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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Stumbling into joy.

It was no surprise that we stumbled upon the Storybook Sculpture garden in Abilene, Texas. I’ve been trying to get there my whole life. I didn’t know this sculpture garden existed, but storybook land…I stepped foot into it when I was a toddler, grocery shopping with my mother at Olson’s Supermarket, and in many ways, I’ve never left.

The shopping carts were lined up just after the automatic doors, in front of the large front windows. The sunlight seemed to lead directly to the first display of books and magazines. The bottom row, just in reach, was set aglow with Golden Books. And what a perfect name for them – for they were golden — treasure! Less than a dollar each, my mother allowed me to pick out one, not every visit, but quite often. My legs dangling from the silver cart, I held it. Smelled it. Hugged it. Knowing the adventure that would come when it was read to me that evening.

Soon, I no longer fit into the cart, and Mrs. Bergstrom taught us to read in the first grade at Washington Elementary. I picked out the books now by the title, and not just the pictures. I could read them myself, sometimes even before the shopping was done. What a world! Opening golden! I knew I would never leave.

I have traveled around the world. I really believe it has been possible, only because I started in these words, these books, this land where all things were possible. And it all still seems as magical to me as the day I was placed in front of the bottom row of books at Olson’s Supermarket.

I still keep a stack of Golden Books on my bedside table — a reminder to live in the magic, to keep believing, to keep dreaming, keep searching for the daily treasure.

I will be the first to admit, I sometimes wander off the storybook path, and get lost in the worries of the day, but somehow, I always find my way back, stumbling into joy. How golden!


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Tiny portions.

I guess the question is, and always has been, “Can we do the small things?”

It’s like the old joke —

The food here isn’t any good.
Then why do you keep coming back?
Well, the portions!!!!!!

Large paintings have the advantage of being seen. They definitely make a grand statement just by their presence alone. And most people assume, well, it’s big, it must be good. Or it’s big, so it must be more expensive. And both of these statements can, of course, be true. I love a big painting. To take someone’s breath away when they walk into a room, well, that feels wonderful! But big doesn’t mean more important. More value. It doesn’t mean that it took more skill. To paint something small, and still make it significant, this takes a special skill. To convey sentiment, with the smallest stroke, this takes attention to detail. You really have to love doing it, to put in the same effort for a small result.

Yesterday, I stretched a small canvas. I may never put it up for sale. I may never even put it in a show. I did it because I love doing it. It feels good. And it may sound crazy, but I think even the smallest canvas deserves my attention. Deserves to be noticed. Taken care of. So I do.

I suppose it is the same with us humans. We all want to make the grand gesture. Be seen for the grandiose good deed. But when you think about it, the big things usually have a way of working out. We can rely on the firefighters to put out the big fires. The doctors to prescribe the medicine. But who is going to take care of the little things? Be there to hold a hand? Have a conversation? Share a laugh? It’s not that hard to remember a birthday. Buy a big gift. But are we there on Tuesdays? Or lonesome Sunday afternoons? Some might say, “Well, you know I’d be there for you if you really needed it?” But don’t we? Really need it? Every day? I know I do. I really do. I hope I’m giving them as well, the little things. Hugs and laughter. Time spent. Meals shared. Smiles. I want to share in all of these things. Because, Oh! how filling, these tiny portions.


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Underpainting.

You wouldn’t think it makes a big difference, but it does. When you begin a painting, you need to start with the first layer, called the underpainting. This sets the tone for the painting. The underpainting develops the composition, placement, and value relationships at the outset. It’s the ultimate foundational approach.

And it’s always your choice. Do you want cooler tones? Warmer? Deeper. You choose. Right from the start. How do you want your painting to look to the world?

I guess it’s true with people too. We are who we are, at our core. And it always shows through. We think we are so clever at times, in what we do and what we say. We think people won’t notice what we really mean. But they do. Our hearts always show through. Always. So when you’re making your decisions today, and there will be a lot to make, choose well. How do you want to present yourself? Remember, with each action, every step you take, your underpainting is showing.


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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.


