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Joni - told by Emily Arrow

When legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell was only 7 years old, she became so sick the doctors weren’t sure she’d ever be able to walk again. During her months in the hospital in Canada where she lived, Joni passed the time doing what we know her best for--singing. But when the holidays came, Joni wanted to go home more than ever.

Follow the story of how a tiny pine tree, a simple promise, and heaps of moxie helped Joni step out of the hospital and into the spotlight. A true story of determination and hope, Joni later became one of the greatest musical storytellers of all time.

[illustration note: through-line of a kitten walking alongside Joni on her walks, sitting on windowsill, etc.]

Joni lived in a city of bridges.

Each morning she would wave hello from her window to a train that passed by. Then she would walk over and under the bridges on her way to school.

And on these walks, Joni would make up her own little songs.

Circles and clouds,
yellows and blues.

 In her mind, her music looked like art, and she wanted to share her art. So she decided to learn piano! 

Yet after a few not-so-fun piano lessons, 7 year old Joni realized her teacher wasn’t as excited about her own songs as she was.

“Why would you want to make up your own songs when you could play the well-loved classics instead?”

 So. . .  the music lessons stopped. But her song ideas did not.
         Joni was determined.

Circles and clouds,
yellows and blues.

Joni wrote about her own life in her songs, and she hoped that someday people all over the world would hear them.

But then one cold winter morning, she noticed her reflection in the window while waving to the trains. She looked different. Not well.

She didn’t feel well either. Joni’s sickness made her legs unable to even walk.
She felt like a broken doll.

Snowflakes floated outside the hospital window, and now the trains passing were far in the distance.

As she looked out over the icy bridges that she used to run across, all she could do was wish. Joni wished for a river to skate away on.

She was stuck in bed for months and months, so she did the only thing she could do: sing, sing, sing!

In fact, Joni sang her way through an entire book of holiday carols (putting her own spin on each well-loved classic), until the child in the bed next to her shouted, “SHUSH!”

But there were many others who wanted to listen. [Joni sing around the hospital cheering people up! In a community space with Joni leading a song, the doctor listening over her clip board, etc]

 Circles and clouds,
yellows and blues.

Joni’s first real audience.

Still as the holidays grew closer, Joni wished she could go home more than ever.

 “No way am I going to stay sick,” she told her doctor. “I’m going to walk again. You’ll see.” They replied, “We’ll see.”

And just then, Joni’s mother showed up carrying a small pine tree. Lights, ornaments, a bit of tinsel; a green glimmer of hope.

Peeking over at her tiny pine tree, Joni made one final wish. She wished to walk again.

And that tree must have been listening because over the next few months,
Joni began standing,
sometimes stumbling,
and finally running across her favorite bridges again!

 Over and under, singing for anyone who would listen. 

Years later, when Joni learned to play the guitar, her music did indeed sound like art. Even the way she played was creative!

Because her hand was permanently damaged by her sickness, the shapes she played were different from the usual C, G, and F shapes other musicians used. [Showing her playing instruments non-traditionally, maybe Joni saying, "I'll call this shape, "cat", and this shape, "tree", making chord shapes on her instrument]

Joni performed bravely in cities all over the world, building bridges of joy and peace through her music. [Illustration: singing on San Francisco bridge]

And she always remembered the pine tree. [Illustration: then sitting at bottom of fully grown tree playing guitar, cat now full grown in her lap listening]

(Joni and Judy Collins in a treehouse in Topanga Canyon, CA)

(Joni and Judy Collins in a treehouse in Topanga Canyon, CA)

Here’s me at the SAME PLACE!!!

Here’s me at the SAME PLACE!!!