The mystery of creative blocks

My client has set aside savings from his side business so that he can finally clear his schedule and finish that screenplay he started last year; he has two beautiful, free months just to write. After creating a long-term plan, we sit down to draw up a daily schedule. I ask him how much time per day he plans to spend writing. 

“Half an hour,” he says.

I look at him, taken aback. Half an hour? When his entire schedule is otherwise clear? Maybe I’m understanding him incorrectly; maybe he means to do half-hour intervals like a sprinter, with 10-minute breaks? After all, studies show that bursts of intense concentration followed by periods of rest offer the best means of sustaining productive work. 

But no, my client clarifies: He really does mean to write for only a half an hour a day. Because my job as a life coach is to support, not to judge or advise, I draw those half-hour boxes on every day of his schedule, where they look hopeful in all that empty space. And tiny.

Another client has a far more strenuous and detailed plan for the way she’s going to approach finishing her novel; we write a long to-do list full of all the things she needs to accomplish. The next week, she returns and has done only a fraction of what she’d planned. 

These clients are composites, but as I finish my first year of coaching, they represent a subset of the clients I see: creative, talented, highly intelligent people who are generally highly functional. They have jobs; they have friends; they are otherwise quite happy. 

Except in one way: They want to write or record an album or complete a series of paintings. They have a plan to do it. And they simply cannot do it. 

It’s as if an invisible force has power over them, a force so powerful at times that if I were a superstitious person, I actually would believe there was some kind of invisible demon at play here, one with an inexplicable hatred of the arts, committed to blocking creative accomplishment with the unilateral fixation of the Grinch blocking Christmas.

But as a citizen of the 21st century, I don’t believe in demons, so instead, I conceive of the issue as a kind of cognitive knot, with warring parts of the mind locked down in their trenches — the imaginative mind longing to get out, the fearful mind standing with guns drawn, ready to shoot down any idea foolish enough to come racing out. The common phrase used to describe this condition is “writer’s block,” but the word “block” sounds too neutral to me, like traffic cones set in a street. 

What I believe I’m seeing in my clients is more along the lines of a phobia, an irrational fear or aversion to something, in this case, the creative process (not of work itself, because my clients often juggle multiple jobs and work long hours to pay the bills). But most other phobias involve situations that a person encounters and tries to avoid, like centipedes or airplanes or, in some cases, social situations. 

The phobia my clients experience, on the other hand, of sitting down to do creative work, is entirely self-induced. My client’s novel-writing process, for example, is not going to dart out at her from under a rock. Her task of writing a novel is entirely optional; in fact, part of her problem may be the nagging suspicion that in the scheme of things, as a matter of the survival of the species, her novel might be entirely unnecessary. It’s as if I, with my pathological fear of spiders, also had an overwhelming personal need to hang out with spiders all day long — spiders that were created by me.

It’s as if my clients’ real phobia is of encountering their deepest selves. And who wouldn’t be terrified? Shouldn’t we all be, really?

The more I do this work, the more I am moved by the courage it takes to create art of any kind. It is the courage to believe that your deepest self, in all its mess and dreams and darkness and memories, might actually, if you could give it shape, have astonishing beauty. The courage is born from a longing to connect and make others feel connected, to make people laugh or sing or see a vision they can never forget.

My clients move slowly but steadily. Sometimes, surprising even themselves, they make enormous, startling leaps forward. Half an hour a day may sound tiny, but it also can be a powerful stand, a statement of belief every day that your life might matter. 

Ellie Herman is a writer, teacher and life coach.  She blogs at

Music, and fashion highlight Independence Day Festival

Click the BIG ARROW for The Moshav Band

While there’s no conflict with Mother’s Day this year, organizers of the April 29 Israel Independence Day Festival at Woodley Park are facing another challenge.

The celebration of Israel’s 59th year falls on the same day as Big Sunday, a citywide Mitzvah Day, as well as the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.

