Category Archives: contemplation

Recycling The Insufferable Optimist.

She couldn’t get into the house quickly enough.

The idea for her next piece had come during a drive around the local state park, taking in the last burst of color before its erasure by the wind. She was anxious to begin. The title alone was so compelling; she could already feel the thing writing itself.

Yet, oddly, a thought intruded: one quick Google might be in order. Best to rule out whether her gem had erupted from another in some deep, subconscious past.

Fearfully, she pulled up the search bar. Sure enough; at least two, both of them published, had already coined the phrase, one as far back as 1997. The moment was heart sinking.

Her mind sought solace, in reverie.

1997. That had been a year. She’d spent its post-Braveheart winter completing a screenplay to star Mel Gibson, the summer gallivanting up the California coast and across to the UK for the Edinburgh Fest. No time for a book review, let alone a book. Besides, her larynx had developed a pesky resistance, stuck in head voice for hours at a time; and, forced to leave her precious elementary string program (bumped by a seniority bid) she’d endure the fall and early winter teaching middle school chorus, reduced to a rasping breath by day’s end.

Come spring, after a bout with bronchitis which had left a three week hack in its wake, her fate seemed sealed: laryngoscopic surgery, slated for St Patrick’s Day, in Pittsburgh. She’d spend the rest of 1998 enduring its laser focused rehabilitation. No time for a leisurely book review, or even a book; the risk of absent minded coughing or even throat clearing lurked, at every moment. No time, either, to take a phone call from a prospective literary agent. Besides, while away she’d let a frustrated creative house-sit; he’d used the phone she’d dictated as off limits because of its receiver’s annoying habit of cutting the line. Had there been any call backs, none would have registered.

Her next pre-emptor appeared in 2015. They shared one commonality; both were anonymous bloggers, casting their carefully cultivated and diligently edited pearls before any number of earnest freshman composition students and swine.

The most recent, in spring of 2020, would be by far her most formidable: former CEO of the aforementioned search engine monopoly. Perhaps he had sent her routing out the competition with a penetrating thought weapon. After all, how dare anyone attempt to supplant his definitive take – on anything!

So how, now, to proceed? Pretend that she somehow possessed a distinctive version of an image so vivid, indeed more timely than ever?

Unlike her predecessors, hers was neither embodiment nor apologism but a sweeping observation. Her intent was to characterize those who could not or would not bow to prudence, refusing or unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of either forewarning pronouncement or prophecy. She would out every leap of faith, all abdications of reason, each act of denial in one grand gesture of indicting condemnation. If she had anything to say about it, the virtual world would be wiped clean of the last of the insufferable optimists.

Yes. Pessimism would have its day.

And, that season couldn’t come soon enough.

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© 10/25/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, anonymous or no, whose name appears above this line. No copying in whole or part, including translation, permitted without written permission of the originator. Sharing encouraged, by blog link only. Thank you!

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Sidewalk.

If you passed Laurie Garrett, on the sidewalk, would you look twice?

She’s not tall. Her hair is a warm, curly brown. Her features are small and even and, when she smiles, she’s pretty. Carrying a bit of excess weight around the midsection, common among women of her age who spend most of their time indoors or outside in their own yard, in terms of type she’d qualify as a pleasant looking matron – perhaps given to knitting or reading, possibly employed part time as a cashier in a craft store.

Laurie Garrett isn’t a cashier in a craft store.

In 1996, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for her series of works published in Newsday, chronicling the Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire. Laurie Garrett wrote “The Coming Plague”, predicting the viral scourges we’ve endured since the publication of its first edition in 1994. During the coronavirus pandemic she has been sought out, to both remind of her visionary predictions and foresee outcomes, across all media.

Day was, people did fit into type. On or about the 1950s, you could tell most everything about anyone, just by looking at them. A woman in a pillbox hat and a box knit suit, carrying a pocketbook in her gloved hands, walking on a downtown sidewalk in a pair of pointed pumps was probably a housewife out shopping. If she were unmarried, and respected, she would not be walking alone – shopping or not. Not downtown.

By way of contrast, a man in a fedora and brown single breasted suit, narrow tie, white shirt, and dark Oxfords walking on the same sidewalk would be on his way back to work after lunch at a downtown cafe restaurant. He’d likely own his business, perhaps as a merchant or insurance salesman, and keep regular hours from about 8 am til 5pm. He could be single, or married, but that status would matter little to his perceived image.

Point is, unless you were either of these characters, you’d likely not spend any time on that sidewalk.

If a man, you’d be at the shop, in overalls, grease on your forearms, sleeves rolled to the elbow, oil on your hands, shoes drip stained from it, standing at your station running your semi-automatic until the horn blew for lunch. After 3 or 4pm, you might be seen heading up a side street to the bus stop, tin lunchbox in hand or, if you earned enough, driving home in your Buick sedan.

A woman, working in the same shop, would be there part time. Hair wrapped to cover pincurls, flat shoes, shirtwaist cotton dress, homemade apron, hands slathered with Pro-Tec to make washing the oil off easier at home, she’d be working because there wasn’t enough money coming in from her husband – or, her father, if she lived at home.

These would be they whom you would have been. There would have been nobody else – because you would have been white. If you had not been white, you would never have been on that sidewalk or in that shop. Your absence would have been its own type.

Now, Laurie Garrett can stay at home and write and publish her wisened, warning prophecies, then make dinner in the small kitchen, spend her evenings doing whatever she pleases, and take her interviews for a fee.