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Delicious

It’s natural to want someone to love what you love. Most afternoons, my husband and I enjoy iced vanilla lattes. I love being the barista. I measure, and pour and stir. The color fits perfectly into my most calming palette. It is cool and soothing, and I’ll say it – extremely delicious! I am proud of it. I delight in it. I want to share it!

When she came over in the afternoon, I thought I would surprise her with this tremendous gift. I was sure she would say, “Wow!” as I do every day with each sip. I poured and measured and stirred with anticipation. Upon entering our salon, I offered up my most treasured afternoon delight. “Oh, no…” she waved it off, “I don’t like milk with my coffee.” Oh, no? How could this be? No wow? I hadn’t seen this coming at all. The conversation moved on and I stood motionless with a latte in each hand.

I’ll admit it stung for a minute. I think my first reaction is, you don’t like me? We probably all have that reaction on some level. This is something, I, we, need to get over. We don’t all like the same things. We don’t even like the same people, but we can still come together. We can still enjoy what we enjoy. And let others enjoy what they enjoy. Believe what they believe. Love who they love. We can do this, if we make the effort.

We all enjoyed a day in the sun. In the pool. I roasted marshmallows over an open flame. Some people love them. She did. I don’t really, and yet she still likes me. I smile. We can do this.


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Growing the herd.

I first learned about herds on my grandfather’s farm. He had a herd of cows. “Why do animals need to be in a herd?” I asked him. “If the herd doesn’t pull together, it can be in danger. The herd knows its survival is dependent on the herd.” I shook my head. It made sense, but it also made me nervous. We, my mother and I, were in trouble. We had lost our herd. He could see me doing the math in my head, subtracting all those who had gone away. “How many does it take to make a herd?” I asked, hoping, pleading, begging with my heart for it to be a small number. I’m sure he could see my desperation for a clear and concise answer. “Two,” he said, and took my hand. Looking back, I’m not sure if he meant him and me, or my mom and me, but either way I was happy. I was a part of something. I would survive.

I’ve heard it used, and overused, the phrase – “We’re all in this together.” (I think I’ve used it myself.) But are we? Humans are herd animals. We do need each other. In a perfect world, I guess we would be – one human race – one herd, helping each other live a little better, a little stronger.

Each day I reach out my hand with words and paintings in hopes to strengthen the herd. You reach back by telling me your experience. And we find out a few more things about one another. My mom exclaimed in delight the other day, “I didn’t know Lynn Norton liked Jeopardy!” And we are all a little more connected.

The herd is as strong as we make it. Reach out your hand.


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Grace. For now.

Grace. For now.

I opened the wood filler to repair the corners of the frame. I rolled it around my fingers as instructed and this scent came to life. What is that? I know that smell. And then it took me – one straight shot from the south of France to the New Brighton basement of my aunt in Minnesota. My aunt Karolynn was a hairdresser. She had a full set-up in her basement. And by full set-up, I mean a chair, a mirror, and a sink. I’m neither ashamed, nor proud, to tell you that she used to, right there in that basement, give my hair a “perm.” (A permanent wave for those under a certain age.) I suppose it was a hairstyle. I suppose it was a trend – this completely unnatural kink of blonde curls. Oh, I wanted it at the time. I really did – along with so many others. Everyone had one. Women and men alike. And that was the smell — the lingering odor of my first lesson in the grace of not getting what you wish for. Yes, I wanted the permanence of this “perm.” I wished my hair would stay this way forever. Thank goodness it didn’t!

Through the years, I know that I have wished, and hoped, even prayed for some things to happen — some things that I was just certain would be great for me — devastated in the moment they didn’t happen — thrilled years later when I see and live the alternative! Relationships, jobs, moves, life… it’s funny how we can be so certain, and so wrong. Be careful what you wish for, they say…and I suppose they are right. But I’m not sorry for the wishing, the trying, the impermanence, the lessons, the growth. How would I know anything if I didn’t stay in motion? And on my way I try to remember that certainty is not the reward — it’s grace through the uncertain times, this is the gift, the only thing to really hold on to.

I repair the damaged frame, knowing that it won’t last forever — knowing that I will make it beautiful for now, and that is enough, more than enough, that is good – always.


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Hope.

Hope.

