Jodi Hills

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


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On Wobbly Knees.

Last night I finished reading the book Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. To simplify my review, I will just say, “Yes.” Was it good? Yes. Should I read it? Yes. Will I be moved? Yes. Will I learn something? Yes. Is it about horses? Yes. And more? Oh, Yes!!! It spans generations, covering the issues of slavery, racism, the Civil War, art, humanity — then and now. How far we’ve come, how extraordinarily far we have to go.

I suppose I was first drawn to read it because of the central figures of the horse paintings themselves. But then it became so much more. And that is the beauty of art. When it is done well, framed on canvas or bound in words, it conveys a story. A story so fluid that it carries you — carries you with the grace and elegance of chestnut legs in the Kentucky bluegrass.

But what’s it about??? Everyone always wants the short answer. I’m sorry, but the short answer is – read it.

It’s not lost on me that hanging above my head, as I turned from page to page, was my humble painting of a horse. It is entitled, “Unconditional.” And for me that is love. But how do we get there? The only path that I have found is empathy. And the clear path to empathy is education. When we know more — we do more. When we know better — we do better. So I read. And I read some more. And I write. And I write some more. I paint. And, well, more. And I just try to do better. Live better. Racing on my own fragile legs. Racing against time, and bigotry. Racing against everyone who is more than willing to bet against you. Racing away from the conditional.

There was a popular song when I was a teenager, by Dan Fogelberg — Run for the Roses. My mom bought the 45. I played it again and again. For I was, just as the song began, “on wobbly knees, with mama beside you, to help you along…” And I was carried by the melody. Carried by the words —

“It’s breeding and it’s training
And it’s something unknown
That drives you
And carries you home
And it’s run for the roses
As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance.”

I didn’t have the word for it then – this “empathy” – this joining in the dance. But I could see the path. And I wanted to be on it. I still do. I’m still wobbling along, but I’m still learning. Maybe we all can. It’s more than “high time.”


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A look around.

Of course I’m going to finish it. I always do. I never leave a book, just in case… But this will take some effort, this book, because so far, (and I am more than half way into it) I have yet to find a character to empathize with…no one seems real, not to mention likable.  I’m not going to reveal the title, because for you, it might be great. You might relate to one or all of the characters. And that’s for you to decide. 

In any book, I enjoy a flawed character. It’s not like I’m looking for perfection. Because the flaws make people interesting. Human. And that’s what I’m not finding in this book. And maybe that’s on me as well. I have to find a way to see them as human. Part of the journey is up to me. I have to see them.

I suppose that’s the real lesson, isn’t it? I have been proposing this since I wrote my first book, “I am amazed.” I would often take the book to schools and read to the kids, all grades. After reading, I had them do an exercise – pick another student and write down something amazing about them. I encouraged them not to just pick out their friends. And they didn’t. They wrote beautiful things about each other, and their teachers too. They could see each other. One school made a mural of all the attributes and left it up for the school year. They claimed, and I hope it’s true, that bullying decreased, and everyone was just a little more gentle with each other. That is amazing.

So I will finish this book. And I will try harder to empathize with characters not common in my world. I will try to see them. I want to be better at this. Every day. And what if we all did that? Not just with characters in books, but also the ones at the grocery store, the bank, the school, in the car next to us, all the characters who vote and wander, and read, and see us as the different ones. Maybe we all do that for each other. Wouldn’t that be amazing?


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A cow’s shoes.

My grandfather had cows. The herd had to be moved often. He explained that if he didn’t move them out of the grassy field, they would eat until their stomachs exploded. I don’t know if that’s true, or something he told us to keep us quietly watching the herd for hours, just for the chance to see one of them rocket into space.

I remember judging them. How stupid could they be, I thought. I still sometimes do, until mornings like this one. Mornings when I cross the line of just enough lavender honey to make the toast delicious — cross the line into wow, my racing heart and sleeping brain. That was a lot of honey!

It’s these humbling repeated lessons that keep my judgements at bay. (Not as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it.) We never know what the others are going through. And why they are going through it. Why something that is so easy for you is hard for them, and vice versa. I guess the only thing we can do is remember to be kind, to them, and to ourselves, because the roles will continue to reverse from day to day.

I won’t pretend to know what you are going through today. But I will tell you, whatever it is, I care. From the bottom of my honey-filled heart, I do care. And I’ll walk with you to the next field.


