A Voice for Nonviolence
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
April 29, 2023
Joan Baez first thought of herself as an artist, drawing and selling pictures of cute animals to her schoolmates for three cents a piece. Only after bluffing her way through awkward teen moments in high school, playing a ukulele and mimicking others in song, did she find her own voice. And then did she sing!
With the ability to reach three octaves, the highest being in the realm of angels, she has shared her voice around the world for over 60 years to both royalty and commoners. For the poor and downtrodden. For the abused and ignored. For civil rights and human rights. For all ages and all genders, nationalities and beliefs.
In her first autobiography "Daybreak," published in 1968, she tells of a childhood brought up in Quaker beliefs that emphasize seeking peace with oneself and then peace with others. Pacifism and nonviolence being her core beliefs, her voice spoke to and still speaks throughout the world for people to support and love one another. It is no surprise that the song "Amazing Grace" was sung (a capella) throughout the many venues of her career. Swaying shoulder to shoulder, with candles and lighters in those early years, and today with iPhones, the crowds joined her voice in the unity of brotherhood time after time.
Almost 20 years after "Daybreak," in 1987, "Joan Baez, A Voice to Sing With" was published, where Joan again shared her continuing journey. She believed and lived the words of Gandhi, sat and spoke peace with the Dalai Lama, marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, Jr. and immigration rights with Caesar Chavez. She stood with the Irish as they fought and then reconciled their religious and political war. She matched strides with Nelson Mandela in South Africa and supported leaders of peace in still war torn areas of Europe, where dictators and whisperings from the extremes of Nazism to Marxism and all the other isms still linger. To this day Joan stands strong in the belief of nonviolence, in a world that is anything but peaceful.
Where does she get her perseverance? In reality, she is just like us, finding her way every day in a world that is nowhere near perfect, with its continuing traumas and unending crises. This is where her new book "Am I Pretty When I Fly?" (published this April) fascinates me. Where Joan first started as an artist drawing little pictures, she has come full circle. From her life of song, back to the life in front of a plain white sheet of paper and a pen of black ink. What is extremely interesting is that she starts her artwork upside down.
Joan says she started making upside down drawings by chance, and now after a painting spree with acrylics doing portraits of people she admires greatly (Gandhi, King, John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to name a few, with a nod to fellow musicians as well) she has returned to her simple line drawings.
Upside down drawing started way back in school when she was bored in class. She challenged herself to first write upside down. Then she moved on to sketches and challenged herself even more to use her non-dominant left hand. She explains her process in the book and encourages others to try. Something about freeing both sides of the brain. I see it as bringing oneself into a stream of consciousness, where creativity can flow without interruption. And sometimes the results can be both amazing and surprising. Perhaps it frees our subconscious mind to create something we have been mulling about deep down inside for a long time.
"Am I Pretty When I Fly" is Joan's latest gift to the world, showing us that even after a very long and successful career using her voice, she can still expand herself and explore new venues of creativity with satisfying results. And that we can join her. Of course, success may not come in first attempts. But don't most people love to doodle while sitting in front of a blank piece of paper, letting the mind wander free? The child in me is going to give it a try and see what surprises I have for myself. No judgments. No expectations. Just curiosity freed into a peaceful space I have never been. Finding peace within is the first Quaker belief. Then peace with others. It is a simple start with nothing to lose except maybe the walls that society has built around us. Keeping that in mind, may we all go forward creating peace.
*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.