Jodi Hills

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

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The yellow dress.

I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in. 

It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart. 

We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.  

We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!  

There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.

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The unobstructed view.

We pass by the Sainte Victoire mountain almost every day. I can see why artists like Cezanne painted it again and again. Every day it changes colors. The shapes are magnificent from every angle. I want to capture all the variations, but the problem I face is finding the unobstructed view.

There is an angle that is absolutely stunning on the road to Meyreuil. We have pulled over so many times, trying to capture it with different lenses, but something is always in the way. The freeway. The road. The poles – oh, the poles. The poles with their wires. If I want to create the image, I will have to paint it. See beyond the obstructions and paint what I love so dearly.

I’m willing to do that for my art. I hope I’m willing to do that for my life, for the lives of those around me — see beyond the obstructions. And there are many. It’s easy to get lost in the politics, the religion, the language, the color, the age, but I want to see beyond, into the hearts and minds of others, and even myself. Because look, just look at the view, beyond all those poles and wires, it’s pretty amazing! YOU are amazing! Can you see it?!

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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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Blue Mind

I wanted to tell her that there is this thing – something better than a thing – this phenomenon that happens when you are close to the water. It’s called Blue Mind. I had only heard of it a few days ago, but had experienced it my whole life.

When I take a swim in the pool in the morning – it transports me back to 10 years old, riding my bike to Lake Latoka. Not parking the bike, just letting it fall into the sand. Kicking off my shoes, and shorts, racing into the water. Then floating. And swimming. And feeling the everything and nothing of being weightless. The everything and nothing of being without worry. This glorious everything and nothing buoying me for an endless summer.

Now the “experts” will say that Blue mind” is characterized as a mild state of meditation that evokes a sense of calm, peacefulness, happiness and contentment. It’s your brain’s subconscious, positive reaction to being on, in or near water. You instantly feel a higher sense of wellbeing, slower breathing and lower heart rate.

That sounds right too. And I wanted to tell her all of that, but I didn’t know all of the French words, and she was crying, and it seemed too long to explain. I started to say something and the sight of the Mediterranean Sea caught my eye and my breath.

I learned a long time ago that joy arrives in every shade of blue. I smiled. Hugged her, and thought, we could probably just go outside.

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I’m not too busy.

In 2019, we went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.  

I don’t want to gloss over anything in that sentence.  We were traveling – oh the glorious days of travel.  Van Gogh, after Cezanne (I live in Aix en Provence, so I want to, and am slightly obligated to profess this) is one of my favorite artists.  Amsterdam – it never ceases to amaze me the places I’ve been able to see – truly.

So, that Spring of 2019, the museum was having an exhibition “The Joy of Nature”, featuring David Hockney alongside Vincent Van Gogh.  David Hockney has always expressed a fascination with Van Gogh.  They both paint in full movement with visible brush marks.  Hockney says, “When you’re drawing one blade of grass you’re looking and then you see more. And then you see the other blades of grass and you’re always seeing more.”

That’s what I want – to always see more!  This is the joy of learning from those who went before us.  Then taking that knowledge and expanding it, creating beyond it, becoming that blade of grass for someone else.  
A few years ago, I created the book, “I’m not too busy.”  It’s all about taking the time to see everything and everyone around us. I illustrated each page with blades of grass.  If you’re not paying attention, you will miss that the grass is growing on every page, until you reach the end, when it is in full bloom.  

I don’t want to miss anything.  I want to enjoy every moment. 

We were walking back to our hotel after a full day in the city.  Seeing, eating, exploring, laughing, drinking – there’s a lot to do – and of course by the end of the day, your feet do get tired – your whole body gets tired…but as I put each foot in front of the other, it occured to me this simple thought, “I’m walking in Amsterdam.”  I said it over and over. I was no longer aware of my feet, but my steps. Each step was magical. I was in a new country, a new city, a new life, wasn’t that amazing???  

When I’m done typing here, I’m going to go for a walk around our house.  (Covid restrictions do apply).  But I will not say, I am in quarantine. I will not say, but we could be going places – doing things – why can’t we… NO… I will say, the sky is blue, the grass is green, not every blade, but most – and I will look at them all, and joyfully know, “I’m walking in Provence!”  (And isn’t it amazing!)  

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The first time we drove along La Corniche, the radio was playing.  I didn’t understand the language.  The more the announcer talked, the more the view disappeared.  It’s hard to see when you’re drowning.  Each word was an anchor. It was so hard to breathe.  What was I thinking?  This couldn’t possibly be for me.  This view.  This bienvenue.  No, not for me. I couldn’t see the blue, the turquoise… I was going under. Each word I didn’t understand said you don’t belong here. It’s funny when we don’t understand something how quickly we can translate. Create our own narrative.

“Use the back door,” she said.  She knew I didn’t belong to “the club” – The Alexandria Golf Club.  That was obvious. Wasn’t it obvious?  I would never belong. “Breathe,” I told myself.  And walked around.

We drove along the sea. “Use the back door.” I hadn’t thought of that in years. And now that’s all I could hear. Each French word was pushing me down the back stairs, and the water kept rising.  

That weekend at The Alexandria Golf Club, I was there to sell my not yet refined art work.  It was simple, inexpensive, full of my heart and hands. I entered through the back door, terrified. What was I thinking? It was me. 

The world can surprise you. I sold everything. People smiled, and hugged and clutched their pearls, and “oh, that is so me,” they said.  “So me.”  So me.  “Entering through the back door me.” 

It took me years to claim my hometown. Maybe I should say, claim myself in my hometown. And I expected to enter France through the front door?  

Some lessons we have to learn again and again, and I would learn this one…again. 

I grew up across the gravel road from Lake Agnes in Alexandria.  I painted Lake Agnes in France. I painted the blue, each stroke stepping through the front door.  This was my hometown.  It was not theirs.  It was ours.

I claimed it.  My heart. The most terrifying thing, can sometimes be the most beautiful. 

We’ve driven along the sea more times than I can count.  I begin to see it more each time.  The colors flowing in my heart now, not over my head.  The blue. The turquoise. I see it.  It is not theirs. It is ours. And it is beautiful.

We came home to Aix, and I grabbed my brushes, my blues, and wrote a love letter to Marseille. 
Us.  (Did you know that includes you?  As terrifying as that may seem, it is twice as beautiful!  And it is ours.)