Why Renaissance Man?

 

Danny DeVito, Bootcamp, & Shakespeare…these are all hints at the answer to the aforementioned question. When watched in its entirety, the movie Renaissance Man defines, at length, its own title. Though Hollywood was not the source of the film’s designation, it was the first time I’d encountered the term. In the film, DeVito plays an underachieving businessman who scrapes up work as a teacher lecturing new recruits on Shakespeare.  He describes legends of the Renaissance, specifically Leonardo DaVinci, as an intellectual who wasn’t just a master of one trade, but as a visionary who was adept in many areas of expertise. DaVinci, considered the foremost ‘Renaissance Man’, was an artist, mathematician, engineer, physicist, zoologist, and geologist. I never introduce or describe myself with the intention of being considered anything close to this kind of a polymath, however, it often surprises people, when, after a healthy conversation, they begin to peel back the many layers that comprise who I am.

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Young James, circa 1991, with face paintings of his two favorite TMNT characters.

I grew up as the youngest child of a loving father and mother. I was the brother to two (much) older siblings, one welcoming sister and one apprehensive brother. My father is a bit of a mystery, eerily similar to a Don Draper (Mad Men reference) type character; served overseas in Vietnam, had no ties to family on his side, and a quiet, albeit confident demeanor. They even looked a decent amount alike (when my Dad was in his forties). My mother was a typical Italian; She was outgoing, wore her feelings on her skin, and she held grudges until the day she died. My sister was always caring and nurturing to me as a kid. I was entertainment for her and cute to her friends. I was still a toddler by the time she hit high school, so it was novel for her to have a chubby-cheeked kid brother who could rap Sir Mix-A-Lot on demand. My brother and I, on the other hand, didn’t really ever coalesce until I got close to middle school. Video games would be our common thread, as the early days of LAN parties in our sun room gave way to long nights of Warcraft III or Diablo binging.

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Nerd James, circa 1999 at the Newport, KY aquarium. Digital camera strapped around neck.

Though I will admit I played my fair share of video games in my youth, I was lucky enough to be exposed to the outdoors from a young age. By age three I was tagging along with my mom and siblings to a summer camp in the Hocking Hills. Camp Wyandot, originally a Camp Fire, USA owned camp, is now independently owned. It is a beautiful spot of land spread over hundreds of acres on two sprawling hills. A lake is formed in the middle from a manmade dam fed by an inlet to Clear Creek. Named for the Wendat people of the Iroquois Nation, the camp taught kids the value of outdoor immersion and in the latter years, allowed campers to learn to solo orienteer, learn diverse ranges of flora, and basic wilderness survival skills. I have camp to thank for my thirst to get out and experience the wilderness in varying capacities.

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James and his (obnoxious) friend Michael getting “Y and dotted”. First documented occurrence of James “mean mugging”. Circa 1996.

 

I grew up an overachieving nerd through High School. Finished second in my school spelling bee in the fourth grade, won it fifth, sixth, and seventh, and lost on Penitentiary  in eighth. That fucking ninja “i”, although, it’s not like I cared either way…every year in regionals we’d all lose to this homeschooled brainiac named Michael (it has been so long his last name escapes me). This dude was the Pete Maravich of academics, just a social experiment cultivated by obsessive parents to fulfill whatever emptiness they found in their lives. He never did win Nationals which I know because I Googled it just now.

I was a decent athlete, made the A-teams on all my sports through grade school. Baseball was my strength, until eventually, I got cut from freshman baseball (coach was a dick, but I also was a twig with no power to my swing). I picked up track as a spring substitution and ran middle distance,  transitioning to lacrosse my sophomore year. I actually regretted playing Lacrosse as a spring sport later because my High School had an exceptionally well organized Men’s Volleyball team. I didn’t uncover this regret until I began playing sand in college and discovered that I was damn good at volleyball for a beginner. At six feet tall with decent hops and long noodly arms, I was able to play well up front and pass decently enough out of the back row.

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Senior James doing his best jock impression. This picture prompted his hot lab partner in Honors Anatomy to declare that he was going to grow up to be a DILF. She’s married to an NHL player now. 

Fall seasons were always blocked  for band. I was in Marching Band all four years in High School. As a side note, never let anyone tell you band is a sport unless their director cuts those musicians who are truly awful. I hated that Marching Band never cut any of the wimps whose parents wouldn’t accept that their kid just really wasn’t good at anything, particularly when “anything” includes marching and playing an instrument at the same time. I only say this because I was a good musician. Exceptional musical ability coupled with some baseline talents as a functional athlete made me solid gold as a corps style marcher. In college, as a freshman, my marching was so crisp that I’d been asked by my instructors which DCI club I marched in the summers. I responded, “None, but my high school director was in the Cavaliers” (For those of you who are wondering, DCI marchers are the only  musicians who can tell you band is a ‘sport’).  That year, the director at Toledo chose me as center for a company front in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.  It was badass…had cannons and everything.

