Jodi Hills

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

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On Wobbly Knees.

Last night I finished reading the book Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. To simplify my review, I will just say, “Yes.” Was it good? Yes. Should I read it? Yes. Will I be moved? Yes. Will I learn something? Yes. Is it about horses? Yes. And more? Oh, Yes!!! It spans generations, covering the issues of slavery, racism, the Civil War, art, humanity — then and now. How far we’ve come, how extraordinarily far we have to go.

I suppose I was first drawn to read it because of the central figures of the horse paintings themselves. But then it became so much more. And that is the beauty of art. When it is done well, framed on canvas or bound in words, it conveys a story. A story so fluid that it carries you — carries you with the grace and elegance of chestnut legs in the Kentucky bluegrass.

But what’s it about??? Everyone always wants the short answer. I’m sorry, but the short answer is – read it.

It’s not lost on me that hanging above my head, as I turned from page to page, was my humble painting of a horse. It is entitled, “Unconditional.” And for me that is love. But how do we get there? The only path that I have found is empathy. And the clear path to empathy is education. When we know more — we do more. When we know better — we do better. So I read. And I read some more. And I write. And I write some more. I paint. And, well, more. And I just try to do better. Live better. Racing on my own fragile legs. Racing against time, and bigotry. Racing against everyone who is more than willing to bet against you. Racing away from the conditional.

There was a popular song when I was a teenager, by Dan Fogelberg — Run for the Roses. My mom bought the 45. I played it again and again. For I was, just as the song began, “on wobbly knees, with mama beside you, to help you along…” And I was carried by the melody. Carried by the words —

“It’s breeding and it’s training
And it’s something unknown
That drives you
And carries you home
And it’s run for the roses
As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance.”

I didn’t have the word for it then – this “empathy” – this joining in the dance. But I could see the path. And I wanted to be on it. I still do. I’m still wobbling along, but I’m still learning. Maybe we all can. It’s more than “high time.”

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Book lover.

Yesterday afternoon, I went through all the motions, but something was missing. It felt like my best friend had left town… well, not my best best friend, but a really good friend… and I felt a little hollow, like this really good friend came for a vacation and after having the most wonderful time they had to leave. And because we were good friends, we went deep, all the old and new stories. And we laughed and cried, and my heart was rattled in the best way. So letting go, I was bathed in a melancholy of saying goodbye to this very good friend… who was not really even a real friend friend, but a book — that’s right — yesterday afternoon I finished a book — a really good book.

“Now what?” I thought. “Am I supposed to just find a brand new friend — a new book — immediately?” We barely said goodbye and my heart tells my brain “just keep thinking about them!” “Remember when they… and then they did that, and you clutched your heart, and then they stayed up late with you, right beside you until you fell asleep… How can you just let them go? They’re still right there – on the nightstand.”

“You’re right. I know it,” I tell my heart. “But wait, I’m just going to get a sample, on my ipad, it’s not like a real book. I probably won’t even like it.”

I scroll through all of the latest reviews, book sites, what-to-read-nexts… “Well, here, I’ll just download this one. It’s not like I care. I don’t really need it.” One hand on the friend friend, or book book, and I hit “sample.”

I tried to read a little before I slept. But the memory was still so fresh. Still alive beside me. And I missed them — all the characters in Cloud Cuckoo Land. I remember when they said “she leaned into the needle of loneliness…” and I put my ipad down. Stopped the new sample. And said a proper goodbye.

I’m jealous of you, you who haven’t read it yet. You who get to experience it for the first time. If it’s possible for you to have any outside thoughts when you are reading, please tell them that this book lover misses them.

If you’re not a reader — (and I so hope you are) — find something that makes you feel the same way. They say runner’s get a “high” — maybe you can do that. Or garden. Or sing. Play an instrument. Bake. Eat. Travel. But love! Whatever you do — love it! Love it so much that you are willing to let it crack you open, and through the cracks will come spewing the words that you’ll have to share with the humans that you love even more! Share your words. Meld your stories. Live.

It’s a new day and my joyful broken heart is ready to love again.

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Read. Rinse. Repeat.

Last night I finished the book, “Big little lies,” by Liane Moriarty.  Oooh, I want to say things, but the ride was so good because of the not knowing — so I’ll only say this, enjoy the ride.  

I am a reader.  I have always loved to read.  I love libraries and books and ebooks and magazines and well, things with words.  I love the smell of slight mildew on paper, getting so deep into a book that you’re almost wet. This escape, travel, immergence, I love it all, all the time.  

There is an art to the book review. I love listening to the New York times book reviews podcast.  They know how to review a book.  For real reviews, I recommend them.  As for me, I won’t give you the thumbs up, or likes, or ranking, I can only review a book by how much I miss it when I’m done reading it.  

I have been voracious this past year, and often lonesome.  If I must rank, I would have to say the book I miss the most is Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell.  Not since college has my heart and mind been cracked this wide open, where so much gets in and rattles around, and remains, a permanent jangling.  I remember sitting in the classroom, reading Shakespeare aloud, dancing about the textbooks.  What was this noise?…this ballet of words, straining muscles and stretching brain limbs. This is Hamnet. It will test you and bruise you and comfort you. It will leave you with a tiny little hole in your heart, the shape of a feather and a page.  If you like that, (which I do) (my husband thinks that sounds like pure torture), then open up Hamnet and break your heart. 

If you’d like to make some new friends this year, let me introduce the following.  I won’t review each one, but I will tell you that I really enjoyed our time together!

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

Separation Anxiety, by Laura Zigman

Dear Edward, by Anne Napolitano

Chances Are…, by Richard Russo

Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson

The Shakespeare Requirement, by Julie Schumacher

Every single book by Elizabeth Strout – I mean every single book – many times!

Writers and Lovers, by Lily King

Pretend I’m Dead, by Jen Beagin

Words between Us, by Erin Bartels

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones

Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Younson

Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips

The Most Fun we ever had, by Claire Lombardo

The Dutch House, by Anne Patchett

Fleishman is in trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

The Editor, by Steven Rowley

This should get you started.  No time is ever wasted inside the pages.  Read anything.  Everything. Become a part of the story, your story. It’s beautiful!