Jodi Hills

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


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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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The waves are calling.

Things have always been more clear for me on paper. It starts in my brain. Works its way through my heart. Travels down my arm. Through the pencil. Onto the paper. Now, I’ve always said I’m not one to edit. Once the words are on the paper, I try to keep them as pure as they arrived. I suppose one could say they’ve been filtered as they make this journey from my head to the paper, and that’s probably true. My brain has an idea, so many creative ideas, but I believe it is my heart that keeps them honest, real. And by the time it scratches through the lead of the pencil, (or the keys of the computer) I can trust that these are the words I believe. All the questions and concerns and worries that my poor brain can create, invent, inflate…when I can get to the core of them, calmly work through them, release them onto the paper, they are never the gale force winds that were whipping around my brain, but a calm and peaceful breeze of truth, that brushes across my face.

I used to love standing on the shore of Lake Michigan on a summer Chicago day. As the waves rolled in, I would tell them my thoughts and concerns, imagining they gathered them in, reversed and took them back out to the open water. And I was lighter. I was free. I was saved. This for me, is how I write. Releasing the thoughts. Letting them go. Standing on the shore. Free.

Each morning, I ask the words to take me where I only feel the wind upon my face. And with any luck, I reach out my hand, and take you with me.


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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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Days of thanks.

This past Labor Day, we visited Washington, D.C. It was a warm day — just enough heat to let down your defenses and let you feel at one with nature. No difference between your body temperature and the air surrounding you. We walked freely and easily to each monument. The stairs to Lincoln were long and high, and worth each sweaty step. I couldn’t help but notice each of us wore a warm and glistening glow, from the sun sure, the labor of the steps, but mostly, I think, from the hope and promise that sat before us.


With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, it is good to remember how Lincoln transformed this holiday for us all. There is much controversy with the holiday beginnings, as there should be, I suppose, but Lincoln took the holiday and turned it into a day of thanks, for all to celebrate.
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, who began using her columns to push for nationalizing Thanksgiving and celebrating it on the last Thursday in November. (A good woman behind every man as they say – and this time – out in front). She wrote a letter to Lincoln, stressing the urgency of making Thanksgiving “a National and fixed Union Festival” that would offer healing to a torn nation.

After receiving her letter, Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a day when we would give thanks “as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People,” including “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands.”


This “sojourner” wants to give thanks, every day. I understand how blessed, I am, we are, to stand in the labor, the hope that each day brings.


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To flutter.

I woke up to another 5-star review on my Etsy page. She said my painting “was her very favorite in her whole house!” Just a few words strung together, but they fit perfectly into my heart and filled it!
It’s amazing what we can do for each other. Just the tiniest bits of kindness. Humanity. It’s so contagious. I give you a piece of my heart. You pass it along to someone else. It flutters and flies and fills the air.


Some will call it the butterfly effect — how the simple flapping wings of butterflies in India can change the weather in Iowa. I am not a scientist, but I have seen this play out with humans. I have seen the flapping of kindness change the behavior of many. I have seen the soaring effects, the light and airy beauty of it all. And I want to be a part of it. A part of the beauty. Of the changes.


Today, can we let go of all the things that are weighing us down? The weapons of bigotry, and hate. Fear and anger. Can we just let them go and fly? Oh, how I hope so! Let’s fill the sky. We can be the change.
I’ll see you up there!


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Adelaide!

Adelaide!

The apricot tree in our front yard is letting loose her leaves. She, (because of course I named her — Adelaide) is not bearing fruit, not green with the youth of spring, but golden. So beautifully golden. And never, I think, is she more vibrant. She cries her golden tears, not in sorrow, but gentle tears of tenderness, so loving, such beautiful memories of summer breezes. The pines that surround her, evergreen, never make fun of her…I imagine they marvel at her strength, almost envy her ability to feel the changing seasons — her ability to color her surroundings with her ever adapting heart.

My mother had to shed a few tears on the phone yesterday. It was one of those days. An Adelaide day. She worried that she was letting me down in this moment – that she wasn’t being strong. Impossible, I said. I stand pine-tall beside her, and know that I am witnessing the most beautiful colors of an ever adapting heart. The most golden pool of life itself!

Remember in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes — when she shouts out “Towanda!” “Towanda” is a reference to the alter-ego of the character Idgie. Idgie refers to Towanda as an “Amazon woman” and introduces herself as “Towanda.” It is the name she uses when she wants to feel strong, empowered. So, too, aging Evelyn shouts out “Towanda!” as she runs her car into the snobby young ladies who take her parking spot. “Towanda!” It became a battle cry for 80’s. Well, today, my Towanda is Adelaide! Adelaide I shout to the sky! Adelaide, I shout for all the beautiful women in their beautiful golden battles! You are strong! You are empowered. You are beautiful! Adelaide!


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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.


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Growing poppies.

My grandmother was a dreamer. My grandfather was a worker. And together they created a life of faith. I think that’s what faith is, believing in things some people may call unimaginable, but you imagine them anyway, and work towards them. My grandfather was the muddied rack of coats that hung just inside of my grandmother’s unlocked door, the door she kept open, hoping to let in her next big thing! And it worked. The house – this home – this giver of nine lives, stood strong.


I knew the poppies would come. Because I put in the work. Because I believe in what I imagine. I show you the painting today, so you too, can believe in all of the things clearly and unclearly imaginable and reach out your own weary and working hands, and grow your fields of rouge!


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Lush.

I don’t often use the word lush, so I looked it up to make sure that I had the definition right. “Very rich and providing great sensory pleasure.” Yes! Exactly right. The trees we’ve been seeing on this visit are just that — lush!!


In fact, I would say, some of the best artwork I’ve seen on this trip has been growing beautifully and naturally along the route, beside the capitols, outside the museums, free of charge. What a gift!


I must admit, I haven’t always stopped to pay attention. And I apologize for that. (I’m learning — “all need not be green to grow.”) Once I started painted them, celebrating each leaf, each branch, I can’t stop seeing the beauty. I guess it’s the same for people. Once you start seeing them…


Take a look around today. The world is lush! See something – someone – again, and for the very first time. We grow together.


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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.