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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Former Villager recalls growing up in New York and finding solace in poetry during COVID-19

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Holly W Schwartztol is a novelist and poet. A retired psychologist, she is a spiritual medium, teaches memoir writing and mentors other writers.

“It was a good time to grow up in New York City,” says Holly W Schwartztol, recalling the 1950s and ’60s. “You could have a lot of independence early. By the time I was 10, I was taking buses by myself and people didn’t worry about us the way they do today.”

“New York was a melting pot and I believe we were very accepting of each other. We didn’t expect everyone to be the same,” she continues.

But even though the city was “home,” the one-time Villager always wanted to live in the country.

“The City was very intense. It was always noise – jackhammers on the street. I liked the quieter life,” she says.

Her family had a home in Westport and it was there that she found the solitude she craved.

She laughs as she talks about “the good old days.”

“There really were no ‘good old days,’” she admits. “We were children who didn’t have to worry about the things adults, our parents, had to worry about. That’s what made it so good.”

She finds the idea of hiding under your school desk in the case of a nuclear bomb rather amusing and naive.

“What would it protect you from? Flying window glass?” she asks.

Holly decided to become a psychologist.

“I was the person everyone else always brought their problems to,” she says. “I really liked the idea that I could sit in a room and listen to people and help them. It was a good fit for me.”

Schwartztol Cover OFC Ver 2 3 pt outline 07 27 2020
‘Along My Garden Path: Poems on the Rhythms of Life’ by Holly W Schwartztol chronicles a life filled with tumultuous joy and deep sorrow, celebration of friends and fondness for places.

Graduating from the University of Miami, Holly taught and worked as a school psychologist before going into private practice in Miami. In 2013, with her husband Robert, she moved to The Villages for a short time before relocating to the Space Coast area. She can watch the rocket launches from Cape Kennedy from her Atlantic-facing balcony, although she admits that she’s becoming blasé about the blast offs.

“The most exciting ones are where the main stages of the rocket come back down to earth a few minutes after the launch,” she says.

As their children, Larry, Andrew and Jill, became older, the writing bug in Holly became more insistent.

She came by her writing skills honestly. Her father was journalist James Wechsler, editorial page editor and columnist for the New York Post from 1949 until 1983.

“It was a fiery, liberal newspaper back then,” she quickly points out. “So, when I tell people he worked for the New York Post, I almost have to say, ‘not the New York Post of today.’”

Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, the publication was purchased in 1993 by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and the editorial slant moved to a conservative perspective.

Holly’s first novel, “Sherry and the Unseen World,” was published in 2005, followed by “What We Tell” in 2012. In both, she fictionizes people and events from her childhood and young life to weave a narrative that mixes the practical and spiritual to create characters that speak to the readers’ imagination.

In “Coming Around Again,” released in 2019, Holly reaches back to Sherry, the character from her first novel. With a contemporary setting in The Villages, Sherry is becoming a medium and searching for meaning in the Teen Tour she took with others in 1962.

“I love writing,” she says. “I love when people read my books and then contact me about them and want to discuss the characters.”

In writing her latest novel, Holly was probably also helping to clarify her own life. She has been studying mediumship for many years.

“I’m allowing myself to be known as a spiritual intuitive,” she says.

A spiritual medium uses their psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present and future events of a person by tuning into the spiritual energy surrounding that person.

“One of the issues that really defines both my interest in psychology and mediumship is my fascination with exploring the consciousness,” she says.

Throughout her fiction writing, Holly has always been a poet, too. Her work has placed favorably in the poetry section of the Faulkner Literary Contest for several years. She says poems often present themselves intensely to her when she is in bed and she has to get up and write them down immediately, editing and rewriting the next day.

In March 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Florida Writers Association featured her in an interview and poetry reading on YouTube, where she talks about writing and reads from her book of poetry, “Along My Garden Path: Poems on the Rhythms of Life,” featuring 70 of her poems along with illustrations by Florida Artist Vincent Ostertag, which was published in 2020. The book is available on Amazon and at select bookstores.

The subjects of the poems range from sadness at the death of her mentally ill brother:

  • On that sunny May morning
  • with spring kissing the air
  • as you drifted
  • away from us all.

To the joy of granddaughter Isabella on her first birthday:

  • And I watched
  • how all who
  • hold you
  • behold your
  • precious special
  • glow.

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Dragonflies illustration by Vincent Ostertag for ‘Along My Garden Path’ by Holly W Schwartztol. Dragonflies have a special significance for the author.

After retiring and giving up her therapist license a while ago, Holly is looking forward to the future. One new project might involve a biography of her journalist father. Or her grandfather who was a lawyer, argued 17 cases before the Supreme Court and wrote a book on constitutional rights. She teaches a class on memoir writing and mentors other writers. Jigsaw puzzles are a passion – the more pieces and the more intricate the design the better. She dotes on her five grandchildren and her extended family.

“We live in such an incredible world,” she says. “Thankfully, we survived COVID and got our vaccinations. I wrote a lot of ‘pandemic poetry’ during the time. So, I may have another book of poetry.”

 John W Prince is a writer and Villager. For more information visit www.HallardPress.com. If you know of someone with a “Good Story and a Good Book,” contact him at [email protected].

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