Jodi Hills

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


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Seeing it through.

“There was the man who got on his horse one afternoon and told his wife he was going to bring in the cows. She watched him ride off across the flats. He came to their two mild cows, grazing half a mile from the house, and he rode around them and kept on going. She watched him to the top of the rise, a mile away, and she waited and waited. He never came back. “I don’t know what got into him,” his wife said. “He didn’t even say goodbye.” Hal Borland from “High, Wide and Lonesome”


When I start a new painting, I like to keep quiet. Those who know me don’t ask, “What is it going to be?” I suppose there are a few reasons for this. First, I’m often not sure. What I begin might turn into something else completely. That, to me, is never failure of losing the first, that is the magic of gaining what is to be. The magic that comes from seeing it through. Allowing it to become. Never abandoning the canvas, but working with it. Not forcing it to be something it isn’t, but allowing it to be what it wants to be.


Maybe she learned it from her father — the farmer who always came back from the field. But most certainly, I learned it from her, my mother. From her I learned the magic of seeing it through. The magic of no more abandonings. So today, if you’re wondering what the next painting will be… what tomorrow will bring…if you really need to know, know this, it’s going to be magic!


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Winter boats.

It’s easy to love the summer of someone. The well lit, sun filled long days of them. But when the tanned shoulders are covered, with no aid of chilled rose wine in clinking glasses, you have to really love them. Just them.

But, oh, the winter boats. They are so beautiful. Resting on the shore. This is when you know. You know you can trust the love of the winter boats. The ones who will sit with you when the waters have cooled. Will be there, when no fireworks light July’s sky. Will be there, just be there, for you.

What a joy it is to not look back, nor forward, just beside. True love rocks gently.


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Patience

I must admit that I have struggled with this one — patience. But the world is determined to teach me. Waiting for packages. Waiting for hearts to grow. Minds to change. Learning. Every day with the learning!

And so, as if part of the lesson, we are celebrating Thanksgiving, not on a Thursday, but a Saturday night. My mind wants to race ahead, keep abreast with my American colleagues and put up the Christmas decorations. But patience tells me, and oh, I try to listen, enjoy the Thanksgiving. Don’t let it slip away because you are too eager for the next. The next will come, without your knowledge or permission, so enjoy the now. Oh, patience…give me some of that wisdom.

Just as easily as we can get stuck in the past, we can also get stuck in tomorrow. Today, I just want to be thankful for today. Thankful that I have something special — a Saturday Thanksgiving! Filled with all the traditional and nontraditional joy that a French Saturday Thanksgiving can bring.

Hello, patience. Let’s put those turkey parts in the oven, and let the festivities begin. And before I forget — THANK YOU!


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Perfection knows no time constraints.

When I focus only on my own tiny heart, I can feel badly that she doesn’t remember me, my mother-in-law. It’s only natural, I suppose. And when I say the words out loud, it is only natural. There is no malice. Only nature. She has done her job. For 96 years. She has cared and nurtured and lived. When I arrived she welcomed me. Learned about me. Clapped for my paintings. Sometimes more than once. Knew me. And that was perfect. In its time. It is now my turn to welcome her, again, for the first time. Welcome this period in her life, not with anger (How could you forget?), not with sadness (Why don’t you remember?) but with grace (I’m happy to see you.)


I have climbed the Sainte Victoire. The mountain doesn’t remember me, but oh, how I remember each step. Each stumble coming down. It is my job, my joy to remember. I remember kissing at the Eiffel Tower. Wandering the relics of Rome. The feel of the Mediterranean washing over me. I remember my grandfather’s overalls. My grandmother’s hands. It is my job to remember. To share the stories. Pass them on. Give them life. Until one, day, in one language or another, someone might carry them for me. Carry each kiss and stumble. Until they can only pass them on again.


And it will all be as it should. Filled with grace, this perfectly imperfect gift of time.


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There, there.

It’s easy to get too far ahead of myself. In painting. In life. I want the answer. The finished piece. The resolution. The “Veruca Salt” voice sings in my head, “I want it now!” But it doesn’t work that way. Painting. Life. Stroke by stroke. Patience.


I’ve started a commissioned painting for a lake. Blue. Well, that’s simple. Right? Done? No. Each color must be given it’s equal time. The shadows of the almost blue black, to the glistening whites of the sun’s reflection. Each needs attention. Time. To find the movement in the stillness of each color. This is the goal.


Vincent van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” I understand this – on canvas. I take the time in my sketchbook. Work at it. Color by color. Stroke by stroke. Oh, yes. Bit by bit, it all comes together. Slowly in the stillness of my sketchbook. I want this for life.


