It is an unspeaking stone face. Note how he does not speak. Note how the flowers are closed and not in bloom except one flower, which is past blooming. Let us contemplate this image.
I've Been Searching My Soul
I never watched or followed the television series "Ally McBeal," which (so I hear) was about a young lawyer trying to find her way in the world. Yet the show had an impact on my life, sort of.
Somehow I came into possession of a CD with the movie soundtrack, and I liked it so much I would play it over and over until I about wore it out. The songs, all the songs, became a part of me. And I especially liked the Ally McBeal theme song by Vonda Shepard, which was so pretty it still gives me the shivers...
I've been down this road walkin' the line
That's painted by pride
And I have made mistakes in my life
That I just can't hide...
So like I announced some days ago in a passing mention, I have been "searching my soul" and I'm making an announcement about a new direction this blog will go, temporarily. When I say "temporarily" I mean two weeks at least, and maybe longer.
Could be months. Could be YEARS. It just depends.
And when I say "new direction," I mean this blogger will...
Not be writing anything controversial for a while.
This Is Not A Joke, This Is Not A Drill, This Is First Amendment CHILL
Hard to believe, isn't it?
Dear readers, let me tell you why. Back in 2008 I started "The Adventures of Johnny Northside" as a personal blog. I was a single dad determined to live near my young son and be part of his life. In fact, I was so determined I bought a cheap house in the worst block of the worst neighborhood in the state and I hunkered down.
I'd been writing columns for the Minnesota Daily, my third gig as a columnist on a campus newspaper, and I've been an expressive writer for as long as I can remember...
Somehow, it became known at my school that my father was a driver for Blue and White and involved in the strike. A teacher's aide asked me to write a story for a little student newspaper, produced on carbon paper, and known as the Peppermint Press. (This was right before Christmas so, you know, holiday theme) The story I wrote about my father being willing to "scab" but then changing his mind and going over to the union...
It wasn't published. In fact, it was a source of controversy that I'd even been encouraged to WRITE such a thing. There were fears my little handwritten, copied-to-carbon-paper account of the impact of the Guild strike upon my family would, somehow, bring down...
Yes, CONTROVERSY upon Lincoln Elementary School and our little Peppermint Press!!!!
Somehow (I'm not sure how) I won a prize for my piece of writing. I recall there was a candy cane stuck to the prize, in keeping with the "peppermint" theme. I was assured, over and over, my piece of writing was GOOD. Somehow (and here was the great contradiction, so hard to explain to a child) it was so GOOD that it couldn't be PUBLISHED.
I do recall doing a little dramatic reading for some teachers in the mysterious and heretofore FORBIDDEN teacher's lounge; teachers who applauded. One had tears in her eyes. Why would she have tears? Must have allergies, I thought.
My word, they had a COKE MACHINE in there. The rest of the school didn't have a Coke machine. Would I like a Coke? Yes, please, I would like one...well, can I have a Dr. Pepper? Why, yes, I could.
Without even trying to make a roaring sound in the world, somehow I had roared.
But the roar echoed back and reverberated inside me. It made me want to roar MORE. To speak and be heard and have an impact. When you are so poor your family doesn't have indoor plumbing, IN AMERICA, to be HEARD is a transforming thing.
I was hooked. I became addicted to free expression and the First Amendment. By the time I was 16, I was wearing a faded old army jacket with dreams of being (get this!!!) a combat journalist.
I was writing poetry and short stories and trying to get these published, sometimes even succeeding. But one day I walked into a court room, on a lark, just to see if I might observe a dramatic court proceeding...
And my life goals took another interesting turn. But that's another story. Let us return to blogging...
Blogging Is Hazardous To Your Health
I started with a goal of documenting my adventures and trying to make my neighborhood better. Yes, I hoped to have an impact, but even I was shocked how quickly I had an impact and how things snowballed. It didn't take me long to realize I could have more impact by providing alternative media coverage instead of blogging about my own personal narrative, though somehow the personal aspect and the stories were intertwined from the start.
Something about the expressive aspects of my blog worked like a secret sauce. It also made me enemies. So let's reckon up what blogging has gotten me.
* I've been sued, repeatedly, by a sicko sex offender frivolous litigant.
* I've also been sued for defamation. I beat the defamation rap, then won the appeal and received news coverage all over the country. My word, the story was reported in FRANCE. But the cost in time, money and frustration was enormous.
* I get threatened. Hardly a week goes by without a threat of some kind. These are usually anonymous threats submitted via comment function which I don't bother to publish.
* I get trashed by other blogs and websites who oppose my point of view and I must read their atrocious spelling, grammar and punctuation.
* Periodically I've been treated to badly photoshopped images featuring my head or face as a drunk, a serial killer...
* I get defamed, repeatedly, by people who aren't worth suing for defamation. (This is actually a conundrum that interests me, the eternal maddening problem of the "judgment proof" tortfeasor. I'm fooling around, intellectually, with some theoretical solutions but I just haven't made the big creative leap, not quite yet)
* Once, I even had my tires slashed. Not sure if it was the blogging or calling 911 on crime and chaos, though. It worked out pretty well that I was living a few blocks from a tire shop and could roll there, bumpedy bumpedy bumpedy.
Ah, But The Rewards Of Blogging (Sarcasm Font)
Clearly, I must be getting SOMETHING if I endure all this and yet keep blogging for more than six years and some 4,000 articles.
City Councilman Don Samuels told me a story once about an incident that happened while he was attending a vigil for yet another shooting victim. Some big guy said, in a darkly hinting way, "I hear you are kind of a snitch. Aren't you afraid you'll get hurt?"
