Jodi Hills

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


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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Mon préféré

We got a new refrigerator yesterday. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that it’s the most beautiful fridge in the world. My very favorite. It is shiny and clean, and it works! Sure, it doesn’t have all the “bells and whistles” – to be honest, I’m not even certain what that would include. But I’m in love with it. The rack that holds the water bottles – how could anything be so magnificent? It’s ours. And it’s my favorite.

I hold that feeling as I climb the stairs to begin my daily routine. The first of which is to practice my French. I have found a new website that offers up random questions that you can discuss. Today’s question was “Who is your favorite author, and why?” In my office, I am surrounded by books. I love to read. I love writers. I love words. To Kill a Mockingbird sits right behind my head. It is glorious. I remember the first time I read it, and the last (which won’t be the last). Ernest Hemingway rests beneath it, reminding me “there would always be the spring.” There is Elizabeth Strout who so elegantly takes me back to Maine. Joan Didion who inspires me daily. George Saunders. Joyce Carol Oates. Virginia Woolf who challenged me. And John Kennedy Toole who made me laugh out loud by myself. I won’t go through every book and author — there are just too many. And I love them all. But the question lingers, and I think about each word of it. It isn’t who wrote your favorite book. The question is, who is your favorite author. To which I answer, it’s me. Hold on, hold on, hold on… not so fast to judge me… let me explain.

I am not the best writer. I look up to all the authors that I have mentioned and more! So many more. I envy the perfect words they choose – in the perfect order. They are magnificent. And I haven’t sold the most books. I won’t be on everyone’s best seller list. Most people won’t even know my name. No, I am not the best writer. But I will tell you this. Writing has always been my comfort, my joy. I have told you from the age of five, I began writing and drawing. No matter what I was feeling, I would go into my room and put it down on paper. Words have always saved me — from the darkest of times, and they have rejoiced with me in the brightest. They have held me. They have lifted me. And so I write. Every day. And I love it. So, yes, I am my favorite author. I would hope the same for all, with everything!!

I have to believe I am living with the best husband. That I have the best mother. That I am living my best life. (And I have the best refrigerator). Otherwise, what am I in this for??

I want you to be in love with your life. As I have said before, Do something you love. Be someone you love.

Good morning, my friends. Welcome to the day — it just might be my (your) favorite!


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A berry in the window.

I’m currently reading the book, “Sorrow and Bliss,” by Meg Mason. The main character is remembering a period of time when her mother, a sculptor, would get lost in her work and not want to be disturbed. (Her mother is quite the eccentric character and a delicious read.) During these periods she would put a note on her studio for her two daughters, “Girls, before knocking, ask yourself this, is anything actually on fire?”  I’m still laughing. 

I was still a teenager when my mother started dating. She met a man, we’ll call him Roger, (because that was his name). When she (they) wanted a little alone time, she hung a decorative berry in the window of our garden apartment on Jefferson Street to alert me. It was a small strawberry, made of plaster, with a tiny string. So unassuming. So telling. If, when returning home on my ten-speed bicycle, I saw the berry in the window, I knew to keep riding. And joyfully, I did. 

I knew my mother was human when I saw her cry. Sorrow. It was good to now see her humanness for (forgive me) berry different reasons. Bliss. I can’t see a strawberry now without smiling.

I put up my painted berry today, in hopes that she can feel that girlish heart. In hopes that she will know, I will do anything for her to feel that way again. So I keep riding, round and round the block.


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My mom thinks I’m pretty.

I made a magnet of that years ago. It made me laugh. I used to say it, when I made a mistake, or did something stupid…”My mom thinks I’m pretty.”  (as if to say, well, sure I did this, but nevertheless…)

It still makes me laugh, but I suppose, there’s a lot of truth behind it. I knew, I know, always, even in my lowest moments, in her lowest moments, she loves me. And that tickles my heart in the most glorious way.

And to think she knew how to do it, when her mother (bless her heart) wasn’t fast and loose with the compliments (it just wasn’t the time, nor the way.) But if I think again, maybe that’s exactly why she knew how to do it. 

It isn’t because they’ve never been knocked down, these people who stand so tall — I think it’s probably because they have. Surround yourself with these people, these unexpected beauties! They will have a story to tell and a heart to share. They will make you laugh, and help you cry. Not much more beautiful than that!


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Heart song.

My mother had just begun piano lessons. Only a little girl. I don’t know how many lessons she had, but not many, and it was in these few moments that this piano teacher (and I loosely use the word teacher, because clearly she was not, as you will see in a second), it was this awful woman that said, not to my grandparents (which would have been bad enough) no, she said it to my mother, this sweet little hopeful fingered girl, she told her, “You’re wasting your parents’ money.” I’m still aghast! What a soul crushing thing to say. Now, my mother may have never become a concert pianist, but we’ll never know. And it was only for her to decide. But she didn’t get that chance. Then.

Most of our children of the world will not become professional athletes, professional singers, or dancers, or painters. But we aren’t raising “professionals,” we are raising humans. Humans with thoughts and hopes and dreams and souls. And it takes a long time to build a soul, filling it with music and movement and kindness and possibilities. And we should never be defined by money (I guess that’s what we are basing the word professional on). We can still be dancers, even if we make our living at the bank. We can be singers if we sing. Painters if we paint. And we get to decide.

It took a long time, but she got there, my mother…After all the tears and questions she realized that only she could decide if her heart was disposable or not…and it wasn’t. It was bruised and possibly even broken at times, but the amazing organ that it was, is, it kept beating, keeping time to her own true rhythm, the beat that would soothe her, save her, and play once again, the lovely heart song that only she could create.