College gave way to a metamorphosis for me as it does for many. I shed my social inhibitions and opened up to all that this new environment had to offer me. Shortly after arriving on campus I was awarded a scholarship by a Greek Social Fraternity. It was awarded on merit of Academic Achievement, Leadership, Athletic Accomplishment, and Service.  It was further affirmation of my hard work in high school, and looking back, an obvious recruiting ploy. It worked to a tee and I rushed the fall of 2006. My linear habits as a valedictorian and band nerd had to get tailored slightly when college introduced me to parties, girls, leadership, service, and overall campus life on top of a rigorous academic course schedule. My degree is in Biomedical Engineering, widely regarded as the most difficult major on many campuses due to its varied curriculum. As a BIOE, we took what were considered some of the worst classes from others’ coursework. We took Organic Chemistry  from chem majors, circuits and electronics from EE majors, biology & physiology from Bio twerps, and statics from civil (far from their worst, however). Couple those with all the physics, calculus, and standard core classes that all engineers have to complete anyways, and that makes my lukewarm 3.1 cumulative GPA actually feel like somewhat of an achievement.

While in college, I spent more time than I should have toying with hobbies of piecing together highlight videos of my intramural volleyball squad or crafting cringeworthy recruitment videos for my fraternity. Photography and Videography had become more of an obsession than a hobby, and I had the ability to spend hours glued to my PC editing my work. It was so beneficial the chapter even created a chairmanship for me called “Media Chair”. I designed rush shirts, homecoming gear, produced recruitment videos and published a fraternity magazine. International headquarters later created a similar position based off our model, called “Brand Manager”. My creative capacity for visual and sound media seemed limitless. I never felt bored or static when I was working on a project. I was always honed, always focused, and couldn’t leave work unfinished until it was completed as perfectly as I was capable of doing. This fusion of music and picture was something I relished. It was fun.

Before I’d even graduated, I’d bought my first full frame DSLR, shot my first wedding, and progressed enough that I was being paid hundreds of dollars to produce recruitment videos for sororities. Fast forward to graduation, working full time, and making enough money to buy toys for my hobbies…and I wasn’t only creating the visuals, but I was custom mixing audio tracks to overlay my videos. Creating mashups became an addiction, and my DJ’ing obsession was born. I’ve only really ever DJ’d live on a handful of occasions where it’s mattered: Two parties, a 5K, and a Fireman’s Challenge. The rest have been either putting together listening mixes or drunken after parties when my friends come back to the apartment and I use my 2400W speakers to piss off the neighbors. I did submit a continuous set of custom mashups and qualified for a DJ showcase in Athens, Ohio…but had to cancel because I wasn’t sure if my mom’s funeral would be the same day or not. Despite having few chances to actually exhibit my talent, I intend on keeping my equipment for the foreseeable future, as one  of my many creative outlets from an otherwise monotonous Fortune 500 career.

The year of 2009 was one of the most prolific in terms of experiences and growth in my life. As an established leader in the chapter, I’d been selected as an alternate to attend a leadership summit at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS). This program, named “True Pike” was a leadership course where only 18 members of our fraternity were selected from across the globe (5,500 undergraduates) to attend the 7-Day Field Course offered by BOSS.  My big brother in the fraternity, or ‘big’, had been selected to attend. Headquarters didn’t want to send two attendees from the same chapter, so they kept me as an alternate. I learned 2 months prior to the course that one of those selected had to run the 800M in the NCAA Track Championships for Kansas State and could not attend. I got the ask to fill in and jumped in head first.

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One of two family groups on expedition in the backcountry of Utah. 

I embraced all the terrain and wildlife had to offer me. It was beautifully gruesome. On two to three hundred calories a day we hiked up to fifteen miles daily. We made primitive tools using only a knife, and those of us fortunate enough made fire out of those tools to either warm us on solo night or to cook ourselves meals. Some men almost lost their minds. One would have died from illness without instructors’ external intervention. Most were thrilled to get home to modern amenities and eat to their hearts content. For me, however, this experience fueled the fire that was my love for the wilderness. Those early days at Wyandot had primed me for the real thing. Now I find myself sometimes wanting to go back.

Boulder was a stark contrast from a time only months before. March of 2009 saw my immediate family’s first loss to cancer. My brother, in his third battle, fell victim to acute myeloid leukemia. Boulder gave me a great spiritual outlet just months after saying goodbye to him. Nearly a year and a half later I’d find an even better one, in the form of a cross-state bike ride to raise funds for research to eliminate cancer. Pelotonia, as it is known, would become another passion of mine, and in doing so I discovered a separate world of cycling. In my inaugural ride I raised $2,646.00 for cancer research. Noticing my success, peers asked how they could get involved, and in the years immediately following I would captain two teams for my fraternity.

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Third from the left, James is pictured with a portion of the second Peloton from Toledo Pike, in 2012. 

Fast forward to now. On the verge of thirty, with more experiences to share and more creations to put on display…comes the concept of the Renaissance Man. Upon graduating, one of my closest friends and mentees asked me about all these stories and experiences and saw the full scope of my life, talents, and experiences. He told me the only thing he could liken it to was this concept of  the Renaissance Man. He is man who is so enamored by various facets of the human experience that he wishes to be immersed in several of them rather than meticulously master just one. That is what I most closely identify as…a man who becomes bored with the idea of stagnation, who cringes at the thought of not being nimble. A man eager to understand new cultures and employ new techniques to create.

This is why I created renaissance-man.net. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.

 

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