One of the best parts of summer is the chance to read more than the usual required documents that cross my desk at school. This summer I read several books that captured my attention, and some, even my heart. My pile of books (some in electronic format) included The Help, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex, Girls Like Us, a biography of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King, and Will You Take Me As I Am, a commentary on Joni Mitchell’s Blue period. The Joni books are the ones that have captured my heart and I can’t seem to get enough of her life story.
Years ago I went through a Georgia O’Keeffe phase. I read everything I could get my hands on about her life, begged my husband to take me on a trip through rural Wisconsin to visit her birthplace, and even wound up at the Art Institute of Chicago to see some of her paintings that summer. A year or so later, we traveled to Santa Fe to see the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and drove to Abiquiu, New Mexico, where she lived for nearly 40 years. It’s been the same with Joni Mitchell, except for the traveling part. Her music played a key role in my high school and college years and I’m realizing now, as I learn about her life over 40 years later, why it resonated with my heart so much. Like myself, Joni was a prairie girl, not in rural Nebraska, but in the Canadian plains of Saskatchewan. She was a dreamer, too, and had a sense that there was something else out in the world waiting for her to discover. She was an artist, had a great imagination as a child, and was unwilling to compromise her personal integrity.
Joni Mitchell continually remade herself, not so much in response to her millions of fans, but to stay true to herself and her art. When faced with decisions about her life, she often kept in mind her grandmothers who, because of the times, were unable to fulfill their own dreams of artistic expression. She believed that she was the one in her family to realize big dreams. Even though I didn’t know any of this about her earlier in my life, I guess in some way I recognized a kindred spirit, as did millions of others. Reading about her life helps me understand my own more clearly.
Growing up on the plains where there was so much wide open space, I knew at an early age that my life would be different from what I grew up with. It created deep feelings of loneliness and isolation to know this, and simultaneously maintain the integrity of not compromising my heart’s vision. No wonder I related to Joni’s songs. Unlike Joni Mitchell, though, my life hasn’t led me to Grammy Awards or a life of fame. The “something else” that was waiting for me was a life that included the Seed. If the Seed has inspired even a fraction of the lives Joni’s music has, then it’s been a life well worth living.