Jodi Hills

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


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…Even on fragile legs.

When I watched her dance, I couldn’t believe that those legs could be that strong. Not only to lift her in the air, but then brace her as she came back down. Simply amazing the strength. Maybe that’s why I love dance so much. This elegant combination of beauty and strength.

The champion horses in Kentucky display this same recipe for beauty. These massive animals, carried so elegantly on seemingly fragile legs. Amazing! How do they do it? I paint them with as much respect as the dancers.

Perhaps I’m only able to recognize the beauty in both because my mother has displayed this same combination of beauty and strength my whole life. I know she often worries, or says, “I want to be brave.” And she is, oh, she is! She is the dancer that doesn’t see the audience standing on their feet in awe. She is the Thoroughbred that runs through and past the finish line.

When I first started painting, even the most simple of characters, my mom would say, “oh, she looks like me…” And of course they all did. They do. I see her in everything. I guess that’s how it is when you love someone. You see their beauty – everywhere.

I paint the horse and I smile. I am a dancer. A race horse. My mother.


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Finding my Napoleon.

Standing in front of the Napoleon monument in Corsica, I didn’t expect to feel it – this reverence. I stood amongst the crowd, mostly French, there to pay tribute to their hero. I was so happy for them, those gazing with such pride. As we moved slowly across the gravel path, getting closer and closer to the statue, I could feel their excitement build. And I felt it too, not so much for myself, but for them. I was truly happy – perhaps a little envious as well (because we all need a hero from time to time).

I read the stories, the legends, on all the plaques and pamphlets and books — this was not the Napoleon we were taught in US schools. Here, he was not short, he was, is, grand, celebrated. And standing there, amongst the believers, I could feel the magic, the wonder.

I walked by the cave – the cave where, as a child, he was said to have looked to the sea and dreamed of what he would be. Looked to the water and dreamed of what he could do. This is where I knew him. I knew that child — because I was that child. I heard the waves in his young ears. I heard the waves in mine. He had the sea. I had the lake — Lake Latoka. I would not have a throne or a monument. I would have a diving tower. I would not conquer nations, but my own fear, and I would believe.

I sat in the shade of the trees that surrounded Napoleon’s monument, and I no longer had to envy their joy, their hope, or their pride. I had it too. And I believed in it all – the possibility of it all. The possibility of looking out over the water and having a dream. The possibility of letting the waves carry you, buoying you bigger than you could ever imagine. I sat with my Napoleon. Smiled. Looked at the water. And knew I was alive!


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Let it be me.

Yesterday, on the way to the mountains, I was sure that I would see beauty. Of course the countryside, the eight colors of green, the old farm houses, the flowers. I knew it would be beautiful. And it was. Hay wrapped in golden bales, against the green – what a color palette! The smell of lavender in the air. It was expected and it didn’t disappoint.

But there was a moment. A gift really. Nature at its finest. Moving rapidly in the car – wait, goats! My husband slowed down. Backed up. The herd rested gently in the shade. Unafraid. They were unafraid I suppose because of what happened next. A large dog, came barreling toward the fence, near our car. I had only rolled down the window to take a picture, but this dog was having none of it. His bark was not just lip service. He wanted us gone. And right now. We eased the car up the road a little bit and this dog continued. Nothing was going to harm his goats. Our car was bigger, faster…didn’t matter. He could withstand – stand up for – anything! How could we not respect that? We took off down the road, rather quickly and that dog ran alongside as fast and as far as the road allowed. It was beautiful. He had a job to do and he did it. But not just that – he did it with all of his heart and capabilities.

Was that love? Empathy? Loyalty? Courage? What did we just see? I know it may sound ordinary, but trust me, it was something! To stand up for someone who doesn’t look like you, talk like you, live like you. That is something! Are we doing that? Are we? I hope so. For those who can’t fight. Who can’t stand. Are we protecting them? Are we giving them a voice? Oh, I hope we are. I want to.

It’s so easy to say “somebody” should do it. Who is this somebody? Let it be me. I do not have the bark, nor certainly the bite, but I have a voice. I have the words and the paint, and the willingness to tell my story, your story, our stories.

One of my greatest joys is when you see yourself in the words and paintings, maybe for the first time, maybe for the only time, but not for the last time. I love it when I hear, “Oh, that is so me!” “Oh, that’s my story!” “Are you sure you aren’t writing about me?” This, I love. This is me, humbly, running down the side of the road, as fast as I possibly can, so you can be seen, protected, valued.

I have certainly at times been the goat. And I’m so thankful for those who would stop at nothing to protect me. What a gift! I saw them today, at the side of the road. My grandfather. My mother. A few dear friends. My husband. What a beautiful gift! I will carry it with me, and try to do the same, as far as the road, this life, will allow!


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This face.

I went down to the coffee shop in the hotel. About to rattle off my usual order, (I could say it in my sleep), when I looked up to this face behind the counter. This delightfully unusual grin that not only wished you a good day, but almost dared you to have one! I couldn’t help but smile back. Wearing my badge for the New York gift show, he knew I wasn’t a local. I ordered my coffee, and he said I could probably use a big cookie too. “Oh, no thanks” – I was on a tight budget and the New York prices were, well, New York prices! “Oh, look, my hand slipped,” he laughed and put a cookie into a sack and handed it to me with my coffee.


The cookie was, of course, delicious, but it was this random act of kindness that was even more delicious! I tasted it throughout the day. I hope I passed it on to my customers. I think I did.


The next morning I returned. And there was this face again. How could I be so blessed to start my morning with this extra sun? He was weird and wonderful. Had crazy stories to tell. And so did I! I went every morning that week. I could have gotten coffee anywhere. In New York, you could fall over and be at the next coffee shop. But I went back to this face. On the last day of my show, he handed me a large sack of cookies. “Oooooh my hand slipped! Share with your friends,” he said. And I did. I passed them out at the show, and I was a hero.


If you didn’t know the story, you might ask, “Why would you paint this face?” But now you know. And maybe you see this face differently. Maybe you see this face and think he’s beautiful! I do!


What if we took the time to learn each other’s story? What if our hands slipped away from our phones, our distractions, and we took the time to see each other? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Maybe even delicious?!!!!


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My most expensive finger.

I hit it on the door yesterday, my most expensive finger. It seems it is always taking a beating. It’s my left index finger. I am right handed, and an artist, so my right hand gets all the praise and the protection. But perhaps my left hand is the unsung hero. It’s always being asked to do the, at best unglamorous, sometimes dangerous, things, like – “Hold this nail, don’t worry, it’s just a hammer,” or “Brace the ruler while I cut with this knife.” It has been cut and battered and bruised, and it still supports, every time it is asked.

I had only been in France a short time when I cut this finger. Cut it deep. Even the tendon. I needed surgery. I had no insurance, or faith in the system, or a grasp of the language even. I was afraid. Afraid of the doctors, the procedure, how I was going to pay for it… everything. But the fear was wasted, as it is most of the time. The surgery worked. I sold a painting. My finger healed. The bill was paid. (How fitting that the right would in turn support the left.) And this most expensive finger now continues to show up daily to perform the uncelebrated tasks.

But I want to celebrate them. This finger. The unsung heroes. Those who have shown up for me daily. I hope I thank them properly. Invest in them. With time and resources, emotions and praise. They deserve it. I know I can do better. I know we can do better – investing in these everyday heroes who show up, only asking, “How can I help?”

I grab the brush with my right hand and give thanks.