Jodi Hills

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


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My way.

They said I was “painfully shy” – my grade school teachers. But I wasn’t hiding. I was listening. There was a voice inside that I needed to hear. It was whispering, but I knew it was important. And I couldn’t hear it in the chaos — the running and screaming of youth. So yes, I was quiet. But none of it was painful, not for me.

We all learn and grow in our own ways. The only “right way” is the one you choose for yourself. 

I grew into my voice. My life. My way. I hope I still am, growing. Listening. Watching. And as Frank Sinatra sang at our breakfast table this morning, “not in a shy way…”  “Oh no, no not me,” I AM doing it my way. We smiled and listened, and ate the bread I made with my own hands.

The only thing I really fear is wasting time. And maybe the only way we can waste our time is by trying to live someone else’s life. Trying to live in the chaos of other standards. 

I can feel it when I’m “off.” I’m pretty sure we all can. And it’s usually when the voices of others try to take over the voice that lives within me. But I have found the ways to make it stronger, louder, more clear — with words and paint, and homemade bread. With breakfast conversation and music and love. With the smell of cut wood and grass stained shoes. With an unchartered path, and a hand to hold. This is the song that I’m living. The song that has always lived within. My way.


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Wobble.

I got up early to do my yoga. I brought the mat in another room so I wouldn’t wake up Dominique. Same house. Same routine. Just a new perspective. In this practice, it is necessary to focus on an object to retain your balance in the poses. This morning, my focal point was different. And oh, how I wobbled. What was so different? I know this room. And yet, this slight change completely threw off my balance. I’ll admit I was a bit uncomfortable. Not enough to quit. So I wobbled my way through.

Life changes constantly. We can’t prepare ourselves for everything. That would be impossible. But I think we can teach ourselves, little by little, to feel the discomfort, and work through it. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable. How else would we learn anything? Somewhere along the line, some big voice (maybe television, internet) told us that we have to be “happy” all the time, or we’re not living right. Now, I like happy — who doesn’t? But I also like feeling accomplished. I like feeling challenged. Feeling successful. Vulnerable. Creative. Open. Loved. And with all of these, you’re going to feel a little “wobble.” But this is also, (for me anyway) where the good stuff gets in –sneaks in as I fumble about.

In the last years, almost everything has changed for me. Country. Language. Surroundings. But these were the doors for love. So I opened them. Never have I felt more unbalanced. Never have I felt more loved.

Long before I ever imagined such a change, I wrote in my first book, “I am amazed that you let me fumble along beside you…” Still true — perhaps never more. So don’t be afraid. Wake up. Dare to dream. Dare to try. Dare to love. Dare to wobble.


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The Farm Report.

Maybe it was different. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it. But what I remember of the news is this — riding in the front seat of my grandmother’s car. Windows open. The smell of earth. Bare legs stuck to the seat. Grandma’s house-dress waving in the breeze, and the flap of her upper arms. The news we listened to was only this — The Farm Report, and Paul Harvey. The voices melodic. Familiar. Simple. And we were saved.

I was washing the breakfast dishes. Looking out the window. Contemplating, agonizing, over this morning’s news. I opened the window. “Please just drive,” I thought. Drive us in open-earth-smelling air away from all this heartache. This killing.

I looked down below the window. “Uncle Wally” (the baby walnut tree) was standing strong. The tulips, looked dry, a little watering needed. The roses — full bloom, nothing to do but enjoy. My “farm report.” My heart calmed to a simpler time. I wish it for everyone.

I will not take up arms to fight arms. It is not my nature. It is not my belief. I can only offer my humble words. String them together, and possibly you can find some comfort in that. Some release. Some hope. Maybe, if we all could do that for each other — be the voices of common sense, common understanding, maybe we could all be saved. Maybe it’s too simple – but I pray it’s possible.

When Paul Harvey signed off, he always said, “Good day…” Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought his voice raised up a little at the end, as if maybe it were a question. And maybe it was. Maybe he was asking us to be better, to be more human, asking us to please, make it a good day.

Today, I will ask myself, and ask the same of you, “Good day…?”


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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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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 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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Time for an upgrade.

I wasn’t having the best day the other day. I was worried about something that seems too ridiculous to mention now. But I had another task to complete. I was working on the “about me” page for my website upgrade. I had a few photos in mind that I wanted to put with the story. As you might imagine, I have tons of photos on my computer – art, travel, family… I started searching. At first it seemed laborful. So many photos. Then I started really looking at them. I started remembering. Enjoying. Giving thanks. What an adventure! And I felt a little embarrassed that I was squandering my day with worry. I looked at everything that was, and I couldn’t wait to see what could be!!!!  

