Category: Life

My Themes for 2021

2021 3 Words

As I have for the past 12 years (see list), my first post of 2021 across all my sites is of three(-ish) words that are my aspirations or “themes” for the year ahead. As my 18yo daughter has reminded me, the beginning of a new calendar year is a completely arbitrary marker 🙂, but it does provide a moment to pause and reflect. Particularly THIS year with the pandemic, we’ve had a great amount of reflection time!

Note: while last year’s post was super short, this one is much longer...

CLARITY (MISSION)

Some of my colleagues at the Internet Society are undoubtedly tired of hearing me say that we must “Do Fewer Things Better”. That’s been my mantra for the past several years, particularly after I took on our website redesign four years ago at the beginning of 2017. As I looked at all the many amazing things we were doing, it was clear to me that we were doing far more than we really could with our small staff. It was hard to capture in our website what we did as an organization, because we were doing so many things! As our new-ish (2018) CEO is fond of saying “We aren’t the Everything Society!” We’ve worked hard over these years to be more focused and have more clarity of purpose.

In 2020, some internal organization changes and internal opportunities caused me to think deeply about exactly what it is I want to be doing - not only within the Internet Society, but also in my larger life. In the immortal words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I spent a great amount of time just… thinking. Reflecting. Writing. Mind-mapping. I re-read a book I’ve enjoyed - “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, which may actually be from where I started using “Do Fewer Things Better” (although he uses a slight variation “fewer, but better” following on from the German “weniger aber besser”).

Perhaps most importantly, I went back and read my blog post about WHY I joined the Internet Society back in September 2011. A critical section stood out:


We have before us a choice of futures.

One choice leads to a future where innovative companies can emerge, thrive, disrupt and succeed.

Another choice leads to a future where what little "innovation" there is exists only at the will of the gatekeepers to the network after appropriate requirements and/or payments are met. Other choices lead to outcomes somewhere in between those polarities.

How will we choose?


I realized that something in my work that I had been missing from 2017-2019, with so much of my work focused on the organization’s websites, was being a stronger voice about this choice of futures we have. In 2020, I got a chance to speak and write more on this topic as I lead our Open Standards Everywhere project… and it left me wanting to do more.

The pandemic showed us how critical the Internet is. It is the lifeline that is connecting us in all we do. It is how we communicate, collaborate, create, connect…. It is how we work, how we go to school, how we buy things.

And yet… this “lifeline” of ours is not well understood by everyone using it. And in particular by so many of the people creating policies or making decisions around the Internet.

The “Internet” needs more voices explaining HOW it works… and WHY it works the way does… and why it is worth defending. (We see it right now with the “Section 230” debates happening where it’s clear that some people don’t understand what the actual topic is!)

This happens to be something I can do particularly well. And so out of all that thought and reflection emerged the clarity of a personal “mission”, not just for my work, but also for my larger life in general:

To help people understand our choice of futures in our ever-more connected society, and to be a voice for the open Internet.

There’s an amazing clarity that happens when you have that clear of a direction. It provides a lens through which to evaluate choices and opportunities. It provided guidance in those work changes and opportunities I mentioned above.

It also provided a lens through which to evaluate opportunities outside of work. As an example, over the past several months I’ve had people from two separate nonprofits that I greatly admire approach me about joining their Board of Directors. A few years ago I would have probably just said “yes” to both, because they are great organizations and I enjoy serving on boards and helping organizations move forward.

But this clarity of purpose, combined with “do fewer things better”, provided a lens through which I could evaluate the choices. With everything else going on right now, could I really give the time to help the organizations succeed?  And secondly, would joining that board help move this personal mission forward?

For one organization, the answer was a clear yes. For the other, it wasn’t.

In 2021, I want to continue to focus on being more clear on my priorities in life, more intentional, more focused. As part of that, too, I want to evaluate the things I am doing and decide whether I truly want to continue (and have the capacity to do so), or if it is time to end some of those activities.

CONTENT (WRITING)

As noted above, if I truly want to be “a voice for the open Internet” and “to help people understand our choice of futures”… well… I kind of have to DO THAT, eh?

