Iceland 2015

The raw power of the Icelandic landscape is breathtaking. I took these shots in July 2015 when my family and I did an extended layover in Iceland.

We rented a car and drove around the “golden circle” and took a ton of photos. The ones I’m sharing here are shot with my Ricoh GRD, a fantastic travel camera with a fixed 28mm lens. It’s a camera that’s designed for landscapes and street photos.

You can take portraits with the Ricoh but I left that to my iPhone.

The most powerful thing about this little camera is that it can shoot raw, in the DNG format, which I like better than Canon’s CR format.

It creates razor-sharp images and fits into your pocket. When I travel for an extended time I carry two extra (and charged) batteries with me as well as the USB charging cable and an extra one or two SD cards.

Here are some of my favorite, reprocessed, shots of Iceland (taken from my Travel Diary album on Flickr).

Iceland Gyser

If you didn’t know, Iceland is very active or geothermal stuff. Geysers, waterfalls, bubbling hot springs. You name a geological feature and I’m pretty sure Iceland’s got it.

Waterfall in Iceland Forget Where This Was

There were tons of waterfalls, rivers, and water features everywhere.

Iceland Landscape

Gorgeous landscapes with stormy and clear skis where your eyes can roam for hours.

Skógafoss Waterfall in Iceland

Majestic waterfalls from ice melt.

Field of Lupine in Iceland

Fields of blue lupine flowers as far as the eye can see.

Rock Cairn on Black Sand Beach in Vik Iceland

Famous black sand beaches at Vik, Iceland

Looking back at Vik Iceland from the black sand beaches

Looking back to the famous red church in Vik Iceland, the landscapes are gorgeous.

Reykjavik Iceland Viking Boat Sculpture

Artwork to pay homage to Iceland’s Viking heritage.

My daughter running on a wide open field in Iceland

Stormy and cloud weather across open fields where you can run far and fast.

Iceland Horses

And wonderful horses. So many horses!

I believe I’ve open-sourced all these images, so feel free to use them if you like. I just require attribution (a link back).

Print Your Photos Out

My father passed away unexpectedly at the beginning of November 2021. He had some severe health issues and we knew he was living on borrowed time, we just didn’t know how short that time was.

While preparing for my father’s memorial and eulogy, our entire family searched for photos to share and use as a tribute to his life. My mother searched through her photo and wedding albums and found some beautiful photos of my father as a young man.

These were photos of him when he first came to the United States, their wedding, and when my sister and I were born. My mother had it easy to find those photos, my sister and me? Not so easy.

I realized that all our photos live online or on some backup device. It’s hard to troll through Facebook and by accident, and I mean really by accident, I found a wonderful family photo from Christmas 2019.

That was the last time our small family was together for a family gathering. As I printed that photo out I scolded myself that I should’ve printed that photo out before. As I pasted it onto the white paper board I scolded myself again that I should’ve made a second copy of it and framed it.

My son and daughter helped paste the images on boards and created a collage of their grandfather’s life. My mother cried when she saw the photos of my father that we snapped but never printed out.

It was at that moment that I realized what a travesty it is not to print out photos. It’s an affront to your family and all the loved ones in your life not to make a physical reminder of your time together.

Is this not what we do with lovers and cherished people in our life? Make reminders of our time together? Reminders of love for one another?

Why have I become so dismissive of this simple act? Why have we, as a society, chosen to share our lives on social media only to have them buried in a timeline?

Why don’t we print out those photos of us with friends, lovers, and parents? Why don’t we print out every single silly photo of us laughing, when we were young and wild?

Why don’t make tangible, tactile, and physical reminders of a time that was slowed for just that instant? When we were in states of ecstasy and happiness?

I don’t know why we don’t but I dare us to do so again. I dare us to print out our photos and put the best ones in a frame or album, and then give them away.


My partner and I hosted Christmas dinner this year, after skipping it in 2020 due to Covid19 fears. My sister and her family couldn’t make it but we gathered again and we took a family photo.

I printed it out and put it in a frame, right next to the Christmas family photo in 2019, when everyone was alive and happy. I see smiles across everyone’s face and I am reminded of that evening.

I can hold that picture frame a look at my father one more time when he was in better health, and with life in his eyes.

Print your photos out. It’s the only way to hold onto your time.

Fighting Toxic Masculinity One Boy At A Time

“Dad?”

