Jodi Hills

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


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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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Collide

In the first email I sent to Dominique, I said I hoped our two worlds would collide. I can’t ever remember using those words before – never the word collide. He said he would come to Minneapolis. I smiled upon reading, hoping, but not really believing anyone makes Minneapolis a destination from France. But he came. Upon leaving the first restaurant where we ate our first meal together, he picked up one of the postcards from the table at the door. On it, the word “collide.” Some things are just meant to be.

Married, traveling together to New Orleans, I took the photo at the Frenchman’s art market. It rests now in our office in France. I think we are meant to connect. Perhaps the world has become too accustomed to notice the differences. Differences are easy, maybe too obvious, so we focus on them. Our color, our voice. But if we take the time, make the effort, we can find the connections. And they can be so beautiful. And the changes don’t have to be huge. I’m not saying you have to go to a different country, or even a different state, (although I’m a firm believer in doing so, if you have the means), but you can get a different perspective just by changing the route you take to work. Trying a new restaurant. Reading a new book. Watching a different news program. Expand your view. You never know what you might run into.


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Two-fer

The parking spaces in France are incredibly small. Whenever we enter a garage we always look for a double opening — or as I like to call it, a two-fer. With a two-fer we have plenty of room to get in and out. No damage to our car, or the ones next to us. No worries. Luxurious. It’s just that little something extra that makes our lives easier, and so much better. Why wouldn’t we always look for that – in everything? Especially with each other. What if we gave this to those around us, the space to move freely, the luxury of no worries, no damage…


I painted a sweet little bird the other day on a panel. It seemed so obvious to paint another one on the other side. Whoever buys this bird – or that one, will get a little something extra — for no other reason than just to feel special.


I hope you can find that space today – that two-fer – in your travels, in your heart.


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Venice

I have come to rely on the improbability of it all.


Venice is remarkable for so many reasons. It is a visual feast. The churches, museums, and bridges, stunning by themselves, and then you add the fact that it’s all on the water…not near, but on the water… you can only shake your head and smile, marveling in the unlikely beauty of it all.


When you visit a place like Venice, there are certainly attractions that are written up in the textbooks, the guidebooks, highlighted on the maps, and of course they are noteworthy, but after leaving, I find myself remembering the little things. Clothes hanging on the line outside of the windows. Small boats, not for tourists, but the local bringing groceries to his small one item pizza restaurant. And I feel as though I walked through a painting. As if I stepped into a forgotten master’s piece. No longer a voyeur, but a participant.


I guess for me, that’s the greatest take-away from any travel. I am learning each day to be a participant. Not just on vacation. Not on the weekends. But in the ordinary events of each given day. If laundry on the line is beautiful in Venice, it can be beautiful in Aix en Provence, or Alexandria, Minnesota. Things are remarkable everywhere.


When I think of what I, we, you, have survived, it is as unlikely as a city floating on water. When something as improbable as the city of Venice still exists, it makes me believe that anything can happen. Any time. Anywhere. And it does. We are the tiny miracles, the tiny red miracles afloat in a sea of blue, participating in the remarkable beauty of today.


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The view

The view from the window is spectacular.

I arrived in Sedona, Arizona in the dark of night. I couldn’t see any of the surroundings. I went to bed and woke with the sun. I opened the hotel drapes, and almost fell over. The view! I had never seen anything like this! The red rocks. Spectacular! All this was there in the darkness, and I didn’t know it — but the light beamed from rock to rock, yellow mixed with red to create an orange that said, I’ve been here the whole time.

Waking in Italy for the first time, I saw a sky draped in elegant clouds, allowing the sun to still dance across the water. This yellow, this blue, and this playful white that invited me to dance along. I’ve never looked at clouds the same. (Maybe, like Joni Mitchell, I didn’t know clouds at all, until this very morning.)

This morning, I open yesterday’s shutters on yesterday’s house, and I feel a brand new day. The air is fresh, and the birds are singing today’s song. It is a comfort that says, I’ve been here the whole time, and a song that welcomes me to the adventure of this dance.

The view from morningtime — spectacular!!!! Let me always see the gift.

Artist Original ~ As for the clouds, I'm just going to let them roll on by.


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Visit your library

Grateful

I’m so grateful that I had to walk to the library, search through the card catalog, follow the Dewey decimal system, find the books, read every one to get the one quote I needed for my paper — instead of using Google.

I’m so grateful that I learned to write in cursive, and not emojis.

I’m so grateful that I had typing class, using all of my fingers, and not just my thumbs to text.

I’m so grateful that I wandered without GPS.

I’m so grateful I waited for my favorite shows to come out once a year at Christmastime, and couldn’t view them every day online.

