I’m still staying with my mother in Prescott, Arizona. Yesterday I went to a combination bookstore/video-rental place where my brother and I rent DVDs whenever either of us is here. It’s a big place, about half books, half DVDs. I’d guess they have tens of thousands of DVDs for rent, just one copy of most of the titles, stacked on shelves like books in a library. Whenever I go in there my mind goes blank. I spent more than an hour reading titles yesterday, finally choosing four movies I hadn’t seen, not having much hope for any of them.

The first one I watched was Maze, which I chose because it stars Rob Morrow. I didn’t expect much from it—the only thing I’d read about it was a bit of Hollywood snark that labeled it a “vanity piece” because Morrow also co-wrote and co-directed it. It’s about an artist, Lyle Maze, who has learned to cope with a nearly-intolerable case of Tourette Syndrome and an associated obsessive compulsive disorder. Maze is neither helpless nor self-pitying—he’s professionally successful and respected. He has a couple of friends, but he’s written off the possibility of a relationship.

Rob Morrow nailed the role. I’m trying to be objective here—I like him—but I’ve seen a lot of the stuff he’s done and this is the best. You can tell he’s studied TS, and he doesn’t hold back when acting out the symptoms. Some scenes are hard to watch—particularly when he’s stressed, when walking down the street or making a phone call can be a nearly impossible task. The emotional effect is slightly mitigated by the knowledge that he chooses, on a day-to-day basis, to live with his symptoms rather than take medication that he fears will dull his mind and his art.

The movie has brought back some painful childhood memories that I haven’t thought about for decades. It’s something I never talk about--something long buried and forgotten: I had a tic disorder as a child. Tourette’s is on one extreme end of a spectrum of tic disorders; mine was closer to the other end, involving facial tics without any vocalization, but it was bad enough. My parents knew nothing of tic disorders or TS or any of the rest of it—they simply called it “nervous twitching.” Like Maze’s father, mine hated it and believed I could stop if I really tried. It would have been bad enough had I been a boy, but a girl! My father told me no boys would ever want to date me if I didn’t stop twitching. I “outgrew” it, although it would be more accurate to say that sometime during college I became able to control it. According to the Wikipedia article this is typical.

In both of the math departments in which I studied—undergraduate and graduate—there were professors who “twitched,” and I now believe mathematicians are prone to this and a mixed bag of other disorders. Based on my own experience, one doesn’t decide to become a mathematician: one is born with a mind that plays with numbers as toys during hours of boredom spent sitting in a first-grade classroom. Such a mind can be Rube Goldbergian and doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. In first and second grade I discovered simple rules of number theory and devised proofs. The rules were correct, the proofs valid. It was simple stuff, but I had only addition and subtraction to work with.

That was a digression—sorry. Obviously TS doesn’t only afflict mathematicians. I see from the Wikipedia article that many “notable individuals” in all walks of life have had it. Wikipedia says TS is inherited, but no one else in my family has ever had a tic disorder and my son never had one, so I dunno. Anyway, the movie is worth seeing.

August 2009

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