Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

Belong.

To have walked a place is to possess it. I knew this before I even knew what the word meant. 

From my first visit I tried to memorize my grandparent’s farm. The house. The barns. Fences and trees. Knowing that I would need it one day. Not the things inside the rooms. Not the furniture or figurines. Not the rusting tools. Nor the worn clothing. But the security. I suppose that’s all a home is — this feeling that if you went there, they would have to take you in. And if in fact I carried it with me, this feeling, this home, then I could go anywhere. I could have everything, or nothing else at all, and I would have this. And I would be OK. So I memorized the steps. The pictures hanging on the walls. The variety packs of cereals in the cupboard. The smell of damp work from overalls hanging on the wall. Tables and rugs and boots. Desks and doors. Closets. 

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the For Sale sign in the front lawn of our home on Van Dyke Road. My mother was trying to say the words. I tried to listen as I went through the steps. “We’d find an apartment,” she said. I walked up the gravel driveway to the house. “And we’d be OK.” I opened the front door and clung to the overalls hanging in the entry. “Just the two of us,” she said. I walked up the three steps to the kitchen. Tears fell from her eyes as she tried to convince me. “It wasn’t my fault…” I went up the stairs to the first bedroom, the second, the sewing room. I walked the barn. Even the empty chicken coop. And I returned to her face. My mother’s face. Seeing her. Loving her. Trusting her. It didn’t matter where we were going. If we had everything, or nothing else at all, we had each other.

And I memorized each laugh. Each day. Each struggle. Each adventure. Every trip to every mall. Every pretty dress. Every conversation mixed with coffee and wine. Each moment with my mom. Knowing I would need it one day. And that day has come.

I walk the streets, the gravel paths of Aix en provence. I have filled out the forms. Followed the rules. Applied. Tested. And carry the card that says I belong. But I know the only way for that to be true is to walk it. This place. Gather it all in, step by step, and carry it with me. Scattering along the way, everything that I have collected through the years. Each story. Every pebble on the path that I walk daily is now mixed with my treasures. My memories. Dampened overalls and sparkling dresses. Laughs and loves. I am a part of it all. And I am home.


Leave a comment

The language of “I understand.”

My friend Barbie and I had a secret language in Mr. Gustafson’s sixth grade class. Our desks weren’t close, so we also had to include signals. We had special words for the things that were important to us. Like “training bra” and if we were wearing one that day, and what we were training for — I believe the word was brazier burger, referencing the Dairy Queen, I suppose. We had signs for the upcoming weekend, for sleepovers.

To get her attention, I would pop my lips, almost as if saying the letter B that started her name. To get mine, she made the J sound, tongue against teeth. It was unsophisticated enough, and disruptive enough for Mr. Gustafson to look up from his hockey magazine. But he let us continue. What was the harm really? And I was already correcting the spelling tests for the entire class. So we clicked and popped our way — completely connected — through our first year at Central Junior High.

The other night, before sleep, Dominique and I were solving the problems of the world, as we often do. I was describing someone, and I said his brain went “kerflooey.” It surprised even me. I don’t think I have ever used this word before. It sounded like something from an episode of Scooby Doo. He thought I was making it up — and to be honest, I wasn’t sure myself. The next afternoon I began reading a new book. Only a few chapters in, there it was — larger than life — the word “kerflooey.” I felt connected to not just this book, but to the entire universe. The randomness that puts us together, in the right place and the right time — well, to me, it’s nothing short of spectacular.

Sometimes you tell me, “this is exactly what I needed to hear today,” and I feel the same connection. It is magical that we can click and pop into each other’s lives. We can speak the language of “I understand,” and “you’re not alone.” We connect in the most glorious of ways, and my heart, overflowing with joy, goes kerflooey!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


2 Comments

Off to a different deck

My mom was dizzy for most of her life. An imbalance in her inner ear. We had only been on the cruise ship for a short time when it began — a tumbling in my brain that went directly to my stomach. An inner violence I had never felt before. I spent the first day hugging porcelain.  My mom seemed fine. I couldn’t believe it. How was she doing it? “Oh, I always feel like this,” she said, shrugging it off. And she went in search of the captain, humming the theme song to The Love Boat. 

I got a couple of shots from the ship’s doctor, easing the symptoms and allowing me to navigate while on the ship. The only problem was, it seemed to be overcompensating, and walking on land was a struggle. So this is what they meant by a drunken sailor?  It lasted even after returning home. The long hallway in my apartment building proved very challenging, and for nearly a week, I serpentined my way from the garage to my door.  Once again, I marveled at the silent strength of my mother, and kept walking.

