Jodi Hills

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

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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,…”

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Word by word.

She loved to read by the window, sitting on the deacon’s bench. The sun lit the words, almost in reverence, just, I thought as it should be. 

It was Mrs. Bergstrom who taught me how to read, but it was my mother who taught me how to love it. Reading and rereading each library book. Words that calmed me when I was scared. Words that lifted me when low. Words that paid for the tickets when money was scarce. Filled the car with gas. Lifted the plane. Took us on adventures. Gave us not just happy endings, but happy beginnings. Told us that all things were possible. I know I was just a child, but when I saw my mother with a book in her hand, I knew that I was saved. We all could be.

Mrs. Bergrstrom wrote on the blackboard the word career. She went around the room asking what does your father do? What does your mother do? Maybe it wasn’t surprising, we were only six, but most of the kids didn’t know. Some said they went to a building. Did a job. Left in the morningtime. Set the table. When she pointed to me – asking what my mother did – I knew for certain, and said it clearly – “Well, she’s saving the world.” Some snickered, but I just smiled, because for me, it was true. Word by word.

I began a new book yesterday. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. I sat at my desk, the sun shining through the window, illuminating each magnificent word, warming my shoulders. I could have vacuumed, or dusted. Washed clothes. But I was doing something more important. I felt the power. From sky to window to shoulders to page to heart. It was all love. And she was with me. All things were possible. Word by word, we were saving the world.

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I am here.

In the fifth grade team room of Miss Green, Mr. Andert, and Mrs. Pohlman, we were allowed to begin. And I mean begin anything. Without plans. Without direction. Without fear. 

The janitor’s closet was directly across from our classroom. During a rainy day recess, Wendy Shoeneck, Lori Patri, Barb Duray and I used it as our office. Amid the smell of disinfectant and the wet mop in the bucket, we came up with the idea of putting on a play for our classmates. We had no reason to believe we would be good at it. We had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be… so we continued. We had no script. No decisions were made other than to just do it. 

We flung the door open and told Miss Green of our plans. I don’t remember asking, maybe we did, I hope we did, nonetheless, she said sure, and when the class convened after recess, we began. We drifted between themes of don’t use drugs, be nice to everyone, some school bus songs…I remember jumping and waving, and soon the whole class was singing. It maybe lasted 5 minutes. But you don’t need a long time to get a real taste of freedom, a real taste of joy.  

We were rangled back to our desks and the day continued with books and structure. But the afternoon smiles never left our faces.  

I had been shy for my first four grades. Some said painfully — I had never seen it as pain. When they mentioned it on my report cards, my mother always told them, “When she has something to say, she’ll say it.”  My mother never lied to me, so I believed her, and lived in my quiet world pain free. She was right, and it happened for me in fifth grade. Maybe it was due to the open team room. Maybe it was because of the open teachers. The safety of friends. Or maybe it was just my time. But I give thanks for it all. I never turned back after that. 

I have no real plan for the day. I have no reason to believe it won’t be good. I fling open the door — here I am — powered by the freedom to live my joy.

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All suitcases roll beautifully when empty.

It really came down to the color. They all seemed to roll beautifully — these new suitcases in the store. I tested many. Each one. Each brand. All glided across the polished floor. I picked one, sure that my next trip would be so much easier.

I removed the tags. Filled it. Full. Struggled over the rug. Through the door. Down the stairs. Hallway. Trunk. Airport. It didn’t seem all that easy. I labored with the weight. 

What seems so incredibly obvious, has taken me decades to learn. And maybe I should say understand, because to be honest, I’m still learning it. I still struggle with, “But I need it…I can’t leave it behind…”  Even more importantly, I need to learn it – for my head, my heart. How glorious it would be to roll around this world, unburdened by the weight of it all. All those conversations playing over and over in my head. The weight of worry and what ifs. The weight of well, they should have, and why can’t they…  and why didn’t I…  I’m learning to lighten the load. I don’t want to be crushed by this passage of time. Day by day. I want to let go, and enjoy the journey. 

It’s all kind of funny, when you think about it — this baggage. We have the power to choose. It can’t follow us on its own. It has to be dragged. I smile at this morning’s sun…empty handed.

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The V in my voilà!

I suppose there’s an art to everything, and a Google page to go along with it. I was watching a video on how to create a better product photograph. I was intrigued because he said you could create beautiful photos without spending a lot of money on professional cameras, lighting, backdrops, etc. The key was to create texture and depth. I know there are apps to make everything. Dump your product onto the screen and voilà! But true to form, I wanted to be the depth in my photo – the v in my voilà!