I’m so grateful that I learned to draw without my ipad.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all the new inventions. I make books on my computer. Write my blog every day on my ipad. I use the ipen, draw with Procreate, and read ibooks, and I try to learn all the new apps. I watch Youtube and Netflix and rely on my GPS. But I had to learn how to learn, without technology. This I think was a gift. With it comes patience and problem solving. Not to mention the joy of creating.

You can spellcheck and grammarly your way through creating a “correct” paragraph. You can hit the prompted replies that Gmail offers. And Procreate will straighten the lines you draw. But what did you show the world? Did you show the world your heart? your brain? or ingenuity? or just your technology.

Am I old? Probably. But I’m still learning. And that is the joy. Whatever you love, learn it. Get your hands dirty. Get frustrated in the attempt. Search for the answers. Maybe even visit your local library. Then, when you’ve mastered it with your whole spirit – then, by all means, add everything you want to enhance it. Tools are tools, use them all. Technology and all the advancements that go with it can be extremely useful. Just live a little first. Then you will have something to offer. You may not always be perfect, but what you might end up being is interesting.

I have a computer — I can get all the apps — you don’t need to show me yours. Today, let me see your heart and hands, and I will be so grateful!

It being almost spring, and at the New York Library, I had the choice of going in the front doors, like and between the lions, but I chose the quiet entrance, 42nd street (and lamb).
I had maybe always entered the library that way. Quiet as a lamb. Shy as can be, I had no certainty in myself, in the world, but for the first time, in the Washinton Elementary library, I felt sure. Sure that the answers were here. The questions. The possibilities. All of it. Here were the dreamers and the doers. And me.
The library, any library, had always carried me. Spoke the words I wanted to hear. Knew my name. Held me. Launched me. But the New York Public Library, this almost spring, now that was something extraordinary. It was New York, after all.
I placed one foot in front of the other. Quietly, firmly, on hallowed ground. Smiled at the portraits on the wall, up to the first desk. And there she was, in a tan blazer and cowel neck sweater, and matching hat. Still with a glow of pink from the fresh air of winter’s remains and spring’s knockings, her coat of the same color rested on the back of her chair. She looked up from her clipboard and smiled. And suddenly I was flying over open water, years ago, my head straining to see the lady in the harbour, searching for my welcome… wait, there, yes, there she is…seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, feeling welcomed, welcomed with complete unknown possibilities, welcomed with dream upon dream, talent and desire, and grit… welcomed with a toughened grace, like I had never seen… and there she was again, on this almost spring day… at the New York Public Library. Welcoming me to it all again. I smiled, wanting to tell her, that she was all of that – she was the welcoming lady in front of a sea of words. I continued to smile, hoping she knew, knowing she must. I only asked if I could take her picture.
Now I paint her and that feeling is all around me. Even in quarantine, I am filled with possibility and hope and certainty. Each letter. Each book. Each dream. I still live in the word. Flying above the water, knowing that all will be welcomed again. And again.


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Bon voyage

Miss Green was my fifth grade teacher. Both her title, Miss, and her name, Green, should tell you that this was her first teaching experience. And fitting, because this was my first time in fifth grade (my only time :)). It was nice to begin together. In the grades before, all of my teachers were veterans. They seemed to have a leg up. But Miss Green was young and fresh and new and it felt like she was on this journey, not way ahead of us, but with us. Maybe it was her youth, or enthusiasm, that made us feel like anything was possible. When she hung the giant map on the wall, and told us that each week we would take a trip, a spelling trip, it really felt like we were packing our bags and taking flight! We closed our eyes and randomly pushed a pin into the map, and then had to research the destination and write a story about our imaginary travels.


I think this began my life-long adoration for travel. And what a gift that was. I had no money. No experience. No real reason to believe it would ever become a reality. But what she gave me, us, was hope, possibility. And I still carry it with me.


Today I sold a painting that will ship to Washington, DC. A part of my heart goes with it. From my hands, to the canvas, to the plane, to its new home. In this lockdown world, I am traveling. And it feels as magical as it did in fifth grade.


I do not live in the same country as Miss Green, (now Mrs. Vickerman), but today, we are both going on a journey together. Bon Voyage!


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Rose Ann and the Sainte Victoire

I’m not sure I would have even met her if my brother hadn’t married her daughter. And yet, with this one choice, not made by me, she became family. She was just always there. My brother was now TomandRenae, (not just Tom), and Renae’s mom was now RoseAnn. As familiar as that, in one instant. She included us in every holiday meal. It took awhile for our unsteady hearts to believe that we weren’t being included, but we just belonged. This is what she gave us. How can that be anything other than family?