When I looked back over these 12 years of writing these “3 words” posts, 10 of the posts have included a word about doing “more” with creating content!

3 words 2010 2021

And yet… here I am again.

I have stories I want to tell. I have things I want to say. I have information that I think would help other people.

And yet… I struggle to get those stories and words out.

The “tyranny of the blank page” wins. The articles aren’t written. The podcast episodes aren’t recorded. The videos aren’t made.

As part of that clarity of purposed mentioned above, I’ve been looking at what is it that stops me from getting those stories out. In some cases it has been the fear of getting started. In some cases it has just been… well… life in a pandemic. In other cases, it’s been… getting distracted by everything else on the Internet.

A goal in 2021 is to break through those blockages. I want to get writing again. I want to more consistently create podcast episodes. I’d like to send out more than one email newsletter in an entire year!

Or not! Another goal this year is also to re-evaluate… if I’m not realistically going to send out email newsletters, then just shut it down! If I’m not going to publish posts on one of my sites… archive it!  It’s time to do fewer content things better!

CONNECTIONS

Finally, the pandemic of 2020 has certainly shown the strength of - and need for - connections with other people. In some ways, the pandemic has been amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a stronger connection with my wife and daughters than I have this year! My wife and I have been able to carve out some “date time” on morning walks that has brought us even closer together. The sadness of our 18yo not being able to attend her first year of university on campus has provided an amazing opportunity to learn so much more about the incredible young adult she has become. (For her sake, we’re hoping she can move on campus in the fall of 2021!) It was strange for our 11yo to start a new school entirely online and from home, but we’ve also embraced our ability to see more of her than we would in a typical school day.

But for all the strengthening of my immediate connections, I dearly miss seeing my parents and extended family. Video calls are great, but not the same. I miss seeing old friends … and making new friends. The pandemic has definitely highlighted to me that I while I’ve made some connections here in Vermont since we moved here in 2018, I do need to strengthen the ones I have and also expand a bit more.

As a strong extrovert, I enjoy the interactions with many people… and that’s so hard to do in this pandemic world. I’m hoping the combination of vaccines and behavior will help us put this virus behind us.

Two Other Themes

 While those are my main themes, there are certainly two other themes that are constant in my life:

  • HEALTH - I’m still working on this. (I say as I eat another chocolate chip cookie!) My wife and I both share a goal of eating better, exercising more, and just generally trying to be more healthy.
  • SERVICE - I’ve always tried to have part of my life involving service in helping others. Whether it has been working as part of local organizations, helping with community breakfasts, or doing other active roles, it’s always been part of what I’ve done. But it’s crazy hard in the midst of this pandemic to figure out how to help others while still being safe yourself. Sure, we donate to local organizations as we can. We help our local food shelf with supplies. But I want to do more to help in this time when so many people need help!

So these are all thoughts as we leave the craziness of 2020 and enter into 2021… we’ll see how the year shapes up - and how well I do!

How about you? What are things you want to accomplish or do differently in 2021?

Reflections on Earth Day 1990 – And How It Fundamentally Changed My Life

Earth-day-1990-nh-776As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day today, April 22, 2020, my mind jumped back 30 years to "Earth Day 1990" in the state of New Hampshire. I made some choices that year and seized some opportunities that introduced me to the worlds of communications, community organizing, and public relations. I approached 1990 thinking I was going to be finishing up a Masters in Education degree and heading back to Connecticut to teach in a public high school. But life took very different turns and presented new opportunities. The choices I made then set me on the path that led to where I am 30 years later.

I reflected on all this in a podcast episode:

Happy Earth Day to you all!

P.S. See also this post I wrote today: On this 50th Earth Day, We Are Using The Internet To Change The World

My 3 Words for 2019

3words2019

As I have now done every year since 2010 (see past years), here are three words that I aspire to be the "themes" of my activity this year.

You'll note that these are really quite similar to my 3 words for 2018 - and in truth I think 2019 is really a continuation of everything in 2018 that was left undone with the severe disruption and chaos of both: 1) uprooting our family to move to Vermont; and 2) the unwelcome guest of colon cancer.  I am SO ready to put a period at the end of the sentence of 2018 … and move on to what will be hopefully better chapters within 2019!

