“The wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep . . . my fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet . . .”
Once, the reedy soprano slid up and down her registers as quickly as her fingers slid around on the neck of her guitar.
She had long, straight hair, as fine as mine but very much blonder. It was flung over one shoulder with a deft flip of her head. Slight with a sweet, high voice concealing genius and gravitas. (Although now I wonder why genius does not routinely speak in a breathy soprano.) Hippy clothes or terribly cool apparel—cooler as she got older. Never quite settling down but moving in the company of splendid and beautiful musicians. Never quite molded by the commercial music scene but brilliant enough to wedge her way in, to command attention. Singing about quitting the crazy music scene and then going on to write and sing more and again.
Joni Mitchell sang at the Newport Folk Festival Sunday night as a surprise special guest of Brandi Carlile. It was a carefully orchestrated appearance, her first public performance since a stroke and brain aneurysm in 2015. A friend posted an early morning YouTube video on her Facebook feed. I clicked on the link and then got lost down a rabbit hole of videos catching Joni performing song after song—the highlights of her old masterpieces and the kind of standards that I loved to sing—and playing her guitar. Her voice—low and chesty, a voice that had come back from near death, an old voice so rich with meaning and inference and innuendo that it was like some rich, decadent dessert.
How I wish I could have seen her sing but how grateful I am that so much was recorded for me to see. Apart from the singing and the music, it filled my heart to see the care, the love that Brandi and the other musicians showered on Joni. She was supported as much as she needed to be and then allowed to fly when she was able. Just the typing of this brings tears to my eyes right now.
And just in case, there is someone reading this who has not seen those video’s of Joni singing, check out https://jonimitchell.com.
And then, this morning, the name, Kate Kennedy, popped into my head. Cheshire’s East Village day care provider who allowed me to go back to work when Cheshire was a toddler. Kate was an artist with a loft on St. Mark’s Place. She had a child care provider license and she took in 3-5 little ones for day care. She was a great provider and became a friend, coming to our dinner parties and of course, Cheshire’s birthday parties. She was pretty well connected in the abstract art world—at least, the names of colleagues and friends that she talked about, I had heard of. One year for her birthday, a friend of hers who had married (or possibly just lived with) a commercially successful artist threw her a party that we unfortunately could not go to. The highlight of the party for Kate was that Joni Mitchell, was in town and through some friend of a friend, wound up at Kate’s party. Joni, who had not brought present for the birthday girl, asked Kate what she could do as a present, and Kate asked Joni to sing a song.
And she did.
I want to say that Joni sang “Carey.” I am not sure if that is correct or if it is just that I love that song so much that I have imagined that Joni must have sung it.
Kate talked about Joni’s presence and her generosity, about how she lit up a room, and how the enormous richness of her music spilled right out of her when she sang. All these years later, I can compare that description to seeing Joshua Bell play his violin in a very small chapel for a wedding and feeling almost more than seeing and hearing his music.
“And I miss my clean white linen and my fancy french cologne . . . . and I like you . . . fine.”
Yesterday, I was talking to Julia’s therapist, setting up the week’s visit and talking about last week’s conversation. Asking her casually about her weekend, she told me she was at the Newport Folk Festival. I knew that she and her wife are great fans of Brandi Carlile. And like some over excited teenage fan, I grilled her about seeing Joni Mitchell, which she had from one of the front rows, dead center. She was happy to relive the night and share it with me. And I drank in her experience like a crazed teenaged fan. And then listened to Joni singing in my ears for the rest of the day.
“And rent me a grand piano . . . let’s not talk about fare thee wells now . . . that scratchy rock ’n roll . . . . “
And only this morning when Kate Kennedy’s name popped into my head that I remembered Kate’s story. How interesting to be connected twice to Joni by two women who have taken such loving care of my two daughters. And in some peculiar synchronicity, both of those women have the same last name.
Julia update: Julia is in her last week of Extended School Year. Basically, she has done well, working at the library two mornings a week and another morning at Cradle to Crayons, an organization that provides kids with the essentials they need, free of charge. Julia’s tasks there include making packages of clothes that go together in a specific size. She has also gone miniature golfing, indulged in Star Bucks often, and bought lunch a few times. And she has spend some time with her favorite school counselor and her school-year inclusion facilitator.
One day last week and this past Monday, Julia had hard mornings, again obsessing about her body image. She wants to be skinnier than she is, have a different shaped face and longer fingers. She doesn’t want to be herself. This obsession gets very intense. And right now, I think the intensity connects back to what was going on last week.
Last week, Julia was fascinated with “host boys” in Japanese bars—generally, these young men are male prostitutes. She engaged in an intense conversation with her therapist talking about these boys during which she became very upset and angry about the girl who was being abused by the boys—basically retelling the story of her early life in China. Her anger was ferocious although her only lashing out was to crumple the piece of paper that her therapist was writing on. She slowly recovered, needed hugs and took a long nap.
She had not relived this early trauma for many years, and since last week, her therapist and I have been trying to to figure out some way of responding to Julia in a trauma sensitive way.
Monday morning at school, her counselor there described Julia’s behavior as:
She was in the fight-or-flight mode for a good 10 minutes and then we were able to integrate some sensory calming — I had a cold ice pack from the nurse’s office that she placed on the back of her neck to cool off (it was quite hot in the building). This helped shift gears and she initiated a rather light-hearted conversation about scary movies and how babies can’t watch scary movies, but as an adult she gets to. While engaging in the grounding, she ended up identifying feelings such as distraught, depressed.
As sad as this sounds, I am almost excited to figure out our next steps. For months (or for a year or more) I have been baffled trying to figure out what to do when Julia obsesses about her body. I’ve written this before—she has a great body, she eats a very healthy diet, she is exercising. There is no rational reason for this obsession. I, leaning towards rationality, have tried to convince her in various rationale ways—carefully looking at her body in a mirror, looking at pictures of the skinny Japanese and Korean girls and boys she wants to emulate. No rational argument prevails. If it is, however, connected with her early trauma, perhaps there is some way, some new tools we can all use. Perhaps this trauma is re-surfacing after the Spring’s Stella Ganglion shots.
And I’m still singing: “Come on, Carey, get out your cane. I’ll put on some silver. Oh, you’re a mean old Daddy but I like you. I like you, I like you, I like you.”