Jodi Hills

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


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Word by word.

She loved to read by the window, sitting on the deacon’s bench. The sun lit the words, almost in reverence, just, I thought as it should be. 

It was Mrs. Bergstrom who taught me how to read, but it was my mother who taught me how to love it. Reading and rereading each library book. Words that calmed me when I was scared. Words that lifted me when low. Words that paid for the tickets when money was scarce. Filled the car with gas. Lifted the plane. Took us on adventures. Gave us not just happy endings, but happy beginnings. Told us that all things were possible. I know I was just a child, but when I saw my mother with a book in her hand, I knew that I was saved. We all could be.

Mrs. Bergrstrom wrote on the blackboard the word career. She went around the room asking what does your father do? What does your mother do? Maybe it wasn’t surprising, we were only six, but most of the kids didn’t know. Some said they went to a building. Did a job. Left in the morningtime. Set the table. When she pointed to me – asking what my mother did – I knew for certain, and said it clearly – “Well, she’s saving the world.” Some snickered, but I just smiled, because for me, it was true. Word by word.

I began a new book yesterday. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. I sat at my desk, the sun shining through the window, illuminating each magnificent word, warming my shoulders. I could have vacuumed, or dusted. Washed clothes. But I was doing something more important. I felt the power. From sky to window to shoulders to page to heart. It was all love. And she was with me. All things were possible. Word by word, we were saving the world.


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Dinner Theatre.

We were waiting to be served. And waiting. Dishes were clinking and clanking from the chosen few that already had their meals. The Chanhassen Dinner theatre was filled in the dim theatre light. Table by table people were delivered their pre-play food. Of course all were appeased with a complimentary glass of wine. And then another. The kitchen must have been having a problem. No explanations were brought forward. We were getting so hungry, my mother and I. 

We loved going to the theatre. We saw almost everything. It wasn’t just about the performance, we had a production of our own. The pre-shopping at Ridgedale or Southdale. The getting dressed while sipping skim vanilla lattes. Make-up. Hair. A dash of perfume. The excitement building. The drive to the theatre. Walking from the parking lot without wrinkling. Everything building toward the peak of receiving this meal. So the additional 30 to 40 minute wait seemed like a lifetime. The extra glass of wine was not in the schedule, and it started to take hold. My mom was getting chattier. Looking over this shoulder and that. “What could be taking so long?  Are they ever going to serve us?  I don’t understand. This has never happened before…”  She couldn’t get the next line out without laughing — the “Don’t they know who we are???” line. Oh how we laughed. Laughed with wine. Laughed without worry. Laughed with the knowledge that we WERE important – the most important of all (at least to each other). 

When the plates finally arrived, my mother napkined her lap, (a napkin that was already filled with laughter-tears). I did the same. She sat up straight. I followed. She smoothed out the sleeves of her ultra-white ruffled blouse. She was pure elegance, I thought. She balanced the fork in her polished hand. Lifted the vegetable to her mouth. She nodded in approval as she chewed. Swallowed, and said, “These are the best damn peas I’ve ever had!” I flung my napkin to my face to keep the laughter from snorting out of my nose. 

I don’t remember which play it was. I’m sure it was good. But I will never forget those peas. My mother.

We think it’s the big things we will miss. I suppose it never is. Today, share something small with someone you love. A bit of your heart. A giggle. It may just last a lifetime.


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The shape of love.

Just one letter separated the two words. And barely even a letter, only the slightest curve between the “a” and the “o”. Hallowed. Hollowed. They were in the poem she sent me. It was beautiful for so many reasons, but for me, this tiniest of movements that could change one word to another, one emotion to another, filled me with hope, filled me with love.

That’s why I have always loved words. Books. Therein lies the possibilities.

We went to Book in Bar yesterday – my favorite bookstore in Aix. The comfort was palpable. As we stood by the coffee bar, waiting for our cappuccinos, I saw it. Flâneuse, by Lauren Elkin. A Chicago friend had tagged me in a post about it just the day before. I have never been one to ignore magic, so I picked it up, sat with it at our table. Hallowed.

I suppose I think, if I live in the word, I might too possess the skills to make the same changes. To take an empty day, and fill it.

