“Modern Renaissance Man?”
Not too long ago, I was in a conversation with a couple of writer/editors and I was bemoaning my lack of “guru depth” in any one thing. I touched on each of the things I care about and have been involved with, actively or not, and explained that my pool of interests and knowledge is unusually wide but not as deep as I would like it to be. I spread myself too thin. It is my primary excuse for not finishing a side project (like my novel). Put another way, I have always believed that I could be great at anything I wanted to be, but only if that was my absolute focus. In response, I received one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had. “You are a modern renaissance man. Your breadth is what makes you who you are and that itself is great. Besides, I’ve read parts of your novel, and I can’t wait to read more. It has the potential to be great.” It was unsolicited and she wasn’t selling me anything.
Who am I?
- Technical Manager, Agile Champion 80% 80%
- Novelist, Writer 10% 10%
- Foodie and Gourmet Home Cook 5% 5%
- Vintner and Winemaker 4% 4%
- Musician 1% 1%
- Family Man 100% 100%
Details and Credits
It’s 200 % accurate. I aim to entertain.
- Technical Manager & Agile Champion
- Novelist, Writer
- Vintner & Winemaker
- Cook & Foodie
- Family Man
Technical Manager, Agile Champion
My professional career began in the 1990s as a technical writer. With a degree in computer science and a degree in English, it seemed like the best way to merge my educated skills into a career that paid my way through life. A terrible, horrifyingly boring mistake. (Fail fast!) I jumped into writing code as quickly as I could, and was a software engineer for the better part of a decade. I shuffled from one project to the next, one language to the next, and never became a master of any one. It did pay the bills, but it didn’t satisfy my ego, need to have control, or tap into the magma chamber of creativity I possess. I became a lead, and then a project manager. I discovered that I loved being able to influence and have some control of a project from beginning to end. I wore many hats that all had some descriptor of manager and guided teams who successfully built software. It was in 2007 that I received my first training and introduction to agile methodologies and Scrum. I was not an instant convert. I couldn’t argue with the concept of iterating, or increasing visibility, and I’ve always been a proponent of teams over silos. The ceremonies and cork boards with index cards on them seemed like too much overhead and I had teams that I believed were performing highly. I delayed engaging for a small project I could run as a test, as I watched other managers struggle to implement it. I would have been better served to have jumped in with both feet and gone through “first hand” training and ScrumMaster certification back then because I didn’t grok the whole picture at the time. Years later, when I began chasing the dream of Cool Queue Studios, my knowledge and appreciation had matured and I recognized the industry trend so I structured our product development to follow Scrum. It never truly came to pass. CQS led me into consulting, first as an attempt to fund our internal project, but ultimately it became a part of my profession. Now I hopped between companies completing contracts that fit any of my skills. It opened my eyes even more, seeing the value those who practiced agile, and deficiencies of those who did not. I renewed my Scrum training, and donned the robes of a Scrum itinerate , helping companies and business units within make the change while actively producing software. I have to thank Alicia Mclain for the final push, and one of the grandmasters of scrum – Mike Cohn – for “sealing the deal” of my conviction. I am now doubly certified. I never stop learning, growing, adapting, and overcoming obstacles. People are the key to success. The agile ideals, and the Scrum approach promote teams and individuals.
I think I wrote my first “real” short story in the 8th grade. I was reading The Lord of the Rings and the Shannarah books and playing Dungeons and Dragons and knew that I too had stories to tell. At the time, my pen name was Brett the Brutal Battler. These days every time I see Brett Battles name in authors and books, I scratch my head. I’ve yet to read him. Coincidence? Or did a weird mirror split my identity somewhere along life’s pothole ridden road?
In college, the computer science track was the logical half of my brain aiming at a career. The English (creative writing) track was my passion. Gaming was becoming a thing. Was there a way I could combine them and live a joyous life? Alas no, despite many attempts. The two (or is that three?) remain separate, but I keep my goals. I have never surrendered. It took a self-retrospective to fully recognize that I love hearing, collecting, and telling stories. I’d been doing it my whole life, but not with deliberation and care for the craft until I went over the hill. I have developed a better ear listening to people like Betty Jurus and the San Diego Writers Haven Writers.
Though it wavers from time to time, I have faith in my abilities. I have five book projects that I have started over the years. The one I began in 2006, a few years after my second attempt at starting a game company (Lionlands Entertainment), is fiction set in the world I built for the “Desconocido” project. What began as a short story has grown over the years into the one manuscript I believe most in today. Are you doing the math in your head? I am slower than George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss combined. There are many pages in the cloud, but It’s 2018 and my first draft is not done. I think I have better excuses than George does, not being a full time writer and all.
With the support and encouragement from the good people of SDWHW and SCWC, I crawl forward through the deep sands and strong winds of life that oppose me. I know where I am going and edge steadily closer. One day in the not too distant future, I’ll be looking for Beta readers. Interested? Let me know. If appropriate, there might be wine it for you (read the next tab).
When I crossed the thirty five year yard line, I fell in love with wine. Not in a drunkard way, but in an experience way. Who knew there was so much variation and subtlety to one drink? Well, a lot of people from near the beginning of civilization, but not me! It was a discovery. Tasting, pairing, and consumption was not enough, oh no. I had to make it. But I couldn’t just ferment grape juice, oh no. I had to grow the grapes! I used to blame my neighbor, who in the politest way possible, complained about the side hill between us – both its view of shabby tumbleweeds as well as it’s infirmity after a season of rain. Grape vines and their deep set roots seemed like the best solution possible. It might also have been a bit of a rationalization.