It was Mrs. Bergstrum who first taught us this. “Sound it out,” she said. But there was the whole alphabet right in front of us! All the possibilities. We wanted it all. Every word. Every book. Every library. “Slowly,” she said. And we made the sounds. Letter by letter. Into words. Each word a victory. Great things were coming together.


There is so much to want. So much I want for those I love. I want healing and grace and hope and joy. I want it all! I know this furious speed. I know the furious speed at which you are trying to get over and around. Wanting every color, every word, now! I have traveled that wind and hung on for dear life. But the dear life I found came only in the quiet slowing down. The letting go. No longer rushing to get past, but easing my way through. Color by color. Letter by letter. Sounding it out. And the peace. Smiled. Knowing it had always been there, as I whirled. Peace, sitting quietly next to joy, and hope, and OK now. There, there. Still. Great things are coming together.


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First, the field…


I have been commissioned to paint a field of poppies. Looks pretty green for poppies, you’re thinking. Yes, for now. But first the field… my grandfather taught me that, I suppose, on his farm. Each year he would take the browns and turn them into greens, and eventually into gold. “You can’t glamorize the dirt,” he said. It was work. So much work. Rocks needed to be picked. Dirt turned. Seeds planted. Watered. Care. So much care.


And so I paint the same way. I cut the wood. Stretch the canvas. Gesso. Prepare. Underpaint. Start with the field. My hands dirty. My heart full of promise that the flowers will come. Patient. Care. So much care.


Life is very messy. Terribly messy. My Uncle Nick passed away yesterday. I can’t glamorize that. I know he suffered. But I believe in the golden fields. Those of my grandfather. I believe they are there now. Together. Held with care. So much care.


Today, maybe, the poppies…


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The sweet spot.

I have always been drawn to the still life. And not just in painting. The living as well. That doesn’t mean not doing anything. Quite the opposite. I like doing something all the time. My morning schedule is filled with breakfast, Duolingo, blogging, yoga and swimming. Which connects me to an afternoon of painting, discovering, filling, learning. But nothing is done in a frenzy, or a fever. All work to keep my spinning brain and feeling heart at a manageable pace. If my home is in chaos, it rattles my soul, so I work very hard to keep it calm. Things in place, keep my focus in place. My focus in place, I can find the most real part of me. And this is the sweet spot I suppose. The spot that I want to share. That’s the spot where I want to find people. This, I think is where we can make the true connections. It’s hard to connect to a spinning top.

Somewhere along the way, busy became a symbol of status. I’m not even really sure what the word means. We all have things to do. We all live under the same time, the same sun and moon. It seems like busy means “I’m so important,” or “what I’m doing is my important than you,” or “I have worth.” But how can we see the value in each other if we race around in circles? I want to see your worth, but I’m going to need you to slow down and actually show me who you are. Slow down and let me show you who I am. And here, we won’t be busy, but oh, it will true, still, and forever sweet!


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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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Remembering to fly

I could see him from my window, this bird. He was at the bottom of the large pine. A tiny little thing, dwarfed by this massive tree. He started climbing. Hopping really. Up, so slowly. I could hear the little click of his feet (claws?) grab onto the bark. Click, hop. Click, hop. He wasn’t making much progress. I had never seen a bird make so much effort, struggle, to climb a tree. There was an alternative… I kept watching. He was about a quarter of the way. Click, hop, Click, hop. I wondered when he was going to realize it. You know, that he could just fly. Half way up, there it came – the realization – oh, yeah, I have wings. And in two seconds he was at the top. Then floating in the sky. What a relief! How delightful – I could see it in his wings.


Yesterday, after waiting two and a half hours from his initial phone call saying he was near, the FedEx man called and said in fact he wasn’t going to come at all. Like it was just some option. Like when you call for a pick-up, he’ll swing by if he has the chance…. Aaargh. So frustrating. I got upset. It happens all the time. The anger was building inside of me. Rising. Climbing. Click, hop!!!! CLICK, HOP! It took about 15 minutes until I decided to jump into the pool. The water was lifting. I started doing laps. The strokes started to release it all. I was getting lighter. In the pool, I started to fly.


I had thought the bird so silly for not realizing the lesson he had learned so long ago. Then I saw myself. How easy it is to forget. And so we live and learn, sometimes the same lessons over and over, again and again… yesterday’s lesson — patience.


This morning the sun is shining in a bright blue sky! I hope I remember to fly!