I drove through my hometown recently and nothing was familiar.

All the farm fields and old homesteads were now subdivisions and townhouse complexes; commuter estates designed to feed the highway extension that literally went through my former classmate’s family farm. Even the golf course was mowed over to make way for housing units. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. And a mall. And a plaza. And they were still building. The sprawl was sprawling.

Joni Mitchell came to mind.

A few kilometers later, driving through the countryside once more, I drove past a field of tall grass and wildflowers, blowing gently in the breeze. It was a sea of bright green, purples, whites and yellows (or weeds to those who cannot appreciate the beauty of dandelions).

It looked like the grass was dancing, swaying with the sound of music only it could hear. I wanted to hear it too. I wanted to pull over, kick off my shoes and run barefoot through the field, skimming my hands along the top of the grass. My inner hippie wanted to make a daisy-chain for my hair. Joni was singing on my radio.

Let me pause just long enough to say, if you don’t know who Joni is, I forgive you. That isn’t an excuse, you understand. Go. Now. Google her. Seriously.  I’m nearing the end of my summer reading, a book called Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe.

I knew so little about Joni, the woman, or just how much her art has shaped the music of my life, not to mention her influence on musicians I admire (Robert Plant sang about her and Prince was a huge Joni fan). Now that I’ve finished the book, I can’t say Joni and I would ever be friends, but I can say that she is the epitome of the beauty of being strong and vulnerable in unison, in your art and life. She makes me want to be smug, challenge authority and chain-smoke. She is not a fragile soul. She isn’t a saint either.

Stupid in love, Joni was unapologetically reckless with her heart, and sharp enough to sling arrows at those who broke it. You have to be inspired by a woman who loved the likes of James Taylor, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and Leonard Cohen (swoon) in one lifetime.  (Okay, if those names mean nothing to you, don’t Google them. Just give up. You’re past help.) But it’s her music that moves my soul.

Another birthday passing brought with it an identity crisis masked as deep introspection. Am I where I thought I’d be in my life by now? (Not even close). Have I accomplished much? (Does laundry count?) Have I learned from my mistakes? (Is this a multiple choice question?) What’s next for me? (More laundry). Does any of this even matter? (Likely not).

Joni’s above all that nonsense. I bet she doesn’t do laundry either.

A good book changes you. A good song does too. As I take the bookmark out of the pages of her story,  Joni’s music has been an essential part of the soundtrack of my summer.

Like her, I’ve looked at love from both sides now and I really don’t know life at all. But she reminds me that the journey is the art we create. Keep living. Keep creating. And don’t chain-smoke.