The Big Rocks

I’m was in Silicon Valley in 2019 for a few days to attend our yearly Sales Engineering (SE) training. It’s a great way for the growing SE team to get together and talk shop. I find these yearly meetings very useful but they’re hectic. Fun but hectic.

I love being in California. It’s such a wonderful place for the outdoors and ‘chilling’ in cities like San Francisco. I’m a big fan of the SoCal desert areas and Joshua Tree is one of my favorite destinations. Ever since I lived in Albuquerque, I’ve had a pull toward the mountains and deserts. Yet it seems that I won’t get away this time for much-needed fun out in those mountains.

There’s always time for work, but never enough time for yourself or loved ones.

I pondered this as I was flying 36,000 feet over the United States and it reminded me of Franklin Covey. I’ve learned that YOU have to take the time for yourself. You have to make it point to go work out, hike, and have fun. It’s those “Big Rocks” that Franklin Covey once wrote about. The Big Rocks are those important things in your life. Family, love, personal care/growth, etc/ Put those in a jar and you’ll see that space is still there. Then you add sand, and the sand fills everything up. The sand is your work life. There’s always time for work, but never enough time for yourself or loved ones. 

…noise robs you of your precious time.

It’s easy to lose track of this habit and I’ve been guilty of this for sure. Still, it’s not a bad thing to lose your way from time to time, the real bad thing is not to course correct. 

To achieve this I plan on digging out my old 7 Habits for Highly Effective People and giving it another read-through. I’m going to focus on all the habits but I’ll spend time revamping my Google Tasks to accommodate something called “quadrants.”Covey broke down tasks into four subcategories and when you do that you identify the tasks that are noise.  This is important because noise robs you of your precious time. Spend more time on important tasks and don’t do the unimportant ones.

What legacy am I leaving behind?

Once you do that you can free up your time to focus on those Big Rocks, and that becomes your legacy, and I ask myself what legacy am I leaving behind?

What legacy are YOU leaving behind?


Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission. When you purchase a product or service using one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me, which helps me run this blog and keep my content free of charge to you.

The Social Contract is Broken

Workers are organizing and fighting back – it’s about time

I’m happy to pile on to this video that exploded over the weekend. It’s of James Iannazzo formerly of Merrill Lynch. He was, until a few hours, a wealth management advisor and supposedly one of their top performers. He’s been fired and now arrested.

All over a smoothie.

Good. Fuck that guy.

This shit happens more than you expect because it happened to me when I was teenager, over 35 years ago. I worked low wage jobs in the 1980’s. I pumped gas, I bused tables as a bus-boy, and I worked the overnight shifts at a 7-11. I had to deal with all kinds of ungrateful people that wanted to shit over a kid trying his best to serve them.

…he flips his lid and threatens to “put my ass in a sling.”

I remember one Sunday afternoon when I closed up the gas station. It was 5:55PM and I needed to lock the pumps and count out the register. That would take me all of 5 minutes so I’d be done at 6PM. Why not close at 6PM and stay till 6:05PM, you ask?

Simple, my boss told me to do this because he wouldn’t pay me after 6PM and I shouldn’t donate my time for free. Wise words from “El Heffe” but looking back now I realized he was a pretty cool boss.

At 6PM, just as I’m about to lock the front door a guy comes in to get gas. He jumps out and asks me to fill it and I kindly reply we just closed. He starts to get cranky and tells me to get the key to open the station back up and I reply again that we’re closed. Not getting the answer he wants, he flips his lid and threatens to “put my ass in a sling.”

So now I flip my lid and proceed to tell him that 1) he’d be assaulting a minor, 2) I memorized his license plate, 3) people are watching (it was a busy intersection), and 4) to go right ahead asshole. Call it 16 year old hubris or stupidity but I wanted to fight. He thought about what I said and got into his car and drove away.

Looking back, my altercation couldn’t gone a completely different and possibly violent way if it happened today.

