I am anti-fascist. Trump thinks that makes me a terrorist

When Donald Trump was first elected, I joked to my family that should I disappear, they ought to look for me in a gulag in the Utah desert. I was convinced a man with authoritarian leanings would attempt to crack down on free speech, especially from those of us opposed to his racist regime. It took a little longer than I expected, but with his latest tweeted edict, the mango Mussolini has finally ripened.

“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a terrorist organization,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. Antifa is short for “anti-fascist,” something you would think an American president would naturally be. Not so. Eager to jump on the “anti-anti-fascist” bandwagon, Trump’s tweet was quickly followed by a Senate resolution introduced by Republicans Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy “[c]alling for the designation of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.”

This is bonkers, not least because Antifa is not an actual organization. Rather, it is a nebulous collection of autonomous activists, a loose web of folks who share similar tactics and an opposition to fascism. Antifa is not a club you can join. There is no structure, no leadership, no membership roster.

It is not the Junior League for anarchists, nor is it the second coming of the Weather Underground, though that is what Donald Trump would have us think. They have blown up no buildings and they have killed no Americans. Yet, according to Republicans, they are domestic terrorists.

What makes them terrorists? They disagree with the president, and anyone who dares question Dear Leader, like the press, is an “enemy of the people. This is about cracking down on opposition to the Trump regime, as historian Mark Bray points out in a recent column for the Washington Post. “If antifa groups are composed of a wide range of socialists, anarchists, communists, and other radicals, then declaring antifa to be a ‘terrorist’ organization would pave the way to criminalizing and delegitimizing all politics to the left of Joe Biden,” he writes.

Donald Trump is a man who pathologically loathes dissent. Charlottesville Nazis are “very fine people” because they support him. Black Lives Matter protestors are “thugs” because they do not. This is not about terrorism. If it were, Republicans would be going after white nationalists, who since 9/11, have killed 110 Americans according to the research institution New America. Antifa, remember, has killed exactly zero people. This is about criminalizing leftwing activism and speech.

Historically, the United States has not labelled domestic political groups as terrorist organizations, and for good reason. Belonging to such groups is protected under the First Amendment. You cannot be arrested for simply believing in or espousing radical, even odious views. We don’t criminalize thought in this country, only actions. It is why belonging to the Ku Klux Klan is not a criminal offense but burning a cross in someone’s yard is.

And while setting fire to a police station is not the wonton act of racist terror that burning a cross is, it is still a crime. Last night, Washington burned brighter than it has since the British torched the White House. Whether vandalism, looting, or arson are committed by white nationalists or Antifa or some other group (and right now there’s a lot of confusion as to who is doing what), they are prosecutable. It is the act that is the crime, though, not the belief, not the speech, not the peaceful protest that came before it.

Trump, Cruz, Cassidy, and the braying mob of rightwing pundits all know this. It is why the Senate Resolution uses “Antifa” and “leftwing activists” interchangeably. The goal of Donald Trump is not to combat domestic terrorism. It is to silence leftwing opposition. If Trump and the Republicans get their way, simply belonging to Antifa will be a criminal offense. Yet because there is no concrete way of defining Antifa, this regime can label anyone who disagrees with it a member, and therefore a terrorist. Dissent will become punishable by law.

Pack some sunscreen. I’ll see you in the desert.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Killing All The Right People

In a 1987 episode of Designing Women, a show about four interior decorators in Atlanta, the titular characters discover a good friend is gay and dying of AIDS. They are naturally distraught, but one of their customers is smug and satisfied. In a diatribe about how AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality, the bigoted belle screeches “as far as I’m concerned this disease has one thing going for it: it’s killing all the right people.” The indomitable Julia Sugarbaker, played by Dixie Carter (who herself was a lifelong conservative), reads the woman the Riot Act, throwing her out of her business to applause from the studio audience. It’s one of the most powerful television moments of the 1980s.

I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot since yesterday, when three things occurred which might not seem entirely connected, but are. Larry Kramer, the legendary gay rights and AIDS activist, passed away, aged 84. Then, the nation reached a grizzly milestone: 100,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. As this was happening, President Trump retweeted a video of a supporter mirthfully telling a crowd of likeminded Red Hats that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” No, really. See for yourself.

What do these things have in common? Two of them tell us a lot about the dangerous times in which we find ourselves. One of them shows us the way forward.

None of us exist in a vacuum, least of all the President of the United States. His acolytes will insist that the president did not watch the video, or that the “Cowboys for Trump” leader who said Democrats are only good when dead was being hyperbolic, or that he clarified that he didn’t “mean it in the physical sense” but rather in the “political sense.” It doesn’t matter. The gun-toting militiamen heard what they heard, what we all heard.