Last year’s Yom HaAtzmaut fest drew about 40,000 people, but Yoram Gutman, the festival’s executive director, is cautious about making a turnout prediction.

“It’s difficult to know, but still many people look to this as one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar,” Gutman said. “Most of the Israeli and Jewish community … I think that they know this is a really important occasion and that this is a priority for them.”

While much of the event will be the same as in years past, some new faces and voices on stage will be joined by a festival first — an Israeli fashion show produced by Dvora Braunstein.

“She has produced shows during Fashion Week L.A., and she basically comes out here and distributes all of the Israeli designers to the boutiques in L.A.,” said Guy Kohlani, the festival’s entertainment director.

The all-female catwalk will feature professional models donning Israeli fashions from upcoming fall 2007 and winter 2008 lines. Clothing will be available for purchase in a specially designated booth in front of the Haifa stage.

Other changes this year include an expanded Tel Aviv stage with four different food vendors set up nearby — in addition to the regular food area — and the carnival rides will be relocated to the southern end of the festival.

Also, be sure to stop by The Jewish Journal’s booth to meet our staff as you walk through the festival’s marketplace.

Free parking is available along Woodley Avenue as well as in lots across from the park and near Lake Balboa (look for signs). But organizers are encouraging attendees to ride the MTA’s Orange Line bus service to the Woodley Station, located near the festival entrance.

Gutman says his group has already selected May 18 for the 2008 celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. He hopes other groups will schedule around the date.

But despite Big Sunday falling on the same weekend as the festival once again this year — creating difficult choices within the Jewish community — Gutman is happy to say that the cloud has a silver lining.

“Because of Big Sunday, we’re getting volunteers,” he said. “So that’s a good thing.”

The Israel Independence Day Festival, Woodley Park, 6350 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys. Sunday, April 29, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. $5 per person; children under 2 free. For more information, call (818) 757-0123.

Noon: Boys and girls from the song and dance troupe Tzeirei Tel Aviv perform choreographed Israeli pop.
12:15 p.m.: Takila Production offers an Israeli take on the Blue Man Group.
12:30 p.m.: World-renowned violinist Lior Kaminetsky performs. Kaminetsky trained at Hebrew University and is currently studying at USC.
1:15 p.m.: Broadway and Israeli star Mike Burstyn hosts the official Israel Independence Day ceremony. In addition to civic leaders taking to the stage, expect the Golden Stars, the L.A. Sheriff’s skydiving team, to drop in on the action.
2:15 p.m.: David Dassa presents Israeli folk dancing.
2:25 p.m.: Claude Afota sings traditional favorites in French, Hebrew, Moroccan and other languages with a tarbooka (handheld drums).
2:50 p.m.: L.A.-based singer Liz Shachar performs upbeat Israeli songs.
3:20 p.m.: Moshav Band blends folk, reggae and rock with Eastern flavors in songs about life in Israel and the Diaspora.
4 p.m.: Israeli singer Limor Ben-Nun shares the stage with the Sunflower Dancers.
4:30 p.m.: Popular L.A. singer Pini Cohen performs at the festival for the first time in several years.
5:15 p.m.: Featured artist Yehoram Gaon has been an Israeli star of stage and screen for more than 30 years. Best known for Naomi Shemer’s “Od Lo Ahavti Dai,” Gaon will perform his traditional folk and pop songs.

11:30 a.m.: Reb Jason plays songs from his album “Shabbat Rocks.”
Noon: One of the newest Israeli singers in Los Angeles, Yosi Tzadok performs songs from such artists as Eyal Golan and Zoar Argov.
12:30 p.m.: Magic by Eran.
12:45 p.m.: Tzeri Tel Aviv
1:15 p.m.: David Dassa
1:30 p.m.: Claude Afota
2 p.m.: Lior Kaminetsky
2:30 p.m.: Takila Production
3 p.m.: Eran
3:10 p.m.: Sabras frontman Yosi Levy performs.
3:30 p.m.: Jimmy Gamliel sings Israeli favorites.
4 p.m.: Tzeri Tel Aviv
4:30 p.m.: Liz Shachar
5 p.m.: Local hip-hop act dJOoKRoO (pronounced Jew Crew) performs.
5:30 p.m.: VoKCaL (Voice of Knowledge) captures Israeli life with a hip-hop style that feature no violence, sex or drugs.

