Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

Before the doing.

The scariest part of doing something, anything really, is always before the doing. Once you are doing it, you’re doing it! Time, energy, thought, are all put toward the action itself.

I love to paint dancers. For me, they symbolize the transition from complete vulnerability to pure beauty. Now, I suppose that can be said about every form of artistry — singing, painting, acting, playing — and perhaps the most artistic (and surely most vulnerable act of all) — to love. And it is easy to see the beauty of those in mid dance, of the completed painting, the lovers in love, but what I want to capture is the beauty of the pre-dance. The beauty in the vulnerability. The bravery, just before you let yourself go. Because I think if we allow ourselves to see that this too is beautiful, we won’t be so afraid of it. We won’t get stopped before we even begin.

And so I paint the dancers, pre-dance. A gift I want to give to all of the little boys and girls that dance around the world, and the one that still fumbles around in my heart.

Be brave, you dancers, and painters, you musicians and builders, you teachers and lovers. Let’s be beautiful! Let’s dare the daily dance!


Leave a comment

The audacity to just enjoy!

We went to Margaux’s dance recital. The young girls clearly ranged from elegant to stumbling. It was easy to tell them apart, but not if you looked at the parents and grandparents in the audience. Everyone beamed and clapped – to them, us, there was no difference, only the beauty of the dance. 

During my college summer vacations, I worked for the Recreation Department. In the mornings at the high school gym, I helped teach gymnastics to very young girls. Some were there because they had potential, and others maybe just to get a grip on a slight weight problem. Either way, I spent the summer getting kicked in the head spotting wayward aerials. Just as with dance, we held an exhibition (and I use the term loosely) at the end of the summer. Some had improved. Others still barely fit into their pink leotards, but again, everyone beamed. They were a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Children have it right. This daring to be imperfect. This courage to attempt. This audacity to just enjoy!  I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want anyone to lose this. I suppose to make this happen we have to continue to see the world with our hearts. To see others, strangers, in the same light as we do these misstepping young dancers, these fumbling gymnasts. What if we saw each other in this way?  Wouldn’t that be something to applaud! Something to make us all beam!  

Maybe today, we can all try a little harder to find our way to this light. Enjoy!


Leave a comment

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…


Leave a comment

Little dancer.

Two weeks ago when we arrived in New Orleans, just before the whirlwind of Mardi Gras had started, we were, for the most part, alone. Proof of this, we walked up to the Cafe du Monde and got an order of beignets in one minute. No line. Delicious in so many ways. We left New Orleans to travel the south, and returned yesterday to the crowds, donned in beads and noise and purples and greens and golds. The line for the Cafe du Monde stretched around the block. We smiled at each other, knowing, that just a moment before, it was ours. We tasted it without the validation of a long line.

While the crowds marched through the French quarter, we took a drive. I’m not sure what led us to the house where Degas lived for a brief time just before Impressionism took hold — I say I’m not sure, but I have a pretty good idea — our hearts usually lead us — maybe it was the French flag, the statue of the little dancer girl — there was no crowd to follow, no line to get in, just the feeling of creation in the air, and we pulled over immediately. This master of fine art, lived here. Here. Maybe it was just a brief moment, but we could feel it. And it was ours.

My grandparents lived in a farm house. No one will line up to see it, but I remember each door. Each entryway. I remember the smell of damp coats hanging. The creaks of the stairs. The sink full of dishes. The sign on the kitchen counter that read, “I should have danced all night.”

My mother will be moving out of her apartment soon. Some will say it was just four walls. But inside it was coffee and conversation. Wine and dreams. Fashion shows and laughter. Tears of tenderness. Home. Here – no crowds, no lines, but with hearts fully validated, oh, how we danced!


Leave a comment

Nothing else would I trade for this.

I heard a familiar voice in the dressing room next to me. I had met my mother at the Macy’s in St. Cloud to do a little shopping for the upcoming launch of my book, Friend. As I lived in Minneapolis, and she in Alexandria, it was half way for us both. I opened the door a crack to see who belonged to the voice. A short, blonde woman passed by – oh, Kari Ness – I had gone to high school with her. My mom popped in. I think I saw Kari Ness, I said. We both stepped out. No one was there. We continued through the racks of clothes. And there she was. She introduced us to her mother-in-law. And it began. I heard something about fashion, and she owned a store, San Francisco I think, it was all happening so quickly. What are you here for? she asked. Before I answered, “What are you shopping for? What do you need? A black and white event, I said. For my new book. She grabbed me by the hand. Took me to dresses. Put this on. I’m sure I said yes – who knew at this point? What’s happening? my mom asked. I didn’t know, but we were both smiling from ear to ear. And you’ll need shoes, she said, and started instructing the clerks in the shoe department. I don’t even remember trying on the dress, but I was wearing it. Three clerks were running to get shoes for me. Kari’s mother in law was directing the Macy’s orchestra and all we could do was dance along. It was glorious! Within minutes I had a fabulous dress, and hosiery and shoes and a handbag. There, she said. I’m not certain that I even spoke to Kari. I hope I thanked her. It was spectacular. For a few minutes in the St. Cloud Macy’s, I was a princess! I was a model! And it was a ride I will never forget.


My mom and I went to Ciatti’s restaurant afterward. Bags in tow. Ordered two glasses of wine, and relived it again and again with each sip.


