Jodi Hills

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

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Heart smiles.

To see yourself in the Alexandria Echo Press, was proof that you existed. The paper came out the day after our weekly softball game. During a slow news week, the local photographer would come to the fields and take some random photos. It happened only a couple of times between the ages of 8 and 12, but I can still feel it. That first glance of the sports page. Scanning. Long blonde hair. Bat. It was me. In full muddy black and uncrisp white. We rarely won a game. But that was never really the point. We were together. In the sun. With our friends in an endless summer. The proof was in our hearts, and randomly validated in the press.

When I finished this painting, the first thing my friend said was, “She belongs in the MIA.” It was as if I had turned the page and saw myself for the first time. I guess that’s what friends can do for you. Your true friends validate what is in your heart. They see you. And it is beautiful. 

We are going to the MIA this afternoon with this very friend. And we all will belong. Together. My heart holds the proof — and even with a dusting of snow, I know the warmth of this friendship will never end. 

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She hadn’t told me anything deep, dark, or hidden. It wasn’t a designated secure place. Neither church, nor Switzerland. But for some reason, on the return bus trip from an out of town volleyball game, I felt safe. In this back seat, looking straight ahead. Knees pushed against the seat in front of us, I told my friend, as I had told no other contemporary, my secret.

This friend listened. Without judgement or questions. Braced, as if I were passing her the ball. I could feel the words spank off from my overworked forearms. She took the ball. What a relief to pass it on.

We had Judy Blumed our way through Junior High, but when I asked, on this yellow-orange school bus, “Are you there, it’s me…” she listened. No solutions offered. Just release.

I don’t know who we played that day after school. I don’t know if we won or lost. But never had I felt more a part of something. I had a real teammate. We didn’t speak of it again. We didn’t need to.

It’s not necessary to me that she remembers. I won’t forget. I had such a friend.

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A light to stay connected.

I was watching a German creator who recently moved to Los Angeles, California. She was lonesome. Missing her friends. She walked around the streets and picked up odd objects. From the ground. Abandoned buildings. Seemingly useless stuff, but she could see something beautiful. She made a light that turned on by an automatic switch, notifying her of the German time between 9am and  9pm — the time she could safely call up a friend in Germany. Her best friend. To hear the sound of her voice. I love this idea. This simple reminder. A light to stay connected.  

Because that’s everything, isn’t it? Just to be connected to the ones you love. 

I search the house. Photographs and spare parts. Metal. Wood. Scraps. I know I can make anything. My heart smiles and tells my brain, “I’ve got this.” The flame that lights my mother’s memory is shining brightly. There’s only one thing I need to know — what time is it in heaven?


True colors.

It’s odd to think of Christmas in this French summer heat, but there it was, along my daily gravel path. The color of the wild flowers against the sea of green — the same combination my friend Deb used for her Christmas decorations. 

Lounging in our chairs at the Starbuck’s near my apartment, drinking extra-hot vanilla lattes in the still-welcomed air conditioning of the lingering September summer, we thumbed through the Jonathan Adler catalog, already dreaming of Christmas. We could never start too early. We both loved decorating for the holidays. It was here, eleven years ago, that she changed her color palette. And a bold palette it was. More pink than red. More yellow than green, but still a nod to the tradition. Each holiday piece that she put out was in this new palette. Right down to the candy purchased in Stillwater, Minnesota. 

With French pebbles still in the soles of my shoes, I stepped directly into her apartment. The familiar scent of candles. The corner tree blinking. Shelled pistachios next to chocolate covered in a deep pink candy shell. (Ever in the palette.) And just like with the catalog, we went through her apartment and pointed out, praised, loved each and every detail. 

If you think this all shallow, you would be wrong. Because I knew what this break from the traditional palette meant. I knew what not fitting into the norm of it all felt like for her, for me, (for so many). I knew the pain she had suffered losing her husband first to mental illness, then divorce. The jobs she had lost. The lifestyle she tried to regain. The navigating of keeping tradition for her son, creating a new life for herself. I knew her colors, inside and out. She was my friend.

And isn’t it just like a friend to show up with a wink and smile, lifting your heart and heat weary feet on a gravel path. I suppose that’s what real friends do, at any time, any distance, they show you their true colors, and allow you to walk in  yours. 

If you see a spring in my step, you know I had such a friend.

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Judy “Blumed.”

We were sitting on the stools in the 7th grade science lab, trying to erase the smell of gas from our brains, and the face of the boy that always turned it on and laughed. Each tick of the clock brought us closer to the bell. I paid close attention because there was no time to waste. The science lab was at the far end of Central Junior High, near the pool. My next class was social studies with Mr. Temple at the complete opposite end on the second floor. The allotted 5 minutes allowed just enough time to run to my locker, change my books and be seated in the classroom. Because it wasn’t enough to be racing through the door at the sound of the bell. He demanded that you were seated, ready to learn, when it sounded, or you would get detention. Detention — the horror. The humiliation. I had never received it. And I was proud of that. So I sat in the “starter’s position,” ready to race to social studies. The bell rang and I jumped. I was nearly out the door when I heard her gasp. I turned to see my lab partner (and friend) glued to her stool, mouth open. There wasn’t time, but she looked at me so desperately. I ran back. She whispered in my ear. She got her period. I looked at the clock. Looked at her face. Took off my sweatshirt for her to wrap around her waist. And went with her to the bathroom. 

