Tag Archives: motivation


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.


To Write.

Right now, I just can’t write a thing.

Confined. To a space, 12′ x 12′, no front door key with which to escape, cordoned off by plastic sheeting, the newly sanded hardwood flooring setting a first stain, I have been typing virtually all day.

Indeed, typing, back and forth, to get replacement musicians for a wedding in July whose hires bailed on me, yes; tapping the keys to search out music stalled in transit, only to discover that scheduling prevents going forward with its recital gig after all; and, stuffing myself with way more curried chicken and rice than Michael Jordan would ever eat in a lifetime, let alone a single meal, that from Golden Wok delivery, on account of the gas stove burners emitting a curious, kerosene-like odor upon ignition the cause of which none of the flooring crew acknowledges.

Yes; one can type ad nauseum, on auto-brain. But, write?


Writing requires a fairly empty stomach. An alpha wave, or several, coursing through. A certain position of the sun in the firmament, either just ascending or peaking, but probably not waning, at least for starters; once off and running, so to speak, such conditions recede from all notice but, at the opening lines, yes; the prevailing atmosphere must provide a certain subconscious texture.

Threatening storm systems are ideal. Greying skies. Moisture at one’s fingertips. The security inducing, tall, north facing window panes, a bit of a rattle in their frames from the billowing wind – protective, yet inviting the subdued hues just beyond. But, so also the proverbial sunny day, though not without some brief liquid refreshment as prelude.

Munching works, but it must be dark peppermint chocolate or a fairly benign chip, not greasy or giving of crumbs. Just a little teaser.

The best stimulants, actually, are those which engage the body. Walking around the dining room table, grand bequeathment of one ex-mother in law who was sure every household needed one, in some kind of stepping plan, almost a dance, while the music plays; or, driving on the highway toward a single destination. Some mystery of physics playing with one’s head. Ideas feeding each other; entire stories unfold. Snatching the pen and the drive-thru receipt, scrawling without looking, elbowing the wheel, defying the state cops’ eyes peeled for cell phones, getting the seeds planted.

Yes, dear hearts. We write best then.

My dining room table is up on end now, hugging the overstuffed chair just behind the secretary and the stacked Pathfinders and Plato and the four matching chairs from Pistone’s that Tony Curtis said might be Portuguese; the vacuum cleaner-covering cozy, shaped like an angel in a calico dress, in front of the upright piano and the sofa bed and the shabby chic armoire from Big Flea that came from Thailand smelling like paint, all interred for three days in the tomb awaiting transfiguration.

The New Earth I’ll be calling my music room won’t have a table to circle any longer. A creme colored Steinway, orphaned by Rascal Flats and rescued from death row in Nashville, will soon occupy its very own throne. I’ll be riding that rocket ship into other dimensions before we know it.

The stove top fumes, according to John from National Fuel, are some synergy of natural gas and the polyurethane precipitating into the air surrounding everything. Time to haul out the ionizing air cleaning machines and pretend that they are sucking out the last of the poison. Enough Peppermint Patties might mask any ill effects, or at least any consciousness thereof.

But, meantime, no; won’t be writing tonight. Am a bit out of my element. Maybe this is what childbirth feels like, right before the water breaks. Or, death, right ahead of those final three catch breaths in the pocket of the throat. I’ll be waiting, somewhere between what might have been and what was for far too long, for that which is getting ready to greet me, right around the corner of the next turn of phrase.






© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

3/20/15  all writes reserved. Wink.


Feeling Like It.

A word to those of us who just don’t feel like it.

Human motivation. What a delicate, even fragile thing. We can all turn on a dime, can we not. Suppose we spent an entire lifetime just responding, to requests, prompts, instructions; would we come to the end of the day wondering why?

The growing-up Sundays in our house were always neatly set. By the end of the previous Sunday, we knew what we’d be doing Sunday coming. No point in planning, or leaving a moment to chance; Sunday was “the Lord’s Day”, and we’d be starting and ending the day “at meeting.”

Yea, verily; Worship, Sunday “school”, beef roast in the oven, the kitchen always a little sticky with humidity in a house built before central air…..a big, hot meal, maybe a book, a nap, and Gospel meeting by 7. No TV, because, well, there wasn’t one in our house ’til I was 17.

Saturdays, Fridays………everybody had their lives. And, everybody still does.

But, nowadays, it’s all about “options”. So many. Pick one. Or, pick two. Look at the clock. Can we get here, and then go over there before what is over there is already over?

We arrive. We do this, see that. We greet people, making hasty small talk because, well, there’s the other thing. Time to go. Time to arrive, and do it all again. It’s exhilarating. It’s a social life.

And, somebody said we need it.

As a very young child, I recall my older brother creating any number of events involving classmates and friends, both inside the house and out. Basketball in the driveway. Big band in the basement. There was always something to watch happening. And, I remember feeling like I should be there, so as not to “miss” anything. And, so I grew…..always needing to be included, so that, if something happened, I would get to be there. Clamoring, begging to be allowed to go, to see, to watch, to do.

But, there was also intense pleasure and satisfaction in solitude. Was this because everything else was always happening just beyond my reach? Yet, drawing pictures, or cutting out paper and textured objects and glueing them into things; singing, and listening to records; playing the piano……reading stories…..writing stories…..perhaps hours and hours would pass, and I would happily spend them. Nobody ever said:  “Why don’t you go outside and find something to do?” Not to me.

The kids my own age seemed to be outside. They seemed to be about doing things with each other, like riding bikes or playing games with balls. I remember the way my summer clothes felt against my skin while I watched them doing these things. I remember going to the beach, and making things out of sand with my little brother while the other kids went in the water. Being asked to “come out and play” was rare; often, I just didn’t feel like it.

When Dad wasn’t working, he’d be in and out, running short errands, or just sitting. He loved to sit and watch. On the porch. On a bench. On the davenport. Sometimes he’d sing to himself, or play his harmonica and bones. Mom never sat, unless she was at the sewing machine, which was much of the time. She rarely went out, unless we needed groceries or it was Sunday.

Now, we do one of two things. We spend time getting ready, and then we go. We see everybody. It’s a throng. We wriggle in and out, feeling the energy created by so much life. We squeeze into a seat. We eat a really good meal. We look at things. We spend a bit of money on something attractive. We leave. Or, we stay right where we are, and wait until the little voice tells us what we want to do today.

I only speak for myself. But, my offering of this moment goes out to each and every one of you who, in the face of overwhelming options, might need a gentle nudge: do what you feel like doing today.

I wonder what would change about life if we all waited, a few minutes each day, to hear that little voice – before responding to all our options. I wonder if we might feel serenely peaceful in our own company. I wonder if we might spend an entire day just enjoying: our. selves.


© ruth a.scanzillo


all rights, you know the tune.