A Resurrection of the Spirit

In Nietzsche’s “Human, All Too Human” he says that the Resurrection of the Spirit is based on the following:

On a political sickbed a people is usually rejuvenated and rediscovers its spirit, after having gradually lost it in seeking and preserving power. Culture owes its peaks to politically weak ages.“

After seeing the rise of Trump, the Tea Party, and the full-frontal assault on a woman’s right to choose and voter rights, there is a big attempt to preserve power by the Right in this country.

While we are not out of the woods with this level of Fascism in our country, and we need to root it out of the darkest corner and fight it tooth and nail, I can’t but help but wonder if we’ll usher in a newer American spirit.

There are bright spots emerging. My children are more open with their lives, they express themselves more. They connect and communicate with their peers in ways I never did at their age.

It’s not just the technical aspect of that connection, but it’s a big part, children these days are exploring the meaning of their sexualities, partnerships, social justice, and environmental justice.

While it remains to be seen, some of these idealistic kids will get into politics and eventually outnumber the old white-haired men that are desperately trying to hold on to power and nostalgia of an age that never existed for nonwhite people.

Yet, to get there will require turmoil and upheaval, and we haven’t seen the last of Trump-like Nazis, riots, school shootings, racism, and assault on women and minorities. Let’s hope that there are more good people willing to step up and “hold the line,” so we can build a new country, one that is more inclusive and kind.

I have hope that it can be done.

Open Source Your Photography

Years ago Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, stirred up a hornet’s nest after she made some comments about the purchase of Flickr, the seminal photo-sharing site.

“There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers … certainly, there is varying levels of skills, but we didn’t want to have a Flickr Pro anymore; we wanted everyone to have professional-quality photos, space and sharing.” via CNET

She pissed off long-time Flickr Users who were upset that their work was being discredited.

I worked on a storyboard, planned an entire shoot, and executed it nearly flawlessly

Mayer quickly issued an apology but the damage was done, an exodus to Instagram and Facebook started. Some groups collapsed, friends went silent (they started posting on FB), and some diehards dug in.

I stuck around till 2020 or so and then deleted my entire corpus of work. This was mostly due to the disgust I felt after seeing how old shutterbugs fought over Trump and his politics. There was a stark divide between the Pro and Anti-Trump camps that sent the Pro-Trump people to FB and left the mostly Anti-Trump people on Flickr.

I look back at that decision and realize it was a mistake. It was a mistake for me to delete years worth of work and then enter my Covid19 isolation cave.

I hid in my cave until I started writing on Medium and realized how much I missed making photos, so in May 2021 I had a chance to wake from my slumber. Freshly vaccinated, I stumbled out of my cave and started to upload old work on Flickr again. Then I went to a photoshoot at my friend’s studio.

Art Model Lucy Magdalene © Thomas Ott

You know what? I started to work again and it felt good. I found old archived images and post-processed them better than ever before. I looked at my old work with new eyes and made them better.

I started to feel inspired again.

I made a new circle of friends and started helping them with their photo work.

I worked on a storyboard, planned an entire shoot, and executed it nearly flawlessly.

Art Model Lucy Magdalene © Thomas Ott

I started to feel inspired again.

Then I got a wild hair up my butt. What if I was looking at this whole photography thing all wrong? What if I took Marissa’s attitude shared my work with the world?” Yes, I do it on Flickr but actually share it?”

What if I open-sourced my images for others to use? What if people use my images for their Medium image banners, what if bands and musicians use my work for covers, what if other artists riff on my work with theirs?

What if I added to an ongoing creative conversation where my work becomes part of a larger work of the world, instead of toll-gating it away?

I took the first step in that direction by completely giving away, stripping myself of all rights, of the following image.

Stump Puffball Mushrooms — WikiCommons

I took this cute photo of edible stump puffball mushrooms in October this year and then gave it away to WikiCommons.

Sure my name is attached to it as the photographer but maybe a research scientist could use this image in a report or something else. Maybe a band could use it for their new album, whatever. My work is out there to be used and that feels damn good.

So I started opening up more work as I upload and repopulate my old work. Of course, some work I can’t open-source but I recently opened up my wonderful photo of my daughter on top of the Empire State Building.

You have to share what you see with the world.

