Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

Belong.

To have walked a place is to possess it. I knew this before I even knew what the word meant. 

From my first visit I tried to memorize my grandparent’s farm. The house. The barns. Fences and trees. Knowing that I would need it one day. Not the things inside the rooms. Not the furniture or figurines. Not the rusting tools. Nor the worn clothing. But the security. I suppose that’s all a home is — this feeling that if you went there, they would have to take you in. And if in fact I carried it with me, this feeling, this home, then I could go anywhere. I could have everything, or nothing else at all, and I would have this. And I would be OK. So I memorized the steps. The pictures hanging on the walls. The variety packs of cereals in the cupboard. The smell of damp work from overalls hanging on the wall. Tables and rugs and boots. Desks and doors. Closets. 

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the For Sale sign in the front lawn of our home on Van Dyke Road. My mother was trying to say the words. I tried to listen as I went through the steps. “We’d find an apartment,” she said. I walked up the gravel driveway to the house. “And we’d be OK.” I opened the front door and clung to the overalls hanging in the entry. “Just the two of us,” she said. I walked up the three steps to the kitchen. Tears fell from her eyes as she tried to convince me. “It wasn’t my fault…” I went up the stairs to the first bedroom, the second, the sewing room. I walked the barn. Even the empty chicken coop. And I returned to her face. My mother’s face. Seeing her. Loving her. Trusting her. It didn’t matter where we were going. If we had everything, or nothing else at all, we had each other.

And I memorized each laugh. Each day. Each struggle. Each adventure. Every trip to every mall. Every pretty dress. Every conversation mixed with coffee and wine. Each moment with my mom. Knowing I would need it one day. And that day has come.

I walk the streets, the gravel paths of Aix en provence. I have filled out the forms. Followed the rules. Applied. Tested. And carry the card that says I belong. But I know the only way for that to be true is to walk it. This place. Gather it all in, step by step, and carry it with me. Scattering along the way, everything that I have collected through the years. Each story. Every pebble on the path that I walk daily is now mixed with my treasures. My memories. Dampened overalls and sparkling dresses. Laughs and loves. I am a part of it all. And I am home.


Leave a comment

I am here.

In the fifth grade team room of Miss Green, Mr. Andert, and Mrs. Pohlman, we were allowed to begin. And I mean begin anything. Without plans. Without direction. Without fear. 

The janitor’s closet was directly across from our classroom. During a rainy day recess, Wendy Shoeneck, Lori Patri, Barb Duray and I used it as our office. Amid the smell of disinfectant and the wet mop in the bucket, we came up with the idea of putting on a play for our classmates. We had no reason to believe we would be good at it. We had no reason to believe we wouldn’t be… so we continued. We had no script. No decisions were made other than to just do it. 

We flung the door open and told Miss Green of our plans. I don’t remember asking, maybe we did, I hope we did, nonetheless, she said sure, and when the class convened after recess, we began. We drifted between themes of don’t use drugs, be nice to everyone, some school bus songs…I remember jumping and waving, and soon the whole class was singing. It maybe lasted 5 minutes. But you don’t need a long time to get a real taste of freedom, a real taste of joy.  

We were rangled back to our desks and the day continued with books and structure. But the afternoon smiles never left our faces.  

I had been shy for my first four grades. Some said painfully — I had never seen it as pain. When they mentioned it on my report cards, my mother always told them, “When she has something to say, she’ll say it.”  My mother never lied to me, so I believed her, and lived in my quiet world pain free. She was right, and it happened for me in fifth grade. Maybe it was due to the open team room. Maybe it was because of the open teachers. The safety of friends. Or maybe it was just my time. But I give thanks for it all. I never turned back after that. 

I have no real plan for the day. I have no reason to believe it won’t be good. I fling open the door — here I am — powered by the freedom to live my joy.


Leave a comment

The V in my voilà!

I suppose there’s an art to everything, and a Google page to go along with it. I was watching a video on how to create a better product photograph. I was intrigued because he said you could create beautiful photos without spending a lot of money on professional cameras, lighting, backdrops, etc. The key was to create texture and depth. I know there are apps to make everything. Dump your product onto the screen and voilà! But true to form, I wanted to be the depth in my photo – the v in my voilà!

