Interview with Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

October 1, 2011

Sheri Heller

“Creativity is a Metaphor for the Subconscious” is only one of many  unique nuggets of wisdom expressed by Rev. Sheri Heller when I interviewed her in August.  First, a little background – Sheri Heller is a colleague of mine who is both an Interfaith Minister and a seasoned psychotherapist. I recently met her in March at a professional conference where we were both on the same panel.   After I heard her presentation,  the only word that comes to mind to describe how I felt was Inspiration.   After the conference, I spontaneously  asked her if I could interview her for this blog.  In addition to being a therapist,  she is also an actor, writer and playwright. Sheri’s love of being creative goes back to her childhood, when she said that as a kid she loved the theater.  Having been a shy and self conscious child, she  found soalce in writing and reading.  As she said, “When we connect to our creative impulses we are deeply authentic.”   As we talked further she revealed that when younger she “knew there was an artist in me but did not feel entitled to give her expression and in certain ways afraid to give her expression – fear of my own power – difficulties with my own power being allowed to shine and to play.”  She goes on to say, “Being an artist is affirming your right to be who you are.”

I wonder how many of us feel this way about letting out even to ourselves,  perhaps especially to ourselves,  our desire to be creative.

I will blog  more  about my interview with sheri in  future blog posts To learn more about her you can  go to her website:


Why Don’t We Do the Work We Love?

September 21, 2011

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Recently, Leslie and I were having lunch with a good friend and colleague who has just begun to write seriously.  She posed the question:  Why is it that we don’t do the thing we in theory want to do the most? (For all three of us right now, it is finishing a book.)  Why is it that our weekends and evenings fill up with chores, errands, TV, email, etc., etc., and suddenly it is 11 PM Sunday night and nothing has been written? 

The classic answer for this, of course, is resistance (something explored really brilliantly in Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art), but, as Leslie said a few blog posts ago, let’s for a moment resist calling it resistance.  Maybe this isn’t always our inner critic at work, blocking all change and creative effort in our life; maybe this is something else.  Because we all enjoy working on our books; when we set the time aside, it is almost always good time, not frustrating or self-critical time.  

As we discussed the problem, we realized all three of us tended to do the same thing: we feel that we have to block out a day (or an afternoon, or a week!) to work on our projects, and that we can never find a separate block of time long enough (or quiet enough) to really stretch out and enjoy working on it.  And so we postpone, and postpone, waiting for a time when we accumulate enough vacation days, or can take a break from clients and obligations for long enough, to REALLY get some work done.  But what happens, of course, is that that time never comes, and our projects pull further and further away from us, until they seem to have left us entirely.

Last year, when I was facing just such a dilemma, trying to finish a novel and thinking I would have to go away somewhere to make any progress, my friend, the amazing coach Cindy at Less Drama Queens made a suggestion: can you find one hour a week to work on it?   At the time, I was highly doubtful that I could get much done in an hour a week – I had a whole book to rewrite!  But I had already allotted my vacation time, and I didn’t really have much choice.  So, somewhat reluctantly,  I tried it.

And it worked.  Every Saturday morning, instead of rushing off to the dry cleaners, or picking up a few groceries, or (let’s be honest) catching up on Top Chef on the DVR, I worked on my novel. Interestingly, the hour often expanded into two, and sometimes even three, time I would have sworn I didn’t have. But there it was. And because I was obligated only to that hour, I honored it. Everybody, except maybe Hilary Rodham Clinton when the Mideast is exploding, has an hour.  We just don’t think we can do anything with it: it’s only an hour.

But that hour a week worked for me: it took more than six months, but I did finish editing the book.  It is a lesson that it is hard for me to remember; I still think longingly of all the work I could do if I just had about a month to go sit somewhere quiet and write.  Someday, I’m sure, I’ll get that month (although whether I am able to actually sit down and write for that stretch of time is another issue!)  In the meantime, I try to remind myself: just one hour a week, and eventually you can finish anything.