HEALTH

Last year I said that my health needed to be a focus - and the colonoscopy was part of that… but with all that insanity, there is much still left to do. I’m sadly now almost back up to the unhealthy weight I was in 2010. The dental issues that were there a year ago continue to be with me. And now we need to find all new doctors, dentists, vision centers, etc. It’s got to be a priority - as we do only have one body. And I’d like to be around for a while!

VOICE

2018 was a year when I continued to struggle with writing consistently. It’s so easy to NOT write or produce other kinds of content because…. work responsibilities, family logistics, the time suck of social media… and… and… and… there’s a million reasons. Toward the end of the year I started to write more, but it was in part to get myself back in the regular practice of creating content.

In 2019 I’d like to not only write more, but also find a bit more of the stronger “voice” I used to have in my writing and speaking. I want to be a stronger and more vocal voice for an open Internet - and for an Internet that works for us rather than for mega-corporations, platforms and governments. My challenge is to carve out the time to do the writing and the research and to speak and more.

FRIENDSHIPS

As I wrote last year, I'm finding that I'm communicating with a large number of people, but not necessarily connecting with people on a deeper level. This has certainly been highlighted with our move to Vermont. Beyond just “connections”, I’m looking at 2019 as a time to truly spend more time with friends - and for investing the time to develop new friendships in this beautiful part of the world to which we have moved. Nurturing friendships, both new and old, does definitely take time and energy - and I intend for it to be a priority this year.

That's what I am thinking about for this year... what about you?

P.S. Another life goal for this year - I want to be able to go into a Tim Hortons in Quebec and order a meal entirely en Francais! I’ve been dabbling in learning more French over the past years, but this year I want to be able to at least go in and order a double chocolate donut, a sandwich and a tea! ;-) Particularly since we are winding up in Quebec a good bit for curling and other travel.

P.P.S. And yeah, if I’m serious about “health”, I shouldn’t be ordering double chocolate donuts, right? But hey, every once in a while is okay, right? 


An audio version of this post (with more commentary) is available on SoundCloud:

The Big C Returns As Colon Cancer… and with me this time

BTV harbor

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"I'm sorry, but unfortunately one of your polyps tested positive for colon cancer."

Not the phone call you want to receive at 4:00pm on a Friday afternoon. Especially one week before you are about to buy a house in Vermont and start the process of relocating your family - and leaving behind your friends, other family members, and your whole "support system"! 

In truth, not a phone call you EVER want to receive.

But I did get that call on June 29, 2018. And after many more tests, discussions and agonizing analysis, I'll be entering the hospital in a week, on August 28, to have my "sigmoid" removed - something I honestly didn't even know I had until about three weeks ago!

So a key message to all my friends and readers (and the "TL;DR" summary for this very long post):

Get your colonoscopy when you turn 50!

Don't delay. Don't wait. Just do it.

Here in the USA when we hit the magical age of 50[1], the healthcare system strongly recommends that we get a whole suite of various tests done. Perhaps the least favorite of those is the "screening colonoscopy", largely because the preparation is a huge, uncomfortable process. And, let's be honest, who really wants to have a metal probe stuck up their bottom?

But do it.

I almost didn't. As it was, I delayed doing it for 8 months. And with our decision to uproot our lives and move to Vermont, it was EXTREMELY tempting to push it off and "just wait until we are settled" ... which probably would have been next year... or the year after... or who knows when.

Had I delayed, the one very small cancerous "polyp" might have spread to much more of my colon. Or it might have spread ("metastasized" in cancer-speak) into other parts of my body and re-appeared as lung cancer or liver cancer or brain cancer or something else. (Or, in the annoying ways of cancer, it might not have done anything and just still been there alone - but do you want to take that chance?)

I was lucky. The test worked. The cancer was found very early. By all signs after the surgery next week I should be good to go for a long time ahead.

So don't wait. Just do it.


The longer story...

