Jodi Hills

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


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Empathy (just a little more)

I painted Judy Garland about nine years ago for a show in Chicago. She’s started at 8 feet, and through mounting and unmounting, she’s maybe closer to seven now. Chicago was only the first part of her journey. Since then, she made the voyage to France. She has suffered through each leg, not unlike real life, I suppose. She is cracked and chipped, some may say even damaged, but I think that makes her beautiful. I think that makes her real.

I don’t know how she lived her life. I wasn’t there. But I do now how she sang a song. Almost as if her heart were breaking with each note. This is something to me. This is how I see her on the canvas. Without judgement. Because, no one escapes, do we. We all have to survive our wounds, those thrust upon us, those self inflicted. This is how I want to see people. Looking beyond the damage and the dust, to the pure music of their lives. Because it’s there. Let go of the judgement – it’s so noisy! Listen to the music. It’s beautiful.

Judy is recorded as saying,
“…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, a little more loving, and have a little more empathy, and maybe, next year at this time we’d like each other a little more.”

Good morning, World! Today I like you – even more!


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In the mood

This morning, the kitchen radio played us into breakfast with Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” Usually nothing can distract me from my lavender honey, but I had to hear the whole song, start to finish. I was transported back to Jefferson Senior High School. In the band room. Eagerly following the direction of Mr. Bud Christianson, (Christy, as we called him). He had the thickest hair of any human I had ever seen, that waved on his head as sure as the notes on the stand in front of him. He directed us, not with force, but with fun. Every hour in his band room was just that – fun. He’d wiggle and dance up to the podium. We’d seen it every day for three years, yet it still made us smile. He loved music. (And one would have to – really love it – to listen to the way we attempted to play it each day.) But that’s the thing – we played music – it was play. He knew it. We knew it. And it made us love the music, and him even more. We wanted to follow him. 

I can’t imagine the effort it took to contain a roomful of teenagers armed with noisemakers. But he did. When he led us through “In the Mood,” the key was to hold us back, let the song build. And it was exciting. He’d press his hands in a downward motion. Not yet. Still quiet. Wait for it. And we wanted it all the more. Wait. He’d press one hand down, one finger to his lips. And our hearts raced. Release us!  Please, let us go! And then it arrived – Christy through his hands in the air – Baaaam BAAAAAAM!!!!! -we let the notes fly!  What a thrill! Every time. The mood was always music. And we were in it!  I still am!


What a gift he gave us!  We didn’t win any awards. Our only ovations came from our parents, maybe a janitor. Make no mistake though – oh, how we won! I’m still winning. My heart races years later, in a country far away, next to a radio that will never speak Bud Christianson’s name. But I will. Probably for the rest of my life. My shoulders bounce to the beat as I’m typing. Thank you, Christy!


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Harmony.

Harmony.Jan was always first chair of the clarinet section. From the fifth grade, through senior high, I don’t remember a time when she didn’t sit proudly in the first row, right in front of the conductor. I don’t know if she felt the competition. I’m sure she practiced. A lot more than the rest of us. For some reason, I never saw band as a sport. For me, it was about the collective music. As individuals, (but for the exceptions like Jan) we really didn’t sound that good. But there is a phenomenon in music when people perform together, even if not everyone is in tune, or in sync, collectively it just sounds better. And that sound carried us. Held us. Gathered us in. I didn’t think of myself in the second row, I was part of the band. I belonged.

Yesterday, at our Easter table, we gathered. American, French, German. Through the years, we have navigated to our respective chairs. My husband at the head, me just next to him. Grown children – their children, in-laws, all around. It is not lost on me that when I jump from my chair to gather something from the kitchen, more bread, more water, a bigger spoon, I pass by my clarinet that rests in the corner of the library. The music here is sung in many languages, (it doesn’t matter that my French is not that good, their English, not much better). In my own rhythm, I have found my place in the band. It is not a competition. We gather around, we gather in. Conversation and laughter play in tune, and the music gives us a place, a place at the table. The band plays on…