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.

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.

My Birthday Wish

I will turn 51 this month and instead of looking toward a festive celebration with my family, I’m planning a memorial service for my father.

2021 has been the worst year for me that I can remember in a long time and I want it to end. The Covid19 pandemic upended all our lives for nearly two years, then my dog died, and then my father passed away unexpectedly.

Last year we couldn’t get together for New Year, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my 50th birthday. We all were isolating and being extra careful not to catch Covid. That all changed when my elderly parents and aunt caught it.

They all collapsed in their home within days of each other and were rushed to the hospital.

Then the long-term Covid complications came.

I remember trying to run the numbers in my head and asking what was the probability that each one survives? What is the probability that all three survive?

All three of them are in the high-risk category for death and have underlying health conditions. I couldn’t sleep for days, lying in bed wondering when I’d receive a call from the hospital that one of them passed away.


Luckily they beat the odds, all three of them came out completely trashed and destroyed but they were alive.

Then the long-term Covid complications came. My mother started losing more weight. Today she looks like a bag of bones covered with skin. My aunt started losing her hair to the point that she was bald.

My father? He got the worst of it.

My father was not a healthy individual. He drank, smoked, and ate too much. He was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes in his late 40’s and ignored it. Coming from a family where we have heart issues, his diabetes affected his heart until he had a heart attack a few days before my wedding.

I remember dancing with my partner and seeing my mother and father dancing and me remarking that my father looked like a ghost. He had no color on his face. The next day he was admitted to the hospital.

This year he won’t wish me a happy birthday.

My father cheated death so many times and for that I’m grateful. We had more time with him. We had more time to listen to his jokes, hear him sing, and spend time with him at family gatherings.

Our last family gathering was Christmas 2019.

My father never missed a Chinese New Year celebration, he never missed a family function, he always called his grandchildren on their birthdays, and he always called his family.

My father tried hard to live with a “family first” attitude, even though his bouts with alcoholism when I was a child made me resent him then.

My father had his problems, he was a simple and yet complex man in many regards, but he was still my dad.


The Covid19 pandemic ripped so many families apart, canceled so many celebrations, and killed so many people. My heart goes out to you if you’ve lost a loved one and I offer you my condolences.

…there will be an empty place at the table

Last year at this time my partner was reaching out to my friends and family to get them to video record a 50th birthday greeting. I found my father’s isolated video clip wishing me a happy birthday.

This year he won’t wish me a happy birthday. He will never do so ever again.


Every year around my birthday month I start withdrawing a bit. I spend time in quiet reflection and I count my blessings. I have a wonderful career, a wonderful and loving partner, awesome kids, a wonderful family, and many friends. I’m the luckiest man alive.

Every year when my partner asks me what I want for my birthday I always reply the same, a nice dinner with my family. In pre-Covid years we’d go out to a nice restaurant and invite my mother, father, aunt, and sister to come along. I never want gifts but I get a few small things despite my protestations.

What I wanted was time with them. Time with my loved ones because the day will come when time on this mortal plane will run out for them.

And it did for my father. Way too soon.

So I think about things in November and look forward to the holiday gatherings. I look forward to writing our holiday newsletter with my partner. We pull photos together and print a card. We decorate, play music, and invite our family over.

Only this year there will be an empty place at the table.

So I spend November looking outward. I look outward toward you and gladly will share my love with you. When I say, “I love you all,” I mean it. I see the looming end of the year and look toward a new year, one with no mistakes and no heartbreak. One where my cup will runneth over in love and laughter.

That is my wish, a cup we can all raise in a toast to one another where it runs over with love. It spills over the brim and runs down our arms.

My birthday wish for you is to find your loved ones and hold them tight. Adjust your schedules, make time for them. Meet up with old friends. Write a card to an old colleague.

My wish for you is to live your life with love, passion, and desire. My wish for you is to spend time with the people that bring you joy, the ones that sustain you, and the ones that help you grow.