When the doctor at the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, NH, did my colonoscopy, he found three small "polyps". Think of a polyp as a tiny growth shaped kind of like a lollipop. And by "tiny", all of these were 2-5 millimeters in width - not much more than a couple of hairs!

This was on Wednesday, June 27. The doctor thought they all looked small and, while we had to wait for the tests ("biopsies"), his initial reaction was that they did NOT look like they were cancerous. (They looked "benign" in medical lingo.)

So I went home with the attitude "Okay... done the colonoscopy thing. I can now forget about this until the next one in 10 years and focus on packing more boxes."

After all, other than needing to lose maybe 30 pounds, I'm in good physical condition. I have no medical issues. I'm not on any medications. I run a good bit - and past tests have shown my heart in good shape. All my routine physical tests and blood work at 50 show me to be in good health.

Except, it turns out, for that one damn polyp.

That call on Friday (two days later) led to a rush of tests the following week - a MRI, more blood tests, and a "flexible sigmoidoscopy" (a mini-colonoscopy where they just go in a little ways... and you can be conscious and watch it on the computer monitor!). Lori and I had all the agony of the question - "shall we pull the plug on this whole Vermont move?" It was INSANELY stressful.

The good news was - everything came back negative. No markers in my blood for cancer. No cancer found in any of the biopsies of the additional samples they took in the colon wall around where the polyp was found.

In theory, the one polyp they found might have been ALL the cancer in my body!

Now that they removed it, I might be "cancer free".

However... the cancer was unfortunately not just in the main "head" part of the polyp, it was also all the way down the "stem" (think of a lollipop). 

It could have gone into the wall of the colon, somewhere beyond where they were able to sample. It could have gone out into the lymph nodes surrounding the colon - and could hang out there for a while before it goes somewhere else in my body. There were no signs of it anywhere, but the current state of our technology is such that we can't really know.

And... apparently the precise kind of cancer they found was a more aggressive one that could "metastasize" into other forms of cancer elsewhere in my body.

So, after being reviewed by my new set of doctors at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington, VT, and after more tests (including another video tour of my lower colon), the surgeon presented a rather binary choice:

  • DO NOTHING and just keep monitoring it. There is a small 2-5% chance that the cancer could come back. Or, to flip that around, there is a 95 - 98% chance that I have no more cancer and could live the rest of my life without ever being affected by this particular cancer.
     
  • HAVE SURGERY to remove the "sigmoid" (lower part of what I thought was all the "colon") and reconnect the other parts of the colon. This will allow them to completely test the colon walls and surrounding lymph nodes in the removed section to see if there is any more cancer. BUT... it comes with it's own 2-3% chance that there could be complications with the surgery - and some of those could be nasty.

He said he's had patients make either choice - and it really comes down to my own personal comfort level with either the surgery or living with the risk.

Ugh. Did I mention that I'm in otherwise good health? And so do I really want to mess that up by having people go in, cut me up, and re-arrange my plumbing?

But the choice is clear to me. Lori and I have been down this road before. We both learned far more than we ever imagined about cancer after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 - and after she had surgery and subsequent rounds of chemotherapy and more.

We live every day with the specter of her cancer looming in the background. Unlike what they tell me about my colon cancer after surgery, her cancer could come back at any time. And in some other form. You're never really "cured" of breast cancer. Even after all she has done - and the absolute hell she has put her body through, it could still be there lurking. So you learn to be grateful for every day you have.

So, hell yeah, I want to know, even with all my many concerns about the surgery (and never having had surgery before). I don't want a second specter lurking around.

From what I've now learned, colon cancer is much more localized than breast cancer or other forms. If they go in, take out the sigmoid and the surrounding lymph nodes, they can test it all and give me fairly solid results.

In the best case, they find nothing and I can be reasonably sure they got it all. I'll be as close to "cancer free" as someone with colon cancer can be. (There are NO guarantees.)

In the worst case, they find more cancer cells and then we will have to talk chemotherapy or something else.

Either way, we'll know more.

So one week from today I'll be entering the UVM Medical Center. They say I will need to stay there for typically 2-3 days to recover. (Visitors will be welcome!) In theory I'll be able to resume everything I've been doing - and by 3-4 weeks out I should be more or less back to usual activities. I'll now be getting more monitoring and more frequent colonoscopies (oh, joy!), but the theory goes that, in the best case, this should be the end of it.

