Jodi Hills

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


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How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


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Creating a song.

My mom and I drove to Galveston for the sole reason of the Glen Campbell song of the same name. It wouldn’t be the last time I was lured by the romance of a song.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles, LA. We can thank Lucinda Williams for that. I (we) have been singing her song “Lake Charles” since we entered the South. The glorious power of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe that’s the best thing about all of the arts — seeing things as others see them. In the city where we live in France, Aix en Provence, the Sainte Victoire mountain is the star. Cezanne painted it again and again. I have often wondered if it would have had the same appeal if he hadn’t shown us the beauty that he saw. I’m not sure, because now I can’t unsee it. And it is beautiful.

I write of the simple things. Paint them as well. Some might even say ordinary. I tell you of my home town. My mother. My grandparents. My school. For me, none of it is ordinary. And maybe you see it. See them. And maybe it helps you see the extraordinary beauty of your own life. And with any luck, that beauty gets stuck in your head, like a favorite song.


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Empathy (just a little more)

I painted Judy Garland about nine years ago for a show in Chicago. She’s started at 8 feet, and through mounting and unmounting, she’s maybe closer to seven now. Chicago was only the first part of her journey. Since then, she made the voyage to France. She has suffered through each leg, not unlike real life, I suppose. She is cracked and chipped, some may say even damaged, but I think that makes her beautiful. I think that makes her real.

I don’t know how she lived her life. I wasn’t there. But I do now how she sang a song. Almost as if her heart were breaking with each note. This is something to me. This is how I see her on the canvas. Without judgement. Because, no one escapes, do we. We all have to survive our wounds, those thrust upon us, those self inflicted. This is how I want to see people. Looking beyond the damage and the dust, to the pure music of their lives. Because it’s there. Let go of the judgement – it’s so noisy! Listen to the music. It’s beautiful.

Judy is recorded as saying,
“…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, a little more loving, and have a little more empathy, and maybe, next year at this time we’d like each other a little more.”

Good morning, World! Today I like you – even more!


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In the mood

This morning, the kitchen radio played us into breakfast with Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” Usually nothing can distract me from my lavender honey, but I had to hear the whole song, start to finish. I was transported back to Jefferson Senior High School. In the band room. Eagerly following the direction of Mr. Bud Christianson, (Christy, as we called him). He had the thickest hair of any human I had ever seen, that waved on his head as sure as the notes on the stand in front of him. He directed us, not with force, but with fun. Every hour in his band room was just that – fun. He’d wiggle and dance up to the podium. We’d seen it every day for three years, yet it still made us smile. He loved music. (And one would have to – really love it – to listen to the way we attempted to play it each day.) But that’s the thing – we played music – it was play. He knew it. We knew it. And it made us love the music, and him even more. We wanted to follow him. 

I can’t imagine the effort it took to contain a roomful of teenagers armed with noisemakers. But he did. When he led us through “In the Mood,” the key was to hold us back, let the song build. And it was exciting. He’d press his hands in a downward motion. Not yet. Still quiet. Wait for it. And we wanted it all the more. Wait. He’d press one hand down, one finger to his lips. And our hearts raced. Release us!  Please, let us go! And then it arrived – Christy through his hands in the air – Baaaam BAAAAAAM!!!!! -we let the notes fly!  What a thrill! Every time. The mood was always music. And we were in it!  I still am!


What a gift he gave us!  We didn’t win any awards. Our only ovations came from our parents, maybe a janitor. Make no mistake though – oh, how we won! I’m still winning. My heart races years later, in a country far away, next to a radio that will never speak Bud Christianson’s name. But I will. Probably for the rest of my life. My shoulders bounce to the beat as I’m typing. Thank you, Christy!


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Harmony.

Harmony.Jan was always first chair of the clarinet section. From the fifth grade, through senior high, I don’t remember a time when she didn’t sit proudly in the first row, right in front of the conductor. I don’t know if she felt the competition. I’m sure she practiced. A lot more than the rest of us. For some reason, I never saw band as a sport. For me, it was about the collective music. As individuals, (but for the exceptions like Jan) we really didn’t sound that good. But there is a phenomenon in music when people perform together, even if not everyone is in tune, or in sync, collectively it just sounds better. And that sound carried us. Held us. Gathered us in. I didn’t think of myself in the second row, I was part of the band. I belonged.

Yesterday, at our Easter table, we gathered. American, French, German. Through the years, we have navigated to our respective chairs. My husband at the head, me just next to him. Grown children – their children, in-laws, all around. It is not lost on me that when I jump from my chair to gather something from the kitchen, more bread, more water, a bigger spoon, I pass by my clarinet that rests in the corner of the library. The music here is sung in many languages, (it doesn’t matter that my French is not that good, their English, not much better). In my own rhythm, I have found my place in the band. It is not a competition. We gather around, we gather in. Conversation and laughter play in tune, and the music gives us a place, a place at the table. The band plays on…


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Play the way you feel.

Today’s subject was obvious. Too obvious. Blowing at furious speeds, seemingly in every direction on my morning walk. The wind. I have written about the wind for years. I know this subject. My first poem framed was this:

It was so windy that day,

I couldn’t stand up straight.

It blew my hair this way and that way,

and sucked the tears right out of my eyes.

It was so windy that day,

I tried to tell you I loved you,

but you couldn’t hear me.

Deaf to my cries, your ears heard a different calling.

It was so windy that day.

On hands and knees I crawled to your side.

I reached up to you, begged you to hang on.

I closed my eyes with visions of our hands joined,

like they were before the storm.

The wind shook my insides, leaving me hollow.

I opened my eyes and you were gone.

It was so windy that day.

What used to blow through me, now gives me wings.

It hangs in my mother’s apartment. I know this wind that beats against my face today. But the podcast I was listening to, told me to do just that — listen.

NPR was reviewing the life of pianist, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea who died last week at the age of 79. To be honest, I recognized the name only because my nephew posted about this loss to the jazz community, to the music world, to his world. My nephew lives in this sound. He listens, he loves, he creates. This is the wind that blows through him, every day.

I guess the only way to really know people is to listen. I want to know him. I want to know my family. I want them to know me. So I listen. The podcast continued and I walked. Corea passes through Latin bands and I walk. Straight-ahead jazz bands, and I walk. Miles Davis joins him, and I keep walking. He plays through Mozart and Monk and I keep walking. I walked much longer than I had planned, because I was now being carried by the music. That is how, I imagine, my nephew Vincent feels, to be carried by the music.

I am not a musician. Oh, I played the clarinet in the high school band and now it serves as eclectic decor in our library, but I don’t live in the music – I live in the paint, the word. But I am not trapped in this world. I am free, and I am lucky to visit all the worlds around me. What a pleasure to travel in another world. Learn a bit of the language. The reviewer said that diversity was Corea’s greatest strength. Maybe that is true for us all.

Play the way you feel, and then listen.