The customer is not always right

I’m here to write that the customer is NOT always right. They’re not right if they belittle you, verbally, emotionally, or physically assault you. Once they attack you in any of these manners you have a right and a duty to fight back. If your manager or company doesn’t have your back and tells you to take it because it’s part of your job, then you tell them to fire you or quit on the spot.

Low wage workers are told they’re expendable, are forced to work in crazy conditions, and get paid at a poverty level.

I told my boss what happened the next day and he had my back. He called the police and let them know what happened and gave them the license plate of the guy’s car. I don’t know if anything ever happened to that jackass or not, but at least if he came back and this happened again it would be on some record somewhere.

I get it, everyone has bad days but don’t take it out on people that are working too hard for minimum wage. They’re people too and you are not always right.

The great worker awakening

Ever since the pandemic took hold workers have realized that 1) they keep the corporate machine running, 2) they’re treated like shit, 3) and are severely underpaid. The Trump and Biden direct payments was the match that struck this new worker revolution.

(c) Pixabay

Workers woke up and realized that they’ve been getting the short end of the stick, the social and moral contract between humanity was broken. We keep hearing horror stories about this especially from companies like Amazon and 1000’s of others. Low wage workers are told they’re expendable, are forced to work in crazy conditions, and get paid at a poverty level. Companies than cry when no one wants to work anymore when workers just get up and leave. They leave because they’ve been treated like shit.

Wouldn’t you?

Add in the deaths of nearly 1,000,000 Americans, early retirees, and people quitting en masse because of the Covid19 shit show, you now have a recipe for workers to demand more and get more. Add in Internet and smart Millennials that can out maneuver Boomers and things are looking good for workers.

The current system we have in place is broken

For the first time in a generation, workers of today can change the narrative of the social contract between us all, if they stay together and “put the pedal to the metal.”

The social contract is broken

I fully believe that our addiction to permagrowth and toxic capitalism will destroy this planet. It’s already destroying lives by treating people as expendable labor units – in MBA school we called them labor units. Yes, the dehumanizing starts in business schools.

A growing majority in Congress still fights to prevent us from having universal health care and caters to the corporations over the citizens that they’re supposed to represent. There are so many other ills in our society (i.e. racism) that it would take paragraphs to shed light on them, but the one thing that’s clear is that the social contract – what it means to live as humans with one another – is broken.

The current system we have in place is broken. When we have the richest men and most valued companies in the world and yet we still have poverty and hunger in this country. We have so many inequalities and so many wrongs that need to be righted.

The current social contract needs to be ripped apart and rewritten. We need a new social contract, one that values us humans as humans. One that has universal healthcare, one that treats workers with respect and pays a living and increase living wage. We need a new contract that actively fights systemic racism and one that mandates equality.

We need a new social contract that satisfies the needs of people first before it satisfies the greed of a few. We need to realize that there is power in the tribe and there is an unspoken rule that if you “shit on one of us, you shit on all of us.”

We must make this change before it’s too late, before we leave our children a dead world while we clutch our dollar bills in our graves.

Managing Your Time with Stoicism

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking

Lately, I’ve been reading Seneca as part of my exploration of Stoicism. As I get older and weepier, I’m drawn to philosophical things. I’m going to be freaking 50 years old in just over a year. If I were to die today, I would not want to go gently into that good night, but I would die satisfied. My life is awesome and I have a wonderful family and children. We live a life of adventure and I have a deeply meaningful career. Still, I want more! MORE!

I watched the video below and it made me pause a bit. I realized that I could squeeze more out of life if I paid attention to where I was wasting my time, so I wrote down in my journal a few big items that I need to work on. I recommend you journal AND watch the video below. I’ve added my keynotes for your reference below:

To live well we must be constant students of life

  • Seneca’s essay “On the shortness of life” reminds us that time is a non-renewable resource
  • Treat time as a commodity, people guard their property but squander time
  • The amount of time we get is uncertain, you could die at 20 or 100 years old
  • Death creeps up on time wasters
  • Make the most of time, it is an amplifier when used properly

