Jodi Hills

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


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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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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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Of being carried.

I was watching something on netflix. I don’t even remember the movie. But an image I’ve seen a million times, on the screen, in real life, a young child being carried. And it struck me so – I wish I could remember that – that feeling of being lifted. Of being carried. Of being relaxed. Feet dangling. At ease. Held up. I have no memory of this. I’m not sure most people do.

I went to bed after the movie. Still a bit anxious from the news of the day. He knew that. I explained thoughts in fragments. Puzzles of emotions. He has a way of brushing the tear, not from my eye, no, he lets it fall to the bottom of my chin, and then catches it. Telling me it’s ok to feel. Allowing me to feel. And he’ll be there. He is there. And I know it. I release the air that worry tries to trap in my lungs, and I breathe. And breathe again. And I sleep. Feet dangling. I do remember.


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Yellow.

We have a group of people here in France called the “yellow jackets” – those protesting, well, I’m not even sure what they are protesting… They have lost a lot of momentum, probably because, as near as I can tell, that had nothing to stand on, or for. I remember watching the news in Paris when they were interviewing them on the streets. When the reporter asked why they were in the streets, why they were protesting, so many said, “Well, I’m just not happy…”. I laughed. Not happy. Since when was any government, any other person really, responsible for your happiness. And this is not unique to France. We have these people in the US. You see them all over the world.


Happiness is not a gift. Happiness takes work. It’s a process. A practice. It’s the art of finding a bit of joy in the smallest of things. The courage to look, in the most unlikely places. The guts to keep trying, to keep searching. And I will never belittle the effort. Some days will always be easier than others. Some days you only have to get over the fact that UPS is running late. Other days, your heart may be ripped in two. There is no “yellow jacket” for that. But there is always yellow. The promise of the bird singing in the tree. The dawning of a new day sun. The joy, that if you dig, deeply, and then have the courage to look up, it will carry you on wings — yellow wings of hope, of guts, of joy.


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Seeing it through.

“There was the man who got on his horse one afternoon and told his wife he was going to bring in the cows. She watched him ride off across the flats. He came to their two mild cows, grazing half a mile from the house, and he rode around them and kept on going. She watched him to the top of the rise, a mile away, and she waited and waited. He never came back. “I don’t know what got into him,” his wife said. “He didn’t even say goodbye.” Hal Borland from “High, Wide and Lonesome”


When I start a new painting, I like to keep quiet. Those who know me don’t ask, “What is it going to be?” I suppose there are a few reasons for this. First, I’m often not sure. What I begin might turn into something else completely. That, to me, is never failure of losing the first, that is the magic of gaining what is to be. The magic that comes from seeing it through. Allowing it to become. Never abandoning the canvas, but working with it. Not forcing it to be something it isn’t, but allowing it to be what it wants to be.


Maybe she learned it from her father — the farmer who always came back from the field. But most certainly, I learned it from her, my mother. From her I learned the magic of seeing it through. The magic of no more abandonings. So today, if you’re wondering what the next painting will be… what tomorrow will bring…if you really need to know, know this, it’s going to be magic!


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Trampling over.

As I type this, there is a song stuck in my head. It’s a very old song, but one I only recently listened to the actual lyrics. And they are horrible. And yet the song is replaying in my head. I won’t give it more attention by repeating the lyrics, but basically she sings, that “her man” is not good looking, not smart, cheats on her, beats her, and yet, she “loves him so.” Ish. Ish. Ish. Why are we still putting things like this out there? Things like this that get stuck in our heads. Things that repeat and repeat until we actually believe them. This has to stop.

Now, I can’t control what’s on the radio, on the television, or internet. To be honest, sometimes I can barely control what’s going on in my own head. I have been guilty of allowing “old tapes” to play (as my mother would say). Old tapes of people telling me “you can’t…” “you shouldn’t…” “you aren’t…” “you’re not…” But I have become stronger at knowing when to tune out. When to follow my own song. How to change the channel in my own mind. Learning each day to become better.

Because the better days don’t just come. We become. We become the better day. So I greet the morning sun and say, “Actually, I can…”


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The short lens.