“Yes, son?”

“Can I go with you to the Dojo? I think I want to learn Karate.”

“Oh? Did something happen?”

He pauses. That’s a clue to me that something did happen.

“No, I just want to learn how to defend myself.”


I’m a proud father. I have two wonderful children, a daughter, and a son, and I often think about the world they’re growing up in a world. A world that on the surface appears different from the one I grew up in but suffers from the same problems of my time. A world that is suffering from a threat so severe that our world is dying from it. I’m talking about toxic masculinity.

I fully believe that toxic masculinity and the patriarchy are what are holding humanity back. It’s destroying our children’s ability to “awaken” into true emotionally mature and competent humans, regardless of their gender.


“We were in the lunch line, waiting to get our food.”

I nod my head, listening.

“And this senior cut in front of us, he was on the football team.”

“Oh? That’s pretty rude of him,” I say.

“Yeah, and I said he should wait his turn and get on the line like the rest of us.”

“That’s fair,” I say, “What happened then?”

“He told me he was going to ‘wreck me’ if I didn’t shut up.”


One of the best things that happened to me in my life was the day I became a father and not just a sperm donor. There are huge differences between a male sperm donor and a father.

A woman becomes a mother the moment she conceives, the moment her body accepts the fertilized ovum and it attaches itself to her body. Once that clump of cells attaches to her uterine wall and her body nourishes it, she is a mother. Always from that day forward.

For a man, it’s a bit different. The moment he becomes a father is the moment he chooses to invest time, resources, and emotions into the child. Whether it’s unborn, born, his genetic seed or not, a man can be a father to his child, the mother’s child, be an uncle, or in general a fatherly role model to boys and girls.

What happened to my son that day showed me that the father of the boy, the one that pushed his way to the front of the lunch line and threatened to ‘wreck’ my boy for speaking up, has failed him.

That father has failed his son. He knowingly or unknowingly raised his son to be a part of the vicious cycle of toxic masculinity. One where boys will be boys.

Boys will be boys. How I hate the phrase ever since I heard it from the parents of a boy that bullied me in grade school.

“Oh, isn’t that what all boys do? Boys will be boys.”

No, boys will not be boys if you raise them right.

This is why the infamous Gillette commercial so resonated with me. I was that boy, the one that was chased and harassed by other boys because of a lame excuse of boys will be boys.

I keep coming back to this video over the years. Why? Because it exposed the root of the problem. We men have been ignoring a screaming monster right in front of our faces. We got so scared that we speak the sacred words of a spell to chase it away, we say over and over again “boys will be boys.”

Except the monster doesn’t go away, it grows quiet with every chanted spell we say, it feeds on those words and grows bigger and more dangerous.

“How did you feel when he said that?” I ask.

“I was angry,” he pauses, “it was so wrong.”

I nod my head, “Go on.”

“Well, what if he decided to ‘wreck me?’ I don’t know how to defend myself.”

“Defending yourself is a good thing to learn,” I say, “Is that why you want to go to the Dojo?”

He nods yes.

I was on Twitter the other day saw a tweet from Aubrey Andrews. I follow her for her sarcastic biting wit and in this tweet, she posted a screenshot from an alleged Tinder profile.

What a sad profile. Sad in so many ways, but above all, I feel bad for this young man. I feel bad because the father figures in his life have failed him.

He’s probably in his 30s, horny, very emotionally immature, probably has problems talking to women, and most possibly on a negative path toward violence.

He feels like this is what life is like, women are there for a man’s pleasure, she needs to conform to some outdated religious requirement of chastity, and the root of all problems are immigrants.

This is a man who has fallen prey to toxic masculinity and the crushing patriarchy, a system that affects both men and women in different ways.

I never knew that it was that system that affected me so negatively growing up and how I was conditioned to excuse it as “boys will be boys.”

I’m here to say, not my boy.

I will shout this from the rooftops, NOT MY BOY!

Then I heard another voice. More men were screaming it from their rooftops.

I’m not alone.

There are other fathers out there that feel the same way. They actively take their time to make a difference, to invest in children through organizations, through Dojos, through the boys and girls in their families, and make a difference.

Being a father, whether it’s your biological seed or not, is a SUPERPOWER. Yes, we can never grow a life inside us but we can guide a life. We can shape the world, be the builders of a new world.