The good news out of this (as I have to keep reminding myself!) is that the screening colonoscopy WORKED!

The test found the cancer early. Because of that, there is a very strong chance that after this surgery I'll be all set and won't have to worry about this again. I'll be alive and able to live for as many decades (or days) as I have ahead of me. I'll be able to watch my daughters grow up and to live long with Lori.

I'm so grateful to the doctors and technicians - and for the fact that I have access to tests like this (and insurance that covers it). And perhaps most of all... for the fact that I didn't delay having the test even more than I already had.

 

I write all of this story because, as a writer, this is HOW I process things. The act of putting words down on a screen... the act of naming in words those fears... those actions are how my brain makes things real.

I share this publicly in the hopes that perhaps MY story will help someone else take actions that may help them live a longer life. (Even if you make a different choice than I did.)

So, again, I will say to anyone reading - if you are recommended to get a colonoscopy, DO IT!


[1] The American Cancer Society is now (May 2018) recommending that colon cancer screening start at age 45 versus 50, but I don't know that that recommendation has yet made its way out to healthcare providers and insurance companies.

Image: a photo I took of the Burlington harbor. I just thought I'd use it as a reminder of the beauty of life around me.

Moose and bear – the perils of Vermont highways

C85C451D-5899-4D2A-BCA3-F37350C76ADB“BEAR CROSSING - STAY ALERT”  The bright yellow sign shouts its warning to me from the side of Interstate 91. I am in the middle of Vermont. There are few people here. Most of the time I-91 has walls of trees on either side, occasionally broken by amazing mountain views  or scenic views of small towns. 

And so we are warned of bears and... moose!

“MOOSE CROSSING - NEXT 5 MILES”

I have seen the photos of damage caused by moose. You have a 2,000 pound animal on thin, spindley legs. Knock out the legs and the main bulk of the body comes crashing down on you! New Hampshire has regular warnings about the number of people who have died due to moose collisions up in the northern part of the state. 

Bears, though, are new. Not sure what I would do if I saw one.  😬

The fascinating flow of free stuff from in front of our house

442E4587-C31C-477B-9FB3-9A8187133085“FREE” says the sign pinned to the telephone pole in front of our house. And as we put out items, they usually disappear within a few hours. 

It’s been a fascinating aspect of living where we do in Keene, New Hampshire. We live on a fairly busy cross street, and so a good number of people are driving by. 

And they do stop and take the stuff we put on the street. All of it. 

Maybe it is part of being a college town. Maybe it is the huge number of people we see going to yard sales. Maybe it is Yankee frugality. Maybe it is just human nature. 

But it has been fun - and incredibly useful. Just put it out on the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the road... and wait a bit. 

And ALL sorts of things. Just yesterday I put out two plastic shelving units from our shed that had gas and oil stains. I honestly thought I would be bringing them to the dump... but no, I looked an hour or so later and they were gone. 

I will miss this culture of picking up free stuff. Our new home in Vermont is in a quieter neighborhood with very little traffic... so this won’t work. 

Meanwhile, at least for the next few days, I will keep putting stuff out there... 🙂

My 3 Words For 2018

3words2018

Continuing the tradition I started back in 2010 (see past years), here are three words that describe themes I intend to focus on this year. They aren't "resolutions" as much as areas of activity. "Themes" is a good way to think about them.

HEALTH

Carrying this one over from last year... because sadly not a great amount has changed over the past 12 months. I have let my weight creep up to where I am about 30 pounds over where I should be (and where I was back in 2011). I haven't been exercising. I have some dental issues to take care of. I want to be around with my wife and daughters for a long time... and we each only have one body. I need to focus on this in 2018.

WRITING

You'll notice that the last time I wrote on this DanYork.com blog was ... one year ago! I have not written on Disruptive Telephony since March 2017 - and that was the ONLY post in all of 2017 on what used to be my primary blog. Only 4 posts on Disruptive Conversations, 0 posts on Code.danyork.com, 1 on Monadnock Curling Club, and so on....   I posted 9 times on CircleID , but they were all short pieces about events, activities, deadlines, etc. And I only published 28 posts on the Internet Society's blog during the whole year.

