Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

Wearing my world.

I bought them at Ragstock in Minneapolis. A midnight-lake blue pair of corduroys. They are soft, sure. Great fit, yes. But why did I love them so? I mean, I woke up thinking about them. Excited to put them on. Even for me, that’s a bit much.

Yesterday, in a half run, eager to get into the studio to work on my current painting, it occured to me. I’ve had these pants before.

I was in the 5th grade. Herberger’s was still downtown, not at the mall. My mom bought this pair of pants for me. It was the end of the season sale. Summer was about to begin. No one wanted corduroys. Up until then, I hadn’t really thought about fashion. But there was something about these pants. The color of Lake Latoka after sunset. I looked at the tag. There was a big red slash. And I was hopeful. I tried them on. My legs slipped in like water. “They feel like I’m swimming,” I told my mother. Not a big fan of the water, I’m not sure she understood the reference, but she did understand the love of a new garment against your skin. She checked the tag, and smiled. Handed them to the woman behind the counter, who folded them, and put them in a bag, and handed them to my smiling hands. 

I wore them almost every day that summer. These corduroy pants. Even to Valley Fair with my cousins. They couldn’t understand why I would wear such hot pants on a humid summer day. “Maybe she likes them,” my aunt explained. I smiled. That seemed to be enough for them. I didn’t know how to explain that these weren’t just pants, they were a symbol of something bigger. They were a symbol of when I asked for the world, my mom could give it to me. 

I sat in front of my painting, wearing my world. Confident. Vulnerable. Open. I will never let that go.


Leave a comment

This table is strong.

Some said it was in the way, my grandparents’ kitchen table. But for me, for my mother, it was something to lean on. The stability we craved.

The legs were at an angle, protruding just a little beyond the table top. You could kick it. Bump into it. Throw groceries, suitcases, all of your worries, on top of it. It was never going to crumble.

It took a while for my mother to get her legs beneath her. But she did. Oh how she did! And not just holding her up, but at that slight angle – that confident stride. Maybe they saw it in her first – the people of Alexandria. “Oh, I saw you walking yesterday.” “I see you out walking all the time.” “Aren’t you that lady that I see walking?” And when she answered yes to them, maybe she started to hear it herself. Yes. See it in herself. Yes, I am that lady.

I suppose we all have to become the stability that we crave. Table by table. Step by step. The sun rises with one question, we rise, and say simply, joyfully — Yes!

Whatever you need, this table is strong. Jodi Hills


Leave a comment

In close.


I rarely saw my grandmother without an apron. There were so many children. Grandchildren. The kitchen was always in motion. I liked standing next to her. So close. When she wore the embroidered apron – the one with the flowers – I would press my head as close to her hip as I could. This hug, when held for longer than she had time for – (yet she never pushed me away) – this hug could produce an imprint on my cheek of the same flowers. An imprint that didn’t last long on my face, but still remains on my heart.

Dishes clanked. Smells arose. Voices jabbered. And then the whirlwind would stop. She needed something from the basement. She told me to run and get it. The basement. I’ll admit I was afraid. Being only apron high, it wasn’t unusual, but I wanted to be brave. My grandmother canned. There was a whole wall of canned good down there. But to get to what she needed, I would have to go descend the darkened stairs. Past the hooks of overalls that looked like men waiting. I would have to tune out the furnace. The creaks of wood. She pushed the small of my back in the direction of the stairs. Of course I would do it. I held my breath, as if going under water. Raced my bumper tennis shoes down the steps. Grabbed the glass jar filled with what I could only imagine was a science experiment and ran back up the stairs. I handed it to her beaming. She had no idea what I had risked, but she hugged me just the same.

Yesterday, we went to see Dominique’s mother. She clings to the day. Leaving, sad, I heard through the open windows of the house next door, the clanking of the dishes. Silverware. Glass. Stove. A woman singing over the din. The sounds of life. I smiled, feeling the embroidered flowers on my heart.

This love. Knowing your heart, if you’re giving it all, will break and mend and break again. Still, I, we, will risk any darkened stairs to experience it. The sun begins to light today’s path. To this day, this life, I make a promise to feel it – really feel it – and, joyfully, I pull myself in close.


Leave a comment

The candy dish.

I’m certain it wasn’t expensive, but it was priceless, this candy dish. White milk glass, with matching cover. My mother kept it on the end table, just as you entered the front door of her apartment on Jefferson Street. I don’t know if it was ever full, but I guarantee it was never empty. My mother made sure that when Josh and Rachel (her grandchildren) entered her apartment, lifted that cover, there was a special treat, just for them. They knew it would be there. They looked forward to it. Counted on it. Just as they did with her.

