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Dreams

I found myself in an Japanese-occupied 1940s American city. It was a setting akin to Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle, although in this dream the war was still ongoing.

I left our apartment to run errands. There was steel foundry nearby. I could see the showers of sparks as battleship armor was forged. Then in my hand I found my grandfather’s copy of Battle Stations, a book that, in our timeline, the U.S. Navy published to commemorate their victory.

What was I thinking? Why had I brought this outside? If anyone noticed I had such piece of American propaganda, it would mean arrest and execution for myself and my entire family. I tried not to panic and immediately turned toward home, praying no one would notice the title.

Our apartment was located in an immense skyscraper–so immense that there was time, during the elevator ride up, to show propaganda cartoons. The car I was in was filled with people, including several Japanese soldiers. Everyone was laughing at the cartoon, laughing at the ridiculous Yankees being defeated by the Emperor’s troops. One of the soldier was standing right next to my hand holding the book. Would he happen to look down? Would he notice this criminal piece of subversive literature?

I held my breath and counted the floors until I could get out…

Last night I dreamed of an Armenian-American woman of the early 20th century. She was in her early Thirties. She was angry. She was angry because her ex-husband had just died and left her millions of dollars.

An odd reason to be angry? But you must understand: she had left her ex-husband, who was a nationalist leader in the American and global Armenian diasporic communities, because he was controlling, abusive, and philandering. At some point she grasped he had groomed her from a young age to be both a leader in the cause and his wife, and became disillusioned with both his cause and him.

Now he had bequeathed all the millions he had raised from Armenians worldwide to her personally. Not as an institution–as an individual. She could either take the money as her personal fortune and use it selfishly, or she could use it for the intended purposes. She could not bring herself to do the former and she knew he knew she couldn’t. From the grave he dragged her back to the Armenian cause and chained her to it. She was furious.

And she took it out on her new lover, Harrison Ford. Or an early-20th-century Armenian-American man who looked like Harrison Ford, let’s say.

Then the dream skipped to her late ex-husband’s battles in World War I. He had raised an Armenian-American unit and led it against the Turks. The scenes were anachronistic–the Turks were using arrows. But then the dream shifted to a World-War-I-era film style, sepia and flickering, showing the unit’s victory parade into Paris. Except they showed up in their gas masks, to the horror and confusion of those lining the streets–until they whipped off their masks to reveal it was the brave Armenians all along! Then everyone laughed and cheered.

(That was all. Dreams don’t usually provide coherent narratives. There was no end. I like to think The Angry Woman took up the mantle of Armenian leadership, but in ways her late ex-husband did not foresee and would have strongly disapproved.)

I have visited several libraries while asleep.

An academic library, a tall reading room faced with granite, lined with wooden shelves surrounding dozens of blonde wood reading tables, matching chairs, all occupied by students mumbling like monks. Tall windows flood the place with light. In the corner stands an octagonal circulation desk, busy, above which a spiral staircase leads to unseen galleries.

An urban library, housed in a Brutalist concrete skyscraper, the narrow windows set back in bays like arrow loops. A dingy elevator opens onto the fluorescent-lit seventeenth floor, home to beige stacks of the middle LC letters, crowded with people of every variety pursuing their passions, investigating, creating, learning.

A municipal library in a cavernous basement, sheet metal shelves far above eye level. To access the topmost books, one must wheel over a flimsy staircase and stand tiptoe on the uppermost rung, reaching heavenward with fingertips for the prize, risking losing balance and toppling to smash one’s face open on the footworn stone.

All these places and more—second-hand bookstores with piles of wooden crates, rummage sales with tables of paperbacks, rows and stacks and piles of broken cellophane dust jackets, half-cracked spines and rounded corners, the musty irreproducible smell of old books. Each one bearing potential, a hope of knowledge or insight or that cryptozoological thing called wisdom.