A lot of you say that what I write is such a good reminder for you. I’m reminding myself along the way. We all have to do the work. And as laborful as it seems sometimes, it’s so worth it. 

You’ll have to wait to see my “about me” page. It’s coming soon. But I encourage you, from time to time, make it a task for yourself — pull out the box of old photos, scroll through your computer, read your journal, listen to your heart. What you have lived through is amazing! Gather that strength and then go out and make some new memories! It’s about you, and it’s about time! Enjoy your day!


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Beyond all labels

It doesn’t surprise me when I start speaking that people recognize immediately that I’m not French. I mean, I hear it too. But what does surprise me, and it has happened many times, is when people ask if I’m American before I even open my mouth. What is it? It doesn’t make me feel bad, I’m proud to be an American…but what is it about me that people see as different?

I guess we all wear our history, without even knowing it. So I’m thinking, if I can’t even identify it in the face I see every day in the mirror, what makes me so certain I can identify it in others. It’s time to look beyond the label.

I painted the American-made wine years ago. What I remember is not the label, but the evening. I was with my publishers/friends in my living room. The warmth of the candles. The greater warmth of the conversation. I was home. Years later I painted the French-made wine. We bought the bottle of wine from a small vineyard, and a vintage frame from the same village. It was an intimate adventure. New, and familiar. I wanted to capture it on canvas. In my studio, I painted the bottle. I was home.

Is it too spot on to say it’s what’s inside? I don’t think so.

No matter where we are, I suppose, we are all on a journey — a constant journey home. That feels comforting to see it — beyond all labels – in the hearts of others – and the one that beats inside.

Cheers!


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Feel like blooming.

There is something to the spring cleaning. The refresh. And it’s probably no surprise that the new Home Edit series was just released on Netflix. I will admit that I am excited by their organization. Inspired to do my own. This, mixed with trees in bloom, the flowers singing along with the birds, I begin.

I am not one who believes I have to buy more things to get my old things in order. No judgements, just me. I’ve always liked shopping my own dwelling. And I do. Frequently. I started with a good clean of the bathroom. Changed out the painting. Changed the postcard. Took the candle that I was gifted for Christmas out of its red container (red wouldn’t do) – put that candle into an appropriate container (a previously used up candle), and lit it, of course. And I picked a small flowering stem from our garden. As we say here, quite loosely I might add, Voila!

There is something quite satisfying about a spring refresh, and I slept well. The next morning, not quite awake, I turned on the bathroom light, and my heart smiled to the tips of my mouth. That, my friends, is refreshing.

I’ve started tackling my office. And it occurred to me, maybe I could do this within, within myself. An edit. Let go of the old feelings I’m not using anymore, the ones just cluttering up space, gathering dust…wouldn’t that be something! And even if it lasted for a day, a season, and I did it again, wouldn’t that, just like the spring birds, give my heart something to sing about! I think so! My inner voices must deserve as much attention as the shelf in my office. And so I begin. The load a little lighter, a little cleaner, in my house, in my heart. I smile, and feel like blooming.


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This time, she was not going to miss it.

Things were laid out pretty clearly. Summer vacation from school was three months. I had one bicycle to ride to town. Softball games were twice a week. In each game you got up to bat 3 to four times. You knew the amount of opportunities, and you had to make the most of them.

It’s not so clear as you get older. You don’t know, “will I go here again?”, “will I see them again?”, “will I feel this way again?” The opportunity you’ve been waiting for, may come only once. And as I think about it, I suppose they don’t really “come” at all – these opportunities. We have to make them. Find them. Create them. Invent them. And that sounds frightening at first, but if you’re not “waiting” — if, in fact you are creating it, then you probably won’t miss it. And I don’t want to miss a thing. This moment. This day. This feeling. I want it all.

I was maybe only 10 or 11 years old. It was the one softball game my brother came to see me. I was so nervous. I wanted him to be proud of me. I got up to the plate. Rhonda Steen was pitching. I hated her (only as a pitcher – as a girl, she was delightful.) She was impossible to hit. Why, on this one time, this one visit, did it have to be her? My sweaty palms clutched the aluminum bat. My knees shook. Strike one. I didn’t move. Strike two. I didn’t move. I looked back through the screen fence at my brother. She let go of the ball. I watched in slow motion as it rose above me, behind me, right in the zone. Strike three. I slunk back to the dugout. It was a terrible feeling. And really, up until this point, quite unfamiliar. I was a good hitter. Usually a home run every game. But nervous, worried, this time, this opportunity, I didn’t take my shot. He didn’t have to tell me, “Better to go down swinging,” but he did. I already knew. I never wanted to feel that way again.

Challenges arise every day. New country. New language. New family. Of course I’m still nervous. I still get worried. Scared. But I’m swinging. With all my might, I’m swinging!