It is a nifty little trick of theirs, to walk back statements or send coded messages which provide plausible deniability. As the author and academic Reece Jones pointed out this week, these far-right terrorist groups have developed their own vernacular and symbols, such as wearing aloha shirts as a way of signaling their desire for a second Civil War. The cowboy Red Hat said what he meant, the President amplified it and thanked him for it, and his supporters heard what they were meant to hear: “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. I don’t mean that literally… wink, wink.”

Of course, sometimes they escalate beyond coded language. Earlier this week, an effigy of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, was hung from a tree by a far-right militia group. In 2018, a Trump supporter was arrested for planning a bombing campaign against Democratic officials. Back 2011, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot when a gunman opened fire on an event she was holding in her district. Six were killed that day, including a federal judge, a congressional staffer, and a nine-year-old girl. I guess they’re good Democrats, now.

This callous indifference of Trump and some of his supporters to the lives of those who do not look and think like them should not surprise anyone. We probably crossed the threshold into a six-digit coronavirus body count weeks ago, but it officially happened yesterday. The president, who had time to tweet his thanks to a man who believes the opposition party is better dead than alive, did not acknowledge the somber and gut-wrenching news until this morning.

Why did it take the President so long to comment?  Well, it’s a remarkably cogent tweet, striking the right tone and without any grammatical errors or random capitalization, indicating that Trump probably had some help composing it. Perhaps the staffer charged with making him sound human was out yesterday. More likely, though, it is simply that he did not care.

The President did, however, care enough to endorse the notion that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat, and this pandemic has killed a lot of Democrats. The New York Times recently ran an article comparing how the coronavirus has disproportionately affected blue states, as well as Black people and Latino people, who are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. The President and Congressional Republicans have refused federal aid to states like New York and Illinois, callously labeling much-needed help for ailing Americans as a “blue state bailout.” These Americans are largely Democrats, though, and the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. So blue states get nothing, and the death toll rises. After all, like AIDS in the 80s, it’s killing all the right people.

Which brings me to Larry Kramer. Best known as the confrontational, unapologetic founder of ACT UP, Kramer never minced his words. “Some reporter called me ‘the angriest gay man in the world’ or some such,” he once said. “Well, it stuck, but I realized it was very useful.” He used that anger to draw attention to a plague which ravished the gay community, but also to the innate bigotry of many Americans, especially those in power. “Too many people hate the people that AIDS most affects, gay people and people of colour,” he wrote, listing ten hard-learned lessons from the AIDS epidemic.

These lessons are still relevant today as Americans face the bleak truth that the president hates half the country and is literally willing to let them die. We must harness our righteous anger at a man and a movement which threatens our lives and sneers at our deaths. We must defeat not only Trump, and not only Trumpism, but a literal plague they are weaponizing against us. We must stand up and say, quite simply, “enough. Our lives matter.”

A sublot of “Killing All The Right People” is Mary Jo (played brilliantly by Annie Potts) reluctantly being forced to publicly advocate for birth control to be offered at her daughter’s school. In a moving speech towards the end of the episode, she chokes back tears as she speaks to a crowd of parents, and to her dying friend. “I think that it really shouldn’t matter what your personal views are about birth control, because you see, we’re not just talking about preventing births anymore,” she says. “We’re talking about preventing deaths. 85,00 Americans have died, and we’re still debating. Well, for me, this debate is over.”

For me, too, this debate is over. Donald Trump does not care about coronavirus deaths because he thinks the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat, and right now COVID-19 is disproportionately killing Democrats, or at least people who fit his perception of Democrats. We cannot allow this callousness, this hate, to continue to permeate our politics and our nation. We can’t argue over our right to life. Instead, we must do as Larry Kramer did and fight like hell for it, because the only good Democrat isn’t a dead one. The only good Democrat is an angry one.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Fortnight of 13 – 24 April 2020

Has the pandemic changed the way anyone else watches EastEnders? I used to watch every night, but lately I’ve been saving up four episodes (or what would be a week’s worth in normal times) and binging them at the weekend. In some ways this is nice—Friday night was spent in Walford, for example, and I made an event of it—but then I go two weeks without seeing my favourite show and dodging spoilers, which isn’t easy given how many EastEnders stars and fans I follow on social media.

I touched on the decision to move to two episodes a week in my last blog but didn’t discuss it in depth because I didn’t see much point. I still don’t—the producers were left with an impossible choice and are making the best of a bad situation, which I respect—but I do wonder how this change will affect future viewing habits. I don’t know if I’ll go back to watching every night or if I’ll continue to binge at the weekend. It might not matter; iPlayer has already revolutionised how we watch tv. Then, it might: will people used to getting only two episodes a week go back to demanding four? After all, our attention spans are getting shorter, not longer. Might two episodes a week be all people want to commit to once our hectic lives resume?

