Jodi Hills

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


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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.


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All the places I’ve been, I feel like going home.

For years I searched for “home.” Then I began to write about it. Paint it. And slowly, as most answers come, it became clear that “home,” not unlike “happiness,” was nothing to be found, but created. Continuously. Moment by moment. Bit by bit. So I did. I do.

You may think, oh, that’s too much work… but no, it was a relief. It IS a relief — a relief to stop searching, and just be. I think they both (this home, this happiness) have to be fluid, ever changing. Because everything does change. What made me happy twenty years ago, yesterday, is not the same as today. So I have to change. Grow. Decide even. What gives me joy? What gives me comfort? Right here. Right now. And live in that. And in giving myself the permission, the power, to change, to grow, and to decide, I feel — well, happy — and I can live here (wherever that may be), in this heart, in this moment, and think, this is home.


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“You had me at lavender…”


It’s not like I thought honey came from a plastic bear, but not far.

Yesterday, on our small village tour, we bought some lavender honey. Before living in France, I had never really thought of the magic of bees. Bees. The work. The patience. The craft. Nothing short of magical. How they take, without harming, from their surroundings and create something so fabulous. What a lesson to be learned. I want to be better at this. 

Of course we needed bread for the honey. In the spirit of the bees, I made it. Taking the hours to mix, and wait, and rise, and wait, and roll, and wait, and bake. But the payoff, a house that smells better than any boulangerie…and the taste of bread fresh from the oven! 

This patience is a tricky thing to learn. We always want the answers right away. I am guilty of it for sure. Needing to know all the outcomes. How’s it going to be? I can get so far ahead of myself that I spiral out of the possibility of now. But now I have the lessons of honey. The sweet taste that tells me, relax. You don’t need to know how the magic works, just believe in it, taste it. It’s lavender. Lavender. And for a moment, this moment, I am saved.


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Beyond all labels

It doesn’t surprise me when I start speaking that people recognize immediately that I’m not French. I mean, I hear it too. But what does surprise me, and it has happened many times, is when people ask if I’m American before I even open my mouth. What is it? It doesn’t make me feel bad, I’m proud to be an American…but what is it about me that people see as different?

I guess we all wear our history, without even knowing it. So I’m thinking, if I can’t even identify it in the face I see every day in the mirror, what makes me so certain I can identify it in others. It’s time to look beyond the label.

I painted the American-made wine years ago. What I remember is not the label, but the evening. I was with my publishers/friends in my living room. The warmth of the candles. The greater warmth of the conversation. I was home. Years later I painted the French-made wine. We bought the bottle of wine from a small vineyard, and a vintage frame from the same village. It was an intimate adventure. New, and familiar. I wanted to capture it on canvas. In my studio, I painted the bottle. I was home.

Is it too spot on to say it’s what’s inside? I don’t think so.

No matter where we are, I suppose, we are all on a journey — a constant journey home. That feels comforting to see it — beyond all labels – in the hearts of others – and the one that beats inside.

Cheers!


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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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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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Fizz.

An Italian Fizz cocktail, with Dutch tulips, in front of the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France – this was yesterday’s lunch. Of course we had a few healthy things like calamari, fish, and carrots. But sometimes (all the time) you have to feed your soul, and not just your stomachs.


It pleases me to see how the drink matches the tulips. The colors meld into each other. This is so satisfying. This was not vacation, but a Sunday, a day — a day that could have easily been ordinary. They all can be, I guess…but we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy. It’s so easy to let the days just go by. But we’re not given that many. Each one is priceless. I don’t want to let any of them slip through the cracks, my fingers, my attention.


I don’t know what colors today will bring. From my desk, I can see the golden leaves of the apricot tree — shining against the evergreen of the pines. They tell me to look around. Look within. There is so much to enjoy. See everything. Feel everything. Fill your heart. Feed your soul. Taste this life!


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Pont du Gard

The most visited ancient monument in France, listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the Pont du Gard aqueduct remains one of humankind’s great masterpieces. A marvel of Antiquity and a true technical feat.

48 metres high, it has three vertical rows of arches: 6 on the lowest level, 11 on the second level and 35 on the third and top level. Its upper part reaches a length of 273 metres (originally 360 metres when there were twelve extra arches). It served as an aqueduct until the 6th century before becoming a tollgate in the Middle Ages and finally a road bridge from the 18th to 20th century.  

Perhaps even more impressive, an olive tree lives, over 1,000 years old, next to this masterpiece — a masterpiece in and of itself.  

Nobody takes the time to plant an olive tree anymore. (Or bothers to build real bridges.) You need patience with an olive tree. You can plant it and wait five years for the olives, maybe twelve. 

Yes, twelve years of nurturing, watering and pruning. The reward is not instant. Ah, instant gratification. I know, I get impatient too. But I’m trying, really trying, with my life, to plant an olive tree. Trying to give without worrying about the pay-off, the reward. 

Maybe it’s not about the fruit. Maybe it’s about the tree. Maybe it’s just about the growth itself. I want to have the patience, the beauty, the stamina, the strength of an olive tree. And so I will put in the time to learn, to love, and to live, without measuring the sun, only feeling its warmth. I offer this to you as well. I am here for you. 

No abandonings. For you, for me, I’m planting an olive tree. I am building a bridge. I am taking the time.


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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.