Friday, May 15, 2015

Dreams and Lies

I read a couple of years ago that sleep cleans out the brain in a very literal way, that fluid circulates measurably while we sleep and drains off, almost like the rinse cycle in a dishwasher. The NIH study used sleeping mice. Your tax dollars at work.

The researchers reported that the process clears away brain toxins, but I’m thinking it scrubs the brain of memories and thoughts and serves them up to us as dreams. How else to account for the dreams I’ve been having lately about being back in school? Or the dreams about my father and sister? Mysterious fluid has brought them alive again from the remoter parts of memory. Odd that I never dream of food, which is what consumes most of my waking attention. I wonder what the mice dreamt of.

I was moved to think about these things by Annamaria’s piece about novelists and pathological liars. Stories, after all, are made of dreams and lies.

I remember clearly the first lie I ever told. My kindergarten teacher, Sister Heinrich Himmler (or whatever her name was), sent me upstairs to see the nun who was the school principal, to confess some misdeed or other. When I got out of the classroom into the hall I noticed that there were pillars in the hall wider than I was. I could stand behind one of them for as long as it might take to go upstairs, be punished, and come back down again. Brilliant! I stood behind the pillar, counting to five hundred. Then I went back into the classroom.

“Well, Katie? Did you go and see Sister Misericordia?”

“Yes, Sister.” As children we believed that if you tell a lie, you can’t help laughing. And yet I found myself able to lie to this nun with a perfectly straight face. Not even the twitch of a lip. The ploy succeeded. I returned to my seat in triumph, a successful liar.

I don’t remember any negative consequences from that episode, even though the two nuns must have got together and compared notes at some point. “What did you say to Katie this morning, Sister?” “Katie who?” It was true that Sister Heinrich cordially detested me, a feeling I returned in double measure. But why wouldn’t she? I was a Protestant, the only one in the class. “If you're good, children, you'll all go to Heaven, except for Katie here, who is not of our faith.”

I was a stranger among aliens, and now I was a liar. An ideal position for a novelist. All I needed were experience and dreams. In my my school dreams nowadays I never dream of St. Patrick's, though, or of the nuns. My school dreams involve finding my way back to high school with my sister. Waiting for my father to drive us to school until we’re terribly late. Not knowing where my classroom is. Having no homework done.

The only dream I have of being a child in Woodbury is the one where I’m running through the back yards of Woodland Avenue pursued by faceless bad guys. Back then there were no bad guys pursuing little children, not like now. The worst thing that could happen to a kindergartener running through back yards was to step in dog dirt. I feel that there is some connection to make between writing novels and dog dirt, but I can’t quite formulate the thought. Night fluids must have scrubbed it out of my brain.

© 2015 Kate Gallison


  1. I worked at an Episcopalian prep school in Wisc. for several years where two of the nuns looked just like your Sr. H.H.! tjs

  2. "I was a stranger among aliens, and now I was a liar. An ideal position for a novelist."

    Sums it up perfectly.