This was certainly seen as a justification for cancelling my favourite American soap opera, All My Children, back in 2011. Executives at ABC didn’t feel people wanted an hour-long drama five days a week anymore. Of course, British soaps are a different beast in so many ways so the analogy is far from perfect, and I don’t think any of the British soaps are in any danger of being cancelled. This is all idle speculation on my part. Still, if and how the pandemic changes our viewing habits will be interesting to see going forward.

Until then, there’s still a lot to unpack from the last fortnight in Albert Square.

From the moment Iqra convinced Ash to go to Vinny’s party, I knew it would be trouble. Nothing good comes from convincing your partner to go to a party they don’t want to attend, especially when it is thrown by a family member. It’s like Iqra has learned nothing from her year in Albert Square.

That party was very confusing to me. At first, I thought it was just a way for Vinny to show Ruby his sick beats. Turns out there were drugs there, though I’m still not entirely sure I understand why. Was Vinny selling the drugs? Were people just doing drugs (as they’re wont to do at a party/rave)? What was Dotty’s role in all this? I freely admit it might just be me who missed these things—the flashing lights and loud music made it difficult for me to follow what was happening, just as it would have in real life (I’m not a nightclub kind of guy). Still, I was left with more questions than answers.

Still, a couple things were clear to me—both regarding the Panesars. One is, as has been hinted before, this is not a family to mess with. So much has happened since last autumn that it’s easy to forget the Panesar brothers first came on the scene by kidnapping Lola in revenge for Ben stealing Kheerat’s car. This is a family of violent gangsters on par with the Mitchells. Now we know they also do, or sell, drugs (again, unclear on what was happening there). We know that they don’t keep this a secret, that it’s a family operation which even Ash was, if not involved with, okay with—she lied to the police and paid off the homophobic guy Vinny (understandably, if not rightfully) beat up with aplomb. I mean, in those moments I saw in Ash Panesar everything Louise Mitchell wishes she was.

So did Iqra, and that is bound to cause problems for the couple going forward. While their row over Ash’s behaviour was resolved with “I love you” this week, it’s clear that the Panesars and their seedy dealings are going to continue to drive a wedge between the couple. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—soap is nothing without conflict—but it does raise some questions in my mind, specifically regarding Ash. It made no sense to me that Ash would suddenly act like a stone-cold thug when that is not what we’ve seen before, and it made even less sense to me that she would subsequently warn Iqra not to make her choose between her and her family. This is a woman who spent years avoiding her family, to the point or changing her name—have they ever addressed why she was Ash Kaur, now Ash Panesar?)—so I felt like I got whiplash watching how quickly her personality changed. Was it the booze? Is something else going on with Ash? I hope the show explains this change soon.

Still, I’m glad to see Iqra and Ash getting screen time. They’re one of my favourite couples, and both Priya Davdra and Gurlaine Kaur Garcha are capable actresses and just a delight to watch. More of them, please.

The other big development to come from this party was Keegan’s arrest. After months of issues with racist coppers, his storyline has finally reached a rapid boil with his arrest in the melee outside. I’ve been very glad to see EastEnders tackling this storyline, and I think they’re handling it very well. Keegan is one of the most interesting characters of the past decade, and Zack Morris is such a talented young actor. I love seeing him front-and-centre where he belongs.

There’s a lot to unpack here, though, and frankly I could write an entire entry on Keegan. So, let’s start with the smallest. That near-riot outside the party escalated very quickly and was very clearly just a plot device to get Keegan arrested. That the police were called I understand—Ruby warned Vinny that Marsha (whom I have never heard of before now but want to know everything about) would call them—but that instead of dispersing the crowd threw bricks at them I don’t get.

Still, as a plot device it worked, and Keegan was arrested for something he didn’t do. Perhaps coincidentally, this all happened because of a party thrown by Vinny, who was the first character to mention to Keegan that the cops were targeting him because of his race. That is clearly what is happening here, even if the police officers themselves don’t seem to think so.

Too often we think of racism as only being outward projections of hate—burning crosses, racial epithets, violent hate crimes, overt discrimination—when in reality it is much deeper and more pernicious. People can be racist in little ways, ways they might not even be aware of. Ever cross the street when you see a Black person walking? Ever make an assumption about someone’s intelligence or education because their name or accent sounds “Black?” Ever hear about a violent crime and assume the perpetrator must be BME? These are just a few examples of subconscious prejudice. We live in a society which teaches us that Black people are danger, or less intelligent, or more prone to violent crime, and even if we don’t want to we internalise those messages.

