Jodi Hills

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


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…if I went with you

Today is Napoleon’s birthday. I’m not proud to say that I didn’t know this before coming to France. I suppose it is important to me now, because I can see that it is important to them. Empathy. 

The thing is, we think we know. I’m smiling as I type this. There is so much that I, we, don’t know. And that’s the first step to learning, I guess. Admitting it. And then doing something about it. 

I have told you how important the library was to me. So important that I used to worry about it. The night before library day at Washington Elementary, my mother would have to comfort me. Ease me into sleep. “But what will I pick out?” “What if there isn’t enough time to choose the right book?” “There are so many.” She didn’t laugh at me. She gave me a solution. “Find a series you like,” she explained. “Then each week you can pick another one from that series.” I did that. My first series was Cowboy Sam. I loved the linen covers. The drawings of cowboys. The adventures. The stories. So it’s not surprising that cowboys were in my heart from the age of six. There were so many books. I devoured them. So full, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What’s taught is what’s known. But at some point you have to take on the responsibility of learning. Teach yourself. I recently finished the book, “The Sentence,” by Louise Erdrich. It is a beautiful book. Filled with the heart and soul and voice of Native Americans. There is so much to learn. But each word lays a rock, creating the path of empathy. People always say, “I hope our paths cross some day.” When they do, and I hope they do, I pray it on this path — this path of empathy.

The epigraph to this book reads as such, “From the time of birth to the time of death, every word you utter is part of one long sentence.” — Sun Yung Shin, Unbearable Splendor.

It is within this bearable and unbearable splendor that I write each day. Continuing the sentence. Searching for the beauty. The understanding. The peace. Empathy. Hoping to look up from the dust on my own shoes, to see you, looking up, seeing me. Splendor.

Happy Birthday, Napoleon. Let’s take that walk.


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Finding my Napoleon.

Standing in front of the Napoleon monument in Corsica, I didn’t expect to feel it – this reverence. I stood amongst the crowd, mostly French, there to pay tribute to their hero. I was so happy for them, those gazing with such pride. As we moved slowly across the gravel path, getting closer and closer to the statue, I could feel their excitement build. And I felt it too, not so much for myself, but for them. I was truly happy – perhaps a little envious as well (because we all need a hero from time to time).

I read the stories, the legends, on all the plaques and pamphlets and books — this was not the Napoleon we were taught in US schools. Here, he was not short, he was, is, grand, celebrated. And standing there, amongst the believers, I could feel the magic, the wonder.

I walked by the cave – the cave where, as a child, he was said to have looked to the sea and dreamed of what he would be. Looked to the water and dreamed of what he could do. This is where I knew him. I knew that child — because I was that child. I heard the waves in his young ears. I heard the waves in mine. He had the sea. I had the lake — Lake Latoka. I would not have a throne or a monument. I would have a diving tower. I would not conquer nations, but my own fear, and I would believe.

I sat in the shade of the trees that surrounded Napoleon’s monument, and I no longer had to envy their joy, their hope, or their pride. I had it too. And I believed in it all – the possibility of it all. The possibility of looking out over the water and having a dream. The possibility of letting the waves carry you, buoying you bigger than you could ever imagine. I sat with my Napoleon. Smiled. Looked at the water. And knew I was alive!