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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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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Finding my Napoleon.

Standing in front of the Napoleon monument in Corsica, I didn’t expect to feel it – this reverence. I stood amongst the crowd, mostly French, there to pay tribute to their hero. I was so happy for them, those gazing with such pride. As we moved slowly across the gravel path, getting closer and closer to the statue, I could feel their excitement build. And I felt it too, not so much for myself, but for them. I was truly happy – perhaps a little envious as well (because we all need a hero from time to time).

I read the stories, the legends, on all the plaques and pamphlets and books — this was not the Napoleon we were taught in US schools. Here, he was not short, he was, is, grand, celebrated. And standing there, amongst the believers, I could feel the magic, the wonder.

I walked by the cave – the cave where, as a child, he was said to have looked to the sea and dreamed of what he would be. Looked to the water and dreamed of what he could do. This is where I knew him. I knew that child — because I was that child. I heard the waves in his young ears. I heard the waves in mine. He had the sea. I had the lake — Lake Latoka. I would not have a throne or a monument. I would have a diving tower. I would not conquer nations, but my own fear, and I would believe.

I sat in the shade of the trees that surrounded Napoleon’s monument, and I no longer had to envy their joy, their hope, or their pride. I had it too. And I believed in it all – the possibility of it all. The possibility of looking out over the water and having a dream. The possibility of letting the waves carry you, buoying you bigger than you could ever imagine. I sat with my Napoleon. Smiled. Looked at the water. And knew I was alive!


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Any Wednesday

I never imagined you could barbecue sardines. In my head, they were only those tiny little fish in a tin box. So many things to discover. Yes, they do come in bigger sizes. Yes, you can barbecue them. And yes, you have to separate the head and the bones on your own plate. And yes, they are delicious!

There is a certain luxury to having a barbecue on a Wednesday afternoon. Drinking a cool white wine, in the shade of the provencal sun. No longer reserved for a Sunday, but an any day. So was our Wednesday. He was grilling sardines as I sipped the wine and I thought, what a picture of France! (but I never stopped to take a photo) After we got home I thought, I should have taken a picture — capture the moment. But sometimes, when you stop to capture the moment, it disappears. So I didn’t have a picture on my phone, but I had one in my head. It raced down to my hands and on to the paper. The beautiful sardines. So black they turned blue. Grays turning into greens. The moment, not captured, that sounds too harsh, but more embraced. Embraced in the permanence of heart and acrylic.

I don’t know what this day will bring. This Thursday. Perhaps it will turn into a Saturday, if I let it. Why not?! There are so many things to learn. To see. Nothing to be confined in tiny tin boxes, but spread across summer skies and welcoming canvas.

Happy Day, everyone!


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Surprise

Not that much surprised her anymore and she felt badly about that. She wanted to live in a world where it was surprising when someone left the one they promised to love. In a world where the words homeless and lonely weren’t commonplace. A world that was surprised, horrified, by violence and lies. Where it was simply unheard of to hurt a child. Where were all the surprises? Where was the pure and astonishing beauty of kindness? Was she foolish to believe such a world could exist?


This morning at breakfast I tasted something for the first time. When making jam, you have to boil the fruit with sugar for a long time. As it boils, a frothy substance rises to the top. Google told me that you spoon that off so your jam isn’t cloudy. Dominique told me to save it. It seemed strange to me, but so far, he hasn’t led me astray, so I saved it. We put it onto our croissants this morning. It was the most creamy, peachy deliciousness I have ever tasted. I guess goodness still rises to the top. I have tasted it. I believe in it.


Just the fact that I can trust the person that sits across my breakfast table, with my whole heart, is a beautiful surprise. The world may not be a perfectly surprising place anymore, but some people still are… therein lies the hope, and the most beautiful surprises of all.


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Pull over

Cezanne painted the Montagne Sainte-Victoire again and again. Living near it, I understand why. Every day it looks just a little different. Clouds, sun, sky, even my mood, can change the colors, change the view. But always, it is beautiful. Cezanne was lucky though, there weren’t the obstructions of today. Electrical lines, buildings, bridges and freeways can really distort the lines of vision.


I am always looking for that pure view. When I paint it, I can take out the obstructions, but it’s very difficult to see it, in all its majesty, without something clunking up the line. We have pulled the car over many times, thinking, this might be it, this might be the view, and then I take out the camera, and there it is, in the camera lens, that wire, that pole, that rooftop.


Yesterday, we were driving to Vauvenargues to see Dominique’s mother. On the way there, I caught a small glimpse of “maybe…maybe it’s the view…” So on the way home we did the ever hopeful pull-over, walked the side of the road, jumped over a ditch, and raised the camera. A sea of lavender rolled into the mountain under a sky of blue. Wait, what? No lines? No obstructions. Just nature. Just purples and violets and greens and blues and whites and grays. It was beautiful. And we got to see it. Smell it. Feel the lavender breeze against our skin, and the strength of the mountain, holding us together. Simply amazing.

I guess it’s the same with people. There are so many distractions. So many things that block our view. It’s so easy to turn away. Just pass by. But maybe if we took the time – really took the time – to see people in their own natural light, we would see what makes them amazing. We would see the beauty of all their changing days, both sunny and dark, and we would be gathered in.


What if I did that for you, and maybe you did that for me? Simply amazing. Again and again.


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In the garden

I used to say that I never needed anything but cement beneath my feet. I said it with certainty. I would only live in the city. Sidewalks and pavement. That’s all I needed. But comfort has a way of packing its bags, never leaving a forwarding address, and one day you find yourself in a different country, mowing the lawn.


We have a very large yard. The french word for yard is jardin, or garden. I like this better. We have a big garden. Yard sounds more like a prison, but in a garden, you can roam and discover. And so I do. It took a minute for me to take in all of the beauty. The birds singing, the flowers blooming, the trees bearing fruit. Butterflies. All that “certainty” I carried for years flew off into the bluest of skies and I discovered a new way to live. Maybe with no certainty at all, but pleasure in this moment. And maybe that’s all we get. Maybe that’s all we need. Not certainty, but truth. A truth as pure and hopeful as children’s summer laughter.


I hear that laughter coming across the trees. I hear it in my heart. Even when I’m on my last leg of pushing that mower across a sea of green that I had once promised never to inhabit. Life changes. Daily. We can either shake our fists in the air, or fold them in thanks. Today, I choose thanks. Thanks for all the uncertainty, the newness, the unstable adventure of just living! Oh, look! The day’s beginning. Let’s enjoy the ride.


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Gratitude is everything

I found an old piece of framed panel deep in storage. Nothing on it. I don’t know if the person who bought it, made it, meant to put something on it, a picture, paint something, write something…and maybe they thought to do it, but time raced away and carried the thought with it and it just got buried. I dug out the panel. Sanded it. And knew I had to write something on it immediately. I couldn’t let the moment just slip away. We’re not given that many. But what did I want to say? I looked around and thought, today, I have everything, and if I write it all down, everything that I have today, then I will always have it. I have a husband who loves me. A mother who loves me. Children I’m not really related to. I have friends, dear friends, even the ones I don’t get to see very often, who still reach out. I have my health, and my curiosity. I have the desire to create, and the hands to do it. I have a house, and food and security and dresses that make me want to do the yoga. I have memories of places that I’ve seen, and maps of places I want to go. I recall, but not very often, the harder times that I made it through, that keep me honest, that teach me empathy. I have the knowledge that, even without money, I have always been rich. Rich! Today, I have everything, and I am so grateful.


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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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“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.