To which Samuels replied, "Let us suppose I did get hurt. Let's suppose I got shot in the spine. And I was laid up in the hospital for months. Well, on the day I got out of the hospital you know what I would do? I would roll on my little wheelchair, I would roll down to the corner, and I would take out my phone...and I would call 911 on the drug dealing."
There are few rewards to blogging like there are few rewards to calling 911. (I actually called 911 while drafting this piece of writing and even now I can hear sirens responding to what sounded like five gunshots) But there is a compulsion. It is virtually impossible to stop. The roar inside sweeps you up and carries you along like a tidal wave. It's like the young character in Guardians Of The Galaxy who got in a fistfight because he witnessed the injustice of a little frog being squashed. I blog because I see something wrong in the world and I can't stop myself from trying to make it right.
Or can I? Can I stop myself?
Yes I Can! (Well, At Least Temporarily)
From the very beginning, this blog has been dedicated to my son. It started because I wanted to be near my son, and in the meantime I decided to make my neighborhood better. One day my son might inherit my house, which is already free and clear. My son could build a workshop in the detached garage and design those robots he loves so much. He could attend the University of Minnesota. In any case, the neighborhood was in tough shape and I wanted it better. If, for no other reason, I wanted the neighborhood to be safe when my child VISITED.
So what happens when blogging interferes with my goals for my son? I have a goal of moving my professional life forward and paying for my son's college. And now I am squarely faced with the fact that First Amendment free expression is rebounding back at me and interfering with my overarching goal and primary purpose for living:
I thought I had a right to vigorous First Amendment free expression. I thought I had a right to comment upon "matters of public concern."
But maybe I was wrong. Maybe members of, let us say, well-paid and respectable Profession X don't really have that kind of leeway for free expression. If I write about "matters of public concern" and give offense, perhaps I will be (as my old soldier father used to say) "called on the carpet" and made to answer professionally and even punished.
Gee, that's going to make it hard to pay for sonny boy's college, now isn't it?
When it comes to my First Amendment expression, to which I am quite accustomed as fish are accustomed to water, suddenly I am as chilled as a chili dog.
Stepping Away From The Keyboard And Putting My Hands Up
It has become tactically necessary, "for the duration" as Americans say in hard times and moments of emergency, to voluntarily give up my First Amendment right to say controversial things and to make the record I am doing so.
Oh, I won't be SILENT of course. I have a lot of things I can still write about. Here are some.
* Cuisine. I can totally write about local cuisine, as long as I only say positive things.
* Yard work. I have dozens of pictures of a major cleanup project after my spectacular willow tree fell from the major storm on June 21, 2013, and I never got around to writing that story. I'm thinking I will write about The Death Of The Warnke Willow, Parts One Through (What?) Six, maybe.
Oh, it's going to be good! Readers who have been fed a steady distressing diet of North Minneapolis murder will want to stay tuned for the therapeutic six part series about the tree which fell down in my yard.
In fact, my new blogging philosophy ("FOR THE DURATION") will perform a 180 degree turn. I used to say, "If it bleeds, it leads." Now I say, "If it bleeds, it better bleed somewhere else."
So no murder. Certainly no jail roster. (I ceased doing that a few months ago, when the chilly First Amendment cold spell began) No commentary on people running for public office, as I so often commented before. No publication of criminal complaint documents and linking those incidents to local addresses. Roughly 97 percent of the stuff I wrote about before I won't be writing about "FOR THE DURATION."
* Time, at last, for Facebook! I have so many family photos I need to upload. Of course, my privacy settings are pretty high because of all the sicko stalkers, so only a limited number of friends will see those photos...oh, well. I'll still get a tiny First Amendment fix from posting pictures of my son, my son, my magnificent son Alexander and our many road trips.
* I may write some nice book reviews. I just finished The Sands Of Dunkirk. You know what's nice? Owning your own home where you can keep all your books (I think I own a couple thousand) and reading one of those books.
Guest Authors? Can THEY Still Write Freely?
Hosting guest author Jordan North doesn't seem to be a problem, though heaven knows I seem to be "called on the carpet" for things written by that darn Jeff Skrenes, the Hawthorne Hawkman. Such a trouble maker!
So while Johnny Northside himself won't write about murder, Jordan North can write all she wants. Until somebody makes ME answer professionally for her controversial writing, that is, and then I will CUT HER OFF AT THE BAR.
Commenters? Can THEY Still Comment Freely?
I'm not sure how to handle comments submitted to this blog. See, often I'll publish a comment but I'll point out the comment is "reprehensible" and I don't agree with it. How can I publish the comments of others while restricting my own right to comment on the comments?
I guess I'll just handle comments as usual, with new exceptions. Clearly, some comments won't make the cut; not because these comments do not fulfill my usual criteria of being "substantive," but because I will refuse to publish "reprehensible" comments while restricting my own right to comment on the comments.
And hey...with all the profanity and vigorous free speech in the thousands of anonymous comments published on this blog, these little missives are just trouble waiting to happen.
Professional trouble. For me. And baby needs college.
Making The Record
FOR THE DURATION, all the stories I write while "chilled" will have a little parenthetical designation in the headline, like so:
(Temporary Non-Controversial Blogging Restriction In Place) Here Insert Hopefully Inoffensive Headline
I know, for a fact, at least a couple passionate First Amendment legal advocates are watching these developments. JNS blog did not seek a First Amendment battle in Moore v. Hoff, but a battle was thrust upon this blog. I do not seek a battle now.
But I am putting myself in a tactical defensive posture, as best I can, to the degree I can figure out how to act in these amazing and unprecedented circumstances.
WHAT circumstances, you might ask?
I can't even really, you know, say much about that. Let us simply say...
This might be the greatest Adventure of Johnny Northside...
(Live links not inserted upon initial publication, live links may follow later)