This certainty was something she had always given me. Still gives to me. Even at her lowest points in life, when her own heart wasn’t full, it was never empty — not for me. She always had something for me. 

On the phone the other day, she questioned herself out loud, “Did she have a home? Did she ever have a home?”  You can never tell someone how to feel. But I can tell her, with all certainty (and I only have it because she gave it), that she gave me a home. She gave Josh and Rachel a home. She gave us something sure and sweet and constant. So yes, there was a home, there was always a home for us. Always will be. And she lived there too. 

Never empty. Because of her.


Leave a comment

Limitless.

I can still remember the smell — the sweetness of wax, color, and possibility — opening the box of Crayola crayons for the first time in Washington Elementary. I had a box of 24. Not the largest box, but not the smallest. And I loved it. Oh, how I loved it. 

Jackie sat next to me in a brand new designer mark dress — both her dress and hair, freshly ironed. I can see her opening that box of 64 — that box of 64 that also had the sharpener. I could hear the ooohs and aaahs of those who gravitated around her. What would she create? Oh, surely it would be beautiful! It had to be beautiful with all those colors!

Mrs. Strand directed us to sit at our desks. She told us to pull out our blank, white construction paper. Not our Big Chief tablets, those were ruled, she explained. Those we would use for writing. What I concluded from these directions then, with our paper and our crayons — there were no rules!  Yes, I thought! There was that smell of possibility once again. 

Mrs. Strand then gave us the gift that I am most grateful for – the gift of time. Time to create. Whatever you want, she said. I can still feel the paper between my fingers. The feel of how the waxy colors connected.

I never spoke in class. I was very shy — some said, painfully, but it felt good to me. I was just waiting. Preparing. And I used the 24. And combined and shaded. Multiplying my colors. Creating depth. Well beyond 24. Beyond 48. Beyond 64. It was limitless. I had time. And a quiet confidence. 

Someone had taught me. Through lesson or example, I can’t be sure. I suppose it was my grandfather, grandmother, mother — probably all three. Use what you have. This was so freeing. It kept me free from the jealous ooohs and aaahs. Kept me free from worrying about what every other “Jackie” had. This gift created a world of wonder at my own fingertips. It still carries me. 

I found a box of colored pencils yesterday. Probably Dominique’s kids left them behind. Almost unused. Pencils are not my normal medium, but there it was, a box full of possibility. So I took the time. I shaded and combined. And it was all limitless once again. No rules. No constraints. No numbers. It, I, smelled of everything possible.

The morning sun is rising. The sky is open with possibility. I’ll see you up there!


2 Comments

As I flutter by.

I was more following it, than chasing it. Fluttering really. Doing my best to keep up. My grandfather didn’t really imagine that I could catch this butterfly, so his warning was light, but effective. “Don’t touch the wings,” he said. Me, still imagining my chubby legs were a match for these wings, questioned, “But why? They’re so pretty!’ He explained something about the powder rubbing off…they could lose their ability to fly. “You don’t want that to happen,” he said. Of course not. But just a bit of that desire remained. A bit of that doubt.

I didn’t have google at the time. Nothing to fact check. He had never lied to me. So I just kept fluttering. 

When I reached school age, I learned more. The challenge of the caterpillar to “become.”  It seemed unimaginable. Unbelievable! How did it survive — and not just survive, but turn into something so incredibly beautiful? I read it in books. Saw the images. But really?  How could this be?

I counted the sleeping pills on my mother’s nightstand. She was so sad. I didn’t know how long a human could cocoon. Nobody taught me that. 

But somehow, there would be proof in her wings. And I got to flutter beside her. And she beside me. Nothing more magical than that.

The fragile colors came to life in my sketchbook yesterday. Each with a hope and prayer that we could all be that gentle with one another. We could flutter, and flatter, and lift, and love. We could give each other the time needed to change. To grow. To become. We could give each other the chance to fly — just a smiling thought this morning, as I flutter by.


Leave a comment

Lazy Susan.

Whoever this Susan was, I liked her. And she couldn’t have been all that lazy, I thought, because her cupboard was always full. I thought Susan was the one who bought all the candy in that cupboard. Whenever we wanted a treat at my Grandma’s house, she would point to the corner cupboard and say Lazy Susan. My eager chubby brain and fingers didn’t take the time to analyze that this was just what the spinning rack was called — the spinning rack that held all my grandma’s candy. I liked believing some magical woman named Susan kept her cupboard full. Like maybe she worked directly with the Tooth Fairy. 

