Jodi Hills

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


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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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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.”


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All overmixed paint turns to brown.

You can see it in a painting. In a poem. When it’s just trying too hard. Overworked. Exhausted. It sucks the beauty right out of it.

I called her Grandma Lois. We weren’t related, but for the love of painting. She was hovering in her eighties. Still brush in hand. I offered my youth. She offered her experience. Our palettes combined. She told me the hardest thing for her had always been learning when to stop. To look at what she had painted and say, this is good – what I’ve created – it’s enough. To learn, and create again — that was the real beauty, she said. We smiled. Painted. Connected.

On canvas, I have learned this. It’s harder in real life. There are some people with whom you think, if I just tried a little harder, maybe if I was just a little brighter, better — if I was just more beautiful, inside and out, maybe they would see me. All overmixed paint turns to brown. Some people just won’t see you. And you have to walk away. Step aside and say, what I offered, it was enough.

Surround yourself with those who can see it. Can see you. In the purest, most simple strokes. Wow – to sit in that beauty – that beauty of being. Knowing your all, their all, is more than enough. Not gasping, just breathing. This, I think, is the art of loving, of living. This is good. This is beautiful.


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Lighthouses.

It sold almost immediately after she put it in the window of her gallery in Wayzata — this 4’ lighthouse painting. I suppose we are all looking for the light. We painters and sailors. We who bob up and down. Knocked over, then lifted, by the same waves.

I’ve always been a morning person. Everything seems possible in the morning. Everything lightened, not just in color, but weight. But, oh, that nighttime. That darkness. Oooh, that can really get away with me. I’ve always tried to fight it. But recently, I’ve tried something new. Not fighting, but challenging. Not going toe to toe with it, round and round with it in my brain. When those thoughts start creeping in, I acknowledge them. “I see you,” I say. “But not tonight. We can talk about it again in the morning if we need to.” It’s not a perfect system, but it seems to be helping.

I have always been up for a challenge. But rarely a fight. My grandfather taught me that in the fields. My mother taught me that in the trenches. Both houses of hope, of light.

I heard a line in a song once, “My heart is a boat on the sea.” That feels about right. So I keep riding the waves, toward the light. Hopeful for all the light to come. Grateful for all the shine I have been given.

The gallery was named The Good Life. How appropriate I thought, it is indeed. I woke to all of the possibilities coming through my window, and said to the sun, “Challenge accepted.”


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Something close to hope.

I battled my French lesson this morning, word by word, accent by accent. And “they” know when you are struggling — a little prompt comes up — “Even when you make mistakes, you’re still learning.” I smile and pray it is true, with everything I do.

Sometimes I’ll say a few words to a stranger in French, and they will answer in English. “Wow,” I think, “it’s really that obvious?”…as if the crutch of my broken language is dangling from under my arm. If only the real struggles of everyone were that easy to see.

It’s so easy to be unkind. To be impatient. I know it is a lesson, I, we, must work on daily. It’s impossible to see what everyone is going through. The “how are you”s and the “fines” just don’t tell the whole story. The limps of the heart go undetected. So I guess the answer is to just keep trying. Trying each day to be more kind. More empathetic. And even on the days we fail, when others fail, to understand that we are all still learning. Arriving at something close to hope, and beginning our journey again.


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Rugged path.

Everything can be explained away. But why would you want to? 

I was walking down the gravel path in Aix. There is a specific sound to footsteps on gravel. Almost a gathering in and a crunch. I know this sound. I grew up on a gravel road. Now, if you google it, it says that Softer surfaces like gravel reduce the force of impact with your running stride and may allow you to recover more quickly from the workout. Plus these softer surfaces require you to use stabilizing muscles that may grow lax on the road or sidewalk. I’m sure all of that is true. For me though, it’s the familiar of it all that helps the most.

Yesterday, desperately in need of this “softening” and “stabilizing,” I set out on our gravel path. Half way on my journey, I saw a sign — painted in yellow on a giant rock. Now I’m sure it can all be explained away. Perhaps it was put up for a running group. Directions for their race. But all I saw was the word “Ivy.” My mother’s name. Ivy. My heart smiled. I was home.

I guess we all choose to see what we want to see. Choose to feel what we want to feel. And for me, today and everyday, I am going to believe in the magic of it all. I’m going to believe in my feet, my heart, and the love that is always out there, leading me on this, sometimes rugged, but always beautiful path. 

My heart is well traveled.


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I called it.

We were always running. To the neighbors. On the field. In the sand toward the water. To our bicycles – to go even faster. Racing to the joy of it all. But there was something so special about riding in the front seat of the car, we not only raced toward it, we “called it.” And for some reason, we abided by these rules – even if you didn’t get to the car first, if you, in fact, had shouted out “I call the front seat,” then it was yours. The power we held.

I was thinking, wishing actually, praying even, for some of that power. Some of that joy. “If only I was able to reserve it – call it out to be mine.” And as I was thinking, my mind racing in bumper tennis shoes, it occurred to me, maybe I still do. What if I decided today was going to be filled with that speed, that speed that only comes from pure joy? That feeling that blows your hair back and your heart forward. That’s what I want. What if I just “called it?” 

We raced through the streets of Chicago. New York. My mom and I. It never occurred to me that she was aging. We ran. Arms draped with packages. From the Magnificent Mile (and it was true to its name!) to the city that never sleeps. We ran. Nothing but joy. And the thing is, in my heart, it’s still happening. My heart races in the memory of it all. 

Today might not be easy, but there will be joy, lifting my feet, lifting my heart. I believe in it. I have to. I already called it!


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Took comfort.

“This is the new normal,” they say. If that’s the case, then for the past decade, (possibly my whole life) I have been racing through normals at record speed.

Each day I do my French lesson. Each day new scenarios arise. Like trying to learn the difference between who and what (qui and que). Sounds basic, right? Sounds simple. But the who and the what jump from sentence to sentence, so I ask for the rule? Most of the time the answer is you just have to accept it – this randomness – and memorize it. Aaaaah, accepting, like that ever comes easy…

I used to sell my work at an annual event held by The Hazelden Treatment centers. I do not happen to struggle with addiction, but as they read through my work, it was easy to see that the “what” could be anything, at any time, and the “who” certainly was all of us. I guess it all comes down to life. To living. And I take comfort in the pure randomness that surrounds me, accepting that no one escapes, knowing that it could happen to anyone, at any time…pain, happiness, confusion, even love.

They say a prayer that I’m certain most people know. I know it. But sometimes knowing it isn’t enough. I have to know it, and accept it. And as I type the word accept, I understand, it is a word of freedom, not unlike forgiveness (and I’ve struggled with that one too). Accepting, as I see it in this new light is a release, a letting go, not a giving up, or giving in, not bending over, but learning to fly. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.

I finish my French lesson for the day. Instead of shaking my fist at this language, I am going to keep flapping my wings, taking comfort, joy, in this beautiful random of blue.


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Shine.

There are many reasons that I write each day. A writer writes. 

There are many reasons that I paint each day. A painter paints. 

But I must admit, I had this idea, that maybe, just maybe, if I wrote the words down, they would form a string, a line, a ladder, and connect to my mother. I thought if I finished the painting, finished the book, they would be the lifeboats to carry her. A believer has to believe.

And for 586 days it has been true. But maybe the real truth is that it has saved me. I suppose that’s love. It must be love. And perhaps the only real reason to do anything.

Years ago, I wrote about my mother – 

“You do the impossible every day. You warm people with your own brilliant light, and make them believe it is they who really shine.”

I write. I paint. I believe. I love. All because of her brilliant light. I will do it today, and for the rest of my life. And I will be saved.