Jodi Hills

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

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Plain to see.

I suppose it all takes time. To see the ordinary. And to appreciate it. Those of you that follow me here, have come, I hope, to know my grandparents, my mother, my schoolmates, and teachers. Some might say “just plain folks.” And that’s probably true. But maybe that’s the real beauty of it all. To find the spectacular in farmers, housewives and receptionists. To see the extraordinary in the daily living.

And in seeing them, it helps me see myself. Helps me find the gratitude of the day given. Of the toast for breakfast. The smell of coffee. The hand that reaches out for mine.

I am reading the book, “Love, Kurt (The Vonnegut Love Letters). I have this book, only because I have a special friend. Last year, together with our husbands, we went to Stillwater, MN. My friend and I stood in the bookstore as if before the Christmas morning tree. So many gifts in front of us, we had a hard time deciding. We each settled on our present. I loved her choice as much as mine. This year, she gave her book to me. Those simple words don’t seem to give it enough meaning, but I will tell you that it fills my heart. It brings me back to a laughter filled day on brisk streets and slow choices. It, for me too, is a love letter.

In the book, Kurt Vonnegut writes with his young pen, to his young wife, “Angel, will you stick by me if it goes backwards and downwards? Holy smokes, Angel: what if I turn out to be just plain folks?” Tears fill my eyes. I imagine we’ve all had the worries. Will I be special enough to be loved?

It’s these memories, of course, that give me that comfort. That give me the yes. My heart is packed full of the love from these glorious and plain folks. And I have loved them. Love them still. And I am one. Proud to be living with these extraordinary people. It is plain to see, they, we, are more than enough to be loved.


Story books.

I don’t know when it changed — the moment we dropped the word story and just started calling them books. A part of me wants to bring it back. 

The story books were in the basement of the Alexandria Public Library. Maybe it was because we didn’t know how to use the card catalog yet, but so many were on display, not by spine, but full cover. I can still see the bright blue cover of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was still above my reading grade, and sat perched on the very top shelf. I thought if I finished all the books on the lower shelves, read each and every story, worked my way upwards, that I too could fly. 

My mom dropped me off every Saturday morning. I climbed up the outer steps, then climbed down the inside ones. I read for hours. Just before my mom picked me up, I checked out as many books as my orange book bag would hold, and the librarian would allow. She never complained about having to come in and get me. Most of my friends from school sat outside waiting for their rides. Running around in the grass, soon and easily fed up with the quiet words of the basement. But not me. I wanted every moment. And my mother, being an avid reader, understood. She parked the car behind the Ben Franklin store and walked over to get me. 

I wasn’t thinking about it when I wrote the book Bird Song. Covered in the same blue, it is a collection of stories (a story book) told by the beautiful wings that carry them. But of course it lives within me. The days at the public library. Each word read. Each shelf climbed. I know they brought me to this place. They lifted me. Dared me. And faster than any childhood Saturday morning, I learned to fly. 

The stories we create are not weights, but branches. Out on the morning limb, I heart gather all the words – of mother and love and youth and chance and choice and story — I spread my wings, and I fly.


Not too busy.

Maybe because I never had to doubt it with my mother, I was able to write about it. 

We used to spend hours trying on clothes together. When the “fit” really fit — oh, it was magnificent. Praises of oohs and aahs filled the air. And when it missed, the knee hugging laughter went on through the entire fashion cycle. We were safe. Together. Seeing each other. Loving each other. From the lowest to the highest moments. Finding the beauty of it all along the way. 

For a couple of years, the clothing store J.Jill carried my book, “I’m not too busy.” Of course it was also at bookstores. Galleries. Gift stores where I sold my artwork. But this was something special. J.Jill didn’t sell any other books. Just clothing. We had shopped in the Ridgedale store enough for some of the clerks to know us. One Saturday morning, properly caffeinated with Caribou, we began trying on the J.Jill clothing. Continuously giggling in the delight of books being in the dressing room and on display throughout the store. It was the perfect pocket of time. 

My mother brought the white linen blouse to the counter to purchase. She looked lovely in it. I told her so. The clerk had as well. My book rested on the counter as my mother reached for her credit card. The J.Jill employee looked at me, in that way that maybe she knew me. And perhaps she had looked at my bio in the book, or maybe she just remembered from last Saturday. It didn’t matter. We all had been seen. And that was the gift. 

I have that blouse. Along with those precious moments. I carry them daily. I will never be too busy to remember. My heart giggles, and I am seen.


Weekly. And forever.

I suppose we all knew that the “F” in BFFs, (Best Friends Forever) could never really be forever. Things changed so quickly at Washington Elementary. Fights could be resolved with two words, like “just kidding,” or “no offense.” And while we all knew there was both truth and offense in most of it, we moved on. There were new games to play. New promises to keep for a week at a time. And new best friends could be made with a smile, or a heart dotted “i” in an invitation for a sleepover. 