The bell rang before I had even left the floor. When I ran through his door, he was standing at the front of the room, detention slip in hand. He wasn’t unreasonable. He always gave you the chance to defend yourself. I suppose I could have given the full “Judy Blume” version of it all, but the whole class was listening. I shook my head, and held out my hand to grab the slip.

We had no idea of forever at the time. We lived minute by minute. And were willing to give up 60 of them, detained after hours, just to save each other. She asked me the next day in Mr. French’s class, “Did you get in trouble?” “No,” I smiled, “no trouble at all.”

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Pauline joined us our sophomore year in college. She was the only “single” on this floor of double rooms, which already made her special. But then she lofted her bed, along with my impression of her.

With her bed raised high, there was room for two chairs. Room for conversation. Not lying on your bed conversation, like teenagers, but seated, postured conversations. It felt so grown-up, sitting in chairs, face to face. She even had a plant. She wasn’t waiting for life to begin. And I wanted to join her.

We talked about poems and books. Boys and mothers. Dances and classmates. We talked about the future like it had already begun. We talked about dreams in the same way. We sat in that space when my grandpa died. She helped me cry. We sat in that space when she broke up with her longtime boyfriend. (I suppose everything seems long term at 19.) I helped her cry. I suppose once you’ve seen someone cry, the laughter comes so easily. (Both states of vulnerability.) And oh how we laughed! I can still see her back teeth!

In the spring, she unscrewed the posts holding up her bed. Put the plant in the back seat of her car. And she was gone. She transferred to a new school. Maybe it was only a handful of months, but Pauline taught me about friendship. About the perfection of the time that is given. Nothing wasted.

I mention it now, because it seems so present. I know it’s Sunday, but it feels like a Friday afternoon. A Friday, sitting in Pauline’s room, waiting for my ride to come and take me home. Wearing my pink sweater vest and white pants. “You look nice,” she said. I smiled. “You dressed up to see your mom.” I shook my head yes.

Today, this Sunday, this mother’s day, this mother’s day that feels like a Friday afternoon — a Friday afternoon when I’m still almost a girl, wanting to please my mother. Wanting to tell her about my school, my week, my friend — because nothing felt as real as when I told her. I sit under the comfort of lofted memories. I laugh. And I cry. I sit in the perfection of the time that was given. Knowing nothing was wasted. Not time. Not emotion. Knowing I had such a friend. I had such a mother!

Life begins and begins. I’m not waiting.



Before we knew how long it actually was, and how much we would actually need it, we used to promise it in three little letters – BFF – best friends forever. We wrote it in notes. on plaster casts, in year books…on the palms of our hands, and the seams of our jeans — forever!  

Somewhere along the line, we stopped. Maybe we thought we were too cool. Too smart. Maybe I’ve lived long enough for it to come back in fashion, or maybe I’ve lived long enough that I’m not worried about how it looks. I’m not embarrassed at all to declare my friendships in big bold, heart shaped permanent markers. I know what joy, what life-sustaining gifts you bring to me each day. And I will give thanks – forever!

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At a press conference years ago, Bill Murray was asked if art had ever changed his life.  In fact, it saved his life. He was just starting his career in Chicago, and he claimed, “he wasn’t very good.” After a very unsuccessful performance he began walking.  Just walking the streets of Chicago.  He found himself on the shores of Lake Michigan, and considered the fact that drowning would be pretty simple.  But on those same shores was the Art Institute of Chicago.  He went inside.  In his words, he felt like he was already dead.  He stood in front of one of his favorite paintings  –  The Song of the Lark, by Jules Adolphe Breton, 1884.  He looked at the woman, standing in the field, as the sun was coming up, and thought, “Well, there’s a girl that doesn’t have too many prospects, and yet the sun is still coming up and she has another chance.”  He gathered himself in front of the painting and thought, “I, too, am a person and get another chance every day the sun comes up.” 

My mother did the impossible every day. She warmed me with her own brilliant light, and made me believe it was me who was shining.  There will always be a woman to light your way.  Some will be lucky enough to call her mother.  Others will call her friend, mentor, boss, aunt, and now, even Vice President.  If we are able to walk in the light, it is because someone lit it for us long ago.  And we must do the same. Even when are prospects seem few, we can still be that light for someone.  Today, I ask you to thank those who went before you, and light a path for those coming behind.  The sun is rising. We are rising. What a chance!  What a day!  What a light!!!!