Tag Archives: beauty




We all think we know what it is. For the artists and designers, it’s all about symmetry – balance, equal emphasis on all sides. Others envision an absence of flaw, neither errant marking nor crooked cut.

But, all of us know one thing: perfection ain’t us.

Nope. Those angelic beings on the Hallmark Channel who gaze deeply into the souls of the downtrodden and despondent, assuring them of that which God sees in each one are the only ones convinced. We already know, full well, that they are likely full of the old, well meaning Welbutrin of life.

We know our every stumble, each faltering uncertainty a reflection of that profound propensity for fallibility.

One equally well-meaning fellow told me recently, in the form of a compliment, that he loved my vocal style as solo cellist. That particular performance, by my own assessment, had been plagued by inaccuracies, provoked by hasty rehearsal and general physical discomfort with the surroundings. But, momentarily, I’d been taken aback in a sort of reassured fashion, concluding that said “vocal” style so described was both pleasing and somehow elevated in value above the usual critique – at least, to his ears.

But, more to the intended point, that moment gave me further pause to consider. To what end do we recognize the distinction between both that which is flawless and that which is both worthy and beautiful?

Much like a white patch on a black cat, a well-placed mole can render a human face visually balanced and lovely; whereas, the bridge of a certain nose can interrupt the flow of an entire profile, tossing the whole impression into that familiar pile, the “plain” face.

Now, take the Creator. If God had wanted to reveal Omnipotence to the human race, might the Almighty have appeared in some daunting, looming, larger than life presentation, commanding our immediate subjection and pronouncing upon us, the created collective, one sweeping absolution?

And, how might we have responded?

Rather, the inconspicuous, messy fragility of childbirth, followed by growth to maturity – this manifestation coming upon the clear midnight with us almost entirely, save a handful of lowly onlookers, unawares.

How many of us have been, through the ages, then found to be drawn in by this, as if to a mystery, compelling our best intuitive, analytical and reactive efforts – and, our recognition?

That which is just beyond our reach and experience is ever of pre-eminent value.

Better to be persuaded to ponder perfection.





© 12/22/17  Ruth Ann Scanzillo      All rights those of the author, whose lowly name appears above this line. Be human, but good. There’s the challenge.




New York.

July 23, 2015  11:20pm

Just because you stay home doesn’t make you any less qualified to be alive.

I’m from a city that just barely made it to the big map. Bad council decisions, insular geography, what have you. The rest of the world moved on without it.

About twenty five years ago, my friend Sally found me a house here. She said it was the prettiest in town. More importantly, this one and a half story original from 1895 was located on a corner between two main arteries, a full ten minutes max from anything I needed or wanted to do. For $34,5. I grabbed it, and never looked back.

And, then I went back. To work.

Work. Studs Terkel had quite a bit to say about work. In fact, he wrote the book. And, Studs was from a county town only minutes from here.

Work, for me, would be the becoming. Being an artist, I set about to make a thing of beauty. First, I used materials. Later, I would use people. Children. Sometimes, losing sight of the fact that the materials in my works of art were living, breathing organisms with worthy needs and wants of their own. Young beings, fragile and sensitive. That was probably my biggest failing; I would wonder, to this day, if I’d ever hurt a child irrepairably in my determination to complete the masterpiece of my imagination.

But, no one could say that I hadn’t worked. And, the efforts made bore their own fruit.

We are all called upon, whether we hear the voice doing the calling or not, to make something of value out of our lives. Some of us are given more than one set of gifts, of a type easily identified by the masses. These are called Talents. Each are meant to be developed, and then expressed, in some meaningful form. Sometimes they come forth easily, finding their place with little effort; others take more care to refine. But, sooner or later, one born with talent is just going to be out there embodying the gift. There’s a certain inevitability to it all.

Others are given quieter functions. Curiosity. Compassion. Empathy. Nurture. These, too, are gifts. And, when all are presented to the greater society, everybody benefits. From every nook and cranny of the world, people who are actively contributing to truth, and beauty, and growth, are the lifeblood of the planet.

I’ve also been to New York – the center of the known universe. And, I know plenty of others who have. Some have even lived and worked there. And, the report from the front has not always glittered with gold.

Moving to the bigger city to seek one’s fortune has, historically, been the pattern of the emerging fledgling. Somewhere, somebody said that, the greater one’s inherent potential, the more important to place oneself in the midst of the most recognized centers of society.

This may have been truer when life was smaller, overall. When the perimeters could be more cleanly defined. When the goal could be more clearly visible, the horizon within view.

