• Dr. Jill Bakke

Digging Deeper

Many people journal to recall their daily responsibilities and activities. I do this frequently.

Others journal to record their thoughts on what is going on in the world. And most of us have that aspect creep in from time to time even when it isn’t our main reason for journaling. But journaling to know oneself and to transform parts we wish to develop, like creativity, requires us to dig deeper and go beyond the surface to return with its gifts.

I frequently hear people say they hate to write, so journaling is out of the question. But there are ways to reach this depth without always using a lot of words. You can make soul cards and place them in your journal or create collages and discover things about yourself you never dreamed existed. Music can carry you to wisdom you didn’t know earlier, which you then should record in your journal by simply using the title and stating the result.

I recall a concert I attended. The performers were a small ensemble from Eastern Europe, and the music was delightful. At the end when the musicians stood to take a bow, I saw a hand with individual fingers arising from the palm in my mind’s eye. I have never forgotten this image because it is what all of us on this planet are – an example of the source from which we all came but are now individualized. Direct experiences such as this stick with a person. They are not ecclesiastical statements of events; they directly happen to you.

When you desire deeper knowledge of self and more joy in your life you have to allow yourself to explore things you haven not explored before. And in recording your finds, your expectations that may or may not have been fulfilled, your feelings, and whatever else moves you, you learn a bit more about yourself, your real self, the one hidden under the layers of what education and social behavior heaps upon us. Such experiments lead you from what you were told is truth to what is truth for you. Some of it must be looked for, but some comes naturally like giving way to joyous improvisions that delights one. My daughters and I, along with an occasional grandchild, have my habit of breaking into made up lyrics and tunes that lighten the day, entrance our pets, and make us happy.

Education takes a different path with its requirements for properness. A professor once complained to me about how we block creativity in our children. His young son had colored green sheep in a picture he had drawn. And the teacher said, “Sheep aren’t green. Sheep are white.” The son dutifully redrew his picture. Obviously, we are taught to be realistic. Yet, the things that initially appear “way out there” are what make changes in the world.

If you are going to be creative, go for it 100%. Picasso did not become famous for the beautiful traditional scenes he painted early in his career. His fame stands on going beyond the norm to cubism, his blue period, his becoming. My bathroom holds a print of a woman painted by Picasso. She is misshapen, unconnected, her parts don’t quite fit together. And I love her. I have felt like her. Many women have. But there are others who cannot see her beauty. That is okay. Artistic creativity has no rules. Andy Warhol made the tomato soup can famous. Feel free to experiment in your journal with words, with form, with color, with ideas that are yours. Be real!

You can experiment with almost anything. I tried it with my clothing. I decided one day when I had to go to the post office to dress like a vegetable. It required I put on my green corduroy jeans and a purple long sleeved shirt. I was going to be an eggplant. Even though I like purple and green I felt out of place, and it brought up unsettling emotions that were difficult to even name. However, if we look in our closets, we often see one or two colors dominating. I have lots of blues and blacks laced with a few more colorful things that I occasionally wear over my staid dark slacks. Perhaps the colors together affected me. Or was it the style? Or could it possibly be because I thought I looked like an eggplant? No one else seem to think I looked odd; I even got some compliments.

That initial trial run eventually led me to a different garment I owned and dislike wearing. To my regret it was my husband’s favorite and totally different than being an eggplant. The dress was for “events”—more formal things than a run to the post office. Fabric was muted cherry silk with a small flower design of the same shade in the fabric. It had a slit up to the side of the skirt that ended at mid-high thigh and a mandarin collar. I greatly dislike the attention it drew to me. I’d found my answer, different ends of the spectrum in the clothing, but with the same result. Jill preferred to be in the background. The silk dress drew a lot of attention, and if you think you look like an eggplant your mind automatically thinks you draw that attention also. Fortunately, staying in the background fits being a writer, teacher, or counselor, the professions I have worked longest within.

I might have eventually discovered this fact about myself, but my willingness to feel like a giant eggplant brought it home more quickly and firmly. To see something new, the fastest way is to do something differently, something new.

