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
  • Lynn Perrizo

    “…one’s capacity for joy is directly related to how deeply one can feel gratitude for the good things in one’s life.” Beautifully said.
    My greatest joy right now is my sweet and wonderful 2 year old granddaughter. I’m so blessed by her that I can barely hold back tears. Last week she talked to the baby cantaloupe in the garden. May I never forget that whispery voice. If she were the only thing in my life that had given me joy it would be enough. But there is so much more!
    I’ve wondered how you were doing Elizabeth. Have missed your blog posts which have not been as frequent. I’ve been through some tough health issues. Poor health makes us look inward. Glad you feel you are mending even though it is slow. Blessings!

  • TJTruth2

    Are you serious? “Imagine what music she might have made”? Joni Mitchell is one of the preeminent songwriters and performers of a generation, maybe two. Gifted artists usually aren’t adept at being internal PR spin machines. They seek and say the truth whether it kills them or not.

  • Manny

    You’re right on about Joni Mitchel. It just goes to show wealth, fame, and prestige don’t matter much when it comes to personal joy. I’ll appeal to Our Lady of Sorrows which is coming up this month for both Joni and you Anchoress. Our Lady certainly had her share of down moments.

  • MeanLizzie

    Did I say her music wasn’t good? I only said “imagine what music she could have made — or still could make — if somewhere in all of that depth, there was room for a little humble gratitude. Something true of all of us, by the way.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    Joni has a friend in you, though she does not know it. And aren’t those the best kind of friends sometimes? I wonder if my safe arrival in heaven might not be dependent upon such friends and their prayers…

  • pinklady

    Elizabeth I pray your health improves soon, thanks for writing this, Joni was my” idol “in high school and through college so I am sad to read this, but don’t remember her being very pleasant in any interview I’ve read or heard through the years, wrote it off as “diva-esque”. I saw her perform for the first time in 2000 , hubby bought great up front seats since I was going through chemo and rads and this had been a dream of mine to see her. She was my first idol I learned to let go and I decided then just to enjoy my Joni CDs after the show. Realized , she’s human ; forgot some lyrics and the cigarettes really caught up with her voice, unfortunately. Living in darkness is a stark wilderness even with all that artistic beauty surrounding her.

  • GHM_52

    It does not surprise me that she feels that way. The entertainment industry is diabolic; its values and environment are as opposed to the Truth as white is from black. Ms Mitchell seems to be more intelligent and perceptive than the usual “star”. Obviously, she doesn’t have the gift of Faith and all she has is the obligatory bitter aftetaste that the “industry” left her…and all the glitter and gold in the world cannot mask it.

  • Anita

    Elizabeth, I am sorry to hear that you have not been feeling well. I will pray for a return for robust health! Please know how much your writing has challenged me over the years. And now I find great reassurance in your reminder to find joy through gratitude. I have struggled with fear and doubt lately, but there is JOY.

  • stlhdsal

    Bambi’s mother was shot on the meadow. Egad, that doesn’t really matter, does it?

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Thanking God every day for specific blessings is a cure for negativity.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    Mitchell played a huge role in forming my ideas about love, romance, and marriage. As a teen and young adult I wondered at the mess of her love life, which was front and center in her songs. And I’d swear I wouldn’t end up like that. And didn’t.