I had just finished making the side table/foot stool out of a stump in our yard. Never had I sanded so much. Sanded and sanded. Until I was not just touching the wood, it was touching me. Then I stained it. Got the hand truck and hauled it into our library. Now for the backdrop. “You’ll be surprised to know,” he said on the video, “you already have one of the best backdrops, and it’s in your kitchen.” A baking sheet. A used one of course. And this I had. With the life of every croissant, cookie and loaf of bread that I had baked. I used paper to reflect the natural sunlight coming through the French doors. And, well, voilà!

I write about daring to embrace the beauty of all the imperfect lives around you, what better way to display it? Today, if you’re taking a photo, or just glancing in the mirror, don’t forget to see the the beauty in the imperfections — don’t forget to be your own V!


Leave a comment

Lending a hand.

We all do it. Slow down to look. And I’m guilty of it. Staring at this “traffic accident” called my brain. Replaying it over and over in my head. And you can honk all you want. I even try to honk myself out of it… but there I sit.  Silly brain.  

I have the tools. Literally and figuratively. Yesterday, I had the sense to use them. For over three hours I lent my brain a hand. Gave it a break. I started stretching canvas. To measure the wood. Cut it. Square it. Glue it. Nail it. Size the canvas. Stretch it. Staple it. You have to focus. (Eyes forward. Hands at 10 and 2, as it were.)  And what a relief. What a sweet and glorious respite to let my hands take over. 

I thought of this just as I was typing – when you buy something from a “maker,” you get so much more than a product. You get a piece of their life, and all the lives that have touched them. The baker. The poet. The sculptor. The painter. The builder. All will give the tangled and twisted bits of their heart.

Maybe today I will let my mind wander down a new path, and start painting on one of those canvases. The window rolled down on this open road of creativity. Breeze in my hair, radio tuned to my favorite song, the journey continues. Let’s ride.


Leave a comment

From rack to mirror.

I often tell the story of the first time Dominique went with my mom and I to Herberger’s. Upon entering the back door, it started — the meet and greet. There’s Jessica from shoes. Hi Jessica! Sue in bras. “The last one fits great!” Oh there’s Carol. “Thanks for the boxes!” “This is the manager,” my mom pointed out. “Oh, hi Claudia — we’ll need to pre-order the Clinique.” Dominique seemed dazed and confused. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t understand?” What? I said – it all seeming so normal. “Is your mom the mayor?” He asked. “Of Herberger’s,” I said, “Yes!”

Some of my best memories are in dressing rooms. Whether it was me, or a complete stranger (of course only upon their urging), my mother was there to help. She would stand just behind your shoulder. Look with you in the three way mirror. And with your very best interests at heart, she would say, “I think we can do better.” And then she was with you – to the very end – from rack to mirror and back again. Until it was just right. No abandonings. Only truth. Only support. Until it was completely beautiful.

I have been told that these sweet memories will someday turn from pain to comfort, and then to complete joy. And I believe it. I have to believe it because I’ve seen it from every angle. This three-way reflection of truth, support and beauty.

I look in this morning’s mirror and smile because I can hear it…I can hear her… “We can do better. We will do better.” She is with me. And it is beautiful!



Leave a comment

The patience chair.


I had never restored or recovered chairs before moving to France. I had never done a lot of things. But maybe that was the first thing I had to learn — learn to no longer say “I never do that,” and replace it with, “I haven’t done that yet.”

Patience is another thing…I’m still working on that one daily. When painting on fabric, after the paint dries (this is key) you need to set the paint. I do this by ironing the piece, then washing the fabric in really hot water. Then another soak in fabric softener, and another pass with the iron. When making the cover for this chair, it sounds silly now, but I was impatient. There were other places to sit in the house, sure, but I wanted it done. I skipped the ironing, didn’t wait a full 24 hours for it to dry, put it in the wash basin, and voila – I ended up with a bucket of brown water and a faceless canvas.

I hung it outside on the clothes line. And took some deep breaths. What I ended up with, after painting it again, was something I liked a great deal better. I love this face. This chair. My patience chair.

