Mission (Soon To Be) Complete
SEVEN YEARS AGO, when I started this blog on February 21, 2008, I wrote a kind of "mission statement" beneath the title "The Adventures of Johnny Northside." Here is what some of that mission statement said, and what it still says today:
I am here to be near my son.
The wacky and colorful adventures which caused me to become a homeowner in North Minneapolis (twice!) have not been written upon this blog. And I won't be writing about those private matters today; at least not in depth and detail.
But following an inner voice of conscience since January of 2000, in Seattle, Washington, I have done everything in my power to live near my son even if it meant sleeping in a van, in an old RV, in run down rural houses purchased for pennies on the dollar, or living in the roughest four square blocks of North Minneapolis...
I have never fought my ex-wife for custody because, frankly, I couldn't find a better mother for my child and I have an old fashioned belief that if a young child is to be raised by one parent or the other, a mommy is the preferred choice. At the very least, I've found that true for MY child. But children do better with an involved father. So it was I made the choice to live near my child, in the one place I could afford in the Twin Cities:
A Writer Writes (Or, Well, At Least He Blogs)
When I started blogging, I had two goals in mind: neighborhood activism, and continuing to develop as a writer and journalist even as I was leaving grad school and, therefore, leaving my opinion columnist position at the Minnesota Daily. The phrase I used to describe why I turned to blogging was "to keep my pen wet." There is a term used for a condition some writers get when they can't actually write, but I have a superstition that prevents me from actually using the phrase, so I say "writer's b****."
Clearly, I don't really have a problem with writer's b****. I may have the OPPOSITE problem: an overwhelming compulsion to write and express myself. I am certainly aware of the compulsion, and I have a detailed understanding of its psychological basis in a childhood marked by colorful rural poverty. I would like to think my "habit" is more positive for society than heroin addiction, but a "habit" it is, all the same.
But in regard to the first part, neighborhood activism...
A Place Where Shots Ring Out In The Night
I have, and will always have, an acute sense of moral outrage that NOT NICE THINGS happen in my beautiful and beloved neighborhood, and when my son visits me, he witnesses those NOT NICE THINGS. Hookers doing business on Penn Avenue, until neighborhood activism cleaned up that awful mess. A police raid on the house directly across the street, which involved tossing a flash bang grenade inside. Some months ago, while I was visiting Jeff Skrenes at 26th and Penn, I yelled to my son (and Jeff!) to HIT THE DECK when a shot ran out at a memorial for a shooting victim.
Yes, Jeff's visitors that day were me and my son, a fact I didn't previously reveal when I blogged about it. Well, the cat's out of the bag now.
And so, fueled by moral outrage that THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE I BRING MY CHILD TO VISIT ME, AND THESE "NOT NICE" THINGS HAPPEN, I have been blogging. Last year I wrote THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR BLOG POSTS and it was nowhere near my top year. All those blog posts, all those words and pictures, all the reader commentary beneath those words and pictures, and all of it beneath these words:
I am here to be near my child.
My Bloggy Coach Becomes A Pumpkin?
What happens when my child is no longer a child? What happens when my child turns 18 and goes away to college? If you'd asked me that question seven years ago, I would have said, "I'll cross that bridge when I get there."
Now the bridge is dead ahead. Soon I will cross it. And I don't know any other way of life but active and geographically relevant involvement with my son. When my son lives near me, I can comfortably focus on HIM and on MY NEIGHBORHOOD at the same time. Lord knows I may range quite far--to the other side of the world, to Afghanistan--but I always have my one true home, my base of operations near my son.
However, in June of this year my son will turn eighteen. At nearly the same moment he will graduate from high school. The single sentence in which my psyche has resided for seven years--"I am here to be near my child"--will crack like an egg, and I must hatch new plans and perhaps a whole new life.
Changing Focus Is Not The Same As Leaving
I do not plan to LEAVE the neighborhood because home values have not recovered to the point I would be tempted to sell my house. But beginning in June, I will have a sense of not being where I belong...and I know that awful feeling, because I've felt it three times before when my son lived somewhere else (with his mommy, where my child should live) but I hadn't managed to uproot myself and establish a base of operations near him.
I know I can't blog in the same way if I don't have the focus and the passion. And I will not "half ass" this blogging mission. So I plan to blog in the same way as always right up until June, and then leave at the top of my game. After that, I may still publish jail rosters every few months, or eventually finish up the series about the fallen willow tree in my yard, but as far as the controversial subjects I usually blog about...
