Jodi Hills

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


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From rack to mirror.

I often tell the story of the first time Dominique went with my mom and I to Herberger’s. Upon entering the back door, it started — the meet and greet. There’s Jessica from shoes. Hi Jessica! Sue in bras. “The last one fits great!” Oh there’s Carol. “Thanks for the boxes!” “This is the manager,” my mom pointed out. “Oh, hi Claudia — we’ll need to pre-order the Clinique.” Dominique seemed dazed and confused. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t understand?” What? I said – it all seeming so normal. “Is your mom the mayor?” He asked. “Of Herberger’s,” I said, “Yes!”

Some of my best memories are in dressing rooms. Whether it was me, or a complete stranger (of course only upon their urging), my mother was there to help. She would stand just behind your shoulder. Look with you in the three way mirror. And with your very best interests at heart, she would say, “I think we can do better.” And then she was with you – to the very end – from rack to mirror and back again. Until it was just right. No abandonings. Only truth. Only support. Until it was completely beautiful.

I have been told that these sweet memories will someday turn from pain to comfort, and then to complete joy. And I believe it. I have to believe it because I’ve seen it from every angle. This three-way reflection of truth, support and beauty.

I look in this morning’s mirror and smile because I can hear it…I can hear her… “We can do better. We will do better.” She is with me. And it is beautiful!



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Carry it with you.

I would often receive pictures of men cut out from the Banana Republic catalog with a note, “He’s on order. Feel free to call him dad.” 

I knew my mother’s handwriting. I knew her sense of humor. 

I can’t stop smiling as I read through her journals. 

July 9th, 1992

“I’m still celebrating my birthday. My philosophy is to live life to the fullest. Don’t just taste or sample it – devour it and have a second helping. Love a lot and laugh a lot. (And since I have not done much loving of late — I’m laughing a lot!!!) I hope before I finish this book I’ll be doing both! Just keep reading.”

While painting a series of portraits in France, I knew exactly what to do with the man in the hat. I made a copy and sent it to my mother. “Sorry for the delay. Your order is on its way.” 

Write it. Record it. Memorize it — this soundtrack of laughter with the ones you love. Nothing is lighter than joy. Carry it with you.


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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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Ensemble.

It was our first trip to New York together.  After my first show, I was getting my portrait taken by a photographer for a national magazine. This was a lot of first for one trip.

We were both high with excitement. It was all makeup and wardrobe changes and flashing lights. Neither my mom, nor I, could quit smiling. Near the end of the shoot, they even took our picture together. And we both ended up in the magazine!

They had a limo take us to the airport. Another first. I can’t imagine, any previous passengers  – even those laced with champagne – could have giggled more than we did. We weren’t even considering airport regulations. I arrived in my last outfit change, which was a red leather jacket (to go with my Slap on a little LIpstick book). It was a very light leather that snapped up the front – technically, it was just a top. And that’s how I wore it. But when we reached the security point, they immediately said I had to take off my “jacket.” But I’m not wearing anything else, I said. Pleaded. And even though I had the laws of fashion on my side, they had the actual law law, so I took it off. Put it in the bin, and walked through with only my bra on. Of course there was a large group of people traveling back to Wisconsin behind me, who found it all quite amusing. I put my “top” back on as quickly as possible. My mom walked through behind me. She looked at me in utter amazement and said, “They would have had to tase me.”

Ensemble was a verb for mother. She loved fashion. When she would come to my apartment in Minneapolis for the weekend, (which could often be just a day and a half) she would have a suitcase, hanging clothes, two or three bags for make-up and moisturizers, a bag for shoes, one for jewelry, and often an extra coat or two, just in case. It seemed exactly right to me. These weren’t “material things.” Those bags held confidence, and joy! They held dreams come true. And dreams to come! 

As I am packing my carry-on to come to Minnesota, for a mere few days, I am wondering how to explain all of this to the security guards, as they rifle through my make-up and jewelry. But I will stand tall, knowing everything I really need is already packed in my heart.

But if you see me, the next day off the plane, please forgive my appearance. For there will be jetlag, and it’s quite possible, I will have been tased.


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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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Life’s couture.

Yesterday I saw a photographer on Youtube manipulating a photo to make it seem old — like it was a memory lived, I suppose. The technique took some skill, certainly. And while the end result was interesting, I thought it lacked what the photographer wanted — the depth of an actual experience.  That feeling is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture.  And I began to think, would our time be better spent trying to capture real experiences, by, well, living?

Once the thought was in my head, spinning around like a kid on a ferris wheel — my brain urging “go ’round again, go ’round again — I began to see it everywhere, this attempt at manufacturing a life. I saw it in the catalogs. Buy our ripped jeans! What if we did the work in the jeans we owned? Wore them in the yard, the garden? Hung tools from belts? Bent? Stretched? Bounced children on bent knees? Wore them thread bare by living? 

I saw the paint splattered jeans on the next page. Couldn’t we just actually paint? Splatter our own clothes with life experience? These are the colors that I want to live in — the colors flung from my own hand and heart. 

