Jodi Hills

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


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Slouching towards Bethlehem.

We lost a good writer this week — Joan Didion. But I take comfort in the fact that we didn’t lose the words. They will be here, as long as we need them. She wrote with such a clarity, even in times of complete distress. She wrote of the hippies, and drug culture in California. She wrote of losing her husband. Her daughter. She says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.”

One of my favorite titles was her book, “Slouching towards Bethlehem.” She took this title from the poet Yeats — “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Didion stands in the same position as Yeats’s narrator, describing a social disaster of her time, feeling the center starting to give out.

The “rough beasts” seem to surround us still, and always. But sometimes it feels they are doing a lot more than slouching. So I look to my center. To hold me. And I find it in the words. The words in poems. In books. In songs. The words that gather in my heart and spill to the page each day. I find it in the ones I love. Standing tall. Standing beside. Ever upward. Whenever I need them.

This is my core. My center. I believe it will hold. I tell myself today’s story. And I live.


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A bend in the river

I painted John Wayne because I love Joan Didion. In her piece, “John Wayne: A love song,” she described an image that jumped from my heart into my hands. And I painted, not just John Wayne, but I painted my heart, filled with the words that she, I, had longed to hear…filled with the promise of love, the promise of home.


“We went three and four afternoons a week, sat on folding chairs in the darkened hut which served as a theatre, and it was there, that summer of 1943 while the hot wind blew outside, that I first saw John Wayne. Saw the walk, heard the voice. Heard him tell the girl in a picture called War of the Wildcats that he would build her a house, ‘at the bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow’. As it happened I did not grow up to be the kind of woman who is the heroine in a Western, and although the men I have known have had many virtues and have taken me to live in many places I have come to love, they have never been John Wayne, and they have never taken me to that bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow. Deep in that part of my heart where the artificial rain forever falls, that is still the line I wait to hear.” Joan Didion.

I had just moved to France. I’m surprised at how easily I did it. I had been offered new places before, closer places, more predictable places I suppose. One would think that a Minneapolis girl could easily transition into a Chicago love, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the move. It wasn’t my bend in the river.When Dominique told me to stay, just stay, I could see the cottonwoods, for the first time, and I stayed.

And it isn’t about being rescued. I’m not sure I believe in that. But maybe it is about being saved. About saving each other. In tiny bits, every day, with just the smallest phrases, the smallest gestures, we can do that. We can be the heros and heroines for each other.

The painting I made of John Wayne rests in our salon. On numerous occasions, in a sea of indecipherable French words, I will hear someone yell out “John Wayne!” And I am home. Even my mother-in-law, with memory failing, names, people, places, even loved-ones sometimes forgotten, she can pull out the name John Wayne, and I smile, not just because she can still remember the name, but I think for a brief moment, she too, is taken to her own bend in the river, her true love, and she is home.


The “hot winds” blow all around us, forever. If we are lucky enough to find that cool place, that place that calls us, welcomes us, and gathers us in, then I guess, we may not always be safe, but we will be saved.