Jodi Hills

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


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Black barns.

I have never smoked. I don’t really care about tobacco, but I was interested in the black barns of Kentucky. The woman at the tourist office told us they were used for tobacco. The black kept the barn hotter, and helped in curing the tobacco. So many are no longer in use, but I think they are still beautiful. They are so different from the red barns I grew up with.

We stopped at the Muhammad Ali museum in the next leg of this journey. I was never a boxing fan, but I was interested in the man. He was not a perfect human, but I haven’t seen one yet. I do know that he helped raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, the Olympics, the Civil Rights movement, and being human. I think that is beautiful.

It’s getting harder and harder to know who and what we are supposed to like anymore. We are constantly being told you can’t like this painter because he said bad things. Can’t like this music because the singer was a drug user. Can’t shop here, they support the wrong ideas. Can’t be friends with them, they voted wrong. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that chicken.

And I want to support the things I believe in. I really do. But I want to know the world. Experience different things. Meet different people. Eat some chicken. So what do I do? What do we do?

If I write about something you aren’t interested in one day, does that negate the 20 other times you laughed or cried when you read my words. I hope not. I hope we can all be open to each other. I hope we can all believe in different things, and still be kind to each other. Walk different paths, and be open. Look differently. Laugh differently. And still believe in love.

I will sketch the black barns. The champion horses. The beautiful losers just wandering the field. And maybe when I get home I will paint the black barn. I don’t think my red barn will mind at all. I want to find the beauty. I think it’s even there in the search. Probably there, most of all.


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Slugger.

He was an older man in the church we attended. If I did know his name, I don’t remember it now. But I remember him. I remember his voice. He always greeted me with, “Hey, Slugger!”

I was just a young girl. I threw like a girl. I hit like a girl. And I was proud of it. I loved it. The sport was fun, but I think it was more the sun. The freedom of summer. The belonging with the girls. I suppose it was the first time I belonged to something bigger than myself.

When my parents divorced, it seemed this church decided to break up with us as well. I didn’t understand. My mother didn’t understand. It was subtle at first. Doors dropped in front of us. Coffees cancelled after services. We didn’t belong anymore. In a place where all should be welcomed, we were forgotten, all but for this one voice. This old man, who still saw me. Still called me by my heart. Still recognized the strength inside me. Didn’t see me as broken, but a fighter, possibly even a winner. Those two words, “Hey, Slugger!” — the most Christian words I ever heard.

Yesterday, we went to the home of the Louisville Slugger. I didn’t buy a bat. I didn’t need one. I know who I am. I have faith. And I am strong.

I want to be a voice that gives you hope, gives you strength. You can do this! We can do this! I believe it! C’mon team!


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Big Harriet.

We stood next to her statue in Annapolis, Maryland. Harriet Tubman. I towered over her in physical size. She was so small. Yet, she towered over me in strength.

The only way I know how to thank someone for their gifts, is to show them that I really see them. I begin by making a sketch. “I do see you,” I say with each pencil marking. But knowing this, I also know that she can see me. We are connected now. And what does she see? Am I continuing the work? Am I doing the work? Because there is work to be done for sure. And acknowledging this is where I begin. Where I continue. Until each color comes to life off the page. Each statue dances off their podiums and rejoices in the progress. The victories. The work has to continue.

Yesterday I saw Harriet. She lifts me. She inspires me. Could anything small do that?


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Constant journey home.

I found myself at home in front of the US capitol. I didn’t expect to be so moved, but I was. Tears streamed down my face. Because I was home. And my French husband was home. And the people around me, people of every color, people speaking different languages, some laughing, some crying, all peaceful, all joyful, all were home. This is who we are. Who we have to be. Welcoming. Kind. Joyful.

Next we visited the National Gallery of Art. I stood in front of the collection of Cezanne. In front of the painting of L’Estaque. And once again I was home. I stood with my French husband, who’s mother had a house there, and we were home. Once again the tears were streaming.

What a privilege to feel at home. Perhaps it has to start in your own skin. Once you are comfortable within, I think you have the courage to seek, to reach out, to wander. Once you are comfortable within, you also have the courage to welcome those different from yourself.

So this is where we begin. Within. All on this beautiful, this constant journey home.


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I am here.

You won’t find it on a website. Siri doesn’t have it in her system.  But I stumbled upon it. (On accident? Are there any really?) The Vanadu House. It is not a museum. There are no lines. Not even other visitors when we went there, (the next door neighbor worked slowly on his porch) But make no mistake, it was art. The house, the camper, the three cars parked along the house — all art. If you rush by, you might think it is junk, but no. Each item seems curated. Thoughtfully placed. Each quote intelligent. Quotes like:

“The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” ― James Baldwin


And this person, this artist, is doing just that — making a place to fit in. And aren’t we all doing that? Trying to do that? Find our place in this world? And I suppose that is art at its finest. Showing the beauty of the curated heart, the curated mind, the curated life. We piece together the knowledge, the relationships, the struggles, the victories, and we try to make it as beautiful as we can. And it is. Not all the same for everyone. It doesn’t have to be, and why would we want it to be? We can stand in lines, stand in place, and wait for someone to tell us what is beautiful, how to live our lives, or we can create places of beauty – lives of beauty. And whether or not anyone drives by, bothers to notice, you are still beautiful. We are still beautiful.


