beat, into the “ful” – and yes, my heart was so full! 

I guess nothing becomes familiar in true love. Never ordinary. You can say the words again and again — I love you — and when it’s real, little sparks continue to fly. When they enter a room, these loves, it’s the grand float of the parade we’ve stood on cement sidewalks waiting for in the heat of the summer sun. The same sidewalk where grandma handed you a Kleenex, after your Crazy Dayz grab bag from Ben Franklin turned out to be a dud. The same sidewalk where mother slipped a mint into your sweaty hand, as you were daring to say hi to the teenaged carry-out boy from 7th grade English. The same sidewalk your husband-to-be switched places with you so you would be out of traffic’s way. 

I march in the parade of little things. I hear the tiny words, “I love you,” and believe them. Step outside with me today. Wave your hands in figure eights. True love is passing by.

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It wasn’t just in the high school band that we marched along to the same drummers. There was a rhythm to the students, perhaps even the town. We dressed in the same colors, supporting the same team. Traveling on the same buses, singing the same songs.

There was a small skip that we learned when marching in the parades. If you got out of step, you just did this little hop, and right back in you fell. Aligned with all the others dressed in red and black.

When I first went to college, the noise was almost deafening. So many different colors drumming. And I fumbled and skipped and fell in and out of line. But everyone was. It was the time for tripping. For learning.

It was only when I started to put my words and paintings together, that it became so joyful, so light — this beat — no longer a banging of sticks, but a flapping of wings. The most gentle beat — in my own colors, my own heart. Pa-rup-a-pum-pum.

That’s not to say I can’t get thrown off. Out of step. Life will do that. But I know the little “skips” that realign me with myself. I think we all do. I hope we all do.

I pulled a tiny chocolate drum out of my Advent calendar this morning. I hear it. I feel it, my rhythm. I smile, right in time, and think, today, my heart is going to lead me, and one way or another, I am going to fly.

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The Ivy League.

Mrs. Anderson told us it would happen. We didn’t believe her…until it did. We looked at the schedule for the upcoming volleyball season. We all had an idea of who the good teams were. The bigger schools. The ones with bigger gyms. Stronger records. But the most dangerous would not be the tough teams she said. Those we had practiced for. Trained for. Hours of jumping and diving. No, the ones we had to be careful of, watch out for, were those we underestimated. We listened, but really paid more attention to the stripes on our Nike sneakers.

We were confident getting off the bus. Being from a small town, it was something to go to an even smaller town. A smaller school. We walked a little taller. Laughing as we changed into our uniforms. Coasting through our warm-ups. We fell behind immediately. Nothing to worry about. We were stronger. Better even. Anyone could see it. Couldn’t they? And it wasn’t a Disney story…no David and Goliath…no this small team was not rising above their capabilities. We had sunk to theirs. Below even. They were horrible, but we were worse. And there it was. Proof. We lost. We believed her. The real opponent would always be ourselves.

I, we, were lucky, to have such a coach — an example of how to do better. To rise up. I was even luckier to have such a mother. In a league of her own, really. She taught me daily. Now the “visiting teams” around us might not have seen, at first, but she gave me everything. By beautiful example, she showed me how to be kind. Loving. Forgiving. She raised my game. She raises it, even today. I can be better. I want to be better. She told me we could always go higher. No matter what, we could, we would, rise above.

I haven’t played volleyball in years. But each day, I pass by my mother’s t-shirt — the one she bought in Chicago. Oh what fun we had together! What challenges we surpassed to get to that joy. Rising above and beyond! Skipping up and down the Miracle Mile! What a team we were! She was indeed the Ivy league! I want that. I want to be in her league — today and every day — I better bring my best game!


Magical gifts.

I don’t remember her full name. We only ever called her “Miss B.” She taught speed reading at Jefferson Senior High School.  I already loved to read. The thought of being able to do more of it, in less time, seemed magical.

I sat in the front row. I wanted to be as close to the knowledge as possible. I sat at my desk. Leaning forward. One leg forward. One leg back. As if in the starting blocks. And in a way I was. We all were. Starting. 

She started the classes with tips that seemed straight from the required lecture provided by the state. My left leg started to sag in place. What was this? Where was the magic? Disappointment pulled at my shoulders. 

Then one day she stood at the front of the class holding a stick. Dowsing rods — I didn’t have the language for it then — in fact I had to look it up again today. I thought she called them divining rods (and I thought, indeed, it was.). She told us she could find water using them. Magic. I knew there had to be magic! My feet back in the blocks, poised for the race. She explained you did the same for the words. Let your eyes wander across the page and search out the most important words. With practice, it will come easier. Faster. Your eyes will flow across the waves of words and grab hold of the ones most poignant to the story. It worked. The magic worked.

I am a voracious reader. I suppose I’m fast, but that has never really been the point. It has always been about the magic. And that has never wavered. Miss B. gave that to me, to us — a magical start!

The sun is coming up. Feet joyfully in the starting blocks. I smile. Magic is all around. And so it begins…

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Out of the deep end.

I picked up the brush yesterday. As the paper turned from cream to blue, the clock turned back and I was five again. In my bedroom. With each stroke teaching myself how to feel. How to laugh. How to cry. How to wrap myself in a comforting blue sky. Lift myself in the most joyous of yellows. I wanted to feel it all. And that was the real gift, I suppose. Knowing that I had to feel it all in order to see.

When I first moved to France, the unknown language was like a weight in the water. But I had been through this before. Learning to swim at the Central School pool, we were tested in the deep end. We had to tread water for three minutes. Head and hands above the water. Feet kicking furiously below. “Lengthen your neck,” our teacher encouraged, “Lift your chin,” she urged from the side of the pool, “You can do this… Look up!” And it worked. As I stretched my neck and head toward the sky, I could feel it — I was getting lighter, higher…I wasn’t just learning to swim, I was learning to fly.

Here in France, in this sea of different, this Mediterranean of all that was new, I decided to look up. And I saw them. Maybe for the first time. The birds. Once again, I had to feel it all in order to see.

I hadn’t painted birds until I moved here. As my feet kicked furiously beneath me, my hands calmed, and I began painting them. So light. So up. So beautiful, the gifts that I, we, have been given.

As the bird comes to life on my paper, she sings her song of yellow , “You can do this…you just have to look up!”

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Fashion show.

“To be well dressed is a little like being in love.” Oleg Cassini

I found that quote. White print on turquoise paper (her favorite color). She probably cut it out of a magazine. It was paperclipped inside my mother’s journal.

And if you knew her, really knew her, you could see it. It wasn’t just fashion. It was self-care. It was a beautifully hand stitched dream. It was love.

No one took better care of her clothes. You know when you buy a white blouse, and you bring it home, it almost shines. But inevitably, it begins to dull. Never the same as the first wear. That wasn’t the case with my mom. She had the whitest blouses. Always. And they didn’t dull with the dinge of time passing. No! Hers seemed to get even whiter.

And so it was with her heart. Her love was pure. Never-ending.

I was wearing one of those white blouses the other day. (Playing “fashion show” always cheers me.) My daughter-in-law came over. Seeing her for the first time, since my mother’s passing, wearing her clothes, the tears of tenderness began to flow. I immediately bent over so the tears fell to the floor. I was not about to stain the pureness of this white blouse. I started to laugh. Who would do such a thing? Bend over… My mother. That’s who. My heart was full. Well dressed. Forever in love.

Maybe it’s a good time to tell someone….