Punk Rock and a Potato in my Pants

“Hey, I got a great idea,” the singer from our band says, “Let’s throw ground meat at the audience.”

The rest of the band looks at each other and the rhythm guitarist is the first to speak.

“Yea, I dunno about that. Meat is expensive.”

“Right,” my singer pauses, “How about potatoes?”

We all look at each other and smile.

Back in the early 1990s, I played bass guitar in multiple punk rock bands. Those were glorious but hazy times of my life.

“You mean our music isn’t enough?” I asked.

We played in and around New York City, recorded original songs, pressed a 7” record, and had a ball.

All the punk bands I played in lasted typically a few months. Egos, violence, and a host of other problems always doomed them. For this particular band, we managed to survive long enough to get some stage time.

The band consisted of a drummer, two guitarists (one rhythm and one lead), me the bass player, and our uber punk rocker singer.

We wrote a few catchy tunes and my singer said he got us a gig, at a bar just outside New York City. It wasn’t a typical punk rock bar but more of a regular neighborhood bar.

At first, the rest of us were concerned about this since the “locals” don’t really like punk rock music. He assured us that he was going to set up a punk rock festival and invite more punk bands from the area to play too.

We started practicing harder to make our debut on stage a success when my singer says, “we need a hook, something they’ll remember us by!”

“You mean our music isn’t enough?” I asked.

“No, we gotta do something like what Gigi Allen does!”

One guitarist says, “I’m not shitting on stage if that’s what you mean!”

“No! Something different, how about throwing ground meat at the audience?”

My rhythm guitarists chimes in, “Yea, I dunno about that. Meat is expensive.”

My singer pauses and says, “Right, what about potatoes?”

I could see my singer holding up a giant russet potato in one hand and the microphone in his other hand.

We hatched a plan to shove a large potato down our pants, play the gig, and then when we hit a break in one of our songs, reach down into our pants, pull out the potato, and throw it into the audience.

We all agreed.

The night of the show the bar was filled with two kinds of people. The locals and a sea of punk rockers with colored hair and mohawks, and the shaved heads of skinheads.

Things were getting rowdy as the bar was overwhelmed and the staff was shooting each other glances that translated to “WTF is going on here?”

We take the stage and start playing loud. I don’t remember how we remained in time but there was a wall of noise directed from the stage into the bar and outside onto the sidewalk.

This was NOT the impact we wanted to make…

The punk rockers and skinheads started to form a pit and slam dance. The locals had a look of fear on their faces because this was like nothing they’d ever seen before!

Then the moment came, we hit the break in the song. Everyone reached down into their pants and pulled out the potato.

In the glow of the blue and yellow stage light, I could see my singer holding up a giant russet potato in one hand and the microphone in his other hand.

A light shone on the audience closest to the stage, they had this look of “WTF is this” across their faces. With the flick of his wrist he threw the potato into the audience, we followed seconds later and tossed our potatoes as well.

We then launched into the remainder of the song, smiling at the impact we made until I felt a potato come whizzing inches from my head.

Another potato hit the drum kit, knocking over a cymbal stand. Then I saw my singer drop the microphone when a potato hit him squarely in the face. The rest of the band looked at each other as we dodged the rest of the potatoes.

This was NOT the impact we wanted to make, be the target of impact!

We lifted our guitars in the air and yelled “thanks” to the audience indicating our set was done and for the next band to come. We rushed over to our signer who was clutching his eye, it was swollen and he’d get a black eye for sure.

“Ground meat doesn’t hurt as much as potatoes,” he muttered as we helped him off stage.

Humility and Equanimity in Sales

Dear Friend,

I’ve been meaning to write about the importance of humility and equanimity in sales. From my personal past observations, it seems these are attributes only a few salespeople have.

What are humility and equanimity?

Humility is defined as:

“a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”

Equanimity is defined as:

“mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”

The Monkey Brain

Recently I was enlightened by a sales colleague about the concept of the Monkey brain. It was from a book he read.

The Monkey brain is hubris, fight, flight, any emotion or reaction that ties us back to the days when we started walking upright.

Our reaction must be the same, always.

When you give a presentation, it’s the Monkey that says “you’re going say stupid things” or “you don’t look pretty enough.” When you sign a great sales deal, it’s the Monkey that says “YAH! I’m the King/Queen, nothing can touch me!”

The Monkey Brain is not enlightened. It is the attachment to this world, it is that prevents you from achieving moksha. It is what causes the downfall of many a Salesperson.

Leave the Monkey Behind

When you are in Sales, you are essentially asking someone to trade resources (money) for something you have to offer. Your offer must be more of a perceived value to that person that they are willing to part with their money.

This offer. It can be anything. It can be a product or service.

