Jodi Hills

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


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The path.

I guess it’s the whole “if a tree falls in the forest…” thing, but I was thinking, does anything really happen if it’s not shared?

I began writing and painting at 5 years old. I would go into my room, and come out and present it to my mother — each chubby hand gripping the sides of the paper — as if I were offering the precious cargo of my heart, and I suppose I was. Because that’s the way she treated it, the way she treated me. And then it became real. Whatever I made was validated, and in a way, I became real too. No gift has stayed with me as long as this.

We drove to the Alps yesterday to see friends. They do not live in a palace, but for me, it seemed as such — because he built most of his home with his hands. And he was proud of it. And it was real. There was a pile of wood next to his garage, and for me, that seemed like a pile of gold. (Wood is scarce and expensive here, and I need it to stretch canvases and make frames.) He said I could take whatever I wanted. And I did. We filled the car with wood and possibility and I’m still smiling.

On the road I took a video of the mountains and countryside. I sent it to my mom. She said she felt like she was with us in the car, and of course she was.

I called my friend Sheila when we got home. I showed her the bag of treasures we purchased at the L’Occitane factory, (half way stop on the trip). I showed her the haul, and she gushed as only a true friend can, and when I lit the first candle and applied the hand cream, it was all real, so very real.

I write each day, still with the chubby little hands of youth, and offer my heart. Life is so much better when it is shared.


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Delicious

Our favorite croissants are from Picard. They are what you would call the classic croissant. I know in today’s world everything is made to be bigger, grander — you have to add more – color it, fill it, top it — but these are (I almost said “just” here, but there is nothing “just” about it) perfectly simple, and so very delicious.

While eating our croissants, and discussing the best croissants, we listen to the radio – “Jazz radio, Jazz and Soul” (say it quickly, with a French accent.) In the last week, they have been joyfully heavy on the Ella — Ella Fitzgerald. “This is a good song.” “Who is it?” Young Ella. Middle aged Ella. Old Ella. Each fabulous. No one like her. I recall watching a video of her with Frank Sinatra. He was at the top of his game, Chairman of the Board as they say. She walked onto his show singing. And you could see it – almost feel it – the absolute respect he had for her. It was palpable. And the beautiful thing is, there was nothing but her voice. It wasn’t about what she was wearing, who she was involved with, no, it was only that beautiful voice. Nothing else required. No need to color it, fill it, or top it, she was perfectly delicious.

This is what I want in my life. Not more, just better. I want quality. I want to go deeper. Feel it. Savor it.

Through the years, people have asked me about how I began my art business. What advice can you give? The answers have never changed. Always these two. ONE — pay attention — it’s not going to be the Tabernacle choir belting out the answers, but maybe just a gentle hum. And TWO — surround yourself with the best people you can find. People, not necessarily with the same talents or interests — but certainly people who ARE interested — interested in being better, better at their craft and better humans. Kinder humans. If you can do these two things, your life may not be perfect, but it will be perfectly delicious.

My day begins with croissants and Ella. The bar has been lifted. I am going to be better.


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To grow.

My mom had two uncles named Wally. One had a stutter. I’m ashamed to say that the way we differentiated them was, Uncle Wally and Uncle W-w-w-wally. Never to his face of course, but still horrible now that I think about it.

There are a million things to improve on. We can’t go back in time, but we can always do better, from this day forward. 

This morning, I made the tour around the house, opening the shutters. Summer mornings are nothing short of magical. Birds singing. Sun shining. Legs and arms bared. So freeing. Everything is young, just waking up. 

We have the start of a walnut tree by our front door. Dominique just threw a walnut in the ground, and it decided to grow without our knowledge or permission.  How glorious! At first it was just a stick. Now it is coming to life, so of course I named it. Uncle Wally. This morning I saw that Uncle Wally needed a little help. Bent over from the weight of a summer spurt. I made a brace to help him stand. 

Maybe it’s an apology too late in coming, but it’s an apology just the same. An apology and a promise that I can do better. And tomorrow I might have to make the same apology to today, but I want to keep trying. Keep growing. And I hope the world can see the love in that.

I walk around the house, clinging to the summer of my life, comforted by the understanding, all need not be green to grow.


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Again.

When I’m starting a new canvas, with an old canvas, (something I painted before and it wasn’t quite right, or a vintage canvas I found) before I start the new painting, I have to gesso (paint over) with a fresh color. Just one color. A brand new start. A clean canvas. Maybe some can just paint bit by bit over the old, but I need a fresh start. A new clear vision. No obstructions. As I was doing this today, I thought, if only I could do that with the obstructing thoughts in my head. 

And so I gave it a try. Why not! I wrote down what I was thinking, and painted over it. Let it go. I’m not sure it will last, but for that moment, this moment, it feels good. I will give myself this gift again and again if I need to — a clean start. A fresh start. I smile and begin again.