Just give your love, give it all away. Throw it out to the universe and the love you receive back is the love that is saved.

That is the best present ever.

Happy Birthday.

Love is What Binds Us

Ever since I lived in New Mexico I had this burning desire to share. I lived in Albuquerque for 5 years, from 1994 to 1999. It was one of the most momentous times of my life, both good and bad.

While I look back at the times with more fondness than sadness, I always seem to be called back to it in my thoughts.

There is something magical about The Land of Enchantment. It’s a place where my spirit can roam unfettered and where a part of my heart still lives.

New Mexico was a spiritually transformative place for me. It was where I grew into the man I am today. It was a place where a select few women had a massive effect on how I formed connections with the opposite sex. More were good effects than bad, and I thank them all.

I met fierce women, rugged men, and learned that family and tradition ran strong in people irrespective of their race or lineage.

There was so much that connected us together then would rend us apart.

So many similarities that it can’t be a coincidence, can it?

New Mexico was where I kindled my desire to write, to photograph, and to roam. It was a place where I could for a brief moment of my life experience what it means to “go with the flow.”

I had no idea how my life would go but I had a blueprint that my parents set forth for me. I had another blueprint that society told me to follow.

A blueprint that starts with going to school, graduating, finding a job, get married, have kids, retire, and die.

For the most part, this is the typical blueprint for all our lives. After all, education is important, having the means to earn money to live is important, and maybe finding a loving partner or partners is important too.

One might argue that getting married, having kids, and retiring are optional, but dying is not.

There is a finality to life that we all must face, some of us sooner than later. This finality seems so far away when we are young but it constantly creeps closer.

If you subscribe to religion then you can take faith in resurrection, heaven, or reincarnation. If you say you’re just spiritual, you can take solace in some higher state of vibration or power that will take you into its bosom. Or if you’re a non-believer, then you feel the urgency of knowing that this is your only time in this reality.

I have no answers here but what I will say is that without the time and looming death you face, your life will have no meaning. Your meaning is something you need to discover for yourself. It is something you need to evaluate every day, even if it’s for 30 seconds.


Right before I left New Mexico I became a Minister of the Universal Life Church of Modesto California. I sent them $10 and was ordained. I thought that was hilarious back then because who can become a Minister via email?

Well, I did.

Interestingly enough I kept that ordination active all these years. There’s no way I’m a Christian and I’m mostly an Atheist, but I can’t help deny the need for us humans to seek spirituality.

For me, these days, that spirituality takes the form of philosophy. I’ve untangled myself from the shackles of modern religions after seeing the destruction they can do.

I think that need is partly tied to a need of realizing pure love. The majority of people that I’ve met have, at some point in their life, wondered “what’s the point to all this?”

The friends and loved ones that have asked that question always tend to come back to love. Love (and acceptance) of themselves, love of their partner, love of their family, and the realization of how powerful it is. Love is what binds us in the light and the dark.

Without the urgency of time, there can be no meaning.

Without our love, there can be no meaning.

Love and time.

Live it, cherish it.

What Is Romance?

Is there hope for hopeless romantics?

Ok, first up, I have a confession to make. I’m a hopeless romantic. Yes, I love the poetry, the new relationship energy, and the constant thinking of your love interest in your mind.

Your heart skips a beat when you see them, your stomach has butterflies, and you can feel the rising heat of their skin when you sit nearby them.

We want our current partners to show us that we still matter to them…

It starts innocently enough, a chance encounter, a swiped connection, or an introduction from a friend. You arrange a coffee date or a movie. You’re interested and they are too.

You put on good clothes, groom yourself, and you want to make a good first impression. The date goes well, your sitting side by side, and then the magic happens, you both lean in for a kiss and everything goes BOOM!

Rainbows! Clouds! Happily Ever After! Stars!

I know, I know, I went off the deep end but we all dream of romance whether we’re single or attached. We want a future lover to bring us flowers or share a candlelight dinner together. We want our current partners to show us that we still matter to them, and that goes for women and men.