Stick a fork in me, come June and I'm done.
Unless Of Course, Well, $$$$$$$
For seven years, I have been a virtual cow that gives away its bloggy milk for free. Of course, I have never been a materialistic person--I have a pair of sweatpants from 1990, I've never owned a new car in my life and, well, there's that whole authorship of two critically acclaimed books about The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving--but often enough I've wondered, well, what would be the dollar value of these goods and services I provide for free, or for friendship, stiff drinks now and then, and maybe lunch?
When forces in the neighborhood in favor of "revitalization" would like the evil ways of an out-and-out-slumlord taken to task in a public way in the blogosphere, to that point that slumlord feels intense pressure to leave the neighborhood and get out of the slumlord business, what would be the dollar value of providing that valuable public service? Time and time again I have been told "nobody does it quite like you do."
Yes, well, part of that surely means "and for FREE!"
Around 2009, there were some discussions about the tremendous impact blogging was having on neighborhood issues, and some pie-in-the-sky discussions were had (at Broadway Pizza, mostly, in the "policy booth") about applying for grants to support the social media effort because, after all, every hour poured into blogging is an hour ripped from other activities...including activities that ACTUALLY PAY MONEY.
Those ideas about somehow getting compensated for blogging have gone nowhere. For seven years, I have been happy to be an unpaid volunteer fueled by my passion and my love of writing, (or my ADDICTION to writing) but I also have to think how if I mowed lawns at ten bucks an hour during all those times I was blogging, at the very least I'd probably own a new lawn mower today.
If I got paid to be "Johnny Northside"--and I don't mean paid peanuts--that would fundamentally change my outlook about retirement from blogging, because that would be money I could use to help my son during his college years while doing something I clearly love. But with my son going into higher education, well, like I heard recently in a rap song, "If it don't make a dollar, it don't make sense."
Social Media Wars Waged And Won, Inquire Within
For a price, I would be happy to focus this blog upon some particular aspect of its broad mission as I have defined it the last seven years: creating an "Urban Utopia" out of a troubled neighborhood by shining a light upon its many issues, and highlighting its revitalization victories.
For example, those half dozen crime families in North Minneapolis? I could write all day about that topic, digging up both court and genealogical records. Forget writing about anything else. I could write all day about the six crime families if I was paid for the effort...and the risk.
Or that ridiculous concentration of Level Three Sex Offenders (L3SO's) in North Minneapolis! If we want Northside home values to rebound, we must surely do something about THAT. I would like to think if L3SO's knew moving to the 55411 zip code would mean all their court records would be dissected in the blogosphere, they would reconsider the idea of moving here en masse.
Where would they live? I may editorialize about that in the future but suffice to say NOT ALL AT ONCE IN THE 55411 ZIP CODE!!!!
Pay me enough to do it right, I say, and I will light a fire under that issue until the numbers of L3SO's concentrated in our victimized, long-suffering neighborhood (wrecking our home values!) go down, down, down and the home values go up, up, up.
Or (best to have three examples) point me in the direction of a particular slumlord empire, like Mahmoud Khan or Paul Bertelson, and pay me to write all day about their empire and dig up information, and lord knows I'd be happy for a mission like that, as long as I'm paid...and I mean paid like somebody who has a Masters of Public Affairs.
But doing what I'm doing FOR FREE another seven years? (Gesture of throwing my hands up in the air) Baby needs new shoes. And new college textbooks. And a housing deposit. And a bus pass. And pizza money. (Rap music hand gesture) If it don't make a dollar, man, it don't make sense!
Like I Need More Reasons (But I Have Them)
Two additional reasons for my decision to retire from blogging (unless I can get paid what I feel like the job is worth) involve my goals as a writer, and the increasingly smaller role this blog plays in light of the emergence of Facebook forums like North Vent.
A Writer Writes (So He Stops Blogging)
In 2008, when I started blogging to "keep my pen wet" and avoid the pitfalls of that condition known as "writer's b***," I had a long term goal of writing novels. Even after seven years, I consider blogging a side project and the main thrust of my life is the writing of books.
In fact, I have an amazing collection of incomplete novels, and one that is complete (1776 pages!) but requires extensive revision and rewriting. There are other books I have in concept stage, and yet more ideas I have about books that could be written. In the last seven years, I have discovered that blogging both helps and hurts me as a novelist.