Denise Fox understands this, which is why she was more sympathetic to Keegan than Jack. It is important that Denise is the one siding with Keegan here, too, because Denise has never been one to let Keegan’s shitty behaviour pass without comment. Keep in mind that in their first meeting Denise slapped Keegan for being a disrespectful brat. Denise now being one of Keegan’s allies—and, I suspect we’ll see, his fiercest—is telling. She understands what he’s going through better than almost anyone else in Walford. She also has, in the eyes of both the audience and her neighbours, moral authority. Denise is unflinchingly fair, so if she says “nah, this is some racist bullshit,” it carries an added weight. I’m not saying it should be this way, mind you; Keegan saying “this is racist” ought to have been enough.

No one wants to admit they might be even a little bit racist, though. Zack Morris himself tweeted earlier this month that “[t]this storyline isn’t about ‘racist police.’ [I]t’s about the unconscious bias that is imbedded within society when it comes to black people.” He’s right, and I think the story is even more interesting and relevant because they are tackling these subconscious biases. It would have been so easy to make these police officers foaming-at-the-mouth racists, but by bringing Jack Branning into it, we’re meant to see how even people we think of as “good guys” can have subconscious prejudice.

Full disclosure: I’ve never liked Jack Branning, even as I love Scott Maslen and the way he plays the role. He’s smug and self-righteous. But most viewers think of him as a “good guy.” His unwillingness to believe Keegan, then, indicates to the audience that even those of us who see ourselves as decent, non-racist people can, in fact, be unaware of our own racial biases. I am very excited to see how this storyline plays out over the coming weeks, especially as Keegan and Denise deal with their white partners’ inability to see their point-of-view, and I continue to commend EastEnders for tackling this important topic with sensitivity and nuance.

This feels like a good place to leave off, even though there is so much else to discuss. I’ll put some of it in my stray observations section, but most of them could do with much more analysis. There was just so much happening in the last fortnight, it is hard to narrow down what to write about in detail. The past four episodes are the best since the 35th anniversary, and everyone at EastEnders should be very proud of the work they’re doing. The show is in rare form, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Stray observations: I got a distinct 90s feel from these episodes, with the way that they went from one conversation to another in the Square and the market. I liked it. I really like the sense of community which has returned to the show. Chantelle’s scene with Kheerat in the caff felt forced. I know they’re going to end up having an affair, but I’m not yet convinced. Mikayla coming back was random enough, but for her to now be so upset about the son who tried to kill her (and who she said she never wanted to see again) feels like a heel-turn. She’s Leo’s mum, so I guess no matter what he did she would be sad he died, but Christ alive, this feels contrived. I also feel like Gray and Whitney are destined for an affair. It’s going to happen. Ugh, Whit really does have the worst taste in men. “Ugh, like at what point does Whit decide to become a nun or a political lesbian?” is literally a line from my notes. MORE RUBY PLEASE. Louisa Lytton is so sorely underused. Tiff getting the ring Keanu gave to Louise seems like a bad omen. Tommy’s dyslexia storyline will be interesting, and Davood Ghadami was very good in his scenes with Shay Crotty. Glad Sharon’s going away to see Michelle; her and Phil should not get back together. Where the hell was Bernie in all the Keegan drama? Tiff could have used her best friend and Keegan could have used his sister. Honestly, they need to use Clair Norris a lot more than they do. I feel like Oates and Sen just don’t know what to do with Bernadette, but I love Bernie and want more of her. Did anybody else notice the cups from the caff got a jaunty redesign? Love the Rainie and Stuart scenes. They’re so good together. Ricky Champ and Tanya Franks are so charming and imbue such humanity into two broken characters. It’s a pleasure to see them act together. Jean thinking Daniel was in the box had me howling with laughter!

Scene of the fortnight: Rainie asking Max for a divorce and not knowing Ruby’s name. I know I didn’t talk much about Rainie and Stuart, but they really were a highlight of the week.

Line of the fortnight: “I only blow on my husband’s dice.” – CHANTELLE!

Performance of the fortnight: Zack Morris as Keegan Baker. Just absolutely broke my heart. I love both Zack Morris as an actor and Keegan Baker as a character so, so much.

Character of the fortnight: Ash Kaur Panesar. She really surprised me this week and is clearly more complex (and messed up) than any of us realised. I’m looking forward to learning more about Ash and her crazy family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

 

Reading my teenage blog: “If I Had One Wish (Prom 2004)”

In the midst of the pandemic, proms are being cancelled left, right, and centre. Thinking of all the high school seniors who are missing out on their senior proms had me thinking about my own. I feel bad for these kids, because for many of them prom was something they have been looking forward to for a long time, perhaps years.

Prom is one of those things that, before about 10 or 20 years ago, was virtually unheard of in the UK, another imported American tradition many people (especially over the age of 40) sneer at, like Trick-or-Treat and blonde idiots with bad haircuts in charge of governments.