Yes, we men want romance too and beyond the “show up naked with a beer and box of wings” cliche.

And, as a man, I want long-lasting romance too.

Romance is Universal

I was brought to think that romance was a one-way street. Men gave romance to women to woo them, attract them, make a connection, get them in bed, and then once you execute the “in a relationship” status with her, you can go back to doing what you’re doing.

What if I were to tell you that Romance is Time?

Millions of men think this way and millions of women are conditioned to accept this as the rules of the relationship road.

Bullshit. All societal norms that fuck up our natural selves. Our natural human selves. We all feel. We all want. We all need.

Yes, I get it. Once the fire of a new relationship simmers down and the realities of navigating the world with a new partner manifest, romance can quickly exit the relationship.

What if I were to propose that it doesn’t have to be this way? What if romance becomes more nuanced, different, but just as fulfilling and perhaps even deeper than ever before?

What if I were to tell you that Romance is Time?

Thinking of You!

I’ve written about this before but the most precious thing you can give anyone is your time. Time is not a renewable resource so spending your time (and being in the moment) with a lover or partner is a powerful example of your intent.

Romance is that signal of intent. The other person is asking you with symbolic gestures to see if you would be willing to enter into a deeper connection with them.

Romance equals time. It’s the time you put into place a person into your mind space and then actively work to put yourself into theirs.

“Its not the wind moving or the flag moving, but the mind moving.” — Buddhist proverb

That flower you get from a suitor, is it the flower you really care about or was it the thought behind it?

The flower is merely a representation of you being in their mind space. They spent time thinking about you, you were running around in their head.

Did she bake you cookies and give you a goodie bag with a nice bow on it? She was thinking of you as she tied the bow. Cookies are consumed, but her thoughts of you are forever.

Don’t neglect desire…

Although my partner will deny it, I made her chocolate chip cookies early on during our courtship as a way to “hook” her. It worked!

Nuanced Romance

If you find yourself in a long-term relationship with a partner that you wooed, romance will change.

Note I said it shouldn’t stop, it should continue, but it will be different.

Romance then becomes small gestures of love, appreciation, and even lust.

I wake early in the morning to write and my partner sleeps in. At 7AM every morning when she’s waking I make her a cup of coffee and bring it to her in bed. Sometimes I even do a silly dance when I bring it to her and we laugh, but I always give her a kiss.

I keep her in my mind space and she knows it.

On the flip side, she knows that romance goes both ways. She makes dumplings for us but always saves me a few extra ones, or we share some sweets together. We spend time together, side by side, skin to skin.

I know that she keeps me in her mind space and it makes me feel desired.

If Romance is Time, then Romance over Time is Desire.

Desire.

We all want to be desired by our partners or future lovers.

Desire keeps Romance going, but it requires effort. If the desire is lost, you can regain it but it requires a lot of effort. If the desire is there, it requires just a bit of effort to keep going.

Desire is like pushing someone on a swing, at first it’s hard to get them going but once their swing away you just need to give them a slight push.

Don’t neglect desire, don’t neglect to keep your partner in your mind space.

Demand Romance

You, as a living breathing sexually charged human being, should demand romance. Period.

Both men and women should demand it and should use it to gauge the seriousness of any relationship.

You should enter into every relationship with romance at the forefront. Granted, not every relationship will last and some are as brief as a make-out session in an NYC bar (that story is for another time), but romance must be present. Desire must be maintained.

Why? Because you’re a fucking human being. Your body and mind are so amazing and there’s nothing like the feeling of being chased, wooed, and knowing someone right now is thinking of you. To be desired is hot as fuck!

We only have so much time on this plane of existence. I want to spend it being desired and romanced by my partner, just as much as she does. After all, what else is there for us but to love and be loved?


I want to thank Yael Wolfe for inspiring this post after reading her I Can’t Do Romance Anymore article.

Love Like You Mean It

Say it, feel it, make it.

