Jodi Hills

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


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Come in, you and your heart sit down.

For many it is a tradition to drive around neighborhoods to look at all the houses lit up for Christmas. That’s fun, I suppose, but for me, I looked at it a little differently. I was never so much in search of the light, but the warmth.

Since giving up our home when I was a little girl, I began the search. I would walk by. Bicycle by. Look at the homes. Wondering what they were doing inside. How did it feel? What was it like to be gathered in? Wrapped inside the warmth. Not the heat, nor the light. For it wasn’t about that. It could be a summer’s day, and I would search for the warmth.

What was that warmth? If I had to give it a definition I would say the feeling of belonging. The feeling that if you went there, they would not just have to take you in, but delight in it. They would sigh with hearts, that you made it here – home. They would not care how you got there, just that you were there, here, in the warmth of this place.

And so I painted. Houses. A yellow house. A green house. White houses. Doors. Entries. Windows. Shutters. I painted it all. Willing it to life. And I did, you see. I found it in the search. The destination was my heart. (I guess Glinda from the Wizard of Oz was right — “You had the power all along, my dear”)

I still paint the houses, even though I have found my way home. I’m no longer searching, but presenting. Maybe you need to find it too. So I paint them. Again. With a palette that will draw you in. Open arms. No judgements. No restraints. I want everyone to feel that. Not just Christmas in December. Or July. But every day!

Welcome home.


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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?!!!!


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One

She, at the age of ten, already has a vastly greater grasp of the french language than I do. It is humbling for sure, and that’s not a terrible thing, but sometimes I wonder, what do I have to offer if I can’t convey it? Then we go to the studio. My paint. My brushes. My canvas. This is my language. And she wants to learn. I give her a small canvas and ask her what she’d like to paint. Immediately she looks around – at everything I’ve done. (And that’s when I think, I do have something to offer.) The apples. She wants to paint the apples in a bowl. I place that painting in front of her. Tell her to just draw in pencil at first. Give herself a good start. She chooses the paints. We create a palette. Slowly we go through each step. The light. The shading. The mixing. She is interested. Curious. And she is learning. It is a beautiful thing. We are different in age and culture and language and knowledge, but here, we are one heart, one creation, and that is everything.

It’s not easy to come together. Efforts need to be made. Egos must be put aside. We have to be curious. Interested. Yes, it can be difficult, but the rewards — immeasurable. Stop looking for the things that make us different – because you will find them — it’s so easy. Look for the things that can bring us together. And look again. And again. One creation. One heart. Everyone. That’s everything.


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Delicious

It’s natural to want someone to love what you love. Most afternoons, my husband and I enjoy iced vanilla lattes. I love being the barista. I measure, and pour and stir. The color fits perfectly into my most calming palette. It is cool and soothing, and I’ll say it – extremely delicious! I am proud of it. I delight in it. I want to share it!

When she came over in the afternoon, I thought I would surprise her with this tremendous gift. I was sure she would say, “Wow!” as I do every day with each sip. I poured and measured and stirred with anticipation. Upon entering our salon, I offered up my most treasured afternoon delight. “Oh, no…” she waved it off, “I don’t like milk with my coffee.” Oh, no? How could this be? No wow? I hadn’t seen this coming at all. The conversation moved on and I stood motionless with a latte in each hand.

I’ll admit it stung for a minute. I think my first reaction is, you don’t like me? We probably all have that reaction on some level. This is something, I, we, need to get over. We don’t all like the same things. We don’t even like the same people, but we can still come together. We can still enjoy what we enjoy. And let others enjoy what they enjoy. Believe what they believe. Love who they love. We can do this, if we make the effort.

We all enjoyed a day in the sun. In the pool. I roasted marshmallows over an open flame. Some people love them. She did. I don’t really, and yet she still likes me. I smile. We can do this.


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Growing the herd.

I first learned about herds on my grandfather’s farm. He had a herd of cows. “Why do animals need to be in a herd?” I asked him. “If the herd doesn’t pull together, it can be in danger. The herd knows its survival is dependent on the herd.” I shook my head. It made sense, but it also made me nervous. We, my mother and I, were in trouble. We had lost our herd. He could see me doing the math in my head, subtracting all those who had gone away. “How many does it take to make a herd?” I asked, hoping, pleading, begging with my heart for it to be a small number. I’m sure he could see my desperation for a clear and concise answer. “Two,” he said, and took my hand. Looking back, I’m not sure if he meant him and me, or my mom and me, but either way I was happy. I was a part of something. I would survive.

I’ve heard it used, and overused, the phrase – “We’re all in this together.” (I think I’ve used it myself.) But are we? Humans are herd animals. We do need each other. In a perfect world, I guess we would be – one human race – one herd, helping each other live a little better, a little stronger.

Each day I reach out my hand with words and paintings in hopes to strengthen the herd. You reach back by telling me your experience. And we find out a few more things about one another. My mom exclaimed in delight the other day, “I didn’t know Lynn Norton liked Jeopardy!” And we are all a little more connected.