Yesterday, I went out for my normal afternoon walk.  A quarter of the way through, my left earbud stopped working. It didn’t make sense to turn back, so I continued on. But it felt so strange. I couldn’t seem to adjust. I felt partial. Incomplete. Off balance. I kept walking. In search of my other voice. I only mention it because it occurred to me, this is what it’s like to lose someone you love. The world hasn’t changed, but your way of navigating through it is completely different. But you keep walking. The sun still shines. The trees are lovely. The ground is solid. The birds are humming. I see my mother skipping off to a different deck.

I was given the strength long ago. Now is the time to use it.


Leave a comment

Sofly, gently, joyfully.

My mother loved to dance. And she had the gams to prove it. Every Saturday night at the Glenwood Ballroom, her size 10’s glided across the polished wooden floor. Her heart knew the word to every song and easily instructed her feet.

She taught me how to do the same in our kitchen. Rugs kicked aside. Music turned high. She would always lead. I’d watch her eyes. Feel for the ever so slight movement of her hand against mine. And soon we were in the living room. Down the hall. Spinning. Through the bedroom. Back in the kitchen. Never pushed. Always led. With movements so graceful. So subtle. There wasn’t a difference between my hand in hers, or when I let go. I see now that that was the true gift. The ever gift.

There is no difference between the two pictures I have posted. Different times. Different countries. Sure. But for me, in both, I am being led, softly, gently, joyfully, oh so joyfully in the dance.


Leave a comment

Before the doing.

The scariest part of doing something, anything really, is always before the doing. Once you are doing it, you’re doing it! Time, energy, thought, are all put toward the action itself.

I love to paint dancers. For me, they symbolize the transition from complete vulnerability to pure beauty. Now, I suppose that can be said about every form of artistry — singing, painting, acting, playing — and perhaps the most artistic (and surely most vulnerable act of all) — to love. And it is easy to see the beauty of those in mid dance, of the completed painting, the lovers in love, but what I want to capture is the beauty of the pre-dance. The beauty in the vulnerability. The bravery, just before you let yourself go. Because I think if we allow ourselves to see that this too is beautiful, we won’t be so afraid of it. We won’t get stopped before we even begin.

And so I paint the dancers, pre-dance. A gift I want to give to all of the little boys and girls that dance around the world, and the one that still fumbles around in my heart.

Be brave, you dancers, and painters, you musicians and builders, you teachers and lovers. Let’s be beautiful! Let’s dare the daily dance!


1 Comment

Carry it with you.

I would often receive pictures of men cut out from the Banana Republic catalog with a note, “He’s on order. Feel free to call him dad.” 

I knew my mother’s handwriting. I knew her sense of humor. 

I can’t stop smiling as I read through her journals. 

July 9th, 1992

“I’m still celebrating my birthday. My philosophy is to live life to the fullest. Don’t just taste or sample it – devour it and have a second helping. Love a lot and laugh a lot. (And since I have not done much loving of late — I’m laughing a lot!!!) I hope before I finish this book I’ll be doing both! Just keep reading.”

While painting a series of portraits in France, I knew exactly what to do with the man in the hat. I made a copy and sent it to my mother. “Sorry for the delay. Your order is on its way.” 

Write it. Record it. Memorize it — this soundtrack of laughter with the ones you love. Nothing is lighter than joy. Carry it with you.


2 Comments

Carry the impossible.

My cousins Shawn and Kalee first introduced me to Knox Blox. The Jello (gelatin) that you could eat with your hands. What had previously been limited to spoons, bowls and tables, was now portable. You could run with it. Squeeze it through the space your last baby tooth left behind. Take it downstairs. Outside. It was indestructible really. You could stomp on it. Throw it. Take it in the pool if you like. The only problem, it didn’t taste very good. Soon, the remains of abandoned red rubber lined the Tupperware container, and we set off to carry the impossible.

There seems to be a lot of people running around this world with hearts made of Knox Blox. No worries. No consequences. And I have envied them at times. Me, struggling with spoonful after spoonful of fragile feelings. But if given the chance, I wouldn’t change it. I want to feel and taste it all. Even this sweet pain of love and loss.

I suppose we all knew, even then, it wasn’t going to be easy. But we didn’t crave easy. We hungered for the challenges under the summer sun. We craved the skinned knees and knuckles. The sun-burned shoulders. Legs that wobbled weary at the end of the day. We wanted it all. Each morning, the screen door slamming behind us, we dared the day. Dared our hearts. To bring it all. Feel it all.

With eyebrows raised, the sun smiles in my direction. OK, I say. Heart and hands full, I reach for the door.


Leave a comment

Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”