Don’t invest your time preparing for life

  • Seneca pushes us to live right now and not to delay happiness
  • Your typical life is work till 60 years old, retire, and then be happy. Why wait for happiness?
  • What usually happens is you are too old to enjoy life when you retire and regret not making the most of life
  • Plan the big things in life but don’t delay living your life

Live life for YouR own self

  • Being busy with things we don’t like is the greatest distraction of your life
  • We waste time at jobs we don’t like, relationships we’re not happy in, etc
  • Invest your time into making a life worth living

Practice Premeditatio Malorum

  • While you waste your time by procrastinating, life goes on
  • Researchers call the dissonance of “short-term gratification vs long-term commitments” as time inconsistency
  • To fight this, use Premeditatio Malorum which is a form of negative visualization
  • Think of what could go wrong with your long-term task and then make plans to achieve it. This will offset the distractions

Make Long Term Rewards Immediate

  • The need to procrastinate is the most powerful RIGHT at the start of work
  • When rewards are years away (i.e. diploma, career, et), you tend to procrastinate
  • To overcome, you must bundle a reward at the start of the task
  • You can eat a piece of cheesecake when you lost 10lbs or give yourself time to browse the web once you finished those pesky spreadsheet tasks

Make the Most of your Free Time

  • Too often we waste our free time with stupid stuff. Gossiping, drinking at the bar, etc
  • There’s plenty of time to do everything we want if we just stop wasting our free time
  • We work hard to earn money and free time, so why waste that precious free time
  • Use your lunch hour to explore the city, write in a journal, play an instrument, read, etc
  • To beat mediocrity and start living your life, make the most of your free time

Spend time reflecting on your past

  • Present time is transitory (it’s moving), the Future is uncertain, and the past is unalterable
  • Seneca says to pay attention to the past, so you can be effective today
  • Personal note: Journaling is a wonderful way of capturing the past

Stop Wasting Time in Life’s Trivialities

  • We are all guilty of wasting our time on trivialities (Social Media)
  • Social Media sucks your time away
  • When you’re happy, you fill your time with activities that are valuable and meaningful to the vision you want for your life

Invest your time creating new memories

  • While you preoccupy your time with trivialities, death approaches that you can’t escape
  • Invest your time into creating new memories and philosophies
  • Memory is more enduring than grief (Ed. Very true. I call it Adventuring)
  • Memories may be fleeting but they deliver more happiness than anything else
  • Do yourself a favor and take on challenges and adventures, learn to play music, travel, etc

Invest your time in Philosophies

  • The Study of Philosophy is the most invaluable teacher
  • Study as much philosophy (current, past, etc) as you can because it will help you in your life
  • Your life will expand and your wisdom will grow
  • A Philosopher is a lover of wisdom: truth, virtue, life, and death

Seeking Bodhisattva

My posting activity has started to drop off again. This is partly due to a large workload and traveling schedule. I’m enjoying my work immensely but my blog is neglected as a result. A few weeks ago I even considered shutting this blog down because I feel like I’m like an “old man shouting at clouds.”

I’ve come to realize that my skills are not in coding but in communication.

I know that many people find value in my old RapidMiner tutorials and videos but my heart isn’t in making any new ones. My YouTube channel is also neglected partly because I work for H2O.ai now and because there’s so much free content on Machine Learning and Data Science out there now. I think that’s awesome.

There’s never been a greater time to get into Data Science and Machine Learning than ever before. There are so many ‘rock star’ programmers, Kagglers, and technologists out there now. You can’t NOT be amazed how fast the ‘AI’ space is changing, for better or for worse. I consider myself lucky to have joined near ground zero and love the fact that I’m a part of it now.

BUT.

I’ve come to realize that my skills are not in coding but in communication. Sure I code stuff, mostly to make my life easier and automating the boring stuff (great book BTW), but my expertise is best used elsewhere. Sometimes I don’t even know what this means but I feel alive when I talk to prospects or customers and help them go from a ‘zero level AI person’ to applying ‘AI’ to their problems and helping solve them. I seem to be good at connecting the dots and using tactics and strategies to solve problems. I think that’s the Engineer in me.

Someone scrawled on a wall “Be the Bodhisattva you seek.”