Noon: DJ Or
12:30 p.m.: Yosi Tzadok
1 p.m.: DJ Absera
1:30 p.m.: Eli and Elisah
2 p.m.: Fashion show
3 p.m.: dJOoKRoO
3:30 p.m.: VoKCaL
4 p.m.: Fashion show
5 p.m.: DJ Moshiko and Titus
6 p.m.: DJ Eliran and Tal

(DJ Avisera emcees)
1 p.m.: Magic Show by Fun & Discovery
2:30 p.m.: Gymnastics by Juliana
3:30 p.m.: Martial arts school

Noon: Face painting
1 p.m.: Balloons
2 p.m.: Gymnastic by Juliana

Menorah Lights Our Way

For three years, I lived in an apartment in Jerusalem next
to a bus stop. The rhythm of my life quickly adapted to the bus schedule. Just by looking out my bedroom window, I knew
exactly when to leave the house in order to catch the bus.

When I returned to California, I assumed my life’s
association with buses would end. But this was not to be. I live in a
neighborhood where buses abound. And they’re just as loud as those of Jerusalem.
But the associations couldn’t be more different.

In Israel, a bus represented a possible tomb. Each passenger
a could-be suicide bomber. Taking the bus becomes a statement — a statement of
defiance in the face of unrelenting terrorism and the constant threat of death.

I had friends who stopped taking the bus in favor of taxis.
Or if they saw someone who looked suspicious board the bus, they jumped off and
waited for the next to come along. Here, boarding a bus means getting to where
you need to go.

While the buses are different, so is the experience of
Chanukah. Growing up, my family always lit a single menorah in an interior room
of the house. In Israel, I learned the menorah is supposed to be placed near a
window looking out onto the street to publicize the holiday, and each member of
the household should light his own.

I quickly grew to love this enhanced way of honoring events
that happened some 2,000 years ago.

We all know the story of Chanukah. The Greeks occupied the land
of Israel and commandeered our Holy Temple. They outlawed many of our
religious practices and defiled the Temple. Then a group of Jews known as the
Maccabees rebelled, drove the Greeks out and reclaimed the Temple. Topping off
the victory, a flask of oil meant to last just one day, miraculously burned for

But the battle of Greek vs. Jew ran much deeper than a mere
physical occupation of our land. It was the battle of the two great forces —
spirituality vs. physicality.

Greek culture placed beauty and intellect above spirituality
and religion. It honored and revered all that the physical world represented.
In their aspiration for aesthetic idealism, however, the Greeks denied the
transcendence of the human spirit and rejected any notion of metaphysical

Thus it should not surprise us that the Greeks fought so
desperately to uproot Torah, the spiritual compass for morality and

Judaism teaches that the potential for human greatness is
achieved not through the ascendancy of the physical, but by subjugation of the
physical to the spiritual. We strive to break through the bounds of physical
limitation and aspire for a higher reality, one that lies beyond materialism,
beyond superficiality.

The Greeks enjoyed a high measure of success in “converting”
Jews who succumbed to the attractions of Greek secular life. These Jews, known
as Hellenists, thrived in the cultural ambivalence offered by the Greeks to
such an extent, that Jewish tradition was on the verge of disintegration.

The Jewish people had survived attempts by the Babylonians
and the Persians to destroy them physically and spiritually, but never before
had a movement from within sought to redefine the beliefs and practices that
had shaped the Jewish national character since the time of Abraham.

Ultimately, the Macabbees routed the Greeks, the Temple was
rededicated, the oil miraculously burned for eight days and the Hellenists were
discredited. And just who were these victorious Macabbees? None other than the
Cohanim, or the priests, of the nation.