Why Are We All So Tired?

April 7, 2011

by Deborah Atherton

Why are we all so tired? 

Lately almost everyone I know has been telling me that they are very, very tired.  Many of us, of course, have very good reason to be tired; we work all day, and then we try to write or play music or paint or blog or do photography at night and on weekends. This is the fabric of our lives; we are used to spending our days overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things we are trying to do.   And everyone is just getting over some bug or another, and dragging themselves slowly into spring.

But I feel what I’m hearing lately in people’s voices is something more than that. Although we’ve all been living for at least a decade now with a different sense of how unpredictable and frightening the world can be, the last few months may have threatened our precarious sense of balance in a new way.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear disasters—we’re indirectly experiencing so many events completely out of our control that even the new and scarier world we’ve gotten a bit used to has been turned on its head.  Many of us can’t bear to watch the news for more than a few minutes at a time, and when we do, we watch with a kind of fascinated horror, and perhaps it makes the things we are trying to do—find the right chord for a song, finish a portrait, rewrite a scene—seem kind of unimportant.  Just getting up in the morning and paying attention to what is going on around the world is exhausting right now—how can we push ourselves to take one more step?

I’m not sure I have the answer to that, except that there are all kinds of ways to bear witness to the world and the other human beings in it, and exercising your own creative spirit might be one of them.  If it can only be five minutes of thinking about your project, or five minutes of sketching or writing or looking through a new lens, that is five minutes of sanity and calm that will move you closer to your larger goal.  Once I heard a Zen teacher talking about how, if you can not find half an hour for meditation, you can surely find fifteen or ten or five—or two—and I believe the same holds true for creative endeavors.  It may seem like a useless effort, it may seem like a tease, but really—is it going to make you any MORE tired to dedicate five minutes to shaping something new?

Maybe not – maybe it will even have the opposite effect, and encourage you to try ten minutes tomorrow.  Or maybe it will just have to be five minutes every day until the news is a little bit more bearable again and we can dream a little bigger.


The Road Not Taken

December 19, 2010

Posted by Leslie Zeigler

I have been reflecting on  life and choices we all make and how when we look back we may wonder: What  if?   What if only we had made other choices ?  Can we ever know?  Of course not; however, I decided to share this wonderful poem by Frost that is a favorite of mine as food for thought, especially as we approach a new year.

Robert Frost (1874-1963) experienced loss and change early in his life. His father, who died when Frost was only eleven years old, was a journalist and a committed Democrat.  After his death, his Scottish mother returned to teaching school. He wrote very movingly about choices, and the inevitability of regret and reflection as we move forward through our lives.

The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Creativity and Abraham Maslow

August 24, 2010

by Leslie Zeigler

Abraham Maslow was a humanistic psychologist who believed that  in every person there is a strong desire to realize his or her full potential. He believed creativity was an aspect of personality.  He was different from other psychologists of his time in that he chose to study healthy individuals, rather than like  Freud, those with serious psychological issues.

He went on to clarify that he saw creativity as a special perceptiveness on the part of the individual. He said that creative people can see the raw, the fresh, the concrete, the generic, the abstract,   the categorized and the classified.   Other qualities he described as characteristic of creative people   include  independence, self-confidence, openness to experience, sense of humor and playful childlike attitude, a preference  for  complexity and acceptance of  disorder, and  a tolerance  for  ambiguity.

I think that what makes his beliefs so unique is that he does not link creativity with psychological problems.  Sometimes people believe that  creative people have to be suffering from depression or alcoholism.   Obviously this is a very complicated issue and there certainly have been famous artists and writers who have  suffered terribly.

Slow Starts

August 3, 2010

Sit and Wait for Inspiration?

