I remember when I first learned that writing could be a fancy way of lying. I was in the third grade, and my classmates and I were given the assignment to “write and illustrate your favorite dream”. Lest the theoretical creativity of this assignment garner it any admiration, I should add that these written and illustrated dreams were assigned for the purpose of being raffled off en masse at a parent auction.
My elementary school had hit upon the brilliant discovery that they could force parents to bid for their own children’s artwork. No matter that Junior could produce an almost identical finger-painting at home at the kitchen table. The one he had produced in the fifteen minutes between Snack and Music periods was on the auction block, and for a school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, this meant that the bids flew fast and furious. The catch was that the work was offered only as part of an entire class’s ‘collection’. This meant that if you wanted to bring home your child’s sloppy, haphazard modeling-clay elephant, not only did you have to bid for it as though you sat at the kiddie table at Sotheby’s, but you had to bring home twenty-five other modeling-clay circus animals produced with varying degrees of enthusiasm and talent, by classmates of varying degrees of familiarity and obscurity to you and your child. Who wants to be stuck with twenty-six modeling-clay circus animals, twenty-five of which are made by children in whom you are not responsible for recognizing budding genius?
In any event, my written and illustrated dream was due. I was eight. I didn’t have that many dreams that made sense. The ones I managed to remember were hazy, meaningless fragments involving eating breakfast, sticker collecting and the Babysitter’s Club. They were no help. I needed a dream, and fast. I could drag my feet no longer. Quickly I came up with a concept, which may or may not have been quite blatantly based on a book I liked at the time, “Black Beauty”.
“At night, when I go to Sleep, I dream that I ride a black Horse through the Woods,” I wrote painstakingly in pencil. “My Horse and I gallop together all night through the forest, and I am not afraid.” That was only two lines. I needed more. What else could I say about my fake dream to make it believable? “I love my black Horse,” I went on. “After I ride my Horse, she goes in her stable.” This was some fairly sophisticated horse knowledge here, and I was proud. After all, what did I know about horses? I was born and raised in New York City. The closest I had come to horseback riding was the carousel in Central Park.
I illustrated my falsehood. I spent a good part of my time drawing horses anyway, as an eight year old girl, so the illustrating part was criminally easy. At the end of the period, I wrote one last finishing touch. “Each morning when I wake up, I can’t wait to go back to sleep and dream of my black Horse again.” Although to the observer it read like an earnest and wistful phrase, for me, it was one last jab of insincerity at adults who would never know that I had completely put one over on them.
The truth, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was that it didn’t matter what I said. What adult was going to question the legitimacy of my dream—particularly given its innocuous subject matter? Besides, my teachers were busy coaxing twenty-five other illustrated dreams out of my classmates to pack up for that evening’s auction. My glib lie went unquestioned. And the lesson, that if you’re gutsy, you can create your own reality in words and make it believable to others, was a good one to learn.