Jodi Hills

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

1 Comment


David Hovda and I were wandering, slowly and aimlessly around Jefferson Senior High School, both in knee-high plaster casts. (This was in my dream last night. I’m sure he’s actually fine.) I had no idea what my schedule was. The halls were empty and the classroom doors were closed. The bell had rung. And I didn’t know where to go. The cast part was real, but not once in my high school years did I ever forget my schedule. It surprises me that I would still have this dream.

I woke up before either of us found our way. I’d like to think we went to the Superintendent’s office. That’s where our parents would have been. His father. My mother. And in typing this, the dream just made sense. My mother sat too close in age and distance to Dr. Hovda. When he passed away first, something told me it wouldn’t be that long. 

In high school, I suppose I thought that I would just learn things, and that would be it. The knowledge would stick, and everything would be fine. I had no idea how many times I would have to learn the same lessons. They first told us that we would understand when we got bigger, when we got older. We did both, but oh how the world can make you feel so small. So lost. And you have to learn again. Grow again. And find your way. 

Normally a dream like this will unsettle me. But I didn’t wake up afraid. I guess it’s because my heart knows where the Superintendent’s office is. I know I can walk down the terrazzo hall, open the door, and my mother will still be sitting at the front desk, full smiles, overhearing something that Dr. Hovda shouted from his open-door office. And I, we, will all be saved.

1 Comment

Folds of worth.

I found ten euros on the path yesterday while out for my morning walk. I picked it up. Smiled. Looked around. There was no one in sight. I folded it neatly and put it in my pocket. It was at the beginning of my walk, so I had almost an hour left to check it repeatedly. Like a five year old with birthday money stashed in my shorts, I clutched it in my chubby fingers again and again. It’s not that I needed ten euros so badly (although it’s always a treat!). What I really needed was not to lose the proof. I was so excited to show Dominique that even though out of season, I still had the “asparagus” eye. Out of all the people that strolled the path that morning, with dogs and phones and step-counters, I was the one who spotted the surprise! It made me feel special. I patted my pocket to feel the folds of worth.

My grandma was the first to give me a five dollar bill every year for my birthday. It continued well into my thirties. While the currency lost value through the years, the envelope that arrived each March 27th, addressed with her handwriting, became priceless. Opening the mailbox, I clutched it in hand. Forever a five year old, held heart-close in my grandma’s attention. I still have the last envelope she sent. Framed, it stands next to her picture. She loved me. I will forever feel special. Worthy.

“Guess what I found!” I said.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Guess! Go ahead and guess!” I said, while unfolding the bill.

“Ohhhh!” he exclaimed, “You have the asparagus eye!” I am loved. You can’t put a price on that.

It’s all about the choices we make. We can choose to stay or to cross over. We are offered these bridges as gifts. It’s not always easy to dare to cross over, to get through, to get beyond… but it is a choice. So many rivers to cross. And with one step, we choose… we decide to love, to be loved… we decide that we are actually worthy of the giving and receiving… we choose to live… and we cross over… we cross over to the beauty that lies ahead. What a journey!

1 Comment

We’re all going to get there.

Long before ever hearing of the word “blog,” I put words to paper to keep a record of our lives. We called it writing.

For my highschool graduation, my mother gave me a small journal and a cross country train ticket to Washington State. In a class of 400 or so, I graduated 13th. To commemorate, my sister-in-law gave me 13 cans of Hi-C grape drink (my favorite at the time). My mother and I packed our non-rolling suitcases, along with the Hi-C and boarded the train.

As we rolled along the uneven tracks, often reaching 50 miles per hour, I began writing down the details of our adventure. We couldn’t afford the sleeper cars, so for more than 24 hours we watched the other passengers. I wrote down everything I saw. The man handcuffed to the federal agent (possibly just local law enforcement). The man kissing the “other” woman between cars, then returning to his seated wife and children. The older couple cutting their food so finely it could almost be described as pureed. The fielded landscape that passed so slowly outside the window allowing me to describe stalk by stalk.

I wrote it all down. We passed the journal back and forth. Laughing loudly with purple stained lips.

I still have the journal. Reading through it, one thing becomes quite clear — I stopped writing once we reached the destination. I suppose it has always been, and always will be, about the journey. These are the most precious moments.

I recently bought a booklet of handmade paper from a small French mill. Far from being filled, it has already given me hours of entertainment. It won’t be for sale. The profit comes in the daily escape. The magic as the images come to life. The stories behind their expressions. The lives revealed. The wheels of brush to paper click along at a reduced Amtrak pace, and I’m able to see everything. To feel everything, below the speed of this summer afternoon.

You can call it whatever you want. Journaling, writing, creating, blogging. However it is you fill your day. And you can do it for whatever reason you want — that is not for me to say. But if it’s purely for “likes,” for approval, the destination… you could be missing out on the most fantastic part of living.
This is the advice I give to myself — Relax. Breathe. Don’t worry. Look around. We’re all going to get there.

The sun is rising. Let the journey begin.

Leave a comment

Head to toe.

I can’t tell you the exact thought that was stuck in my mind’s auto replay. Something ridiculous, I imagine — those thoughts usually are. I went into the pool. Usually with enough laps I can wash it away, or at least replace it with another. Albeit negative, this thought was fit and able to keep up with me, stroke by stroke. I said the number of laps louder in my head. Trying to count it away. Oh, but it was a good swimmer. 

