Windows & Mirrors

In the summer of 1983, I was seven years old. My brother was 17. He had the role of Uncle Henry in Trollwood Performing Arts School (TPAS)’s production of The Wizard of Oz. I have few memories of that summer, but from what I’ve been told, I laid some bricks in the upper right corner of the letter “Z” in the yellow brick road shaped to spell “Oz.” Six years later, in 1989, I attended TPAS on my own as a legitimate student. That was the summer after my seventh grade in Moorhead (MN) Public Schools. Trollwood was a program of Fargo (ND) Public Schools, so I was among a lot of new kids in June and July. And I was among students from Russia and China, as well. Trollwood started a new program that summer: IMAGINE. I played cello in the orchestra pit for that summer’s production of The Sound of Music. I sat next to a Russian playing the balalaika. The next summer, I split my time between the orchestra and the lighting crew for Peter Pan. In the following years, I was on the lighting crew for Music Man, Oklahoma!, Anything Goes, and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I watched actors perform year after year, but participated in “Songs from the Catwalk” with my fellow lighting techies.

In 1992, for Oklahoma!, the IMAGINE program had grown and coordinated to have guest artists from eight countries come together in Fargo, ND, to work, play, and perform together. My family was a host family for Galen, an aborigine native from Australia. Galen played the didgeridoo, and could play nonstop with continuous breathing reportedly for hours. From above, I watched him perform in the IMAGINE Pre-Show. I watched others perform, just as I watched as actors took to the stage and gained the admiration of the audience year after year.

As a lighting technician, I learned color theory. For pigment and paint, we learned at an early age that the primary colors were red, yellow, and blue. Red + yellow = orange. Yellow + blue = green. Red + blue = purple. However, in lighting, things are different. The primaries are red, green, and blue. Red + green = yellow. Green + blue = cyan. Red + blue = magenta. It just so happens, offset printing presses generally use the CMYK process: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Learning the relationship of primary colors to the medium they are presented in was an epiphany. Many years later, when I was working as a Web developer in St. Paul, we were out for happy hour drinking beer one evening after work, and the question was asked, “Is the color blue I see the same color blue you see?” Indeed, this was a discussion only electrical engineers could be having. However, I am not an electrical engineer, but I understand the concepts at hand.

This is the breaking of a mirror and turning it into a window. The color of an object you see is in fact the reflection of light on that object. That is different than the light emitted by a lighting instrument which had a filter (called gel in the industry) that the light passed through. Putting a red gel on a light removes its complimentary color from the transmitted light. That is, green is filtered out. How does this affect the subject the light is shown upon? Plants are green because they reflect green light. They absorb other colors to drive photosynthesis, the process by which plants create their own food. A light with a red filter transmits no green light, so a plant may appear black or colorless. However, it is feasting on the light wavelengths that drive photosynthesis.

Instead of seeing my input into the realm of lighting (hanging the lighting instruments, plugging them in, selecting gel colors, and setting the brightness), I began to understand how others viewed the concepts that had become engrained in me. For example, Web developers use the Red-Green-Blue concept for defining colors. Why? Monitors emit light, and the primary colors of light are red, green, and blue. Color codes are defined in RGB values. The numbers I plugged into Web code resulted in a color viewed by the Website visitor. I was beginning to discover that not only was I an actor on a world stage, but I had the power to create the world people see through their window to the world: their monitor loading up World Wide Web pages.

The correlation of lighting theory to Web development helped me decide on my undergraduate class ring. My Bachelor of Science degree is in Theatre (Lighting & Stage Management), Communication (Audio/Video production & Web development), and Youth Studies. I somehow convinced the College of Continuing Education to convert three arts into a science degree. My lighting studies began in 1990, and my Web development began in 1994. After my B.S. was conferred upon me, I asked my friend, a jeweler, to make a ring: a titanium band with three stones. Ruby. Emerald. Sapphire. In that order to represent the Red-Green-Blue theories I learned. Titanium was named by Martin Heinrich Klaproth for the Titans of Greek mythology. The Titans were the offspring of Gaia, Mother Earth, and Uranus, Father Sky. Titanium has the highest strength-to-density ratio of any metallic element. Being the union of above and below, and stronger than any other metal, made titanium a perfect reflection of the resilience I feel I have gained over the years. Titanium bands, when new, are nearly mirror-like. Over time, however, the finish becomes scuffed, and you cannot see yourself in its skewed reflection anymore. In much the same way, our lives are scratched by life events. They aren’t flaws, though… they develop character.

