Jodi Hills

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


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The gift of summer ending.

It’s easy, I suppose in the heart of the summer to let a day just slip away. I try not to, but it can happen. “Oh, it’s hot – I don’t want to set the table…I’m tired from mowing the lawn…we could just have a pizza…” And the day disappears.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of summer is that it ends. I can feel it. It’s not here yet, but it is around the bend, telling me, reminding me, urging me, to enjoy the moment.

Yesterday was some of summer’s finest work. Yellow sun, bouncing off tanned shoulders. Not too hot, just warm enough to welcome the pool. Hair still wet, I gave the white cloth a whip into the tiny breeze, flinging it over the outdoor table. I placed the pool-blue plates with waves, atop the large white chargers. A wine glass next to each. Summer in the south of France calls for a rosé. White napkins. I cut the peppers, green and red, the eggplant – aubergine — and cooked them on the outdoor plancha. Next came the fish — rougets – in my opinion one of the Mediterranean’s finest. We toasted the day as the gift it was given. Not looking ahead. Not looking behind. We always eat slower outside. Gathered in a sea of green, we are still… and ever.

I was having such a good time, I forgot to take a photo. And perhaps that is the best compliment I can give the day. To be in it. Truly in it. Maybe that’s the only way to say thank you – thank you for this beautiful day!

If it never ended, I wonder if I would give it the reverence it deserves? I’m not sure. But I know this — yesterday was a beautiful day, and I, we, enjoyed it. The morning sun is telling me, reminding me, urging me, to do the same today.

Our someday is now.


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Daring greatly.

It seemed easy to make friends in school. They sat you next to about 30 options. Gave you subjects to talk about. Offered common enemies like rules and detention. Supplied the games and gyms. Put you in pools and on buses, all together.

And that was enough for most. But it seemed like there should be more. “Wasn’t there more to it? Wasn’t it all supposed to mean something?” I asked my best friend in my yellow bedroom on Van Dyke Road. Cindy thought about it. I mean, she didn’t laugh, but really thought about it, and I suppose that’s why we were friends. We understood each other. Even in our preteens, we sought more than they could possibly offer at Washington Elementary, or even Central Junior High.

We both agreed that there had to be more. But how did you get it? That was the bigger question. I searched for years. I can’t tell you the exact moment. They came in whispers. Small bits. I wrote words for my mother. And we connected deeply. A poem for my grandfather’s funeral. And I was a part of a family. I began to expose my heart. I suppose I stopped looking for what could be offered to me, and began to offer what I had. And it was bigger! Better! It meant something! It meant all and more than I had dreamed of in shades of yellow. This is how I would connect. How I still connect.

He said I could pick out anything from his wood pile. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but for me it was priceless. A way for us to connect. And I had a long way to travel to catch up to this life-long friend of my husband. He helped me load the back of our car.

I cut the first strips of wood to stretch the canvas. No plans yet of what to paint, that would come. It always does if I just give it a path. I gessoed the canvas. And began in blue. The sea and sky and sand opened before me. The boats and nets and the fishermen — all daring greatly.

I searched my newly attained wood pile for the longest, straightest pieces. Sanded each length. And sanded again. And again. I cut them to length. Nailed them with the rusted hammer — once belonging to my husband’s father. Squared. Stained. Sanded again. Cut the strips for the backing. Placed the painting inside. It should also be mentioned that Michel, the man who let me pick freely from his pile of wood, was, for the majority of his life, a fisherman. A fisherman, I pause and smile. The blank canvas knew, perhaps even before I did. And this is how we connect. Connect our hearts. Our stories. By doing the work.

There is more. There is always more. But it won’t be given. We will have to search and throw our nets out to sea, continuously doing the work, ever daring greatly.


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Disguised in blue.

I started telling my secrets — small secrets, secrets that fit into the basket of my banana seat bike — telling these secrets to the tiny waves of Lake Latoka. They were not big waves, but they were not big secrets. And so they would roll out, back to the deep water, dark water, and I would be free. Free from carrying them.

What a relief to be free. As I got older, some secrets (or worries) got bigger. But so did my lakes. On the shores of Lake Michigan, I released more than I could carry. And again, I was free.

And when I needed a bigger tide, there was the ocean, the sea…and never have I been turned away. Each wave telling me, go ahead, I can handle it. Let me carry it.

This comfort of shore, what a gift. So I paint it again and again, to remind me of all that it has offered to carry. And for all those people, disguised in blue, who have done the same. I give thanks for you, every day.

I see you standing there, toes dug in the sand. I nod my head and smile. We both know what we’re thinking, “Roll tide!”


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10,000 lessons.

We’re crossing bigger waters today, but we always find our way to the comfort of shore. And how would I have ever dared without the waves that first rocked me? Gently. Easily. Each one saying, you know there’s more…we taught you well. Go see. And they did teach me well – these 10,000 lakes, this Minnesota. With each arm splashing, leg kicking, breath-losing, breath-taking wave – taught me when to dive, when to keep my head up. Gave me laughter. Washed me clean.

Today is a day to keep my head up. I won’t let my teachers down. Thank you, Minnesota.


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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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Venice

I have come to rely on the improbability of it all.


