Jodi Hills

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



I spend a good percentage of my life lost in translation. That seems reasonable, living in another country, but it has actually been the case for most of my life.

And I don’t mean this in a bad way. Maybe because my mother was so different from her siblings and not only survived, but thrived, it made it all seem possible. She spoke a language of fashion and make-up, of poetry and romance. A language I understood. A connection so familiar that it turned this “other” into something spectacular. I didn’t need to be understood by everyone, because I was understood by her. A safety net I count on still.

Perhaps it was this security that set me free.

This French that I think I’m speaking, is mostly understood by my husband. I often hear him repeat to others the very thing I heard myself saying. And I could let that bother me, or I can choose to see it for how special it actually is, to have this one human really understand me.

I stumble upon new words every day. Not ones I hear in conversation. No, those are rare. So often when I ask what does that mean, I get the response, “it really doesn’t translate.” And I must admit that is a lonely feeling. To be left hanging, alone, with no connecting words. But the other day, I found one. Such a gorgeous word. Chamade. Even without knowing, it sounded familiar. I looked up the meaning. Chamade — a wildly beating heart. It was my “jimbly.” My racing, excited, almost nervous, anticipating, open, risking, love-filled heart. Inside this word, these beautiful letters, I was not lost in translation, but found.

I shared my glorious discovery with my husband. He smiled and said that his mother loved that word. I was, am, connected, still and again. My heart beats wildly!


In the beautiful folds.

They say that paper has a memory. Meaning, if you fold it, the crease remains. Perhaps the same is true of the heart. 

The limb I found myself wobbling upon yesterday was a bit more unstable than usual, so I gathered in my heart and took it to the paper. It always welcomes me. And even with all of its security, it still challenges me. Dares me to create. To learn. To grow. To find the beauty even in this moment of uncertainty.  

I didn’t plan the portrait, I just started to paint. As she came to life, I knew what she needed to wear. My mother would have loved this ruffled blouse. How it gently gathered around the neck and framed the face. She was the queen of white ruffles, my mother. Such a delicate beauty. 

And there it was — found — the uncertain beauty of the moment. 

My heart is not broken. But it will be forever creased. Remembering and saving all the love. And it is here, in the beautiful folds, that I have the courage to move from limb to limb. To dare the lift of love, ruffle my feathers from heart to face, and let myself fly.

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Newsprint and Windex.


It was only an hour each weekday. After school. I’d get off the bus at around 3:30pm and wait. Two picture windows faced our driveway. Some days, I could be distracted by The Brady Bunch, but the majority of those 60 minutes before my mom came home from work was spent waiting against those windows.

They taught us at Washington Elementary not to touch the glass windows that lined our classroom, because it was the janitor who would have to clean the windows dailly. And we didn’t want to make his job harder, did we? But seeing how it was my job to clean the windows at home each Thursday afternoon with newspaper and Windex, I wasn’t that concerned. I fogged the glass with my breath. Drew smiley faces. Smeared them away. Blew again. Then sad faces. Erased and blew. Challenged myself to tic-tac-toe. Continuously smearing cheek and fingers across the glass. Waiting. And waiting.

The gravel road always gave sufficient warning. The sound of the tires popping at 4:37pm would tell me that my mom was about to arrive. I’d hoist my top above my waist and wipe the window. Race to the garage entry. Fling the door. And I was saved.

She never mentioned it — the streaked glass. But of course she must have known. It wasn’t like my t-shirt wipe gave a proper cleaning. But that’s who she was — the person who allowed me to be me. Never made fun of my silly antics. She saw me. And loved me.

I smiled each Thursday afternoon as I took last week’s Echo and wiped it across the pane. It sparkled clean along with my heart. A fresh start. All waiting’s worries were washed away.

I see it now. So clearly. I thought she was saving me, daily, and she did, but even more importantly, she gave me the ability to save myself. A gift I continue to use. I smile out my morning window, and I am saved.

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Well traveled.

I know that I am nothing new. I am not the first to have sat in her studio, stil flush from the emotion of putting paint on canvas. Not ready to let the feeling pass. Wanting to feed it. Grabbing the nearest book. Devouring word after word. Never thinking about the “all” they said we couldn’t have. 

It was Miss Green that introduced us to the “spelling trip.” Each week in our fifth grade classroom at Washington Elementary we split off into teams and randomly selected a place on the map. We learned all we could about the destination, then, as a group, wrote about our journey. We pushed our desks and minds together and began to write. I don’t remember where we were headed this particular week, but it was somewhere in the countryside. Someone said, “Let’s head for the hills!” One clever boy followed with, “And everyone jumped on Jodi!” 

Maybe she wasn’t the first teacher to think of this method, but she was the first to tell us. She was the first to open our hearts and imaginations to seeing, not all, but more. She sparked our curiousity. Fed it with paper and pencils and maps. And the journey began. My journey began.

Would I be living the same life without this start? Maybe. Maybe not. But joyfully, I’ll never have to find out. There is no closing of a heart cracked wide open. No closing of a heart that wants to roam from creative hands to flushing cheeks — a heart well traveled. 

I know that I am not the first to believe in love. I may not even be the first person to love you. But no one has loved with this very heart…this bruised and ever hopeful, beating heart…cracked open enough to let yours in. And this doesn’t make us new, but it does make us special. 

I have this thought, sitting book in hand, before the canvas, easel wide open… what if the only “all” we thought of, was what we had to give…

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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?!!!!


Into the spotlight

Print allIn new windowSometimes when I’m walking and listening to a podcast, the words clop along with each step, coming in and out of the path like an autumn leaf.  Then other times, like this day, the words are so clear, so near, so understandable, it’s like the slight touch of an old friend, words that you not only recognize, but ones that find their way into that empty space in your heart, and fill it.  These were the words.  This musician spoke of being at an awards show in the early 2000’s.  She was to go onstage after June Carter and Johnny Cash.  It was the old fashioned kind of stage, steps on the side that you climbed in the almost darkness.  She watched Johnny climb the stairs, slowly, carefully, like an old man.  She noticed he looked fragile, frail.  And then at the final step, he straightened, chest out, and as he walked into the spotlight he became “Johnny Cash.”  He was tall and strong and new every word to every song.  He was amazing.  He was, well, he was JOHNNY CASH!”  
It was just after her first cancer surgery that I was showing at Art in the Park in Alexandria.  It was one of my first shows and I was a little nervous, and I was alone.  My mother was still weak.  Still fragile.  On the last day of the show, I looked up from my booth, and there she was, coming down the hill, the sun lit just for her.  She was wearing a new off-white outfit (maybe pale yellow) that she had purchased from a store in Las Vegas, just out of her price range, completely within her style.  She walked slowly down that green path and my arms cheered above my head – the stage was complete!
My mother has never sung or played guitar, but oh, how she has shined.   Darkness has tried to cover her through the years, with divorce, illness, life’s uncertainties, but nothing has been able to put out her light.  When she is with me, it sometimes takes a minute, sometimes more, but she climbs the stairs, steps onto the stage, and the crowd in my heart cheers, because she is my MOM!   MY MOM!  Bigger than any star I could imagine.  
Today she is living with cancer.  We continue to laugh and shop online and dream of outfits from the Sundance catalog, and what Robert Redford might actually think of us in them.  So if you ask me how my mom is doing, I will smile and say, “Well, she’s JOHNNY CASH!