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The captain’s table.

It was my first job after college. To say I was green would be an understatement. I had heard once in college the best way to keep the conversation going was to say, “Yes, and…” So that’s what I did, with everything. Even to things that clearly the correct answer would have been no. Like do you know how to work on the computer. Certainly I did not. I didn’t even own one, but yes, I said, and I learned. Quickly. Do you know how to layout a catalog, work with Adobe programs — certainly I did not, but yes, and I learned. They asked me to design the flyer for the company cruise. I remember the tag line, “Oooh weee, Oooh wee baby…” (for those of you who don’t know, that song continues – “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”) The most joyful yes I knew. They asked me if I wanted to go along, be the “Julie” from Love Boat. Yes, I said. You can take someone, they said, a friend, or significant other. I didn’t have a boyfriend, well, not one that I was willing to invest a week in. So I asked my mother. She said yes. 

Now to put it in perspective, it was not that long before that we had lived in an apartment where you couldn’t drink the water. It was not that long before that my mother lived on Heath Ice cream bars, because she was just too broken hearted to eat.  So to find ourselves at the captain’s table was more than a delightful surprise. We dressed up, made our faces up, our hair up, and our chins up, and sat as if we had always been there – up! Smiles, through course after course, we seemed to get higher and higher. And looking at my mother, I knew this is where she had always belonged. Where I had always seen her, even on dry ground, the dryest ground of a gravel road.

They, he, and she, will all try to tell you no. In their own fear, they will want to keep you down. “No, you can’t! No, you don’t belong here. No.” Just make sure your heart isn’t one of them. Make sure your heart believes in you – gives you the courage to look up – to say YES!

I see my mother at the captain’s table, and think, what a gift she gave herself – and what a gift she gave to me! Over all the negative voices that surrounded her, surrounded me, she said, YES! And I still believe.The sun is coming up – Oooooooh weeeeeeeee, Baby!


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The yellow chair.

She was the ex-wife of Hubert Humphrey’s son. When she called I didn’t know that. She just said she was interested in two paintings – The yellow chair, and The truth about you.  I was thrilled. Yes, of course, I could deliver. The yellow chair was huge, but I was fueled with excitement.  Before I brought the paintings in, she walked me around her place. I was surprised by all the dignitaries hanging on her wall. Was that her with the president? With the queen? Who was this woman? I just kept smiling. She kept talking. And picture by picture, word by word she revealed who she was — her world living as a Humphrey – (the closest I had been before was to the airport).  We had tea, (the first time I had ever had tea), and she told me of her marriage, her divorce, the indiscretions, and I felt like I was in a movie. We hung both paintings, and I drove away. Forever changed — not because I was now hanging next to the closest thing I knew to “royalty” — I’ve never cared that much about that — no, it was because I was let in, let into her world, and trusted with her story. And to me, that’s everything. 

I was in the seventh grade when I wrote my first novel (forgive me, it was really just a long story.) Hand written on lined paper. Stapled. I read it to my friend, Cindy Lanigan. I have no idea now what it was about. I don’t even have a copy. But I remember sitting in my yellow bedroom, reading it to her. It is terrifying to share your creations – your life – your heart. But she let me in. She listened and responded and we talked about life and Carol Burnett and everything seemed achievable.  Quite possibly giving me the courage to continue. 

What a thing it is to be let in. I carry with me every open door. Every open heart. Every person who smiled on me, and listened. Who trusted on me, and shared. And I am forever home. Forever possible.


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Still life.

I just couldn’t see it. I tried everything. (Obviously not everything, but a lot.) I was having one of those days — you know, where you just feel a little “off.”  I can’t tell you why, and I’m thankful they don’t come that often, but they do slip through once in a while. I was trying to create a certain photo. I was fighting the light. The angle. I put more in the picture. Less. It just didn’t feel right. 

I have learned this lesson countless times, on these days I need to just stop and do something else, focus on something else, or jump in the pool – anything! – but still, even knowing this lesson, I struggle for hours, and then it finally occurs to me, oh, yeah, it’s just not happening today.  And I learn the lesson again.  

This morning I’m looking at the pictures. They aren’t maybe what I wanted, but I guess they are what I needed. Each one telling me to stop. Open a door. Open a window. Listen. Breathe. 

I was listening to the comedian, Marc Maron, the other day. He was saying how he sometimes wakes up, and before his feet hit the floor, he’s thinking, “I’ve gotta do this… and this…”  And then he tells himself, “You’re comin’ in pretty hot…”  I laugh. I have that tendency. And I suppose that’s what I was doing for a long time yesterday, coming into the day’s corners way too hot!

I see the photos and listen. It’s a brand new day. You don’t have to chase it. Just be in it.


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The yellow dress.

I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in. 

It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart. 

We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.  

We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!  

There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.


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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.