Jodi Hills

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

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It was great to see you…

The sign read “Baby Missing.” It hung in the back, over the garage sale notice and the dog walking service with three numbers left, at the Starbuck’s on Sheridan. His back to me, he read the review of “Super 8” from his ipad. “Baby Missing.” It was written in black sharpie – perhaps the only thing permanent. “Baby Missing…three years old… blonde curly hair…” He finished the movie review and asked, “Should we go?” “There’s a baby missing,” I said. Even the words felt uncomfortable. “A baby missing?” He looked at me, “How could a baby be missing?” The two men sitting on the circular table in front of us, repeated the same thing, ”How could a baby be missing?”  My heart sank. She was out there. Was she scared or cold or crying? A baby was missing and I was drinking a non-fat, extra hot, vanilla latte. A baby was missing and we asked a few questions… this barista… this customer… no one knew anything… and the collective roar of our worry soon quieted to heads shaking in disbelief.  And softly, politely we all slipped back into our previous conversations.  A baby was missing, and I sipped my coffee, losing the thought around page 365 of my newest read.  I recycled the cup and plastic lid… and we left Starbuck’s to see “Super 8.” A baby was missing…and my heart aches… for the three year old curls… and my ability to forget her.

I was using a black sharpie today. She flashed through my head – an image did anyway. I never did know what she looked like. It didn’t make the Chicago news. But she mattered. She still does. Today I will tell you that you matter, and if you could pass it along…it’s just possible, it could be unforgettable.



We didn’t spare the words…

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We didn't spare the words...

We are all here to tell a story. We bear witness to life. We love and we get torn apart and we love deeper. We get lost and then we make a new path. We try, we fall and we get up again. We curse the same God we cling to…and with knees bent, overwhelmed by joy, strengthened by past grief, we give thanks for both. We weather it all. Together. I wrap you in the words of my story when you are cold. Warmed, you tell someone yours. We are all here to tell a story.

…and so she would dance.


...and so she would dance.

It was just yesterday when she felt the breezes from Lakeside Ballroom,
dreamed of Frank Sinatra,
gave her heart,
smelled the youth of her children,
broke her heart,
and trusted her heart again…
It was just today when the wind brushed her skirt,
she hoped and twirled like a little girl.

(This is the short version of my mom’s story. Some will wear their heart on their sleeve, I painted hers on her jacket.)

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If I could see it – maybe they could see it too…


I held up her portrait. She looked at herself, and caught her breath. I was worried because she wasn’t speaking… “Are you ok? Do you like it?” I asked. She was silent. I was nervous. Her head started shaking, as if to encourage the words. She hesitated and said softly – “I never really thought of myself as pretty before…” She was so surprised, almost as if she were seeing herself for the first time…. and I realized all the possibilities – if I could just show people how beautiful they actually were, if I could see it – maybe they could see it too…

Today I learn gratitude…again, and for the very first time.

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 Today I learn gratitude...again, and for the very first time.

I walked to school with wet hair and a permanent pink hall pass from a forgiving gym teacher. Yes, I walked across the street, not for miles in the snow, this isn’t one of those stories… but in order for it to make sense, I do have to tell you a little about my past. I was having surgery all the time, we lost our home, and our family split completely apart. School was a life raft. School was safe. School was constant. And then it became more… it wasn’t just shelter from the storm… it was where we were building a bigger boat. I say we, because I wasn’t alone. I had teachers, and friends, and cooks and janitors. And they all mattered. Truly. With them I was able to combine letters into phrases of hope that even I could believe. I could take paint and brighten any day. I mixed metaphors with metallics and music and mat ball. Yes, I went with wet hair and sometimes a dampened attitude… perhaps a bit afraid to show how much this place mattered. But oh, how it mattered. It still does.

When I saw the face of the little girl, Malala, just trying to get an education… fighting for her rights to learn, to laugh, to dance, to set sail… I had to join her. I had to paint her face. I had to listen to her heart.

I feel so lucky. I could just walk across the street. I had the freedom to learn, to
escape, to grow. I was given a chance. We are all so lucky.

That doesn’t mean we are free from difficult times, sadness, anger, hurt, or hard work. We wake up in a land of chance. For those who don’t, we have a responsibility. So please, let us embrace it!

If you are a student, go learn something. Take every opportunity you can.
Fill yourself with possibility.
If you are a teacher, know, even behind the eye rolls and distracted minds, you are so important. You are leaders and you are builders. And you matter. Build something today… build up someone.
If you are a parent, walk hand in hand through all of it.
If you are a politician, please keep our education a priority.
If you have resources, share them.
If you have a heart and a mind, stretch them…open them.
Everyone deserves a chance. Give one to your neighbor. Give one to yourself.
Malala is teaching us so many things. Today I learn gratitude…again, and for the very first time. Thank you.

The sound of my own name.


I heard the sound of my own footsteps today. Just the birds singing in the background. I can’t actually remember the last time I heard that. It was so comforting. Like hearing the sound of your own name, spoken by someone you love. I need to hear it more often. Listen more often. Trust in the sound. I have to believe my feet will take me where I need to go.


“For a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.” Ernest Hemingway


There are certain surprises that I like.  Those that stop your heart for just one moment… make you catch yourself in a smile.  I like the small surprises that you can allow yourself, if you take the time.  Like really tasting cheese…when it melts so slowly on your wine-moistened tongue and breathes with you… mmmmm… that’s a nice surprise.  When you hear a song for the first time, one that you’ve played a million times, but then suddenly, one day, walking with headphones, the words and the music slip in deeply, and you hear them from the inside out… that’s a nice surprise.   Having your heart cracked wide open, and it keeps beating… that’s a nice surprise.   Seeing past the stereotypes, the armor, the disguises, and truly seeing people…that’s a nice surprise.  Celebrating the poets and the milk bottle throwers… living and loving with that same cracked and beautiful heart, that’s a wonderful surprise.  


Carrying my letters in a bottle, my heart and mind wide open… surprise me.  



So I got to go to Paris this year. Yes, Paris. I know. I’m smiling too. I’m the little girl, face pressed up against the window, rain coming down, waiting… wanting to still believe in Santa Claus, in the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, anyone who comes… anyone who stays… just wanting to believe that each track of rain was a path to my door… daring to believe that each track of rain was a way out… I nearly wore the window through… This year, with glass pressed hands, I waved from the Eiffel Tower. No longer waiting. I believe in something. I believe in someone. I believe.


Be still.

ImageMy mind is fast – not necessarily smart… but it moves quickly and can pick up speed with what ifs…  complete conversations (both sides) of what could happen.  And then I have to tell myself to just slow down… let my mind be still.

Be still.  

I fell in love with the library right away.  When I was in the first grade, every Thursday we got to pick out a library book.  The library.  The smell of old, turned, eyed pages… limitless worlds to visit and friends to make… the endless possibilities. Aaahhh, the possibilities… that’s where my love affair with the library slightly went off track.  On Wednesday nights I would panic.  There was never enough time given to pick out the right book.  I wanted the best book.  The right book.  The book that would take me away.  Take me to the most wondrous of places.  It was so important.  So many of the other 6 year olds just  picked anything off the shelf… or maybe they knew… it seemed so easy for them.  Wednesday night – no sleep.  Then my mother would climb into my bed.  She would tell me to go to a section.  Touch the bindings.  Be still, and you’ll know.  Be still.  She was right.   I breathed.  I touched.  I chose.  I was in love again.  

It’s a rainy day in Aix en Provence.  I hold my book (on my ipad) in my hand.  I imagine the smell of Washington Elementary Library.  I am still…and in love.