On Chanukah, therefore, we celebrate the victory of
traditional Jewish culture over both the external forces that strove to
overturn it, and the forces within that wished to dilute it.

Today we find ourselves in much the same shoes, but in an
even more complicated mixture. Ideological sects lay claim to spiritual
authenticity, separatist movements labor to set themselves apart and
multiculturists demand a coming together. Terrorism, ethnic cleansing and hate
crimes prod us to wonder if we may not be better off abandoning our culture and

Had the ancient Greeks not sensed their beliefs were
threatened by Jewish monotheism, they would not have fought so desperately to
crush Judaism. Had the Hellenist Jews felt more secure in the traditions of
their ancestors, they would never have contemplated compromising their heritage
by pursuing Greek culture with such fervor.

The one who knows what he believes and why is both immune to
the attraction of foreign culture and tolerant of sincere alien belief. He will
be neither bullied nor seduced by the philosophies of others, because he is
secure in his own. He will be able to live in harmony with others and work
together for the common welfare without sacrificing his ideals or compromising
his values.

One of the timeless lessons of Chanukah is that the light
endures. For more than 2,000 years, the lights of Chanukah have burned as a
symbol of spiritual wisdom. And it is the menorah that represents the way the
soul finds its expression in this world. No matter how much darkness surrounds
us, we still light the menorah, because we know who we are and who we can be.

This year, proudly place your menorah in a spot where the
outside world can gaze in and see your spiritual light illuminate the darkness.
Because sometimes a bus ride isn’t just a bus ride. Â

Marisa N. Pickar is a freelance journalist living in Laguna Woods.

Netanyahu’s Day in L.A.

Netanayu and Kirk Douglas. Photo by Peter Halmagyi

Netanyahu’s Day in L.A.

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrived at Los AngelesInternational Airport at 2 a.m. on Monday, met with business leadersat 8 a.m., and kept going until 11 p.m., when his plane left forLondon and a meeting with King Hussein of Jordan.

Telescoping a planned two-day visit into one day to keep his datewith the Jordanian monarch, Netanyahu displayed unflagging stamina, aquick sense of humor, and considerable deftness in turning asideunpleasant questions from polite but generally undemonstrativeaudiences.

More dramatic than the scheduled events were two overseas phonecalls. In the midst of a morning press conference, Netanyahu excusedhimself for 15 minutes to speak with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarakand to express his sympathy concerning the killing of more than 60tourists in a terrorist attack in Luxor.

The second call, in midafternoon, reached Netanyahu while he wastouring the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It was from Hussein, and duringa seven-minute conversation, the two leaders apparently nailed downdetails of their Tuesday meeting in Hussein’s London home. Up to thatpoint, Netanyahu maintained publicly that he was merely landing inLondon for a refueling stop.

As expected, Netanyahu was repeatedly confronted with questionsabout the conversion bill — now on hold while the Neeman Commissionwrestles with the thorny issue — and the Orthodox hegemony ofIsrael’s religious life.

The issue was brought into sharpest focus by Jewish FederationCouncil of Greater Los Angeles President Herbert Gelfand, whointroduced the prime minister at a joint meeting of some 350Federation, AIPAC and Israel Bonds leaders.

While declaring the community’s unswerving support of Israel,Gelfand stated that the proposed conversion bill meant considerablymore than just the codification of the status quo and “may bedestructive of Jewish unity.”

To this and similar statements raised following Netanyahu’s mainaddress of the day before the World Affairs Council, he responded inone typical instance:

“I have done what no prime minister has done before by creating acommission to bring all streams of Judaism together. This may be themost important question in Jewish history since Napoleon asked FrenchJewry 200 years ago to define its identity. With patience, toleranceand goodwill on all sides, we can solve this problem and set thepattern of Jewish unity for the 21st century.”

Netanyahu repeatedly pointed to Iran as the greatest threat facingthe world at the end of the 20th century.

