Jodi Hills

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


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Just breathe.

There seemed to be holes everywhere in our neighborhood. Someone was digging a well. Planting a tree. Burying something you preferred not to know about. And as kids, in this neighborhood full of holes, we seemed to be constantly running. Chasing the sun, knowing it would set long before we were ready, and we would be called home.

It was behind our green house that I fell into my first hole. Maybe it was for the sewer pipe, I don’t know, but we were running. I was just a little ahead of Cathy. I turned the corner at full speed, laughing, not looking for danger (I had not yet been exposed). And then, from her perspective, I dropped out of sight. Literally. Flat on my back. I’m not sure who was more surprised. I couldn’t breathe. The wind was knocked out of me. I signaled with my shifting eyes, and head, and somehow she knew, like in every Lassie conversation, to go get a ladder. I say “a ladder,” because in this neighborhood full of holes, there would always be a ladder leaning against someone’s garage door.  By the time she returned, my lungs were once again filled with summer air and I climbed up the wooden rungs. 

Because that’s what we did, you see. We saved each other. And most importantly, I suppose, we offered up the reason to believe that someone would be there for us. And this is what kept us running. For me, it still does. It gives me the strength to keep going, even with the knowledge that life’s path is full of them – these holes that will try to swallow us. I still believe in the kindness of those around me. The ladders that will be offered. The strength to get myself higher. Forever chasing the sun.


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Standing in front of Napoleon’s monument.

Standing in front of the Napoleon monument in Corsica.

They do love their son, Napoleon. I stood there with them in Corsica. I watched them, feeling him. I was so happy for them, gazing with such pride. I walked with them, closer, as the gravel moved softly beneath their feet , closer and closer to their hero, I could feel their excitement build. I felt it too, not so much for myself, but for them, and I was truly happy. A bit envious, maybe, in a good way. We all need a hero from time to time. I thought about the stories and legends and it didn’t really even matter to me if they were true, I celebrated the belief.

I walked by Napoleon’s childhood cave – the cave where they said he looked to the sea and dreamed of what he would be…. What he could do… And a little part of me knew that child…. Heard the waves that he rode on in his youthful dreams. I had heard them too, at Lake Latoka . I would not have a throne or a moment. I would have a diving tower. I would dive. Taking a leap of faith. Conquer not nations, but my own fear. And I would believe.

I sat in the shade of the trees that surrounded the moment, and I didn’t have to envy their joy or hope or pride… I believed too… In the possibility of it all… In the possibility of looking out over the water and having a dream… In the possibility of letting the waves carry you… And I was alive!

My husband’s father is buried in Corsica. We searched for his monument alone, no crowds, but I felt the same reverence. This man had dreamed his own dreams. Married his Lucie, gave life to his sons, one of whom would conquer my heart. Legends are real. I stood in front of one, and beside one, in Corsica.


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Mother helped me believe not all things are bad, many things are good.

How do you know to believe if no one has ever believed in you? 
After the publication of my second book, “Believe,” I was asked to read it to a group of inner city kids in Minneapolis.  I’m not sure I like the term inner city.  In the US, the term inner city has been used as a euphamism for lower income residential districts. I wasn’t labeled this as a kid, probably because I was white, but certainly, in terms of income, I was no different.  Maybe the only difference between us was I had someone who believed in me. My mother.


When I finished reading the book to them, which ends, “I believe in you,” most of the kids were quiet, almost stunned.  I looked around, hoping for some reaction.  I looked directly at the largest boy in the group.  I knew if I could get a response from him, the others might follow.  I smiled in his direction. I kept smiling.  He made eye contact, so I asked how he felt about the book, did he have any thoughts?  He said, with no pity, no hesitation, “No one has ever told me they believed in me before.”  The others nodded.  


My heart wanted to cry, but I kept smiling. I was honored to be the first, I said, but I would not be the last. Once you hear it, it cannot be denied. Never unheard.  Now you must live it. 

We painted a mural for their school with the words below. They grabbed brushes confidently, loudly, boldly, and painted themselves a future.


We are born with our eyes and our hearts wide open. Innocence and youth make it so easy to believe…so easy to fall asleep in someone’s arms, to trust in smiles, to see animals float across the sky…to believe your summer will never end.This gift that we’re given – to not just hope – but truly believe in people and feeling and all these things under the sun…this ability to act like it all matters…where does that gift go? Why does time and experience have to wear it away, instead of building on it? At what point do we lose the courage to believe and then just start hoping? And why do some give up completely?Now, I am not the most courageous of sorts…but I’m not willing to give up this most precious gift, for me or for you. I know it won’t be easy, and I know it shouldn’t be. And I’m going to fight for it, every day. Because inside this beautiful struggle to believe, we are given the power to comfort, to heal, to inspire and to love.As I get older, I know my summers may not last forever, but I’m not going to stop believing in the chances that rise with each morning sun. And I know it matters…it always does…the things we do, the things we say, the lives we lead, and the hearts we touch.I want to see giraffes float by, instead of gray clouds. I want to feel the sun, deep inside of me, even when it isn’t shining. I have to believe in myself enough to have the courage to say “I love you,” and mean it…and have the strength to hear “I love you” and really feel it.I believe all this can happen for me, and I believe it can happen for you.

We hung this in their school. I pray it reached their inner-most souls.  

Hang this on your heart today, “I believe in you.”