I start very slowly, and don’t actually begin to write the book until I can’t stand not to write it. This method derives from my sense that one can start a book too soon, but almost never too late. (Stevan Polansky in GlimmerTrain)

We writers and artists almost always have a bad word to say for ourselves, and often it is on our inability to get started on a project.  Sometimes, even if we have a deadline, even if our food and rent depends on it, we just cannot begin. We have an idea, yes.  We may even think it is a pretty good idea.  But it isn’t ready.  We aren’t ready, and we aren’t sure we will ever be ready.

How do we know when to begin a project? Steven Polansky says it all when he says,  “one can start a book too soon, but almost never too late.”  (Of course, we haven’t heard from his editors on the subject.) But perhaps the reason most of us have drawers full of unfinished manuscripts, basements full of half-done canvases, hard drives full of video and photographs we’re not sure about and scripts without an ending, is not because we don’t have the will to finish, but because, driven by our own anxiety to begin,  we started too soon.

Great ideas may seem sometimes to spring out of nowhere and demand our full attention, but the truth is, they’ve probably been stewing for some time, in some form, before they assume a final shape.  Our minds take a little bit from here and a little bit from there, throw in a dash of this and that, do a rain dance to the muses for inspiration, and only then hold the concoction under our noses and insist – okay, okay, this is how it will be! Pay attention and get going!  And it is in that moment when we really do have to build up some steam and prepare to chug away.

This isn’t like waiting to be hit on the head by an apple (although one can argue that Mr. Newton’s inspiration, as well, owed a lot to creative stewing.)  We have to feed the process, with reading, or going to galleries, or watching films,  and thinking, and sleeping, and possibly striking up a chat with the morose person sitting next to us at Starbucks who is also waiting for his or her moment.  If you and nature are on close personal terms, you can go take long walks, and even try sitting under a welcoming tree.

While you are doing all this, you must make the attempt not to torture and threaten your idea into existence, but to gently lure it out, with the promise that it will have your full attention and its moment in the sun.  Be kind to your idea, and be kind to yourself.  And when, finally, it manifests itself in full – or at least close enough to be getting on with – don’t be afraid to jump in and move forward.  Institute your creative ritual; protect your creative time; let it be as central to your life as it can be without completely disrupting the rest of your life.  It’s almost never too late to start, but when it’s time, it’s time, and it’s a moment to savor before you begin some of the hardest work of your life.

How Do You Spend Your Time?

June 10, 2010

By Deborah Atherton

Time Running Out?

It’s a scary subject, time, and the lack thereof haunts our lives.  As an exercise, I recently did a Time Log of all of my activities for a month.  (This was recommended in Randy Pausch’s extraordinarily moving lecture on time management, given at the University of Virginia shortly before his death.) I tracked everything I did, in quarter or half hour increments, for the month of April. (And trust me, this took some commitment—you pretty much have to report in every hour or so if you don’t want to forget what it was you were just doing.)

I actually undertook this exercise, I think, with the idea of beating myself up about how much time I was wasting on TV and email and, okay, Tetris (will I ever crack 250,000 points?) And yes, there were definitely a number of hours wasted on Bravo TV that I will never get back again. But what really surprised me was how much of my time I spent reading. I’d been pretty convinced that I was no longer the  reader I had been all through my teens and 20’s, when I was cutting a swathe through the Great Books, as well as science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, and every biography of Virginia Woolf ever written.

Maybe April was just a month of good books coming my way. But I read and I read – much more than I wrote, and even, very surprisingly, more than I watched TV.  I read on the bus, and I read before bed, and I read all weekend long. And what was I reading?  Literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, lots of newspapers and online news sites, and every book on the psychology of happiness and creativity ever written (well, maybe not every, there sure are a lot of them these days.) From this, you may guess that I am a lot more cheerful now than I was in my teens and twenties, and you would be right. 

I could have still beaten myself up because I was reading more than I was writing, but I chose instead to believe that I was fueling my writing and my creativity with my reading.  I think what you discover when you track your time is what is important to you.  And, apparently, reading is important to me. As an exercise, I recommend it highly. Just pick a short month. February would be good. Because it takes a lot of time, and time is something we need to spend very, very carefully.