It was everywhere. This manufacturing. Even with so-called friends. This trying to fill the life-size holes within us, with “likes” and “followers.” Certainly it has its place. I use it here, every day. To connect. Keep the strings attached through time and distance. But nothing will ever replace human contact. Sitting outside on a sunny day, laughing so hard with friends that waists become rendered useless, bent over by the weight of joy and memory. Nothing can replace the feeling of hugging someone, just a little longer. A kiss of a hand. An empathetic, no words needed, smile. A wave that can’t be contained in the hand, but must be lifted in the air with feet jumping! 

I sit here typing, with paint on my shirt. It is valuable, not because it will sell in a catalog, but because I lived in it. Life’s couture. And I will again today! My heart, threadbare as my jeans, telling my brain, “let’s go ’round again, ’round again!!!”


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Prescription Filled.

I could see her from the kitchen window. Her head just above our gate. I couldn’t breathe. It was the old woman from the pharmacy who had just accused me of being a drug dealer, or addict, who could be sure… 

I had been to the pharmacy twice that week. Leaving each time with two garbage bags full. Both Dominique and his son were recovering from surgeries at home, and I, being able bodied (but not yet of sound French mind — not that I am now) was left to go to the pharmacy. I handed the pharmacist my stack of prescriptions, which apparently included an extraordinary amount of morphine. I returned her stare with an apologetic smile — it was my go to response for most things foreign. Then the questioning began. I understood little but the tone, and this was not good. I could feel the heat from behind the counter, and the glare of those waiting in line behind me. I stumbled and fumbled with the few words I knew for husband and back surgery and I’m sorry. They finally allowed me to leave with my “stash” and I sulked out the front door and loaded the car. 

If I hadn’t been sure before, I was now, that certainly I would never get my own insurance card, not to mention visa. I was now a wanted criminal. My worries were confirmed as I saw her face, this pharmacist, waiting at our gate. I screamed something to the likes of “she’s come to get me, and now I’m going to be deported.” Dominique laughed. (Which was less than reassuring.) 

It turns out she had checked out the prescription. Confirmed it. And was bringing the remainder of the drugs that she, by law, had to confirm before distributing. It all makes sense. Now. We laughed about it again this morning, from the safety of our kitchen table. 

When I look back, there have been countless situations like this through the years — not so much drug related — but situations that I thought were simply unsurvivable. It’s almost embarrassing typing that now — unsurvivable. Oh, what we can survive!  I try to keep these memories close at hand, for my own education, but being human, I so easily forget, and I find myself slipping into another trauma — a “trauma” like deciphering shipping codes for FedEx.  Oh, how soon I forget. This is not trauma, but something to be laughed at from a kitchen table.

It gets easier to let these situations go. I still go through them, but I find myself laughing sooner — and I suppose that’s progress. We take our victories where we can.  

Today started out with laughter. They say that’s the best medicine of all. I sit at the kitchen table, prescription filled.


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Worth saving.

The summer months off from school, we called vacation. And they were. We didn’t go anywhere. No hotels or restaurants. No fancy monuments. No positioning for a selfie – I didn’t even own a camera. But it was vacation. A celebration every day. 

I still feel it. Waking up each morning with the summer light. But I have to make an effort. Certainly. Because that feeling can easily get lost in a pile of laundry. 

Yesterday was a beautiful summer day. Blue sky. Green grass. Birds singing. Sprinklers watering. But there was work to be done. Washing. Ironing. Beds to be made. Fighting with the duvet covers, I could feel the “vacation” slipping away. And we’re not given that many. It had to be saved. It was worth saving. 

So I grilled the shrimp. Sauteed the peas. Boiled the fresh pasta. Cut the homemade bread. Let the cheese breathe beside the wine. And we ate slowly in our summer kitchen restaurant. Our vacation was saved. I was saved. 

I was certain after every grade that my summer would never end. Even returning again and again to school, I believed in the eternity of summer. I guess I still do. The magic of my heart’s vacation — that is something to hold on to, something to be saved.


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.


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To build.

I like to watch decorating videos on youtube. I viewed a lovely tour of a woman’s home. The next day, in my feed, another video popped up. I recognized her home in the thumbnail. This, however, was not more about her home, but it was another woman watching the same video I watched and giving her opinion. I didn’t need to see much of it before quitting. By “critiquing”, she meant she was just going to say everything she didn’t like about this woman’s home. Why would I want to see that? But even worse, the next day, (and I’m not kidding), in my feed there was a video of a woman critiquing the woman as she critiqued the very first video.

I have always been one who believed in the builders, the makers — of anything. I like the process. The courage in the attempt. The guts to then show how and what you made. (I just had a very vivid flashback to junior and senior high math! I get it now. It IS about the work.) Anyone can get to the answer. Anyone can buy the completed product. Critique the completed product.

And perhaps I, we, are just using the wrong word here – critique. Because of course, there is always room for “a detailed analysis and assessment of something” (as the dictionary defines critique.) A qualified evaluation that will help us learn and grow. But this is not what these videos were. “I don’t like it” is not really all that helpful.

And it occurs to me, I might be doing the same thing here… ugh… so gathering in my own advice, I will continue to celebrate the makers, those who attempt! Bravo to those who try. I can see it as I type it — “bravo” and “brave” are really just one letter apart – one tiny line. So bravo to the brave who dare cross it! Today, even if it’s just the day itself, let’s make something great!