Here is another interesting view on the above reference to beliefs. I have always considered myself a journalist. I was editor of the school paper, on the yearbook staff, even labeled as “Journalism Jill” by my graduation photograph. I wrote for newspapers and magazines to pay my way through college. When I managed a financial readiness program for an army base, I wrote books for widows and how to save money vacationing in the area where they were assigned. Yet here I am in the midst of publishing a poetry book that closes with a fiction story I wrote back in the 1980s for an undergraduate English class. Obviously, we all have unacknowledged abilities.

Some simply hid from us until we are forced to explore them. In my master’s degree I took a creativity course. We had to experience new events, try new things like making paper, and one I dreaded: making a pop-up card. I whined about that. Tried to escape the endeavor, but that was impossible. Finally, I made what I considered the cutest darn-pop up card and never feared that task again.

Some blossom only to be smacked down, and they never venture to come into the open again. I had experience with one that in kindergarten. Did it change my life? You bet. Let me tell you a story.

There once was a little girl who others thought had talent like the famous Shirley Temple. She looked nothing like this well-known beauty with the curly hair. She looked more like the model for the Dutch Boy Paint with her dark bangs and short hair, but she intuitively knew how to sing and move. Dressed in crepe paper costumes she began entertaining the various meetings her parents attended. The County Sheriff took a liking to her and thought she had talent and persuaded her parents to give her dancing lessons. The dancing lessons ended after a month as the little girl was more fascinated with the other children in her class. She had never met another person her age. And she didn’t practice at home. But she kept on singing . . . until kindergarten.

The little girl entered kindergarten at age 4. It was another new adventure with little people her size. She learned her ABCs by singing the letters that marched around the room above the blackboards. Then, one day the teacher told the class to line up and learn a real song.

The little girl found herself next to a boy classmate and when they sang she performed the song as she always did – 100% engrossed in it. When the song ended, the little boy next to her vigorously waved his raised hand.

“What?” asked the teacher.

“She opens her mouth so wide when she sings,” he replied. And the little girl never sang in school again.

But the story doesn’t end here.

The little girl still sang in the adult choir at church and sometimes performed a solo. But that was the only place and only for a short period of time.

As she got older, she refused to dance when offered solo spots in the Spanish extravaganza put on by the students. She hid backstage as much as possible and the only specialty that drew her out before an audience was a sports night challenge between the red and the white teams from physical education. Dressed as the Tin Man from the Wizard of OZ, no one could really see who she was.

She was well into middle age before she addressed her kindergarten pain. She had just sung in ceremony for a client who remarked, “Your voice is so beautiful and powerful.”

Her response was a smile and thank you, but it made her stop and think which led to writing the following poem, but never to singing again.


We stood in a line,

Small body pressed next to small body.

He was next to me,

Not older, not stronger, not wiser

But I took his comment to heart.

And my heart hurt.

We stood in a line.

The blackboard behind us,

Small desks in front of us,

And I sang from my heart

A wonderful song

Mouth open wide.

The sounds poured forth.

Each empowered note passion born

Like roses that scent an entire room.

I was entranced with the music,

Lost in a world of sound.

“Miss Jones, Miss Jones”

His hand rose high and wildly waved.

She opens her mouth

So wide,” he said,

As he pointed at me.

And my heart hurt.

I was so young at four.

I didn’t know he was not wise.

I didn’t know that at

Good singers open their mouth wide.

I shut mine tight.

And my heart hurt.

The motto of my lesson?

Do not listen to others and forgo

The joys of your heart –

Do not wait for years

To learn the lesson a teacher

Should have taught.

Her voice in ceremony continues to be strong and powerful, but according to her if she sings anything else, even Happy Birthday, she sounds like a crow! And she feels her desire to stay in the background comes from the singing shame she felt way back when she was four years old.

Creativity is obviously fragile and does not handle rebuke well. Do not allow criticism to stop your art. Look at creativity as an exploration.

Think of it as fun, an experiment. Allow it to breath.

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