My partner tells me the news Wednesday morning. Our neighbor collapsed dead with a massive heart attack the night before. She was 53 and leaves behind two children and a loving husband. Sunday afternoon we’re at her house along with 100’s of people, dressed up and in her backyard. We’re there to honor her life.

My partner and I admired all the photo collages of her life. She was smiling or laughing in every single image. There were ones of her on her wedding day, holding her first child, and her in the arms of her husband.

Her life was cut short but she lived every minute of it.

Those photos captured just a small part of what a giant this woman was in her life. There were tears in everyone’s eyes as we told stories about her.

You can tell that she was loved by all and we all felt her love around us.

Her life was cut short but she lived every minute of it. She lived it full of joy, and love. What more could she have asked for? What more can we ask for?

After all what else is there for us but love and joy?

The briefcase

I was 25 years old and working late, it was 11 PM. I was the last one out of the office and walked down to the parking lot and toward my car. I saw a big black briefcase bag sitting in the middle of the parking lot. I picked it up and noticed it had a laptop in it.

This was 25 years ago so the laptop was this big clunky thing, but there was a business card inside with a name a number.

Someone dropped this bag by accident so I took it home with me. I called the number and left a message for the owner.

The next morning I got a callback. The laptop belonged to a clinical psychologist that worked in my building with high-risk people and she put the briefcase on top of her car when loading other things, forgot about it, and drove off. She was so happy that I found it and offered to pay me a reward.

They had the time to process out all the feelings of sorrow, guilt, and pain with their child before they died.

I said no to the reward and agreed to meet so I can give her the bag and laptop back.

She was so grateful, her entire life was on that laptop and all the sensitive client data was unencrypted. She offered to take me out to dinner as a way to say thank you. I agreed to that.

We went out to dinner a few days later and had a great time. The conversation was wonderful and she asked about my work and I asked about her work. She told me about her thesis work, about parent/survivor guilt and recovery when a child dies.

Look them in the eye and tell them how much they matter to you. How much they light up your life. How lucky you are to have them in your life.

Her research showed that parents who had a sick child, like one dying of cancer or some other illness, tended to cope and recover with the loss of their child better over time than the ones who lost a child suddenly and tragically.

The reason why? Because the parents with a child dying from a long illness had time to express their love for them. They had the time to process out all the feelings of sorrow, guilt, and pain with their child before they died.

The parents whose child skated away and was killed in a car accident or was shot in school never had a chance to tell them “I love you” that one last time. Those parents suffered and some never recovered from that loss, often turning to substance abuse to cope.

A simple statement as saying “I Love You” and making it a point that it’s felt between parent and child made all the difference to the survivors. That love, that tacit and emotional communication between them, was enough to sustain the survivors during their grief and loss.

That love was a seed. It was that single blooming flower in a fire-scorched wilderness, and it was a reminder of the beauty that was before.

Would you have made them feel the love you had for them before they left, never to return?

This realization hit me hard. I went home that night and thought about it. I still think about it to this day. I thought about it during the memorial.

How many of us just say, “I love you! Have a nice day!” perfunctorily and watch our loved ones run out the door to work or to school. We do it all the time and then a handful of us get that phone call, the one you never want to get.

Would you have said something different to your lover, child, parent, partner, or friend then? Would you have given them an extra hug or another kiss? Perhaps looked deeper into their eyes? Would you have made them feel the love you had for them before they left, never to return?

I know I would have wanted to.

I Love You

There is always time to say it. There’s always time to manifest it. There is always time to renew it.

That’s the wonderful thing about Love, it’s a renewable resource. It’s always there and it can grow from the tiniest seed, planted in the harshest conditions.

Say it now. Turn to the people that you hold dear in your life and make them feel it. There are so many ways you can do it.

Look them in the eye and tell them how much they matter to you. How much they light up your life. How lucky you are to have them in your life.

Realize how much they matter to you because you matter to them too.

The only thing we can take with us, as that last breath is drawn, is knowing we are loved.

Because the greatest gift we can receive is someone’s love and the greatest thing we can give them is our love.

