Jodi Hills

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


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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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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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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This little light of mine.

We got a new vacuum cleaner. It has a very bright headlight. It was amazing, and a little bit frightening, what I could see in the corners, under furniture — see what I had been missing. The great revealer, this light. It was so satisfying to know that I was actually making a good cleaning. It felt good, and I found myself vacuuming with enthusiasm. I can’t go back now, to the old vacuum, the old way…I know too much.

I suppose it’s that way with everything. At least I would hope so. But in so many ways, I think we are failing. In the few minutes of news a day that I allow myself (my heart can’t take too much), I see, what I can only call filth. The absolute worst of us, making the same mistakes over and over. And we allow it. We shine the light on it, and still refuse to see it. We have to do better than this. We know better. Right and wrong are not that difficult to see.

Get your house in order, they say. And I guess that’s right. I will do my best in my little corner of the world. Try to make it as beautiful as I can. It was what we were taught, wasn’t it? This little light of mine? I’m gonna let it shine.


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Adelaide!

Adelaide!

The apricot tree in our front yard is letting loose her leaves. She, (because of course I named her — Adelaide) is not bearing fruit, not green with the youth of spring, but golden. So beautifully golden. And never, I think, is she more vibrant. She cries her golden tears, not in sorrow, but gentle tears of tenderness, so loving, such beautiful memories of summer breezes. The pines that surround her, evergreen, never make fun of her…I imagine they marvel at her strength, almost envy her ability to feel the changing seasons — her ability to color her surroundings with her ever adapting heart.

My mother had to shed a few tears on the phone yesterday. It was one of those days. An Adelaide day. She worried that she was letting me down in this moment – that she wasn’t being strong. Impossible, I said. I stand pine-tall beside her, and know that I am witnessing the most beautiful colors of an ever adapting heart. The most golden pool of life itself!

Remember in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes — when she shouts out “Towanda!” “Towanda” is a reference to the alter-ego of the character Idgie. Idgie refers to Towanda as an “Amazon woman” and introduces herself as “Towanda.” It is the name she uses when she wants to feel strong, empowered. So, too, aging Evelyn shouts out “Towanda!” as she runs her car into the snobby young ladies who take her parking spot. “Towanda!” It became a battle cry for 80’s. Well, today, my Towanda is Adelaide! Adelaide I shout to the sky! Adelaide, I shout for all the beautiful women in their beautiful golden battles! You are strong! You are empowered. You are beautiful! Adelaide!


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Easy now…

When I’m painting a portrait, I like to find what I call the soft beauty. The resting face. So comfortable in their own skin. The true elegance of ease. It’s the face that a person gives you when they trust you. No tension. No tightening. Nothing awkward. Nothing to worry about. Just the welcoming softness of being.


I want to feel that softness in my own face. Oh, to trust you. What a relief. But perhaps, even more, I want to be the face that allows you to feel the same. The face, that when you look at me you think, this is a safe place, for my feelings, my fears, my joys, my dreams, my not so secret garden.


If we could do that for each other, be a safe place to fly, a safe place to land, oh, my, how beautifully gentle, how elegantly soft this world could be.


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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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10,000 lessons.

We’re crossing bigger waters today, but we always find our way to the comfort of shore. And how would I have ever dared without the waves that first rocked me? Gently. Easily. Each one saying, you know there’s more…we taught you well. Go see. And they did teach me well – these 10,000 lakes, this Minnesota. With each arm splashing, leg kicking, breath-losing, breath-taking wave – taught me when to dive, when to keep my head up. Gave me laughter. Washed me clean.

Today is a day to keep my head up. I won’t let my teachers down. Thank you, Minnesota.


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Cardinal on my sleeve.

We sang a cheer in high school –


“We are the cardinals!

Mighty, mighty cardinals!

Everywhere we go – oh,

people wanna know – oh,

who we are,so we tell ’em…

We are the cardinals… (and repeat and repeat)


I never thought about it then, really, but what a lesson. I’m not sure that people often describe cardinals as mighty, but we did. And why not? It was our decision after all. We were cardinals. That was the mascot we were given. We could choose to wear it proudly, or sink behind someone else’s fragile truth.

So the black and red became a symbol of strength to us. A symbol of celebration in victory. A symbol of perseverance in loss. And we were nothing, if not mighty!


You get to decide what makes you strong. You get to decide who you are. Stand up in the colors you were given, and the colors you create. Even with the most fragile of wings, you can choose to be mighty!

I paint the birds again and again. They are my heart. My fragile, but ever-winged, mighty heart! The heart I wear proudly on sleeve, and in song, because I still think, maybe, you just “might wanna know – oh…”


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I have to believe my feet will take me where I need to go.


When I was in high school I had surgery on my right ankle. For the first time, and eventually the sixth time. For many years, and for good reason, my ankle was very weak. The doctor recommended that I wear work boots. Work boots. This would be a new addition to my wardrobe. I wanted to be a girly girl, like the girly girl my mother was. Fashionable. Pretty. I saw her get dressed for work. Taking care with each piece of clothing. Right down to the shoes. Shoes. Not work boots. But I needed them. So there was only one thing to be done. Not hide them. Celebrate them. (This was long before chunky was in. Long before Dr. Martens boots.) I had to make them my own. So I wore them with everything. Pants, rolled up and pinned, of course! Dresses! Full view. I was proud of them. I had my own style. I walked steady, and sure — even when I wasn’t — probably the greatest lesson my mother ever taught me.


It wasn’t easy for her, to get dressed for work each day. Answer the school phones with a greeting that people still remember to this day. But she did it. Broken, weak, for sure, (also for good reason) but she put one foot in front of the other and did it with style. I would do the same, in my own way.


Some people in this world stomp and trudge and carry on. While others, they make a path — believe in those people. Be one of those people. And your feet will take you where you need to go.