Jodi Hills

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


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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 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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Under today’s sun.

My Grandma Elsie bought the breakfast cereal variety pack. Those animated boxes in every color! OH how we loved them. To reach into the cupboard and choose! This was something! Each box fit perfectly into our palms – already sweaty with the anticipation of sugar. Moons and stars and loops that changed the color of the milk, and our collective heart rates. Our legs fueled, we began the day running. There was so much to see on the farm, and we couldn’t do it fast enough. We didn’t want to miss a minute under the sun.

My cousins and I couldn’t be more different now. Living separate lives, in separate countries even. A variety pack for sure. What a glorious gift to have been given options. Choices. I suppose when you have it, this freedom, it’s easy to forget about it. But I don’t want to take it for granted. So many do not have this luxury. And it is a luxury!

Gratitude’s sweet sugar fills my heart, and I’m still racing. To write the words and paint the painting! To see the day! To live the life! I was given a gift and I don’t want to waste one minute, miss one minute, under today’s sun.


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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.


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…and if I did that for you

I am working feverishly to prepare for the launch of my new website. Taking photos, scanning, making new prints, cards, displays. I am always surprised at how subjective the eyes are. At first glance, I see what I want to see. Then I look again. Wait. Is that the best scan? Is that the right color? Then the camera shows  a different look. Then I put it on the computer, and there is something else I didn’t see. And wait, print it out on paper – oh, yes, another look. And still, I show it to someone, and they see something different. 

When I painted this wren, I know what I was thinking, so my eyes saw that story. When I showed it to my friend, she saw her sister. And I saw her heart. When I painted the image of our coffee pot, my husband’s son said he could see our reflection in the image. Did I paint it there, or does his heart just know us, know our home, our kitchen, our breakfast table? 

We see the world with our hearts, our minds, our experiences. And if we’re lucky, we see, too, through the eyes of those around us. It’s really not enough to just look. We have to start seeing each other in every possible light. 

…and if you did, see that I am not just my face, but all that I have faced, and if I did that for you…


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Where’s Julian?


I have asked that question in English, and French, countless times. I would have never met him had I not married his father’s brother… but I did. Now I wonder where he is. He is a traveler. Not a tourist. He immerses himself into different cultures. Learns different languages. Wanders. You can see it in his face, his eyes. Always looking onward.
He once sent a video from a hole in a village, maybe Cambodia, I’m not sure, but it was, to be polite, remote, this community bathroom (this giant hole), and I thought, wait, they have internet? The world offers opportunities. Chances. And Julian takes them.


As Dominique and I travel, moving from hotel to hotel. I look at the walls. Where is the art? Certainly not on these walls. Safe squiggles. Safe words – “good vibes only.” Every instagram picture with a million likes. No chances here. So we look for the art, in the people, the places, the cultures, the land, and hope, by some glorious chance, it finds its way into my heart and hands and onto the canvas and page.


I know some might say Julian should stop. Settle down. Fall in love. But I think, isn’t he? In love I mean? I think he’s in love with his own life. And that’s beautiful. That’s more than a safe squiggle on a wall. That, my friends, is art.


I understand this is not for everyone — travel — but I’m talking about living. I encourage you to take a chance. On life. In love. On yourself. This will take you where? — farther, further, than you could ever imagine!


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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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Days of thanks.

This past Labor Day, we visited Washington, D.C. It was a warm day — just enough heat to let down your defenses and let you feel at one with nature. No difference between your body temperature and the air surrounding you. We walked freely and easily to each monument. The stairs to Lincoln were long and high, and worth each sweaty step. I couldn’t help but notice each of us wore a warm and glistening glow, from the sun sure, the labor of the steps, but mostly, I think, from the hope and promise that sat before us.


With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it is good to remember how Lincoln transformed this holiday for us all. There is much controversy with the holiday beginnings, as there should be, I suppose, but Lincoln took the holiday and turned it into a day of thanks, for all to celebrate.
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, who began using her columns to push for nationalizing Thanksgiving and celebrating it on the last Thursday in November. (A good woman behind every man as they say – and this time – out in front). She wrote a letter to Lincoln, stressing the urgency of making Thanksgiving “a National and fixed Union Festival” that would offer healing to a torn nation.

After receiving her letter, Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a day when we would give thanks “as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People,” including “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands.”


This “sojourner” wants to give thanks, every day. I understand how blessed, I am, we are, to stand in the labor, the hope that each day brings.


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Unshackled.

It’s funny how we can all be looking at the same thing, and see something so different. When for each of us, I suppose, it is so clear, so very, very clear. But maybe it’s so clear, that it’s invisible.

We will never all have the same vision. And we shouldn’t. We need the open eyes and hearts of everyone to make this world interesting. Beautiful. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we won’t. But I think the key is to know why we are choosing to see what we see. Am I looking out of love, or out of fear? Am I blocking the path for others, or clearing a way? Do I really have the whole picture?

We were driving along the Mediterranean and Dominique pointed out an island. It seemed pretty close. If I opened the car window, I thought, I could just reach out… He told me it was two miles away. I saw a few swimmers braving the cooler temperatures and thought that island must seem an eternity away, if even visible from behind each wave. Same island. Different perspective.

We are all looking. Seeking. Wondering. There is so much to see. And we all want to be free to see it in our own way. But to truly be free, we have to learn. We have to understand that while some of us are on the open road, others are fighting a continuous wave. All to get to the same place of joy. The same place of understanding.

I guess the answer is to seek wisdom. Find grace. Teach. Reveal. Oh, education, the great unshackling! Free from our own ignorance, then, I imagine… oh, the things I imagine!!!! It’s so beautiful! Can you see it?


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The lightness of now.

I have seen the Berlin Wall in Berlin, and at the University of Virginia in the US. You can learn something everywhere. In the most expected and least expected places, if you are open to seeing it.


At a dinner party, early in my move to France, someone asked me about painting portraits. Was there a difference between the American faces and European faces? What a good question! And yes, there was, I thought. There is. Europeans carry a history that the youth of Americans can’t yet possess. Wars and walls, even though ended, they never really disappear. Their load gets lighter perhaps, but even scattered, they remain.


There is so much to learn and to see. In the faces. The places. The scatterings of others. And I suppose one of the greatest gifts of this time spent learning, is less time spent creating the same mistakes. Wouldn’t that be something! Wouldn’t we all be a little lighter? If all the walls became merely pebbles in learned shoes.


The lightness of knowledge. Of now. What a beautiful reward. Now that’s something to see!