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Still, and again.

I thought the bottle was magic. It worked every time. If I was scared, carrying the random worry from the darkness that any night can bring, my mother would put me in my pajamas, brush my hair, then wash it with Johnson’s Baby shampoo. No more tears it said, right on the label.  And it was right. Hair dry, tucked safely into bed, I was no longer afraid, or scared, or worried. I was saved. No more tears. Pure magic. 

Years later, I realized it wasn’t the shampoo, but my mother. It wasn’t magic, but love. (But maybe that’s what love is – pure magic – that will always save us.)

In the shower today, I was feeling a bit anxious about the world. Covid. War. So much to be worried about. I washed my hair. Dried it. Went to my studio, walking past the words that I placed there intentionally. “The answer is still, and again, love.” I need to see them. Remind myself that I have been loved. I am still loved. I have so much love to give. Cheeks dry, above a large grin, I begin to create. Whatever you do today, do it with all the magic that love can bring. And we will be saved.


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A pocket full.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” she would say to me. Nothing I said was crazy or stupid, or even childish, even though I was merely a child. This is one of the best gifts my mother gave me. She listened. 

I was a dreamer. She knew this. Right from the start. She didn’t have money to feed these dreams. Didn’t know the “right people.” But she had something better. She believed in them, me, and allowed them to come to life. “What is it you’re dreaming of?” she asked. I would tell her. And she grabbed the words, as if they lingered in the air, and handed them to me. “Not put it in your pocket,” she’d say. “We always need a dream in our pocket.”

When I got older, we loved to take trips to Chicago. A long weekend would be filled with shopping and walking and museums and coffee and wine and more shopping. On the drive home, we always filled our pockets with what would be the next visit. 

Before leaving for the US last month, I purchased a new sketch book. Just five euros, but something to look forward to. Priceless. In it yesterday I painted a woman’s portrait. I hope you can see it in her eyes – she has a dream in her pocket. And so do I. Always will.


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New!

I don’t think it’s too spot on that this city is called New — New York. Every time I come here it does feel new, and probably more importantly, so do I! “Ok,” I ask myself, “what are you going to see, learn, create from all of this?” Because it’s easy to lose the magic. Magic relies on both the magician and the viewer – you have to want to see it. And, oh, how I want to see it, be it! I always have – probably because I grew up with a magician.

When I was a little girl, we heard the tales of New York, Paris… heard that everyone dresses up there — everything is elevated. I’ve been to both cities, many, many times, and it may not be completely true any more, not for everyone, but I still believe in it — this dressing for success — I suppose my mother taught me that. And it was never about “putting on airs”, it was more about being good enough, and I don’t mean for “them,” (whoever they are) I mean proving to yourself that you are in fact good enough, good and enough, more than enough to walk along, beside, within, outside, along, every day in this world.

When I was a teenager, inside our humble apartment, each morning before 7am, my mother worked her own magic. She pulled out a neatly hung ensemble from her small bedroom closet, freshly ironed, and got dressed for the Superintendent’s Office of School district 206. She was tall and thinned by angry words that no woman should ever hear. But she was beautiful. Beautiful because she made the choice to release herself from the pain, and become new! She made the choice, every day, to present her best self. And I smiled and cheered, front row.

So today I will walk down this New York street with my head held high, out of respect for my mother, my self, and this magical new day!!!! As the song says, “It’s a new dawn, a new day, it’s a new life, and I’m feelin’ good!”


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One moment, please.

It may have been Mark Twain, (some give credit to Charles Dudley Warner) but someone once said, 

“Everybody Talks About the Weather, But Nobody Does Anything About It.”

My mother used to operate the switchboard for Alexandria Public Schools. Every winter those phones went crazy. Everyone wanted to talk about the weather! Are the buses going to be late? Why are the buses going to be late? If the buses are going to be an hour late, what time will they come? With the patience of a Nordic saint, my mother answered each call. “One moment please…” And the next call would come in. “What are you going to do about this damn storm?” he asked, not politely. She held her breath. Knowing she had her own damn storm to deal with. This life. I suppose everyone does. And most people don’t do anything about it. But she wanted to. And she did. She went to work every day. Put on her best clothes. Her best smile, sometimes merely painted on, but on none the less. And she worked, not just at this job, but at this life. To make it better for her. To make it better for me. Because she knew it was all just a moment. One moment. And she was going to live it. He shouted again on the phone line. She smiled. She was going to be more than fine. “One moment please…”
Sent from my iPad


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Tremble.

I learned a new word yesterday, and not in French, but Latin. Spolia. Spolia is now an art historical term for the recycling of architectural fragments. A fragment of an old building is taken from its original context and reused in a different context. This has happened throughout history. Usually these pieces are not taken at random. It first began perhaps to symbolize a new ruler to rulers of the past, for example in the Arch of Constantine, fragments of sculptures honoring Marcus Aurelius and Trajan were added to symbolize the equal greatness of Constantine. The first time I saw this was in Chicago at the Tribune Tower. I thought it was beautiful, but I didn’t have the word for it then.

I suppose, as humans, we do the same. I hope we are doing the same. Giving honor to the best of those that have come before us. When my Grandmother passed away, I wrote a poem for her. My way of adding a piece of her to my heart. It still holds me. These pieces of her, my mother — what a foundation! I stand strong today because of them, for them, forever with them.