Jodi Hills

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

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Louder and louder.

We lived in the upper level and rented out the basement to Tech School students. I didn’t have the words for mortgage, or need even. I just thought it was something people did. I suppose everything is normal if you are living it. 

They were always boys. I had a banana seat bike and an unbroken trust. (I would outgrow both in a matter of a few years.) He was enrolled in the class that was building a canoe. We had a small second gravel drive path next to the basement entrance. He had the shell set up on saw horses. I was curious. I started asking questions. I didn’t know what my 6 year old self would need with this knowledge, but I desired it just the same. I didn’t know what insulation was, nor what it looked like. I can’t explain the why of what happened next. Maybe I was an annoying little girl. But I was a little girl. I asked him what it was. I didn’t notice his gloves and long sleeves. He said go ahead and touch it. It’s nice. Really, go ahead, rub your arm against it. I did. My arm burned with a million little cuts. I was horrified. Why would he do that? It perhaps stung even more than my arm. And you better not tell anyone, he yelled. I ran off in horror. But what horrifies me now is that I didn’t — tell anyone.

Are we preconditioned to “not make a fuss.” Don’t make any trouble. Where did this come from? 

I had a hair appointment with a new woman last evening. She was lovely. When she said, let’s step over to the sink to wash your hair, I told her, calmly and honestly, “I don’t like this part. I actually hate it.” She smiled, and then realized, oh, you really do. “Yes,” I said, “You’re lovely, but I hate the position. It’s so uncomfortable. Always has been.” “No problem,” she said. “I’ll be fast. I don’t really like it either.” It was said. Survived. Forgotten. Nothing. 

I told my friend afterwards. She said she struggles with it too. It hurts her neck and arm, but has never said anything. It’s crazy, but we were both amazed that I said something. Why did you say it today?  “It was just enough already.” We both smiled. And the relief. She said she would do the same on her next appointment.

These are baby steps for sure. But steps are steps. And we take them. No need for fanfare, just doing better for ourselves and for each other. We speak our truths without apologies. Strong and beautiful, we decide the normals we want to live in.  Tell everyone!

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And stronger I ran.

They tarred over the playground of Washington Elementary. I have the scars on my knees to prove it. 

Back by the swings there were two horizontal poles. I’m guessing they used to hold the planks of wood to form teeter-totters. Maybe they thought the teeter totters were too dangerous, so they removed them. But that didn’t stop us.

I don’t know who thought of it first, but we all did it. If you wrapped one leg over the top of the pole, grabbed it with your arms underneath, forming a circle around the pole, then kicked the other leg from underneath you, you could spin around the pole like a human hula hoop. When it worked, it was glorious. Dizzying. Exhilarating. But when it didn’t…

My sweaty hands slipped from my leg and I landed hard against the pavement — so hard, the very breath that carried me, fled faster than any spinning hoop, fled from my body and flattened me against the tar. No air could get it. I panicked. So panicked I couldn’t even cry out. The weight of it all, against my chest. It seemed too much to bear. It was Shari, or Jan, or maybe even Cindy, one of them said, just wait, it will come back. The air will come back. They gathered around me. The air they breathed found its way to me. We had each other. Even then. And stronger I ran, lifted with the knowledge of having survived. It still carries me. Carries us. Stronger. Together.

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O’Keeffe and Ukraine.

I’m currently reading the book, “The Other Side of the Painting,” by Wendy Rodrigue. An accomplished art historian, she is also the wife of George Rodrigue, the Louisiana artist widely known for his Blue Dog series.  I have never really been a fan of his work, so you might be curious why I would read this book. I am a fan of Louisiana, the culture, the history, and all things art. She explores in this book, not just her husband’s work, but explores his education, influences, from famous artists to the Cajun culture. All good information. There is one thing though, that I don’t agree with, that stops me long enough to write this, and that is his disregard for Georgia O’Keeffe. And it’s a pretty strong disregard — probably more accurately, a dislike. I happen to like her – probably more accurately, really like her. Now, certainly, Georgia O’Keeffe does not need me to come to her defense. She has stood the test of time, her art, her lifestyle. She, in my opinion, and that of most of the artworld, is far more accomplished than George Rodrique, so what does it matter? Why would I bother to voice my opinion, my respect? Why would I stand up for her? Sometimes, I think, what we stand for, says as much about us, as the other person, or the situation. Who we are, as humans, shows through. 

Once again, or still, or on top of, we find ourselves in a global crisis. So in my humble, humble voice, I say that I stand with and for the Ukrainian people. I believe in peace. Humanity. I even believe that the most humble of voices matter. So I stand. I listen. I read. I pray. 

Georgia O’Keeffe writes, “I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to.” I want to be brave. I want us all to be brave. To believe! To let our humanity shine through. It has to matter. Please, let us stand!

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I didn’t say hardly anything from the 1st grade until 5th grade. I suppose I was a little afraid — but I think it was more that I was finding my voice. Listening. Gathering. Learning. Confidence fueled by friendship, in the 5th grade teamroom of Washington Elementary, I started to find it — this voice.

Barb, Lori, Wendy and I went into the janitor’s closet just across from our classroom. Sitting against the mops and buckets, we laughed and encouraged and talked. And talked. Perhaps it was the inspiration of hard work all around us, (for it is work), we gained the confidence of “something to say!” We were studying school safety, so the four of us decided to put on a play. Oh, the confidence of gathered youth! Of course we did! I went straight from “mouth closed” to “center stage.” They clapped for us, and we clapped for ourselves. What joy, this confidence. My tiny voice inside of me was getting louder and louder.

Every morning, in France, I go to my new “janitor’s closet” to work on my French. It is terrifying to raise my voice here. I don’t yet have the confidence of my 5th grade self. But each day, with a new word, I speak a little louder. Sometimes at the breakfast table. (where sometimes my husband claps for me). At the grocery store (where I sometimes clap for myself). And slowly it comes.

We will be challenged every day. From language to health. Relationships. Struggles. And we will be asked to do the work. Some days will always be easier than others. But on the hardest ones, I must think back to my blossoming self. How excited I was to dare — dare to find my voice — My self! How excited I was to say, Listen up world, my voice is getting louder and louder.

Today, surround yourself with those who will applaud your attempt! Dare to join in the clapping. Join the conversation of this wonderful life!