The Mitchell School of Journalism

In the Christmas movie starring every single well-known British thespian ever, Love Actually, Emma Thomspon’s character turns to her cheating curmudgeon of a husband, played by Alan Rickman, and says, “I love her, and true loves last forever. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.”

Well, I love Joni Mitchell, too, Emma Thompson. She is the woman who taught this young journalist how to stay curious. I don’t think I could love a song more than I love “Both Sides, Now.” I texted this to my friend last night, after my Pandora station played the trilling song. Yes, I have a Joni Mitchell Pandora station. 

“But it’s so sad!” she replied.

“I guess,” I wrote. “But it’s so much more than that.” Swoon. *Pause for dramatic reflection.*

I never really did think of that song as being melancholy; it’s the juxtaposition of so many emotions that makes me love it so much. I know it’s not a happy song, but it was lesson one for me in the Joni Mitchell School of How to Live Life as a Journalist. Or, more appropriately, the Joni Mitchell School of How to Live Life. Maybe it’s better to describe this song as a prediction of what it would mean for me to be a journalist, from the beginning to the end of the journey. 

“Bows and flows of angel hair. And ice cream castles in the air. And feather canyons everywhere. I’ve looked at clouds that way.” 

“I’ve looked at Clouds from both sides now. From up and down, and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.”

These lyrics describe what it means to be a journalist, at least the way I see it. Maybe not everyone has quite so many “ice cream castles” and “feather canyons” in their depiction, but stay with me. When I started my journalistic career, I was 15 and a sophomore in high school and took myself seriously enough to say things like “journalistic career.”  I thought of writing as this marvelous way to prove that I was good at something. It was the “dizzy, dancing way” I felt “when every fairy tale comes real.” I swear no wine was involved in the production of this blog post.

Since beginning my career as a student journalist and a professional one in some aspects, I understand this song to be a lot like what it is when I start with a story. After the pitch, everything looks beautiful and perfect and maybe even like an ice cream castle. Then, an editor gets in there and reshapes the ice cream castle to look like a dog, or in some cases, a really nasty looking snake. And then my story’s world is blasted and I cry and listen to more Joni Mitchell. Let’s be honest, I probably turn on River despite it not being Christmas. And then I just want to go ice skating.

Then comes the realization that looking at a story, or sometimes even a source, differently can be the key to making it work. As observers and recorders, journalists are supposed to admit that we don’t know what’s going on or even understand them sometimes. The hardest part is admitting that an ice cream castle looks more like a dog or a snake, or maybe we don’t know anything about it all.

 I am aware that I am overusing these metaphors but I believe that metaphors exist so we can overuse them sometimes. 

The truth is that I just really love Joni Mitchell because she taught me how to stay curious in life and on the page. She taught me how to know when things are stories and to know when they can’t be stories, unless I look at them differently. And isn’t that basically how life works, too? 

Don’t worry; I’m not going to analyze “California” until I figure out what a “Sunset pig” is.

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