I’ve also become more politically aware and active over the past few years. The reason? Trump. I won’t devolve into right vs left discussions here as I find them useless BUT I’ve always been an environmentalist. This current administration has attacked so many people and groups because of their color of skin, who they love or identify as, and religion. There are so many fights to fight and mine is the environment.

Our entire planet is under assault from climate change, habitat loss, extinction, and pollution. All in name of money. Yet I’ve blogged about trading and investing. I’ve blogged about making money. Am I as complicit as credit card companies that approve gun transactions to a future school shooter?

While technically I’m not cutting down trees or killing baby seals, my recommendations, actions, and investments might support doing just that.

Am I part of the problem? Yes, I believe so.

Many years ago I took a course in world religions. I was most enamored with Buddhism, not in the classical sense but more of the Zen version. I learned about Bodhisattvas and how they chose to “out of compassion, forgo[sic] nirvana in order to save others.” Granted, I’m an atheist but I found Bodhisattvas interesting. Then I read a piece of graffiti that made me question everything. Someone scrawled on a wall “Be the Bodhisattva you seek.”

I can spend hours in flame wars with people on Facebook or Twitter about climate change and not change anyone’s position. I’ve realized that relating and compassion are much more powerful than attacking someone’s position.

I think I can help shape the dialogue in a healthy and sustainable way.

Everyone wants to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, and eat healthy food. It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are, I think this is a universal fact. However, if you tie this to work and jobs, then things get interesting. Let me give you an example:

“I don’t care about some endangered animal, I have my family to feed”

“Climate change is fake news because China wants us to be less competitive and you’ll lose jobs”

“The wind isn’t blowing tonight, so you can’t watch TV”

“There are so many job-killing regulations”

Take your pick or make your own, there are hundreds of these divisive messages out there. Why? Because of money.

As a former Civil Engineer, I can design water and wastewater plants. I’ve designed groundwater recharge systems and wetlands. I fully understand how humans impact the land, sea, and air AND I think I can help stop this onslaught. Armed with Data Science and AI, I think I can make an impact. I think I can help shape the dialogue in a healthy and sustainable way.

What does this mean for the blog? I don’t know yet but I want to become the Bodhisattva I’m seeking.

How Blogging Led to My Personal Growth

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging now for over 15 years. I’ve written 100’s of posts, some short and some long. I’ve had my shares of ups and downs here but in the end, I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s made me realize that blogging has led to my personal growth. Blogging has become a career!

What’s happened is that I’ve been reposting and repopulating old posts from my archive. I took these posts down a few years ago thinking they were of no use, but now I realize I was wrong. Sure there was some cringe-worthy type of posts back then, but I look at them now and smile. I’m so far removed from them now and I realize I am so different now.

As I repopulate these posts I can’t help but remember where I was in my personal and professional life. I also notice how busy I was. My posting frequency is proportional to how crazy my work and personal life are. Yet still, I wrote at least a few posts a year. 

Year 2007 to 2009

Back in the early 2007-2009 era, I spent a lot of time blogging about Forex, Stocks, and using AI to trade the markets. It was during this time that I first wrote my RapidMiner tutorials. They brought me a lot of traffic and I adored the attention. I market timed and moved money in and out of my accounts, thinking I can beat the market. Lo and behold I was wrong. 

I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better.

I also held onto some crazy ideas back then about Objectivism and Libertarianism. As I grow older I realize that this selfish way of living is a folly. Life does not have to be a zero-sum game. Yes, invest in your future but also invest in deep relationships, love, health, and Nature. Cultivate those and you’ll find balance and true wealth. 

Year 2010-2014

In the 2010 to 2014 era I saw some big changes to this blog. I ramped up my blog posts around Machine Learning and what was to become Data Science. I created a lot of YouTube videos on how to use RapidMiner and it generated even more traffic for me. I was still working full time as a Civil Engineer but I began to dream of moving into the Machine Learning space. As luck would have it, RapidMiner moved to Boston and got VC funding. 

In 2014, RapidMiner offered me a job as a Sales Engineer and I accepted. I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better. 

