"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       

Back With the Future

June 23rd, 2012 by

Occasionally, I think about getting past some limitation of my existence. Because I am convinced of the power of the imagination, however, I rarely muse about money, as I fear it might lead me to a life of crime.

Instead, I follow the science fiction reading I did in high school and muse about traveling backwards in time. If it were possible to go back in time to change things so that the future might be altered in some agreeable way, what date would I find most worth traveling to?

This is the sci fi time travel story trope that has been exploited for its drama frequently enough in movies, from the Back to the Future films to perhaps most recently Men In Black III. It served up more than one plot for the Star Trek franchise.

I begin with this because I was reminded of it again this past week, when I had the pleasure of going on a trip up the west coast with my wife for our anniversary. First, after we returned, I almost wanted to travel back in time again to the beginning of the week so that I could do it all again.

We toured the Hearst Castle at San Simeon before going on to visit a few of the Missions established more than two hundred years ago by the Spanish missionary, Father Sierra. Our time was delightful and informative. The contrasts between the Hearst Castle and the missions were enlightening from every angle. Both were built from visions of improving on reality. The Hearst Castle itself taught a lesson in what wealth combined with a boy’s imagination could lead to. According to the film shown in the Visitor’s Center, William Randolph Hearst traveled through Europe with his teacher-mother for more than a year, and he brought back eclectic and varied images of old European art, bridges, bell towers, churches, and castles. These half-remembered images would burst forth from him in his late fifties as he began to plan his own castle on the hill on the Pacific coast of California.

One point brought out in both the tour and the film was the fact that Hearst invited important guests–celebrities, actors, comedians, politicians–to stay at his castle. One of these guests, it turns out, might have been Walt Disney.

I am not going on much evidence here, but I was struck suddenly by a possibility. I might have found an influence on Disneyland. Hearst’s castle is a dream come true, of course. In addition to the wealth of art, sculpture, ceilings from medieval buildings and churches, and the famous pools, there was Hearst’s own private movie room where he showed his guests movies–mostly westerns, the tour guide said, but also, possibly, Snow White.

This got me thinking about my science fiction reading and viewing. What if it were possible to go back in time and somehow prevent Hearst from inviting a young Walt Disney to his castle? What then? Would Disney have had the vision to consider his own star to wish upon for his dream to come true? Would he even have had a land to dream up?

I agree that I am reaching here from almost no evidence. I do know that creative people are creative in part because they are influenced.

What if Hearst had not gone to Europe as a ten year old? Or, what if he had never invited Disney to his castle? And if I go back and cause it so that one of these events didn’t take place, would the world be a better place?

Here’s where my dream gets messy. I think the world would be a richer, more wealthy and deep place without Disneyland. But a lot of people I know would disagree. For them, this would mean impoverishment, and I would be considered a devil on a par with the Blue Meanie in the Beatles’ movie The Yellow Submarine.

So I keep this as an exercise in thought. Perhaps it would be best to consider our own dreams and influences. What do we wish to attain? And what is limiting us? Who might we look to for our inspiration?

These questions might offer enough as we continue our travel through time into the future.

Posted in Uncategorized| 5 Comments


Comment by sarah on June 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Hi Dr. Allbaugh:) you present some interesting ideas here. I enjoy being provoked to use my imagination.. I am curious to learn more about your perspective on how the world would be a richer, more deep place. I can identify with that idea, but would like to hear more about where you’re coming from particularly.

Comment by Thomas Allbaugh on June 23, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Sarah, thanks for reading this and for your questions. I don’t think that the world is a richer, deeper place. I was trying to make a little fun of my dislike of Disneyland, especially since I know so many people like it. I guess this is just a more playful blog about a few ideas I was thinking about this week. Next week I will try to be more coherent. Truthfully, I think that the world is already a rich and deep place. But I think sometimes that when we seek to see our own images there, we miss out on that depth.

Comment by Unknown on June 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I have also had played those “what if” games with history, especially World War II history, which is an interest of mine. I have read some books in which historians play with the implications of how the world might be a much worse place now if certain decisions and battles had pushed things in a different direction. What if the Allies had lost on D-Day? What if Hitler had not invaded the Soviet Union? What if he had possessed an atomic bomb? You can look at even smaller decisions, such as the choices of particular airplanes that the Nazis decided to develop, and speculate on how influential those choices were.

But seeing the world as a better place without Disneyland? Shocking! Are you also against apple pie and motherhood? Do you oppose pickup trucks and the innocent laughter of babies?

Comment by Dan on June 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Yesterday I commented on your thoughts, Tom, but must not have posted them correctly. In a nutshell, your thoughts took me back to 1978-9 when I first saw the Franco Zeferelli movie Brother Son, Sister Moon, and later tried my vocation with the Trappist Monks at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Monastery in Lafayette, Oregon. Those extraordinary times still take my breath away, for they were filled with such an abundance of the Divine presence that it seemed I had entered into an alternate reality, one so beautiful for its simplicty and God-centeredness. From that perspective, it seems to me to be a melancholy fact, but a very obvious one, that we,and I include myself, regularly miss out on the depth of life and existence. But we are not angels, and fun and fantasy are legitimate pleasures. If Disneyland had not been founded, something like it would have taken its place– inferior in scope and grandeur perhaps– but built on the same idea of pleasureable escapism.
On the other idea, if I could go back in time, it would be to go back to Dallas in 1963 and convince Kennedy to put up the Bubble shield on the limo, and reroute the motorcade so that it didn’t make the left turn from Houston onto Elm and Dealey Plaza.

Comment by Thomas Allbaugh on June 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Dan, I had no idea that you were with Trappist Monks. I’m always surprised by you. I suspect you are right that without Disneyland, we might see something inferior taking its place. I do think that fantasy and imagination are more important, both spiritually and in terms of the present “realities” of our existance that we fully understand. That’s why I have to respect men like Hearst and Disney, even though I don’t always like everything about what they did. Thanks, Dan.

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