Bobby Darin sang a song, “And the curtain falls.” It plays in my head as I remember these moments:


Your cheers and laughter
will linger after
They’ve torn down these dusty walls
If I had this to do again
And the evening were new again
I would spend it with you again
But now the curtain falls.
Your cheers and laughter
will linger after
They’ve torn down these dusty walls
People say I was made for this
Nothin’ else would I trade for this…


Life happens where and when you allow it. People and places will take you on unforgettable rides – I only encourage you to take them. Hop on! Your cheers and laughter will forever linger after. I hear them now!


Leave a comment

And so she would dance.


A writer writes. A singer sings. A painter paints. You are these things because you do them. You live them. Not because someone gives you the title or pays you to do it. You decide.


For years. I painted in my bathroom. It, (along with the kitchen), was the only place that was not carpeted. It just made sense. Large canvases I could elevate on the side of the bathtub, and a closed water closet made for a perfect seat. Really large canvases could be upright, while I stood and reached through the bathroom door. I was a painter in my studio. As simple as that. And I loved it, just as much as I love painting now in Cezanne’s back yard in the south of France.


If you’re waiting for the perfect time. The perfect place. You’ll never do anything. I’ve always believed if you really want to do something, I mean really want to do it, you’ll find a way with who you are and what you have.


The easiest thing to find in this life is an excuse not to do something. Oh, those excuses, they are readily available. Waiting, cocked and loaded. But what if we took another look.


My mother loved to go dancing at the Glenwood Ballroom. Big bands. Big shoes. Big nights. She loved to dance. The truly big names of the big bands stopped coming. She had kids to raise. A job to work. But she still found time to teach me how to dance. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Slow, quick-quick. Step, place, three, cha-cha. A heel and a toe and polka step. We had a kitchen floor. We had music. We were dancers. Simple as that.


And I guess she taught me more than just how to dance. She taught me how to see. See what I had, right in front of me. Appreciate it. Use. it. Find a way. So today I will paint. Today, I will dance!


1 Comment

Sans temps. (Without time. )

My mother-in-law is without time. Some days she is forty years old. Some days 60. I suppose after nearly a century you should be allowed to choose your own age. And she does. Without apology, she is young, she has babies, and thinks you are the crazy one for getting older. She’s probably right.

There is a young girl that I have painted. Little girl blue. She is just about to dance. She’s just a tiny bit afraid, but determined. And you know she will do it. I see her every morning. In my bathroom mirror, her reflection is just beside mine. I put on my dress, and I too, am without time. I, too, have the legs of youth, and can hear the music. There is no yesterday, or tomorrow, just the open blue of today, and I can’t waste it. I let go the fear of time passing, and simply dance.


1 Comment

And so she would dance

Perhaps the most useless thing I almost learned in junior high was square dancing.
At Central Junior High, 6th – 9th grade, the girls took physical education, not in the gym, but in the girls’ gym. To get to the girls’ gym, you had to take the back staircase, down a small tunnel-like hallway (which they painted pink, as if the point hadn’t already been made), through the final doorway into a windowless box. 

Once a year, we were invited into the center of the school, gleaming wood floors, bleachers, windows, two entrances, and a stage — the boys’ gym — for square dancing with the boys. 
It was almost shocking at first, the glow of it all, but reality unpacked its bags as we were dosie-doed for one week, then returned to the pink of the back stairwell. 


I loved sports in both junior and senior high, but it wasn’t until after college that I found my place. I began to run and bike, by myself. The open roads. The wind in my hair. The thoughts. The music in headphones. The books on tape. This was my world. This for me, was winning.


On my morning walk, I listened to a podcast about Choreographer Twyla Tharp, the legendary choreographer and dancer, who got her start performing on subway platforms and rooftops in the 1960s. She knew she did not have the perfect body for ballet, the perfect technique, but she was strong, smart, and she loved dance. She knew her path was to be made, not followed. And she did. She combined modern moves, with classical moves, she introduced new music, and she created a world of dance that no one had ever seen, or felt. And they followed her, men and women alike.


Today the sun is shining. My legs are strong. And I am happy.  You can take what they give you. You can envy what the others have. Or you can find your own way, and really dance!


Leave a comment

Sing.

I went for a walk this morning.  The sky was mostly gray. The ground wet from last night’s rain. I listened to a few podcasts for inspiration. The words were good, but they didn’t really leap into my heart.  So I kept walking. Looking. Turning corners, passing trees. And then the prettiest little bird flew directly in my path, landing in the tree that guards our garage. The most elegant mix of blues and yellows. I know that bird. I have painted that bird.  It was, in fact, the first bird I painted in France.  The first bird I heard in France. With a song, so delicate, so lovely, saying, “Every day she decides to be happy, and sings.”  


I was visiting with my mother on the phone yesterday. Remember when I told you that I know my grandmother’s handwriting, and how important that is? Well, maybe even more importantly, I know my mother’s laugh. It starts almost as a little chuckle and grows into the most delightful giggle. In this laugh she is young, and possible and cancer free, and she sings. She sings a song so beautiful, that when I start to laugh with her, it becomes a dance.  Because it was just yesterday when she felt the breezes from Lakeside Ballroom, dreamed of Frank Sinatra, gave her heart, smelled the youth of her children, broke her heart, and trusted her heart again…It was just today when the wind brushed her skirt, and she hoped and twirled like a little girl.

What a gift she gives me with her song. What a gift we all have been given – another day!  Another day!!!!  Be happy!  Sing it out loud!