Today I move. I create. I fit. I am here. And it is beautiful.


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Anyone.

After seeing it, the Liberty Bell, I had to look up the actual definition of the word. The thing is, we always think we know. There are many interpretations of course, but the words that kept popping up were freedom, rule of law, and not depriving anyone else of their freedom. Oh, we get the first part so easily, freedom, freedom, freedom. Me, me, me. But do we get the second part? The anyone else’s? That’s the hard part, I suppose. That’s where the crack comes in. This is where we fail so often.

We stood in line to view it, this line of anyone else’s, this line of every color and age, this respectful line that moved slowly in the heat of the sun – the great disinfectant. We were quiet, polite, respectful. For we were all in search of the same thing – proof that this was still the case – it could be done peacefully – this search, this daily march toward liberty. This daily march together in our differences, together in our similar pursuit.

We only got a few minutes to stand before the symbol, this bell. But it rings in my heart. I pray it rings in yours. I am your anyone else, and you are mine. And we march together, search together, work together, to ring out the great truths we all want to hear.


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Find the good.

I don’t have all the answers. But I have a lot of them (that work for me). And I guess that’s the key.  

You know what’s best for you. You know what will fulfill you. You set the bar for yourself. Others’ successes do not hurt you. Be happy for them. Others’ failures do not lift you.

They may not even feel they’ve failed. They get to decide that for themselves. You have the answers for you.

I was about to say that yesterday was a bit of a stressful day, but I’m stopping myself because the day itself was actually perfect. The day was sunny, open, and offered every opportunity.  There were stressful moments though, within this lovely day. And in those moments, this is where all the work pays off. This is when I need to use all the tools I have been given, created, found, discovered – that work for me. First on the list is always my happiest of places – the painting studio. I took out my bird sketchbook, and penciled in the first bird. My heart rate slowed. I took out the paints. I must have been smiling. The paint moved from palette to brush to paper (sometimes to fingers and clothes), and I became the weight of the bird. I let him dry and did the second one. I know what calms my heart. The day held the same ingredients of every good day I have ever experienced – it was up to me to find it. Find the good.  

Today is beginning with the same sun. The birds are singing, as if to remind me who I am. I smile because I know the song. I know myself. It’s going to be a wonderful day.  



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Family

He used to sit right above my head in my office. Sold recently to a wonderful family in my home country, he now has a new home. Now it is she who rests above my head. And although they are completely different, she teaches me every day, (because I need it – perhaps we all do…) the lesson of empathy. The lesson of seeing other people. Because once you see someone – truly see them, you know better, and when you know better, you have to do better.

Yesterday I sat with my family outside at the garden table. We drank wine. Ate the fruits of the sea. Barbecued. We were one. Now, in reality, we are not related by blood, by language, or by culture, but we are family. Because we chose to be.

Across the sea, my mother put on her new dress, and went out to dinner with her best friend, Carol. They drank and ate. Gave and received compliments. And I could feel their joy! They are family, because they choose to be. And I will always choose to be theirs!

The world needs to make some big choices now. Are we really prepared to see what is happening to humanity? And if we truly see them, can we every look away? Or can we make the choice, that as humans, we belong, we have a place at the table. We are family. I look at the face that rests above me. She tells me this has to be true.


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— and my heart beside —

I’m not sure which lesson is hardest to learn, to be there for someone when they need you, or to let them be there for you when you need them.


My mother had two male friends. And they were good friends, to her and to each other. When one of them was near the end of his life, the other wanted so badly to be there, to help in the biggest, or smallest of ways. In any way. And not just wanted – needed. Really needed it. Needed to be by his side and show him that he mattered. Show him that their friendship mattered. To be let in this one last time. But the failing friend couldn’t do it. Couldn’t allow this last gift. He saw it as weakness – and not the final gift that he could give his friend.


I can’t claim to know either side of this exact experience, but what a lesson! For our daily lives. Some days we are the one who gets to stand strongly beside, and other days, we get to rely on that nearby strength. Both gifts. I want to be strong enough to stand. I want to be strong enough to let you in when I can’t.


And we do this together. Side by side. Each the better for it. No one keeping track of whose turn it is. Our shadows and hearts melding as one.


Emily Dickinson wrote, “It’s all I have to bring today — this and my heart beside –“


Beside. Today and every day. The perfect gift.


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Sans temps. (Without time. )

My mother-in-law is without time. Some days she is forty years old. Some days 60. I suppose after nearly a century you should be allowed to choose your own age. And she does. Without apology, she is young, she has babies, and thinks you are the crazy one for getting older. She’s probably right.

There is a young girl that I have painted. Little girl blue. She is just about to dance. She’s just a tiny bit afraid, but determined. And you know she will do it. I see her every morning. In my bathroom mirror, her reflection is just beside mine. I put on my dress, and I too, am without time. I, too, have the legs of youth, and can hear the music. There is no yesterday, or tomorrow, just the open blue of today, and I can’t waste it. I let go the fear of time passing, and simply dance.