Jodi Hills

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


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Constant journey home.

I found myself at home in front of the US capitol. I didn’t expect to be so moved, but I was. Tears streamed down my face. Because I was home. And my French husband was home. And the people around me, people of every color, people speaking different languages, some laughing, some crying, all peaceful, all joyful, all were home. This is who we are. Who we have to be. Welcoming. Kind. Joyful.

Next we visited the National Gallery of Art. I stood in front of the collection of Cezanne. In front of the painting of L’Estaque. And once again I was home. I stood with my French husband, who’s mother had a house there, and we were home. Once again the tears were streaming.

What a privilege to feel at home. Perhaps it has to start in your own skin. Once you are comfortable within, I think you have the courage to seek, to reach out, to wander. Once you are comfortable within, you also have the courage to welcome those different from yourself.

So this is where we begin. Within. All on this beautiful, this constant journey home.


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Never flat.

“She was strong, and oh, so beautiful. And every once in a while, she would relax into the leaves that held her, trust in them, and then, well, then, she’d take your breath away.” Jodi Hills

When you paint, you start seeing more colors, everywhere. Nothing is flat. You see the layers in the mountains, the trees, the faces. The leaves on the tree aren’t green. They are green, and blue, and gray, and yellow, and white, and brown. The Sainte Victoire mountain switches from lavender to gray, white, purple and black, depending on the sun, the clouds. So it is with skin, of any color, there is really every color, in every face. And it changes, depending on the sun for sure, but also the light from within.

Since I started writing the daily blog, everything I see becomes a sentence. And that sentence becomes a paragraph, that leads to a memory, a feeling, an emotion, a story. Nothing is flat.

When I first met her, she was so strong. Intimidating really. But beautiful. She told me this was her favorite flower. It struck me as strange at first…I couldn’t imagine her softening, letting her guard down long enough to breathe it in… but she said it, in a sentence so sure, I believed her, and what a relief, to see her in this light, to see her in the soft white of the flower. She’s got a new mountain to climb. And she’s struggling. She may think that’s a weakness. I hope not. I think it may be the strongest thing I’ve ever seen her do. And she’s never been more beautiful.

Our colors, our stories, are never flat. But these daily mountains we are asked to climb, these colorful, ever-changing, steep, heart-racing, cheek flushing, knee buckling mountains, in every color, with any luck, well, they’ll just take our breath away.


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Courage


All I wanted to do today was quit. I couldn’t get my french lesson. I typed and spoke and hit those buttons over and over again. Wrong. “Common mistake,” it replied. I could feel that hole in my stomach getting bigger and bigger. But I kept going. Foot in each furrow. Slugging along. The calories from my croissant long burned up. Until finally, finally… “You’ve reached your daily goal.” Thank God! And I’m still here.


On these days, when I finish, and I do make myself finish, I take a deep breath, and look around, a little embarrassed of the struggle. And maybe it’s not the struggle that embarrasses me, maybe it’s feeling “common.” I don’t want to feel common, ordinary, just one of those silly people who can’t get through anything. I wish it never gave me that reply. And maybe it’s worse because I pair it with all the things I see online – the youtube videos – “I learned Portuguese in 7 days,” “Fluent in one week,” “I learned this language while in the bathroom,” (that one I actually heard in real life! Ugh!


Then I talk myself off the ledge, and write my daily blog. (I haven’t missed a day in over 100 days — nothing ordinary about that!) I guess the key is to stop listening to the negative voices around us, and to stop comparing ourselves. We all have our own paths. And we find our own way. We get through things in our own time. We must never tell each other how to learn, how to grieve, how to feel, or how to live. Each of our struggles and victories is special. Maybe you did learn Portuguese in 7 days, well, good for you! But I survived today’s lesson and didn’t pass out! Good for me!!!


Today, and every day, let’s celebrate the courageous, the uncommon heroes, the humble winners, the losers who play again and again just for fun. I’m already feeling better. The sun is shining. (And we have more croissants.) Nothing is Common. That’s extraordinary!


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Empathy (just a little more)

I painted Judy Garland about nine years ago for a show in Chicago. She’s started at 8 feet, and through mounting and unmounting, she’s maybe closer to seven now. Chicago was only the first part of her journey. Since then, she made the voyage to France. She has suffered through each leg, not unlike real life, I suppose. She is cracked and chipped, some may say even damaged, but I think that makes her beautiful. I think that makes her real.

I don’t know how she lived her life. I wasn’t there. But I do now how she sang a song. Almost as if her heart were breaking with each note. This is something to me. This is how I see her on the canvas. Without judgement. Because, no one escapes, do we. We all have to survive our wounds, those thrust upon us, those self inflicted. This is how I want to see people. Looking beyond the damage and the dust, to the pure music of their lives. Because it’s there. Let go of the judgement – it’s so noisy! Listen to the music. It’s beautiful.

Judy is recorded as saying,
“…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, a little more loving, and have a little more empathy, and maybe, next year at this time we’d like each other a little more.”

Good morning, World! Today I like you – even more!


