Jodi Hills

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

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…and then the beauty comes.

My grandfather was perhaps the first to teach me about color. Each year he planted in the black dirt. He worked under blue skies. Prayed under gray. And with the daily stroke of his hands turned the field from green to gold. It was the most beautiful canvas I had ever seen. Were it not for him, would I have seen it? I can’t be sure.

I often speak of the Sainte Victoire mountain. It rests in our daily view. Cezanne was perhaps the first to point it out to the world. Painting it again and again. Showing its beauty in every light. Dominique was the first to point it out to me as he drove me from the airport. Would I have seen it? Would I have felt it? Would I have painted it without either of them? Probably not.

Georgia O’Keeffe had her own mountain. Her own “Sainte Victoire.” She painted the big mountain (as she called it) again and again. Braving the heat and the cold. The solitude. The doubters of women. All to show us the beauty of what was around her. The beauty of what she saw.

I suppose all of it was unlikely. Seemingly almost impossible at times. But this is what gives me hope. This is what enables me to put my grandfather, Rueben Hvezda, alongside Paul Cezanne. Alongside Georgia O’keeffe. To write about him. To write about my grandmother making kolaches and quilts. My mother dressing in the crispiest of whites, even on her most crumbling days. OH, my beautiful mother! Were they artists? (…a rose by any other name…) They took what was in front of them, inside of them and made it beautiful. Not only showing me, but showing me how.

So I make the pictures with paint and words. Each daily stroke, with brushes of Rueben and Elsie and Ivy — my open fields, my sturdy mountains. What are we here for, if not to show each other the beauty? The beauty of living.

You have something. Right here. Right now. Live it. Something beautiful will come. The world is waiting to see.


Ida painted too.

It’s no secret that I have always loved Georgia O’Keeffe. Yesterday, to my surprise, I learned that she had a sister, Ida, who also painted. Experts say that if she had had the support of an Alfred Stieglitz, she could have been equally celebrated. But she had a different story. And the world, someone decided, didn’t need another O’Keeffe.

Since I was a young girl, my mother was friends with Diane Larson. A lovely woman. She was kind. True. And when she smiled at you softly, you felt cared for, hugged. There wasn’t a lot of truth that I could see at that age, and it was comforting. She was a teacher. I would see her in the halls of Central School. She didn’t embarrass me by actually speaking, but she smiled, and I knew she was watching out for me. She was the extended care of my mother.

She hung my childish art in her beautiful home. Saved a folder of my poems and scribbles, as if they were treasures. I didn’t need a second mother. I already had my “Georgia.” But this Diane Larson, this Ida, she painted too, and I felt extra loved.

She died yesterday. For most, she will go unnoticed. But that does not mean she is not celebrated. She fits easily into the halls of my heart, still watching over, smiling. A continuous joy. An unending love. The world needs every Ida, every Diane.

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Being Georgia.

I’d like to say that I have a healthy respect for our garden tools – the weedwacker, the chipper – when in fact it would be more accurate to say that I am actually afraid of them. It doesn’t stop me from using them though. 

When Dominique uses the weedwacker, he finishes with little red welts all over his body. Me, I dress like I’m part of the New York City Bomb Squad. A cap. Safety glasses (and a visor, or two masks). Jeans. Gloves. And knee high steel toed boots. Yes, it’s hot. But it makes me feel safe.

We all have our own comfort zones. With everything. We have our own way of coping. Surviving. Living. I don’t think people would make fun of me for wearing what I wear in the garden — and to be honest, I really wouldn’t care if they did. I have to remember this for all of life’s challenges. I will cope as I see fit. And if it works for me – then it works for me. I have to give myself that freedom. And offer the same to you. 

Life is messy and at times frightening. As I stripped down in the afternoon sun — taking off all of my protective gear — I eagerly made my way to the pool. The glorious reward. Nothing feels better. Another challenge survived. 

It was Georgia O’keeffe who said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Today, as I step into life’s garden, I will don my protective gear, smile as I channel the brave and elegant Georgia, and I will dare to make it beautiful!

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A nice thought.

We arrived at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe a little later than expected. It was only going to be open for about an hour longer. We went to the cashier to buy our tickets. She greeted us nicely, but we could tell she was a bit distracted. Her computer was giving her problems. We’ve all been there and know how distracting that can be. “Two?” she asked, and kept willing the machine to work. “Yes,” we smiled. I could see the beautiful works out of the corner of my eye. I was so excited to go inside. I had read books on Georgia. Read her letters. Studied her paintings. Visited her home. Even painted her. My smile must have been huge – as I’m smiling while I write this. “Go ahead and go in,” she said. Not out of frustration any longer, just kindness. “Oh, wow – that’s great! Thank you!” It made the whole experience even better than I could have imagined. Kindness will always do that I suppose. In the best of situations. In the worst.

Georgia wrote in a correspondence to a close friend, “You are one of my nicest thoughts.” I think about the museum — the woman who let us in for free, even though she was clearly having a hard time. She created an image as lovely as the paintings inside. We are all creating images, all the time. With our actions, our interactions. Our faces. Our hearts. I think the best we can do is to try and make them beautiful.

We may not always succeed, but there is beauty in the attempt, and anyway, it’s a nice thought.