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July 20th, 2008


Thirteen. The summer heat was a bit more bearable thanks for the fan Mom put in the living room that day. The boys and Wendy were splashing in the pond just outside, as sunlight sparkled on the water. Normally I'd join them. Not today.

I sat hunched over a book - music, actually - carefully picking out the accompaniment part note by note. Copying music into the computer was tricky; a letter to choose the note length, and arrow keys to choose its pitch, but that meant I had to remember each one without making mistakes. Slowly and carefully, note by note, Part of Your World came together. The sound was thin; an Apple IIe with a sound card was not exactly an orchestra, but it's what I had. The results excited everyone. "You can make the computer play music? Wow!"

The year was 1991, and I was among the girls who had fallen for the dreams of the Little Mermaid and her romantic wishing for more. Flippin' your fins, you don't get too far... legs are required for jumping, dancing... .... Wandering free, wish I could be... part of your world.

The song caught all the loneliness I felt growing up as an outsider, a misfit; never quite able to find the friends or opportunities I wanted. So, that was the song I chose to start with, as I entered my first songs into the "Phazor Music" program. I entered notes to its green screen glow, and I listened to it over and over, and I drifted with longing for life and love and possibility.

I longed for it, ached for it; but I did not believe it could come. I was neither Cinderella nor a beautiful princess, and as much as I wished for it, I knew there was no prince coming to save a nondescript rural farm girl. So I dreamed of romance with a boy from music camp (he held my hand one day; but he never wrote back that summer), and romance with a boy from school (he asked me to a dance, but I was sick with social anxiety and stayed home, then regretted it for months).

I dreamed of so many things, opportunities I'd never get, new friends I'd never meet. I dreamed of a school full of computers and a chance to be my geeky self with computers and networks. I dreamed because a life without dreams wouldn't be worth the work. I dreamed because I couldn't help but dream.

I had no idea how dramatically - or permanently - my life was about to change.

Summer, 1992 - a year later. I found out I'd be starting at IMSA in the fall. It all sounded like a grand experiment; join an "educational laboratory" and maybe work my butt off to keep up with a bunch of people smarter than me. If I was lucky, I might barely stay caught up. I felt honored to go, and frankly - terrified. But so excited.

Fall came, and I arrived, and people liked me(!) and I got dates(!!), and to my surprise I fit in. I belonged, I learned, I loved, I healed. Computers took off, the web was born (and I was on it from the start), and I managed servers and got better at coding. School happened, I worked and I learned and I graduated. College happened; I worked, and I learned, and I nearly lost myself and then found myself again. Depression sucks, but rediscovering my dreams and my inner passion was my route back out, and led me back to what I really wanted to be doing - for myself, not for anyone else. I left, I moved, I married and settled in and got busy being an adult and a professional. Years passed, jobs passed, technology changed. I changed.

2008, late one summer evening. I hold in my hands an ipod nano. It plays a digital video of the Apple IIe, playing those old songs from 1984-1991. Stars and Stripes, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, and Christmas music. Photos flash by of me as a kid, sitting in front of the computer surrounded by my family - all of us, quite excited to have a computer in the household. Songs come up that I added to its song list, one note at a time, by keyboard - including Part of Your World, and I remember little-me.

I hear you, little girl. Do you know who you are? You're the dream operator, and this is your story.

This is your dream. It wasn't a prince who saved you, but a queen - a genius woman who ran a school for over 20 years. She made her dream real so we could step into it and find our power. She had a lot of help along the way, and because of that, so did I. Dreams aren't made alone. And still - now I dance.

I play a video of a large old computer that was the doorway to my dream. In it, a colorful Apple logo declares its identity. It plays on a new computer with untold times more processing power, and 23,000 times more storage - which fits in the palm of my hand. It's an Apple iPod nano, with the same logo on the back - minus the color. The same, yet so different.

I find it fitting that this tiny Apple device will carry forward a video scrapbook of the older Apple machine that granted me the power to make myself successful in programming. I find it even more fitting that I am using a digital music device to play a video of old-style synthesized music - the early days of computer music, before mod or midi or mp3.

So the spiral turns and I look back on where I was, in 1991, singing Part of Your World and wishing and dreaming that someday I might be... a part of yours, loved by friends, with useful work and connection and power. I dreamed and did not believe it could ever happen. I'm glad I was wrong.


Jenny Brown

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