Jodi Hills

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


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At the core.

We arrived in this small city. At the visitor’s center, the attendant seemed shocked, not only that we entered, but that anyone did. It soon became clear that we were perhaps her first “customers.” She had long forgotten the facts they must have presented her with upon her hiring. She smiled, and struggled for something to say. When we asked about her city, she began each answer like an unprepared geography student when the teacher gave a pop quiz. “Where are the columns from?” I asked. “I wanna say…” and she paused, clearly searching her brain for something.

Loaded with two maps and no information, we wandered the city. It was functional. One might say even nice, but nothing stood out. Or nothing we could find. The afternoon was underwhelming and left us a bit weary. With one last attempt to save the visit, we walked the streets to find a restaurant. First restaurant, no parking. Second restaurant, no one inside – never a good sign. Third restaurant, ok,let’s give it a try. We ordered, and within a few minutes, a young couple sat down at the bar beside us. He asked politely if they could sit near us. And then thanked us. We already felt better. Polite. Young. Smiling. Maybe this was the city. We began to visit. Was that a custom beer they were drinking? Did they live here? And so it began. Jobs. Life. Travel. Art. Laughter. And here it was. Right next to us. The heart of the city. And the day was not only saved, but enjoyed, greatly.

It’s easy to find the obvious. The Eiffel Tower. The Empire State Building. Sometimes you have to look a little deeper. Go a little deeper. Attractions are everywhere. They don’t all have a brochure, but they can magical just the same. Worth the visit!


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Somewhere. Here.

The principal is your pal. That’s how we learned to spell the word. It still goes through my head while typing. I loved school. I’m not sure if I was actually pals with any of my principals, but I know I had a respect for them. A little bit of a healthy fear. And that may be why I was never sent to my “pal’s” office, but I think it was more because I was so busy trying to learn. I wanted to learn everything. See everything. Because in this way, the school was more than my friend, it was my ticket. You might think I would say “ticket-out” here, but that’s not the way I saw it. Yes, we did live in our own sort of Mayberry, and I did want to see more of the world, but it wasn’t so much about getting out, but getting in – becoming a part of the rest of the world. Belonging. And that’s a big difference. I was looking for a way in.

I’m still finding it every day. I have seen things around the world that I only imagined. I’ve stood next to things that before only existed for me in books, in libraries. I have traveled through countries big and small. Yesterday, in the US, in North Carolina, we went through Andy Griffith’s hometown – the real “Mayberry.” Andy was a real pal I suppose. The authority, with a gentle touch. I know this wasn’t real, but it felt familiar. Familiar perhaps not in the sense that I actually lived it, but dreamed it. Hoped for it. Longed for it – that place that welcomes you, that lets you in, that place that doesn’t care how you got there. It turns out it was never a place at all, but an experience. A feeling. A love.

We asked the man carrying laundry on the street where the Andy Griffith museum was. He smiled. Started walking us in the direction. We thanked him. “Welcome to Mayberry!” he beamed as he said it. What a pal, I thought. We belonged.


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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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The journey.

“…rocks in shoes are as much gifts as well lit roadways – all a part of this yearly, this daily, this hourly, this constant journey home.” jodi hills

I have already started packing in my head. Soon it will actually be time to fill the suitcase. I’m getting better at it. I still have a lot to learn, but progress is being made. I used to think that I had to bring everything. The amount of luggage I brought with me on trips years ago was astounding. I hung on to my things desperately. Perhaps it was because I had learned how easily it could all be taken away. So I clung.

When I moved to France, I made the decision to sell, give-away, repurpose, most of my belongings. And surprisingly, it was fairly easy. Maybe when your heart is full you don’t need to carry as much with you.

What I need now, are the things I create. The books, the paintings, the photographs, the memories, and mostly the experiences new. None of which need to be ported. People often ask if it is difficult to sell a painting. And the answer is, of course, a little, but the true joy is in the creating, not the having. Every stroke lives within.

I write it all down today, as a reminder to myself. Keep the luggage light, Jodi. Let go the conversations, the hurt, the disappointments of every yesterday, throw in a little joy, a few cute dresses, and leave a lot of room for what’s to come! The adventure awaits. Not just on vacation. Every day! There is only living. Pack light. Feel everything. Travel far. Find your way home.


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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.