In America, though, prom is a big deal. While the advent of the “promposal” and attending viral videos is a distinctly Gen Z phenomenon, even for a middle-aged Millennial like me, prom was accompanied by much anticipation and excitement. It’s a rite-of-passage, the last chaste high school event but also the first adult date. Restaurant reservations are made. Limousines are hired. After-parties are planned (though most adults would cringe at this notion, my experience was there was always somewhere to booze after prom). It is hyped, most notably in films like American Pie, as the most magical night of adolescence, the climax (in the case of American Pie, literally) of four years of high school.

As a young gay man in 2004, prom was more a chore than anything. I actually remember not wanting to go to my senior prom because the whole thing seemed tedious, at best. My then-boyfriend, who lived on the other side of the state and was about 5 years older than me at the time, had no desire to go – for the obvious reasons of age, but also because 2004 was still a time when a boy taking another boy to the prom was controversial and often generated national headlines. I had a friend (whom in retrospect was no friend at all) who called me selfish for even entertaining the idea considering the controversy it would generate. Going stag to my own senior prom seemed pointless, especially as I’d done the whole prom thing twice before (sophomore year as the date of a senior; junior year in my own right). I knew what to expect and honestly didn’t want to be arsed about it.

But, I went, because I was convinced by friends, family, and society that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. Considering how rarely I think of high school, and how in the grand scheme of my life those years feel more like a footnote or a prologue than anything, I doubt I would have. As it turns out, though–and as you’ll see in the entry below–my senior prom turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life, though not for the right reasons.

So here we go, an entry from my teenage blog from the day after my senior prom. As always, I have not read this before pasting it into this blog and will react as I read.


25 April 2004

My senior prom was last night, and it proved to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I did the typical prom stuff – pictures, dinner, dance, and party afterwards – and of course, being Skylar Ashton Gates, added a flare of drama to each of them. However, by the time I had left the dance floor and was heading home to change, I couldn’t help but to smile. “It’s the most perfect night,” I told Kalpana as I was leaving. Later on that night, as I was being rolled in for x-rays, I would admit that I may have spoken a bit too soon.

A couple things to begin with. This blog came after I’d deleted my original blog (which the first few essays in this series came from) and started on another website. In doing so, I began writing under a pen name – Skylar Gates, the “Skylar” bit which survives to this day. That’s right, reader – Skylar isn’t my legal name, though for the past 16 years most people have called me Skylar. “Kalpana” is also a psuedonym for a friend of mine, as I began using fake names for everyone in 2003 in order to protect their privacy and to avoid another “scandal” like the one that erupted when my original teenage blog was discovered by students and school administration early in my senior year. Turns out being the early 00s version of Redneck Gossip Girl had consequences. That’s another story though.

Prom 2004

The phone rang at about 8:30 yesterday morning, and I reluctantly rolled over to pick it up.

I now think of 8:30 AM as “sleeping in,” so, fuck you 18-year-old Skylar.

“What?” I asked.
“Morning, sunshine!” Safie said brightly.
“What are you doing up so early?”
“Why are you still in bed? It’s prom day!”
“Ugh, I forgot about that,” I laughed.
“Are you still going with me and Kalpana to get our hair and nails done?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m going with you tonight though.”
“Okay,” she said. “Meet us at school at about 5:00 for pictures.”
“Will do,” I yawned, and hung up.

So, this was also the time I put dialogue in my blog. Most of the conversations were as close to verbatim as I could remember them, and “morning, sunshine!” is definitely something ‘Safie’ would say. In fact, ‘Safie’ follows me on Twitter and may well recognise herself in this.

I slept until about 1:00, when I got up and played online for a couple of hours, just talking to people and surfing [REDACTED]. After that I took a nap until 4:00, when I got up and fixed my hair and all that jazz. I wanted to wear my hair up, but I couldn’t get it to stand right, so finally I just put it down in a “fuck it” type deal. It actually didn’t look too bad. Even people who hate my hair down were saying it looked good. =)

“I slept until about 1:00.” Seriously, fuck you teenage Skylar.

Hair. You can see from the picture accompanying this blog that there is very little I could do with hair that short. I have always preferred my hair longer, even though a lot of people have told me through the years that they prefer me with shorter hair, or a pompadour – none more so than my grandfather, who to this day still says at least twice a week that he wants to cut my hair. He disapproves of men having long hair. (He also disapproves of men wearing shorts, or at least he did when I was in high school.) My hair right now is not quite shoulder-length, but I want it to get there.

