Jodi Hills

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


No goodbyes.

We always made one last trip to the lake, my mom and I, after running along the Magnificent Mile for two days. In measured steps, we walked the quiet Sunday morningsidewalk. Past the water tower. The drowsy Drake hotel. Then under the street. Up to the beach. There it was. Lake Michigan. Always important. Never urgent. And we breathed. Offering thanks, with the slow reverence it deserved. Both of our wrists still marked by the weight of shopping bags, we held out our hands and waved, not goodbye, but in recognition.

Some days, I still try to urgent away the emotion. I could vacuum. And dust. Ironing needs to be done. And I could write lists of more things to do. But then there is the important. Calling. In waves. So I take out my sketchbook. My paints. Tape off a square. Imagine the calm. And with blued brush, I gently put it on the paper. And I feel it all. The tender of memory and time. I smile and breathe in the important, and watch the urgent roll on by.

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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!

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Love’s well-lit path.

How could it be ten years? It seems impossible. And yet, Facebook, Google and my friend from Chicago all sent reminders of the day. It was a grand show of my giant paintings at Flourish Gallery.

I marvel at all that has changed…and all that has not.

I don’t paint in the same style. I am married. I live abroad. Somedays, with a lot of effort, I don’t even speak the same language. Standing then, in the glow of the windy city preparing for the holidays to come, next to a giant painting of Ella Fitzgerald, I wasn’t even imagining any of it. I suppose it’s like the old joke says, “go ahead, make some plans…”

But here’s what is the same. The holidays still come. Friends remain within heart-reach. The light of the season is all around. And the well-lit path of love is still surprising me, guiding me.

Everything changes. Each navigation with it’s own challenges, difficulties. Ah, but the light… that glorious light. It always guides me home.

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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!


The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.


The journey.

It happens with a really good book. I have this urgency to keep reading and this need for it to never end. This push and pull inside my brain and heart – keep reading one tells the other, no, wait, slow down. It’s happening right now with the book, “Our Country Friends.” I read last night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, then woke up early to continue. My eyes still scratchy with sleep I plowed through each word. Slow down my heart urged, but my brain’s hand kept pointing forward.

We were driving to Chicago, my mom and I. It was winter and the trip was always a gamble, but one we were so willing to take. If we could make it beyond Tomah, Wisconsin, without a snowstorm, we were safe. As we neared this critical halfway point, the snow began. Then harder. We kept singing to the radio as the view got whiter and whiter. “Do you think we’ll be smart enough to pull over if it gets too bad?” my mother asked. Before I, or she, could respond, the barrier across the freeway had been lowered and we were forced to pull off the exit. “I guess not…” we said together.

I don’t remember what we bought on that trip to Chicago – that shopping excursion – but I do remember the journey. The journey together. I suppose that’s everything, isn’t it? I closed my book and went down to make breakfast. I wanted it to last a little longer. I want it all to last a little longer.


Look what we’re protecting.

The Art Institute of Chicago was the first major museum I ever visited.

It felt like I had been walking forever in the cold and wind from the hotel. Barely looking up. The cold of the sidewalk seemed to seep into my shoes, up my legs, slowing each step. The sidewalks were clear of snow, but I still felt like I was trudging. I could see the crowd of feet before me. The stairs. I stopped. Looked up. There they were. Standing guard. The lions. So majestic. So beautiful. Proud even. And why not?! Look what they were protecting! Before I stepped one foot inside the museum, I knew this was important.

It was easy to recognize what the lions represented. I had seen it my whole life. I had lived it. My mother had always been the lion who stood guard in front of my heart. Told the world it was important. Valuable – this life. As I grew older, I tried to do the same for her. I hope I did. I hope I still am. Because it is something. She is something!

The roles can and will reverse, at any given moment, throughout our lives, switching back and forth from the protector to the protected. But if we can approach both roles with a ferocity of grace, then each cold and trudging step along the way, will be more than worth it!