Friday, May 20, 2011

The Temporal Liberation Army

A few weeks into the first semester at Santa Cruz, the dorms lost power for a few hours during the middle of the night. The power-outage didn't cause any serious damage, but it screwed up everyone's alarm clocks -- so people slept in and missed breakfast (or lunch in some cases) and others were late or missed class that day.

That evening at dinner in the dining hall, Major Tom scrambled onto one of the round tables and announced that The Temporal Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the blackout as part of its fight against the tyranny of linear time. He then read their manifesto. Tom made a rather striking figure. Six foot something, the hair that he hadn't cut through his four years at Berkley High ran down the back of his green army officer's jacket. Obviously this was someone I would have to get to know.

Although the hair and the Berkley origins might given Tom the initial aspect of a hippie, that was only the result of laziness and not ideological affinity. He was much more a David Bowie style new waver, hence the Major Tom.

But as far as linear time, UC Santa Cruz as a liberated zone. It really was an island in time.
The town itself seemed stuck in the late 60s and most of the students had Summer of Love envy. While at other schools the logical progression through your studies puts you on a path out through the working world, UCSC does not provide that forward momentum or even linear path.

I, for instance, added majors until my student aid ran out. The humor magazine I'd help found, the Pigsty ran a classified ad my last Semester: "Graduating Senior will swap transcripts with any Junior or Sophomore. Contact Roger."

At Santa Cruz, I learned that time itself is a construct. The concept bears an almost mathematical relationship to a culture's God concept. For Monotheists, time is linear. Time begins with God's creation of the world and proceeds in a straight -- perhaps predetermined -- line to the ending event like the second coming. But for Polytheists, the interaction of the many gods creates circular time. In Hinduism for instance, the Gods of creation, preservation and destruction in rotation that creates the circle. And the Dualist Zoroastrians believed in a linear time imbedded in eternality.

Perhaps the Zoroastrians come closest to Santa Cruz -- but there it seems we had eternality imbedded within linear time (at least for as long as we could ignore looming gradation).

Later I would know other kinds of time. The election cycles and quarterly results. The most disconcerting and disorienting time experience is as a parent of a disabled child. While the rest of the world is moving forward and even his sister is progressing as we all expect a child is not. He is not and worry is that he will never. Yet he is not totally frozen in time either -- so I am hefting a normal sized thirteen year old, clearly going through those thirteen year old changes and becoming more interested in the TV programs with the cute teenage girls -- onto the changing table to change his diaper. And you worry about ten or twenty years down the road.

So that is why my happiest dreams are about being back in Santa Cruz, an island of time, with all thoughts of the future suppressed.


  1. Roger, you got some of this wrong. It was a Sunday afternoon that the power went out. Tom and Tom's roommate, John the roommate the first, and I had gone caving that day, and we returned to find everyone a bit uncertain about the time — especially the essential question of when dinner would be served. Tom wrote the TLA statement with our input, intending to post it somewhere, but I delivered it in the dining hall(Tom being far too shy for such things and me being, well, me), standing on top of a table wearing a military jacket of Tom's and the button-down cap I always wore back then. BTW, the far less successful follow-up a week or so later was a announcement for a glacier alert, encouraging everyone to move very very slowly to safety under their chairs.

  2. The power also went out at College Five early 1979; a group of us were in a B-dorm lounge, playing cards; the lights went out, and after what seemed like only ten seconds, FIREWORKS started flying out of multiple dorm windows. I was a freshman in shock and awe... I felt the entire college was saying, yes, you belong here, on this day, your birthday.