I had just finished making the side table/foot stool out of a stump in our yard. Never had I sanded so much. Sanded and sanded. Until I was not just touching the wood, it was touching me. Then I stained it. Got the hand truck and hauled it into our library. Now for the backdrop. “You’ll be surprised to know,” he said on the video, “you already have one of the best backdrops, and it’s in your kitchen.” A baking sheet. A used one of course. And this I had. With the life of every croissant, cookie and loaf of bread that I had baked. I used paper to reflect the natural sunlight coming through the French doors. And, well, voilà!

I write about daring to embrace the beauty of all the imperfect lives around you, what better way to display it? Today, if you’re taking a photo, or just glancing in the mirror, don’t forget to see the the beauty in the imperfections — don’t forget to be your own V!


The shape of love.

Just one letter separated the two words. And barely even a letter, only the slightest curve between the “a” and the “o”. Hallowed. Hollowed. They were in the poem she sent me. It was beautiful for so many reasons, but for me, this tiniest of movements that could change one word to another, one emotion to another, filled me with hope, filled me with love.

That’s why I have always loved words. Books. Therein lies the possibilities.

We went to Book in Bar yesterday – my favorite bookstore in Aix. The comfort was palpable. As we stood by the coffee bar, waiting for our cappuccinos, I saw it. Flâneuse, by Lauren Elkin. A Chicago friend had tagged me in a post about it just the day before. I have never been one to ignore magic, so I picked it up, sat with it at our table. Hallowed.

I suppose I think, if I live in the word, I might too possess the skills to make the same changes. To take an empty day, and fill it.

As I wander (the meaning of flâneuse) through the “a”s and “o”s of my day, I will choose the magic. Choose the hope of each word and place it into that hollow part of my heart, and fill it. I will write my story. Live my story. Share my story. For I have to believe — it’s the most beautiful magic of all!

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Bear Witness.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

— James Baldwin

I have never recommended a book before finishing, until today. I am reading “Demon Copperhead,” by Barbara Kingsolver. And I hesitate here to even use the word reading – it doesn’t seem to be exactly right. Perhaps it’s more like “experiencing.” And for me, that’s when the author gets it right. When pages become doors. Words become feelings. Knowledge becomes empathy.

Empathy. I didn’t have the word for it then, when I began to write. But I can see it was the reason. As I read through poems I wrote for my mother. Scratches on paper. Childlike (well, I was a child) attempts at painting words on wood. All to let her know that I could feel what she was feeling. And I cared. We were, are forever, connected.

Once, I began selling my work throughout the country, it became ever so clear, we weren’t alone. People would hold a framed phrase in their hand and say, “This is so me!” And I would smile at my mother, she wearing the look, “Well, actually… it’s about me.” But that’s what connects us, you see – connects us all. And oh, what a comfort, what a joy, to be connected! It’s really all we have — it’s everything!

So I reach out daily. Offering my story, in hopes you will share yours. We are all here to tell a story.


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…


The art of soulful living.

Sometimes when someone gives you a gift not attached to a holiday, we say, “for no reason.” But I say, for the best reason of all!

She handed me the heavy object. I knew it was a book. So I knew I would love it! I gently tore off the paper to reveal the cover – “The art of soulful living.” “I saw it,” she said, and immediately thought it was perfect for you!”  The book is gorgeous. Beautiful images. Elegant writing. But she saw me. She sees me. This is the greatest gift of all!  

A season of giving is about to begin. And it’s fun, as it should be. But it can get hectic. Racing here and there. And I don’t want to analyze it, or suck the life out of it, but just offer a small reminder — really, when it comes down to it, we all just want to be seen. We want to be balmed and healed by the moments we give to each other — the moments we take to say — for you, I’m not too busy.

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Joie de vivre.

Someone was assigned to pull down the 8′ black shades and the white screen at the front of the class. Another student was assigned to wheel in the projector. The rest of us squirmed in our seats with hearts beating like gerbils on a wheel. Movie day at Washington Elementary was like no other. Nearly two hours of no memorizing. No reciting. No confusion. No pressure.

The sound of the wheel clicking into place. Then the film snaking into position. The projection light coming cn. It was almost unbearable. We had watched the same film for years. First grade. Second grade. Again in 3rd, 4th and 5th. It didn’t matter. It was the memory of pure and uncomplicated joy.

It has been decades since I sat at those desks. But I can feel it as though it were yesterday. Today, memories of my mother turn round and round on my heart’s movie reel. This joy is almost unbearable, but I know I will carry it with me, forever — for that’s what she was, pure and uncomplicated joy.