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Looking up

The track meet was nearing the end when the coach approached us on the grass. I had one event to complete, and Colleen was finished for the day. The mile race was coming up and we had an extra space to fill. It didn’t have to be filled of course, but if someone competed in this spot, we were sure to get a point just for completing the race. That point could make a difference on whether or not we won the meet. He was looking at Colleen. She seemed confused, because she had never been a miler. I could feel the inner shaking of her head. It would be really difficult. You need to train for something like that. Just jumping in at the last second would surely be almost impossible. Clearly she wouldn’t win, and probably would be embarrassed. There could even be puking. The coach would never force her to do it, he only asked. She got up. I smiled. I was so proud of her! That’s my brave friend, I thought. There were no real surprises. The other contestants raced out in front of her. She kept running. Her heart and lungs fought for her attention. She kept running. Her legs turned to stone. She kept running. The others finished. She kept running. And running. She could have stepped off the track. No one would have blamed her. But she kept running. She finished. I hope she was proud of herself. I hope I told her just how amazing I thought she was! I can’t tell you if we won the meet. If we had a good season. But I do know this – at sixteen – I witnessed strength. Courage. And pure will. When I saw her going around that track, she wasn’t just running, she was flying, and the most beautiful bird in the sky!


My mom ordered a dress from the Sundance catalog. It should be arriving today. Why is this a significant event? She is currently surrounded by friends and family who are giving up. And she could do the same. Who would blame her? But she keeps believing. She keeps dreaming. She orders the dress and believes in a tomorrow where she looks beautiful! And she will. Because she keeps running. I have never been more proud of her. She will put on that dress of blue and teal and white, and she will be the most beautiful bird flying in the sky!
If you want to believe in miracles, sometimes, you just have to look up!


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Open

There is something about an open book that invites you in. I saw a bookstand online and I knew I had to have one. Anything worth having is probably worth making. So I did. I don’t have all the “proper” tools, but I have tools — tools, if used in my own clunky, but effective way, can get the job done. Now this treasured book of art sits wide open, inviting you in.
I think the same is true for me. I don’t have all the “proper” tools to survive in a different country. I speak this new language in my own, clunky way, and know that anything worth having, like a life, is worth making. So I make it with all of my homemade (heartmade) tools, and I come to it wide open.
Today, there is a scent of freshly cut wood in the air. A scent of work, and hope, and possibility. Inviting me! Inviting you!


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A beautiful mess


There is a trend on Youtube where creators give sketchbook tours. They film as they page through their perfect sketchbooks – each page the best work they can possibly do – masterpieces. It’s not unpleasant to look at – but it feels a bit inauthentic. (I’m not sure I even sure I like that word – “authentic” – since Oprah it has become so overused – ironically taking out the authenticity of even the word.)

The sketchbook was created as a place to work things out. Find yourself – your strengths, your weaknesses. Explore new ideas. A safe place to simply try. I look at it like a true friend, maybe a family member. That person who not only allows you to be yourself, but encourages it. That person who wants nothing more than for you to create the best you. And the only way to do that really is to explore the options. This true friend, this sketchbook, allows you to take that trip. Fall. Rise. Change. Grow. And they remain, steady, true, with you throughout the journey.
To not embrace the beauty that the sketchbook allows, to me, is really saying, “I don’t trust you enough to show you myself, all of my imperfections and talents.” The gift exchanged between sketchbook and hand, is the trust, the journey. These are the gifts exchanged, I believe, between real friends.

Each day, I trust the pages and playfully explore the gifts I’ve been given. I am not perfect. But I am me.
What a blessing to be yourself. I give thanks each day for the open pages, the people in my life who allow me to be me. I hope, I pray, I promise to try to return the favor every day — to open this day and get joyfully, imperfectly, and delightfully messy.


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Grace.

Boxing has been described as one hurt demanding another.  One punch thrown, and then the counter.  It would have been easy for her to live this way.  She had been hurt so much.  She had taken punch after punch.  And she knew some became used to it.  Some embraced it.  It’s hard not to. It hard to turn from the violence that climbs in the ring with you each day.  But she didn’t want to fight anymore.  She didn’t want to carry pain with her, heavy, like a broken promise.  So maybe one hurt did demand another.  The only way out was to stop hurting.  Stop being hurt.  And so she climbed between the ropes.  Left the smell of sweat and anger behind.  Prayed that one act of bravery demanded another.  Prayed that one smile demanded another.  Prayed that one joy demanded another.  And it did.  Gentle people surrounded her now.  People with love and laughter.  People with hearts.  She is living proof that one grace demands another.  


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Shine.

At a press conference years ago, Bill Murray was asked if art had ever changed his life.  In fact, it saved his life. He was just starting his career in Chicago, and he claimed, “he wasn’t very good.” After a very unsuccessful performance he began walking.  Just walking the streets of Chicago.  He found himself on the shores of Lake Michigan, and considered the fact that drowning would be pretty simple.  But on those same shores was the Art Institute of Chicago.  He went inside.  In his words, he felt like he was already dead.  He stood in front of one of his favorite paintings  –  The Song of the Lark, by Jules Adolphe Breton, 1884.  He looked at the woman, standing in the field, as the sun was coming up, and thought, “Well, there’s a girl that doesn’t have too many prospects, and yet the sun is still coming up and she has another chance.”  He gathered himself in front of the painting and thought, “I, too, am a person and get another chance every day the sun comes up.” 


My mother did the impossible every day. She warmed me with her own brilliant light, and made me believe it was me who was shining.  There will always be a woman to light your way.  Some will be lucky enough to call her mother.  Others will call her friend, mentor, boss, aunt, and now, even Vice President.  If we are able to walk in the light, it is because someone lit it for us long ago.  And we must do the same. Even when are prospects seem few, we can still be that light for someone.  Today, I ask you to thank those who went before you, and light a path for those coming behind.  The sun is rising. We are rising. What a chance!  What a day!  What a light!!!!

https://www.artic.edu/artworks/94841/the-song-of-the-lark