Jodi Hills

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


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To build.

I like to watch decorating videos on youtube. I viewed a lovely tour of a woman’s home. The next day, in my feed, another video popped up. I recognized her home in the thumbnail. This, however, was not more about her home, but it was another woman watching the same video I watched and giving her opinion. I didn’t need to see much of it before quitting. By “critiquing”, she meant she was just going to say everything she didn’t like about this woman’s home. Why would I want to see that? But even worse, the next day, (and I’m not kidding), in my feed there was a video of a woman critiquing the woman as she critiqued the very first video.

I have always been one who believed in the builders, the makers — of anything. I like the process. The courage in the attempt. The guts to then show how and what you made. (I just had a very vivid flashback to junior and senior high math! I get it now. It IS about the work.) Anyone can get to the answer. Anyone can buy the completed product. Critique the completed product.

And perhaps I, we, are just using the wrong word here – critique. Because of course, there is always room for “a detailed analysis and assessment of something” (as the dictionary defines critique.) A qualified evaluation that will help us learn and grow. But this is not what these videos were. “I don’t like it” is not really all that helpful.

And it occurs to me, I might be doing the same thing here… ugh… so gathering in my own advice, I will continue to celebrate the makers, those who attempt! Bravo to those who try. I can see it as I type it — “bravo” and “brave” are really just one letter apart – one tiny line. So bravo to the brave who dare cross it! Today, even if it’s just the day itself, let’s make something great!


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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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If I had a hammer…

We visited the home of Thomas Jefferson. I took a picture of his work space on my ipad. I have the same hammer. I use the same hammer. In some ways we have come so far — I don’t know that he ever could have dreamed about an ipad, but he loved learning, progress, so I think he would approve. In other ways, the world hasn’t changed that much. The basics. The hammers. The tools of our daily living. I think the goal is to use what still works, but then keep learning. We have so many more tools at our disposal now. But are we doing better? I want to do better. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I always go back to one of my favorite people, Maya Angelou — she said, “When you know better, you do better.” We can do better. We can pick up the hammers that still work, and build with them, build on them. Use the tools we have today and go further.


It’s easy to type the words. Harder to live them. I know. Yesterday I got clogged in a mess for a couple of hours. I don’t want to give it more time, so I’ll just say, toner. Stupid toner. Stupid printer. My first thought was, “you’re wasting my time!” I said it over and over in my brain. Then it occured to me, that it was actually just me. I was wasting my time. I can do better. Today, I will do better. My hammer still works. My hands still work. My brain still works (well…as it does), and I will build a better today.


Thank you, Thomas. Thank you, Maya! Thank you, new day! Let’s begin!

Watch for this image. It’s going to be the cover of my newest book – a collection of these blogs!


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Pulling nails

Yesterday I spent two hours pulling nails and unscrewing screws out of reclaimed wood. I like to call it reclaimed, and not used. Used sounds almost damaged, doesn’t it? Sure it is worn and in need of a little repair, but it has worth. So much worth.


To reclaim, by definition is “to retrieve or recover something previously lost.” This wood may no longer be an armoire, but now it will have new life. It may become the four pieces of wood that support the canvas that proudly displays the portrait of the previously unseen person. There is worth in that! A portrait held in front of the woman who says, “I never saw myself as beautiful, until today.” Now this is the ultimate joy, for me the creator, the wood, the canvas, the paint, the staples, the nails… for we all have a part in it. Even the armoire that no longer exists, lives on in this new face.


If we can see the beauty that comes from each step, and not just the final outcome, then maybe on those days that we are asked to pull the nails, we can still find the joy. There is no doubt you will be asked, for yourself, and for others. You will be asked to be the wood, be the canvas, the paint… and in time, without your knowledge or permission, you will be the one who shines – the face in full claim on the canvas.

So I, we, pull the nails, and reclaim the day.


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Show your work

When I was in tenth grade at Jefferson Senior High School, I was getting A’s in all of my classes, even math. I loved my English classes, composition, literature, all of it. I loved art and history. I didn’t have the same feeling for math. So when the teacher would say, “show your work,” I wanted to draw a picture of me laying on my bedroom floor crying into an open math book — but I guess that’s not what he meant. Apparently he didn’t understand my struggles because he asked if I wanted to join the math club. There was a club for this torture? No, I assured him that I didn’t want to join.