The reality is that 2017 was a challenging year for my writing in that I spent an insane amount of time focused on the launch of the Internet Society's redesigned website in September (which involved work through the end of the year, of course). Everything else got pushed aside - including all of my own writing.

In 2018 I hope to change that. There are a great number of stories inside me just trying to explode out. There are some reflective "thought pieces" about the current state of the Internet that I so dearly want to write. There's a book I'd like to update. I have several new book ideas I'd like to move forward on.

For me, I write because if I don't write... the stories build up inside of me until they want to explode like a pressure cooker without a relief valve. Writing is my relief valve. I need to do it.

My work responsibilities will still be significant around our web sites, but I'm hoping that somewhere in the midst of all the madness I can make the time to get my voice out there.

CONNECTIONS

Like perhaps many people, I'm finding that I'm communicating with a large number of people, but not necessarily connecting with people. I don't mean that in the LinkedIn "I have XXXX connections" form, but more in the deeper relationships and knowledge about other people.  I want to deepen some of the connections I have this year, both with people online and also people locally and "offline". Some of that is actually meeting with more people face-to-face. Some of that is just carving out the time to have deeper and more meaningful conversations. In the end, the connections we have between us - and the community we have around us - are what is so vitally important to us all. 

That's what I am thinking about for this year... what about you?

My 3 Words For 2017

2017 3words 776px

Continuing the tradition I started back in 2010 (see past years), here are three words that describe themes I intend to focus on this year. They aren't "resolutions" as much as areas of activity. "Themes" is a good way to think about them.

HEALTH

I have let my weight creep up to where I am about 30 pounds over where I should be (and where I was back in 2011). I haven't been exercising. I have some dental issues to take care of. My last physical exam was... (I'm not sure... but I don't think I've ever met the doctor who replaced my previous doctor who retired a number of years ago). In short, there's a lot here I need to be paying attention to, and so this needs to be a focus this year. I want to be around with my wife and daughters for a long time... and we each only have one body. Beyond the physical health, there is also mental and emotional health. I continue to find myself trying to do too many things... and need to focus on doing fewer things better.

GRATITUDE

Over the last six months or so I have been thinking more and more about all that I have to be grateful for. And I have also been thinking about how I need to show that gratitude a bit more. Combine that with some recent reading on studies about gratitude and how we frame our internal stories... as well as some reading on mindfulness... and, well, I would like to do more in this area!

CREATIVITY

A few weeks ago I made a Christmas gift out of wood down in my workshop area in our basement. When it was done, I found myself so energized by the activity... I had forgotten how much I enjoy working with wood. But as I think about all that I have been doing over the past year, there hasn't been a whole lot of creativity. Even my writing of blog posts has become more routine, more "reporting" on activities rather than writing something new and different. It's hard with everything else going on, but this year I hope to carve out some time to do some more creative activities. Maybe some woodworking... maybe some music... maybe just some creative writing. We'll see what is feasible.

That's what I am thinking about for this year... what about you?

When This Is All Over…

Giantmeteor

... we will be a nation with a massive divide, no matter who wins.

A nation with a huge difference between the rural and the urban... between those who have done well in the new economy... and those who have been left behind.

No matter who wins, our next task as a nation will be to figure out how to rebuild the connections between us.

Can we perhaps start by being more civil to each other? To respecting our differences?

Can each of us try to treat others more kindly?

I'd like to think so... but I'm not so sure.


Image: a bumper sticker I saw on a car last month.

Drone video of Monadnock Region shows why we love to live here

Do you want to understand why we love living in Keene, New Hampshire, and the surrounding "Monadnock Region"? This video taken from a drone shows the beauty of our area (and it also really makes me want to buy a drone with a video camera!)

Kudos to the folks at the Monadnock Shopper News for creating this beautiful video.

P.S. Our area is called the "Monadnock Region" because our tallest mountain is named Mount Monadnock.