On top of the Empire State Building © Thomas Ott — used with permission

This photo is by far the most popular photo in my Flickr account by far.

And now, the bigger issue and the impetus for this entire essay.

Your photography will do no one any good if it’s not seen. In order for you to get better with your art, you have to share it. You have to get critique, good and bad. You have to share what you see with the world.

Yes, there are people like Vivian Maier who just shot and hid the undeveloped rolls away, never bringing any of her work to light, but those people are rare.

Of course, you can set attribution license terms or only non-commercial use if that’s your goal, but just like with popular open-source software, getting people to use your work only enhances your standing as an artist. It gets your work into the hands of more people faster.

Best of all? It makes you a better photographer.

I’m Looking Toward 2022 as a Time for Renewal

Christmas is over and we hosted our annual dinner with my family as we do every year, except this year there was one empty seat at our table.

I spent the next few days in a daze thinking about my late father and something a woman said to me at his memorial.

I had just given a long eulogy about my father and the importance of reflecting on his life and the love he had for our family. How you can’t take anything with you when you die but only leave memories behind.

How it was up to us to make the best memories we can, ones where we will be remembered as good men and women. To be the best person we can be and how important it was to love and to share our love with our families and friends.

She came up to me as we were closing down the memorial and said some pleasantries, how much she liked my eulogy, and then said, “Well, you’re the patriarch of the family now.”

Patriarch.

The words didn’t hit home until I looked to where my father used to sit at our table.


What does even mean to be the patriarch of the family?

I don’t know but I can tell you that I’ve never been a man to shirk my responsibilities. My frail mother and aunt need my help now and I will step up to do my filial duties. To be there for them, to help them sort through my father’s belongings and find where he’s hidden his wealth.

I will be there, along with my sister, to help both of them navigate the bills, keep an eye on the house for repairs, and make sure they’re both safe and sound.

How does it feel to be the patriarch of the family?

I don’t even know what I’m feeling right now. I feel like I was given a crown to wear and I’m left with more questions than answers. My mother and aunt look to me now to help guide them because that’s what they relied on my father for.

This crown feels heavy but I will do my best as my father’s son to do my duties to my family.

Even if that means putting aside my grief for the time being.


It’s a few days before New Year’s Eve and I can’t wait for it come and pass. I don’t want to be awake to ring in the new year. I want to be in bed, with my electric sheets on, going to sleep early.

I want my partner to slip into bed next to me and put her cold feet against my legs. I want her to snuggle next to me and whisper “I love you.”

I want to wake up the next day and feel like I’ve been given a blank book, one with no mistakes in it. One where I can scribble, draw, make jokes, write about love, poetry, and so much more. I want to strengthen good friendships and cut out toxic ones. I want to do my duty as a son and as the family patriarch to the best of my ability.

I know that January 1st is an arbitrary day but this time it will feel like a fresh start for me, and if there’s one word to describe what I want from next year it would be “renewal.”

I want to heal from all the trauma that came to me this past year and feel the sunlight on my skin again.

The storm is over and the sea calms around me. The wind is picking up and as I unfurl my sails to catch the winds and let them carry me forward.

I look back and think of my father, I remember.

I turn and feel the wind on my back as my sails fill. Salt spray stings my face and I look ahead to the horizon and a new year for me and my family. I look toward renewal, hope, love, and laughter.

Dawn has finally broken and the sun is rising.

I write this with tears in my eyes.

We two have paddled in the stream
 from morning sun till dine
 But seas between us broad have roared
 since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend
And give me a hand o’ thine
And we’ll take a right goodwill draught
for auld lang syne

Happy New Year.

Happy New Chances.

Here’s to the blank page, and a fresh start.

Doesn’t it feel wonderful?

Why Do Healthy Relationships Need to Bend?

Any healthy relationship is built upon trust and communication, without it you are doomed from the start. Those two items you should never compromise on, yet it’s the little things that are just as important.

You know, the cap on the toothpaste. The money handling, the kid raising, the cooking duties, and all the rest where we get tripped up and build resentment or complacency over time.

Those little things can kill you and your relationship. So how do you overcome them? You overcome them by being flexible, by being willing to bend.


I’m going to share with you a photo of my wedding band. If you look closely you’ll see a callous where my wedding band rests against my hand. It’s been there for 17 years and counting.