Something was lost when I learned there was no Susan fairy, nor Tooth, but I gained something better — the knowledge that I had a grandma who would keep her cupboard filled with treats – easy access treats – on the bottom shelf – the bottom spinning shelf – all for us to enjoy. And she didn’t buy what some called the “grandma treats” like hard mint candies, or burnt-orange peanuts. No she had Slo-pokes, and Black cows. Sugar Daddies. Toasted marshmallows. Chocolate bars and more chocolate bars. 

And as I got older. More truths came out. More losses. But one thing remained constant. The easy access of things given at my grandparent’s farm. The easy access of open spaces to run in. Secret rooms to hide in. Endless fields that said, be yourself. An open cupboard that said, keep believing in magic. And a love that remained full. Always within reach.


2 Comments

Ida painted too.

It’s no secret that I have always loved Georgia O’Keeffe. Yesterday, to my surprise, I learned that she had a sister, Ida, who also painted. Experts say that if she had had the support of an Alfred Stieglitz, she could have been equally celebrated. But she had a different story. And the world, someone decided, didn’t need another O’Keeffe.

Since I was a young girl, my mother was friends with Diane Larson. A lovely woman. She was kind. True. And when she smiled at you softly, you felt cared for, hugged. There wasn’t a lot of truth that I could see at that age, and it was comforting. She was a teacher. I would see her in the halls of Central School. She didn’t embarrass me by actually speaking, but she smiled, and I knew she was watching out for me. She was the extended care of my mother.

She hung my childish art in her beautiful home. Saved a folder of my poems and scribbles, as if they were treasures. I didn’t need a second mother. I already had my “Georgia.” But this Diane Larson, this Ida, she painted too, and I felt extra loved.

She died yesterday. For most, she will go unnoticed. But that does not mean she is not celebrated. She fits easily into the halls of my heart, still watching over, smiling. A continuous joy. An unending love. The world needs every Ida, every Diane.


Leave a comment

On being pink.

There is a pink blossomed tree in our front yard. Nestled against the greens, it really shines. But would it? Without this sea of green? These glorious supporting characters in this summer spectacular! And this is to take nothing away from them — each one, on any other given day when the pink is not in bloom, could play the leading role. Because they are not just green — these emerald, lime and apple greens, these olive, jade, even silver greens!  All beautiful! And maybe most importantly, all secure in their own worth. Secure enough to let the pink tree have it’s moment — to let the pink tree shine!

I’m not sure I would be able to notice this without the example my mother set for me. She, no wall flower, always wanted to present herself in the very best manner. She, who would stand in line for the Clinique promotion, memorize the best mirrors at Daytons, thumb through the catalogs, iron and pop her white collars — this beauty, was never, is never afraid to let me shine.  

What a gift! To be celebrated for all your pinkness! I suppose the only way to give thanks is to pass it on. To see, to allow, to find joy in the glorious colors of all. This, my friends, is a day to shine.  

“You do the impossible every day. You warm people with your own brilliant light, and make them believe it is they who really shine.” jodi hills


Leave a comment

Bound.

I wanted to do some sketching yesterday. Whenever I need an idea of what to sketch, I fall back on the human figure. It is timeless. The purpose of figure painting, or any depiction of the figure in art, relates back to one of the main functionalities of art, and that is the communication of human experiences. It has been practiced since the beginning of time. It rests on the sides of caves, the walls of the Louvre. And just at the fingertips of our hearts.


I have many art books. I pulled a small one off the shelf, entitled Figures. I recognized the scent of the book, or should I say the bookstore. A mixture of wisdom and mildew, that only comes from words lived. The linen cover felt like home. I turned the book over to see if there was a sticker to confirm my memory. Yes. A tag from Magers and Quinn — one of my favorite bookstores in Minneapolis. I love all bookstores, but this was a favorite because of the figure that managed the store — Gary. Yes, the human experience. As we read books. Sold them. Held them. I learned of his life. Personal stories of his loves, his losses, his interests, his health, his heart.


Gary was my friend. We shared love – love of words on the page. It occurs to me now, that we, all of us, are just the words, looking to be bound together. Only making sense when we combine to make a story. An experience. The human experience.


So I paint the figures. Tell the stories. Hoping to connect. Because in this connection there is no time, no distance. When you tell me, “I needed this today,” or “I so related to this,” or “this was our story,” — my heart is full. We are in this together. Humans. Bound.