Jodi Hills

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


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Love called her name.

I arrived in Marseille yesterday afternoon. Somehow my heart was moving my feet, without any assistance from my brain. The one-way doors to the public area were just past the luggage carousels. The people in front of me, clearly had no luggage, and started to walk through. From a distance, I could see Dominique in his red cashmere sweater (the one I gave him for his birthday). My heart ran through the “no re-entry doors” – straight to his arms. We hugged for the forever that we have promised, and then he said, “Did you get your luggage?”

There is a joke, I don’t quite remember, about “renouncing all of your material goods at the airport,” and clearly, I had done just that. We had to search two floors of the airport for security guards to get us back in. And we did. I got my luggage, but not before my heart got what it needed most.

I suppose some might think – “Well, that’s embarrassing” – but I’m thankful, thankful for a love that rules over everything. I hope on this day of thanks, and every day, we can all say the same.


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Beside still waters.

“If wishes were fishes, we’d all be in the brook.” My grandma used to tell me that. Maybe that’s one reason why I like the water so much.

We closed the pool down for the season. It’s a process. One that I never dreamed I would ever have to learn. Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes, nature took care of all that on her own.  We vacuumed and brushed. Swept. Scooped. Added the extra chemicals. Covered it. Then placed a net on top of the cover. I got a little dizzy, bending over, putting the stakes in the ground to hold the net. I leaned against the pool house, gave thanks, and said goodbye to the season. I know another will come. I believe in it. 

And in this new season, I will wish new wishes, and be buoyed by all the ones that have come true. And there have been so many. Pools and pools and lakes upon lakes filled with blessings. Oceans have been crossed and filled. I know how lucky I am. When I stop to lean against the sturdy of gratitude, beside still waters, I am saved.


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Given my song.

When I first picked up the clarinet, it was completely foreign to me. It didn’t feel securely balanced on my right thumb. It felt wobbly. So instead of just cupping my lips gently on the mouthpiece, I dug in with my front teeth. The marks remain today. 

I eventually learned to hold it correctly. To trust the balance. But it didn’t come overnight. It took years. I had to practice daily.  I knew I would never be great at it – but that was never really the point. I practiced to be a part of something. The routine was comforting. I knew I would forever hear the music. 

When a Benny Goodman song comes on the radio. I understand that I wasn’t the best, but I was a part of this beautiful music. I always will be.

I saw my mom’s picture in the paper today. Oh, how I wanted to love her perfectly. She deserved that. She was Benny Goodman and I was second chair in the fifth grade band. When I see her face, hearing that beautiful music of her heart, I truly know that I wasn’t perfect, but I was a part of that. I was a part of her beautiful heart’s song. And I always will be.  

Today, I may wobble, but I trust the balance, the magic of the music, and, oh, how I’m listening.


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Barely more than air.

It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air. 

I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart. 

We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.


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Possibility

I was thrilled when I heard that all the girls had to take shop class — thrilled, that is, until I learned that it wasn’t going to be at the mall, but in the lower level of Central Junior High, with the saws, sanders, wood, and the three-fingered instructor.

Looking back, it was quite progressive. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky we were. Everyone took everything – no question of gender. We had the funds, not only for these courses — woods, plastics, metals, drafting, cooking, sewing — but we also had band and choir and gym and swimming! Exposing us to a world beyond the brick walls. (Even beyond the mall.)

I suppose it was the smell that I first fell in love with – the smell of cut wood. It had the air of possibility. Week by week our projects progressed. “It has to be flush,” he said. So we sanded again and again. We built small bookshelves. Carrying it home on the bus, was one of my proudest days. It trophies in my hands and lap. The younger kids brushed their hands along the wood, to see if what I was telling them was true, that we had spun the wood like magic into these silky smooth creations. I have been in love with wood ever since.

Yesterday, a friend of ours drove two hours from the mountains to our house. He handed me a stack of wood. Freshly cut. Freshly sanded. Spun magic. I placed them on the work bench, like the trophies they were. I asked Dominique later in the evening, what else was he doing in town. Nothing. He had driven four hours just to give me this gift. My seemingly full heart swelled a bit more. I brushed my hands along the wood to see if what he was telling me was true. It was. We have the magic of such a friend. On a day, perhaps when I needed it most, I was given the air of possibility.


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Let’s talk all night.

When I was a little girl, my mom would gather blankets and pillows in a pile for me beside her bed. She called it my nest. 