When I say her name, an image of a nurse comes into my head. The old-fashioned kind, (I don’t mean that in a bad way) – you know the image, white uniform, white stockings, white shoes, even the paper hat. There was something solid about that uniform. Something to lean on. I guess that is RoseAnn. Something solid. Something to lean on. Sometimes that can seem unapproachable, all this strength, but when you need it, and oh, sometimes we really need it, it’s good to stand beside all of that white.
And there are surprises. Moments of vulnerability. An unexpected softness that invites you in. When the uniform is off. And we’re just people. Just gathering from the land of misfit toys for a wedding, or a thanksgiving. And it is something to believe in. Because you’ve seen every angle.


The first iconic image I passed in France was the Sainte Victoire. The mountain that Cezanne painted again and again. This giant white rock sits just outside of our home. Every day when I pass it, I say hello. Thank it for being solid. Constant. Beautiful. Even on rainy days, when the sides are dark, or when the clouds can make it almost disappear, I know it is there. That is comfort. Had I not met Dominique, I may never have known this certainty.


Small decisions join us. Bring us together. And we are stronger because of it – because of them. I wave to the Sainte Victoire this morning. I wave to RoseAnn. We are all in this together. We greet each other. We support each other. We lean on each other. It is beautiful. It is strong. It is something to believe in. 


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To travel

When I lived in Minneapolis, about the only travel I could afford, was “in time.” Life was deliciously full of work and friends and art, but every once in a while, when the walls started closing in, my friend Deb and I would decide it was time to take a trip. To Cottagewood. It was only about 15 minutes in distance, but years back in time.  Founded in 1895, tucked gently on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, this quiet community, survived a tornado, and the chipping away of progress. It still had the same General Store, selling gasoline, coffee and candy. 

We would arrive on a Saturday summer morning, buy a coffee, walk past the Texaco pump, and stroll through the gardens, or along the lake. People still put flags on porches, rested baby dolls on chairs in the yard, leaned bicycles against railings and left pails in the sand on the beach. There was so much life, in all of this quiet. It felt sacred and secure. Loving. Safe. Enduring. Without time. There was no need for hurry, or worry. It was built to stroll. In all of this calm, I found an energy to create. I painted the old Texaco pump. I painted the mailboxes, and inserted my name, so I could be a part of it all. Just as my grandmother had made quilts, inserting our old clothes, so we would be a part of the story.


I love to travel. This is how we find the stories of the world, and create a story of our own. Sometimes when I say that, people respond, “well, I have no money, no time, I can’t go anywhere…”  My response is this. When I was a child, taking care of myself during summer vacation, I would pack a lunch in a brown paper bag, fill my book bag, my water bottle, and walk into the farmer’s golden field behind our house. I brought back wild stories to tell my dolls and the neighbor girls. I traveled. When I was older, with no money (but not poor) I would travel to Cottagewood on a quiet summer morning, and travel, not only in space, but in time, in my heart, and in my soul. 


I was lucky enough that my art brought me to new places. Chicago. New York. Then my heart brought me even farther, to France, and all around the world.


The stories my grandmother made still lie around our house in Aix en Provence. The painting of the mailboxes greets people at our front door. The gas pump still leans in our yellow room. I took a stroll around our yard this morning and knew that in all this calm, there would be a space to create. A painting. A love. A life.


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If she did worry, it never showed in her hands. She held. She gave. She touched.

It can’t be too personal. That’s what they taught me about writing at the University. The reader doesn’t want to know that anyone could have written it. They wanted to know that you wrote it. You knew it. You felt it. And you shared it with them. And so I did. 


When I paint. When I write, it is never generic. It is specific. It is personal. When I write about a house, it is a big, yellow, house, with a yellow so inviting, that if you were to walk by, just being you, it would call to you, “come in, you and your heart sit down.” When I write about my mother, people say, “Oh, that’s my mother.” “That’s my sister.” “That’s so me.” When I write about my heart, being overwhelmed or overjoyed, people say, “How did you know exactly what I was feeling?” And the power of these words show me, every day, I am not alone. We are not alone.


I made a painting of my grandmother’s hands. It has been purchased from Chicago to San Francisco. And I know that a piece of my grandmother gets to go there. She gets to pass over Wrigley Field, through the Magnificent Mile, into the loving arms of Illinois. She crosses the largest bridge a girl from Minnesota could ever imagine. And she shows them her hands. These strong and beautiful hands. These hands that could raise nine children, could also build bridges and stadiums, and we were not that different. We were a part of it all. She was. I am.

Each painting holds a story. Each picture, each phrase, is me, with my nose pressed up against the window pane, on Van Dyke Road, nearly wearing the window through with wishes and plans and dreams. Connecting us all, they would take me farther than I even dared to dream.