You must sell it so that your organization can survive.

It is the Monkey that goes out hunting for the tribe.

The Monkey gets scared if the potential sale appears to be falling through.

The Monkey parties when the sale goes through, just like if he killed food to bring back to the tribe.

The Monkey falls into the same trap every time because it is the Monkey Brain.

You must leave the Monkey behind.

Humility and Equanimity

Humility is not of the Monkey, it is an understanding that you do not understand everything. Humility is looking inward to oneself and finding that Monkey, hiding in your emotional trees and quieting him. Humility means that you will try your best and do your best, but not let the Monkey control your fears.

Equanimity is not of the Monkey as well. When the Monkey wins, he is elated and thumps his chest. When the Monkey loses, he gets angry and depressed. In life, we will win and we will lose. We will learn and we will make mistakes. It is how we react to the good and bad that is equanimity. Our reaction must be the same, always.

We are doing our job when we win and we are doing our job when we lose.

Be Humble.

Be Equanimous.

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.

Make a Big Impact in Your Life

I owe all my success in life to effective communication. This includes my professional life, my love life, and my social life.

In this article, I’d like to share two tips for effective communication in your professional life.

It’s just three small tips with huge payoffs! Read on…


In my professional life, I work as a sales engineer, data scientist, and master of duct tape. I stick things together to make them work in a high technology field. It’s one of the most affirming and exciting things I’ve ever done in my life and I look forward to going to work every day.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?”

I didn’t go to school for computer science or data science, I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I worked as a Professional Engineer for over 20 years. So how did I get here?

I got into this field by luck, curiosity, hard work, and communication. I had started a blog on data mining that turned into a full-blown career in the startup world and data science, and I couldn’t have done it without communicating complex ideas simply and effectively.

It appears that recruiters are searching for those communication skills as well:

However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?” By learning public speaking, writing with style, and making pretty pictures.

Take a Toastmaster’s class

One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes, I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started a conversation with them I would say, “I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover.

They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.

…I seem to make people cry a lot…

Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere.

You must communicate effectively to non-technical people to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.

So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.

Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part.

How do you do it? How do you start? You enroll in Toastmasters.

Yes, you get your ass up in front of people and work toward becoming a certified Toastmaster. To achieve that status you need to give 10 speeches, each one with a specific focus.

The first one is the hardest, it’s the icebreaker. You have to get up in front of people and introduce yourself for 3 to 5 minutes.

Then you progress into speeches to inform, to persuade, or to evoke an emotional response (I seem to make people cry a lot).

My current career relies heavily on the skills I learned being a Toastmaster, as does my partner’s career too.

The best part about joining Toastmasters is that it doesn’t break the bank. Yes, there’s a membership fee but it’s nominal and you have clubs in churches, libraries, and schools. Just visit Find A Club link and enter your zip code. Done!

Joining Toastmasters all those years ago was the best thing I ever did, it yielded the highest professional return in my life for the smallest investment of time.

Elements of style

I met Robert in graduate school. He was a Canadian man in his late 60’s, retired, and living in the States with his wife. He woke up one morning and enrolled in business school where I was.

“Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

We hit it off and worked on many class projects together. Over the semesters he started to share his life with me. I was impressed and inspired by the life he had led up till then.

As a son of Chinese immigrants, he settled in Canada, worked in a dry cleaner, then owned a pizza parlor, started and sold a newspaper, and became a writer.

He was the most interesting man I’ve ever known up till that point and he remains a good friend to this day.

As our graduate life came to an end, we went down to the local pub for a celebratory drink. We had spent a good 3 years together, writing, learning, and presenting. We reminisced about all the good times and commiserated on the bad times.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

After the second drink, he reached into this bag and handed me a small sliver-looking book.

He looked squarely in my eyes and said, “Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

Robert handed me a book titled “Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.

It’s a tiny book that packed — and I mean packed — elements of writing compositions, style, and grammar.

Over the years that gift has made a big impact on my writing and I refer to it when I need to edit a lengthy text or just need some inspiration.

Thank you, Robert, you have no idea how your thoughtfulness has impacted my life.

Visuals, it’s about the visuals

The last item that made a big impact on my life is understanding that the majority of people in this world are visual learners. That means they learn best from pictures and visualizations.

A single photograph can inspire a call to action or change the narrative of war.

I took up photography many years ago as a way to express my creative outlet and have spent countless hours reviewing and analyzing photos.

In that time I’ve learned a few things about images and visualizations.

The most effective and powerful images are the simple ones. I’m not talking simple flowcharts, but the ones that are stripped down to their bare essentials and focus on my key thing, whatever that thing may be.

Every commercial and every advertisement we see seeks to focus your eye on one thing.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

How many Nike shoes did you have? You’ll remember the swoosh first.

