Jodi Hills

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

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Nothing shouted.

The first time I visited New England was with my mother. I was just out of college. Up until then all of my “vacation” time had been used to have surgery. To say we both fell in love immediately would not be an exaggeration. The main street was lined with seemingly freshly painted white houses. Porched and welcoming. A street sweeper (by hand) waved us in. Washed windows revealed the contents. Clothes. Beautiful clothes for sale lived in this house. My mother looked at me and beamed. We walked the white stairs and opened the door. Was that the slight hum of angels singing? Or just my mother’s heart. 

It was all like this – this understated elegance. Lobster on paper plates. Lawns mowed. Cars washed. Nothing gilded. Nothing shouted – it wasn’t necessary, it showed. 

I visited again. Several times. I have never harbored a New England address. And though I may have never actually “there,” I have lived in it, here. 

There are so many gorgeous places around the world. I have been lucky enough to visit so many of them. And as the saying goes, “if you’re lucky enough to be here, you’re lucky enough.” 

I have, in the past, been guilty of waiting — waiting to be happy if I was in the right place. I’m learning, daily, to create those places, those feelings, that joy, that comfort, in the exact place that I am. Making the hotel breakfasts. Dressing up to go to the grocery store. Eating slowly. Seeing the day for the first time, because, aren’t we all? Today is really our vacation from yesterday. Our journey towards tomorrow. I’m going to take those photo opportunities along the way.

The electrician was here the other day. He finished his job. I don’t know his name. But I invited him inside. He vacationed for a few brief moments at our kitchen table. A cup of coffee. A plate of cookies. I smiled, hoping, for these few moments, that maybe I was his New England. He asked where I was from. And, as so many people do, asked which place I liked better, the US or France. How could I explain that I was trying to live in the best of places. That I carried a piece of it all within me. That I was a French breakfast in a New England town. A relic of Rome. Dancing to the joyful music in Spain. Dangling my feet in a summer Minnesota lake. Standing in front of my own painted “Mona Lisa.”  My heart jimbled at the thought. I could hear the angels softly sing, my mother now one of them. “I love it all,” I said. And meant it. 

I’m here. And I am home.



It’s not always easy to see it when you’re in it, but the challenge usually ends up being the gift.

Living in a country where you are learning the language, you notice everything. You have to. Even the simplest of things. The most mundane of tasks are brand new. Going to the grocery store. Asking directions. You have to humble yourself to the fact that you don’t know — a lot! “In the middle of nowhere” takes on a whole new meaning.

We were driving through this very “middle” the other day. I was fully prepared to admit that we were lost. Dominique on the other hand, was simply looking. We were trying to get to a place to picnic with friends. We were supposed to bring dessert. We wanted to wait to pick it up at a nearby place because of the heat. We were overestimating the opportunities of “nearby.” The GPS wasn’t working. In its defense, I’m not sure that there was anything to base directions on. We were running late, and later. Desperately in need of dessert and directions. And then we saw her. A human leaning against the car. In my best French I asked if there was a supermarket nearby. Dominique was mortified. She laughed — a supermarket! (We were basically in a field, a very big field. We were “time travel” away from a supermarket.) But still smiling, she did lead us to a boulangerie in a neighboring village. Which sacked us with cookies and directions.

I think about how fast life moved when I knew everything. (Or thought I did.) Which direction to turn. How long the drive would be. Where to get the best dessert. Where to buy the best paint. How to mail a package (not to mention just finding the post office.) Everything was easy. And time blurred by. This, perhaps, is more frightening than a little humility. Time moves more slowly when you have to stop and think. Stop to wonder, how in the world will I get this done.? Or what is the word for that??? Because in this stopping, you also get to see everything. In the middle of a lavender field, beside a small church built centuries before, Centuries!, eating the best cookies you ever tasted, you get to stop and say, “isn’t this something!”

We keep up the wander. The wonder. Dominique can hardly believe that I permanently have a rock in my shoe. Both literally and figuratively. I always have. I guess my whole life mother nature has been trying to get me to slow down. Here, in France, she’s found a pretty good way. I stop. Take off my shoe. Tip the gift from my sole and see where I am. Look at where I am! Isn’t this something?!

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The path.

“I walk because it confers- or restores- a feeling of placeness…” Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse

Conversations others had with my mother often started out like this — “I saw you out walking…” It always pleased me to hear it. It seemed to me like a compliment. 

I loved her stride. Long-legged purpose. Maybe it was when walking that I saw her the most confident. And I liked being in it, beside her. It felt certain and unsure at the same time. Admitting that you could be lost or found, but somehow, your feet held the power. Step by step. Place by place.

I suppose she always knew. Setting this pace for me at such a young age. Lengthening my gait, that we would soon walk side by side. And that one day, I would go beyond. But still, she encouraged it. And we walked. Walked and walked. Making maps with our feet. Promises with our heart. 