“The world has one year before Iran will have ballistic missilestipped with chemical or biological weapons, that will be aimed firstat Israel, then at Europe, and then at Manhattan,” he said. “WhileSaddam Hussein has regional ambitions, Iran’s ideology encompassesthe whole world.”

Following are comments Netanyahu had on other topics, raisedmainly at the press conference:

* President Clinton’s apparent snub in not meeting with Netanyahu,even though both men were within a few miles of each other in LosAngeles on Monday morning: “We will meet at a suitable time, and ameeting has been set for Dec. 8.”

* Major dissension within the Likud Party and among governmentministers over cancellation of the party’s primaries: “It’s no secretthat some people dislike me,” said Netanyahu, but when he returns toIsrael, “I’ll fix what needs to be fixed.”

* Possible Scud attacks on Israel if renewed hostilities betweenIraq and the United States break out: “Israel is prepared and quietlyconfident.”

* On Israel’s economy: “Israel is rapidly becoming one of theworld’s most advanced technological countries; we’re becoming thePeople of the Disc. Hold on to your seats, but we’re making Israel aplace where you can actually make money.”

The visit did not pass without a few complaints and irritations.There was some astonishment that the Netanyahu entourage reserved 100bedrooms at hotels in both Indianapolis and Los Angeles, aconsiderable figure, even including space for 20 Israeli journalistsin the party.

A well-placed source complained that a Peace Now dinner plannedfor Monday evening with producer Arnon Milchan and director SidneyPollack had been canceled under pressure from Netanyahu’s associatesso as not to interfere with the gala sponsored by theOrthodox-founded Aish HaTorah College and outreach program, the laststop on the prime minister’s visit.

That event was held on the tented tennis court at the home of MervAdelson, one of Hollywood’s financial and political power hitters.Some 220 guests attended, of whom the paying portion contributed from$10,000 to $25,000 per couple to provide student scholarships throughthe Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah.

Netanyahu conferred the fund’s King David Award on veteran screenactor Kirk Douglas. The guest list included such Hollywood studiochiefs as Lew Wasserman, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Frank Biondi and RonMeyer, business leaders Michael and Lowell Milken, and Haim Saban,and California Gov. Pete Wilson.

Brand-name television and movie actors, though not in thesuperstar category some guests might have anticipated, included FranDrescher, Mike Connors, Richard Crenna, Elliott Gould, Suzanne Somersand Florence Henderson.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, met up with one certified mega-starwhen Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, accompaniedIsrael’s first couple on the tour of the Wiesenthal Center’s Museumof Tolerance.

Rabbi Hier: Diplomatic Middleman

An intriguing sidelight of the unorthodox arrangements underlyingPrime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with King Hussein of Jordan wasrevealed by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the SimonWiesenthal Center.

While driving to a doctor’s appointment last Thursday morning,Hier received a call on his cell phone from Hussein, then inWashington, saying that he was sending his personal aide to LosAngeles on an important mission.

The next morning, the aide, Gen. Ali Shukri, arrived at theWiesenthal Center. He carried a message that the king wanted torestore his country’s relationship with Israel at the highest leveland wanted to know if Netanyahu could meet him at his London home onTuesday.

According to Hier, Shukri stressed four points that motivatedHussein: re-establishing intelligence exchanges at the top level, theissue of Palestinian air and seaport facilities, a possiblemoratorium on Hamas terrorist activities, and cementing the personalrelationship between Hussein and Netanyahu.

Hier said that he immediately got in touch with Yoram Ben Ze’ev,the Israel consul general in Los Angeles, who conveyed the invitationdirectly to Netanyahu.

The final details were put into place on Monday, when Husseinphoned Netanyahu while the prime minister was touring the WiesenthalCenter’s Museum of Tolerance.

Hier said that he and the king had established a warm personalrelationship when the Jordanian monarch toured the Wiesenthal Centerlast year, and that the king had invited the rabbi to visit him atthe hospital during his recent illness. —Tom Tugend