Jodi Hills

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


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

How it should be.

It was at the State Theatre in Minneapolis that I first heard the Indigo Girls. Dayton’s used to put on an extreme fashion show each year for charity. Oh, just saying Dayton’s does something to my heart.) The theatre was dark and suddenly they blasted the intro for Fugitive by the Indigo girls, and the first model stepped out. It was a mixture of clothes and music, and city and night, art and diversity, and they sang, “Remember this as how it should be.” Oh, how I wanted to remember. 

My mother and I loved Dayton’s. Saturday mornings. Always before lunch. Trying on clothes at our thinnest. No need for food. We were fueled. Hands gently touching racks. Filling dressing rooms. Mirrors admired. Compliments given. Hearts full. Then with hands bagged it was off to lunch. To sip at the wine, and pull out each item, tell the story, live it with laughter and praise, and before I knew the words to the song I thought, “Remember this as how it should be.”

I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Listening to a podcast. They were interviewing the Indigo Girls. I couldn’t hear every word over the hum of the motor, but my heart… I can’t tell you what the models were wearing that beautiful evening, but I can recreate the feeling of hope and desire and pure excitement for a life recognized. I don’t recall every garment tried on or purchased with my mother, but as I sit here in my new Saturday morning, my heart is filled with laughter and praise. 

I suppose that’s the way it is for everything. And that’s how it should be — the experience. Today we plan to go visit a vineyard. I know I will forget the wine. Probably even the place. But the time…my heart is already singing.


Leave a comment

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!


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

Freshly broomed.

There is an intimacy to this life that I don’t want to miss.

We were visiting Burano, Italy – an island near Venice. It is known for its lace work and brightly colored homes. These homes are stunning. I even painted them. But it’s funny, I have this memory that is even more vivid. It was morning. We were strolling the near empty streets to find some coffee. And there was an older woman sweeping her front stoop. Just an old woman, with an old straw broom. But never “just.” This was her home. Her life. A life she dressed for. Already in a skirt and apron, she cleaned her front step to prepare for the day. In this tourist village, where people spent all their vacation dollars to see these brightly colored homes, she had a life. A life she cared for. Dressed for. And lived. And how lucky I was to see it!

I want to see it every day. With neighbors and strangers and family and friends. I want to see it on the news. Feel it. These are people. With lives. Each one special. Intimate.

There is a connection in the simplest of things. If we can see the broom. We can see the hands. If we see the hands, maybe we can feel the hearts. If we can see the hearts, then maybe, just maybe… our world – OUR world could open its morning doors, step on to the front stoop and feel safe, feel loved, feel alive. I won’t believe it’s “just” a dream.


Leave a comment

Porches.

I suppose I’ve always been a romantic. I have never experienced a poverty of imagination.

I was often alone as a child. That’s not meant to be sad, and it wasn’t. It gave me time to create. We had a large green lawn on Van Dyke Road. On summer days, I took all of my dolls, stuffed animals, anything that could possibly have a personality, and placed them on the grass. They went to the circus. I tossed them in the air. They hung off branches, and bounced on basketballs. They visited other states and countries, as I walked them all through Hugo’s wheat field behind our house, dragging them in a rusted red wagon. They were rust stained, grass stained, and exhausted. And they were so happy. I suppose by “they” I mean me.

As I read more, learned more, I became more curious. What would it be like there? It must be exciting, I thought. I could hear horns honking in New York. Porches creaking in New England. Beaches in California. Cowboys in the south. And I imagined it all. How the sun felt as it beat against the writer’s shoulders. How the fire crackled with love and gathering. Paint splattered studios and hands. Everything was romantic.

I can still do it. I still do it. But the trick, or the blessing, is to see that romance, in the actual – the everything around you. And I do see it now. Oh, it can get lost, so easily – caught up in the ordinary, or the overwhelming events of life. But then I stop. Breathe. Gather all the romance around me until my chubby, youthful arms are full! Because I AM in love with my bathroom. The candles I light every morning when I take a shower. I adore breakfast with my husband – talking and dabbing every speck of croissant off of the plate, as to not miss a single taste. I am love with the violets and reds and yellows of springtime in Provence. I melt when I hear the birds singing, because I know that I have the paint and the hands, and the time, to capture them on canvas. To carry them with me, like a favorite song. Everything is not too much.

Maybe one of the best gifts that Van Dyke Road gave me was space. It wasn’t crowded. No dream was too big. I filled my heart, my brain, our front lawn, the gravel road, with the romance of all things possible.

The sun is shining – rich with possibility. My heart’s porch is sending you an invitation to the day! Isn’t it romantic?!!!


2 Comments

Seven or eight good naps.

Certainly I have never been mistaken for normal. But what does that even mean? And should it be something we strive for?

The world is ready at a moment’s notice to tell us what is good. What is beautiful. Right down to the color of the year. Do people actually paint their interiors because they saw a color survey on Instagram? We are bombarded with what we “must have” from Amazon. What everyone is buying from IKEA. Fast fashion from H & M. 

I guess we are filled with this from the day we are born. We are told what is beautiful. What is good. It used to be Norman Rockwell that captured the moment. And if you didn’t have the father at home smoking a pipe by the fireplace, then you weren’t supposed to be happy. You weren’t complete. They showed us in books and on television. If you didn’t drive the right car, or drink the right cola, how could you be happy?  

I gave up those standards long ago – some by choice, others by force, but it all turned out to be a gift. I got to make my own standards. My own happiness. 

We always ask each other in the morning “did you sleep well?” “Why not” is our usual response. We have different sleeping habits, my husband and I, neither “perfect.” Rarely do either of us sleep “all in a row.” And certainly not for eight hours. And I suppose I used to think, well, I must have slept badly. But years ago, I gave that up. Why was it bad? Did I sleep some? Rest some? How do I feel? Fine? Then what was so bad? So when he asked me this morning, “très bien dormi?” I replied, “I had seven or eight really good naps.” 

It’s going to be a great day!


Leave a comment

A pocket full.

“Tell me what you are thinking,” she would say to me. Nothing I said was crazy or stupid, or even childish, even though I was merely a child. This is one of the best gifts my mother gave me. She listened. 

I was a dreamer. She knew this. Right from the start. She didn’t have money to feed these dreams. Didn’t know the “right people.” But she had something better. She believed in them, me, and allowed them to come to life. “What is it you’re dreaming of?” she asked. I would tell her. And she grabbed the words, as if they lingered in the air, and handed them to me. “Not put it in your pocket,” she’d say. “We always need a dream in our pocket.”

When I got older, we loved to take trips to Chicago. A long weekend would be filled with shopping and walking and museums and coffee and wine and more shopping. On the drive home, we always filled our pockets with what would be the next visit. 

Before leaving for the US last month, I purchased a new sketch book. Just five euros, but something to look forward to. Priceless. In it yesterday I painted a woman’s portrait. I hope you can see it in her eyes – she has a dream in her pocket. And so do I. Always will.