Jodi Hills

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


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Travel day.

Today we will be traveling from Marseille to Paris. Paris to New York. New York to Minneapolis. The fact that I get to type words like travel and Paris and New York and Minneapolis, and that I have stories from each place, memories, footprints, even artprints…this fills me!

Maybe it was from Ernest Hemingway that I first learned about this “feast.”

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway, to a friend, 1950

My “lucky enough” was that I always found a way to feast, even with what some would call absolutely nothing. But what they couldn’t see was I had words. I had hands. I had paint. I had an imagination. This took me everywhere — long before I stepped onto a plane. And it has stayed with me. Hemingway was right. It does stay with you – if you carry it, nurture it, give thanks for it – every day!

Zipping up the luggage now. Giving thanks. Time to feast! Bon appétit!


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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Tremble.

I learned a new word yesterday, and not in French, but Latin. Spolia. Spolia is now an art historical term for the recycling of architectural fragments. A fragment of an old building is taken from its original context and reused in a different context. This has happened throughout history. Usually these pieces are not taken at random. It first began perhaps to symbolize a new ruler to rulers of the past, for example in the Arch of Constantine, fragments of sculptures honoring Marcus Aurelius and Trajan were added to symbolize the equal greatness of Constantine. The first time I saw this was in Chicago at the Tribune Tower. I thought it was beautiful, but I didn’t have the word for it then.

I suppose, as humans, we do the same. I hope we are doing the same. Giving honor to the best of those that have come before us. When my Grandmother passed away, I wrote a poem for her. My way of adding a piece of her to my heart. It still holds me. These pieces of her, my mother — what a foundation! I stand strong today because of them, for them, forever with them.


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Be it ever so humble…

When I moved to France I gave up so many of my things. No, that’s not right – “gave up” sounds like a sacrifice. And it wasn’t. It was a choice. What I did really, was release a lot of my belongings, and made a choice. A choice to trade these things in exchange for experience, for feelings, for life, for love. The best choice I ever made. I will never regret it.

It’s easy to cling to items. And when those items don’t fill us up, we buy more items, different items. Items on sale. And when those items break, we search for more. But they will never fill us. Make us whole.

We are all guilty of it. Myself included. Each trip I make back to the US, I am limited by the weight of one allowed suitcase. And there is only so much I can bring, and so much I can bring back. Sometimes, it feels hard – (hard – insert laugh here) – to pass something by, not bring it with me, or bring it back. Just things, I tell myself. Only things.

What I want now, more than ever, is love and time. I choose love and time. I fill up my heart’s valise, no limits there, and I am whole.


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Heart on my sleeve.

In my small hometown, there was a large department store, named Herberger’s. For those of you unfamiliar, you could call it a Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Macy’s, Dillard’s…a rose by any other name. It was the anchor store of our Viking Plaza (or Vikedale as we so lovingly called it). And by my use of the word “was,” I’m sure you can see where this is going. Funny how we didn’t. We assumed it would always be there. For shopping, of course! But more than that. For social interaction. Walking inside on cold and snowy days. Visiting. Encouraging. Living.


The first time my French husband visited Alexandria, we went out to Herberger’s with my mom. We entered near the shoe department. “Hi Ivy!” she said as she handed the shoes to her customer. Sue in the bra department waved. “Hi Ivy!” she said from women’s wear. The manager of the store stopped and said hello as we went to men’s wear. This was a normal day for us. We, my mom and I had grown up together at Herberger’s. Survived lonely Sunday afternoons there. Celebrated grand events there. Tried on clothes after clothes. Complimented each other. Gained our confidence. Grew our audience. Came to life. So it wasn’t strange to me when Claudia at the makeup counter asked my mom if she was feeling dizzy because she knew my mother – knew her history – her health. But my husband had this strange look on his face. “What?” I asked him. Does everyone know your mother here? “Sure,” I smiled. “It’s Herberger’s. She’s probably like the mayor.”


When Herberger’s closed several years ago. It was a shock. We weren’t prepared to say goodbye, but then, I suppose, no one ever is. We had survived so many goodbyes before, and we would survive this one as well.


I was playing “fashion show” yesterday, in our home in France. I try on things in my closet. Put together a capsule wardrobe like I’m a star on Youtube…look in the bedroom mirror, then the bathroom, then the downstairs full length mirror that gets the best lighting… then into the salon to show my husband. When I first introduced him to the playing fashion show, I’m not sure he really understood the game, or that we were even playing… “You have to say lots of nice things about me…” “A little more…” He’s become an excellent player.


With each outfit change I am shouting with glee over the changing room walls, over the music playing on the speakers above us, racing my mother to the best lit mirror (of course she had that figured out!). We weren’t wrong when we assumed that it would always be with us. It is! Herberger’s is alive and well in the south of France.


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Nothing wasted.