One thing I distinctly remember about high school, though, is fighting against rigid gender norms – fighting with myself as much as anyone. I wanted my hair long, and I would have loved to have gotten my hair done and my nails done, too. However, gender was strictly enforced in my family and in my town. My father and grandfather both have very different recollections of my childhood than I do. A couple years back my father insisted I would have been allowed to cheerlead as a child if I wanted. I guess I’ll never know because I never asked, but only because my father made it very clear in things he said about the one boy cheerleader there was, about me sleeping with stuffed animals, about my general timidity and lack of interest in “boy things” that it would not be allowed. This isn’t meant to insult my father – like I said, he remembers this differently and surely would have his own explanation – but to simply convey my experiences.

In high school I had started to rebel against this, but only just. I remember wanting to wear makeup as far back as high school, but I dare not ask. I picked my battles. Sometimes I did get my hair coloured, though never as elaborately as I would have liked. It was also never as long as I would have liked. Being gay was rebellious enough, I calculated; best not push things.

There were other things, too. One of the first things I did when I moved to college, though, was buy some concealer. I still remember my friend Laura sitting in my freshman dorm room teaching me how to apply makeup. It was liberating.  

I redacted the name of the website I blogged on, just to further ensure my privacy.

So at 5:00 I got to school, passed Mandy but didn’t realize it was her because she had a new car, and went inside. On my way in Cyndi stopped me, helped me fix my tie, and we talked for a few minutes before her mom took a picture of us. Got inside and found Kalpana, Ashley-Rose and Donnie, Britannia, anda bunch of other people. Just sat around before taking my pictures and waiting for Safie and Shawn to get there. It took them forever to get there, and when they did we went ahead and headed to Middlesboro to eat.

Here we’re getting into some of the names I don’t remember. I know who Kalpana, Ashley-Rose, and Britannia are. I believe I know who Cyndi is. I am less sure on Mandy (she might simply be my friend Mandi, but I’d need further context). Safie and Shawn I know. But Donnie? Who the fuck is Donnie?

I tried to find one of those horrid official portriats they do at prom, with the cheesy, cheap backdrop, but I couldn’t. I know we have some, but I can’t be bothered to dig one out when I have a photo album of Kodak moments handy. So you get one of those.

Going to Middlesboro to eat, for me, was a big deal. I lived in one of the most rural areas east of the Mississippi. Stinnett, Kentucky is 7 miles outside Hyden, Kentucky – population 375ish and the only town in Leslie County. It was about 30 miles to Hazard or Harlan, the two cities with the nearest McDonald’s and Wal-Marts. Middlesboro was about an hour away on windy, steep, and narrow mountain roads. The only time I went to Middlesboro was when we were driving through to visit family in Tennessee (where I now live) or for prom. If I recall, we ate at Ryan’s Steakhouse – a chain that I believe no longer exists.

On the way over there we just talked and blasted the stero with “Holidae Inn” and all of these other rap songs. Kept passing dead snakes in the road, which sucked, and just laughed and had a good time. We talked about people we knew, but nothing really bad, and discussed who we thought would win prom king and queen. Safie, Kalpana, and I were all already on prom court, but we weren’t sure who would win. We all put our money on Brighton and Britannia and talked about how some people thought they got back together just for prom, and Kalpana started talking about how Brighton and I used to flirt in geometry all the time last year. We started talking about that day last year when Britannia balled Brighton out because he was talking to me and not her. Safie and Kalpana were both there, and I mean… wow, fun times in geometry, lol.

Hated snakes then. Hate snakes now. It didn’t suck they were dead; it sucked I had to see them. Using “prom court” loosely here. We didn’t have a prom court, per se. We had people who were on the ballot for king and queen. I suppose that is what I considered “prom court.” OH MY GOD I REMEMBER EVERYTHING THINKING BRIGHTON AND BRITANNIA GOT BACK TOGETHER JUST FOR PROM! Literally everyone thought that it was a publicity stunt. We were so jaded.

That geometry class junior year was lit. There were very few of us in it, the teacher was chill as fuck, so we mostly just talked the entire time. Brighton would probably not call it flirting with me, and even I remember being unsure it rose to the level of flirting – I think he was just being polite? But this was 2004 in southeastern Kentucky. If you were a guy and you talked to the openly gay guy without calling him a fag, you were flirting. Also, Britannia had a reason to be a little upset about Brighton flirting with me (I had a massive crush on him which I thought was a secret but apparently was not). Early in my senior year she and I got into a massive argument over it in the middle of the school. “It’s just because you’re in love with my boyfriend!” she screamed. Y’all… you could have heard a pin drop in that hallway. It was like something out of a tv show. (My response was “fuck you,” and then I stormed off, because, well, she wasn’t wrong. Okay, ‘love’ might have been strong, but I fancied him.)