In 2002, following a painful recovery from back surgery, and with a lot of help from friends, I started building the trellis. And then I planted nearly 100 vines. I started making wine in 2008. It was drinkable if you held your nose. It got progressively better as I slowly added to my knowledge and equipment, until 2013. It was definitely drinkable by then. Some people that aren’t family or owe me money even said they liked it. I remember bottling that year and continually taking sips all day. “I made this!” became slightly more slurred as the day went on.
Then, pestilence. The area was taken over by fig beetles. I mentioned them briefly in a previous blog when they started to damage my crop. It has gotten progressively worse. They wipe out every grape in my vineyard. It is a problem I have not had the time or money to solve, and despite a lot of reading, I am not sure there is a solution. Walking along the 3 ½ trellis lines and seeing more beautiful grape clusters than ever before and knowing that in a month their destruction will begin is a tough bill to pay.
And then, a ray of hope lit things up in the summer of 2017. After three years of destruction, the fig beetles did not return. The vineyard, overgrown now and falling into disrepair, yielded up enough fruit to to play with. I need more friends with strong backs and a willingness to get their hands dirty to help make things right. Are you a daring soul? Help me, befriend me, and we will choke down some of my previous years vintages together. I’ve got shelves of bottles and carboys full.
I had to put “home” in the title because I didn’t want anyone to think that I am a pro – that I have ever been paid for my cooking. But I know I am good at it, because I eat it, and some of it is better than highly regarded restaurants. I have had guests say “that is the best I have ever had.” That is the ultimate compliment. Much like reading a good book, tasting good wine, or playing a good game, I have a palate fit for and happy to consume good food. I like trying new places as much as trying a new menu item at a place I already know I like. Foodie. I don’t know if I would like to cook for a living, and/or on an everyday basis. I think if it was work it would lose its luster. However, I love it enough to have used it to get out of a funk. Throw on my headphones, grab some knives and pans and ingredients. Rock out and get after it. There’s a prize at the end. I have grilled since I was about thirteen. The discovery of real cooking didn’t happen until later in life, it came from a push from my wife. When she moved in, she brought with her a bread maker. I put that thing through its paces. I didn’t like the way it baked, so it led me to oven use. Its role was relegated to dough maker. I wore out bread recipe books, and eventually the maker too, and upgraded to a pro grade mixer. Who doesn’t love the smell of baking bread? The taste of it warm out of the oven? Dieters maybe. She was working and making the family meals and wanted help. We gave everyone a day. I had been a heater-upper. Buy the frozen stuff from Costco and heat it up. But she made the point, you are doing it with bread, and look how much better that is than anything you buy from a grocery store. I tried it. I had some early success. It led me to get serious. Read books, watch Food Network, challenge Bobby Flay (not really). Not everything has been great – I’m looking at you Durians – but you live and learn. Sunday is my cooking day and I enjoy hosting as long as I don’t have to clean up after.
Music is a river that flows though my life. Deep in some places, shallow in others. It can carry me, it can cleanse, it can sustain. Though I do appreciate many forms and genres, rock is the heart pump that moves blood through my cardiovascular system. Songs connect me to memories, feelings, and the people who have populated my plane of existence through time. I think I was in first grade when I first picked up a pair of drumsticks and started banging on a rubber practice pad. I was always a part of school bands. I obtained my first kit in middle school. It was a mash up of Remo and Ludwig and Zildjan handed down from Jack Delametter, a family friend. The tri-toms (we called them triples) in high school were a blast to play. I snagged a pro kit, the Pearl Export II double base, not long after I moved to California in 1994. I have always dabbled. Alas, the Pearl kit is stacked in the corner of my garage with more than ten years of dust on it. I built a sound proof studio in my otherwise useless garage in the dawn of the 2000s with the help of my buddy Phil. It was my expectation that I was finally going to take the next step with another buddy, Trey, who could play guitar and sing well enough to start a “real” band. Then he moved, and I got remarried, and kids came… now it’s my office, wine cellar, and Gabby’s “dorm room.” These days I mostly listen to music, occasionally write about it, and as often as I can afford, attend live shows. But some day in the not too distant future, that dorm room will move, and the kit will get unstacked and maintenanced, and I will be back to dabbling. Yet another thing I’m sure I could have been great at, had it ever had my undivided attention.
Listing this anything but first will get me in trouble with my Renee. If she reads it. Which would happen only if I make her. So maybe I won’t tell her about it. My mom will read it because she always does. Thank you Mary Kay. Family has always been important to me. For a quarter century, it was more in my heart and mind. Family meals, holiday get togethers with the Swanson’s and the Quiggle’s were my baseline. Once I built a family of my own, internal importance translated into my actions. Men, in your women’s minds you will never do enough. I have come to accept this with some apprehension. There is great reward in being an involved father. Perhaps none more than those hugs that meet you at the door when you come home from a day at work. Gabby, Arabelle, Connor – you are my center point. Jokingly, they’re a major time, money and energy sync. Honestly, they’re an investment of love with frequent dividends paid at a good interest rate. In 2016 I solved a mystery I’ve been working on for almost 20 years. Imagine learning that you have two sisters, a brother, a mother, and a train load full of cousins you didn’t know of. I’ve been practicing telling this story on friends and acquaintances. One day I’ll blog it. It was my Harry Bosch moment. This Bio-post is being published on Father’s Day in 2017. Happy Father’s Day to my dad Roy, who left us in 2008. You are the dad I aim to be. We miss you.