When you create visuals and images, you have helped the viewer train their eye to the most important part of that image. That’s how you make an impact.

To see a non-commercially inspired set of images, I suggest you visit an art museum. Walk around the halls in the different periods, see what images resonate with you.

I’m partial to the abstractive art and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I like minimalistic art because it makes a powerful statement that leads viewers to read into any way they see fit.

You will need to figure this out for yourself and see what works best in your career!

TL;dr

Sign up for Toastmasters. Learn to write better. Make pretty pictures.


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What If No One Ever Saw Your Photography?

I came across a curious YouTube video a few weeks ago where the creator went into a philosophical discussion about creating photos and having no one ever see them.

He referred to Vivian Maier, a woman that died in 2009. She had let her storage place lapse two years prior and all her contents were “won” by John Maloof, Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow. In her storage space were decades of developed and undeveloped film of her street photography work.

© Wiki Media Commons

Vivian spent all her free time photographing over decades and never showed anyone her work. It was only just before her death that her work was shown and took the world by storm.

Can you imagine a person like her in today’s world with an iPhone, Instagram, and Facebook?

I can’t.

She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone. via Wikipedia

She never posted her work on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. She never did it for the likes, recognition, or adulation.

If the right people didn’t find her work, after letting her payments lapse, she would’ve died in obscurity. No one, except her living relatives, would’ve known who she was and her odd quirks.

My initial reaction was “OMG, how lucky we are to know her work” but how many Vivian Maier’s are out there? And how many will we never know?

Why Shoot if You’re Not Going to Show?

In today’s FOMO world and siloed social media, we’re driven to create content and share our photographs. If our creative work is well received we might get a like or a comment. On the surface, this instant feedback is good. You can learn faster and course-correct as needed.

But the darker side to instant feedback is that you get hooked on it. You might tie up your entire self-worth or voice as a creative in little likes and hearts.

I find that incredibly upsetting. We are more than just social media likes and hearts, at least I’d like to think we are.

Plus, developing your style and your voice takes time. It takes making mistakes, falling, and getting back up again, time after time, to develop who you are as an artist and photographer.

Perhaps it might be a good thing NOT to show your work for a long time or even at all. You need time to find your voice and develop your style if you want to be an artist.

Some find themselves faster than others, and some — like yours truly — can take decades.

Here’s a mental exercise. What happens when you do show your work and it’s not well received? Do you then change your style to match what general society likes or wants? If you were to change, what is the reason why? Is it for the likes and hearts?

If you couldn’t care less about the likes and hearts then it begs the deepest and hardest question to answer, why do you shoot at all?

This, dear friends, is a question I struggle with. Why do I even shoot at all? What is my voice? What is my style? What is my message? Do I even need to have a message?

Box of Positives & Negatives

My partner and I moved our entire family to a new house 5 years ago. When we did I boxed up all my old positive slides and negatives in a box and promptly forget where I put them.

A few weeks ago I found them again and was amazed at some of the old work I did. Granted, I have to scan them in (and I’m lazy that way) but I held the positives up to the light and remembered.

© Thomas Ott

I found my old landscapes from New Mexico and my 3-week exploration of the desert Southwest. I found my scrap metalwork at Port Newark. I found my old flower work.

And I found 100’s of negatives that need to be sleeved and stored. A lot of work that I will reserve for the winter if I have time.

© Thomas Ott

That box of positives and negatives reminded me of Vivian Maier. She photographed and stored her work, never to be seen again. I photographed and stored my work and forgot it. Did Vivian forget her work too?

A Life Worth Living

If I died my family would probably throw them away, a large part of my life gone. I would hope they would at least look at them before they tossed them away, but the probability of that is very low because everyone lives digitally now.

My images, good or bad, are pieces of my life. They provide a window into my past life, a place where I’ve been.

Then there are photographs of me that other people have taken. One day when they die and their work gets thrown away, that photograph of me will be thrown away too.

Will my life have been meaningless? Watch this NY Times video, it hit me hard.

In a world where photography is cheapened, a world where we hustle, a world where we live and die by the likes and hearts, is there any true meaning to photography left?

I say yes.

Its meaning can take many forms but its first and foremost’s meaning is what it is for you.

This is you. When you snap that shutter, it’s you.

A self-portrait is you. A photo of that rock you took, is you. A photo of your loved ones, it’s you. A photo of your lover, it’s you.

This is it. This is your life, the wonderful meaning that is you. Photography is just another way to bring meaning to your life if you let it be.

If you let photography be the avenue for your self-discovery and your meaning then the likes and hearts don’t matter. They become noise around you, and you are the signal.

Your work matters, if it’s only for an audience of one.

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.

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.

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.