Jodi Hills

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


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Wings or weights.


Yesterday I was watching a short video on Youtube. I clicked on it because it was a beautiful, elderly woman, in her eighties, painting portraits. She was wearing a lovely scarf and skirt and smiling, with eyes and mouth. And it had the most interesting title – “All cats are black.” She had one of those voices that immediately drew you in. She began, “I’m just going to say it, I wanted to be beautiful…that’s all I wanted, there, I said it.” She went on to explain that she wanted to be beautiful because then she thought maybe her mother would love her. And, oh, how she wanted, needed to be loved. Just a mere baby, she was sent off to boarding school. On a visit home, still a baby, she was in the back seat of their car, driving home at night. She said to her mother, “I think I might look pretty in this light.” Her mother replied, “All cats are black at night, I suppose.” I will pause here to let you catch your breath. I know I needed to. What a horrible thing to say! My heart broke for her. Just a string of eight words. A string of eight words that slipped so easily off of her tongue. Slipped so easily off her tongue and (you might think I will say “broke her daughter’s heart) weighted on her daughter’s heart. I say weighted, because broke would be too simple. Broke means maybe you can fix it. Repair it. But weighted. Weighted is constant. A continuous burden. And she carried this burden for 65 years. A string of words for 65 years. Finally, through life, and living, and constantly searching for beauty, through painting portraits, she started to see it in others. See the beauty, even in herself. And she let it go. She let it go…. What a relief to save yourself. And she did. I suppose this is what first caught my eye – this was her beauty!

There are so many things I could say here. About how lucky I was to have a mother that always made me feel beautiful. Who still does. What a glorious gift. I could offer the warnings of how hurtful words can be. How we have to choose them so wisely. How easily we can hurt others. I could speak of the need to always be searching for and recognizing beauty in ourselves and others. I could speak of forgiveness, for that is really all forgiveness is, just letting go. Maybe it all comes down to weight. Each day a decision has to be made, perhaps moment after moment in each day, deciding to be the person who lifts, or the person who brings down. Wings or weights. As one who has seen the height and depth of each side, please, please let me be the wings, let us be the wings. Let’s choose to be kind, and fly!


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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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From a distance.

From a distance.

When painting, from time to time, you need to take a step back. And just look. It always looks different. Or more clear. Same eyes. Different view. So close to the easel, you can miss it. Only in stepping back, taking in the full picture, can you see what’s really happening on the canvas.  Then you can get close again. Change what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a stroke or two. Other times you really have to paint over what you had — “give up your darlings” as they say — ideas and images that we make so precious, so darling, that we can’t even see the truth of them. It’s easy to think everything we do is right… the only way… but trust me, I have been proven wrong, stroke by stroke. It’s never easy, but it has always been for the better.

Since moving to France, I have begun to see my home town in a whole new light. I guess I had to step back. From here, each blue seems a little bluer, from lake to sky. Nothing was perfect, far from darling. But things needed to be released just the same. I suppose my “darlings” were thinking that everyone could have been better, should have been better. But I was so close to my own canvas that I couldn’t see them. Maybe they, too, were having their own struggles. Everyone does. Maybe they were doing the best they could do. Maybe we all were. The buoys in the lake, after all, weren’t there just for me. Maybe we were all looking to be saved.

I am reminded of a song sung by Bette Midler:

From a distance
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white

From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need

And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band

Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war

From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for

From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land

And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man

It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

I take a step back today, and I see you. Beautiful.


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Sprigs of green.

I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive. 

They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!  

Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.


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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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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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Empathy (just a little more)

I painted Judy Garland about nine years ago for a show in Chicago. She’s started at 8 feet, and through mounting and unmounting, she’s maybe closer to seven now. Chicago was only the first part of her journey. Since then, she made the voyage to France. She has suffered through each leg, not unlike real life, I suppose. She is cracked and chipped, some may say even damaged, but I think that makes her beautiful. I think that makes her real.

I don’t know how she lived her life. I wasn’t there. But I do now how she sang a song. Almost as if her heart were breaking with each note. This is something to me. This is how I see her on the canvas. Without judgement. Because, no one escapes, do we. We all have to survive our wounds, those thrust upon us, those self inflicted. This is how I want to see people. Looking beyond the damage and the dust, to the pure music of their lives. Because it’s there. Let go of the judgement – it’s so noisy! Listen to the music. It’s beautiful.

Judy is recorded as saying,
“…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, a little more loving, and have a little more empathy, and maybe, next year at this time we’d like each other a little more.”

Good morning, World! Today I like you – even more!


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Softly

“She learned to look at things more softly. And even when the gift wasn’t returned, she had received her own.”

It’s a funny thing – forgiveness. Maybe one of the hardest lessons to learn. And it’s not like a recipe from which you can get the same results every time. That would be too easy. No, forgiveness wants, needs, to be learned and relearned, over and over.


I used to think it was like a debt, you were letting someone else off the hook. And that felt so wrong. Like to forgive was to say it didn’t matter. But that’s not really it — partially though, the letting off the hook part is right — but it’s not the other person, it’s you. It’s releasing yourself. Giving yourself freedom from the hurt, the anger, the torture of reliving the situation.


But even in knowing this, it’s still hard though. Sometimes I find myself replaying a conversation in my head, oh, I should have said this! How could they have done that??? And everything tenses up – I can feel it. I can actually feel my face get harder. That can’t be pretty. And it takes a few beats before I think, what am I doing? What a waste of time. And I learn the lesson again.

Someone told me once, if you’re nervous, like going to the doctor for example, to wiggle your toes. I tried it during an exam, and it worked. For some reason, it’s hard to tense up when wiggling your toes. I could feel my cheeks get softer, and in the softness, I began to smile.


I didn’t have a story in mind when I started painting her portrait. But the softness in her face gave me the story, gave me the gift. The ease of her coming smile. That’s the grace I wanted, still want, every day. That was the gift. I pass by her face each day. I give thanks. (Maybe even wiggle.) And I let go. Softly.