Jodi Hills

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

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Above the gap.

We were in an elevator in Chicago. The Lenox House Suites. I was just out of college. My first job in advertising. The magazine I placed ads in had comped rooms at this hotel. Twice a year I would take my mother. We stayed for free. More than that, I suppose, we were free! Free to be whomever we wanted. Free from the knowledge of our pasts. Free from judgements or any “should-haves” or supposed-tos”. We were brand new. As new as the city after the great fire. (And we had lived through our own.)

The small elevator was filled with eager visitors — ready to hit Michigan Avenue. It was always slow, but this ride seemed a little more clunky. It lurched its way to the ground floor,and then fell about a foot or so lower. The doors opened. Everyone froze. Should we move? Were we safe? Murmurs of “someone should do something…” “should we call someone?” “someone needs to do something…”  

I heard my mother say quite loudly and clearly, “Not me,” as she elbowed her way from the back of the elevator, clearing a path for her and me, and she hoisted herself above the gap, turned back for me, and we were off.

I suppose that’s what I love most about her. She decided. (Still does.) When her world was falling apart around her, she decided, “not me.”  Just like Peggy Lee, she seemed to ask, “Is that all there is to a fire?” “Is that all there is????”  We were dancing on Michigan Avenue before the others even left the elevator.

Today, I, we, hoist ourselves above the gap, and keep dancing…


The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.

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The horse on Michigan Ave.

The Ralph Lauren (RL) restaurant in Chicago was the reason I painted this horse. We had just finished shopping a marathon on Michigan Avenue, my mom and I, and we stopped — not really choosing this restaurant for the culinary experience, but the location. Our feet agreed this was the place for a break. Our table faced the wall of photographs and paintings. All elegantly lit. Draping our hearts in mahogany. Glasses of wine refreshing and gently embellishing the glorious minutes of the day.

We were shoppers. Not big buyers. Perhaps it was the beauty of the clothing. The curated displays. The bustling sidewalks that didn’t care how we got there, but swept us up in a sea of acceptance. We were welcomed. Good enough. So we walked each street. Entered each store. Michigan Avenue didn’t know that we used to put items on lay-a-way in a small town in Minnesota. Michigan Avenue opened its doors, and we danced in and out.

We sat in the restaurant and smiled. Held up the few items we had purchased. Laughed. Praised. Clapped even. And sighed. Breathing in so deeply as to never forget the warmth of this day. The warmth of being together. The warmth of shared experience. The warmth of shared interests. The warmth that would carry us through the coldest of days.
There was a single horse on the wall. So elegant. Such grace. And so I painted that horse. It hangs in a bedroom across the sea, and takes me back to that street — that comfort — that joy — that rest — that warmth of time well spent.

Find your way to that place. It’s waiting, just for you.


Look what we’re protecting.

The Art Institute of Chicago was the first major museum I ever visited.

It felt like I had been walking forever in the cold and wind from the hotel. Barely looking up. The cold of the sidewalk seemed to seep into my shoes, up my legs, slowing each step. The sidewalks were clear of snow, but I still felt like I was trudging. I could see the crowd of feet before me. The stairs. I stopped. Looked up. There they were. Standing guard. The lions. So majestic. So beautiful. Proud even. And why not?! Look what they were protecting! Before I stepped one foot inside the museum, I knew this was important.

It was easy to recognize what the lions represented. I had seen it my whole life. I had lived it. My mother had always been the lion who stood guard in front of my heart. Told the world it was important. Valuable – this life. As I grew older, I tried to do the same for her. I hope I did. I hope I still am. Because it is something. She is something!

The roles can and will reverse, at any given moment, throughout our lives, switching back and forth from the protector to the protected. But if we can approach both roles with a ferocity of grace, then each cold and trudging step along the way, will be more than worth it!



Walking through airport security the uniformed guard waved her hand from my head to toes, as if to encompass my ensemble of jewelry and clothing, mid-wave she said, “What’s this all about?” What’s this all about? Did I have the time to explain it was my heart, my soul, my mother, my identity, my journey from the Christmas catalogs of youth to the malls of Minneapolis, to the streets of Chicago and New York and Paris? Well, she maybe didn’t need to hear all that, nor the line behind me… so I simply said, “Fashion…?” She passed me through.

But it was more than fashion. This I knew for sure. My mother had always taught me that. It was a healer. It was get up and get dressed, even when you had strep throat. It was a motivator, get dressed and go to work, even if your husband has left you. It was possibility – a look in the mirror and maybe, just maybe I could be this person I dressed to be. It was all those things. It was the secret my mother shared with me, knowing that it would save her, save me.

My mother and I often went to Chicago. Our first trip opened a whole new world. Entering this city with the freedom of no one knowing you, and the comfort of knowing you belong. Sure it started with Michigan Avenue. Of course, because it is, well, magnificent. The stores are lovely, proven, and grand. We beat the pavement, ate the food, tried on the clothes, carried the sacks until the handles made ridges in our wrists. It was glorious.

The more familiar we became with the city, the more we began to wander off the magnificent mile. One day we turned onto Oak Street. It sounded like a name out of a school play. An intimate place. So welcoming. Almost quiet. It didn’t have the shout of Michigan Ave, it had a whisper. A secret. The street smiled as we walked. It knew we were going to find our way there. It opened the little boutique doors, and said, we’ve been expecting you. Beautiful clothes, that only a select group had tried on, viewed, bothered to admire. And we were part of the few, the familiar, the welcomed and it was more than magnificent, it was glorious.

Maybe it’s because that’s how we knew each other. It is easy to show people the Michigan Avenue of your life, but the few that know your Oak Street, now that is something! Gather yourself there.

Yesterday, I was viewing a new store online. I knew my mom would like these fashions. I know her. I can wave my hand in front of her and tell you “what this is all about.” So I checked the store locator to see if there was one near her. The nearest was in Chicago… on Oak Street. I smiled and traveled back immediately.

Last, my husband and I looked at the website together. He knows my Oak Street. I am gathered in.