Category Archives: arts education

The Junior League.

Mum was a seamstress, a dressmaker, a tailor of the finest order. She could take any off the rack dress, jacket, pant, gown and make it fit any body assigned. She could make three piece fully lined suits from Vogue patterns, ball and wedding gowns, even curtains and upholstery covers. And, she did all this, from her sewing room at home.

While I was growing up, Mum would often ask me to go to the piano and perform for her customers. I would comply, choosing the flashiest solo piece I’d most recently prepared. All the ladies would rave, and compliment Mum on her daughter’s talent .

Marlene was among the most vociferous.

Her family lived a couple blocks down the steep hill, on East 28th Street, in a brick house with a porch. Marlene and her mother, Emma, were very close, coming to the house biweekly for their fittings. Most of Mum’s customers were from the same extended family of second generation Italian-American ladies, working clerically or teaching but, during my high school years, Marlene grew to become a business administrator, community leaders increasingly recognizing her efforts and accomplishments. All the while Mum dressed her, impeccably, Emma duly proud.

Perhaps a gesture intended to give back to Mum, after the decades she’d spent keeping Marlene looking sharp, whatever the motive the day came when, out of nowhere, Marlene declared her intention to sponsor Betty’s daughter to the Junior League of Erie.

Founded in New York in 1901, the Junior League was formed to instill social responsibility and a spirit of volunteerism among community women. Over the years, however, the charitable organization had become a vehicle for debutantes, a class marker for the up and coming young. Being sponsored to join the League was an honor with huge implications for future social and professional connections, not the least of these eligible men of the same rank and level of social recognition.

The act generated by Marlene was directed as a gesture toward her treasured seamstress. In the spirit of the relationship between Marlene and her own mother I was to accept the gift by joining the order, in turn bringing my mother pride by association.

But, I screwed up.

I said no.

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A few months ago, in the middle of the summer, both of my brothers were able to come through town for a single evening. The younger, now a traveling quality control representative in the health care field, hadn’t been home since Dad died ten years before, and the elder, former divisional medical director turned director/consultant for a major diagnostic laboratory, almost as long away. Both were in town to do inspections. Both lived in southern states, raising their families and working thousands of miles away.

I remember feeling ecstatic that they could both be here, at once. I only had two siblings, no sisters, and no offspring of my own, so any feeling of family I’d ever known had to come from my vicarious association with their sons and daughters’ lives. But, having them both actually here together would reunite us as brothers and sister, like when we were growing up.

We’d planned to eat at a nearby Italian restaurant. Both of them loved Italian restaurant food, both having been to Italy – the elder, several times – each of them working on the road; but, my upstairs wall HVAC unit on the fritz, they also booked hotels. They booked hotels because they also liked staying in hotels, don’t get me wrong; but, had the upstairs loft been temperature controlled, I’d have loved having them both here together for the weekend, in my home.

They arrived, entering via the shed door, and greeted each other in my music room. The elder was shorter and greyer than I’d remembered; the younger, wider. I took their picture. Moving to the kitchen, we addressed my need for construction advice on a household addition; then, we piled into the vehicle assigned to the elder, and headed to the restaurant.

For well over fifteen minutes, both of them charmed the hostess. She was most gracious. I have no idea if she needed to do other things, but she remained in conversation with them without even a hint of distraction. I, with my five year history as a hostess and waitress, was proud of her professionalism.

We’d chosen to dine outdoors on the restaurant patio. I sat in the seat closest to the dividing wall, and they sat opposite each other. Once we finally placed our orders, they continued the conversation they’d begun in the front seat of the vehicle en route the few blocks to the restaurant. I watched them, thinking about how the pandemic and age had overtaken us. I spent a lot of time sitting there thinking, before we got our food, when our food arrived, and after we were finished eating. I was able to do this, because they asked me no questions of any kind. I asked them no questions, either, principally because there was no break in the conversation the two of them were enjoying.

After probably two and a half hours, I invited them to present me with any questions they might have. My elder brother said nothing. My younger brother asked me if I had any friends here, and my answer included a reference to my students and their families as my friends – much like Mum’s customers were, to her. Then, I mentioned the elder’s former wife, with whom I’d had a reuniting phone conversation only days before after fifty years of no contact. The response to this offering was a ten minute dissertation directed at both myself and my younger brother on the woman’s character, as expressed in her past behavior.

