Consigning Joni Mitchell to the Prayers of Dorothy Day

Very likely due to being ill for nearly four months, I’m in a bit of a work-and-spiritual funk just now. I’ve got the blues and am hauling out all the usual prescriptions to try to help myself along.

I want to “snap out of it” because I know that I have no business feeling glum; my life is too full of good things, for which — when my head is on straight — I am everyday grateful. My husband and kids are healthy. My son is happily married to a wonderful young woman. My other son is making headway in his musical career, and — more importantly — he has good friends around him, and a capacity for seeing beyond the moment.

I am employed, and I like my job.

I can walk to the kitchen in the morning and make coffee and lift the cup to my lips, all on my own steam, without assistance.

I can inhale, and exhale, and do it again, and speak and sing upon that air.

When you’ve been on nebulizers, inhalers and steroids for three months, believe me, that last is an unimaginable treasure for which, as I appear to finally be turning the last corner on this summer of sickness, I most certainly am thankful

Still, I am out-of-reason blue, as the saying goes, and I know it is because I have indulged my illness and fallen out of the daily habit of telling God how grateful I am for everything — and giving thanks for the gifts I am cognizant of — because I know right well the recuperative power of gratitude, humbly expressed.

By dint of sheer grace, I have learned the great secret that supports contentment and builds happiness, and it is this: one’s capacity for joy is directly related to how deeply one can feel gratitude for the good things in one’s life. And even — if one is very lucky, and gifted with an understanding heart — for the things that challenge us, in the moment, to find the blessing.

Knowing this secret has rescued me; it’s kept me from suffocating in my own cynicism and resentment, and because I know how dark that water can be, I was very sad to read this about Joni Mitchell:

While living luxuriously between two homes, she’s adamantly negative on America and the industry that made her so successful.
‘America is like really into Velveeta (the processed cheese). Everything has to be homogenized. Their music should be homogenized, their beer is watered down, their beauties are all the same. The music is the same track’.

Reflecting on her childhood, Mitchell reveals she was terribly affected by Bambi, particularly the scene where the deer’s mother was trapped in the fire. It was an unlikely spark for her artistry. The traumatic scene made her obsessively draw pictures of fire and deer running, in an attempt to exorcise it from her mind.

‘I think maybe that’s the beginning of my contempt for my species and what it does. How ignorant it is of sharing this planet with other creatures. Its lack of native intelligence, common sense, or spirituality addressed to the earth. . .’
[. . .]
And she is still tormented by insomnia, from the years of being stalked in LA. She calls it ‘personal chronic situations of tension. And stalker after stalker after stalker in my yard. A lot of Manson-type butcherous stalkers.

‘I’m the night watchman. I can’t sleep until it’s light outside. I am scared of the dark’.

I’m not going to judge any of that, but I am sorry to learn that Mitchell seems such an unhappy, confused, disturbed person, and chronically ill, besides.

Ed Driscoll points out that Mitchell appears to hate the very people who have called her a genius and provided her with all of the gifts the world can offer and ponders:

If you hate mankind so much that you admit “contempt for my species and what it does,” then you must on some level hate yourself, your own existence, as well. Honest question: how much stress does that put on a body and impact a person’s health?

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Joni Mitchell has had the great privilege of making her living as an artist — which is so much better than actually working for a living, because your work is your play — and to have lived a life so celebrated that it has permanently influenced the musical culture and, in a way, the world as we know it. And she is miserable, and she hates all of it: the people, the culture, the empty “materialism” which is the only reward the worldly world can offer.

Imagine what music she might have made — might still make — if somewhere in the depths of her brilliance, there was not simply a nod to the good things, but an expression of authentic gratitude about them — a way to say “thank you.” Because when we can say thank you to another for a gift, and we genuinely mean it, we seed our own joy.

Mitchell’s story puts me in mind of Dorothy Day who, upon the birth of her daughter, felt “a gratitude that was so enormous that I knew it would correspond to nothing in this world…”

That gratitude brought her to God, and to the work that would take up the rest of her lifetime: “You will know your vocation by the joy that it brings you. You will know. You will know when it’s right.”

I am going to talk to the Servant of God, Dorothy Day, about Joni Mitchell, and ask her to pray for her — to intercede on her behalf — for the sake of God-given joy.

The article on Mitchell closes:

Despite her obvious disaffection, looking back at the agony and the ecstasy, she said: ‘I would not change anything. I would do it all over again’.

Imagine, doing it all again, but this time with someone to thank for the gift of it all. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

About Elizabeth Scalia

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