As I wander (the meaning of flâneuse) through the “a”s and “o”s of my day, I will choose the magic. Choose the hope of each word and place it into that hollow part of my heart, and fill it. I will write my story. Live my story. Share my story. For I have to believe — it’s the most beautiful magic of all!


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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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Fashion show.

“To be well dressed is a little like being in love.” Oleg Cassini

I found that quote. White print on turquoise paper (her favorite color). She probably cut it out of a magazine. It was paperclipped inside my mother’s journal.

And if you knew her, really knew her, you could see it. It wasn’t just fashion. It was self-care. It was a beautifully hand stitched dream. It was love.

No one took better care of her clothes. You know when you buy a white blouse, and you bring it home, it almost shines. But inevitably, it begins to dull. Never the same as the first wear. That wasn’t the case with my mom. She had the whitest blouses. Always. And they didn’t dull with the dinge of time passing. No! Hers seemed to get even whiter.

And so it was with her heart. Her love was pure. Never-ending.

I was wearing one of those white blouses the other day. (Playing “fashion show” always cheers me.) My daughter-in-law came over. Seeing her for the first time, since my mother’s passing, wearing her clothes, the tears of tenderness began to flow. I immediately bent over so the tears fell to the floor. I was not about to stain the pureness of this white blouse. I started to laugh. Who would do such a thing? Bend over… My mother. That’s who. My heart was full. Well dressed. Forever in love.

Maybe it’s a good time to tell someone….


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This orchestra.

I came up the staircase and lifted the telephone cord over my head so I could enter the kitchen. My mother had the 8′ cord stretched to its limit. She was talking on the phone while doing the dishes. I could tell she was talking about me. Why was she talking about me? Something about Washington school. A teacher? Was it a teacher? I tugged at her blouse. She nudged me with her hip. She said goodbye and motioned with her eyes for me to catch the phone as she lifted her chin. I caught it and climbed onto the chair to hang the receiver back on the wall.

Who was that? I asked.
Mr. Iverson.
Mr. Iverson? What did he want?
He said you have good hands.
Good hands?
Yes.
That’s it?
He said you’d be good at the vio- something.
Violin?
No, the other one.
Viola?
Yes, that’s it.
He called to tell you that?
He said you can join the orchestra if you want.

I was in the fifth grade. I had just gotten a clarinet from Carlson’s music store. No small purchase for our family. My hands were already invested. But I liked that he noticed them – my hands. Imagine that! A teacher paying that much attention. What gifts we were given daily at Washington Elementary.

I played the clarinet through my senior year. I still have it. But my hands had different ideas. They are daily covered in words and paint. They are good hands. And I am grateful for them every day. I wonder if I would have believed in them though, if people hadn’t believed in them first. If I hadn’t had teachers who invested their time. A mother who invested her heart.

I believe in myself, because they believed in me first. So I use them, these hands. Once more, again, still, ever, to give thanks, and to tell you, you can join the “orchestra” if you want.


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Welcome to the garden.

Our fruit trees had a bad summer. Wait, that could be a mistake…I don’t know if their summer was good or not… maybe they had a great summer, taking this time off. What I should say is that they didn’t produce any of their usual fruit.  

This winter, there was a sudden warm up, then cold again, and they got very confused. It threw off their timing. And they took the summer off. To regroup.  They are still lovely. They flowered. Greened. Stood tall in the summer sun. Still valuable. Still part of our garden community.  I would, will, never stop loving them. 

Trini Lopez is the name of our lemon tree by the front door. He has yet to produce a lemon, but again, I love him. He greets me every morning by the kitchen window, with a green so full, leaves so hopeful, that I think, I, too, want to grow.  

This patience that I have with our garden, I fear, maybe I’m not that patient with humans. I am quick (I hate to admit) to think people are lazy. But maybe I, we, don’t always know what the person is going through. Maybe they aren’t being lazy at all. Maybe they are recovering from their own difficult winters. Maybe they are slowly, as best they can, growing into themselves. Finding their way to the sun. Maybe they are offering, not the usual gifts, but other ones. Maybe this year’s fruit is a delicate shade. Maybe this year’s fruit is a place to lean on, in the comfort of silence. 