I’m sure you’ll notice that it’s not a perfect circle either. It’s worn and misshapen and looks like it’s seen its share of life, and I’d say you’re 100% right. It’s seen happiness, joy, sadness, and anger. It’s a symbol of my relationship with my partner and our journey together.

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A Time For Remembrance

I will remember this year for the rest of my life. The words I would use to describe it would be “shit-show” and “chaos.” Some good things happened but they pale in comparison to the life-altering storm I had to endure this year.

We all were isolated from Covid at the beginning of the year and life in the Ott house was chaotic. All four of us crammed into a room doing school zooms, meetings, and working.

While this sounds like a terrible situation, this led me on a path of self-introspection. It led me to dive into Medium and I found a wonderful group of writers that resonated with me. Their voices inspired me to evaluate my life through a different lens. They made me work hard on the unsolved questions I struggled with for years.

The eye must see all sides — Codes of Karate

I didn’t notice the gathering of storm clouds as I started working on myself. I boarded my ship and set out to sea, hoping to sail around these dark clouds.

The storm hit me hard in March this year when my parents and aunt were rushed to the hospital with full-blown Covid. I lay awake at night expecting to get a phone call that one had passed away. I felt relieved when all three came home, beaten to shit, but alive.

I thought the storm was over.

How wrong I was.

My father’s health deteriorated faster than ever and he had to be rushed back to the hospital in July. He barely made it out alive.

Then our dog started to fade fast. She was suffering from the same ailment that was killing my father, congestive heart failure.

We were away at Cape Cod when she shut down. She was dying and we weren’t there to comfort her.

I know they say it’s the last act of love you give them is when you put them to sleep but it doesn’t feel that way. There are no words to describe this and you never forget the emotion of giving the “order” to end a cherished living being’s life.

I remember crying with my daughter in a small condo overlooking the bay in Provincetown. My partner and son were out fishing. They came back home to see us a blubbering mess and instantly joined in.

A few days later we returned home and retrieved a small box. We buried her behind the fence, where she always ran to when she got loose.

Now that death had claimed a family member I thought the storm was over. My father was on the mend and we all were vaccinated. We started talking about having barbeques, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

I was expecting sunny weather but the clouds never lifted. The sea remained choppy. Little did I know that I was just in the eye of the storm.

My father called me up one day and asked If I could take him to get french fries. He was feeling better, recovering from his last hospital stay, and was getting his taste back. He was still too weak to drive himself, so I drove down and got him.

He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

I knew exactly where he wanted to go, a local hot dog joint where we would go from time to time, a real father and son place.

On the way home, he got very quiet and after a few minutes told me about his big regrets in life. It was such a heavy conversation, but it sounded like he was making peace with himself. True to himself, he shared these regrets as a warning to me. He shared his wisdom with me so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

I dropped him off and felt an impending sense of doom. Did my father know his time on this mortal plane was coming to an end? I don’t know but it felt like a lightning blot struck the mast of my metaphorical ship and I had no way to sail around the storm that brought me to the darkest point of my life.


“How did your tests go?” I asked him.

“Good results, we can talk about them on Sunday.”

“Sure thing Dad, let me talk to Mom real quick.”

“Ok.”

Those were the last words I spoke to my father. He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

I was in New York City for work when my mother called me in a panic, telling me my father wasn’t waking up. I told her to call 911 right away. She hung up the phone and called 911. I started a phone chain and called my sister. She immediately dropped everything and headed to my mother’s house. I dropped everything and called an Uber to my mother’s house.

“good people sing, bad people have no songs.”

It felt like a giant rogue wave collapsed over me and my tiny ship. I felt like I was drowning. The storm raged around me like never before.

They say people grieve in my different waves and they’re right. I was in a state of shock for weeks and it wasn’t until his memorial in December that I started to feel the waves of grief wash over me.

Silly things set me off, like this sweet little video.

and this one,

Music and singing remind me so much of my father. He loved to sing. When he got together with his brothers and sisters there would be so much singing and laughter.

I remember this one time when I was around 10, we went to Red Lobster for dinner. My father’s best friend and his wife were visiting us from Germany and we all wanted to celebrate.

Next to us sat three women at a small table. Suddenly a group of waiters and waitresses came clapping and singing happy birthday. They marched over the table of women and placed a small cake with a candle in front of them. They all clapped and the women were laughing.

