The autistic girl I accompanied on Wednesday plays cello in her school orchestra, and for 90 minutes I sat in the middle of a string section rehearsal, surrounded by a Beethoven concerto and a swing piece titled “Levitation.” The start-and-stop nature of rehearsals can be frustrating for a listener but the sensation of being surrounded by music and the enthusiasm of young musicians was more than compensation. Not unusually for a kid with autism, my charge is by nature solitary and inward, inhabiting an autonomous region. Being one cellist in the midst of 20string players and a teacher/conductor will never be her natural state. When not playing she rocked and quietly hummed, rather like Glenn Gould, and she was undeniably happy.
On Thursday, after sitting through video documentaries on President Kennedy’s assassination and the Taliban (shown in lieu of get-off-your-ass teaching), I accompanied an autistic boy to his stained-glass class. I had never heard him speak. His file assured me he was physically capable of speech but his shy, uncomprehending muteness was never in my presence broken with words – until we went to work on his stained-glass window. This is a craft I know nothing about but within minutes, together, we were cutting glass, lead and zinc, and soldering the whole mess together. This kid has no observable artistic gifts. Every line is crooked, every solder a puddle, but he was talking, laughing and strutting. He wanted to take it home, unfinished, to his mother. His body and voice crackled with the opposite of boredom, the narcoleptic state of his non-autistic classmates.
I associate chronic boredom with narcissism, ingratitude and poverty of imagination. The world is dense with boring people and situations but seldom – not even during the hundreds of public meetings I covered as a newspaper reporter – have I felt obliged to be bored. Frank Wilson made this distinction in his column this week:
“Boredom inheres in the person who is bored, not in others or things or circumstances. It is not boring. You are bored.”
Reading, musing and watching fellow humans, not to mention more rigorous pursuits, are mine when I want them. Creation is bottomless mystery. In my favorite among his hundreds of essays and columns, Theodore Dalrymple writes:
“…a man who came to interview me for a publication the other day pointed out that I was never bored. I hadn’t thought of that before, but it’s true: I’m never bored. I’m appalled, horrified, angered, but never bored. The world appears to me so infinite in its variety that many lifetimes could not exhaust its interest. So long as you can still be surprised, you have something to be thankful for (that is one of the reasons why the false knowingness of street credibility is so destructive of true happiness).”
On the radio, on the way home from school, I heard Louis Armstrong sing “La Vie en Rose,” and I’d never before noticed how much he makes it sounds like “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”