You know that friend, (I hope we all have one), with whom you can sit, without words or entertainment. Just sit in the comfort and safety of their company. I want to be that friend. I want to be as patient with love, with growth, as the trees in our garden. I want to give you (and myself) a chance to grow, or better yet, to just be. To calmly, daily, without demand, or judgement, greet those who dare the morning, and say, “Welcome to the garden.”


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This table is strong.

Some said it was in the way, my grandparents’ kitchen table. But for me, for my mother, it was something to lean on. The stability we craved.

The legs were at an angle, protruding just a little beyond the table top. You could kick it. Bump into it. Throw groceries, suitcases, all of your worries, on top of it. It was never going to crumble.

It took a while for my mother to get her legs beneath her. But she did. Oh how she did! And not just holding her up, but at that slight angle – that confident stride. Maybe they saw it in her first – the people of Alexandria. “Oh, I saw you walking yesterday.” “I see you out walking all the time.” “Aren’t you that lady that I see walking?” And when she answered yes to them, maybe she started to hear it herself. Yes. See it in herself. Yes, I am that lady.

I suppose we all have to become the stability that we crave. Table by table. Step by step. The sun rises with one question, we rise, and say simply, joyfully — Yes!

Whatever you need, this table is strong. Jodi Hills


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500 days!

I have always been inspired, since the first time I saw it — getting bigger and bigger through my airplane window. New York. I know I am not alone. It’s in the song, after all… “If you can make it there…” The melody got louder in each beat of my heart. 

Some might say it’s cliche… and I would have been the first to agree, had it stopped at some point. But it never has. With each trip, over and over, if anything, it grows — this desire to be better. To wake up and want more — I’m not talking about things — but I guess, to simplify it, life — to want more out of life itself — to want more from myself. With each step on a New York street, I feel like I want to dress better. Walk taller. Be sure of my steps. I want to paint better – master my pieces. Create more. Write more. I become the melody. Humming along with the taxis. 

The trick is always, I suppose, not to be inspired (this is rather easy), but to keep that inspiration alive. That takes effort. Work. Faith. At first, when returning from a trip, I could keep it up. Dressing a little nicer when I went to Staples to ship out orders. Savoring Caribou’s coffee a little longer. Feeling the buzz in my hands. Oh, but how easily it could slip away, how easily I could slip into old habits of ordinary. Yellow fading.

It has been 500 days. 500 days! of this blog!! Not one day missed. It has become my New York. I have become my New York. At first, I labored (and some days still). Worried about the idea – would it come? But then I began to believe in it, trust in it, allow it to come. And it does. It has for 500 days! 

It is so easy to let the magic slip from our heart and hands. To wait for something else, someplace else, someone else, to inspire. But I don’t want to miss out. I don’t want to let one day go by without feeling this way, without feeling this buzz of life. It may not always be this blog, but I have made a promise to myself that it will be something…each day will be something…I will be my own vibrant yellow! Moving. Maneuvering. Honking even!  Unprepared to let even a day slip away. Hanging on! I am living this life!

It still may be a blur! Time moves pretty quickly! But oh, what a blur it will be!!!


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The next flight awaits.

I painted a new bird this week. I love to paint birds. For me, one is completely different from the other (and I’ve painted a lot of them.)  Some might ask, “Don’t you get tired of it, painting the birds?” To this I would reply, “No, do you get tired of feeling good?”  

Because I do, feel good, when I paint them. I love how they are always looking. They were given wings, the chance to fly, and it doesn’t seem like they want to waste it. So playful in the sky. Stopping for brief moments on branches, then looking, knowing, the next flight awaits. The goal is not to finish, but to continuously become!

I’m launching a new website today. A new flight. It’s exciting! I feel perched, but ready to fly again. What a glorious feeling to become. To know my story isn’t finished yet. 

If you are reading this, your story is just beginning as well. Today is the branch that will launch you into the sky. A sky filled with beginnings — if you dare to take them. And oh, I hope you take them! Please take them! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “One way or another, I am going to fly!” I’ll see you up there!