I look up to the heavens and think of her…

Then my father and our visiting guests started singing a birthday song in German. The women listened in a near trance with tears in their eyes by what they heard, a song that was sung by strangers, filling their corner of the restaurant. Everyone applauded and laughed.

This wasn’t the first time nor the last my father would do something like this. He would tell me (loosely translated from German) that “good people sing, bad people have no songs.”

My father was the kind of guy that everyone liked when they met him. He was a brave adventurer that came to the USA with a small suitcase to strike out on his own. He worked in a Deli for a while and then met my mother, who is also a brave adventurer in her own right.

My father wasn’t a perfect man but he had heart. He wore his heart on his sleeve and loved his family very much. I see a lot of his good qualities in me.

As I prepared for my father’s memorial I found a family photo I took on Christmas 2019. It was the last time we were all together before Covid ripped us apart.

I look back now and remember. I think about how in an instant your life can change for better or for worse. I think about my father’s life and the wisdom he shared with me.

I take stock of my life, and I can’t help but feel blessed.

Despite this being one of the worst years that I can remember, many lighthouses in my life helped me navigate safely through this treacherous storm. Those lighthouses, my fellow writers, are you. No matter how bright or dim, you helped shine the way toward safety in this storm and for that I’m grateful.

Thank you to Elle Beau, Demeter Delune, Zara Everly, Joe Duncan, Edward Riley, Mysterious Witt, and Yael Wolfe. Your words, comments, Twitter banter, and inner lights have sustained me through this storm. You are truly Queens and Kings.

Now that the storm clouds are clearing, I catch a glimpse of the North Star. I see her shining brightly in the night sky. I see Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the heavens around her and I feel the cold winter air sting my face.

I exhale as the sea calms around me. I look up to the heavens again and think of her, my partner. I think of the bears, my children.

They were there for me in my time of need and I feel their love around me. My partner was there for me the entire time, through the darkest nights when the waves raged around me and when I thought all was lost. Her light pierced through the thickest clouds and helped me give my last measure of strength to make it through the storm. I would be so lost without her.

She is the Queen that rules my celestial heavens and I’m honored to be her King.

She guides me to a new dawn.

My First Week In Startup World

It was 5PM on a Friday and my first week at my first startup was over. Our small office was clearing out hitting a local bar for happy hour. I slumped in my seat, exhausted.

“What a week, it’s so frantic here,” I muttered under my breath as the CEO walked by.

He chuckled and said, “Well Tom, you asked for it. This is what you wanted.” He put in his coat and headed to the elevator.

Poof! Bad Tom whispered, “Fuck that you party pooper…

When I finally pulled myself up, I closed my laptop and packed up. I walked over to the elevator and thought about what I was going to do tonight. My Acela train was scheduled for Saturday morning and my Best Western hotel room had a lumpy bed.

At 43 years old I was debating just going to my hotel room to recover but the devil in me wanted to go hang out with the “youngsters.”

Poof! Good Tom whispered in my ear, “Just go get some take-out and chill out in your room. You’re too old.

Poof! Bad Tom whispered, “Fuck that you party pooper, go out and have fun with your team. It’s what you do in the startup world, you sissy!

There I sat pondering my dilemma. It didn’t take long, maybe 5 nanoseconds of thinking but Bad Tom won.

The waitress places a beer in front of me, I watch the foam spill over the sides.

Fast forward an Uber ride to a “hip” bar in Porter Square where I meet up with my coworkers.

“Hey!” The scream from across a table, the new AE raises his beer glass so I can see him.

I grab a chair at the end of the table as the appetizers arrive. I look at one of the beer menu cards and motion for the waitress to come over to take my order.

The AE looks over to me, catches my eye.

“Hey! I hate to tell you this but we’re going in a new direction for that account as of 3 PM today.”

The waitress places a beer in front of me, I watch the foam spill over the sides. He’s speaking words but they’re not registering in my mind right now.

“So all the stuff I worked on for the account is toast?”

He nods, “Let’s circle up Monday morning. Great job though, you wowed them at the presentation!” He slaps me on my back and goes back to a smaller group of guys.

All guys, a lot of young ones, and only a few old fucks like me.

I note it’s all salesmen and no saleswomen.

