Jodi Hills

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


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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.


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Rugged path.

Everything can be explained away. But why would you want to? 

I was walking down the gravel path in Aix. There is a specific sound to footsteps on gravel. Almost a gathering in and a crunch. I know this sound. I grew up on a gravel road. Now, if you google it, it says that Softer surfaces like gravel reduce the force of impact with your running stride and may allow you to recover more quickly from the workout. Plus these softer surfaces require you to use stabilizing muscles that may grow lax on the road or sidewalk. I’m sure all of that is true. For me though, it’s the familiar of it all that helps the most.

Yesterday, desperately in need of this “softening” and “stabilizing,” I set out on our gravel path. Half way on my journey, I saw a sign — painted in yellow on a giant rock. Now I’m sure it can all be explained away. Perhaps it was put up for a running group. Directions for their race. But all I saw was the word “Ivy.” My mother’s name. Ivy. My heart smiled. I was home.

I guess we all choose to see what we want to see. Choose to feel what we want to feel. And for me, today and everyday, I am going to believe in the magic of it all. I’m going to believe in my feet, my heart, and the love that is always out there, leading me on this, sometimes rugged, but always beautiful path. 

My heart is well traveled.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.


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Possibility

I was thrilled when I heard that all the girls had to take shop class — thrilled, that is, until I learned that it wasn’t going to be at the mall, but in the lower level of Central Junior High, with the saws, sanders, wood, and the three-fingered instructor.

Looking back, it was quite progressive. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky we were. Everyone took everything – no question of gender. We had the funds, not only for these courses — woods, plastics, metals, drafting, cooking, sewing — but we also had band and choir and gym and swimming! Exposing us to a world beyond the brick walls. (Even beyond the mall.)

I suppose it was the smell that I first fell in love with – the smell of cut wood. It had the air of possibility. Week by week our projects progressed. “It has to be flush,” he said. So we sanded again and again. We built small bookshelves. Carrying it home on the bus, was one of my proudest days. It trophies in my hands and lap. The younger kids brushed their hands along the wood, to see if what I was telling them was true, that we had spun the wood like magic into these silky smooth creations. I have been in love with wood ever since.

Yesterday, a friend of ours drove two hours from the mountains to our house. He handed me a stack of wood. Freshly cut. Freshly sanded. Spun magic. I placed them on the work bench, like the trophies they were. I asked Dominique later in the evening, what else was he doing in town. Nothing. He had driven four hours just to give me this gift. My seemingly full heart swelled a bit more. I brushed my hands along the wood to see if what he was telling me was true. It was. We have the magic of such a friend. On a day, perhaps when I needed it most, I was given the air of possibility.


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This understanding.

Within the poems I wrote things like — “as I go through life…” — I was eleven years old.

I found a journal that my friend Cindy gave to me for my birthday. It is filled with my poems — words that I was confident enough to feel and to write, in ink. I guess I knew right from the start that they would save me. These words. There is a Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand.” I suppose that’s all I’ve ever wanted – this understanding.

I need some of that understanding, every day. I suppose we all do. So I continue to write. And I don’t mean that it all ends up making perfect sense. When does that ever happen? But the understanding of a heart, a heart that sees, smiles with lips curled inside, nodding in the agreement that “you are going to be ok,” –calming to this beat of understanding.

She had the assuredness to write on the inside cover, in red ink, “friends always, Cindy.” She was right. We still are. Always will be.

Knowing my mother for those first 11 years, I wrote:

“She’s like the sun,
going in and out,
waiting for someone to notice her.
I’m so glad that I did.”

I type the words. They are all still true. And my heart nods in agreement — We’re all going to be ok.


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Down a gravel road.

There was a simplicity to friendship, growing up on a gravel road. An afternoon could be filled with one stone and a one mile walk to town. Out of the driveway a mere few steps, I would begin kicking a stone down the road. Small kicks at first. Just in front of me. Then maybe a little harder as confidence increased. Avoiding the ditches. Making bargains with the stone itself — if I make it to Lee’s house without losing the stone, then this will happen, or if I make it to the Lake, for sure this — or maybe even to town, then I could really choose my fate. 

On the best of these days, I would hear running footsteps behind me. A neighbor. Maybe a Norton. A Holte. But always friendly steps. And without question, they would begin helping me kick the stone down the road. They never asked where we were going, or for how long. They never asked why. Just walked beside me. 

To have that clarity is a pure gift. If you have that now, and I can joyfully say that I do, then you have more than a friend, more than even family — perhaps we need a new word for these people — these glorious humans that will just help you get your stone down the road. 

