Tag Archives: inspiration


Brilliant – n. Very bright. Glittering. Striking, distinctive. Distinguished by unusual mental keenness.

British :  very good :  excellent

My big brother was the genius.

So said all the definitive tests, administered on or about 1959.

He scored in the range that set him apart, statistically speaking, from the bottom 99.8 %, in mathematical conceptualizing, computation, and application; language identification and application; spacial relations; and, whatever else deemed worthy of exaltation by our society at the time. I can’t remember. I wasn’t there. I was teething.

Somebody told him his exact test score, in fact, a teacher at the high school. In front of everybody else in the class, it was all kinds of drama. “Scanzillo!  With an IQ of blahblah, you should be ……”

And, eventually, he did.


What was expected, of an IQ.

Of blahblah.

It was quite the affair.

He raised hamsters in the basement, and sold them, and set up a hand made sign out front to advertize them, rigging an alarm with string and a buzzer to prevent the sign from being stolen. Playing piano and trombone, he led a big band which he’d organized that rehearsed in the basement, next to the hamsters. Then, he went to college, for pre-med, and raised guinea pigs by the dozens, dissecting them in a make shift lab ( in the basement ) using mum’s baking pans and canning jars. He drove all the way to Seattle and took to the hills, selling dictionaries door to door to pay for college. After college, he taught high school chemistry, and then worked in a paper mill developing paper coatings out of dyes and other chemicals. He taught himself how to build whole houses, constructing every home he and his wife ever shared. Then, he went to Cleveland, and finished his PhD in chemistry, and became the local diagnostic lab director. With his second wife and children, he moved all across the country, directing labs, serving in court as expert witness, building and selling homes, and becoming a nationally recognized consultant. He led a highly regarded life.

Last week, he retired.

I inherited the basement. By default, it became my bedroom/in house apartment, after mum’s Uncle Ewart, for whom the space had been filled and decorated, chose to reject it on the basis of rising damp. Cluttered with acquired objects, my clothing, drawings and, mostly, my own personal chaos, after graduating from college myself I would sleep down there, all day, for weeks, immobilized by anonymity and a sense of pre-destined defeat.

In America, we are really good at celebrating ambition. We reward acquisition and accomplishment. We revere, and fear, those who have established power to limit our options.

And, we are also hasty to ascribe qualitative labels to those who excel, according to their predicted likelihood. We call them “brilliant”. And, the results of their efforts we call “phenomenal”, as if we are continually surprised that a human can do anything at all.

Except that there are seven billion of us, strong. Swarming. Churning. Heaving, and careening around the planet. And, these brilliant phenomenals hover over our heads, like pressure systems teasing the barometer, testing the mettle of all humanity, setting the bar and then swiping it away just as we extend our reach.

Is it any wonder, then, that popular culture is born. And, then marketed. And promoted. And, celebrated.

A weird sort of backlash, to appease the masses? A grande comfort zone for the mediocre?

Whole tribes, doing what is popular. Until a majority of humans in America no longer care about producing anything without duplication, let alone effort. An entire people, out of touch with their own capacity for birthing beauty or truth.

This past week, I had a life changing experience. I learned to meditate. Actually, the sectarian brethren had  exposed me to such practice from shortly after birth, but never as focused or directed activity. From childhood, I’d only known that meditation was reserved for thoughts of Christ carrying his cross and then hanging from it.

But, this meditation put me in touch with all that I saw within me – thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions….propensities.

And, this led to the inevitable confrontation. With self.

Who was I, really, and of what was I made? What was the full range of my capacities, and how did I regard my potential role in the scheme of life?

And, I was not alone. Seated around me were several, mostly women, from all parts of north America and beyond. And, among us, we shared one thing: a love for music.

Some of us were already regarded by others as “accomplished musicians.” Others of us were awaiting such recognition, or not seeking any. But, we all shared this: we were all about to become wholly ignited by our own, natural illumination.

By the time we closed our week together, most of us were born anew. There was no altar call, no postlude, no public declaration of intent. Our birth took place in the most profound silence, because the shells holding us in were so thin and unimportant that they merely fell away as we emerged.

The light, however, was all encompassing. No angels; no demons. No hamsters, or dictionaries. No highest scores, or notions of superiority. Just humans, with hearts, baring and then carrying souls, and presenting spirits ready to burst forth with singular and magnificent brilliance.




*This piece dedicated to Madeline Bruser, “The Art of Practicing”, and inspired by our Mary Duncan.

© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   8/2/15   All rights reserved.  Sharing permitted, upon request, and with kind and appropriate reference to the author. Thank you.



Bare-Naked Ants.

The carpenter ants tried, again, this year to take up residence in my house. This time, they entered through the bathtub – or, more specifically, the slit where the grout used to be. Each scout would spontaneously appear, fatter and bolder than the last, only to be crushed by my jaded and insensitive stomp.

But, maybe because of the heightened awareness that often accompanies intense concentration, or merely the singular vantage point the toilet posed, from my seat on the “throne” over this miniature kingdom I would witness a small phenomenon.

Expecting the shower to have cleansed the tub floor of my latest victims, I was not prepared for the sight on one particularly-sunny mid-morning. Gazing over the porcelain precipice at what appeared to be not one, but two scouts, to my astonishment they appeared to have curiously mutated. As I peered down at their elongated asymmetry, I discovered to my greater amazement that they were both carrying something. Known to be burden-bearing insects, what these latest emissaries had found was not a precious morsel of toe-jam to hoist but, rather, the very carcasses of their carpenter counterparts. Yes; they were bearing their dead, and traveling at quite a pace.

Momentarily distracted by the bizarre sight of them I did not note right away that, though they were moving fast, these ants seemed to have no clear destination. The slit where the grout used to be was all the way at the other end of the tub, and nothing they did put them anywhere near the map; rather, these pallbearers appeared to be following an erratic pattern, a ritual of panic.

What happened next is less important. The purpose of telling this story is not to disclose the author’s primitive inclinations regarding the efficient disposal of pesky pests, living or dead, but to take the lesson they were there to teach. And, it is this:  do we sometimes run figure-eights across strange terrain, carrying our dead, hoping some primal instinct will lead us to resolution – or, is there another way for us to honor our humanity without severing the bond we will always share with those whom we love?

The world of earth’s creatures is, while highly organized, intensely vulnerable, exposed, transparent; we humans, whether by contrast or design, spend long hours weaving intricate disguises intended to protect our need to hold on. In so doing, we mask, some more unsuccessfully than others, our pain, our loss, our grief. And, those of us who are least successful can be seen, marked by our gait, as we travel that unmarked path across time, wearing the banner that bares all.




© ruth a. scanzillo 8/19/12

all rights reserved. Thank you.