Jodi Hills

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


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Heart on my sleeve.

In my small hometown, there was a large department store, named Herberger’s. For those of you unfamiliar, you could call it a Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, Macy’s, Dillard’s…a rose by any other name. It was the anchor store of our Viking Plaza (or Vikedale as we so lovingly called it). And by my use of the word “was,” I’m sure you can see where this is going. Funny how we didn’t. We assumed it would always be there. For shopping, of course! But more than that. For social interaction. Walking inside on cold and snowy days. Visiting. Encouraging. Living.


The first time my French husband visited Alexandria, we went out to Herberger’s with my mom. We entered near the shoe department. “Hi Ivy!” she said as she handed the shoes to her customer. Sue in the bra department waved. “Hi Ivy!” she said from women’s wear. The manager of the store stopped and said hello as we went to men’s wear. This was a normal day for us. We, my mom and I had grown up together at Herberger’s. Survived lonely Sunday afternoons there. Celebrated grand events there. Tried on clothes after clothes. Complimented each other. Gained our confidence. Grew our audience. Came to life. So it wasn’t strange to me when Claudia at the makeup counter asked my mom if she was feeling dizzy because she knew my mother – knew her history – her health. But my husband had this strange look on his face. “What?” I asked him. Does everyone know your mother here? “Sure,” I smiled. “It’s Herberger’s. She’s probably like the mayor.”


When Herberger’s closed several years ago. It was a shock. We weren’t prepared to say goodbye, but then, I suppose, no one ever is. We had survived so many goodbyes before, and we would survive this one as well.


I was playing “fashion show” yesterday, in our home in France. I try on things in my closet. Put together a capsule wardrobe like I’m a star on Youtube…look in the bedroom mirror, then the bathroom, then the downstairs full length mirror that gets the best lighting… then into the salon to show my husband. When I first introduced him to the playing fashion show, I’m not sure he really understood the game, or that we were even playing… “You have to say lots of nice things about me…” “A little more…” He’s become an excellent player.


With each outfit change I am shouting with glee over the changing room walls, over the music playing on the speakers above us, racing my mother to the best lit mirror (of course she had that figured out!). We weren’t wrong when we assumed that it would always be with us. It is! Herberger’s is alive and well in the south of France.


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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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Then the beauty…


The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water over 50 km (31 mi) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). It crosses the river Gardon near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, as well as one of the best preserved.

I can’t imagine that the people carrying the limestone each day thought, “Wow, this is really beautiful!” When you are knee-deep in the trenches, it’s hard to see. But it comes. The beauty comes.

After the Roman Empire collapsed and the aqueduct fell into disuse, the Pont du Gard remained largely intact due to the importance of its secondary function as a toll bridge. Change. Even the most valued things, someday will have to change. And the beauty comes.

We visited the Pont du Gard a few years ago. Today it is one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, and has attracted the attention of a succession of literary and artistic visitors.


I painted it as a reminder. A reminder for me, when I feel like I’m in the trenches. The work must be done. The beauty will come. Change is inevitable. The beauty will come.

I brush the dust from my knees and tell myself, “You have to live it, really live it, and then the beauty comes.”


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Of being carried.

I was watching something on netflix. I don’t even remember the movie. But an image I’ve seen a million times, on the screen, in real life, a young child being carried. And it struck me so – I wish I could remember that – that feeling of being lifted. Of being carried. Of being relaxed. Feet dangling. At ease. Held up. I have no memory of this. I’m not sure most people do.

I went to bed after the movie. Still a bit anxious from the news of the day. He knew that. I explained thoughts in fragments. Puzzles of emotions. He has a way of brushing the tear, not from my eye, no, he lets it fall to the bottom of my chin, and then catches it. Telling me it’s ok to feel. Allowing me to feel. And he’ll be there. He is there. And I know it. I release the air that worry tries to trap in my lungs, and I breathe. And breathe again. And I sleep. Feet dangling. I do remember.


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The short lens.


Yesterday, the first of January, we decided to take a walk up the small mountain close to our home. (In France we would call it a hill, but coming from Minnesota, it feels like a mountain.) The morning air was as fresh as a new year could bring. Going up the hill (mountain), the sun was out, but as we neared the top, we became one with the clouds and the fog. It was so beautiful!


We love to travel. We want to see and do everything! The world is really a magical place. So magical, that sometimes I forget to see what is right in front of us. I can get caught up in the what else, instead of focusing on the right here. So on this first day, this morning of the new year, I took the camera to celebrate the extraordinary of our every day!


And the universe was right there to help me focus on the right here. It brought the fog, as if to say, there’s no need to look that far ahead. Focus on what’s right in front of you. It’s so simple. But it’s true. I am one, for sure, who needs to learn that lesson again and again. I can get caught up in the awfulizing of the future – what if this happens, or that, or what will we do if they… It’s all out of my control. My vision. What I have is right in front of me. And if I take the time to see it, really see it — oh, it is beautiful! So very beautiful.


I want to see this day, this year, with the short lens. Live this life without worrying about everything that lies ahead. Without worrying beyond the fog, beyond what I don’t know. I want to see the beauty of the right here. Right now. And know that it is more than enough! More than I could ever capture. I walk joyfully, lightly, in the clouds, and give thanks.


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Pull over fantastic!