“Inspire” is a tricky word. I think a lot of people want someone or something to inspire them. They want the “other” to do the work. But I’m not sure that can really ever happen. You have to want to be inspired. The receiver has to do the work. For example: living here in France, I can say that I receive a lot of inspiration from the Sainte Victoire mountain. Now, this giant rock isn’t really doing anything. It sits there. But if I watch it – watch it change colors in the different light, watch it turn black and gray under a cloud, turn so white that it’s almost lavender in the summer sun – if I do this, really see it then I am inspired. If I climb up its steep and rocky slope, breathe from my belly to my toes, rubber my legs, pump my arms, reach the summit, then really let it take my breath away – then I am inspired! If I paint it. Photograph it. Wave at it as we drive by – I receive all that it has to give. Inspiration is in the work of the receiver.


Cezanne painted the mountain countless times. He painted a simple apple again and again. He created his own inspiration. Some might look at my sketch book and ask, Why are you painting so many apples? Paint something different. But you see, I am. Every apple IS different. Every apple is unique in its shape and color. But you have to want to see it. And I do want to see it. I want to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. I want to find the inspiration in everything – every day. It is on me to find it. Feel it. Use it. Enjoy it.


Today’s yellow sun jumps from the sky into my hands and onto the page. Nothing wasted.


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Then the beauty…


The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water over 50 km (31 mi) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). It crosses the river Gardon near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, as well as one of the best preserved.

I can’t imagine that the people carrying the limestone each day thought, “Wow, this is really beautiful!” When you are knee-deep in the trenches, it’s hard to see. But it comes. The beauty comes.

After the Roman Empire collapsed and the aqueduct fell into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact due to the importance of its secondary function as a toll bridge. Change. Even the most valued things, someday will have to change. And the beauty comes.

We visited the Pont du Gard a few years ago. Today it is one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, and has attracted the attention of a succession of literary and artistic visitors.


I painted it as a reminder. A reminder for me, when I feel like I’m in the trenches. The work must be done. The beauty will come. Change is inevitable. The beauty will come.

I brush the dust from my knees and tell myself, “You have to live it, really live it, and then the beauty comes.”


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Have to say it.

The other day, driving on the road to visit Dominique’s mother, we passed the same building as we do once a week. This day was different. They started construction on this building, well, destruction I suppose. There was a giant space in the middle, and suddenly the view was completely different. A lovely old church with a steeple stood center stage. Was that always there? Of course it must have been. It was beautiful. We only hope when they construct the next building, they remember what’s behind.


Maybe it’s too spot on – tearing down walls to get to the heart of it…changing your view so you can see something spectacular…what you need has always been there… Some might say, well that’s just too obvious. It goes without saying. But does it? In so many instances, I think we think that. “Well, she must know how I feel…” or “He knows he’s talented…” I don’t have to say it. But I think we do have to say it. Bring to light the things that are there. Tell people how we feel. Share our compliments. Our encouragements. Our love. We won’t lose anything. But oh, how much there is to gain!!!


Today, let’s say the things we never said. Let’s not take the chance of missing what is there. Let’s share the thank yous. The good mornings. The I love yous. Nothing to lose. So much to gain!
Good morning!!!!


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And so she would dance.


A writer writes. A singer sings. A painter paints. You are these things because you do them. You live them. Not because someone gives you the title or pays you to do it. You decide.


For years. I painted in my bathroom. It, (along with the kitchen), was the only place that was not carpeted. It just made sense. Large canvases I could elevate on the side of the bathtub, and a closed water closet made for a perfect seat. Really large canvases could be upright, while I stood and reached through the bathroom door. I was a painter in my studio. As simple as that. And I loved it, just as much as I love painting now in Cezanne’s back yard in the south of France.


If you’re waiting for the perfect time. The perfect place. You’ll never do anything. I’ve always believed if you really want to do something, I mean really want to do it, you’ll find a way with who you are and what you have.


The easiest thing to find in this life is an excuse not to do something. Oh, those excuses, they are readily available. Waiting, cocked and loaded. But what if we took another look.


My mother loved to go dancing at the Glenwood Ballroom. Big bands. Big shoes. Big nights. She loved to dance. The truly big names of the big bands stopped coming. She had kids to raise. A job to work. But she still found time to teach me how to dance. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Slow, quick-quick. Step, place, three, cha-cha. A heel and a toe and polka step. We had a kitchen floor. We had music. We were dancers. Simple as that.


And I guess she taught me more than just how to dance. She taught me how to see. See what I had, right in front of me. Appreciate it. Use. it. Find a way. So today I will paint. Today, I will dance!


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A hint of blue.

You know I love yellow. I have written. Painted. Praised. So it might surprise you to know that my favorite thing about this painting is the hint of blue, near the top. The yellow of the pair is beautiful. Mixed with the life of orange and green. But it’s the peaking of the blue, for me, that makes it all possible. Just a little nod to say, remember how you got here.

Each morning we have our croissants at the kitchen table. There is window to our left. A window to our right. (I suppose you might say east and west, but I have a tendency to be directionally challenged.) But I do know the sun always rises on my left side. I look out that window and it’s bright. Hints of blue pushed by the pink urging of the sky. The opening of night’s gray that still looms on the other side. I look from side to side. Each morning. One blue. One gray. And it’s a choice. I urge my heart and mind in my strongest of pinks — “Make it a good day!” I look to the right and give thanks. Because I do remember how I got here. Each step. Each day. Each decision. I look to the left. Find my crack of blue, where everything is possible and I become…

Good Morning, Yellow!