Jodi Hills

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


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Any Wednesday

I never imagined you could barbecue sardines. In my head, they were only those tiny little fish in a tin box. So many things to discover. Yes, they do come in bigger sizes. Yes, you can barbecue them. And yes, you have to separate the head and the bones on your own plate. And yes, they are delicious!

There is a certain luxury to having a barbecue on a Wednesday afternoon. Drinking a cool white wine, in the shade of the provencal sun. No longer reserved for a Sunday, but an any day. So was our Wednesday. He was grilling sardines as I sipped the wine and I thought, what a picture of France! (but I never stopped to take a photo) After we got home I thought, I should have taken a picture — capture the moment. But sometimes, when you stop to capture the moment, it disappears. So I didn’t have a picture on my phone, but I had one in my head. It raced down to my hands and on to the paper. The beautiful sardines. So black they turned blue. Grays turning into greens. The moment, not captured, that sounds too harsh, but more embraced. Embraced in the permanence of heart and acrylic.

I don’t know what this day will bring. This Thursday. Perhaps it will turn into a Saturday, if I let it. Why not?! There are so many things to learn. To see. Nothing to be confined in tiny tin boxes, but spread across summer skies and welcoming canvas.

Happy Day, everyone!


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Pull over

Cezanne painted the Montagne Sainte-Victoire again and again. Living near it, I understand why. Every day it looks just a little different. Clouds, sun, sky, even my mood, can change the colors, change the view. But always, it is beautiful. Cezanne was lucky though, there weren’t the obstructions of today. Electrical lines, buildings, bridges and freeways can really distort the lines of vision.


I am always looking for that pure view. When I paint it, I can take out the obstructions, but it’s very difficult to see it, in all its majesty, without something clunking up the line. We have pulled the car over many times, thinking, this might be it, this might be the view, and then I take out the camera, and there it is, in the camera lens, that wire, that pole, that rooftop.


Yesterday, we were driving to Vauvenargues to see Dominique’s mother. On the way there, I caught a small glimpse of “maybe…maybe it’s the view…” So on the way home we did the ever hopeful pull-over, walked the side of the road, jumped over a ditch, and raised the camera. A sea of lavender rolled into the mountain under a sky of blue. Wait, what? No lines? No obstructions. Just nature. Just purples and violets and greens and blues and whites and grays. It was beautiful. And we got to see it. Smell it. Feel the lavender breeze against our skin, and the strength of the mountain, holding us together. Simply amazing.

I guess it’s the same with people. There are so many distractions. So many things that block our view. It’s so easy to turn away. Just pass by. But maybe if we took the time – really took the time – to see people in their own natural light, we would see what makes them amazing. We would see the beauty of all their changing days, both sunny and dark, and we would be gathered in.


What if I did that for you, and maybe you did that for me? Simply amazing. Again and again.


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A bend in the river

I painted John Wayne because I love Joan Didion. In her piece, “John Wayne: A love song,” she described an image that jumped from my heart into my hands. And I painted, not just John Wayne, but I painted my heart, filled with the words that she, I, had longed to hear…filled with the promise of love, the promise of home.


“We went three and four afternoons a week, sat on folding chairs in the darkened hut which served as a theatre, and it was there, that summer of 1943 while the hot wind blew outside, that I first saw John Wayne. Saw the walk, heard the voice. Heard him tell the girl in a picture called War of the Wildcats that he would build her a house, ‘at the bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow’. As it happened I did not grow up to be the kind of woman who is the heroine in a Western, and although the men I have known have had many virtues and have taken me to live in many places I have come to love, they have never been John Wayne, and they have never taken me to that bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow. Deep in that part of my heart where the artificial rain forever falls, that is still the line I wait to hear.” Joan Didion.

I had just moved to France. I’m surprised at how easily I did it. I had been offered new places before, closer places, more predictable places I suppose. One would think that a Minneapolis girl could easily transition into a Chicago love, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the move. It wasn’t my bend in the river.When Dominique told me to stay, just stay, I could see the cottonwoods, for the first time, and I stayed.

And it isn’t about being rescued. I’m not sure I believe in that. But maybe it is about being saved. About saving each other. In tiny bits, every day, with just the smallest phrases, the smallest gestures, we can do that. We can be the heros and heroines for each other.

The painting I made of John Wayne rests in our salon. On numerous occasions, in a sea of indecipherable French words, I will hear someone yell out “John Wayne!” And I am home. Even my mother-in-law, with memory failing, names, people, places, even loved-ones sometimes forgotten, she can pull out the name John Wayne, and I smile, not just because she can still remember the name, but I think for a brief moment, she too, is taken to her own bend in the river, her true love, and she is home.


The “hot winds” blow all around us, forever. If we are lucky enough to find that cool place, that place that calls us, welcomes us, and gathers us in, then I guess, we may not always be safe, but we will be saved.


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Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.


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“Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire!”

Yesterday a friend told me I was like fine wine, only getting better. What a compliment! Isn’t that what we all want? To get better? Every day? I do – want it! And at everything. I feel like I should start a list here, but there’s so much, ok, well, at writing and painting, and cooking and loving, and friending, and wifing, and listening and noticing, and learning, and living! There’s more, (but you have other things to do than just read my list.)

And I want to be careful here – it’s not about more, more, more, it’s about better, better, better. There’s a difference. More is about need, not being satiated, but better is about becoming. Being. Being better.

There is a practice to it – this becoming, this striving to be better. It’s not a singular focus, but, I’ll say it, a vineyard. One good grape on its own can’t make a good bottle of wine. It takes a whole vineyard. And so each day, I work on my vines. My patience. My skills. My gifts. My relationships. And from the work, there is the wine. There is always the wine. “Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire!” (When the wine is drawn, it must be drunk!) In other words, you don’t waste good wine – you don’t waste this day, this moment in time.

The sky is opening. Today is going to be delicious.