When death comes for us, whether it comes quickly or took its time, the only thing we can leave behind is our love. The only thing we can take with us, as that last breath is drawn, is knowing we are loved.


PS

I sat in my office after the memorial and read through the news. Another killing, another tragedy, and life just seem to go on. People being shits to one another and so much turmoil. I just sighed.

My daughter was sitting behind me drawing her artwork when she just blurted out, “Dad? I love you.”

I smiled, stood up, and kissed her on the top of her head.

“I love you too.”

From Wife To Partner

How this little change made all the difference.

I caught myself doing something new the other day. I introduced myself and my partner to another couple.

I said, “This is my partner, S, and I’m Tom. Pleased to meet you.”

You might read that and say, “he didn’t call her his wife, what’s the big deal?”

On the surface, the two terms may seem interchangeable but below the surface, it was a major shift for me.

She thought that marriage was a bad deal for women.

I made a conscious point to introduce my wife as my partner. That’s a huge step in my thinking of relationship dynamics. It’s more of an egalitarian approach which under my monogamous relationship with her has changed our lives for the better.

Kids, Housework, Life, WTF?

I was traveling with a colleague to a customer site in Toronto back in late 2019. This was pre-Covid and I was on a plane at least once a week back then. Sometimes I’d joke that I was ‘bi’, bicoastal that is.

My colleague was a single woman in her 40’s and on top of her game professionally. She had a rich social life and was financially secure. The only thing that she wanted was to find a man to have a relationship with. She dated many men but nothing panned out for her.

Sex started to dwindle between us but we kept going because that’s what you do in a marriage.

One night we were in a fancy restaurant, doing a post mortem on a presentation we gave when she confided in me. She thought that marriage was a bad deal for women. Men seemed to benefit more from marriage and women got stuck with child-rearing, household chores, and all the drudgery.

I was a Momma’s boy and when I moved out to New Mexico…

She was seriously considering NOT looking for marriage anymore but spending her time with her other single girlfriends living life to the fullest. The old saying is true. Girls just want to have fun, and I didn’t blame her!

I sat there and listened, taking it all in.

I thought about everything she said on the flight home. I looked at my marriage and realized that I was selfish. My partner carried most of the domestic load while I just skated through life. I wondered if that was a reason why our love life was dwindling, why we were out of sync and heading toward oblivion.

That realization hit me like a ton of bricks and I spent the next few months in self-introspection.

A Bachelor’s Apartment

I love my mother but she did everything for me. She did my laundry, cooked my meals, took care of everything. That was her upbringing and the cultural expectations from the Fatherland. I was a Momma’s boy and when I moved out to New Mexico I had to learn how to do all those things by myself.

The first couple of months were bumpy as I learned to work full-time and manage my life. Then I got a girlfriend and I had to juggle spending time with her and keeping my apartment in order.

I spent my time keeping a clean and presentable apartment, working as a professional, and getting my shit together. I was living on my own and realized that juggling all these activities was hard but those 5 years were amazing years of growth for me.

Eventually, I moved back to New Jersey and met my partner a short time later.

We got married, bought a house, had my daughter, and all worked full-time. Then my son came along and we raced around like frantic hamsters on speed. The first 10 years of our life together were hectic and we squabbled a lot.

Our squabbles turned into fierce blowouts. In the heat of the moment, we screamed the “D” word, divorce.

Sex started to dwindle between us but we kept going because that’s what you do in a marriage. You work things out and we did, but the sex kept dwindling.

I resigned myself to the patterns I learned from my parents and thought this was as good as it gets. This was marriage. You traded desire for security and building a life together.

I was never so fucking wrong in my life.

That Was Some Good Sex

My partner shouldered the bulk of the domestic labor in those years. She did it because she needed to get it done and I was a selfish prick about it. I didn’t realize that she started to resent me.

Our squabbles turned into fierce blowouts. In the heat of the moment, we screamed the “D” word, divorce.

