Jodi Hills

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


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Heart song.

My mother had just begun piano lessons. Only a little girl. I don’t know how many lessons she had, but not many, and it was in these few moments that this piano teacher (and I loosely use the word teacher, because clearly she was not, as you will see in a second), it was this awful woman that said, not to my grandparents (which would have been bad enough) no, she said it to my mother, this sweet little hopeful fingered girl, she told her, “You’re wasting your parents’ money.” I’m still aghast! What a soul crushing thing to say. Now, my mother may have never become a concert pianist, but we’ll never know. And it was only for her to decide. But she didn’t get that chance. Then.

Most of our children of the world will not become professional athletes, professional singers, or dancers, or painters. But we aren’t raising “professionals,” we are raising humans. Humans with thoughts and hopes and dreams and souls. And it takes a long time to build a soul, filling it with music and movement and kindness and possibilities. And we should never be defined by money (I guess that’s what we are basing the word professional on). We can still be dancers, even if we make our living at the bank. We can be singers if we sing. Painters if we paint. And we get to decide.

It took a long time, but she got there, my mother…After all the tears and questions she realized that only she could decide if her heart was disposable or not…and it wasn’t. It was bruised and possibly even broken at times, but the amazing organ that it was, is, it kept beating, keeping time to her own true rhythm, the beat that would soothe her, save her, and play once again, the lovely heart song that only she could create.


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Little dancer.

Two weeks ago when we arrived in New Orleans, just before the whirlwind of Mardi Gras had started, we were, for the most part, alone. Proof of this, we walked up to the Cafe du Monde and got an order of beignets in one minute. No line. Delicious in so many ways. We left New Orleans to travel the south, and returned yesterday to the crowds, donned in beads and noise and purples and greens and golds. The line for the Cafe du Monde stretched around the block. We smiled at each other, knowing, that just a moment before, it was ours. We tasted it without the validation of a long line.

While the crowds marched through the French quarter, we took a drive. I’m not sure what led us to the house where Degas lived for a brief time just before Impressionism took hold — I say I’m not sure, but I have a pretty good idea — our hearts usually lead us — maybe it was the French flag, the statue of the little dancer girl — there was no crowd to follow, no line to get in, just the feeling of creation in the air, and we pulled over immediately. This master of fine art, lived here. Here. Maybe it was just a brief moment, but we could feel it. And it was ours.

My grandparents lived in a farm house. No one will line up to see it, but I remember each door. Each entryway. I remember the smell of damp coats hanging. The creaks of the stairs. The sink full of dishes. The sign on the kitchen counter that read, “I should have danced all night.”

My mother will be moving out of her apartment soon. Some will say it was just four walls. But inside it was coffee and conversation. Wine and dreams. Fashion shows and laughter. Tears of tenderness. Home. Here – no crowds, no lines, but with hearts fully validated, oh, how we danced!


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Grandma’s dance.

My grandmother loved root beer floats. Oh how she loved them! She kept an old A & W root beer mug in the freezer, chilled and ready. Every visit to her house, after lunch, after Days of our Lives, she would ask, “Would you like a root beer float?” “No thanks, Grandma,” I would reply. I didn’t like root beer, and ice cream made me ill. Not my treat. “I could make them for us, no problem,” she continued. “No thanks,” I said, both smiling for different reasons. She smiled because she could almost taste her favorite treat. I smiled, because we had danced this dance so many times before. I knew I would eventually say yes, she would make two root beer floats, and she would eat them both.

What a pleasure it was to see her as a human. It’s rare, I suppose, that we get that. She was an aproned grandma, and so often we can get lost in that, forget that she was once a young girl, with her hair down, falling in love with a soon to be farmer. She was a woman of this world, not just grandma. She was a woman who had nine children, 27 grandchildren and so many more greats… but in a few rare moments, alone with her on a quiet afternoon, I got to see her, when she smiled, for the simplest of things, and it was beautiful.

Yesterday, in Baton Rouge, I asked Dominique to pull the car over. I had to take a picture. It was a giant root beer mug. I danced with my grandma again.


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And so she would dance.


A writer writes. A singer sings. A painter paints. You are these things because you do them. You live them. Not because someone gives you the title or pays you to do it. You decide.


For years. I painted in my bathroom. It, (along with the kitchen), was the only place that was not carpeted. It just made sense. Large canvases I could elevate on the side of the bathtub, and a closed water closet made for a perfect seat. Really large canvases could be upright, while I stood and reached through the bathroom door. I was a painter in my studio. As simple as that. And I loved it, just as much as I love painting now in Cezanne’s back yard in the south of France.


If you’re waiting for the perfect time. The perfect place. You’ll never do anything. I’ve always believed if you really want to do something, I mean really want to do it, you’ll find a way with who you are and what you have.


The easiest thing to find in this life is an excuse not to do something. Oh, those excuses, they are readily available. Waiting, cocked and loaded. But what if we took another look.


My mother loved to go dancing at the Glenwood Ballroom. Big bands. Big shoes. Big nights. She loved to dance. The truly big names of the big bands stopped coming. She had kids to raise. A job to work. But she still found time to teach me how to dance. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Slow, quick-quick. Step, place, three, cha-cha. A heel and a toe and polka step. We had a kitchen floor. We had music. We were dancers. Simple as that.


And I guess she taught me more than just how to dance. She taught me how to see. See what I had, right in front of me. Appreciate it. Use. it. Find a way. So today I will paint. Today, I will dance!


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…Even on fragile legs.

When I watched her dance, I couldn’t believe that those legs could be that strong. Not only to lift her in the air, but then brace her as she came back down. Simply amazing the strength. Maybe that’s why I love dance so much. This elegant combination of beauty and strength.

The champion horses in Kentucky display this same recipe for beauty. These massive animals, carried so elegantly on seemingly fragile legs. Amazing! How do they do it? I paint them with as much respect as the dancers.

Perhaps I’m only able to recognize the beauty in both because my mother has displayed this same combination of beauty and strength my whole life. I know she often worries, or says, “I want to be brave.” And she is, oh, she is! She is the dancer that doesn’t see the audience standing on their feet in awe. She is the Thoroughbred that runs through and past the finish line.

When I first started painting, even the most simple of characters, my mom would say, “oh, she looks like me…” And of course they all did. They do. I see her in everything. I guess that’s how it is when you love someone. You see their beauty – everywhere.

I paint the horse and I smile. I am a dancer. A race horse. My mother.


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Sans temps. (Without time. )

My mother-in-law is without time. Some days she is forty years old. Some days 60. I suppose after nearly a century you should be allowed to choose your own age. And she does. Without apology, she is young, she has babies, and thinks you are the crazy one for getting older. She’s probably right.

There is a young girl that I have painted. Little girl blue. She is just about to dance. She’s just a tiny bit afraid, but determined. And you know she will do it. I see her every morning. In my bathroom mirror, her reflection is just beside mine. I put on my dress, and I too, am without time. I, too, have the legs of youth, and can hear the music. There is no yesterday, or tomorrow, just the open blue of today, and I can’t waste it. I let go the fear of time passing, and simply dance.