Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

Wearing my world.

I bought them at Ragstock in Minneapolis. A midnight-lake blue pair of corduroys. They are soft, sure. Great fit, yes. But why did I love them so? I mean, I woke up thinking about them. Excited to put them on. Even for me, that’s a bit much.

Yesterday, in a half run, eager to get into the studio to work on my current painting, it occured to me. I’ve had these pants before.

I was in the 5th grade. Herberger’s was still downtown, not at the mall. My mom bought this pair of pants for me. It was the end of the season sale. Summer was about to begin. No one wanted corduroys. Up until then, I hadn’t really thought about fashion. But there was something about these pants. The color of Lake Latoka after sunset. I looked at the tag. There was a big red slash. And I was hopeful. I tried them on. My legs slipped in like water. “They feel like I’m swimming,” I told my mother. Not a big fan of the water, I’m not sure she understood the reference, but she did understand the love of a new garment against your skin. She checked the tag, and smiled. Handed them to the woman behind the counter, who folded them, and put them in a bag, and handed them to my smiling hands. 

I wore them almost every day that summer. These corduroy pants. Even to Valley Fair with my cousins. They couldn’t understand why I would wear such hot pants on a humid summer day. “Maybe she likes them,” my aunt explained. I smiled. That seemed to be enough for them. I didn’t know how to explain that these weren’t just pants, they were a symbol of something bigger. They were a symbol of when I asked for the world, my mom could give it to me. 

I sat in front of my painting, wearing my world. Confident. Vulnerable. Open. I will never let that go.


Leave a comment

Life’s couture.

Yesterday I saw a photographer on Youtube manipulating a photo to make it seem old — like it was a memory lived, I suppose. The technique took some skill, certainly. And while the end result was interesting, I thought it lacked what the photographer wanted — the depth of an actual experience.  That feeling is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture.  And I began to think, would our time be better spent trying to capture real experiences, by, well, living?

Once the thought was in my head, spinning around like a kid on a ferris wheel — my brain urging “go ’round again, go ’round again — I began to see it everywhere, this attempt at manufacturing a life. I saw it in the catalogs. Buy our ripped jeans! What if we did the work in the jeans we owned? Wore them in the yard, the garden? Hung tools from belts? Bent? Stretched? Bounced children on bent knees? Wore them thread bare by living? 

I saw the paint splattered jeans on the next page. Couldn’t we just actually paint? Splatter our own clothes with life experience? These are the colors that I want to live in — the colors flung from my own hand and heart. 

It was everywhere. This manufacturing. Even with so-called friends. This trying to fill the life-size holes within us, with “likes” and “followers.” Certainly it has its place. I use it here, every day. To connect. Keep the strings attached through time and distance. But nothing will ever replace human contact. Sitting outside on a sunny day, laughing so hard with friends that waists become rendered useless, bent over by the weight of joy and memory. Nothing can replace the feeling of hugging someone, just a little longer. A kiss of a hand. An empathetic, no words needed, smile. A wave that can’t be contained in the hand, but must be lifted in the air with feet jumping! 

I sit here typing, with paint on my shirt. It is valuable, not because it will sell in a catalog, but because I lived in it. Life’s couture. And I will again today! My heart, threadbare as my jeans, telling my brain, “let’s go ’round again, ’round again!!!”


1 Comment

Sunday. Sun day.

The grandkids now have an exchange student staying with them from Germany. Yesterday, in the afternoon sun, wearing the Minnesota Vikings caps we gave to them, we played our version of baseball in the backyard. Two French kids, one German, one American, wearing football caps, playing baseball in the south of France. Not a bad Sunday afternoon.

When I was in highschool, we called them foreign exchange students — but there was nothing foreign about this kid. He fit right into our cornucopia. After, what I loosely call, “the baseball game,” they wanted to go to my painting studio. He looked at everything. Each painting. Wanted to know the stories behind them. He was thoughtful and interested. After looking, touching, he went to one of the smallest paintings I have, right by the front door. He said with all certainty, “This one is my favorite.” I smiled at Charles, because we knew the story. 

When Charles was very young, he came into my studio. I had just started a new painting, immersed in the blue of a new sky. “But where is the sun?” he asked. I hadn’t gotten to the sun yet, so I told him it was coming. He watched, eagerly. And as it appeared, for one brief moment, I held his sun in my hands. 

“That’s Charles’ Sun,” we both said at the same time. Now, that might seem like a small thing, but it felt like magic. 