I take a long pull from my beer and munched on a quesadilla. We’re in a standard Boston bar, kind of darkish but modern with an open floor plan. It’s cool enough to attract the hipsters but too loud to have a good conversation.

I realize I’m that old, I’m more interested in having a conversation at a quieter bar. This place was built for one thing, to get you and your buddies stone-faced drunk, Boston style.

Things get loud throughout the evening as two distinct groups form. One is a group of introverted software developer types and the other is a small group of loud extroverted salesmen types.

I note it’s all salesmen and no saleswomen.

I sit there lost in thought, taking in the moment. Just over a week ago I was saying goodbye to my coworkers. They all thought I was nuts to quit my 20-year career as a civil engineer. To quit and join a startup that they didn’t understand. Machine learning? What is that? Is that like the Terminator?

…did I make the right choice?

I made one of the largest leaps in my entire life, I switched careers midstream in what would make a normal person faint.

I take another drink from my beer. I think about my partner, how she encouraged me to take the risk. She was my support, the one person who believed in my dreams and helped sail the ship when I couldn’t.

But this all made sense. I knew I was destined to break out of the chains that held me down. I knew I had to shed my anchor and get out of a job I hated.

Now I was a freshly minted Sales Engineer and a Data Scientist. A whatever you want me to be guy to help close a sale. I was always a nerd, an Engineer, a tinkerer.

I would’ve never in a million years thought that I would end up in Sales.

Never.

I looked around the table at my coworkers laughing and drinking the night away and I could help but wonder, did I make the right choice?


A lot of events have been changed to protect the “innocent”, even if they deserved it.

The Startup World is Nuts

I’ve been thinking long about whether or not I should write about my experiences in startup life or not. I have four startups under my belt, one never getting off the ground, the other I ran successfully for a year, and the last two were 100+ person startups, one of which I’m currently gainfully employed at.

Startups are the rage now, everyone wants to start one, work at one, and exit as a filthy millionaire. There are long nights, alcohol-fueled events, good and bad decisions, and in some cases a venture capital windfall.

You can hack it, you’re strong, young, and smart.

I’ve seen products get killed in their infancy and I’ve seen products that were considered a joke sell for millions of dollars.

I’ve seen coworkers come and go, upper management replaced, and middle management told to pack their shit and leave, only to be hired 5 minutes later because their replacement has no idea where anything was.

You’re probably wondering that this sounds like a job for you! You can hack it, you’re strong, young, and smart. You can’t wait to answer “how high” when the 25-year-old CEO says, “jump” and points to a cliff.

Don’t get too comfortable.

Best check your head the door first. Working at a startup requires a special type of person. It requires someone who thrives in the unknown and gets the job done. You might have the technical chops.

You might have an idea about scaling, and repeatable processes, maybe how to really move the needle, and you believe in the mission of the company.

You might be a great fit for that startup and that’s awesome! I’m so excited for you, but remember that the only thing constant in this space is change.

Don’t get too comfortable. I’ve seen a new hire arrive on his first day only to be told to go home because his offer was rescinded. His crime? Showing up after a Board Meeting where it was decided to wipe out 30 people to cut costs and he was caught in the crossfire.

Working in a startup isn’t for the faint of heart and hopefully, you’ll learn a most important skill. To work in this space you need to be flexible.

It’s nuts and I advise you to become a boring dentist instead.

I’m not the smartest guy in the room but I think I do alright, and part of my success is because I’m flexible. I try not to get set in my ways. The people that are too rigid to process, their “way or the highway” approach to things, will get eaten alive in this space.

I have seen new management come in and puff their chests out and call everyone losers because they had the right way to sell. A year later they scrapped their entire plan because it didn’t work.

I’ve seen companies triple nearly overnight with newcomers only concerned about building their fiefdoms and not fixing underlying problems. Many of those newcomers are long gone.

Just remember to be flexible and realize that it’s nuts.

I’m not trying to scare you, but the startup space is chaotic. It’s nuts and I advise you to become a boring dentist instead. Drill teeth, make money and go home every night. If you like a stable life, go do something else that works in a startup.

But, if you’re like me and thrive on challenges, chaos, and trusting your abilities to get shit done, then by all means try one out. Just remember to be flexible and realize that it’s nuts.

It’s all nuts, all the time, and will get even nuttier the longer you’re in one.