Thus ended the dinner.

Returning me to my home was swift. We stood chatting on the sidewalk for a few minutes and, dusk settling and mosquitoes emerging, I said my goodbyes. Entering my house, I watched as the two of them stood at the curb for another half hour, talking with each other in the dark.

******

It’s true.

I’d said no to the opportunity provided me by Marlene, now CEO of a major, burgeoning health care and educational facility in the region and already-former bank president. She didn’t marry until later in life, but had a daughter who would become my piano student. Emily was 10, then, and probably hated those lessons. Maybe she never really wanted to play piano. Or, maybe she just didn’t want to slum it over to my house, on West 22nd St, hauled there every week by Aunt Lena.

No; I never accepted Marlene’s sponsorship into the Junior League of Erie. I was afraid to become an elite member of our community. I didn’t think the other girls in the League would accept me, a daughter of blue collar skilled artisans. And, I wasn’t sure I wanted to become a member of an exclusive strata of society, either.

Had I said yes, I’d have probably met and married a doctor or lawyer, raising my children on Southshore or near the Kahkwa Club. My brothers’ families and I would likely have shared holidays, each of us making sure our children spent time together. We’d have compared notes, throughout our lives, bragging on our childrens’ IQs, their grade point averages, their excellence, their ranking, their accomplishments, their spouses, our grandchildren, and how much the Lord had loved and bestowed His blessings upon us.

But, I didn’t. I married a transplanted, white collar New Englander, a man who would leave me nearly three years hence and continue his rise in the technical world of computerized software. Divorced, I would continue to work, pay off my house and car, establish a music studio, accept performance opportunities with the Union orchestras, and teach public school. My private piano students morphed into cellists, many of both the students and their parents becoming integral to my list of those still endeared to me.

Marlene’s daughter would become a litigating lawyer, and marry a local political figure; Emma would live to be nearly 101; Marlene would continue to oversee the health care facility, long beyond retirement age. And, the Junior League would breed its own, filling the coffers of the needy and establishing multiple community facilities for the arts, for education, for enrichment across the four corners of the region.

I would remain in the periphery of all these, a solitary creative, an observer of the life unfolding among those just beyond my reach. My brothers would recede into the margins of my world, feeling neither obligation nor need with respect to me.

Mum’s mark on the world she served remains. Marlene, at the time of her Betty’s blindsiding death, would stand at the casket exclaiming: “This is not. happening.” So many women would need to find somebody else to take in the seams of their garments, to let the rest out, to form the bodice, measure the hem, and fit them for the stages of the most grandly acknowledged.

From whatever league, as with my two brothers I affect their lives in absentia. Unless otherwise required, I’ll be in my music room, at home.

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Copyright 11/9/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively, and that not via RSS. Thank you for respecting integrity.

littlebarefeetblog.com

AVERSION.

Two magnets opposed cannot touch.

Or, we humans lack the strength to bring them together.

But, what of the psychological forces which repel?

I have no memory of what could have provoked the first episode, nor can I recall the manifesting scenario. All I do know is, my tendency to be easily averted has been lifelong.

Basically, aversion is turning away.

As a force, aversion seems to drive me to move in a direction opposed to that which I would otherwise choose. I can avoid tasks, events, even people, for days to weeks, cause not immediately named. And, my emotional connection to the activity or the person doesn’t seem strong enough to prevent this.

Rejection, or its potential, always lurks as a catalyst.

Often, the behavior of a single, key individual affects whether or not I turn from something toward which I would normally run. It’s as if some negative power or influence attaches itself to what I love, rendering it hostile. Like a poisoning.

Several months ago, I was displaced as pianist by another available candidate who had actually been nominated by me to serve temporarily in my stead when I could not. I made this recommendation on the basis of another’s reference, something I rarely do without knowing the quality of the player. But, ultimately, I lost my seat to this person, the panel in place to choose having determined availability to be the sole criteria in line with their needs.

While all these appeared satisfied with their decision, I was fairly well demolished by it. Gradually, I lost interest in my association with the group and, even more astonishing, my desire to play the piano. Now, every time I so much as look at my beautiful Steinway grand, aversion grips my soul.

The initial emotion was, invariably, anger; how dare anyone infiltrate my precious relationship with the music I made on this magnificent instrument?