Society has evolved. Type is becoming self-deleting. Now, any character can be summoned, at any given, arbitrary moment, to fulfill any fancy, or not. A perfectly presented person, dressed as a man but wishing he were a woman, could walk the sidewalk of the day, return to his or her dwelling, take a poison, and be done, and not a single expectation would be realized.

And, Laurie Garrett might have already written the story.

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© 10/23/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Sharing permitted by posting the blog link, exclusively; no reproduction by copying in whole or part, including translation, permitted without written permission of the author. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Actual Living.

That wheelchair had become the center of her social life.

Breaks locked, in the center of the livingroom, both her weight and the hardwood floor would render it rooted, stable enough from which to fulfill a role unbeknownst to both herself and most everyone who’d ever thought they knew her.

She had never been socially sophisticated. “Weird” branded her for the better part of the 1970’s; newly permed, painted and propped for the ’80’s; and, from ’90 to about ’95, just generally awk-ward. 1998 was too pivotal, a year of trauma from start to finish, professional medical leave to be exact for throat surgery plus a bout with sexual harassment, and wouldn’t factor. What remained, leading up to 2009, would fall under the heading “rush to the cadence”; reaching peak frenzy that June, one false step in rudderless Red Dogs on a dust-hydroplaned stage, and up into the air and down she’d dropped into the auditorium pit, to sustain multiple contusions and non-dislocating fractures of the left acetabula, sacral ala, and one tiny carpal bone of the left hand on impact. There hadn’t been an empty seat in the house; every Kindergarten, first, and second grader plus their teachers and aides had witnessed the performance.

After a temporarily chaotic rearrangement of duties involving her 93 year old father, his house, her house, and her brother’s all night trip in from Kentucky via Chicago, Dad had been placed in the backseat of her brother’s Suburban and – as she sat on her own stoop, the snot hanging from her nose of all the crying, watching them disappear down the road for what she was sure would be forever – driven off for Kentucky.

Once hauling her bottom heavy self up via the one crutch and hopping back into the house, what would commence that summer truly would reach majestically eternal proportions; eleven years hence – minus the wheelchair, plus a bit of encroaching arthritis in the lower spine – here she was, in essentially the same spot. All credit to the one, redeeming tool at her social disposal: the Internet.

At first, she’d felt consoled. As a child, playing alone with the ideas inside her head, be they narrative or cinematic, solitude had been her mode. This newly enforced aloneness was similar, if one ignored the lidocaine-numbed physical pain and discomfort; and, the new Macbook Pro having arrived, she soon became enamored of all the options for human expression which its dazzling graphic environs engendered.

Most fascinating, this time, was an apparently built-in audience known as Facebook. Eagerly she took to it, daily and, as the hours trudged by, her time flew; not only could she write, but take photos – of herself, no less – and, include them in “posts” to which others seemed to take with equal enthusiasm. Furthermore here was Becky, and Cindy, and Bob, and everyone she hadn’t seen for twenty three years, including the students who’d populated her earliest foray into the role of public school educator. And, then, the church “family”, from as far back as childhood and every corner of the United States; everybody, it seemed, was a keystroke away – and, they all appeared ready to see and hear her every word. Breaking one’s hip and back would not destroy life, after all. She would be reborn, as a character of her own, socially informed design.

It was through Facebook that her fifth grade crush turned up. It was in the chat that she would discover him to be headed home for a visit. By the next year, and all the years hence, each and every encounter with a live human would be traceable to that social media “platform”. If all the world were a stage, she had certainly found herself in the center of it.

Here is how this story ends.

Ten years of Girl, Interrupted (minus the actual attempt.) The dissolution of public persona. An epidemic emergence of that darkest aspect of the human psyche, Narcissism, all played out in a scrolling column of pseudo-dialogue, reaching peak intensity and then: the block. Only this wasn’t The Match Game, and there was no host mediating who got x-d or o’d. We were all an illusion, and so was our self image, vaporized at any instant by the disgruntled participant of the hour. We could hardly leave the house without taking the sting with us and, should we encounter someone not yet a member of our cult, we’d cut it all short just long enough for an exchange of screen names to supplant/Add Friend later.

Facebook recently “upgraded” its site. The intention was transparent, enough; competitors, Instagram and Tik Tok, were encroaching, and the format needed to keep pace.

She’d hated it, rightly enough. Not one to embrace change just because it was “trendy”, she’d been quite settled in for lo, the decade, and forcing a new navigation was as annoying as taking a wrong turn on a destination vacation.

But, weighed in against the extra inch and a half around her hips, the “spare tire” around her mid-section inherited from her father’s memory, and that nag just above her tailbone every time she chanced to stand, maybe the time was ripe for renewal. Making her social persona mobile might get her out of the house beyond the gas or grocery run, after all. And, who knows, keeping the tablet tucked away for longer than a fruitless argument over heresay and inflated opinion might actually produce a genuine conversation face to six footly distanced face.

Her body was talking back. And, collecting virtual “friends” was no succor for the one who’d left in a huff (and, a puff.) People were dying, now.

Cindy. She’d reappeared that first year, held court at the two class reunions and then, just last year, succumbed to heart failure, open casket. Bob had met his third wife online and apparently moved to the Philippines. And, one of just a handful immune to the lure of alternate reality, Becky had long since left social media entirely; she’d changed careers, moved to Virginia, and published a novel. Here sat the rest of them. Literally.

The wheelchair had only been a loaner, traded in once she’d regained vertical strength. Time to close out all open pages, log off, and shut it down. This loner was only promised the next moment to regain her place among the actual living.

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© 10/17/2020 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, wider and less wonderful, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for seeing, and checking, yourself.

littlebarefeetblog.com