As a child, I was fond of telling dramatic stories. In fourth grade, I wrote a one-act play called “Tornado.” Four sisters lost both parents in a devastating natural disaster and were dispersed around the country only to meet up in their 20s at a Broadway audition. I directed, produced, and starred in this basement masterpiece with a forced cast of cousins and my pain-in-the-butt little sister. My play didn’t become a hit, but I learned that while working with others isn’t always easy, it’s an integral part of creating good art.
In the fifth grade, I wrote an inspirational poem, “I Think the Lord has Called Me to Serve.” It was mature, metaphoric, and lyrical and attracted Sister Perpetua’s attention. She urged me to join a convent. I was appalled that she was so literal in her interpretation of my figurative work. How could she possibly think I wanted to be a nun? That exchange made me aware of the subjective nature of writing.
In middle school I secretly entered a story I wrote about my grandma’s childhood into what was a highly prestigious contest run by NYPD The Police Athletic League. I didn’t think the story was a worthy candidate, but I wanted to miss school to attend the awards ceremony. I gave it a shot and came in third place. Confused and elated, I confessed to my shocked mom so she could arrange for the day off from work. I realized that even if I was afraid of failure, I could achieve goals if I dared to defy the Inner Critic sitting on my shoulder.
After college, I moved to Hollywood. I was an assistant in the Motion Picture Literary Department at a star-studded talent agency and a production assistant on some movies. I wasn’t happy until I followed my dream to be an actress. For four years, I studied my craft at the top acting schools and auditioned while supplementing my income by working odd jobs and working with young children. Even after I poured my energy into landing parts, I only achieved small successes. It wasn’t enough to keep me tied to the West Coast, especially not when my true love was beckoning me to move back to New York to get engaged. After an appointment with a renowned psychic, who said, “You won’t be a famous LA actress, but you’ll find success in New York communicating with others,” I left. I didn’t do it because of his words, although they still haunt the recesses of my mind. I was in love with my college sweetheart and I wanted children, so this choice made sense; although I was depressed that I’d failed at being on the Silver Screen.
After writing and performing in a number of one-woman shows around New York City, I became pregnant with my first child. I continued performing while pregnant; the happiness I experienced by expressing myself lent a natural quality to my work. When I realized I connected emotionally most if I wrote the material, it was like I solved the Rosetta Stone.
I birthed my second child while we lived abroad in London. I was very busy with two small children, so I sought refuge from the daily grind in a writing class. In the class, I re-discovered how much I loved writing, started a novel, and made friends with serious and supportive writers.
When I moved back to the States, I took more professional writing classes, had my third child, and worked so hard on that novel that I gave myself a tech neck from all the hours I spent at a computer. Writing it brought me joy and fulfillment which in turn made me a more patient mom. That novel, A British Affair, eventually earned me a place in Pitch Wars although the novel was never published– another disappointing twist on the long, long road.
Now, my kids are older and I’m writing my second novel and a non-fiction book. I’ve been published in many well-respected national publications. I excel at writing personal parenting essays, and I’ve reached a respectable level of freelance writing success. I find joy in teaching drama to kids. I’ve taken freestyle rapping classes and have loved the feeling of telling a story without a safety net.
I’m still unsure of what will happen next. Even as I sit here composing this post my Inner Critic sits on my shoulder like a sexy lounge singer crooning, “You’re the fakest phony alive. Who do you think you are? You’ll never publish a book. You’re not good enough. Your ideas will dry up. You’re irrelevant and old. Stop pretending to be a writer and an editor and spend more time with your kids! You’re a terrible mother.”
Sometimes my Inner Critic distracts me so much that I’ll almost give up. If I stopped writing, I’d be better at signing up for lunch duty, better at remembering to get permission slips in on time, able to host more play dates, better at overseeing my junior’s college application process, better at helping my middle schooler study, better at cooking healthy family dinners, better at keeping the house, better at visiting my parents and grandmother, better at so many other things. But, then I remember, if I stopped writing, I’d be unfulfilled and then I’d really be a crappy mother, wife, daughter, and friend. So, I choose my battles and maintain a constantly morphing balance that works for me.
When I saw the posting for a Profiles Editor, I again felt unworthy, but I applied because I love the publication. “I’m not listening to you, Bitch,” I said to my constant nit-picking companion. Now that I’m a profiles editor at Literary Mama I enjoy it daily. Each time a new issue drops, I’m happy that I’m helping to facilitate communication among mothers. I’m excited that I’m assisting in bringing stories to life. I’m fulfilled by assigning work and choosing subjects to profile because I’m helping others pursue their dreams.
I wish I could tell the psychic he was right, that I found success in New York communicating with others. I’m also pretty sure if I hadn’t taken this winding path, I wouldn’t be here!
Holly Rizzuto Palker is an award-winning writer who covers a wide range of topics, though her passion lies in parenting and family relationships. She’s currently writing a book, Raising Pizza Bagels: One Interfaith Family’s Recipe for Success. She speaks at conferences and events about writing and interfaith parenting. Holly teaches drama.