Venice is remarkable for so many reasons. It is a visual feast. The churches, museums, and bridges, stunning by themselves, and then you add the fact that it’s all on the water…not near, but on the water… you can only shake your head and smile, marveling in the unlikely beauty of it all.


When you visit a place like Venice, there are certainly attractions that are written up in the textbooks, the guidebooks, highlighted on the maps, and of course they are noteworthy, but after leaving, I find myself remembering the little things. Clothes hanging on the line outside of the windows. Small boats, not for tourists, but the local bringing groceries to his small one item pizza restaurant. And I feel as though I walked through a painting. As if I stepped into a forgotten master’s piece. No longer a voyeur, but a participant.


I guess for me, that’s the greatest take-away from any travel. I am learning each day to be a participant. Not just on vacation. Not on the weekends. But in the ordinary events of each given day. If laundry on the line is beautiful in Venice, it can be beautiful in Aix en Provence, or Alexandria, Minnesota. Things are remarkable everywhere.


When I think of what I, we, you, have survived, it is as unlikely as a city floating on water. When something as improbable as the city of Venice still exists, it makes me believe that anything can happen. Any time. Anywhere. And it does. We are the tiny miracles, the tiny red miracles afloat in a sea of blue, participating in the remarkable beauty of today.


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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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The Eiffel Tower doesn’t need me.

When you say the word France, people immediately think of Paris, and not without good reason.  Paris is a magnificent city. Magical really.  The Eiffel tower, the Louvre, Montmartre and Sacré Coeur. It is, as Hemingway said, clearly a “moveable feast”!  It is fashion and history and artists and writers. Coffee on sidewalks. Croissants and romance. It is Notre Dame. It is what was, and what will be again.


But Paris is not France, not all of it. There is so much more.  Today, I’d like to take you to the lengthy, rugged coastline of Brittany.  Here you will meet French people, not tourists.  Here, they will wave to you (this doesn’t sound like much, but my Minnesota-nice loved it).  Their houses, are not palaces, but they are manicured.  Each small yard is covered with flowers. I saw a woman on her hands and knees with a scissors, cutting the grass. These people are proud and welcoming. We went for lunch at a small restaurant with white tablecloths and a bowl of caramels (the taste of Brittany) for dessert. I asked the waitress where we could purchase these caramels – I loved them! She stepped away from the table, I thought maybe she didn’t understand. She returned with both hands forming a bowl filled with these delicious caramels and she dropped them in my purse. My first (non-family) gift in France.

We went to an antique store, browsed the history, our mouths filled with butter and sugar. I was drawn to a cup filled with old paint brushes. Green handles worn from hopeful hands and spotted with paint’s proof.  I held them up and asked how much they were?  He said something I didn’t understand. My husband said they were free for me – gratuit! I held them to my heart – what was and what will be.

The next store I bought a sketch pad and began painting with my experienced brushes. Together, we sat at the beach and tried to capture this rugged beauty that I had never seen before. This worn in warmth of a place, that maybe needed me to tell its story, as much as I needed to feel it.  An exchange of beauty. This is not the Eiffel tower, but believe me, this too, is France. Bienvenue!


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Us.

The first time we drove along La Corniche, the radio was playing.  I didn’t understand the language.  The more the announcer talked, the more the view disappeared.  It’s hard to see when you’re drowning.  Each word was an anchor. It was so hard to breathe.  What was I thinking?  This couldn’t possibly be for me.  This view.  This bienvenue.  No, not for me. I couldn’t see the blue, the turquoise… I was going under. Each word I didn’t understand said you don’t belong here. It’s funny when we don’t understand something how quickly we can translate. Create our own narrative.

“Use the back door,” she said.  She knew I didn’t belong to “the club” – The Alexandria Golf Club.  That was obvious. Wasn’t it obvious?  I would never belong. “Breathe,” I told myself.  And walked around.

We drove along the sea. “Use the back door.” I hadn’t thought of that in years. And now that’s all I could hear. Each French word was pushing me down the back stairs, and the water kept rising.  

That weekend at The Alexandria Golf Club, I was there to sell my not yet refined art work.  It was simple, inexpensive, full of my heart and hands. I entered through the back door, terrified. What was I thinking? It was me. 

The world can surprise you. I sold everything. People smiled, and hugged and clutched their pearls, and “oh, that is so me,” they said.  “So me.”  So me.  “Entering through the back door me.” 

It took me years to claim my hometown. Maybe I should say, claim myself in my hometown. And I expected to enter France through the front door?  

Some lessons we have to learn again and again, and I would learn this one…again. 

I grew up across the gravel road from Lake Agnes in Alexandria.  I painted Lake Agnes in France. I painted the blue, each stroke stepping through the front door.  This was my hometown.  It was not theirs.  It was ours.

I claimed it.  My heart. The most terrifying thing, can sometimes be the most beautiful. 

We’ve driven along the sea more times than I can count.  I begin to see it more each time.  The colors flowing in my heart now, not over my head.  The blue. The turquoise. I see it.  It is not theirs. It is ours. And it is beautiful.

We came home to Aix, and I grabbed my brushes, my blues, and wrote a love letter to Marseille. 
Us.  (Did you know that includes you?  As terrifying as that may seem, it is twice as beautiful!  And it is ours.)