Most people gravitate to the largest of my paintings. The grand scene from New York – 8 feet tall. Or the people swimming in a 7′ sea. But this kid, German, but not foreign at all, went directly to Charles’ Sun, and he connected us all. 

It’s easy to find the differences. But really, we all just want a Sunday afternoon. With room to play. Room to grow. To learn. To connect. We can do this. For each other. For our world. We’re holding the sun in our hands.


Leave a comment

The go-ahead to go deep.

I couldn’t start a new book last night. I was still ruminating over the one I finished in the afternoon. I love to read. I can’t get enough of it! But sometimes, when it’s really good, I have to sit in it for a minute. Letting it wash over me, as I float through the wave of words. Bobbling, buoyed through sentences like:

“It was a form of naïveté, he thought, the way she continued to believe that all it took to get through life was grit. Sure, grit was critical, but it also took luck, and if luck wasn’t available, then help. Everyone needed help. But maybe because she’d never been offered any, she refused to believe in it.”

I started a new painting recently. I can’t tell you what it is yet. I don’t want the magic to slip away. It has to come slowly. Stroke by stroke. And this is a very personal painting. So I’m in deep. Really deep. Sometimes I think, with feelings, even the best feelings, we have this need to get through it. See how it all ends. And as filling as this is, to create a new life on canvas, sometimes it’s overwhelming. But I don’t want to rush through it. I want to feel it. I want to accept the help it offers. Because maybe that’s the best help of all — the allowing to feel, the go-ahead to go deep, and the assurance that you will be lifted, buoyed. Held. Helped. 

There are so many quotes I could give you from this last book I read, but I don’t want to rush you to my favorite parts. You should be able to experience it, just as I did. Word by word. Stroke by stroke. For the amount of books that I read, it is rare for me to recommend one. This one is “Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus. 

I’m excited to paint again today. To feel it all. You will see it in good time. But today, I ask you to bobble along beside me. Assured. Held. Buoyed. In the deep.


Leave a comment

Weighted Treasures.

I never used to go to thrift stores. I’m not proud to say that I looked down on them. It seemed we all did. (Not my grandma though. Ahead of her time perhaps, she loved a good garage sale.)

With time, knowledge, a little luck and grace, I, we, gained a new perspective. Now I love it — thrifting. Searching for that golden ticket. The treasure. And this trip to the US, I found several. Two t-shirts (both Alexandria Cardinals – gotta represent!), and two pants. Score!

Yesterday, wearing one of each, I took some photos in the garage. Pairing my paintings with some of Dominique’s old tools. I thought the combination was beautiful. Diamonds and rust, as the song says.

That’s the funny thing about beauty, it changes, if you are open to it. Want to see it. And oh, how I want to see it. And it occurred to me, the best way to see it, to allow yourself to be knocked off balance by something new, is to have the assuredness of love around you. Those people you can count on. Those people who will love you, no matter what you are wearing. Who will love you through trends and times of sorrow, and times of success. Steady. True. Love.

If you have this, and oh how I hope you do (I wish it for everyone), then use it as the weighted treasure it is, to balance yourself as you create new things, discover new things, as you reach for the beauty that swirls all around you!


Leave a comment

Covered in giggles.

To be honest, I don’t really even know his name. But I know his face, his smile — our butcher.  We see him weekly. He always seems happy to see us. Greets us with a joke, sometimes a few attempts in English. This is not common here in France. At no other store, grocery or bakery do we find this human connection. This exchange of, more than pleasantries, but joy! 

Before we left for the US this time, we asked “Can we bring you something from America?”  “Oh, no…” he blushed and smiled, and we knew right then that we would.

It cost almost nothing. In fact we had fun shopping for it — the right hat. A baseball cap that no one else in France would have. Yesterday we went to restock the refrigerator. I was excited. My heart was beating gerbil quick, as I reached the bag across the counter. He looked stunned. “Oui! Ou! Yes, it’s for you!”  He couldn’t believe it. He peeked inside at the hat and in a language that can only be described as joy, he called over his coworkers to see. “They brought if from the US! For me!”  None of us could stop smiling. He held his hand over his heart. He told other customers. The counter was covered in giggles. 

We talked this morning over breakfast (my husband and I, not the butcher). What a gift this was!  And I don’t mean the hat. I’m not even talking about our giving of it — the real gift was this exchange of joy. This moment of happiness. We gave it to each other. 

Perhaps this is the best part of living — why we are here. To be kind. To notice people. To see them. To reach across every counter. Every wall. Every obstacle. And find a way to connect. Reaching out my hand today, I tell you, “Yes, Yes! It’s for you!”


