Jodi Hills

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


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…if I went with you

Today is Napoleon’s birthday. I’m not proud to say that I didn’t know this before coming to France. I suppose it is important to me now, because I can see that it is important to them. Empathy. 

The thing is, we think we know. I’m smiling as I type this. There is so much that I, we, don’t know. And that’s the first step to learning, I guess. Admitting it. And then doing something about it. 

I have told you how important the library was to me. So important that I used to worry about it. The night before library day at Washington Elementary, my mother would have to comfort me. Ease me into sleep. “But what will I pick out?” “What if there isn’t enough time to choose the right book?” “There are so many.” She didn’t laugh at me. She gave me a solution. “Find a series you like,” she explained. “Then each week you can pick another one from that series.” I did that. My first series was Cowboy Sam. I loved the linen covers. The drawings of cowboys. The adventures. The stories. So it’s not surprising that cowboys were in my heart from the age of six. There were so many books. I devoured them. So full, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What’s taught is what’s known. But at some point you have to take on the responsibility of learning. Teach yourself. I recently finished the book, “The Sentence,” by Louise Erdrich. It is a beautiful book. Filled with the heart and soul and voice of Native Americans. There is so much to learn. But each word lays a rock, creating the path of empathy. People always say, “I hope our paths cross some day.” When they do, and I hope they do, I pray it on this path — this path of empathy.

The epigraph to this book reads as such, “From the time of birth to the time of death, every word you utter is part of one long sentence.” — Sun Yung Shin, Unbearable Splendor.

It is within this bearable and unbearable splendor that I write each day. Continuing the sentence. Searching for the beauty. The understanding. The peace. Empathy. Hoping to look up from the dust on my own shoes, to see you, looking up, seeing me. Splendor.

Happy Birthday, Napoleon. Let’s take that walk.


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The birthday gift.

It was my 7th birthday. Barb Duray was there. Wendy Schoeneck. And about 10 other girls. I remember Wendy because she gave me a set of paper dolls – Buffy and Jody paper dolls, from the television show Family Affair. We didn’t have cable television, so I had never seen the show. I was devastated to learn that Jody not only spelled the name wrong, but that he was the boy. I still thanked her for the present.

I remember Barb because of a game that we played. (Let me preface this by saying all of our games were made-up. We didn’t have the means to hire clowns, or play music. Cakes were homemade and so were the games. I don’t say this regretfully. No. This was beautiful. And I give thanks for it!) We kneeled on the seat of the chair. A mason jar sat on the floor. We had a sack of my mother’s clothespins. The goal was to drop as many clothespins into the jar. The girl with the most got a prize. The game was close. I was winning. Barb was right behind me. Before it was my turn again, my mom whispered in my ear – “Let her win. Let her get the prize.” She knew that I was already getting presents, and that my friend would be so happy. She was a giver. Graceful. She was lovely. I wanted to be just like her. I missed the next clothespin, and Barb won the prize, but I received a gift that has lasted to this day — the joy of giving – my mother gave me that.

It is my mother’s birthday today. Just as she taught me, I ask you to be kind to one another. Be gracious. Be giving. Celebrate. Bake the cake. Lick the bowl. Light the candles. Play the games. Create memories. These are the gifts of a lifetime!

Happy Birthday, Mom! Thank you!