Jodi Hills

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


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Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Recent and frequent tears have not made my heart, nor mind, any less wide-eyed. I jerked my head around to see the horses. The horses clopping behind me on the path. Gathering speed. Louder. The horses I knew would be there. I stopped. Looked. The clip-clop continued in my ear buds. The path behind me was empty.

I was listening to the Paris Review. They were playing a short story about a man visiting a town. All were on horseback. The reality of their podcasts is unprecedented. I don’t know how they produce it, but the sounds they create are alive. Separate from the narrator, the horses approached. The sound got nearer. So real. So magical. I could feel the breath of them behind me.

Further down the path, when the horses returned, the character’s departure, the clip-clip continued. This time, it wasn’t so startling, but more comforting. I liked thinking of them by me. Behind me. Walking with me. And I was no longer afraid, but comforted. I continued down the path, deep inside the magic.

I passed by my mother’s picture as I first went out the door for this particular walk. I had just been working on my computer, and I had this thought — What happened to her email? Where did they go now? The reminders from Sundance catalog — this turquoise coat that she would love. What happened to all the emails we had exchanged. Promises. Love. Were they still hovering? If I sent one now – to her address – her address that carried my birthday numbers — where would it go? Could she see it?

I stepped onto the path and hit play. Trying to drown out the typing in my head, when the horses startled me. They were so alive. The presentation so real. My heart was so willing to believe in them that fear turned into comfort.

I’m typing the words now. My cheeks still rosy, more from magic than from the cool winter air. Each word is filled with love. Filled with chance. Filled with a comforting joy that walks beside me. Magic that I don’t need to understand, that I just believe. Unconditionally. My mother is with me. Recent. Frequent. Ever.

Wide-eyed. I hit send.


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For the green.

I grew up thinking they were all green. My grandparents had apple trees. So many apples. Bushels and baskets filled. We would pick and climb. Using the stick with the jagged bag, getting the highest ones. The ground splattered with those that just couldn’t hang on anymore. The cows filled. Our bellies as well.  

We never had to buy apples. Every green summer visit to the farm, we went home with brown paper bags filled. Marked by the sweetest to the most sour. My mom loved the sour ones. I suppose one would say tart, but my youthful palette could only think of sour. I always reached for the sweet.

You can imagine my surprise when I went through the school lunch line for the first time. Plastic tray in my chubby hands. I sidestepped single-file with all of my classmates. The lunch lady put the plate filled with something resembling meat and potatoes on my tray. Sidestep. A small carton of milk. Sidestep again. She placed it on my tray — a red apple. Red? Why was it red? Apples were green. Weren’t they green? I looked around to view what I imagined would have been a collective shock, but no one else was surprised. 

What I love about my youthful heart, it didn’t feel bad. It stayed quiet, but happy. I smiled, filled with my special knowledge.

It was Autumn. I helped my grandma pick the remaining apples from the tree. Not many. Just a few held on to summer. The basket wasn’t heavy, but we carried it together. Each grasping a wire handle. Stride for stride. I knew this was something special. For the green. For the grandma.  

“They come in red too, you know,” I said as we walked to the house. “Yes,” she smiled. “I like that we have green,” I said. She nodded, “Me too.” We moved through the grass as one. It was, we were, something special. I keep holding on.


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All suitcases roll beautifully when empty.


It really came down to the color. They all seemed to roll beautifully — these new suitcases in the store. I tested many. Each one. Each brand. All glided across the polished floor. I picked one, sure that my next trip would be so much easier.

I removed the tags. Filled it. Full. Struggled over the rug. Through the door. Down the stairs. Hallway. Trunk. Airport. It didn’t seem all that easy. I labored with the weight. 

What seems so incredibly obvious, has taken me decades to learn. And maybe I should say understand, because to be honest, I’m still learning it. I still struggle with, “But I need it…I can’t leave it behind…”  Even more importantly, I need to learn it – for my head, my heart. How glorious it would be to roll around this world, unburdened by the weight of it all. All those conversations playing over and over in my head. The weight of worry and what ifs. The weight of well, they should have, and why can’t they…  and why didn’t I…  I’m learning to lighten the load. I don’t want to be crushed by this passage of time. Day by day. I want to let go, and enjoy the journey. 

It’s all kind of funny, when you think about it — this baggage. We have the power to choose. It can’t follow us on its own. It has to be dragged. I smile at this morning’s sun…empty handed.


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Off to a different deck

My mom was dizzy for most of her life. An imbalance in her inner ear. We had only been on the cruise ship for a short time when it began — a tumbling in my brain that went directly to my stomach. An inner violence I had never felt before. I spent the first day hugging porcelain.  My mom seemed fine. I couldn’t believe it. How was she doing it? “Oh, I always feel like this,” she said, shrugging it off. And she went in search of the captain, humming the theme song to The Love Boat. 

I got a couple of shots from the ship’s doctor, easing the symptoms and allowing me to navigate while on the ship. The only problem was, it seemed to be overcompensating, and walking on land was a struggle. So this is what they meant by a drunken sailor?  It lasted even after returning home. The long hallway in my apartment building proved very challenging, and for nearly a week, I serpentined my way from the garage to my door.  Once again, I marveled at the silent strength of my mother, and kept walking.

Yesterday, I went out for my normal afternoon walk.  A quarter of the way through, my left earbud stopped working. It didn’t make sense to turn back, so I continued on. But it felt so strange. I couldn’t seem to adjust. I felt partial. Incomplete. Off balance. I kept walking. In search of my other voice. I only mention it because it occurred to me, this is what it’s like to lose someone you love. The world hasn’t changed, but your way of navigating through it is completely different. But you keep walking. The sun still shines. The trees are lovely. The ground is solid. The birds are humming. I see my mother skipping off to a different deck.