Afterward, we’d apologize and profess our love for each other but what was going on between us didn’t sit well with me. This wasn’t how marriages were supposed to work, right?

This problem nagged at me until I made the connection on that flight back home, I needed to make changes and be open with her.

So why should I dump the responsibility of making all that happen on her and her alone?

I needed to have a conversation with my wife and listen, let her vent, and take the hits. I needed to atone for my past sins.

We had that conversation and many more after. She felt like I was listening to her but was skeptical, I would be too. So I started just doing things instead of asking her, “what should I do?” I picked up the dirty laundry, washed it, folded it, and put it away.

I took an online cooking class and started making family meals. I cleaned up clutter and kept the house tidy. I did all the things I did when I lived in New Mexico but not because I had to, because I wanted to and because it was the right thing to do.

I want to live in a clean house. I want to have clean clothes. I want to eat healthy food. So why should I dump the responsibility of making all that happen on her and her alone?

We were both experiencing something we hadn’t felt in a long time, desire and bliss.

I stepped up. I read books and I took an active role in our relationship. I strived to do better, better than before. Be a better man and a better partner.

It was that word, partner, that made me realize something profound. In my mind a partnership means the division of labor is egalitarian and you are responsible to keep your end of the ‘bargain.’ The term wife to me was classic Judeo-Christian prison for women, and I have such big a problem with that.

Why did I let the Judeo-Christian mindset affect my life? I don’t know, maybe it was my upbringing, maybe I was lazy, maybe it was 100 different excuses but I had the power to change it all.

After many months of working on this, fucking it up, and having to start over again, something happened.

I slipped into bed one night, my partner had her back turned to me. I moved closer to her, as the big spoon, and kissed her on her cheek. She turned over and gave me a passionate kiss on the lips. The unsaid message between our lips communicated that it was ‘on.’

We reconnected on such a deep level that night, it was passionate, tender, and spiritual. It was all the fireworks and floating heart balloons you could dream of. We were both experiencing something we hadn’t felt in a long time, desire and bliss.

Before we drifted off to sleep she said, “that was some good sex after such a long time.” We said our “I love you’s” across the pillow and fell asleep.

We turned our marriage around that night.


There’s been a sexual renaissance happening between us and I’m over the moon about that. She is too and all it took was for me to listen, think, and initiate change.

Yet, this is easier said than done. I still fuck up a lot but I’m more aware and course-correct faster.

Before you can change — if that’s what you truly want — you have to be willing to open yourself up to criticism, own your mistakes, and genuinely want to make amends. You sow the seeds of change once you do that.

A partner to laugh with, to make the bed sheets steam with, to connect and hold, and to desire once again.

I get it, circumstances can drive an unhappy spouse to adultery. Couples can slip into a sexless marriage without even knowing it. It takes effort to keep a relationship going. It takes effort to create that desire and space (note: I’m currently reading “Mating in Captivity” and this is a key element of successful marriages) where eroticism between you both can grow.

It’s a hard task to add to the myriad of things to do like feeding the kids, working overtime, or 100’s of other pressing things that need to get done. It gets worse when one of you is doing most of the domestic work.


We were driving together one weekend, on some errand task somewhere and we got to talking about our rekindled love life. She reached over and put her hand on my leg and said, “having an active sex life is super important to a marriage. Don’t you agree?

Yes, I couldn’t agree more. All it took was a change in my thinking.

For me, it was to stop thinking of her as my wife, a wife that’s tied to the drudgery of marriage. I saw her in a different light, I saw her as my life partner, my love partner, my partner in everything.

A 50/50 partnership where we split up the daily grind so we can spend more time quality time together. A partnership that raises our children together and turns them into awesome human beings. A partner to laugh with, to make the bed sheets steam with, to connect and hold, and to desire once again.

So, everyone, I’d like for you to meet my partner S. I’m Tom, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

PS: I don’t want praise for this. I don’t want a gold star for helping with domestic labor. I just want to be a better man, father, son, and lover.