Between the Desert Places (#290)
Autism Truth & Autism Fiction (#292)

Charlie Got Rice: Let Proust Eat His Madeleine (#291)

First, a fib for Charlie:

Want spring-rolls.
Bike ride, helmet on!
I count out Charlie's syllables.

[For more "fibs"--Fibonacci-based poetry (six line, 20 syllable long poems with the syllable pattern 1/1/2/3/5/8)--visit Gotta Book.]
The French novelist Marcel Proust in his novel Remembrance of Things Past famously wrote how the taste of a madeleine--a scallop-shaped spongelike cookie--on a winter day set off a stream of childhood memories of Sunday mornings at Combray with his aunt:

No sooner had the warm liquid [tea] mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, ......... -this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me.

That "extraordinary," "exquisite pleasure [that invades] the senses" is what I suspect Charlie feels steeped in when tasting the sweet-sour-stickiness of a piece of sushi or the easy blandness of white rice (his breakfast today); or (as he did tonight, with a rapturous smile), the soft-salty-spiciness of "brown noodles"---rice noodles with peanut sauce. Eating--as we all know--provides immediate, if fleeting, positive reinforcement.

But I wonder if the taste of sushi, brown noodles, soft white rice, and green apples does not say something more to Charlie. The taste of these foods and, by association (by metonymy), the very words--"soo-shee," "bwown noodohs," "g'een appo"--are strongly and simply connected to certain experiences, to (as Proust wrote) an essence that "was not in me it was me." Indeed, Charlie often says a favorite food--"sushi," "spring rolls"--when he is so visibily agitated enough that I run to get a pillow, just in case--as if to comfort himself at a time of stress, by talking about something evoking a more pleasant sensation.

I was reminded of Proust's madeleine late this afternoon. I had the day off due to it being Good Friday and--while Charlie did two ABA sessions with my parents here--took the train down to sit in the library where I spent many of my college days; where the books I used almost twenty years ago are on the same shelves. I bought a salad for lunch and, as I stood in line to pay, noted poppy-seed muffins in the display case--bought one--ate it and thought of Proust's madeleine, and how Charlie would probably ask for "bwown noodles" tonight, it being Friday.

I had been reading about ancient Greek tragedy, especially those by Sophocles--Oedipus Rex, the Bacchae, the Women of Trachis--and sketching out a study on "Tragedy (in the ancient Greek sense) and Disability" in my head. I read about how tragic heroes are fundamentally "bearers of contradiction" (like the paradoxes of autism) and about the "imperfective suffering" of mythological heroines like Hercules' wife Deianeira. I thought how Aristotle in his Poetics describes how the audience feels "pity and suffering" when watching singularly awful, violent events.

It is not uncommon to hear autism equated with tragedy, broadly defined as "disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life." I hope I have been able to make it clear that, while Jim and I are pained to witness Charlie's struggles (as at 6am this morning when he woke up banging his head against the wall), we also take more than joy in his ability to learn and grow and have the fine day he did today, donning his black "got rice?" t-shirt, plugging away at his reading and talking, going on walks in the rain showers with my parents, shopping at Target, playing games with me and listening to my mom read him Polar Bear Night, running to the noodles restaurant where Jim was waiting for us, requesting "I want see Goodnight Moon!".
Aristotle also writes about how the plot of a tragic drama involves a reversal or peripeteia , which is ancient Greek for a "walking around"--which is literally something Charlie does as he switches from one thing to another. And it is Charlie's reversals, from waking up with head-banging to smiling his way to sleep in his bed that are the stuff of Jim's and my witnessing, of learning and growing with Charlie in Autismland.

Charlie had a fine, fine day after a noisy start, and I sensed some "extraordinary thing...happening to me" just as Proust did on biting into his madeleine. Indeed, he can have his madeleine, his literary immortality, and Charlie?-------

Charlie, he's got rice.


Bronwyn G

I love this particular blog.

Thai Beef Salad is like Proust's madeline for me. In fact any salad has that effect, especially with oranges, which doesn't happen these days. Oranges remind me of childhood when everything was rich and solid. And rice crackers too.

Gregory K.

Wonderful writing here. I think the best part of this experience for me has been running into so many different and wonderful blogs, yours among them.

And thanks for Fibbing!

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