I can’t tell you what everyone clinged to. What grounded them to this perpetual moving playground and school. But for me, it was the Weekly Reader. The magazine all about books. The magazine, that if you were blessed with a mother that also loved to read, and if that mother allowed you to spend her hard earned money on words — this was the magazine that indeed saved me. My constant. My balance. My future. My ever. 

Of course we had library day. And I was grateful for sure. But there was something so very special about knowing these words didn’t have to be returned in two weeks. These words could stay beside you. In hand. On bedside. Wherever. Whenever you needed them. In this world that moved as quickly as grade school hands on monkey bars, it was the assurance I needed. It was the “F” I could really depend on.

There is an uncertainty in living a visa-ed life. Dominique and I are both dependent on those who allow us to stay…but at the same time, could say, “just kidding…” and our lives would be changed forever. We’re in a bit of an anxious moment. A moment in which my brain tells me, it will all work out, but my heart says, maybe we should go buy a book… So we did. Yesterday. The smell of the print is familiar. The weight in hand is a “there, there…” for my soul. Time disappears as I begin to read. Worry gets lost on the page. And I believe again in forever.

From my mother’s pursestrings, to the grasp of my husband’s hand, I suppose it was really always love that saved me. Love that saves us all. It’s the one true forever. But still, it’s always nice to have a book nearby. Weekly. And forever.

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It just occurred to me this morning who she looks like — the woman I painted on my bookmark. Mrs. Paulson. My fourth grade teacher at Washington Elementary. Never during that entire school year did I see her undone. Hair coiffed. Dress pressed so impeccably that I waited, watching for a wrinkle to appear. She wiped the chalk from her hands on a cloth that sat on the corner of her wooden desk. Not one to plop, she lowered herself slowly into her wooden chair. Her fitted dress followed. Not fighting, as if it knew the routine, and I guess it did. When she rose again from that wooden chair (too elegant to just “get up”), she smoothed her chalk-free hands firmly down the skirt of her dress, and it responded perfectly. Wrinkles never dared the hands of Mrs. Paulson. She stood tall. We listened.

Of course she taught us subjects and predicates. But she constructed more than sentences. For those of us paying attention, and I have to believe that most of us were, (as so elegantly commanded), we received lessons that far exceeded the normal classroom. Some might say, “Well, anyone could do that,” and that may be true, but not everyone did, nor does.

In the fourth grade I began to think about things like posture and elegance. Mrs. Paulson saw to that. Shoulders high and back, I sit at my desk and try to pass it on daily. With the help of all those who came before, I have indeed found my place.

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Someone was.

I was thirty-something when my bike was stolen. I ran up to my apartment for just a few minutes. Left the garage door open. How quickly things slip away. When I returned, it was gone. I called the police to report it. I remember thinking how casually he walked, this police officer, to my garage door. Like he saw it every day. Well… He asked for the brand and style of bike. I asked if they ever found them. “No,” he said. And then he proceeded to talk about how the drainage system in our garages wasn’t correct. So that was it? My beautiful bike was gone and we were talking drainage. He put the report in his pocket and left.

I stood alone in front of my open, improperly drained garage, and thought about my first bike. My beautiful banana seat bike that I pedaled into the ground. That I abandoned in ditches on VanDyke road. In the Olson’s Supermarket parking lot while I ran in to cool off in the refrigerated section. In the front lawn of the public library while I read for hours. On the beaches of Lake Latoka while I splashed until summer’s end. I stood in the gaping mouth of my open garage, missing much more than my bike, wanting so desperately to feel surprised. Wanting to be that banana seat bike riding girl, that girl who trusted everything and everyone.

I wrote about it — that beautiful feeling of trust — in my book, Leap of Faith:

“It was the greatest. All my friends loved it. (my banana seat bike)
But Ididn’t even need a lock for it. Nobody ever stole
bikes from the beach. It was kind of like our sacred
ground. . . and we knew that in order to get to our
sacred ground, you had to have a bike, and to take
that away from someone, to take away their chance
to fly on the way to that glorious one of 10,000
lakes, well that would just be a terrible crime, so
we didn’t do it. I don’t think I realized how beautiful life without
mistrust really was. . .How could I know?
You can’t. . .until it is taken away —
and only in those rare moments,
when you let yourself remember innocence,
can you feel the slip of beauty.”

I reread that passage often, and I think, as Joan Didion wrote in her book, Slouching towards Bethlehem, “Was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was.”

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A love song in silver.

I raced the stairs to his class. He was a stickler for detail. One must be on time, or you will get a “greenie.” A greenie was a small piece of green paper, denoting some poor behavior – like being late, talking out of turn, not doing an assignment. And a certain amount of greenies resulted in detention or grade reduction. Of course this was incentive enough to race the halls of Central Junior High and up the stairs to his classroom, but it was more than that, I was excited for his class, English Literature. I was excited to see him. He postured straight at the front of the class. Suited and bow-tied, a pocket filled with green paper, one finger pressed to lips like a conductor waiting for the orchestra of the English language to begin.

In his fitted plaid lime green jacket he introduced us to T.S. Eliot. He read to us in perfect pitch “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The boys giggled. Mocked. Rhymed words with “frock” and quieted down after receiving their greenies. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” the lyrics danced in my heart. Never to be careful, ordinary, predictable, monotonous — this was the lesson. I put it in my heart and quietly vowed the same.

