Jodi Hills

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


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Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Recent and frequent tears have not made my heart, nor mind, any less wide-eyed. I jerked my head around to see the horses. The horses clopping behind me on the path. Gathering speed. Louder. The horses I knew would be there. I stopped. Looked. The clip-clop continued in my ear buds. The path behind me was empty.

I was listening to the Paris Review. They were playing a short story about a man visiting a town. All were on horseback. The reality of their podcasts is unprecedented. I don’t know how they produce it, but the sounds they create are alive. Separate from the narrator, the horses approached. The sound got nearer. So real. So magical. I could feel the breath of them behind me.

Further down the path, when the horses returned, the character’s departure, the clip-clip continued. This time, it wasn’t so startling, but more comforting. I liked thinking of them by me. Behind me. Walking with me. And I was no longer afraid, but comforted. I continued down the path, deep inside the magic.

I passed by my mother’s picture as I first went out the door for this particular walk. I had just been working on my computer, and I had this thought — What happened to her email? Where did they go now? The reminders from Sundance catalog — this turquoise coat that she would love. What happened to all the emails we had exchanged. Promises. Love. Were they still hovering? If I sent one now – to her address – her address that carried my birthday numbers — where would it go? Could she see it?

I stepped onto the path and hit play. Trying to drown out the typing in my head, when the horses startled me. They were so alive. The presentation so real. My heart was so willing to believe in them that fear turned into comfort.

I’m typing the words now. My cheeks still rosy, more from magic than from the cool winter air. Each word is filled with love. Filled with chance. Filled with a comforting joy that walks beside me. Magic that I don’t need to understand, that I just believe. Unconditionally. My mother is with me. Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Wide-eyed. I hit send.


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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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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.


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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.


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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!


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From rack to mirror.

I often tell the story of the first time Dominique went with my mom and I to Herberger’s. Upon entering the back door, it started — the meet and greet. There’s Jessica from shoes. Hi Jessica! Sue in bras. “The last one fits great!” Oh there’s Carol. “Thanks for the boxes!” “This is the manager,” my mom pointed out. “Oh, hi Claudia — we’ll need to pre-order the Clinique.” Dominique seemed dazed and confused. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t understand?” What? I said – it all seeming so normal. “Is your mom the mayor?” He asked. “Of Herberger’s,” I said, “Yes!”

Some of my best memories are in dressing rooms. Whether it was me, or a complete stranger (of course only upon their urging), my mother was there to help. She would stand just behind your shoulder. Look with you in the three way mirror. And with your very best interests at heart, she would say, “I think we can do better.” And then she was with you – to the very end – from rack to mirror and back again. Until it was just right. No abandonings. Only truth. Only support. Until it was completely beautiful.

I have been told that these sweet memories will someday turn from pain to comfort, and then to complete joy. And I believe it. I have to believe it because I’ve seen it from every angle. This three-way reflection of truth, support and beauty.

I look in this morning’s mirror and smile because I can hear it…I can hear her… “We can do better. We will do better.” She is with me. And it is beautiful!



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The patience chair.


I had never restored or recovered chairs before moving to France. I had never done a lot of things. But maybe that was the first thing I had to learn — learn to no longer say “I never do that,” and replace it with, “I haven’t done that yet.”

Patience is another thing…I’m still working on that one daily. When painting on fabric, after the paint dries (this is key) you need to set the paint. I do this by ironing the piece, then washing the fabric in really hot water. Then another soak in fabric softener, and another pass with the iron. When making the cover for this chair, it sounds silly now, but I was impatient. There were other places to sit in the house, sure, but I wanted it done. I skipped the ironing, didn’t wait a full 24 hours for it to dry, put it in the wash basin, and voila – I ended up with a bucket of brown water and a faceless canvas.

I hung it outside on the clothes line. And took some deep breaths. What I ended up with, after painting it again, was something I liked a great deal better. I love this face. This chair. My patience chair.

It’s funny what we get in a rush to do. And I want to be patient. With feelings. With others. Even with myself. Would that it were all so easy to “hang out on the line.” But I’m trying. Maybe we all could try a little harder (or softer) to let things just be… give it a minute and see…and start again…

This day is brand new. I haven’t done any of it — yet! I brush past the cool crisp sheets of it all, waving in the morning breeze. Let’s begin. Softly.


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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.


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Masterpiece.


I don’t create a masterpiece every day. Wait, now I have to look up the word masterpiece. If by one definition — something “considered to be the greatest work of a person’s career” — then no, I don’t. But if you look at another — “a supreme achievement” — then maybe yes, maybe I do. Maybe we all do.

I was fumbling through a difficult afternoon yesterday. Emotions tangling my every move. Every step a trip. Everything seemed too big. I didn’t want to do it – any of it. It was all too much. I needed something small. Contained. Doable. 6” x 6”. This seemed reasonable. I could navigate half of a foot. I opened my sketchbook. Reached for a single pencil. No decisions of color or brush. Just hold the pencil. Feathers appeared lightly. Then shading. And it felt familiar. New, but not frightening. Pencil lines became darker. More confident. And there it was. A bird. My bird. My something doable. My moment of getting through. I smile because I get to know — I get to know the effort it took to get through the moment — the effort it took to achieve this tiny bird. To navigate the afternoon, all 6 inches of it — an achievement, nothing short of supreme.

We don’t get to know every inch of every person. I don’t know what you’re tackling today. What you’re trying to get through. But I care. And I understand the effort it takes. And I applaud the efforts! I applaud the masterful achievements — the supreme achievements of our daily lives.

Perched on the new day, I shout to the opening sun, my lifting heart, to each master rising – one and all — Bravo!