If I would have painted the clouds I saw yesterday, you may have said, “Well, that’s just wrong. Clouds don’t look like that.” But I saw them. From the pool. I was doing laps and out of the goggled corner of my eye, I saw something so blue, so white, I had to stop. I took off my goggles and looked up at the sky. It was so beautiful. The sky was blue. The kind of blue that artists try to invent and call their own. And the clouds — they weren’t puffs of white, or animals, or anything familiar — it was as if nature had taken its incredibly large brush and flung it across the sky. Not contained by recognizable shapes, but just pure motion. I told myself to breathe and look. A part of me wanted to jump out the pool and grab my camera, so I could capture it, stop it, but it was a windy day, and I knew if I took the time to dry off, go upstairs, get the camera, the magic could be gone, offering this vision of hope (For that’s what it felt like – pure hope) to some other person, looking up in the summer sky. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to miss it. Because maybe that’s the way hope works — it’s always there in constant motion — we think it has to stop for us, but maybe, maybe we have to stop for it. Just stop and see it. Feel it, believe in it. And I do. Fear wanted me to race after my camera, stop time. Hope told me to just stop. Feel. And believe.

I don’t want it to end. So I tell you. And it lives on. And maybe you tell someone else, and maybe we all live a little lighter, a little more hopeful, a little less fearful, under the ever changing strokes of white and blue. That can’t be wrong.


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I stand.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. It’s two hours of pushing, seemingly all uphill. It’s not bad at the beginning. I am plugged into a podcast or music, the sun is shining, and my legs are strong, having forgotten about the last mow. About half way through, it gets hotter, my legs get weaker, but I turn up the volume on the music and trudge on. I push and the mower fills with clippings. I stop. I empty the container. (At the start I lift and dump, and eventually near the end, just kick it until the clippings fall into a pile.) I pull the string to restart. Push, kick. Pull. Push, kick pull. I shove my sweaty hair deeper into my hat, tighten my shorts and keep mowing. My shoulders feel hot. My belly feels empty, and I keep pushing. When about 90% finished, I start to think I’m really going to make it. This time I will finish without having to refill the gas tank. I’m sure I mowed much faster this time and I won’t need to refuel. Yes, just a few more times up and back and… chug, chug, stop. Bad words race in my head. I push the mower to the garage. Lift the gas tank, which now weighs more than I do, refill the tank, pull the string. Pull the string again. And again. It starts. I walk it back and finish the mowing. Done. Sweet and glorious done. I walk the mower back to the shed, not kicking out the last clippings, oh, I’ll do that next time… I take off my gloves, my hat, my shoes, sit at the outdoor table and look at my work. It’s beautiful. Has there ever been a greener lawn? Has grass ever looked so inviting? I mean, it is magnificent! Worth every step. I think that people should see this. Maybe we’ll have a barbecue, with family. They’ll ask if I mowed the lawn and I will beam – yes! of course! Take your shoes off, I’ll say. Drink the wine. Feel that carpet of green. Yes, yes, we will celebrate this mow! It is glorious. It is summer! I stand on grass stained legs, and feel lucky, proud even. I mowed the lawn!
I think of my gay friends. Some people wonder, “Why do they have to have a parade?” Why? Why? Think of all they have been through! All the uphill trudging just to be seen. I am ready to throw myself a parade after mowing the lawn. If they had a “green lawn mowing flag” I’d be waving it up and down the streets of Aix en Provence. Yes, I say! Have the parade! Wave those colors! It’s glorious!


I think of my cancer-surviving friends. Some may wonder, “Do they really need to buy the survivor t-shirt?” Do they?????? Yes! Yes, of course they do! And they should. Cover the world in pink and celebrate each glorious survival! Wear the banner proudly! You did survive! How beautiful is that??!!!! Feel the glorious earth of another day under your feet! You did it. You can feel lucky, proud even! You DID survive!


We shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our victories, our accomplishments. And we must never block the way of others celebrating theirs. You can join in, or not, but clear the way when the flags of joy are raised. Remember in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout, at the end of the trial, is told “Stand up, your father’s passing…” That’s what I think of – when I see the struggles, the trials, you have endured. For you, (and maybe even me), I have nothing but respect. And so I stand.