I walk every day. Promises are kept. This place becomes mine. And a little bit hers. My feet have a conversation with the gravel. Telling of how they got here. A stranger passes, and we smile in different languages, but we know…somehow we know…there is a place for us. For all of us. Here. 


All set.

We were exchanging airport stories. She was traveling with her big family. They had made plans and lists. Organization was attempted. Even still, the best laid plans of travelers… They unloaded and reloaded, resembling more of a comedy than a dance. Nearing the end, she thought she heard the security guard say, “You’re awesome.” All smiles, giddy with delight that they had navigated through this maze unscathed, and apparently quite remarkably, she replied, “Oh, thank you!!  Thank you!  You’re AWESOME too!” He hadn’t said “awesome.”  “No,” he replied stoically, “You’re all set.” We hear what we want to hear. 

I suppose we do this a million times a day, try to translate what is said by others, even what we tell ourselves. People ask me all the time, how do you write every day. Saying they could never do it. Really, we all do it, I just happen to put it down on the page. We are in a constant state of listening and telling our stories. What is said and what is heard are often so different. This is why I love my friend’s story so much! In all the chaos around her, the story she was hearing in her head was that she, they, were awesome!  What if we all told ourselves that today? What if the voices in our head told us we were doing great? That we looked fabulous! That we were really something!  Then we would, in fact, be “all set!” 

Have a great day, my friends!  You ARE awesome!

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The beginning of somewhere.

We pulled the car off of the freeway to the only gas station in sight — the only building in sight. We were in the southern part of the US. Some might call it the middle of nowhere. But I don’t really like that phrase – everywhere is somewhere to someone, and we in fact were there – so I call it the beginning of somewhere. I would say we were lost. Dominique would say that we just weren’t sure how to get where we were going…. In any case, we paid the woman behind the counter for the gas and some random snacks, and asked her directions to our destination. She had never heard of it. That was fine. What’s the name of this freeway right here? Or the number? She said she didn’t know. Perhaps she didn’t hear, I thought, so I repeated, this freeway right here — I pointed. “I don’t know,” she said, “I didn’t drive here.” Baffled by the response, we walked back to the car in silence. There were so many questions. First of which – how did she get there? Where did she live? There were no houses in site. And most importantly, do you really need to drive on a road to know its name — a road that you could reach out and touch if you took two steps?

And I suppose that’s the problem, isn’t it? This lack of interest. Empathy. Knowledge. Have our worlds gotten so small? Our concerns even smaller? It was Maya Angelou who said the most important thing was curiousity. It was the key to everything. Without it, she thought, nothing else was really possible, including love, friendship, education, invention…life itself.

Our favorite travel memories always include the stumbling upon. The surprise of what isn’t on the map, or the brochure. I wish this for everyone. And you don’t have to travel the world – though I highly recommend it if you have the means — but please, please, look beyond your front door. Take the road less traveled, or the road worn to tracks, it doesn’t matter, just take a road. Go somewhere. Learn something. Meet people.

We were taught in school that it was important to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” Maybe that’s frightening to some, so I would say, start by walking in your own shoes. Live your life. Take some chances. Make some discoveries. And then make the exchange — of “shoes” — you will have something to share, and be open to receive. If you want the thrill of “stumbling upon,” you have to be willing to stumble.

We drove down the unknown freeway. Smiling. Packed with a new memory. A new story. Ready for our next adventure.

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The makers.

Yesterday we went on a mini-adventure. Just an hour from our home. A small village. We wanted to see the local pottery shop. It has been in operation since 1665. Something that has survived that long deserves our attention.  

Along the way, in the countryside, I saw something new. (New to me, clearly very old.) They looked like brick silos. They were to house the pigeons, my husband explained. We discussed the pigeons for many miles. Both in amazement that this was the way they used to get messages from place to place. Pigeons. Messages strapped to them. We complain when the internet is slow. 

Returning home, I sat by the window, looking up pigeons on my computer. I could see our “locals” sitting by the side of the tree. Most of “our” pigeons barely fly anymore. How lazy, I thought, then quickly caught myself as I checked my mail (my email that can arrive almost instantly from another country.)

It’s easy to forget about the makers. Those who crafted things by hand. Came up with solutions to problems. 

We ate our evening meal on the plates we purchased from the potter – the most beautiful plates I have ever seen. Each touched by human hands. Potters. Still making dishes. Not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect. 

We have the luxury of so many things – and I use them every day. I love technology. I am so grateful for the ease of everyday living. But I give thanks for those who got us here. And for those who continue to remind us of the journey. The makers. The hands that continue to create. Touch. The parents and grandparents that still carry the stories, messages strapped on hearts and wings. Journeys that deserve our attention — not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect.


Worth a second look.