But, for every expectant bundle of energy that gets off the plane or the bus or the train, there is a lifetime of encroaching realization waiting at the station. A tiny apartment, on a dusty sidestreet. One precious collection of minor opportunities that somebody says will eventually grow into the bigger one. And, perhaps a decade or two of increasing isolation, anonymity, maybe even disappointment.

Mostly, those who become self sustaining in New York do so because they manage to find a smaller collective. A studio. A neighborhood. An extended family of others, who share their loves and propensities. You know. Like a small town.

Mary Engelbreit said: “Bloom where you’re planted.” Oh; maybe she wasn’t the first. But, she said the words out loud. And, then she repeated them, using pretty colors and shapes, until they were everywhere. Back in the 1980’s, Mary’s constitution of this meme had quietly found its place on the greeting card rack of life. Most never knew Mary. But, many lives would come to benefit from what she did.

Friday evening, I will be meeting a lovely young woman for, as they say, coffee. She’s in town for a few days, visiting family and friends, and we haven’t seen each other in over twenty years. But, back in the day, Charline was my student, and neither of us ever forgot the other. Like so many who are part of the thriving throng, she made a life for herself as a teacher in another small town, much as I had. This will be a good reunion, the best kind. We will celebrate the most important part: mutual human value.

We won’t be meeting at a cafe in Manhattan. We won’t have to. There will be no agents, eager for a piece of us. There’ll be no wannabes, seizing our favorite table. We’ll be attending Gallery Night at our local art museum, where just as many beautiful things and people can be found as any of their kind, anywhere. And, those who gather there will have every bit as much to offer the world as anybody else.

We’ll be thankful for our village, the place we call home. And, we’ll be fully qualified to say so.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  7/23/15    Thank you for reading. Sharing permissible by request.


The Importance of Being First (Take Two)

The First and Last.

Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all been both first and last. The first, or last in the check out line; the first, or last one chosen for the new product survey at the mall; in first, or last place in Monopoly; or, first or last to finish dessert. One ends up being last for a host of reasons, and first, either randomly or because, occasionally or persistently, one excels (at Monopoly).

Yes; way back in the ’60s, when all good music was live, I came of age. And, my embodiment seemed to be one of extremes: having never crawled like a “normal” baby, I could not seem to organize my arms and legs. So, in school recess, I learned early on how it felt to be the last one chosen – for kickball, for relays, for any team. Absolutely, dead last. In fact, not even actually chosen, I was simply the one left; any team whose captain didn’t select carefully was stuck with me, like a second, immature, flabby bladder budding from a blowfish.

But, as nature, ever equilibrious, would have it, and due to a certain cerebral bent and what my generation stubbornly called inherited “talent” I was also known, to an increasingly grating degree, to be somewhat of a first. My student profile dragged a moniker with it like a Hello! sticker at the annual sales convention. The smarty pants. The gifted girl. The weird, annoying child. I also hailed from a particular neighborhood in a small city, a verrry small pond where the gene pool was, shall we say, gracious. And, perhaps due to repeated experience with playground rejection, I found a private solace in finally being considered first choice – to play the piano, to draw the picture, to sing the song.

[*Important Aside: This is, by its nature, a sensitive topic. One calls to mind the blonde Brit who fancied herself so physically appealing so as to determine, in her own mind, the litany of reasons why her coworkers treated her badly. That story was rather sickening. Do not equate this halting attempt with anything addressed by her monstrosity.]

Over time, I grew not only familiar with being the first, but worse: to expect it. And, expecting to be first brings its own, strange burden. In fact, it becomes a real load.

For the past nearly thirty years, I have been fortunate to make my living, in part, as a professional musician. When orchestral instrumentalists convene, they create a room full of firsts. The energy, present in that isolated space, is tremendous. Nobody even gets a seat, in a professional ensemble, without proving mettle to a very high degree that is concurrently physical, mental and – often forgotten – emotional. And, those seats are a visible hierarchy: principal (first); second chair, third chair, etc. And, as we all know, human behavior can be curious. Taught by well meaning and often well cultivated parents to be polite, civil, interested in others, socially sophisticated…….the bee dance begins.

Nobody really knows how to act. Who is going to be supremely “first” in this room? To whom do we owe allegiance? And, where do we fall in the line-up? Most importantly, will we accept our position when our rank becomes clear? What if that with which we either expect or feel familiar is not our lot in the calculated draw?

And, why is this even a problem?

Well, and here’s the theory. Perhaps maintaining the status of being first actually becomes not merely an expectation but an emotional  n e e d. Yes; some no longer merely want to be, or expect to be. Some   n e e d    to be  – to feel stable, to feel whole. And, sometimes, individuals beset by this matrix of need present themselves in ways that leave an awful lot of chaff in their wake.

