Tag Archives: talent

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 Gift.

In the childhood of my generation, the word “talent” was common. A label, those who wore it seen as having been born that way, and what would later be described by the community of faith as a “gift.”

But, what of such a gift? Can I tell you?

In the spring of 1982, I took a job as a third shift waitress in a Greek dinor. In that restaurant, nobody sought talent. What was expected was skill, a product of presence of mind. The application of effort to the task at hand. And, presence of mind seemed to me to be that most elusive of traits, the mother of common sense.

Presence of mind meant that you would think only about that which was right before you in the literal world, the job to be done. And, common sense was its essential and automatic recognition.

And, so I had neither. For the first time in my life, I had willingly placed myself in an environment within which I could not function, let alone conquer. Having come to believe at the tender age of thirteen that fame meant nothing, and power meant friends, I also saw that friends brought power, I had few, and power was everything. And, here, I had no power at all.

Oh; I was twenty five years old now. Perhaps this is significant.

Yet, here we were, in a room full of people prepared to take everybody at face value. And, I was a disaster. I couldn’t pour coffee; I couldn’t make change; and, worse, I couldn’t remember how to do anything despite being given instruction by somebody who dropped the “g’s” from every active verb. I was “Vera”; I had to learn this craft.

Talent had been my identity. I “could do” things that mystified others. From childhood, from the earliest coordination of crayon to thumb and forefinger, images emerged on paper that bore their recognizable likenesses. I was at a loss to explain it. Later, years later, I would be at equal loss to defend it.

A waitress in a dinor was incognito. A table-server could hide – behind a polyester uniform, and a name tag that looked like everybody else’s. And, a good waitress could remember, and retrieve, and assess, and react, and do all of those things in constant physical motion. This wasn’t art; this was something else. Nope; not talent, as I knew it.

American society having been founded upon common sense, and through the presence of mind of its revolutionary survivors alone, it stood to reason (if nothing else) that artists and notions of talent were to be relegated to the recessive gene pool. [ see: Hitler and the extermination of Jewish artists.] And, said society gathered its own under the banner of practical, God-ordained common wisdoms. Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian; yet, among American statesmen, he marched right along with the parade of saints. Saints, who bowed at the altar of industry and hard work, both hands to the plow.

America’s athletes have been displacing its artists for decades, establishing a status in the eyes of the masses equal to that of the shamans and mystics of the East to their own people. Michael Jordan — who was he? Was he a “talent”? He appeared to have a natural, effortless ability to “do” in a distinctive, unparalleled style and at a consistently superior rate. But, Michael Jordan had rickets,and stayed after school in junior high every night to shoot a basketball into a hoop until he could do so every time. And, because he was the only boy who did, he became: Michael Jordan, an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind professional.


If talent manifests as an effortless ability, many are alienated; if the result of effort, people respond with admiration. In early childhood, traits which distinguish one child from the group disconnect him or her from the greater society. Children with like distinguishing traits (or, like observable traits) learn that a group formed of their own kind must follow certain rules: each member must compete against the others for supremacy, to bear the banner of highest standard.

But, inborn traits are beyond the vessel which contains them. When the vessel is expected to prove its worthiness as a carrier, that vessel needs fortification to avoid springing a weak leak. Whence does this come? Love, acceptance, identification, bond….the requirements of the sustenance of life. And, how will such a child find them? How will he or she attract these if the requirement to prove inherent worth as the vessel is constant? And, if he finds them, how will he avail of their nourishment without sacrificing at the altar of social commodity?

Children born with outstanding traits learn to expect to be exploited. Their world is a small, exclusive stage, set apart from the larger social forum. As they move through the spheres of life, they do not need to be taught the meaning of commodity.

My grandmother, born in 1890, was, as a child, not regarded by any who knew her as a person of talent. She was neither a singer, nor a dancer, nor actress, nor painter, nor poet, nor a skater, a skiier, or gymnast. She learned to cook, as second maid to a wealthy Eastern Pennsylvania family, and cultivated flowers and vegetables that rivaled the Secret Garden. She opened her home to her extensive family and friends, gathering them all around her dinner table. She learned to sew, making clothes and draperies and, together with her husband, braided rugs and home made bread for all who knew her. She wrote letters to hundreds of loved ones throughout her entire life, and sat in her rocking chair praying for each one. Hers was a spiritual faith, not bound by the expectations, conventions, or systems imposed by the theater of human behavior.

Contemporary American society persists in making its own monsters. It exalts itself, represses its most treasured, and takes its own prisoners. Learned, or inborn, on the world stage Americans are its most talented actors. If, by life’s end, there is a glimmer of good to be had, may all the best gifts manifest in us all.




© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

circa 1997/revised 1/7/15

all rights reserved. Thank you so much.