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…


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Heart song.

My mother had just begun piano lessons. Only a little girl. I don’t know how many lessons she had, but not many, and it was in these few moments that this piano teacher (and I loosely use the word teacher, because clearly she was not, as you will see in a second), it was this awful woman that said, not to my grandparents (which would have been bad enough) no, she said it to my mother, this sweet little hopeful fingered girl, she told her, “You’re wasting your parents’ money.” I’m still aghast! What a soul crushing thing to say. Now, my mother may have never become a concert pianist, but we’ll never know. And it was only for her to decide. But she didn’t get that chance. Then.

Most of our children of the world will not become professional athletes, professional singers, or dancers, or painters. But we aren’t raising “professionals,” we are raising humans. Humans with thoughts and hopes and dreams and souls. And it takes a long time to build a soul, filling it with music and movement and kindness and possibilities. And we should never be defined by money (I guess that’s what we are basing the word professional on). We can still be dancers, even if we make our living at the bank. We can be singers if we sing. Painters if we paint. And we get to decide.

It took a long time, but she got there, my mother…After all the tears and questions she realized that only she could decide if her heart was disposable or not…and it wasn’t. It was bruised and possibly even broken at times, but the amazing organ that it was, is, it kept beating, keeping time to her own true rhythm, the beat that would soothe her, save her, and play once again, the lovely heart song that only she could create.


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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!


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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.