The Story Economy Blog

Joni Mitchell Isn’t the Only One Who Can Tether

Joni Mitchell’s Blue crushes me, inspires me, and makes me want to hug my husband and kids ferociously. It doesn’t matter that it was another generation’s music. When I listen, it’s about me.

After listening to Blue while making pizza on Saturday night, I couldn’t stop singing “Little Green.” It’s a haunting, sad song about a baby girl that Joni Mitchell gave up in 1965, when she was young and dirt poor. Now that I have kids myself, I hear the pain in her voice when she sings: “So you sign all the papers in the family name; you’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed. Little Green, have a happy ending.”

Oh, Joni.

But . . . there is actually a happy ending: Joni and her daughter (Kilauren) found each other about 15 years ago. It was a big story then. I mean, discovering that you are Joni Mitchell’s daughter? That must have been quite a thing. I was reading about it this weekend, and much of the reporting focused on that crazy moment of celebrity and non-celebrity worlds coming face to face. Despite that, it sounds like their meeting was the kind that every birth parent and adopted child searching for each other hopes for. (There’s a sweet video here.)

But still, it’s that song. What I really, really want to know is if her daughter ever heard that song before she knew Joni was her mother. (Probably not.) So then, what did it feel like to hear the song when she knew it was about her?

What did it feel like for those stories to find each other?

I think the reason the song has been haunting me these past few days is that it makes me think about what it feels like when a story loop closes—even when it happens in a much less literal way.

Beyond Biography

Stories cross each other every day. You hear my story; I hear your story. But when it hits, when the stories align perfectly, it’s such an intense moment. You don’t need Joni Mitchell to write a song about you for a story to land with you. And although Joni has set the bar pretty damn high, you don’t have to be her to write a story that lands.

For a story to find someone, it just needs to have a tether—something stronger than anything biographical.

For example, I watched the movie The Descendants over the weekend. I felt every piece of that story, despite the fact that I (a) am not a guy, (b) don’t live in Hawaii, (c) have much younger kids than his kids, (d) don’t have a spouse in a coma, and (e) am not heir to hundreds of acres of pristine Hawaii land.

But I do know what it’s like to feel suddenly disconnected (and not quite get how you got there), and what it’s like to suddenly have new information thrust upon you that you don’t know what to do with.

Facts and numbers might draw attention, but they don’t tether. Similarities (oh, we’re the same age, or, oh, that company does the same thing we do) grab attention—for a minute. But they don’t bind. They don’t have those soft tentacles that stick.

Only stories that relate to being human tether. Joni Mitchell tethers me in a million different ways.

So . . . are you just grabbing attention, or are you tethering? Is the story you’re telling about biographical facts, or the experience of being human? Can people skate away on a river with you, or do they just stay where they are until something more real lands on them and won’t let go?

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