The first time we went to Lafayette, a few years ago, we didn’t really like the city. To be fair, we didn’t really see it. We lost a tire (we found it, as it rolled past our moving rental car) and spent the afternoon at the gas station. By the time it was finished, we asked the station attendant, where was the city center. He seemed baffled and said, “I think we’re in it.”  Banking this as truth, we drove on. 

Just before arriving in Lafayette this year, I asked Dominique, “Have we been here before?” We relived the runaway tire story and laughed. We both decided, “Not really.” In the daylight this time, we could see all the signage urging us to try the boudin balls. We love trying local food. Winding our way through the barriers set up for the Mardis Gras parade, we stumbled upon a small restaurant that said, “still open.” We ordered the pride of Lafayette – the boudin – not really in a ball, but more of a sausage – and it was delicious. We started to really see Lafayette. We went to an antique shop. They had real antiques, not Chinese remakes. We browsed slowly, thoughtfully, wishing we had more room in our suitcases. We visited with the owner. He was delighted we were visiting from France. We praised his store. Offered our apologies for not being able to buy anything because of the travel. He went into the back room. Came back with little packets. “I want you to have these.” They were flower seeds. Almost weightless, but for the meaning. “Plant them when you get back, then you will have a part of us there.”

Lafayette in the light of day. In the light of the people. Beautiful. We really saw it. 

It is springtime now in the south of France. Soon we will plant these flower seeds, and get a second look (or third) at Lafayette. And I suppose that is what spring is all about – giving us a second look, another chance. Another chance to see the beauty that this world holds. The weight of this! The importance! I don’t want to miss a thing!

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Journey home.

The only creative power I know is that of what might roughly be called ‘love’; not of course a sentimental love: a far more impersonal and less individual emotion. I sometimes think that migratory birds may have it for each other. They fly in the same direction, and have never been seen to interfere with each other’s flights.” Phyllis Bottome

It’s always a bit of an adjustment, returning home after traveling. My brain is usually just a beat off, but in that beat I find myself falling in love again with my own life. What a gift that is! Everything is brand new, just for a moment. The morning croissant, just a little more flavorful. The bathroom lighting, more forgiving than the last hotel. My pillow — my pillow!! The paintings on the wall, in the studio — my heart. The candles lit. The windows open. The trees in the garden know my footsteps. The birds are singing. I am in love.

I sat down to make my first painting after this trip, this migration, and I am the bird after a long flight. I am filled with all the colors of travel, and all of the life of the familiar. My brain, still a little fuzzy, relies on my hands, my heart, for they know what to do — and I follow. Stroke by stroke. Bird by bird. I know who I am. And I am home.  

It is my wish for everyone. The sky is big, and meant to be shared, meant to be loved, knowing we are all on this beautiful and constant journey home.


Creating a song.

My mom and I drove to Galveston for the sole reason of the Glen Campbell song of the same name. It wouldn’t be the last time I was lured by the romance of a song.

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Lake Charles, LA. We can thank Lucinda Williams for that. I (we) have been singing her song “Lake Charles” since we entered the South. The glorious power of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.

Maybe that’s the best thing about all of the arts — seeing things as others see them. In the city where we live in France, Aix en Provence, the Sainte Victoire mountain is the star. Cezanne painted it again and again. I have often wondered if it would have had the same appeal if he hadn’t shown us the beauty that he saw. I’m not sure, because now I can’t unsee it. And it is beautiful.

I write of the simple things. Paint them as well. Some might even say ordinary. I tell you of my home town. My mother. My grandparents. My school. For me, none of it is ordinary. And maybe you see it. See them. And maybe it helps you see the extraordinary beauty of your own life. And with any luck, that beauty gets stuck in your head, like a favorite song.

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Where’s Julian?

I have asked that question in English, and French, countless times. I would have never met him had I not married his father’s brother… but I did. Now I wonder where he is. He is a traveler. Not a tourist. He immerses himself into different cultures. Learns different languages. Wanders. You can see it in his face, his eyes. Always looking onward.
He once sent a video from a hole in a village, maybe Cambodia, I’m not sure, but it was, to be polite, remote, this community bathroom (this giant hole), and I thought, wait, they have internet? The world offers opportunities. Chances. And Julian takes them.

As Dominique and I travel, moving from hotel to hotel. I look at the walls. Where is the art? Certainly not on these walls. Safe squiggles. Safe words – “good vibes only.” Every instagram picture with a million likes. No chances here. So we look for the art, in the people, the places, the cultures, the land, and hope, by some glorious chance, it finds its way into my heart and hands and onto the canvas and page.

I know some might say Julian should stop. Settle down. Fall in love. But I think, isn’t he? In love I mean? I think he’s in love with his own life. And that’s beautiful. That’s more than a safe squiggle on a wall. That, my friends, is art.

I understand this is not for everyone — travel — but I’m talking about living. I encourage you to take a chance. On life. In love. On yourself. This will take you where? — farther, further, than you could ever imagine!