Category Archives: Me

15 Years of Sobriety— All Hail Alcoholics Anonymous

Today marks 15 years of sobriety for me. I am not the most devout member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but I do try to practice these principles in all my affairs.

The “Big Book“, which is actually titled, “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Recovered from Alcoholism” is one of the most influential texts of the 20th century and was created and edited by a process we now know as “crowdsourcing”.

The 12 steps of AA are radical and simple. The meetings themselves are an odd and wonderful combination of rote conformance (the recitation of the steps, the format of the talks) and completely unpredictable local variation. The result is we can walk into a room, anywhere in the world, and have an immediate fellowship and sense of purpose with others. This centralization of mission and decentralization of operations is the basis for myriad movements.

Here’s what works for me:

  • I never eat food that has (or is supposed to have) alcohol in it. Never mind the idea that the alcohol burns off in a bourbon steak, or the chef can forgo a boozy sauce. I’ll have something else, no big deal
  • When someone says, “let’s get a beer”, innocently and with a sense of camaraderie, I have to immediately say, “I don’t drink”, and offer a coffee share. Otherwise I don’t advertise my status as a member of AA, but I just can’t countenance someone on Earth thinking I drink
  • When in a restaurant, if I am offered a drink, I have to say, “I don’t play that way”, politely. Not sure how this one started
  • I have zero issue being around alcohol/ bars/ etc. Normal life. But I do stay away from people, places, and things that feel alcoholic. Hard to explain this one, but it has very little to do with actual alcohol consumption. It’s one of the mysteries of AA— ya can’t drink, but it ain’t really about drinking. It’s about fear and resentment. Weird, right?
  • If I have some real trouble, I write/ call my ad hoc sponsor. You know who you are

Pretty simple program. I want to be a better AA. If you have any questions about recovery, hit me up.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Billie Jean-Induced Crying Jags

Jeanne's Apartment, Night.Like many of my agnates who were teenagers in the 1980s, I have a a long musical relationship with Michael Jackson. I appreciate him.

And like most people all over the world, music is a nutty and mysterious trigger. Hearing AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells brings the scent of my friend Virgil’s 1980s basement space heater to my nostrils. Pretty much any U2 song has me in front of my TV watching Mary J. Blige singing One on the Grammys in 2006. I’ve adopted Teenage Dream as a love song for my wife, whom I met when we were in our 40s.

There doesn’t have to be a logic to all this. It’s music, and music is magical.

Billie Jean, a song that came out in 1982, has been forever adopted as a song devoted to controlled, mini crying jags over my mother, Jeanne M. O’Neil, who died last year. My family and I worked to bring her through her final months on Earth, as she suffered from a couple falls and the general deterioration of a brilliant 83-year old woman.

We covered the normal tasks that accompany these things— caregiver management, physical therapy help, nursing home research, talking to her & loving her, and then the journey through hospice.

It’s a lot of work. I love work. I thrived on the tasks. But on every Tuesday during this time period, late winter and early spring of last year, I’d wake up early and drive out to Winfield to get the kids to school. Then I’d exercise, clean up, and roam coffee shops in the western suburbs, working and taking calls in the current fashion of many a remote worker.

Getting away from the hospital rhythm and the language of medical wartime did something to me. So by the time I got my first vente skim latte, sat down at a small table, popped open the laptop and Outlook, I’d breathe out deeply.

With my earbuds in, and my Nike baseball cap down low, I’d put on Billie Jean. Turn it up to 11 and put my head down. The crisp start, the classic 8 beat, the snare that grabs, the entrance of every instrument. The lyrics were nothing, except for the misspelled “Jean”, which was all that mattered. The whole thing was just a cipher. My own code of grief and relief and exhale and steel for more. Four minutes and fifty three seconds of ear-bam.

Music is such a great jot of humanity.

Trip to Kansas City

Last week I traveled to Kansas City, MO for a conference. I had never been there before, and I always try to walk around and take photos to get a feel for a place whenever I visit it for the first time. Here’s a complete set of photos.

The airport is Brutalist, which is cool, obvs.

Brutalist Ceiling at Kansas City MO Aiirport

One unfortunate aspect of this trip was that I was afflicted with food poisoning, which (I think) was triggered from food I ate the night before leaving. So that means I spent a lot of time on the first day and night in my hotel, recuperating.

Intercontinental Statue at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

I did get out a little bit. Turns out Kansas City has bike share:

Bike Share at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

The Country Club Plaza area is pretty interesting.

Tower at at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

It’s right by Brush Creek, which was frozen.

Brush Creek at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

They really subscribe to the Inscrutable Statue school of public design

Child with Bird Statue at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

Winston Churchill and his wife are down with that.

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill are preserved in Married Love by Oscar Nemon at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

Country Club Plaza is basically the first shopping center in the world designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile. They’re all about Spanish design.

Plaza Time Building Medical Office at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

Even the alleys have frescoes.

Spanish Tile with Garbage at Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

All in all, I’m down with Kansas City, MO.

Plaza Tower, Kansas City, MO

On Joining the Board of Directors of the Sunlight Foundation

Today the Sunlight Foundation announced that I, along with three others, have joined their board of directors. Snip:

the Sunlight Foundation announced that Sue Gardner, Allison Fine, Mark Horvit and Daniel X. O’Neil would join its board of directors.

“As we begin a new chapter here at the Sunlight Foundation, we are thrilled to add these four remarkable individuals to our board,” said Sunlight Foundation President Chris Gates. “Their valuable experience and expertise across the fields of journalism, civic tech and social engagement will help guide Sunlight on its mission to advocate for open government in the U.S. and across the globe and to create and use technology to hold government accountable.”

The Sunlight Foundation is a central entity in the work open data and open government. Joining their board and working alongside the other directors is something of a dream come true. I believe that the work we do at Smart Chicago is highly simpatico to the mission of the Sunlight Foundation, and deeper ties with national organizations like Sunlight are essential to our future.

I look forward to it!

Washington, DC, June 2011: Third Church of Christ Scientist, Brutalist Style
Bonus: one of my fave Brutalist buildings and one of the best in our nation’s capital.


Join Me at the Gordon Tech Inspiration Celebration

I am a lifelong Catholic and a firm believer in the value of role of Catholic education in a strong society. I went to high school at Gordon Tech, on the corner of Addison & California. I’ve been an altar server, a lector, the chair of a Catholic elementary school board, a member of a Parish Council, and a CCD teacher.

Take a look at the full details on the event. Here’s a snip:

On May 12, 2014, Gordon Tech Catholic College Prep will host its 2nd annual Inspiration Celebration. We are proud to honor The Brothers of the Congregation of the Resurrection, the founders and sponsors of the school, and three outstanding alumni of the class of 1985, Daniel O’Neil, Executive Director of Smart Chicago, Harry Osterman, 48th Ward Alderman, and Barry Rodgers, Principal of Lake Forest High School, for their unwavering dedication to public service, Catholic education and improving communities through technology.

I’ve written quite a bit about the focus of my Catholic energy here: Easter Morning for an Urban American Catholic in an Age of Misplaced Catholic Energy. This was written prior to the ascendency of Pope Francis. You can understand that I’m stoked about him and his social justice agenda. Some other links:

I am passionate about helping Gordon Tech move into their future as DePaul College Prep, Fr. Gordon Campus, so I am going to be tweeting/ posting/ going on about this event for the next couple of weeks. Thank you for your patience and buy your tickets now.

Santa Maria Maddalena in Campo Marzio (La Maddalena)