Jodi Hills

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


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Steady.

“Focus on something steady,” she always tells me. I do. Every morning, for my yoga session. I was looking out the window, this morning, as I usually do. I like to focus on a tree for balance. Keeps me strong. Sturdy. Rooted. Standing strong in tree pose, a squirrel ran up the branches (on the tree outside, not me). My focus darting along with it, I lost my balance. Nearly tipping over. Back to the tree. Back to my balance.


It makes me laugh, because that is so typical of my life. I try very hard to stay on track (as crooked as my track sometimes runs). But it’s my normal. My balance. And it works for me. I keep my heart steady above my anchored feet, my reaching arms. But even in my practice, my trying, my hold steady, my brain will shout out “Squirrel!” And go racing after it. I forgive myself and look back to my heart, pumping still steady through my veins.


Nature is filled with every kind of normal. Every kind of distraction. We choose what to grab on to. Focus on. Lean against. Grow with. I heard once, a tree is never foolish enough to fight amongst its own branches. And so, too, I let my heart and brain reach as far as they can, then gather it all in, in my ever green, ever practicing core.

Focus on something steady today, my friends.


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A blink of blue

We decided to get lunch before taking pictures at the lake. It was a beautiful, sunny day when we went into the restaurant. We had the most delicious sushi. We stepped outside under a gray cloud. Wow – that changed quickly. Still, we went to the lake. The sky, was a mixture of grays and whites. Full of movement and rumble. It wasn’t the beauty we had seen just 45 minutes ago, but it was beautiful! We walked along the shore. The golden leaves popped out against the gray. The lake’s sky, as if to thank us for still coming out in the ever changing weather, blinked a brilliant shot of blue. It was so magnificent! It lit the air and my heart with hope.

Life moves and changes – often faster than we’d like, but we still need to show up. Find the beauty. And forever cling to even the smallest blink of blue, the promise of hope. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It’s beautiful!!


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Brilliant.

As we change hotels almost every night, we also change the lighting in the bathroom. The ever so important lighting by which we begin each day. I fear my vanity may be showing, but I do like good lighting. It’s funny, perhaps hopeful, optimistic, but when I’m getting ready in poor lighting I think, “well, this can’t be right… this can’t be the way I look.” And then we get to better lighting and I have to admit I think, “yes, this is me, this is how I look!”

And why not? Why not think the best about yourself? Is it vain, or simply brilliant? I’m going with brilliant. And perhaps even more brilliant — if I’m willing to do this for myself, see myself in the best light, I think I should be able to do this for you. I think we all can.

We catch each other in so many moments during the day, and they may not all be flattering. But maybe, just maybe, on the days we are feeling “well lit” we can share that light with others. And maybe we’d all have a better day.

Step into the light. It’s going to be a beautifully brilliant day!


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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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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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The calm after.

The sun was shining. Not a cloud in the sky. A beautiful blue. No puddles in the street. No sign of the storm. “Devastating,” they said. “It took me three hours to get to work today,” he said. “You can understand why we don’t have any cars,” they said at the rental office. We did understand. Or we wanted to, but we really didn’t see any evidence of the storm. But of course it had ravaged them. The wind. The water. It hit the east coast of the US hard! And we were lucky enough to arrive yesterday, just after it had passed.

We won’t always get the proof we think we need. But why do we need it? We seem to think we have the right to know why everything happens. When someone tells you they are suffering, this should be enough. “Well, they look fine,” we think. They should be fine. We don’t know the storms that pass through each home, each heart. And we shouldn’t need the details. The proof. When someone tells you they need a minute. They need a rest. They need help. Believe them. Be the calm after.

The sun is shining today. And we are so excited to be a part of it! So grateful. Whatever you’ve been through to get here, it shines for you too!


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The sweet spot.

I have always been drawn to the still life. And not just in painting. The living as well. That doesn’t mean not doing anything. Quite the opposite. I like doing something all the time. My morning schedule is filled with breakfast, Duolingo, blogging, yoga and swimming. Which connects me to an afternoon of painting, discovering, filling, learning. But nothing is done in a frenzy, or a fever. All work to keep my spinning brain and feeling heart at a manageable pace. If my home is in chaos, it rattles my soul, so I work very hard to keep it calm. Things in place, keep my focus in place. My focus in place, I can find the most real part of me. And this is the sweet spot I suppose. The spot that I want to share. That’s the spot where I want to find people. This, I think is where we can make the true connections. It’s hard to connect to a spinning top.

Somewhere along the way, busy became a symbol of status. I’m not even really sure what the word means. We all have things to do. We all live under the same time, the same sun and moon. It seems like busy means “I’m so important,” or “what I’m doing is my important than you,” or “I have worth.” But how can we see the value in each other if we race around in circles? I want to see your worth, but I’m going to need you to slow down and actually show me who you are. Slow down and let me show you who I am. And here, we won’t be busy, but oh, it will true, still, and forever sweet!


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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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Pont du Gard

The most visited ancient monument in France, listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the Pont du Gard aqueduct remains one of humankind’s great masterpieces. A marvel of Antiquity and a true technical feat.

48 metres high, it has three vertical rows of arches: 6 on the lowest level, 11 on the second level and 35 on the third and top level. Its upper part reaches a length of 273 metres (originally 360 metres when there were twelve extra arches). It served as an aqueduct until the 6th century before becoming a tollgate in the Middle Ages and finally a road bridge from the 18th to 20th century.  

Perhaps even more impressive, an olive tree lives, over 1,000 years old, next to this masterpiece — a masterpiece in and of itself.  

Nobody takes the time to plant an olive tree anymore. (Or bothers to build real bridges.) You need patience with an olive tree. You can plant it and wait five years for the olives, maybe twelve. 

Yes, twelve years of nurturing, watering and pruning. The reward is not instant. Ah, instant gratification. I know, I get impatient too. But I’m trying, really trying, with my life, to plant an olive tree. Trying to give without worrying about the pay-off, the reward. 

Maybe it’s not about the fruit. Maybe it’s about the tree. Maybe it’s just about the growth itself. I want to have the patience, the beauty, the stamina, the strength of an olive tree. And so I will put in the time to learn, to love, and to live, without measuring the sun, only feeling its warmth. I offer this to you as well. I am here for you. 

No abandonings. For you, for me, I’m planting an olive tree. I am building a bridge. I am taking the time.


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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.