Jodi Hills

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


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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.


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Nothing small.

“Why didn’t you tell me I was small?” she asked her mother.
“Because I never thought so,” she replied.
“No really. Am I small?” she asked again.
“You fill my heart with joy. Could anything small do that?” her mother replied.
She smiled. And felt a world of possibility.
“I wish I were beautiful,” she told her mother.
“You light up the sky, my love.” Her mother showed her the stars.
“What if I’m not smart enough?” she cried before leaving.
“You are stronger than you think.” Her mother held back her tears.
“What if I’m not strong enough?” her mother asked the open sky.
“I love you,” she sang to her mother as she flew.
Love held her. Could anything small do that?

(Chickadee – from the book “Bird Song” by Jodi Hills)

I found something huge yesterday. (Yes, I’ve been deep diving in the cleaning department). Well, what I found is only about 1″ x 1/2″, but to me it’s huge! A pencil sharpener. Even in its original packaging. Unopened. Sometimes the universe just knows what you need. (Or maybe it always does, and we’re just not looking.) And the most important thing of all – it works!!! That may not seem extraordinary, but believe me, I have a lot of pencils, for all types of drawing, and I, until yesterday, did not have a pencil sharpener – that worked. I have one that you just spin and spin and spin and nothing ever happens. I don’t think you should have to lose weight while sharpening a pencil. I have another that, no matter what you put in, it only takes out that one side, and you’re left with the shard of wood that you try to pick off, and it gets stuck in your fingernail, and you start all over again, getting the same result. I have another that absolutely fits no pencil that I own. I have no idea what it’s for. And my last one, has the most voracious appetite, eating everything inserted. None of these I actually purchased. They were all left behind from Dominique’s family. (Maybe left behind for good reasons.) But yesterday, aah yesterday, I found it. I opened it with such hope — oh, the tenacity of HOPE! — yes, I opened it and tried the closest pencil. The most perfect point. I tried another. Perfect. Easy. I tried charcoal. Yes. Lead, yes! Colored – sure, why not! Soft – no problem. Perfect points all. I wanted to fling open the doors of the studio and shout to the world – it works – it really works! I raised up my best Sally Field’s impression to the sky, “You like me – you really like me!”

I know it’s a pencil sharpener, yes, it’s small, but it takes that one thing in my life and makes it so much easier, makes it delightful. Nothing small can do that.

I guess it’s always the little things that make up a grand life. If you look at the ingredients of a croissant, it’s almost nothing, and extremely ordinary, but rolled and rolled, it becomes something magical. And shared with someone you love — even better. While eating our croissants at breakfast my husband said, “We have to find or make these for your mother, because she would really love them.” I told my mom that later in the day. She beamed – I could feel it over the telephone. He had thought of her. Just a little thing, but oh, so magical. The universe does this for us every day. Certainly we can do it for each other.


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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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Beside still waters

I was watching a Youtube video by Laura Kampf. She is a maker. She builds things mostly out of salvaged products. Beautiful things. She passed by a broken park bench near the water where she lived, and she thought this beautiful view couldn’t be wasted, so she brought the bench home with her, repaired it and brought it back to the same spot. It wasn’t long and some vandals broke it again. She had to search for it this time, but she found it, dragged it home (a very heavy bench), and painstakingly repaired it again — this time stronger than ever – metal, and wood, lots of time, lots of care. When she was asked, “Why would you go to all of this trouble, again?” she replied, “Imagine a world where things are repaired one more time than they are broken.”

I am far away from the city I still refer to as home – Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is struggling now. It has been wounded and broken, deeply, but I know that it will be healed, rebuilt. I know the people. Good people. It will be healed with music and art. It will be healed with builders and workers. It will be healed with the disinfecting sun that shines off the lakes that surround the city. It will be repaired one more time than it is broken, and it will once again rest beside still waters.

Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Lake of the Isles. I have painted you. Believed in you. Loved you. And I, we, will do you proudly once again. Still.

“How do you know that? Where’s the proof?” they ask me. “Well, there’s my heart,” I say, “It’s, joyfully, in repair.”


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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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The view

The view from the window is spectacular.

I arrived in Sedona, Arizona in the dark of night. I couldn’t see any of the surroundings. I went to bed and woke with the sun. I opened the hotel drapes, and almost fell over. The view! I had never seen anything like this! The red rocks. Spectacular! All this was there in the darkness, and I didn’t know it — but the light beamed from rock to rock, yellow mixed with red to create an orange that said, I’ve been here the whole time.

Waking in Italy for the first time, I saw a sky draped in elegant clouds, allowing the sun to still dance across the water. This yellow, this blue, and this playful white that invited me to dance along. I’ve never looked at clouds the same. (Maybe, like Joni Mitchell, I didn’t know clouds at all, until this very morning.)

This morning, I open yesterday’s shutters on yesterday’s house, and I feel a brand new day. The air is fresh, and the birds are singing today’s song. It is a comfort that says, I’ve been here the whole time, and a song that welcomes me to the adventure of this dance.

The view from morningtime — spectacular!!!! Let me always see the gift.

Artist Original ~ As for the clouds, I'm just going to let them roll on by.


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Dig deep

We have a large garden. Which means we also have a lot of weeds. And oh, the strength of weeds. They seem to be able to survive anything. Their only weakness comes after the rain. When the rain soaks the ground around them, everything loosens. Lets go. And it is so much easier to pull out the weeds. From the roots. Get rid of them.


I have this thought that maybe we’re the same. I think it’s ok to cry. For me, when I need to loosen the fear, or anger, maybe the sadness, I let the tears flow. And all those weeds around my heart start to loosen. I’m able to pluck them out and focus on what I have. What is growing inside of me. Growing every day. And it is beautiful!


I watched the Andy Griffith show as a kid. (Still do when I get the chance) It always made me laugh. One day Aunt Bea arrived at the Sheriff’s office, very upset. Crying and breathing heavy, Deputy Fife, in his Fife-like way, huddled around her, saying… “We should loosen something… what can we loosen?” It’s so funny, but so true.


If you need to loosen something today, I’m with you. If you need to let it rain, I’ll cry with you. And if you need to dig deep, I’ll grab my shovel. We’re in this together — in this beautiful garden together! Let’s grow.


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SU

Robert Caro, one of the best known biographers, is a voracious note-taker. When interviewing people for his books, in his notes, you will often see the letters SU. They stand for shut up. This is a directive from Caro, to Caro. Through years of experience, he learned that some of the best details come in the silence. He trained himself to listen to the silences. The power between the words, around the words.  This is where he gets inside his subjects. This is why his books are so powerful.  

This morning I opened the door to take my daily walk in our garden. In this time, I often find my inspiration for my daily blogs. This morning, hit by the pinks and greens and yellows, I knew in an instant, the words I wanted to write were already hanging in the trees, and lit by the sun.  This was my time to just listen. 


I walked in silence, and was filled with the story around me. All I had to do was pay attention.  What a powerful gift, this colorful silence… whispered directly into my heart.  Breathe, my friends. And listen.