In my mother’s silverware drawer, there was one spoon different from all the rest. Before I knew of words and poems, or even what was ordinary, I loved this spoon. It was the only one I ever used. My mother made sure that for each meal it was clean. My spoon. My different spoon. Not matching. Not safe. Extraordinary.

When I moved to France, the hardest thing, (the only thing that could have made me stay) was my mother. In the first weeks, my lonesome heart ran through the doubts. Had I done the right thing? No one can give you life’s permission, but I waited for a sign. A letter arrived. Small, but an odd shape. I opened it. My spoon. My different, glorious spoon — a love song in silver.

It sits by my desk. Telling me daily to choose the extraordinary. The sun comes up. I race its stairs to the beautiful unknown.

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Youthful summer logic.

We didn’t have lawn furniture. We had blankets — old blankets that took their place beside the winter weary hanging coats and resting boots.

Laura Ingalls Wilder book in one hand and blanket dragging from the other, I told my mom I was going to read in the grass. “Haven’t you already read that one?” she asked. “Not outside, no,” I said racing through the screen door. She smiled, seeming to understand my youthful summer logic. 

I learned quite early on that the words took on new meaning outside. Let loose in the warm air, they wiggled like white winter toes set free. Bouncing in breezes. Flapping with wings. It seemed to me that I was returning the favors given by each book read in the trappings of the cold. Housed in the wintertime, they allowed me to climb inside each page. To travel without fear of inclement weather. So on these sun-filled days, it seemed only right that I would let those same words out. And the language they took on was magical. The voice of freedom. Maybe all things (and mostly people) tell a better story without restraints. 

Yesterday I finished reading the book Flâneuse,by Lauren Elkin, from the luxury of a lawn chair.  ‘Flâneuse [flanne-euhze], a noun, from the French, a form of flâneur [flanne-euhr], an idler, a dawdling observer. This is indeed a book made to be read outdoors. I wandered, and yes, even dawdled through each luxurious sentence.

I suppose my love, nor logic, has never lived indoors. I wish for you the same — words filled with so much meaning, they need open spaces. Lives filled with wandering paved and gravel paths. Loves so vast, so high that the birds envy and try to reach. Throw those curtains wide. Fling windows and doors. Step out into the wiggle of toes and heart. Breathe. The day is opening!

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It’s not lost on me that it was orange. When she handed it to me at the pharmacy — this promotional bag, a gift with purchase, I think my whole body sighed. It wasn’t the first time an orange bag came to my rescue. 

It had been a stressful morning. To give it more time is not useful. We were dealing with visa paperwork and government employees. The stress of it all seemed too much for my heart to carry. When leaving the building, we knew we had to do something quickly to change our minds. The most obvious, and most French thing to do, was to head to the pharmacy. I needed some lip balm. I added a couple of items, but my entire purchase fit in the palm of my hand. Two tubes of lip balm and dental floss. Out of nowhere, (or straight from my mother’s hands) the clerk behind the counter put my tiny purchase in the largest orange cloth bag. It was beautiful. And the pure randomness, some might say unnecessary-ness of it all, felt in this moment, so glorious, and completely, well, necessary. 

I was 5 years old the first time I had to go to the hospital. Naturally, I was terrified. It was not only my first time in a hospital, but the first night that I would spend away from my mother. I loved books. I loved words. I loved when my mother read to me. When she let me read to her. The only book I knew by heart was “The Little China Pig.” We had read it so many times together. Each night, despite the dark, and all things scary that could occur, I was safe within the words. My mother knew this. Before leaving for the hospital that morning, my eyes packed with tears, my hands clutching the words of this little pig, my mom gave me the most glorious gift. A hand made orange book bag. It was ridiculously too large for my one book, but she knew it also had to carry the weight of my heart. And so I filled it, with book and needless worry, and I was saved. 

Lips balmed, heart unburdened in a bright orange sack, (surely touched once again by the hand of my mother) I begin this beautiful new day! Fully prepared to do the unnecessary!

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The path.

“I walk because it confers- or restores- a feeling of placeness…” Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse

Conversations others had with my mother often started out like this — “I saw you out walking…” It always pleased me to hear it. It seemed to me like a compliment. 

I loved her stride. Long-legged purpose. Maybe it was when walking that I saw her the most confident. And I liked being in it, beside her. It felt certain and unsure at the same time. Admitting that you could be lost or found, but somehow, your feet held the power. Step by step. Place by place.

I suppose she always knew. Setting this pace for me at such a young age. Lengthening my gait, that we would soon walk side by side. And that one day, I would go beyond. But still, she encouraged it. And we walked. Walked and walked. Making maps with our feet. Promises with our heart. 

I walk every day. Promises are kept. This place becomes mine. And a little bit hers. My feet have a conversation with the gravel. Telling of how they got here. A stranger passes, and we smile in different languages, but we know…somehow we know…there is a place for us. For all of us. Here.