The herd is as strong as we make it. Reach out your hand.


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A place to land.

We never used the front door of my grandparents’ house. Well, not the door, but the small cement staircase in front of it, yes, always. It was a place to rest. We chased round and round the house in our summer worn tennis shoes. (We never played tennis in them.) Not Nikes, or Adidas, but colors. I liked blue. Some of my cousins had white, or black. I didn’t care about the brand, the mark, I only remember asking when trying them on at Iverson’s shoes, “Are they fast?” The answer was always yes, with a smile. And so we raced in white and black and blue streaks around the apple trees. Grass stained and out of breath, we’d flop onto the front stairs, chests heaving with the satisfaction of youth. These stairs contained breath, and lemonade, and watermelon slices, (and black seeds), and the welcome of home.

Yesterday, I framed this painting. Painted on panel, the edges seemed so incomplete. Nowhere for your eye to land. And this painting needed it, a place to land, I suppose just as much as we do. The frame, simple, vintage, does just that. Gives the eye, the brain, the heart, a place to rest. Without it, all the feelings just wander off and get lost. You might not even know that’s what’s happening, but you can feel it.

On my grandparents’ front steps, I don’t suppose I knew exactly what was happening, but I felt it. I felt it as sure as the heat of the summer air. A warmth that would take us through every cold winter that followed. A strength, a solid, that would ground us in every storm. Even just in memory, hold us in the comfort of home.

I smile now, knowing the salesperson at Iverson’s shoes was completely right, those shoes, those summers, were certainly fast!


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In the garden

I used to say that I never needed anything but cement beneath my feet. I said it with certainty. I would only live in the city. Sidewalks and pavement. That’s all I needed. But comfort has a way of packing its bags, never leaving a forwarding address, and one day you find yourself in a different country, mowing the lawn.


We have a very large yard. The french word for yard is jardin, or garden. I like this better. We have a big garden. Yard sounds more like a prison, but in a garden, you can roam and discover. And so I do. It took a minute for me to take in all of the beauty. The birds singing, the flowers blooming, the trees bearing fruit. Butterflies. All that “certainty” I carried for years flew off into the bluest of skies and I discovered a new way to live. Maybe with no certainty at all, but pleasure in this moment. And maybe that’s all we get. Maybe that’s all we need. Not certainty, but truth. A truth as pure and hopeful as children’s summer laughter.


I hear that laughter coming across the trees. I hear it in my heart. Even when I’m on my last leg of pushing that mower across a sea of green that I had once promised never to inhabit. Life changes. Daily. We can either shake our fists in the air, or fold them in thanks. Today, I choose thanks. Thanks for all the uncertainty, the newness, the unstable adventure of just living! Oh, look! The day’s beginning. Let’s enjoy the ride.


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Gratitude is everything

I found an old piece of framed panel deep in storage. Nothing on it. I don’t know if the person who bought it, made it, meant to put something on it, a picture, paint something, write something…and maybe they thought to do it, but time raced away and carried the thought with it and it just got buried. I dug out the panel. Sanded it. And knew I had to write something on it immediately. I couldn’t let the moment just slip away. We’re not given that many. But what did I want to say? I looked around and thought, today, I have everything, and if I write it all down, everything that I have today, then I will always have it. I have a husband who loves me. A mother who loves me. Children I’m not really related to. I have friends, dear friends, even the ones I don’t get to see very often, who still reach out. I have my health, and my curiosity. I have the desire to create, and the hands to do it. I have a house, and food and security and dresses that make me want to do the yoga. I have memories of places that I’ve seen, and maps of places I want to go. I recall, but not very often, the harder times that I made it through, that keep me honest, that teach me empathy. I have the knowledge that, even without money, I have always been rich. Rich! Today, I have everything, and I am so grateful.


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Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.


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What remains

I remember my first blow dryer. It’s easy to do because I got it when I started grade school and brought it with me to college. I wore the name off, but it still worked. I stopped counting after that. It seems I need a new one every few months. Planned Obsolescence – things are built not to last. And it would be easy to become swept up in this trend – (I wish it were only a trend) – but I want things to have value, to last.


It is in our nature to create things that will continue, that will stay, that will survive the beating of time. That’s why they painted on the cave walls, carved statues, built Coliseums. When I visited Rome for the first time, it didn’t take my breath away, it gave me breath – breathed a life into me that I too wanted to create – a life that continues, that matters, that lives. And so I paint, and I write, not that these canvases or books will live forever, but that you will know my heart, and it will help you see your own, and others see theirs. This can last forever.


A few days ago, I posted the blog about picking rock at my grandpa’s farm. Someone shared that post and someone saw that shared post. This stranger shared his story of picking rock, of how he didn’t cry when he hurt his finger on the rocks, how he felt like a man for the first time. He shared his story, and someone else liked it. My story lived again and again.


I can’t change the passing of time, but I can decide what is disposable, and that will never include my heart. That will never include your heart. Pass it on.