One benefit of delaying this assignment into an incomplete extension is that I’ve had the benefit of the following classes to develop further knowledge and understanding in the field of youth development. In the class Organizational Approaches to Youth Development, we wrote a definition of youth development, and our own theory of youth development. Overall, I identified the following components of youth development leadership:

  • Help youth understand they are always in the process of learning.
  • While a youth may become competent in one field of study, they are also in the early stages of understanding their incompetence in a new field of study.
  • Youth will discover a point where they realize the control they have on their own development and break away from the world they were born into.
  • The environment of youth development should complement the authority-youth relationship.

I don’t know when I learned that I was learning. I can’t remember learning that I’ll never stop learning. I seem to recall my father saying something in my youth that you are always learning, no matter how old you are, but I don’t remember it specifically. In my final assessment for my core YDL class, Experiential Learning, a paper that would have been written after this paper had I been able to complete my work on time, I coined a phrase that I think is ingenious:

In this time of learning, I have learned to learn from the learner, and learn what the learner is learning.

For my Organizational Approaches to Youth Development class, I explained this funky sentence as such:

People are always taking in new information and developing new knowledge. That is the time of learning. As an adult, you have learned certain skills to better succeed in life. One of those skills is to continue learning at all times, and especially from those that are learning from you. Is that young learner learning what you are teaching, as you are expecting them to learn it? It is a play on words, of sorts, but it demonstrates how learning is a continuous cycle at all ages.

In L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the wizard is discovered to be merely a man behind a curtain. He had created a being that Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Lion had seen through a window that developed from the moment Dorothy opened the door from a black and white world into a world of glorious Technicolor™. Eventually, though, the truth came forward, and Toto discovered the man behind everything Dorothy et al. had seen through the windows of the Emerald City. The Wizard told each of those who had sought out a gift from him to look inside and see that they had what they needed all along. The Wizard was, in fact, a mirror onto the others.

In 1983, I laid bricks on the Yellow Brick Road. In 1991, Trollwood was awarded the United Nations Peace Messenger Award. In 1994, I programmed my first RGB hex code. In 1999, I partied like it was 1999. In 2007, the FBI looked at me through my window.

On September 11, 2001, the world experienced the collision of theoretical parallel universes. The FBI says hijackers who had studied how to fly jets in flight school in just a few months managed to steer planes with perfect accuracy into three buildings, killing 2,996 people. Being my father’s son, I know where there are rooms at airports with warning signs on the door, “Flight Control Equipment: Disrupting Equipment in this Room May Result in Death.” I knew where the door to my father’s Federal Aviation Administration office networking/phone closet was. As a child, I sat on a computer, steering a triangle around a green monotone monitor as my father worked on weekends. I played with the industrial paper shredder used by federal offices. I had a job that gave me tarmac access without an airport badge or going through TSA checks. I knew that GPS receivers could be manipulated, and that some airplanes flew by Fly-by-Wire. I remember the Controlled Impact Demonstration of 1984. I figured out that planes can be remoted controlled. I know that VORs exist. I know that Raytheon was one defense contractor that helped developed a system called JPALS that enables planes to land automatically with extreme accuracy. Raytheon had an office on the 91st floor of 2 World Trade Center, just floors above where United Airlines Flight 175 impacted.

Define a virtual flight path inside the memory of a computer. Now, make a plane fly that path, regardless of what the pilot does in the cockpit.

I have put a window frame around my mirror so that you and I may see the same thing.

In preparation of graduating with a Master of Education degree, I have incorporated. Oz Technology Company was founded on November 20, 2016. The connection to Oz should be clear. It may or may not become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zulu International LLC, a company I founded on December 7, 2011… the 70th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. I’ve been on the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu. Zulu is the term used to denote Universal Coordinated Time for international aviation and weather communication.

It would seem to me, that when I look in my mirror, I see an alum of a United Nations Peace Messenger, a man with vivid ideas of global cooperation, the technical skills to reach beyond the boundaries imposed upon me, and the desire to pursue peace, diversity, and equity, that the best window to look through is that which shows today’s youth discovering their reflection in their own mirror. When they become aware that others can see what they see, and they see what others see, they become more whole. That is the moment of youth development.

Gangs of New York Skyline
Closing scene from “Gangs of New York”, Miramax, 2002