Jodi Hills

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


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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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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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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 twirl.

Some mothers make a path. Mine made a runway.

It was my first job out of university. Just sixty miles from my hometown, but it was a huge step – maybe all first steps are. I was to make a fashion show for wives of clients. I had never done anything like it before, but Crossroads mall was just down the road, and I had indeed been training there, with my mother since I was a little girl.

I don’t remember her first response. I wasn’t even really asking. We both knew she was going to be in it. She had loved fashion her whole life. She was made for this – the runway. Even if others in her small town didn’t always see it, I could. So clearly. What a joy. A privilege. To see someone.

We went to the mall for fittings. Confidence grew from giggles to twirls. It all went so fast. Soon the music was playing and the lights were shining. Her outfit was ahead of mine. My heart was beating so quickly. And then I saw her. At the end of the runway. Everything was in slow motion. I saw her twirl. And in that moment, I knew I could do anything.

The music, that seemed now to be coming directly from my mom, carried me down the runway.

There’s a song that asks the question, “How do we keep the music playing?” I just smile, and know, for me, it will never end.


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Tested.

As we get older it’s not unusual to still dream about getting tested in school. Running late for class. Fears of not knowing the subject. All those nightmares of feeling vulnerable and unprepared. I just never expected to be living them. 

To obtain my long-term visa in France, I had to be tested on my language skills. (Remember, I had none when I arrived.) I took the first test, and passed. (I’ll skip over the tears and fears here.) I thought that would be the last time. I was wrong. I needed to take the next level test this year. It sounds a little silly, even as I type this, but I was terrified. In my head I had passing and failing all tangled up with being loved, accepted, included…worthy. The logical part of my brain (which doesn’t often win out) whispered that wasn’t true, but I couldn’t hear it over the fear. Now some might say, that’s ridiculous…nothing to be afraid of, and that may be the sane thing to say, but the fact is, I was afraid. It took all the courage I could summon up to study every day, three times a day. Study and cry, and study some more. 

I put on my favorite dress and prayed it would be lucky. I took the four part, full day exam, and spoiler alert, I survived. I waited five weeks to get the results, which came in an email yesterday. I saw the tag line. My heart was pounding. If I didn’t open it, I still had a chance. My brain said open it, but the blood pounding in my ears said no! I opened it. Scanned the first line – and there it was – “Felicitations” (Congratulations) — I passed. 

In the afternoon, I painted a picture. Nothing in my life had really changed. I was still loved. But maybe I quieted the voices of fear, just a little. I smiled with each stroke. Knowing, I had been brave. And in telling you, maybe, with whatever it is you’re facing, you can read these words, look at the painting, and quiet your own voices of fear…just a little.

Before writing this today, I studied my French lesson, as I do every day. It’s not over, there is so much to learn. And the world will continue to test. But I made it to this day! We made it to this day! And this is a reason to celebrate. Felicitations, my brave friends! Felicitations!