Jodi Hills

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


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Travel day.

Today we will be traveling from Marseille to Paris. Paris to New York. New York to Minneapolis. The fact that I get to type words like travel and Paris and New York and Minneapolis, and that I have stories from each place, memories, footprints, even artprints…this fills me!

Maybe it was from Ernest Hemingway that I first learned about this “feast.”

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway, to a friend, 1950

My “lucky enough” was that I always found a way to feast, even with what some would call absolutely nothing. But what they couldn’t see was I had words. I had hands. I had paint. I had an imagination. This took me everywhere — long before I stepped onto a plane. And it has stayed with me. Hemingway was right. It does stay with you – if you carry it, nurture it, give thanks for it – every day!

Zipping up the luggage now. Giving thanks. Time to feast! Bon appétit!


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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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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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The journey.

It happens with a really good book. I have this urgency to keep reading and this need for it to never end. This push and pull inside my brain and heart – keep reading one tells the other, no, wait, slow down. It’s happening right now with the book, “Our Country Friends.” I read last night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, then woke up early to continue. My eyes still scratchy with sleep I plowed through each word. Slow down my heart urged, but my brain’s hand kept pointing forward.


We were driving to Chicago, my mom and I. It was winter and the trip was always a gamble, but one we were so willing to take. If we could make it beyond Tomah, Wisconsin, without a snowstorm, we were safe. As we neared this critical halfway point, the snow began. Then harder. We kept singing to the radio as the view got whiter and whiter. “Do you think we’ll be smart enough to pull over if it gets too bad?” my mother asked. Before I, or she, could respond, the barrier across the freeway had been lowered and we were forced to pull off the exit. “I guess not…” we said together.


I don’t remember what we bought on that trip to Chicago – that shopping excursion – but I do remember the journey. The journey together. I suppose that’s everything, isn’t it? I closed my book and went down to make breakfast. I wanted it to last a little longer. I want it all to last a little longer.


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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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Belonging.

At first, she was always surprised that she was accepted. And more than that, looked to, her company welcomed – enjoyed. How could she fit it? She didn’t have the money, the pedigree – but no one else thought that. She came with me across the country. To shows in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York. She dressed in her curated, tasteful style – tall, elegant, crisp white collars – popped to present her ever smiling face. I was so proud to have her stand beside me, my mom. She knew the pricing, the availability, and more than that, she knew the stories behind each piece of art, each book, each card.


This didn’t surprise me. I knew she could do it. But the real gift came for me when I saw that she knew she could do it. When I saw her belonging. Belonging, not because someone told her she did, but belonging because she herself felt it in her heart, her soul, her being. This is something!!!! To belong.


I think she’s still delighted when people remember her, from galleries in New York, shops in the Midwest, bookstores across the country. And why wouldn’t they?! I’m delighted! I’m delighted every time she tells me what she’s wearing to her doctor’s appointment. She makes the effort, and oh some days what an effort it takes!!! Because she belongs here, in her own skin, in this beautiful life that she has made.


I walked into the art gallery in Rhode Island. The neon sign read, “You belong here.” I knew it in my heart. My soul. My being. This was not my first glowing sign, my mother will always be that.


Welcome to this day. You belong here.


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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.


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Star.

She gave me a five star review, the woman who bought this portrait. 5 out of 5 stars! Of course I was delighted. Delighted that she loved it. Delighted that he would live in this wonderful home. A home doing the work. The work of equality. The work of trying to make this world a better place for everyone. Everyone. Because that’s what she does, that’s what she’s doing every day — fighting against racism. Spreading kindness. This is the truest beauty – the truest work of art.

Because it’s easy to do one thing. Paint one picture. Look what I did. I must be a good person. But it can’t end there. It must only begin here. The painting of a picture. The writing of an article. The marching in a parade. These are beginnings. The true differences come in the living. The day to day. Here is where we earn our stars, I suppose. In each conversation. Each hand extended. Each heart opened. Every day. Taking the time.

It was Marcel Duchamp who created the work of art entitled — “To Be Looked at (from the Other Side of the Glass) with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour.” I’m not sure anyone actually does it, looks through the “peeping” hole of the glass for almost an hour. Seeing it at MOMA, I didn’t do it. I have researched the piece, and critics a lot smarter than I am have come up with many descriptions of the piece, discussing cosmic, pseudo scientific realms… I don’t know… maybe. But I’ll tell you what it means for me. Maybe it’s too simple an explanation, but I’m not really sure it always has to be so complicated. Maybe it’s just about taking the time to look at things from a new perspective – someone else’s perspective – walk in their shoes… And in this time, this sometimes uncomfortable viewing, walking, we can gain a little empathy, a little more compassion, and we can, in this life, really earn our stars.

(Side note: My grandparents’ last name was Hvezda. Hvezda in Czech means star. Fitting, they were two of the kindest people. I don’t think it would be out of turn to say they didn’t know much about “art”, probably never heard of Duchamp, but they knew how to be human. How to be kind. How to take the time. I can feel them still, from the other side of the glass, and I will forever try to live up to the name.)