Every kid questions something in school – “I’ll never use this!!” they claim. (And truth be told, they aren’t always wrong.) But I have to admit that I do use something I learned in all of those required math courses — I learned the value of doing the work, even when I didn’t love it, and most importantly the value of showing my work.


I wasn’t sure what I wanted to “become” in college. I knew I loved writing, and I knew I loved art. But what would I do with that? I didn’t really want to become a professor, and I had no examples, in my circle of people, living creative lives. So at first I tried advertising. That seemed to put some of my skills to use, but I didn’t feel the love – I wasn’t crying on the bedroom floor, but sometimes kneeling…


It all made sense when I combined the two. I started telling stories with each painting. Sometimes a phrase, a word, and even full stories. I began “showing the work.” Each painting was not just the colors, but the life lived behind each color. And that’s what people seemed to gravitate to – the story – the work.


I don’t know why we have to go through all of the things we do. It doesn’t always seem fair, and I’m not sure I believe “there is a reason for everything…” – that maybe is too simple. But I do believe this — we will each spend our time on the floor, questioning, crying, but if we get up — show ourselves that we can in fact do it! — show others that we have in fact done it! — then there is more than just the lesson learned, there is the lesson lived! In my humbly educated opinion, I’d have to say, that is art at its most beautiful!


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“Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire!”

Yesterday a friend told me I was like fine wine, only getting better. What a compliment! Isn’t that what we all want? To get better? Every day? I do – want it! And at everything. I feel like I should start a list here, but there’s so much, ok, well, at writing and painting, and cooking and loving, and friending, and wifing, and listening and noticing, and learning, and living! There’s more, (but you have other things to do than just read my list.)

And I want to be careful here – it’s not about more, more, more, it’s about better, better, better. There’s a difference. More is about need, not being satiated, but better is about becoming. Being. Being better.

There is a practice to it – this becoming, this striving to be better. It’s not a singular focus, but, I’ll say it, a vineyard. One good grape on its own can’t make a good bottle of wine. It takes a whole vineyard. And so each day, I work on my vines. My patience. My skills. My gifts. My relationships. And from the work, there is the wine. There is always the wine. “Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire!” (When the wine is drawn, it must be drunk!) In other words, you don’t waste good wine – you don’t waste this day, this moment in time.

The sky is opening. Today is going to be delicious.


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Opportunity

Opportunity.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

I knew my parents went to “jobs,” but my first real lesson in work came from my grandfather. My mother dropped me off at the farm in the morning. It was a day that my grandfather was going to pick rock. (clear the fields of the big rocks so it could be prepared for planting). I told him I wanted to go with him. At first he said no, it was too hard, but my quivering lip made him give in and off we went. He told me that he couldn’t “glamorize the dirt” – it was dirt, and the rocks were heavy, but all you had to do was pick up a rock and place it on the trailer. That made sense. Seemed easy enough.

Each rock seemed to give birth to another. I was so tired. But Grandpa didn’t seem to be. He just kept picking those rocks, one after the other. He seemed to get stronger. There was precision in each movement. I watched carefully. It was like an oil pump that didn’t have a beginning or an end to its motion, but just kept going. I had been throwing the rocks with anger, but he moved them with purpose…and that was the difference. That’s how he could take such a mess and later make something grow out of it. He seemed to be grateful for all of it. The black that surrounded us would turn to green and gold. It amazed me and I wanted to be a part of it. It was hard, but that was ok. I kept picking.

People often ask me how to start their own art business. Like there is some magical solution. The simple answer is – you do the work. You have to pick the rock. You paint. You paint over again. You dig through the scrap pile and find your wood. You stretch your canvas. You study. You feel. You paint. You do it because you have to – you want to – you need to – and that is when you have something green that grows, something gold that shines. You make the work. In between all of that you study the masters. You improve from your mistakes. And you learn all of the other lessons of marketing and selling and collecting. There is work. And it’s not all glamorous, but it is wonderful!

I guess it’s true for any profession, and not only that, just for living. You have to do the work. You have to do the work just to get through the challenging days.

My mother, just like her father, is still teaching me. She picks the rocks of her cancered field every day. When she goes to the hospital, she puts on (not her overalls) but her best dress, her most joyful outfit, and she radiates in the hospital waiting room that illness seems to cover in gray. She is grateful for each day. She is green. She is golden.

There is work to be done. Every day. I tell you now, as I tell myself, “Clear the fields. The opportunity is here! Please don’t miss it.”