[entry of Amir Hosein Zargham (Iran) to the first annual “Sunny Dragon” International Graphic Humor Festival, Yerevan.(Silver Medal: Dana Walrath)]
Speech Therapy A 50 minute session with 3 mute, rambunctious boys with autism on the cusp of verbal expression has just begun. The therapists must have quicker reflexes than we comfortable consultants, and live by their wits to gather the errant winds, like Aeolus and his zephyrs. They emphatically praise small accomplishments.
“Abrees.” They gesture, double-team, divide, run picks on the boys’ fleeing attention. Drumming, flapping, hooming, tooth-grinding. Will they join, share a rule, an idea? Arshad seems closest, renders a single reciprocal gesture. This is what Rolfing for the social mind looks like: tenaciously shepherding tempers, patiently corralling impulses, abiding protest dances, and the students’ persistent refrain: the look away.
How many times have we seen Merrill Streep do that look away, in her eloquent way, when she is momentarily pierced by some insight? Even Sean Connery can be caught looking away in visual defense. The habit starts early: 6 month olds use gaze shift to cope with novelty or frustration, to prevent the breakdown. Then the good parent gently guides their attention back–look, you can manage this.
Walking to work The drivers can see me-they’re braking for me since I’m in the faded yellow bars of the crosswalk. While I search the tinted windows for eye contact–to make sure–the old woman gathers her gravity and launches herself, head down, breaking a way for me across the busy lanes of Komitas Avenue. She seems to be following Brazelton, the famous pediatrician, who advised trainees not to make eye contact with the toddler as he approaches, lest you annoy him. I wave redundantly at the cars as they bunch up along our walkspace- “I’m going this way.” Duh.
Come November-time, volleys of healthy, staring boys and girls arrive at my pediatric neurology office. The problem: repeatedly snared in a look away, returning with a “huh?” The causes range from video game burnout to sleep apnea to prior trauma. Just a few have petit mal epilepsy. For the rest, I re-frame the problem–this is not neurological. The lyric “Look away,” in the song Dixie, is in fact an instruction to look towards something that is far away–“looky here,” “looky way,” as they say. (Ironically, the song may actually have been taught by an African American family to a white minstrel in blackface). (Pardon my distraction).
At 30 minutes, Arshad’s hands have intensified their whirring. He receives the continuing word introductions with roving hand claps, air kicks and broadside thigh swats. “Vertch!”–that’s enough! Then a soothing song, ‘lorry, lorry,’ a moment of consensus, hands join around the table.
Edgar; at first he retreats under the table, re-surfacing to re-engage with the clever wooden toys made by Rach, the carpenter downstairs. Gradually, his body language shows acceptance of the words repeatedly launched towards him. He takes possession of a patience, a social kind of goodness.
Listen to: Look Away
Closing A circle, mutual stomps, and song; now Hovaness is in the middle; he has come a long way towards calming with the group, and now clearly enjoys his turn as the Sun in the circle dance. A light of satisfaction, of competence, shines on his smiling face as he gazes upon his friends.