2 Comments

Oh, how the light streams in!


It’s easy to confuse darkness with worry. I’ll admit I can drape myself in it — in those wee, small hours of the morning. I make the coffee just a little stronger. Force the croissant past the lump in my throat. Still, it can cling, those worries that come only from loving someone.

But then I walk into our office space. Surrounded by windows. And the light! Oh, how the light streams in and bounces off of my work. From paintings to poems, it says, “Look here. Right now. There is light.” And joyfully, I believe in it. I believe in the prayers said under my grandma’s quilt. I believe in the hope that each morning brings. I believe in the beauty of now. There is no “down the road,” only looking at the length that stretches from my heart to my hands. And they both know what to do. I smile. And begin. In this glorious light.


Leave a comment

Looking for things to steal.

I guess I’m always looking for things to steal – two petite jars of French honey from First Class, and a glance of the Eiffel Tower through my passenger’s window on the right.

It’s a standing joke I have with friends. They have good taste. And as a compliment, I say if I were a different person, I would totally steal it. I have filled my imaginary bags of loot through the years, and we laugh. But the truth is, I am always trying to take something with me. The funniest line over dinner. Maybe a recipe. That feeling of pure comfort that only comes from true relationships. True hearts. Those moments that you can’t quite put your finger on, but want them never to end. MAGIC. That’s all I’m really trying to steal, a bit of the magic.

We just landed in Paris. My safe is full. Thank you, Mom. Minnesota. Alexandria. Friends. Family. History that begins and begins. Forever thieves of time. Of hearts. You have mine. I carry yours.


Leave a comment

Coffee spoons.

I suppose it all comes down to relationships. The cherry on top.

There was a store in Minneapolis, four stores really – the Bibelot shops. They ordered big, and consistently. As we drove through Linden Hills yesterday, it all came back so clearly. I would make that drive almost weekly. Loaded up my car with the pictures and books and cards. Drove through the manicured streets. Off of France. Toward lake Harriet. Unloaded the car to smiles. Seeing my items on full display, my heart was full. I belonged. And it was nice, the money, it was how I made my living of course, but it was more than that — it was the relationships. I had so much respect for the owner – Roxy. A single mother who created the stores herself. From nothing, into something grand! Prosperous. Beautiful! All this success and she was kind. Welcoming. To me. To my mother. And each of her employees reflected her. I would meet the buyers in New York. Both tall and beautiful, they stood out from the crowd. I could see them coming from far away, and my heart beat strong. I knew I would have an order. I knew I would be seen. What a glorious thing for this small fish in this gigantic pond.

My hands waved out the car windows as I relayed these memories to Dominique. Memories on every street. Coffee here. Friends here. Sundays here. Wine here. Shopping here. My first museum. First photo shoot in this studio. Life opened here. I was T.S. Eliot pointing out all of my “coffee spoons” — “for I have know them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, morning, afternoon, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Oh, to be blessed with all the cherries. I’m sitting in a friend’s condo as I type this. It is beautiful, certainly. I love the beds and pillows. The view of the Galleria. The French soap. The candy drawer. But mostly it’s because they share it with us. To know we have friends like this — how red, round and sweet!

Reach out your hands today – arms length – it is a day to be measured.


Leave a comment

Pause.

Perfection is not something I’ve ever tried to capture on the canvas. I guess I’m looking for character. Something that changes your breath just a little. That pause that says I’m interested.

Beauty is so subjective. Even for myself, it’s hard for me to describe why something is beautiful. Why did I want to paint this house? I guess it’s there in the pause. That moment passing by when I think about the lives inside. Was there the smell of coffee? Toast on the morning table? Did they sit together? Smile across a table? Were hands reached out without words? Were the dreams the same as when the siding was new?

This is what makes my brush move across the canvas. Through the nooks and imperfections. Whether I’m painting a house, or a portrait. All the beauty lives there. And I pause.

I am not a perfect person. I can get impatient. I’m in a hurrry for the results that would make my life easier. I suppose we all feel that sense of urgency. And in most cases, it’s so ridiculous. I can see it (just after it occurs). So what if they want to turn left on this busy street? Repeat the same joke? What difference does it make if they have 13 items in the 12 item cash line? My hands have come to understand the beauty, and they tell my brain to pause. Tell my heart to pause. “There is beauty here, and you’re going to miss it.” So I breathe. Brush, my hands across the weathered siding of my heart. Beauty lives here. I pause to feel it.