I was given the strength long ago. Now is the time to use it.


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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!


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Masterpiece.


I don’t create a masterpiece every day. Wait, now I have to look up the word masterpiece. If by one definition — something “considered to be the greatest work of a person’s career” — then no, I don’t. But if you look at another — “a supreme achievement” — then maybe yes, maybe I do. Maybe we all do.

I was fumbling through a difficult afternoon yesterday. Emotions tangling my every move. Every step a trip. Everything seemed too big. I didn’t want to do it – any of it. It was all too much. I needed something small. Contained. Doable. 6” x 6”. This seemed reasonable. I could navigate half of a foot. I opened my sketchbook. Reached for a single pencil. No decisions of color or brush. Just hold the pencil. Feathers appeared lightly. Then shading. And it felt familiar. New, but not frightening. Pencil lines became darker. More confident. And there it was. A bird. My bird. My something doable. My moment of getting through. I smile because I get to know — I get to know the effort it took to get through the moment — the effort it took to achieve this tiny bird. To navigate the afternoon, all 6 inches of it — an achievement, nothing short of supreme.

We don’t get to know every inch of every person. I don’t know what you’re tackling today. What you’re trying to get through. But I care. And I understand the effort it takes. And I applaud the efforts! I applaud the masterful achievements — the supreme achievements of our daily lives.

Perched on the new day, I shout to the opening sun, my lifting heart, to each master rising – one and all — Bravo!


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Carry the impossible.

My cousins Shawn and Kalee first introduced me to Knox Blox. The Jello (gelatin) that you could eat with your hands. What had previously been limited to spoons, bowls and tables, was now portable. You could run with it. Squeeze it through the space your last baby tooth left behind. Take it downstairs. Outside. It was indestructible really. You could stomp on it. Throw it. Take it in the pool if you like. The only problem, it didn’t taste very good. Soon, the remains of abandoned red rubber lined the Tupperware container, and we set off to carry the impossible.

There seems to be a lot of people running around this world with hearts made of Knox Blox. No worries. No consequences. And I have envied them at times. Me, struggling with spoonful after spoonful of fragile feelings. But if given the chance, I wouldn’t change it. I want to feel and taste it all. Even this sweet pain of love and loss.

I suppose we all knew, even then, it wasn’t going to be easy. But we didn’t crave easy. We hungered for the challenges under the summer sun. We craved the skinned knees and knuckles. The sun-burned shoulders. Legs that wobbled weary at the end of the day. We wanted it all. Each morning, the screen door slamming behind us, we dared the day. Dared our hearts. To bring it all. Feel it all.

With eyebrows raised, the sun smiles in my direction. OK, I say. Heart and hands full, I reach for the door.


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Paying attention.

Cluttered with nightmares and nonsense, I don’t normally put that much stock into my dreams. But all last night, I was trying to sign up for another year of university. Hour after hour I searched for the registration. Went through the pamphlets. Made appointments with my advisor. Even after waking up twice, I went right back to it. Would I rent the apartment near campus? Would I get an advanced degree? Academia all night long. I’m not complaining – it was far from the normal hauntings. So was it a sign?

Signs are funny things. They are probably all around us – all the time. Some meant for us. Some maybe not. Some gathered in. Some trampled over. I guess it is what we choose to see. And maybe when we miss it, it repeats itself. Over and over again. Until we pay attention. 

I guess it’s time for me to keep learning. Or maybe, it’s a sign to tell myself that I AM still learning. I will forever be learning. And that is not a nightmare, but a gift. And that’s a hard one for me to, well, learn. I can get myself trapped in a worry. Stuck in a pattern of fearing the unknown. But it will always be there — through all the nightmares and nonsense — there will be growth. There will be challenges. There will be learning. Beauty in it all. 

The sun rises brand new, telling me, “If I’m not happy in this time, in this place, I’m not paying attention.”


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The exchange.

She has short term memory loss, my mother-in-law. She arrived with flowers for me (courtesy of her other son). I thanked her. Hugged them close to me, draping myself in the fragrance. I held them out to her so she, too, could breathe them in. She thought I was giving them to her as a gift. She smiled with a grand “merci!” — and I was gifted again.

It’s not always clear who is gifting whom. Who is the one helping. Most of the time, I think we all receive in the exchange. And we need to move freely between the roles. Sometimes I think it is maybe easier to be the giver, the strong one. Allowing yourself to be the one who is vulnerable, perhaps this takes the most strength of all. 

I leaned on you today. I’m not sure if you even knew, but I wanted to thank you. I felt you holding my heart. It made me happy. And I was strong. I hope I can do the same for you, if so, we can do anything.


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…And so it begins.

I always asked for art products each Christmas. Maybe a craft. Shrinky-dinks. Candle makers. Paints or pencils. Sketchbooks. Anything that could be made into something. I suppose I’ve forever been an artist, but there was more to it than that. I think I knew there would always be the 26th. The day after. No more presents to open. Festivities done. Decorations coming down. In all that ending, I would have something to begin. 

Each year my French family asks me what I would like. My go-to answer is, still, anything to do with art. They ask what. Doesn’t matter. What kind? Doesn’t matter. What brand? Doesn’t matter. I guess because it ALL matters. It all works for me. It’s not just love, it is love extended. It fills the hole of the day after and turns it into the day of! Uplifting the let-down. Offering the start of a new season. It gives. It becomes.

Maybe that’s what true love is. Joy in life’s 26th. Wonder in the ordinary. Lights in our darkest hour. Beginnings. Again and again. Celebration all year long. That’s what I wish for you! May you find it today, and every day. Happy 26th!