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Commentary on "Twist and Shout" by Lowell Handler

Ljones's picture

At times Lowell Handler has been a pot head and a learner, a disruptive student and a teacher, a husband, a son, and a brother. He has traveled around the country, camping where ever he landed for the night, and he has worked closely with Dr. Oliver Sacks, publishing several pieces as both an author and a photographer. He also happens to have Tourette's, although it was not until he was much older that his wild movements and sudden outbursts were diagnosed.


Tourette's often comes with co-morbid conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and some learning disabilities. Lowell was both dyslexic and had ADD, making his early school life very difficult. He remembers uncontrollable urges to move, speak and touch things, fellow students poking fun at him, and doctors reassuring his family that "he'd grow out of it." This phase never ended, however, and after college he went in search of himself on the road. During his travels, which he continued on and off for most of his life, he was able to have a wealth of experiences, some of which he's chosen to chronicle in his autobiography, Twist and Shout.


Because of his dyslexia, writing has never been an easy task, and his ADD makes focusing on any one project a challenge, but taking pictures has always been something he was moved to do. This book is written in a series of photographs. Each chapter is a snapshot-a short story that he has attempted to describe in as much detail and vividness as he can muster in writing. Not only are there wonderful pictures that he's taken throughout the book to accompany his writing, they are placed there at a slant, as if it were a scrapbook. Although, unlike a scrapbook, often times the stories do not appear chronologically. They do seem to have an intuitive growth to them of some sort, but it is not the order that one would expect. By learning about his life, through the prism of Tourette's, these kinds of oddities almost seem necessary for us to learn about his life on his level-his ADD and dyslexia make it difficult for him to write, but writing about specific instances in time was possible, and the messy order of the stories seems to fling the reader about his life in much the same way that he has been forced to move and speak throughout it.


He begins the book with several stories about his childhood, which seems to have been difficult despite having a wonderful, loving and supportive family. He writes about being in his crib, making "unbabylike sounds: shouts, grunts, and hiccuplike noises." And then quickly switches to his years in school, describing how both his learning disabilities and his Tourette's effected how people perceived him. All of this is written in italics, as if setting the stage for the rest of the book to come.


He jumps into the bulk of the book at the age of twenty-one, when he got into an old Saab and left his family to go traveling around the country. His first two chapters talk about this traveling, then his third chapter goes back to his family and when he got diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome. The rest of it contains stories about his brother getting Leukemia, and how the family dealt with his sickness and his recovery, more of Lowell's travels, several romantic endeavors, including his marriage and subsequent divorce, his work with Oliver Sacks and his participation in the movie Twist and Shout, about the life of people with Tourette's syndrome.


Each of these stories is seen as he saw it-through the eyes of someone with Tourette's. He talks about his tics as they felt for him and explains them mostly after the story, because for him they are not a part of the story. Several times, he chronicles several pages and then says something along the lines of "during therapy sessions my symptoms were visibly worse. I was a constant tornado of tics, kicking, shouting, and extending my arms into everyone's faces. I was distracting and upsetting." By removing most of the tics from the actual story, the reader is forced to go back through what he has related in their head, and add in all of the tics that must have been there to begin with.


Lowell struggles at the end of the book with Tourettic culture, and whether or not he is "normal." His last chapter is titled "Crazy and Proud" and he starts it with: "In thinking about human ‘difference,' I realize that I am not unique." He comes to the conclusion that tolerance and acceptance are the most important states of mind because "what stands in highest relief are not the specifics of our differences, but the experience of companionship where we connect."



Handler, Lowell. Twitch and Shout : A Touretter's Tale. New York: Penguin Group (Canada), 1998.


Paul Grobstein's picture

Tourette's, uniqueness, and ....

Maybe everyone is actually "unique" ("The more I learn, the more I realize more and more that how I think and feel is different" ... Temple Grandin) with "tolerance and acceptance" being the requirement for companionship for everyone?