Got to Ryan’s and thought we’d have to wait forever, because the crowd was fucking huge. We were the only prom people there (everybody else went to London, Hazard, and Harlan), and the crowd proved to be smaller than we thought, because we were seated in no time.

Ryan’s is a steakhouse, not a boy’s house. London is a town in Kentucky, not my beloved London. 

So our waiter came up to us and started taking orders for soda. Let me tell you, he was so fucking cute it isn’t even funny! I mean, I wanted this boy so badly you just don’t even know. His name was Josh, he looked about my age, with really pretty brown eyes and short brown hair. He had the cutest little ass, lol. Anyway, so the entire night I was sitting there flirting with the waiter, and Safie and I were trying to figure out if he’s gay or not.

“God, it doesn’t matter,” I sighed. “That boy is too hot to be waiting tables.”
“Well what the fuck do you expect him to do?” Safie asked. “Be on the table?”
“Wouldn’t hurt,” I smiled devilishly.
“You’re such a little whore,” she laughed.

I can’t remember what the waiter looked like, but I do remember that he was ridiculously good looking. This Sex and the City talk is a bit much, though. Feels like it wouldn’t fly in 2020, but I can’t decide if that’s because I’m older or because society has progressed past ojectifying the hot waiter.

I got up to go get some fruit (ended up getting nothing but strawberries), and when I came back there were these women telling Safie and Kalpana how pretty they were.

“Well you’re just so beautiful,” they said.
“Well thank you!” I beamed. The women laughed and Safie hung her head as they walked away.
“They weren’t talking to you, dipshit,” she said.
“Well they could have been,” I laughed.

Good comic timing, teenage Skylar

A few minutes later we were talking about how painfully obvious it is that I’m gay.

“I suppose it is pretty obvious,” I laughed.
“Well, finally!” Safie screamed.
“We’ve been telling you that forever,” Kalpana said.
“I dunno though. Shawn,” I turned to Safie’s boyfriend, “did you know I was gay when you met me?”
“Well,” he laughed, blushing. “Uh… not until you opened your mouth.”
“Oh,” I laughed. “Well then it’s settled. I’ll be a mute straight guy.”

It’s funny, because some years later, when I first met the guys in the fraternity which I would end up hanging out with (but never pledging) in college, they said they had no idea I was gay. I wonder how much of this was just Eastern Kentucky thinking anyone who didn’t fit a narrow definition of masculinity was gay? I’ve always kind of thought I read gay, and I’ve always been fine with that – I mean, I am gay, so whatever – but it’s interesting how people percieve me. Obviously online it’s a bit different, but in person I wonder. I never think to ask because, why would I? 

We finished and I left Josh (who I kept flirting with throughout dinner but never really decided if he was gay or not) a $5 tip before walking out. On the suggestion book I wrote “Give Josh a raise!” and we walked out.

“Wait,” I said. “I’ve gotta pee. I’ll be right back.”
“I’m going to leave you,” Safie warned.
“Oh hush,” I said.

I ran back in and walked up to the greeter. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she smiled. I quickly scribbled down my phone number and wrote my name under it.
“Give this to Josh,” I said.
“Okay,” she laughed, and I ran back out.

Ugh this is so cringey. On the one hand, giving a waiter your number hardly makes you Kevin Spacey. But there’s something about this that just rubs me the wrong way now. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing something like this, not least because of how awkward I think it would make him feel. It actually reminds me of the hot waiter at Reno, when I lived in Chicago. This was about 2013. I was a regular, and he was hot but also very sweet. I was smitten. My friends tried to get me to make a move, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it while he was working. I remember thinking that was wildly inappropriate. I always hoped I’d run into him somewhere else in the city, but I never did – except when he changed jobs and ended up working at another place I went, albeit less frequently.

On the way home we jammed some more hiphop and just gossiped like usual. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but the hour back to Hyden passed in no time, and before you knew it we were walking into the prom. I voted before going in, of course for myself. My prom queen vote went to somebody, but I don’t know who. I just closed my eyes and let my pencil fall on a line, and checked the box next to it. Whoever got my vote can thank me later, lol.

There were a couple friends who read my blog, even after “the scandal,” so I wonder if my prom queen vote really did go to a random person or if I just said that. I honestly can’t remember.
So I got in and just mingled, talking to Kendall, Cordelia, and everybody for a while. I danced for a few minutes with Bethany, did the Cha Cha Slide, and went out to talk to Mandy about her new car (which is gorgeous) and all of that jazz. I walked into the commons and found Kendall, talked to her about the waiter for a few minutes and walked back out to talk to Britannia.

THE CHA CHA SLIDE!