I learned that passion, learning, and dedication can change your life. If you want something bad enough, you must chase it. You must work hard and learn, face the obstacles and work through or around them. After some time, you’ll see how far you’ve grown and how successful you can be. 

Year 2015-2017

From 2015 to 2017 I cut my teeth as a Data Scientist. I learned so much about Data Science, Marketing, and especially Sales. I’ve come to realize that I LOVE working in Sales. No matter how crazy and stressful it can be sometimes, it matches my personality. It’s who I am. The stars have aligned!

I’ve always loved public speaking and presenting and now I was presenting to CTO’s and CIO’s all over the USA. Yes, the travel burned me out but I learned how to compensate for that (now). I did make A LOT of bad decisions for my health. I ate too much, drank too much, and sat in my chair. While at RapidMiner I gained about 40 lbs, something I’m working off now. 

It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I left RapidMiner in 2017 to start my own Data Science and Engineering consultancy. I built up a client base in both fields but left after a serendipitous phone call in July of next year, more on this next.

In the end, those years were tough working years. I loved every minute of it. The startup life was and IS for me. I looked back and kicked myself for not making the leap sooner. I learned that you can’t hide who you are, you must BE who you are. The longer you hide from that, the more miserable you will become. I know it’s scary and I’ll admit that I was scared, but there comes a time when it’s now or never. I chose now. 

Year 2018 – present

I worked in my own consultancy for over a year before I got a phone call from my now colleague J. We had met back in 2014 when she was a new hire at H2O.ai. She reached out to me because she had an extra ticket for H2O World in New York and offered it to me. I declined because I had some client meetings but I did tell her that I left RapidMiner last year. 

That call set up a chain reaction where two weeks later, I had an offer to join the Sales team at H2O.ai. I made preparations to close down my consultancy in September 2018 and joined the team. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I owe it all to Blogging

I owe everything to Blogging. I do. I took my passion for AI and turned it into a career. Along the way, I’ve met so many awesome people and now I’m surrounded by so many awesome people. I’m part of the Maker culture where you “make stuff” happen and I’m humbled to be there. It’s crazy, wild, stressful, adventurous, hard, enlightening, and plain awesome. 

I would’ve never been here if I resigned myself to my fate back in 2007. Do what scares you, do what you love. Make your world sing.

Do it!

If you’ve ever wondered if you could blog yourself to a new life, you can. I share some tips on how to do it in my How to Blog Yourself to a New Life post.

Millennials can’t catch a break!

This is just nuts. Millennials just can’t seem to catch a break. Now AI is coming for their jobs.

Research released by Gallup on Thursday indicates a collision between technology and “business as usual” is coming soon, and the fallout will be ugly, especially for Millennials. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are among the most disruptive forces descending upon the workplace, says the Gallup report, and 37% of Millennials “are at high risk of having their job replaced by automation, compared with 32% of those in the two older generations.”[via Forbes]

If you’re considering a career move, get a beat on what jobs are trending up (software engineer) and which ones are on their way out (reporter). You can boost your skills through a boot camp or with a traditional degree, no matter what your industry is, but know that some companies may prefer a regular degree over a boot-camp certificate or DIY learning.

But those industries might be susceptible to offshoring.

Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that programmer and coder jobs will decline 8% due to outsourcing to other countries from 2014 to 2024, there will still be plenty of work, and in many cases, it will be too unwieldily to move massive operations overseas.

So in other words, Millennials can’t seem to catch a break. If I were part of that creative and awesome generation, I’d probably go the route of entrepreneurship.

Update

Some Millennials are grabbing market share and are changing the world. Uber is the first one that comes to mind but there are many other small niche businesses and startups. I really love the Millennial generation, speaking as a Gex X’er, because I know what it’s like to be given a raw deal from the Boomers, who are on track to become the most hated generation on record.

The Joys of Tidying Up

I bought Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing at the end of 2018. Since then, I’ve been reading it on and off and find it to be quite good. I’ve taken some of her techniques and put them to use in my house, not because it’s overly cluttered but to help bring more harmony to my house.