There is a Prada store alongside the road near Marfa, Texas. Prada Marfa is a permanent sculptural art installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. The installation, in the form of a freestanding building—specifically a Prada storefront—was inaugurated on October 1, 2005.

I suppose it can be argued as a statement against consumerism, but that was all lost on me, when we saw it, in this middle of nowhere…the extreme unlikeliness of it all, it just seemed so beautiful.

A picture came up in my photo memories — me, standing in front of a Christmas store window in Paris. That is “pull over to the side of the road” fantastic — the unlikeliness of it all. I mean, I was born in Alexandria, Minnesota! It took me years to see it – but what a gift – to begin there. A gift to begin with (you probably are thinking I would have said “nothing” here) but to begin with desire, hopes and dreams and the belief that if I kept driving, driving through this empty dessert, something magical would happen — and that, is not nothing! That is something! And something magical did happen! Continues to happen! Every day! You just have to be willing to search for it, long and hard, and pull over to enjoy it when it does.

I remember it was an extremely cold day in Paris. The winter winds were blowing. Most people walked with their heads down, bracing the cold and the wind, having seen it all before. But this was Christmastime, in Paris, and I couldn’t keep my head down. I could barely keep my feet on the ground. I stopped in front of each window. Big smiles – the unlikeliness of it all! The magic of this season, this life! I am the Prada store in Marfa. That is my Christmas miracle – every day!


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Fizz.

An Italian Fizz cocktail, with Dutch tulips, in front of the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France – this was yesterday’s lunch. Of course we had a few healthy things like calamari, fish, and carrots. But sometimes (all the time) you have to feed your soul, and not just your stomachs.


It pleases me to see how the drink matches the tulips. The colors meld into each other. This is so satisfying. This was not vacation, but a Sunday, a day — a day that could have easily been ordinary. They all can be, I guess…but we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy. It’s so easy to let the days just go by. But we’re not given that many. Each one is priceless. I don’t want to let any of them slip through the cracks, my fingers, my attention.


I don’t know what colors today will bring. From my desk, I can see the golden leaves of the apricot tree — shining against the evergreen of the pines. They tell me to look around. Look within. There is so much to enjoy. See everything. Feel everything. Fill your heart. Feed your soul. Taste this life!


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“Fall”ing.

I love summer. I won’t deny it. But I’m not going to live for it, only it. I would lose so much. The colors of autumn. The crackles underfoot. There is a peace that comes. A slower speed. A much needed rest.


It takes me a bit to see it. To feel it. To remember my sweater. Sock my feet and close the doors. But the never-ending song of the birds in our trees reminds me — there is a melody here — a song of the season — worthy of being sung. Sung without the pining away for green. Sung for the beauty of now.


I shuffle in the fallen leaves. Grab my brushes and capture the soft colors, the non- demanding colors of autumn. And I see it. The beauty of this autumn day.


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The horse on Michigan Ave.

The Ralph Lauren (RL) restaurant in Chicago was the reason I painted this horse. We had just finished shopping a marathon on Michigan Avenue, my mom and I, and we stopped — not really choosing this restaurant for the culinary experience, but the location. Our feet agreed this was the place for a break. Our table faced the wall of photographs and paintings. All elegantly lit. Draping our hearts in mahogany. Glasses of wine refreshing and gently embellishing the glorious minutes of the day.


We were shoppers. Not big buyers. Perhaps it was the beauty of the clothing. The curated displays. The bustling sidewalks that didn’t care how we got there, but swept us up in a sea of acceptance. We were welcomed. Good enough. So we walked each street. Entered each store. Michigan Avenue didn’t know that we used to put items on lay-a-way in a small town in Minnesota. Michigan Avenue opened its doors, and we danced in and out.


We sat in the restaurant and smiled. Held up the few items we had purchased. Laughed. Praised. Clapped even. And sighed. Breathing in so deeply as to never forget the warmth of this day. The warmth of being together. The warmth of shared experience. The warmth of shared interests. The warmth that would carry us through the coldest of days.
There was a single horse on the wall. So elegant. Such grace. And so I painted that horse. It hangs in a bedroom across the sea, and takes me back to that street — that comfort — that joy — that rest — that warmth of time well spent.


Find your way to that place. It’s waiting, just for you.


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Perfection knows no time constraints.

When I focus only on my own tiny heart, I can feel badly that she doesn’t remember me, my mother-in-law. It’s only natural, I suppose. And when I say the words out loud, it is only natural. There is no malice. Only nature. She has done her job. For 96 years. She has cared and nurtured and lived. When I arrived she welcomed me. Learned about me. Clapped for my paintings. Sometimes more than once. Knew me. And that was perfect. In its time. It is now my turn to welcome her, again, for the first time. Welcome this period in her life, not with anger (How could you forget?), not with sadness (Why don’t you remember?) but with grace (I’m happy to see you.)


I have climbed the Sainte Victoire. The mountain doesn’t remember me, but oh, how I remember each step. Each stumble coming down. It is my job, my joy to remember. I remember kissing at the Eiffel Tower. Wandering the relics of Rome. The feel of the Mediterranean washing over me. I remember my grandfather’s overalls. My grandmother’s hands. It is my job to remember. To share the stories. Pass them on. Give them life. Until one, day, in one language or another, someone might carry them for me. Carry each kiss and stumble. Until they can only pass them on again.


And it will all be as it should. Filled with grace, this perfectly imperfect gift of time.