1.) How it helps: I can write at white hot speed, faster and better than I could before I was a blogger. I can even type faster due to constant practice. Under ideal conditions, I've been clocked at 120 words per minute. I've had seven years to develop my style in response to sustained reader feedback.
2.) How it hurts: It is difficult to switch from efforts at blogging to efforts at "noveling." The blogging will always interrupt the novel, because current events need to blogged relatively quickly, (like Saturday's one-year anniversary article about the fire that killed five children) but writing a novel can usually wait.
So the novel waits.
And it waits.
And it withers on the vine.
Plus, there are only so many hours in the day to write before you must do something else, like take a shower. When blogging and writing a novel exist in the same locus of time and space, something has to give. For the past seven years, the blog has triumphed and the novels have suffered.
My blog has been relevant to North Minneapolis, but other than a few "transplants" with roots in NoMi, The Adventures of Johnny Northside has little impact beyond the Twin Cities. In the remainder of my life, I want to write something with national and even worldwide impact. For me, that means writing books instead of writing a blog.
Because The Struggle Is Won (Or Will Soon Be Won)
In 2008, when I first started blogging, I was told writing the stuff I write would get me killed. I was told that repeatedly, emphatically, and by individuals both in favor and opposed to what I was doing.
Honestly, being told that only made blogging more attractive--and not because I have a death wish. I knew that if I could keep blogging, and others in the neighborhood could see blogging didn't result in my death, they would begin to take heart and participate in the social media conversations I was trying to instigate. The creepy crawly neighborhood issues hiding under rocks could be exposed to the light of day and rectified.
Over the years, I have been told what I attempted worked. The chill on conversation about tough topics in a tough neighborhood has thawed. The fear of immediate violent retaliation for free speech has melted away. There are moments when fear rises up again, but it is swiftly pushed back.
Now there are some 4,000 participants in North Vent Facebook forum, and every minute of the day they're having social media conversations of the exact same kind I was told in 2008 would get me killed. In light of the rise of North Vent, (and similar Facebook forums) the relevant role this blog can play has shrunk to an increasingly small spectrum of activity.
And I'm actually GLAD for that. I love the idea of laying this bloggy burden down and knowing North Vent will continue to grow and get stronger...that Hawthorne Hawkman, though he doesn't blog often, still blogs...that guest author Jordan North can come here to Johnny Northside every few months and say something that needs to be said about, for example, a drunk driver from suburbia who killed two young people in the hood. And I'm sure, over the years, other social media phenomenon I can't predict will manifest and play a positive role in North Minneapolis.
Urban Utopia Looms On The Horizon
Something amazing is happening in our nation's economy, and it's going to impact North Minneapolis in a positive way. We have known for a long time that revitalization of our neighborhood--which is so near to downtown I can see skyscrapers from my back yard--is tied to high gas prices.
But recently, our nation saw LOW gas prices. These low gas prices were due to domestic production of gasoline in places like North Dakota. And that's helping our nation's economy. It was during recent LOW gas prices that home values began to increase in our neighborhood.
So high gas prices make people want to buy a home near downtown...but low gas prices help the economy, and that raises the prices of our North Minneapolis real estate.
Suddenly, in light of domestic oil production and its impact on the economy, NORTH MINNEAPOLIS WINS EITHER WAY.
Cha-Cha-Cha-CHANGES!!! (Click for musical link)
In the last seven years, I have loved playing this role. And make no mistake, I will always be prepared to respond upon some unforeseeable emergency basis, to rain down bloggy blood and fire in response to a baseless defamation suit, for example, like the one which made this blog famous (briefly) in Moore v. Hoff. I have February, March, April, May and the first week of June left, and I intend to wrap things up.
Watch for more than the usual amount of editorials, as I try to leave a legacy of ideas about where social progress can be made in our neighborhood and city. Indeed, this entire blog is the exercise of a concept I conceived in a graduate school paper: My Theory of Northside Marketing Explained, Market And Romanticize The Struggle.
Out passion for the place where I reside near my child, I spent seven years writing about issues in a tough neighborhood.
And out of love for that same child, I turn my attention away from my neighborhood's issue and toward whatever comes next, whatever my son needs for his education, whatever God intends for the rest of my life...which I'm sure will be revealed in time and due course.