Our house is not overly cluttered but it does have some pockets of disorganization and clutter. This is mostly in our office. Both my wife and I work from home 90% of the time and the office tends to be the magnet for papers, letters, books, laptops, chargers, cameras, etc.

Another spot of clutter is the coffee table in the living room. It becomes a magnet for magazines and books. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that ‘books’ and paper products appear to be the big things in our house.

The next big thing is laundry. We have two kids and it seems that every time I look around, there’s another load to wash and fold. Usually, we do 4 loads at a time and then have 4 loads of laundry to fold. This turns into a large pile of terror to look at and we tend to leave folding for the last minute. Everyone in our house folds completely differently and clothes get jammed into weird places in our respective dressers and closets.

Joys of Tidying Up

After watching some Kondo videos and reading her book, I decided to take charge of the laundry problem while I think about the book and paper problem. I cleared the tops of the washing machine and dryer and now the laundry right as soon as it comes out. I do it using her ‘stand up method’ and folding it in thirds. Then I put it away, wait for the next load to finish washing, then dry it, and repeat.

I even got my wife to do this and we’ve found that the dread of folding a mountain of clothes has completely gone away. The kids help too and we’ve reduced our stress completely, so score a point for Marie.

Book Clutter

Worse than the paper clutter (and I start recycling them), is my book clutter. We have 100’s of books that haven’t been read and are just jammed into our bookshelves, coffee tables, and nightstands. I love books and love reading but I came to a realization that 85% of these books are never read, 10% is used (recipe books, reference, etc), and 5% are books I’ve read several times over the years.

What was it about 5% of the books I’ve re-read over the years? It’s because I love them and I always learn something new from them. So I completely get Marie’s point on touching the book and if I get an emotional reaction to it, then I keep it.

What are those books? They’re my books on Haiku and History. Some are on Self Improvement and Personal Growth. Others are Hiking, Adventure, and Cooking. The rest of them I feel zero emotion to them and realize I can probably donate over 50% of them to the local library book sale.

I will be commencing with a book decluttering shortly after I talk my better half into decluttering her books too.

The Joy of the Library

The book decluttering process has taught me, or shall I say reinforced another lesson. Learn to Love Thy Local Library. Instead of buying books from Amazon, I can borrow the books I want to read and then return them. I can return them if I don’t like them or if I loved them. I can re-read the ones I loved and never read again the ones I don’t. I can return them and never have them clutter up my house for years.

Yes, that’s the power of your local library. Get books for free, read them for free, and return them. It’s a super win-win. You save money, support your local library, and have a clean house. Why didn’t think of this before? Score another point for decluttering books Marie, and get a bonus point for reminding me how awesome libraries are.

Sparking Joy

One of the big themes in Marie’s book is the concept of Sparking Joy. We all have a short life to live and it’ll be filled with problems and stress. Yet, we are meant to live our lives in happiness and joy, so we try to surround ourselves with loved ones, a good job, friends, and things that make us happy.

Marie’s point is that your space, your house, your ‘castle’ is a primary point for creating (sparking) joy. If your home is not in balance and you’re not feeling happy, then there’s something wrong and your entire life can get out of whack.

I completely get this as all these things are ultimately in your control. You can pick good friends, you can find people to love, you can search for a job you love, and you can create your living space in a joyful environment.

Thanks, Marie. I’m going to doing to do a load of laundry right now.

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?

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.

In Praise of an Older Woman

November Writing Challenge

 If you ever watched the movie “American Pie” you’ll remember the scene where the character Finchy seduces (or is seduced by) Stifler’s mom. She was hiding out in the basement bar by herself when Finchy stumbles across her and walks in.

Small talk, lots of Scotch later, and the realization that they both are adults of legal age led to a vigorous coupling between a younger man and an older woman.

I blame that ritual for my gaps in memory

I thought that scene was funny and didn’t understand why a young man, just barely 18, would be so enamored by a woman possibly twice his age until it happened to me.

Subscribe to get access

Read more of this content when you subscribe today.