I fell in love with Dominique ping by ping. Our first correspondence was on the phone. Text by text. Word by word. 

My mom came to help me with an event. I inflated the air mattress for her to sleep on. First, we put it in the living room. But then, because of the time difference in France, as our night began, so did Dominique’s morning, and my phone began to ping. He was on the fast train to Paris. I ran out to the living room to show my mom. After several pings, and giggles, we squeezed her mattress beside my bed. A nest. “Let’s talk all night,” we agreed. There are some moments you never want to end.

We did it often. The magic was never lost on us. We did it in Minneapolis. Chicago. New York. After a show. A book signing. To fit into this world of laughter and praise and love. Art and music and wine and food. It was glorious. And we wanted it to last. To never end. I still do.

I am nested in the memory of it all. Here in the south of France, beside the one I love. I was sent off with a glorious giggle and a love that still nests beside me. In my head, my heart, I am gathered in, and I know, still, if I but ask, we can talk all night.


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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.


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The playground

I suppose I’ve always been a dreamer. But I’m not sure it would be possible to live, (not just survive, I mean really live) any other way.

On the playground at Washington Elementary, it was something of a right of passage to display your bruises – your badges of courage. We’d line up under the monkey bars, and point out our battles survived. “This is when my foot got caught in the jump rope and I landed on my knees.” “Oh, yeah, but look, here’s when we were playing tug of war and the rope got caught under my arm.” “Look at my eye – the football hit me right in the face – the FACE!”  Never broken, but bruised daily. Because we were participating – joyfully!

I’d like to think the same of my heart. I continue to send it off to battle. It knows, from past experience — this daily beating on life’s playground — that it is going to be bruised. Love will do that. Every time. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Maybe my biggest dream is that we could all do this — love this big! Risk it all, believing  in the beautiful resilience of the heart. 

My heart will not be broken – it is not a block of ice. It is a juicy pear, bruised for sure, but forever delicious! So I run to the playground again and again, proud of what I’ve been through, what you’ve been through! We’re here. Today. Let’s play!


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In from the cold.

Maybe it was fun, for a few minutes. Or maybe it was out of pure necessity – I mean, what was the alternative? If we didn’t go out in the wintertime, we’d lose nearly half the year. So we did it. We bundled. From head to toe. Sweaters and snowsuits. Hats. Mittens. Hoods wrapped in scarves. At this point, not being able to bend over, our mothers would force our twice socked feet into our older siblings’ boots, and open the door.

The cold air felt like a slap to the only exposed area around our eyes. We blinked as our eyelashes doubled with frost. We winter-waddled through the yard as long as we could. Hoping to stay out at least as long as it took to bundle. Rolls of snowmen heads were started, then abandoned, and soon we ran (like penguins) to the nearest door. I guess for me, this is what it was all about – that full body sigh of coming in from the cold. Into the warmth of my mother’s arms. Warm kisses on red cheeks.Brought back to this world, mitten by mitten. Boot by boot. Sock by sock. I was home.

And I would do it again. And again. I suppose that’s what love is. Coming in from the cold.

What a thrill. What a blessing! To know this. To carry this warmth in my heart. As harsh as this world can be at times, I would, I will, brave the elements of whatever the day may bring, knowing, certain, my heart has a place to come in from the cold.


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Reflections of the heart.

I was watching the British National portrait challenge. A variety of artists are given four hours to paint the portrait of a person. All are good at their craft, for sure. And it’s interesting to see the different techniques they use in their respective mediums. But the most fascinating thing for me is seeing the different ways in which they see a person. When completed, most portraits look like the person sitting, but often the portraits look nothing like each other. One subject commented, “They all look like me, but they are all so different.” Another man was simply moved to tears because he had never seen himself in this way. The subjects get to choose their favorite portrait of themselves and take it home. Interestingly, what they choose is often not what the judges deem the “best” portrait.

So how do we see people? How do we see ourselves? The only answer I can come up with is to keep looking. See people in every light. When they are happy, or sad. Winning or struggling. And give them a reflection. I don’t mean we all have to be portrait artists. Of course, if you can paint someone, show them what you see. Or send them a letter.  Return the smile they give you. Or catch their tears. If they are reaching out – reach back. Reflect the heart offered. The same applies to the face in the mirror.

When I painted my mother’s portrait, she said, “That woman doesn’t look like she needs to be afraid of anything – maybe I don’t either.” I pray every day that this is true — reflecting the heart she has always so generously offered to me.