My shoes are dusty. There are no more bargains to be made. Only the journey. The beautiful journey of this gravel road. And I give thanks every day, that I, we, don’t have to make it alone.


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Hand in hand.

I wave to it every day – the Sainte Victoire montagne. Even on the days when the clouds are low, making the mountain almost disappear (which is very rare), I offer my best parade salute, because I know it hasn’t gone anywhere. It is sure, and steady. Beautiful, whether I see it or not.

When I was in the third grade, in the days when an 8 year old could walk unaccompanied through the streets of a small town, we began what we called “Wednesday school.” For those who wanted, you could take the hour or two to walk to your church for religious studies. The church we attended did not offer a class, and wasn’t in town, so I was told I could walk to First Lutheran. I had never been there before. The group of girls that knew the way took off running down the street. I had to go to the bathroom. I was sure I could catch up. But when I opened the front door of Washington Elementary, they were gone. Never was the speed of youth so prevalent. I started walking. I got to Broadway. Looked left. No one. Looked right – only Big Ole, the statue that claimed America’s birthright. I crossed the street. It’s funny how my heart began to beat faster, but my feet were moving slower. I turned left. Then maybe right. Sweating. No longer moving in one direction or the other, only spinning. I called out to no one. And that’s who answered. I bent down to grab my knees. I pretended to be tying my shoelaces, but really it was the only way I knew to give myself a hug. I breathed in the slowness and certainty of the path that got me here, and I started walking back. There was Broadway. There was Big Ole. Still there. My heart started to calm. I crossed the street and opened the big wooden doors. Walked up the terrazzo stairs to my classroom. The door was closed. Gerald Reed was sitting alone beside the door. I waved, and smiled at his familiar face. I sat down beside him. Neither one of us asked why we were there. Our hands were right beside each other on the floor. I don’t know if he took mine, or I took his, but we sat quietly, together, hand in hand, until the others returned. Acceptance, without question. We had received maybe the best lesson after all.

I don’t know what today will bring, but I wake and wave joyfully at all that is seen and unseen, because I still believe in the beauty, the goodness that rests just within reach.


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I called it.

We were always running. To the neighbors. On the field. In the sand toward the water. To our bicycles – to go even faster. Racing to the joy of it all. But there was something so special about riding in the front seat of the car, we not only raced toward it, we “called it.” And for some reason, we abided by these rules – even if you didn’t get to the car first, if you, in fact, had shouted out “I call the front seat,” then it was yours. The power we held.

I was thinking, wishing actually, praying even, for some of that power. Some of that joy. “If only I was able to reserve it – call it out to be mine.” And as I was thinking, my mind racing in bumper tennis shoes, it occurred to me, maybe I still do. What if I decided today was going to be filled with that speed, that speed that only comes from pure joy? That feeling that blows your hair back and your heart forward. That’s what I want. What if I just “called it?” 

We raced through the streets of Chicago. New York. My mom and I. It never occurred to me that she was aging. We ran. Arms draped with packages. From the Magnificent Mile (and it was true to its name!) to the city that never sleeps. We ran. Nothing but joy. And the thing is, in my heart, it’s still happening. My heart races in the memory of it all. 

Today might not be easy, but there will be joy, lifting my feet, lifting my heart. I believe in it. I have to. I already called it!


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Took comfort.

“This is the new normal,” they say. If that’s the case, then for the past decade, (possibly my whole life) I have been racing through normals at record speed.

Each day I do my French lesson. Each day new scenarios arise. Like trying to learn the difference between who and what (qui and que). Sounds basic, right? Sounds simple. But the who and the what jump from sentence to sentence, so I ask for the rule? Most of the time the answer is you just have to accept it – this randomness – and memorize it. Aaaaah, accepting, like that ever comes easy…

I used to sell my work at an annual event held by The Hazelden Treatment centers. I do not happen to struggle with addiction, but as they read through my work, it was easy to see that the “what” could be anything, at any time, and the “who” certainly was all of us. I guess it all comes down to life. To living. And I take comfort in the pure randomness that surrounds me, accepting that no one escapes, knowing that it could happen to anyone, at any time…pain, happiness, confusion, even love.

They say a prayer that I’m certain most people know. I know it. But sometimes knowing it isn’t enough. I have to know it, and accept it. And as I type the word accept, I understand, it is a word of freedom, not unlike forgiveness (and I’ve struggled with that one too). Accepting, as I see it in this new light is a release, a letting go, not a giving up, or giving in, not bending over, but learning to fly. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

I finish my French lesson for the day. Instead of shaking my fist at this language, I am going to keep flapping my wings, taking comfort, joy, in this beautiful random of blue.