Jodi Hills

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


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From both sides now.

I’m not sure that it was the heart of the lesson, but what I learned with the math “times tables” in first grade (this times this equals this) was that if you memorized something, it came with the security of always having it. I suppose this was the security I was searching for.

It was just my mom and I. Everyone else had left. I could hear my mother cry at night. I wrote poems and drew pictures, hoping to give the tears a soft place to land. But in the dark of night, I, we, could see none of them. So I began to sing, in my head. I found an old album cover that my sister used to play. It was Joni Mitchell’s, Court and Spark. I memorized the songs. Each lyric. Each note. I knew them all. Each took around three minutes to sing. And magically, time would pass. “This times this” — words times music equaled safety.

When days and nights became easier. Time became filled with activities and eventually, somehow, joy. I heard my mother’s laugh. And my own. Life became more full. And the rotations of songs in my head, became less frequent. And then almost not at all. But I knew they were there. They still are. And now, if I sing one, maybe while mowing the lawn, it is somehow, nothing but joy.

I painted her on one of my jean jackets. Maybe it’s too simple to say that she had my back. It may be simple, but it is true.

I saw a video of her on Youtube yesterday. 78, having survived a near death experience not that long ago. The words came out like honey. Pure and sweet. Tears flowed out of the eyes of those around her. Cheers flowed out of the audience. It was beautiful! Magical. Nothing but joy. And at the end of the song, she laughed. Giggled really. Like the little girl that still lived within her. Like all the little girls, the women, she carried. And in that moment, (with the words and music that we will always have,) she, I, we, were saved.

https://youtu.be/4aqGjaFDTxQ


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Produce

I have professed my love for libraries, over and over. The Washington School Library. The Alexandria Public Library. One small room. One small building. Each opened a world to me that will never close. I can smell the wood that housed the paper. The slight hint of sweet mildew, like an open window.

The truth is, this was not my first impression of books. My first collection of words on pages — words mixed with colorful art – these books held the smell of fresh produce. It was at Olson’s Supermarket. My mother hoisted me into the shopping cart. The silver denting the back of my thighs. Legs dangling. Her purse beside me.

Just after the cart corral was a long display of Golden Books. I can feel my arms reaching. They were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She placed one in my chubby hand and I was changed. Words on paper. My arms will be forever reaching.

I can hear her voice reading each page. Night after night. Year after year. And then I started to hear my own. How do you thank someone for giving you the world? I suppose the only way I know is to use the same words I was given. Again and again.

I was speaking to the young woman who is currently working on my new website. Not a small task. She has to handle each piece of art, each word. She told me yesterday, because she is so immersed in all of the work, “I feel like I know you.” My heart is still smiling. My arms are still reaching. We are in different countries. From different generations, and my paintings of the apples remind her of her mother’s kitchen. Once again, the sweet smell of produce… My world opens, and I give thanks with the words that first saved me.


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The little china pig.

The Little China Pig — it is my first memory of a book. I was six years old. In the hospital in St. Cloud. They wouldn’t let my mom stay overnight with me. I was terrified. She gave me this book. (Books, forever to be my grace and pacifier.). I clung to each page. The story was about a little China Pig in a store who so wanted to be taken home. So wanted to be loved. Cared for. Taken home. I guess we all want that. Even the little girl in the hospital bed next to mine. Crying. I

cheerleaded each word over to her bed. And we were saved.
Yesterday I went into Cherry Street Books. I asked Lee for a certain title that I wanted to give for a gift. She walked me over to the section, and there it was, right next to all of my books — books that I have written, illustrated, placed right there, on the shelf. My cheerleading heart threw its hands in the air — I was home. Always saved.


I guess I have always lived in the word. What a glorious world! May it never be lost on me. May my heart forever be joyful, writing, sharing…home.


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A rose, by any other name…

In my late teens, I had to have surgery on my jaws.  The only place that was doing this procedure was in Fargo, North Dakota.  We lived two hours away, in Alexandria, Minnesota.  My mom drove a light blue mini station wagon. We had no GPS, no cell phone, and no real sense of direction, on the road, and barely in our daily lives.  
My mom set out to find the hospital. We had an address and the light of day, but soon lost both.  As the sun was setting, we drove around block after block. Nothing familiar. Nothing welcoming. The sun kept sinking and so did our spirits. “We’re never going to find it,” my mother said.  “We’re lost.” She kept driving. Slowly. “They’re never going to find us.” Still driving. “We’re going to die in North Dak… “and she stopped. Suddenly beaming.  “Oh, look!” she shouted, “there’s Herbergers!”  And we were saved.  
Herberger’s was our familiar. Our welcome.  To those of you who didn’t grow up in the midwest, it was the Department Store. The gathering place. The anchor of the mall.  It was home.  I am not ashamed to admit that it saved us so many times. It was a distraction. A diversion. A place to go behind a dressing room curtain and be whomever you wanted to be.
Now this retail therapy may be more American than I knew. Here in France, you have to anticipate what you need on Thursday, get it Friday, because Saturday is crazy busy, Sunday is closed, and Monday is closed.  Yes, Monday.  I remember being disoriented when the American stores were closed on Easter Sunday, so this was a radical change.  
It took a minute to detox, but certainly I have. Things are slower. Not better or worse, just different. I have learned a different patience (because it comes in all forms). I have found a different perspective. Closed on Mondays was not going to change, so I had to adapt. Now I look at it as a relief – “Well, we don’t have to go anywhere today, because we can’t.  What will I focus on? I should make something.”  And so I do.  Not just art, not just stories, anything. Here is my chance to make anything. Let’s make cookies. Oh, dear, we have to refrigerate for an hour? I can’t possibly wait that long. That’s how I first started. Still in a rush. Now I bake croissants. They take two days. Two days, imagine that. And worth every roll of the pin.  
Time really is nothing. It is what we do with the time. We are offered, once again a new perpective in this Covid time. It is different. It is challenging. But in this time, if we look hard enough, we will find what truly matters, we will see something, the light, and we will be saved.  

**The logo for Herberger’s was a rose – hence the title.