I could see Dominique from the corner of my goggled eye. He was moving the sprinklers. To water the grass along the pool is tricky, and sometimes he ends up sprinkling the pool. I could see the tiny drops splash beside me as I turned to make the next lap. Again. Again. 

I suppose timing is everything. I flipped to make the next length. Stretching my arms to fingertips, my toes to tippy. It was then I felt it. Sprinkles of water covering the bottoms of my outstretched feet. Reflex brought me to underwater laughter. Sure, I have been tickled before, but never by water. I kept swimming, but my thoughts changed. Wondering if I had actually ever felt water falling on the bottoms of my feet before. Certainly not the rain. Nor the shower. No, this had to be the first time. What a delight, I thought. Such a strange and marvelous occurrence. Each lap that followed, I tried to recreate that perfect timing. I kept swimming toward the tickle. The spell had been broken. 

It’s easy to get caught up in worry.  I am not perfect. I know it will happen again. But each time, I know there is a way out. Even when I think I can’t find it, somehow it finds me. That, I suppose, is the beautiful magic of this living. And I want to feel it. Head to toe! 

If you need me today, I’ll be out there, in search of the tickle.

Leave a comment

Loving through.

When I told her I was never going back to school, I meant it. It was in the first week of my first grade at Washington Elementary and the first time I had ever been called a bad name. It being my first time, I didn’t remember the name, but I remembered the venom that spewed from Steve Brolin’s mouth and landed directly on my heart of firsts. 

Of course it happened the first thing that morning on the playground, so I had to hold it in all day. By the time my feet jumped from the last step of the bus, the tears began to flow. Big, bulbous bubbles that caught for several seconds in my eyelashes. Tears that puddled in the fold of my new dress as I sat on the cement floor of the garage, willing my mom to come home early from work and receive the news.

She knew something was wrong immediately, seeing me sprawled on the cement, with my backpack laying atop the garbage can. “I’m never going back,” I said. “Ok,” she said calmly. She didn’t argue with me. Just took my hand. Washed my face. Kissed my eyelashes. 

It being autumn, the nights had just begun to get cooler. “Would you like to put on your winter pajamas?” she asked. The feel of the soft plaid down my arms. Down my legs. Wrapped early for Christmas, she tucked me under the crisp white sheet. “I don’t think I want my books in the garbage anymore.” “I’ll get them,” she said. “But just for me,” I said, “I’m not going back.” “OK,” she said. 

I could hear her getting ready for work. Smell the coffee. My chubby feet wiggled beneath the plaid and hit the carpet. I brushed my teeth. My hair. My brown sack lunch was ready at the end of the table, right beside my backpack – it along with my heart – rescued. I guess we both knew I was going back. “I don’t like Steve Brolin,” I said. “That’s OK. Do you remember what he said,” she asked me for the first time. “Not really,” I said. “Do you remember I love you?” she smiled. “Yes!” I smiled. She got in her car and waved to me as I stood by the mailboxes waiting for the bus. It was the first time I got over something. It wouldn’t be the last. My mother showed me how to love my way through. I walk by her photo and wave, smiling, and knowing, everything is OK.


Crossing over.

We felt like we knew a secret. Decoding DKNY. Donna Karan New York. She was one of the first designers displayed as you entered City Center in downtown Minneapolis. My mom and I thought it was like entering the magic kingdom. The greatest part was that we shared the key.

We spent most of our time in the designer sections. We couldn’t afford to buy it. We couldn’t afford to miss it. We tried on everything. And the matching shoes. It was never about having, it was about seeing. Experiencing. Adoring, not only the clothes, but this time together.

Yesterday, walking in Aix en provence, I was listening to a podcast. It was the designer that first helped Donna Karan launch her brand. They were both just starting out. Both New Yorkers, with all the love that entails. The designer listened as Karan expressed her love for New York, as they sat under the Brooklyn Bridge. It reminded him of the story of why he was in love with this city. As a young boy, his grandfather — a fishmonger — would bring him to this bridge in the middle of the night. They set up for the early morning sales. His grandfather gave him this bridge. Gave him this dream. With this beating inside of him, it was so natural, so easy for him to create the branding for Donna Karan. He included the image of the bridge. The words New York. And gave birth to both of their careers.

I imagine my mother, sitting in my grandfather’s pickup. Sweaty legs against the vinyl seat, at the last stoplight before turning into town. Waiting anxiously for him to put the truck into gear, place his foot on the gas, and take her across the “Brooklyn Bridge” of her heart and into the city of Alexandria.

He took her to Alex. She took me to Minneapolis. I eventually took her to New York. Love always leads us. Helps us cross over, to the beauty that lies ahead.

No dream left unspent.

Leave a comment

Crossing over.

We were in the car yesterday morning. Paused at the bridge. It was built in 1655, so it can only support traffic going one way at a time. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but we both burst into laughter, just as the car approached from the oncoming direction. Because you have to drive slowly, the driver could see our explosion of laughter and he too, not knowing, not hearing, also burst into a smile. That, I suppose, is the pure power of joy.

Decades before selfies, my mother taught me to smile in every mirror. She did it out of necessity. Even during her lowest times, she still had to “put her face on”, walk out of her apartment door at 7:15am, go to Independent School District 206 and answer every phone call, every visitor, with a smile. She did it with a grace I didn’t yet know, or understand, but I could see it. Every day. She willed herself to cross over. To cross over and find the beauty. It may be the slow approaching reason that I am able to pass on my smile today. Because of hers, I am able to give you mine, and together, we all cross over to the beauty that lies ahead.