Men can actively father so many children that in the short span of a single generation can usher in a new world.

A world where there is no one is ‘wrecked’ because they asked for fairness. A world where women can feel safe to walk down the streets. A world where boys and girls can be who they are and not be bullied. A world that is built on kindness, respect, and emotional maturity.

We can do this in One. Fucking. Generation.

But we men need to own this. We need to take concrete steps to slay the monster.

But how?


Three months later I sat in the audience to watch my son test for his yellow stripe belt. Testing at our Dojo is always a boot camp style with the instructors yelling at the students, putting them under physical and mental pressure. He completed the test and ‘ranked up.’

Covered in teenage sweat and smelling like one, he smiled at me when the instructor put the tape on his belt.


A handful of men can’t slay this monster by themselves. We need is the majority of men across the world to look in the mirror and say, “It stops with me, no more.”

It will take the majority of men to stop and actively listen, with an open mind, to what women have been begging for us to hear for decades. It will require us men NOT to feel like it’s a criticism directed at them, but to understand the problems and help solve them.

Yes, we will need help from the women in our lives but it’s up to us men to start this.

I’m not here to stop you from still doing your “man stuff.” I’m not here to take away your fishing, your hunting, your boxing, your guns, your race cars, or sports. You know, all the stuff that I enjoy too, but I want to take away the lies we’ve been fed.

I want us men to undo the conditioning that has kept us in the ‘man box’ for generations. I want us to do the hard work of becoming emotionally mature, to see the system that not only holds women down but us men as well.

I want us to tear it all down because we were the ones that built this in the first place. I want us men to partner with women to architect a new world, a better world, one where boys and girls can become whole human beings.


“I’m tired and I think I’ll go to bed,” he says.

“Goodnight son, I love you.”

“Goodnight dad, I love you too.”

Freshly showered and with a belly full of food, I watch my boy climb the stairs to his bedroom. I notice that he keeps getting taller every day, his body is becoming more like a man with every passing week. I think about how he’s growing into a fine young man, a very compassionate and emotionally mature one. He’s light years ahead of where I was at his age.

I think about my nephews and how I came down on the oldest one recently, how I called out his shit one day. I remember how he grew quiet at what I said rattled around inside his head. I think about my youngest nephew, how he’s growing up with a non-engaged father, and how my sister once told me, “you are more of a father to him than his bio dad.”

Part of me is proud that my sister sees me as an important influence on her children but another part of me is sad. Another man is failing to guide, failing to lead where it’s most important, the raising of a new generation of men and women.

I pause for a moment. The words, “It stops with me. No more” echo in my brain as I climb the stairs and go to bed.


Originally published at https://thomasott.io on January 6, 2022.

My Passive Income Rose 500% Last Year

I used to write a lot about my Dividend Investing and Passive Income Experiment on my other blog, Neural Market Trends. I decided to stop writing about it there because it was diluting what that blog was about, machine learning and AI.

Heck, I haven’t been writing much about that topic since I started writing here and on Medium over the summer. So it was a surprise when I got a notification that my investment statement was ready and I noticed a big number in the dividends column.

So I decided to bring the conversation here, to this blog, and see where it takes me.

In 2021 I started to allocate some of my savings into stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds that generate dividends and income. I’m at the point in my life where I have built up a decent nest egg and have been lucky to ride the tech growth boom.

I’m trying to retire in 9 years — hopefully, sooner — so my investment strategy has shifted to more of these dividends and income-producing assets. Granted, I have to pay taxes on them right now — and I’m OK with this — I’m just plowing back all the gains into more shares.

For dividends only, I increased my passive income by over 500%. This number is higher when I add in the capital gains distributions but I’m just focusing on dividends right now.

In 2020 I made $1,079 in dividends and in 2021 I made $6,079.

Dividend Summary
Dividend Summary Chart

Granted, I can’t live off of $6,079 BUT the experiment showed me that with due diligence, thoughtful planning, and reinvesting, I could eventually live off this without touching my invested capital!

DANG folks! This is real passive income!

I started this experiment because, at the end of 2020, my partner read off her the number of dividends her retirement portfolio generated that year. It was to the tune of $50,000.

$50,000! Holy crap Batman!

That sum of money is nothing to sneeze at and quite honestly is a livable income in low cost of living areas of the United States. Hell, you could live like a king in places like Costa Rica or Thailand on that income.