Yesterday, the first of January, we decided to take a walk up the small mountain close to our home. (In France we would call it a hill, but coming from Minnesota, it feels like a mountain.) The morning air was as fresh as a new year could bring. Going up the hill (mountain), the sun was out, but as we neared the top, we became one with the clouds and the fog. It was so beautiful!


We love to travel. We want to see and do everything! The world is really a magical place. So magical, that sometimes I forget to see what is right in front of us. I can get caught up in the what else, instead of focusing on the right here. So on this first day, this morning of the new year, I took the camera to celebrate the extraordinary of our every day!


And the universe was right there to help me focus on the right here. It brought the fog, as if to say, there’s no need to look that far ahead. Focus on what’s right in front of you. It’s so simple. But it’s true. I am one, for sure, who needs to learn that lesson again and again. I can get caught up in the awfulizing of the future – what if this happens, or that, or what will we do if they… It’s all out of my control. My vision. What I have is right in front of me. And if I take the time to see it, really see it — oh, it is beautiful! So very beautiful.


I want to see this day, this year, with the short lens. Live this life without worrying about everything that lies ahead. Without worrying beyond the fog, beyond what I don’t know. I want to see the beauty of the right here. Right now. And know that it is more than enough! More than I could ever capture. I walk joyfully, lightly, in the clouds, and give thanks.


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This year.

This year,let’s say the things we never said. Let’s forgive the things we never could.Let’s love like no lessons have already been learned. Let’s dream like we have the chance,and live like we have no other.

I first showed this piece in New York. Two women from a local gallery approached it. I listened to them. “Is it only for New Year’s, you know, with the ‘this year…” one asked the other. “No, she replied, ‘this year,’ it’s the same as today, every day.” And she was right. They bought the piece. Five of them. For their gallery.


I keep it beside our bed. I read it every day. Some days, one line is easier than the other. I liken it to a golf game. Some days you can drive a mile long, and miss every putt. Your short game is good, but then there is that bunker. No one gets it completely right every day. But we keep playing. We keep trying. We keep swinging.


And so I read the words. And I try to do the best I can. I keep loving and forgiving, (even myself), and dreaming and living, because ‘this year,’ is ‘this day,’ and I don’t want to miss it. It will be like no other!!!

Happy New Year!


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Happy Day!

I suppose it’s not that exciting to try something new on December 29th, or the 30th. Nobody blows a horn or lowers a ball. But I thought it was fun. On the 29th I painted a woman on a block of found wood, in a style I don’t normally do. Crisp outlines. Bright colors. It was a good lesson in determined strokes. On the 30th, I painted a bird on crafted paper. “Well, that’s not new,” you must be thinking, but this time, I did it all with the same brush. No relying on the tools of the trade – testing my patience and skill.

January is almost upon us. I used to go to the New York gift show every January. I would come home with hundreds of orders to fill. Looking at the pile of papers was incredibly overwhelming. So I didn’t. I taught myself to finish an order. One at a time. Complete the work, box it, label it, claim the victory, then go on to the next. Clearly I wasn’t the first to think of this, but it seems to be a lesson worth learning again and again.

Yes, today is New Year’s Eve! And that IS special! But so is tomorrow and the day after that, and the one after that. I don’t know what lies ahead. And I can’t plan the entire year. I wouldn’t even want to. Today my hands and heart will covered in December 31st, truly worthy of celebrating! Happy Day!


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Nobody told the birds.

December 26 is not the day we celebrate, but nobody told the birds. I’m sitting by my morning window, swarmed in song. I’ve never heard the birds so joyful. You can almost see the notes dancing in the trees under this cloudy Sunday morning sky. It truly is spectacular. What a beautiful thing to wake up to! A gift. Nothing to unwrap. Nothing to return. Everything to enjoy!

I guess every day is a gift. If the birds can see it, I, we, should be able to see it too. And I want to. Every day. I don’t want to waste one. I don’t want to wait for the calendar to tell me it is special. Each one is special. So on this 26th, this Sunday, this cloudy, uneventful day, I am going to celebrate this life. And I am going to sing!!!