The daydreams that nourish us. The fantasies that the mirror never sees. The once-upon-a-time tales in which we wrap our illusions. These are our Fictionaries.

Most Americans, for example, see themselves and their nation as compassionate, heroic, trustworthy. Consider these words:

"Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against thirty-three women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing traffic'. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women."

Abu Ghraib in 2003?

No. A "Night of Terror" at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia in 1917. The prisoners' crime: picketing President Woodrow Wilson for the right of women to vote.. Some photographs of the era, although not of the mistreatment, can be seen at HBO films. (Click on Iron Jawed Angels).

A truly American Fictionary comes cloaked in phrases like "Mission Accomplished", "$4.00 gas? I hadn't heard of it", and "The Surge is a success". Four thousand dead American soldiers, nearly twelve thousand Iraqi soldiers being treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, uncounted Iraqi citizens perished - these are the acknowledged figures we have been force-fed, their lives reduced to black dots on an animated map. The official Fictionary doesn't begin to describe the true casualties. Here, in the final words sent home by a teen-age paratrooper, is the essence of the conflict. (Note: he was killed shortly afterward. In fact, more American men and women were killed in Iraq during 2007 than in any other year of the war.)

The current government conspiracy of secrecy is based on a reality that is predigested, vetted, and only then reported. Do you remember Jeff, the fake newsman embedded into the White House press corps? His real name is James D. Guckert, and according to the New York Times, the news he broadcast often came from the official statements of the GOP National Committee and/or press releases from the White House. In fact, Frank Rich tells us, Jeff "was representing a phony media company that doesn't really have any such thing as circulation or readership".

The ideal female is another Fictionary that women worldwide, not just in the USA, have bought into. The Twiggy tale has already trapped too many females into anorexia and/or bulimia. But the opposite can be just as deadly. In Mauritania there is poetry passed down through the centuries that celebrates overweight women. Even at the age of five, some girls were force-fed high calorie diets to produce the much-admired stretch marks on their upper arms. If a girl rebelled, the village authority "might squeeze her foot between sticks, pull her ear, pinch her inner thigh, bend her finger backward, or force her to drink her own vomit." The treatment was known as "gavage" and sometimes resulted in death. It still seems to persist in remote areas. Even where it appears to be in decline, girls are taking pills, including a prescription steroid hormone called dixamethasone, to achieve the look that the men desire.

Fictionaries can also be benign. A young college dropout named Peter Lynds has shaken the world of physics by refuting 2500 years of accepted wisdom about time and motion. In Lynds' words, "There isn't a precise instant underlying an object's motion. And as its position is constantly changing, and as such never determined, it also doesn't have a determined position at any time". Some thinkers compare him to Albert Einstein. Others find him ludicrous. But at the very least he has forced physicists to re-examine their assumptions and re-think their certainties.

My personal Fictionaries lie in my art. They keep me sane, and hold the world and its madness at bay. see

What are yours?

c. Corinne Whitaker 2008