Generating passive income to live on is doable. I was always told it was but seeing is believing and I’m going “all-in” in 2022.

Read my 5 Tips to Building a Dividend Passive Income Portfolio post on how to get started.

Make Photos That Make You Happy

So many times people ask me to take their photo with their smartphone. They ask me what pose or location would look like for a nice photo for their Instagram or Facebook page.

I don’t mind doing this at all. I direct them a bit, tell them to move over, look up, look down, whatever I think is best to get a good shot of them. Then I snap the photo for them and hand them back their phone.

Her smile just lights up the photograph.

One time I shot my friend and his banana yellow car. It was many years ago and before the days of Instagram but I do remember it was a BMW. He was really proud of the car and he had been working out lately, so it was a man and his machine photoshoot. He was happy with the medium format images I gave him and he paid me with beer and pizza.

Another time I set up a chair in my partner’s garden that was in full bloom and hosted a BBQ. My family came over and some friends. I took this awesome photo of Monica. Her smile just lights up the photograph.

Then there are times when I take snaps of my family, take photos of cute mushrooms, or even photograph nude models.

I do this because it makes me happy.

The act of taking a photograph is a little slice of happiness. It’s a shot of dopamine into all the pleasure centers of our minds. It’s no wonder we live for the “likes” and “hearts” on social media. We crave the validation that we matter.

Other times you make a half-assed shot and the world goes crazy and loves it.

When you make a photograph you are working to make a slice of your happiness. Sometimes your happiness and what the world thinks is happiness don’t coincide.

There are so many times when I make a photograph and think that this is a great photograph, and the world laughs at my pitiful attempt.

Other times you make a half-assed shot and the world goes crazy and loves it. You end up getting on Flickr’s Explore or ride 500px to the top of the heap.

Whatever.

Ultimately I look at my photography as therapy for all the crazy thoughts that run around in my head. It’s my watering hole, my sounding board, my way to deal with the trauma of life. I make photos that make me happy first.

That’s what you should do, make photos that delight you. Make photos that make you want to sing. Make photos that make you happy first.

Then share them with the world and let the chips fall where they may.

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 of 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 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 of 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.

It all started when my partner and I got engaged and flew to Macau to visit her family. I was to be formally introduced to her family and of course evaluated for mate suitability. After all, I was the first non-Chinese suitor in their family and they wanted to know if a white boy would make a good mate for their daughter and sister.

In case you were wondering, we hit it off smashingly and I was welcomed with open arms into a very traditional family and culture.

We had set a date for the wedding, just over a year in the future, and decided to buy our wedding bands locally.

Two unconventional people, with two unconventional wedding bands, living an unconventional life together.

I don’t remember how and why we decided on this particular ring but we went with the white gold option. We engraved each other’s names in the band and tucked them away for the wedding.

After the wedding, we began to notice that our rings would bend, they molded themselves to our hands. We both started to develop a callous on our hand in the exact same spot.

These bands were real white gold and gold, if not hardened, is actually quite soft and pliable. Our bands were not hardened. In other words, we have very unconventional wedding bands.

One day my partner suggested we get new wedding bands, ones that were harder and less likely to bend. I told her “no, I like these just the way we are,” and how they remind me to bend in our relationship.

Two unconventional people, with two unconventional wedding bands, living an unconventional life together.

Any long-term relationship will see its share of disagreements, fights, explosions, and drama. No matter how similar you are, you are still distinct human beings making a choice to be together. It’s just par for the course that the connection will never be 100% perfect, and that’s a good thing.

Why do you want to match perfectly anyways? There is so much joy in the journey of discovering your partner, why not take that journey?

My partner and I are not perfect people, and we realize that.

My partner and I, over the course of the last 17 years have had our ups and downs, our fights, our disagreements, but through it all, we have always come back together.

We chose to bend because all that is good in our relationship and life is so much better, so much sweeter, together than it would be apart.

To bend means not to take a hard-line stance on anything. To bend means to be willing to listen and acknowledge that you, yes you, could be wrong.

To bend, like a reed in a storm, means you will outlast the mighty oak that is felled in a raging storm.

To bend means that you shape yourself and your partner into something better. To adjust and overcome whatever obstacle you face together.

My partner and I are not perfect people, and we realize that.

Our rings aren’t perfect circles either, but most importantly they remain intact.

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.