It’s funny what we get in a rush to do. And I want to be patient. With feelings. With others. Even with myself. Would that it were all so easy to “hang out on the line.” But I’m trying. Maybe we all could try a little harder (or softer) to let things just be… give it a minute and see…and start again…

This day is brand new. I haven’t done any of it — yet! I brush past the cool crisp sheets of it all, waving in the morning breeze. Let’s begin. Softly.


1 Comment

Carry it with you.

I would often receive pictures of men cut out from the Banana Republic catalog with a note, “He’s on order. Feel free to call him dad.” 

I knew my mother’s handwriting. I knew her sense of humor. 

I can’t stop smiling as I read through her journals. 

July 9th, 1992

“I’m still celebrating my birthday. My philosophy is to live life to the fullest. Don’t just taste or sample it – devour it and have a second helping. Love a lot and laugh a lot. (And since I have not done much loving of late — I’m laughing a lot!!!) I hope before I finish this book I’ll be doing both! Just keep reading.”

While painting a series of portraits in France, I knew exactly what to do with the man in the hat. I made a copy and sent it to my mother. “Sorry for the delay. Your order is on its way.” 

Write it. Record it. Memorize it — this soundtrack of laughter with the ones you love. Nothing is lighter than joy. Carry it with you.


1 Comment

Masterpiece.


I don’t create a masterpiece every day. Wait, now I have to look up the word masterpiece. If by one definition — something “considered to be the greatest work of a person’s career” — then no, I don’t. But if you look at another — “a supreme achievement” — then maybe yes, maybe I do. Maybe we all do.

I was fumbling through a difficult afternoon yesterday. Emotions tangling my every move. Every step a trip. Everything seemed too big. I didn’t want to do it – any of it. It was all too much. I needed something small. Contained. Doable. 6” x 6”. This seemed reasonable. I could navigate half of a foot. I opened my sketchbook. Reached for a single pencil. No decisions of color or brush. Just hold the pencil. Feathers appeared lightly. Then shading. And it felt familiar. New, but not frightening. Pencil lines became darker. More confident. And there it was. A bird. My bird. My something doable. My moment of getting through. I smile because I get to know — I get to know the effort it took to get through the moment — the effort it took to achieve this tiny bird. To navigate the afternoon, all 6 inches of it — an achievement, nothing short of supreme.

We don’t get to know every inch of every person. I don’t know what you’re tackling today. What you’re trying to get through. But I care. And I understand the effort it takes. And I applaud the efforts! I applaud the masterful achievements — the supreme achievements of our daily lives.

Perched on the new day, I shout to the opening sun, my lifting heart, to each master rising – one and all — Bravo!


Leave a comment

Eager hearts and fingers.

Mr. Opsahl’s art room was lined with windows. Street level. In all the other classrooms of Washington Elementary, you would be reprimanded for staring out the window. But not here. Not in the art room. We were encouraged to look at everything. Even out the window. Find your palette, he said. I’m not sure we even knew what that meant, but to be free to wander, beyond the glass — glass smudged with eager hearts and fingers — this was something! He gave us, not just a way beyond, but a way home.

My palette has changed from time to time. From year to year. Adapting to the ever changing needs of hearts and fingers. Today I live here. In the calm of blues and greens, browns, tans, beiges and taupes. Grays and creams. All things natural. Telling myself — all is as it should be. Resting in earth and sky. The here and there melding together. One. A gift I was given. A gift I continue to give.

Take a look around. Find your palette. Give yourself permission to create the world you need. Dare to smudge the windows with hopes and dreams. Find your colors of comfort and beyond. Find your way home.


Leave a comment

In a flash

.

I took a photograph as ’21 turned into ’22. I shook the image into view. Winter turned to spring before my eyes, and petals fell from trees. Pinks turned into greens. Splashes in sun-warmed water sounded like promises. I put sleeves on tanned shoulders, and never dreamed goodbyes would have to be said to love that fell from the tree that gave life. Bundled and braced. Memories wintered my soul in the white of the photograph — the photograph made not with a click of shutter, but the blink of an eye. The same blink that opened ’23. 

Open lens. Open heart. Smile! I’m just getting started.