Yet, the anger gets directed toward that from which I’m averted! The piano itself embodies the negative force exerted by those who have expressed their rejection of me, as if to become a tool of their power.

The dishes in the sink, waiting to be washed, seize me similarly. If I do not wash them immediately, they become increasingly capable of averting me until not a single clean plate or bowl remains and the task demands attention.

I use the term “lifelong” because I cannot return to a time when aversion was not played out in my realm.

Psychologists posit that trauma is the originator. Pain, and the fear of pain, cause us to do everything in our power to prevent its recurrence. Somehow, trauma causes pain and pain becomes associated with that which we hold dear.

Childhood trauma has many aspects – physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional abuse. Being beaten; being violated; having love and care withheld. Our brains make connections. A single event can permanently associate the pain it generates with any number of experiences in the future which trigger its memory.

Likewise, the source of the aversion attaches itself like a barnacle to that from which I’m averted. They meld. The source seizes ownership.

Many, many years ago I did experience a memorable trauma, one which can be isolated and named. That episode caused PTSD, a phenomenon still manifesting residually all these years hence. And, what did this affect? My other musical instrument, my priceless cello. The ghosts of the nefarious surround me every time I look in its direction.

My conscious awareness of the cause, plus my love for my students, are the only forces which overcome this realization; I deliberately penetrate the veil of hate every time I choose to grasp hold of that instrument.

Aversion isn’t just a psychological neurosis. It’s the power of hate to command control over that which is loved, very well one of the demons about which the ancients speak.

We must all rise, and stand against such a force. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” – Song of Solomon 8.

Nothing should touch that which is loved except love itself.

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Copyright 8/28/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Plagiarists, take your hate and turn away.

littlebarefeetblog.com

“Down the [ Black ] Rabbit Hole.”

No. This is not a piece about race.

Or, critical race theory.

But, it is about a theory.

According to physicist James Beacham of The Royal Institution, we in our solar system could be living as a singularity in the middle of a black hole.

And, what keeps him awake at night is the question of how we can prove it.

Are ya still with me?

I’m not a scientist; I’m an artist. So, my ego really gravitates (npi) toward the idea of being a singularity. Hah.

Singularity. A density of infinite value.

The rest of me asks all the same questions posed by Beacham. How do we define gravity? We post menopausal women have some history defying it but, people, how do we know it’s true? And, as for black holes, how do THEY happen and why have we, up until this point at least, considered them so formidable?

The artist in me enjoys the image of being rapidly sucked away by something, only to disappear from observable sight. So does the residual, imaginary thrill seeker only willing to fancy such a feeling; after birth trauma compressed my cranium, any possibility of expressing such a gene was relegated to dormant right up there with math applications. But, I digress.

Apparently, it’s about how much matter is compressed, and then a nod to size. Black holes are incredibly massive, infinite amounts of the stuff, and their comparative size isn’t relevant; Beacham says there is one, in our solar system, about as big as a Delicious apple. But, as long as there is another large enough to contain “us”, we could conceivably exist as sustainable life within it as a singularity and, if so, infinitely?

Singularity. Oh; and, “event horizon” – the edge of the black hole, the point of no return. As a veteran stage performing musician who will always recall that tenuous moment right before the audience’s receiving applause, I strongly relate to both of these concepts. But, really understanding them requires some pretty high level math skills and, well, that’s where either I float in the ether or get pulled down by gravity. Gravity is the only bit I understand, experientially of course, with no ability to define it. Sigh. To digress, yet again…

But, Beacham says the theorists are captivated by wonder. Are these black holes actually capable of birthing other universes? Is the one in our solar system ready to go into labor? What about force fields?

If you continued reading this assuming you’d actually learn something practical, I’ll leave that conclusion with your notions; I’m a woman so, historically, we absorb new concepts via metaphor and analogy. The center of a black hole, the singularity, reminds me of the eye of the hurricane. Strange, quiet serenity, while all around is pure torque. In my final third of life, I rather like the idea of spending mine in that kind of locus.

The rest are striving toward proof.

I’m aiming for the core, and I’ll race ya.

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Copyright 6/26/22 littlebarefeetblog.com Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Sharing by blog link, exclusively; no copying, in whole or part, including translation. Thank you for acknowledging originality.