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I’ve been there.

We all wore them at Washington Elementary – the great equalizer. For one hour we not only exercised our bodies, but our humility, by donning the Phy Ed onesie – blue and white stripes on the top, elastic waist, blue shorts. Flattering no one. Winning and losing became irrelevant. You couldn’t get too arrogant if your side of the gym won the day’s event, because, I mean, look at you, you still look as ridiculous as the rest of us. So we just played. And we laughed. We had to. 

The classes after gym always seemed a little easier. Bonding for that hour, made math a little more bearable. It was the same after swimming class at Central Junior high, as they forced us to wear the dreaded green swimsuit. We didn’t make fun of the girls who arrived to class with wet hair and clothes disheveled after the allotted five minutes to change — we all knew we would have to go through it on our next cycle day.  

As we aged into high school, then adult life, we dropped all of the symbols of our survival. It gets harder and harder to tell what others have been through. And it’s not like I want to wear the uniforms anymore, no thanks, so we have to talk to each other. Share our stories. So we know we’re not alone. So we can be empathetic. Encouraging. So we can help, and be helped. Because we’re all going through something. Every day. Every minute. And wouldn’t it be comforting, as you arrived now to this day, maybe your heart bruised, or broken, your soul weary (straggly wet and disheveled from life’s lesson), wouldn’t it be nice to see the half smiling nod of the girl in the seat next to you saying, “I know… I’ve been there. I know…”


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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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Joie du jour.

We have a small group of orange lilies that grow wild in our yard, along with large patches of purple irises. They are so beautiful. I love fresh flowers in the house, so one year I cut several bouquets and brought them in. They died almost immediately.

If you know me, you know I love words. There are a few though, that I don’t like hearing — for example, “should have…” — “Oh, you should have done it this way…” (when obviously I didn’t or we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and like Cher and everyone knows, I can’t turn back time.). Or “supposed to” — “You’re supposed to do it like this, because everyone does.” (I learned a long time ago, I am not everyone, nor, really, is anyone.)

We all learn and grow in our way. What if we allowed each other to do this?! What a glorious, colorful, beautiful world this would be.

I step outside this morning into a sea of purple. They are beautiful, just as, and where they are! Good morning, flowers! Good morning all!


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Freshly broomed.

There is an intimacy to this life that I don’t want to miss.

We were visiting Burano, Italy – an island near Venice. It is known for its lace work and brightly colored homes. These homes are stunning. I even painted them. But it’s funny, I have this memory that is even more vivid. It was morning. We were strolling the near empty streets to find some coffee. And there was an older woman sweeping her front stoop. Just an old woman, with an old straw broom. But never “just.” This was her home. Her life. A life she dressed for. Already in a skirt and apron, she cleaned her front step to prepare for the day. In this tourist village, where people spent all their vacation dollars to see these brightly colored homes, she had a life. A life she cared for. Dressed for. And lived. And how lucky I was to see it!

I want to see it every day. With neighbors and strangers and family and friends. I want to see it on the news. Feel it. These are people. With lives. Each one special. Intimate.

There is a connection in the simplest of things. If we can see the broom. We can see the hands. If we see the hands, maybe we can feel the hearts. If we can see the hearts, then maybe, just maybe… our world – OUR world could open its morning doors, step on to the front stoop and feel safe, feel loved, feel alive. I won’t believe it’s “just” a dream.


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Justice.

When I’m just sketching from my head, it’s not unusual for me to paint a blonde woman. She just arrives. Because I have seen her. Daily. Since I was born.

Perhaps it was in college when I first felt noticed for what I could do – arranging words on paper. It was Professor Gremmels who wrote on one of my assignments, “maybe you should consider making a career out of it” – this writing. It was so significant – just scratches in pen on a piece of paper, but it was everything. I felt seen. Heard. It made, not only, “it” possible, but me possible. I had arrived at something close to hope. And my journey was beginning.  

Yesterday, Ketanji Brown Jackson made history as the first Black woman confirmed to the US supreme court. Finally, finally, she has arrived. Maybe it’s more correct to say finally we have arrived. Finally, we see! What a glorious day for every young girl (and for every young boy)! Possible now shows her glorious face! And it is beautiful! She is beautiful. This is truly a day of hope – and our journey is just beginning.