Now, this isn’t meant to be a treatise on self-importance (it works though, doesn’t it?). It’s simply about the learned belief that, if one does not come out “on top”, then something is inherently wrong – not with the system, but within the mind and heart of the one who has come to believe that, in every scene, there is always a first place to occupy.

There isn’t. And, dispensing with the notion can be life-altering.

Two years before attending my [first] Suzuki Summer Institute (Stevens Point, WI)  as a trained string player, I accepted my [first] music teaching job in, of all locations, the public school system wherein I was raised. The position as advertised was choral, but the district had, apparently, more pressing needs. In a rush of self-possessed confidence, I heard myself declare to the high school principal on the interview committee, in satin plaid skirt and white pumps: “Yes! I would love to teach marching band!

After all, my outstanding father, lead bugler for the 3rd Armored Division, 9th Field Artillery, US Army, had led his unit in a parade for the dignitaries. This had earned him the rank of Corporal. Surely, “daddy’s little girl” could follow in those footsteps. Ten hut. That’s all it took. Yes?


Enthusiasm for the shiny new job, and the fantasy of leading a parade, faded within a week. I learned so fast and so hard, there are no words to describe it. Yes; well, here are some: Teenagers; “F horns”; graduated bass drums and quad toms; flag-making( thank y.o.u., Mum); float-building; floppy graph paper drill designing; parent booster club organizing; and, that cultural phenomenon with which the film community has its own field day: “band.camp.” All for fifteen minutes of live music, performed seventeen times in nine and a half weeks. This, from a fledgling who never took so much as the weekend marching band mini-course in college. My students, who came from the most underprivileged sector in the entire county, had almost no background in holding their instruments correctly, let alone presenting themselves in front of a stadium full of football fans during half time.

The slog was first hot, then cold and long and wet, and it went on for weeks. Any notions of personal grandeur were soaked to the bone under pole lights and sleet. I was so terribly proud of my students, many of whom are my friends to this day, but the competitive marching band association in our region was ruthless and provided for them not so much as a wall plaque for Most Developed in the Shortest Amount of Time. We, according to everybody else but ourselves, came in profoundly, and completely, last.

Becoming a Suzuki-trained educator changed the whole scene.

Here, I was introduced to the concept that every child can not only learn, but excel. Imagine my amazement. Gone was the “best” in the room, and, with it, the expectation. Everywhere one turned, there were bests of every description — really young children, from all over the country, performing at a standard my generation used to call masterful. And, they were genuinely happy human beings. I was floored – and, subliminally, relieved.

Competition, for me as an artist, is a paradoxic state. In fact, in my heart, I do not even see it as a legitimate arena for art. Cinematic director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, in his acceptance speech at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, echoed my sentiments almost to the letter; if art, by its definition, is an expression of the soul’s experience, the mind’s eye, the heart’s beat, then placing oneself on a block in a formidable space and performing a work of art on demand against that of others’ offerings seems counter to its intuitive intent. The requirement can be alienating, distancing, interruptive, like blood flow stopping for a clot.

Nearly two decades ago, I inherited a position of leadership in an orchestra from a very gracious woman who had occupied her seat until an encroaching physical condition prohibited her from continuing. She was a lovely musician, and an even sweeter person. There was no competition for this chair; rather, I simply slid across to assume the position at her leave taking. To this day, I honor both the chair and the responsibilities required of it to the best of my ability. But, every so often, during a reprieve in our process, I look around and remember the days when hormones drove every decision, nigh every thought.  I recall how many times I wondered whether I truly made the cut, whether there was someone in the wings with an eye on my spot.

And, now, this. Over the past decade, reality television has provided for our culture a strange and riveting phenomenon: The Bachelor. Some twenty five eligibles appear in front of camera to vie for the prize – a future spouse. And, over several months of episodes, the world watches as the pack is narrowed down to one, final “rose” – the winner, the one deemed most adored by the prize waiting to be offered up.

Who will be first? Who will be last? Who decides? And, why? How important, pray tell, is isolating a “best one” in matters of the heart? in matters of anything, for God’s sake? How many more decades will our society persist in preening its feathers, ready to declare absolute preeminence?

I’m not sure I care to find out. The winter may end, after all. There is a garden waiting to be nourished and nurtured. Soon, there will be vibrant growth everywhere. Some blooms will be large, some small, but all will be beautiful. Every single flower, every ripe berry. The first one, all the way to the last.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/6/15  all rights reserved. Thank you for enduring.