“So, how are you tonight, your highness?” I asked.
“Huh?” she looked at me, puzzled.
“Oh cut the shit,” I laughed. “You know you and Brighton will win. You can be all humble around the others, but with me… let your ego soar.”
“No we won’t,” she said. “We would have if you wouldn’t have broken up, but now I don’t know.”
“Hmm… I still don’t know,” I said. “Good luck.”
“Thanks. You too,” she smiled.
“Thanks,” I smiled back, and walked off.

I am assuming “we sould have if you wouldn’t have broken up…” is a typo, and the “you” should read “we.” Britannia and I ended up parting as friends, despite a couple massive public rows along the way.

Hung out a while longer, talked to Oliver and Emily and decided to stay long enough for the crowning and then bail with them to go to a party or something, and danced some more. Cordelia and I talked about how far we’d come this year and how if you’d have told us in October that we’d be taking a picture at prom together we’d both have laughed, and that’s about it. They had this wierd little contest where the straight guys got up and sucked down the juice from a baby bottle (Tim won) and then it was time for the crowning.

Coredelia was part of “the scandal.” It really is remarkable that she and I made up as quickly as we did, because I legit hated her for a while. That whole thing was way overblown. Whatever.

“And your 2004 Leslie County High School Prom Queen is…” the DJ paused for what seemed forever. “Kendall Williams!”

Yay!

I screamed louder than I’ve ever screamed before. I mean, I was so fucking pumped. My best friend, the insecure head cheerleader who was convinced everybody hated her for one reason or another, was our prom queen. I swear to you I about cried. When she reads this she’ll probably think I’m full of shit, but I was so fucking excited that you just don’t even know. I knew that would make Aram king, but for some reason I didn’t care. I mean I really didn’t. Aram did win king, and I was actually happy for them both. Even though they bailed right after that.

“Kendall” is absolutely one of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met. Reading this put a big smile on my face. I haven’t talked to her in years, but she was such a lovely person and really was one of my best friends in high school. 16 years later, I’m still chuffed for her.

Do they do Prom King and Queen in the UK? I don’t think they do. Basically it’s a popularity contest. The Prom King is often just the most popular boy, while the Prom Queen is just the most popular girl. They get flimsy little crowns and bragging rights at high school reunions, but beyond that, not much. It is considered an honour, though, and sometimes you’ll hear people mention it as a “fun fact” about themselves years later, though most people over the age of 20 know that what you did in high school doesn’t matter, not even to the people you went to high school with.

They had the court dance, and being one of the only ones on court that didn’t have a date, I danced with Kalpana. On one side of me was Amy and Samuel, on the Mandy and Blake, and on another was Greenlee and Stephan. All around me my best friends were, and I think it sunk in to all of us right then that we were graduating in a month. Mandy and I smiled at each other and mouthed one thing – “2004” – to each other. Amy winked at me, and I swear I thought I saw a tear in her eye. Safie and Shawn danced slowly, and Greenlee looked so beautiful. I thought Britannia was crying in Brighton’s arms, but I’m not sure. I know that, realizing that we were graduating and that I was leaving them all, I almost began crying. I just leaned my head on Kalpana’s shoulder and sighed.

What is this “court dance?” I don’t remember that being a thing. I’m guessing it was the first dance of the prom king and queen? Okay, I know who Mandy was/is now. 

“I can’t believe this is our senior prom,” I sighed.
“I know. We’ve come a long way.”
“Yeah, we have,” I said. “We haven’t killed each other. It’s a miracle.”
“I don’t know. You and Britannia came close a few times.”
“But we emerged to be the best of friends,” I smiled. “I’m really going to miss everybody.”
“Me too,” she sighed. “me too.”

Narrator: he did not miss everybody. There are some of them I genuinely do miss, but I haven’t remained close with anyone from high school. There are some whom I talk to on social media from time to time, but the truth is once I graduated I left town and never looked back. It has been probably 12 or 13 years since I even stepped foot in my hometown. Once my grandparents left, I had no reason to go back. Weirdly, I had planned on visiting this summer. I now only live about 2 hours from there, so it seemed like an easy trip to make. The pandemic has probably killed any hope of that, though.

I left right after that, came home and changed, gave Oliver some of my clothes to wear, and headed out. While there I put on a couple of neclaces. One was my brown A&F one I bought in Daytona with Amy. The other was my St. Sebastian neclace.

“What’s that one?” Oliver asked.
“It’s my St. Sebastian neclace,” I said. “He looks out for me and keeps me safe.”
“Riiiiiiiight,” he said. “You wear too many neclaces.”

The story of my Saint Sebastian necklace is actually really neat. There was a website called Saints for Sinners, which produced hand-painted necklaces with various saints on them. Somehow I discovered this website in 2001 or 2002 and sent an e-mail to the owner, telling her or him how much I loved their artistry and how, as soon as I had a debit card of my own, I would order one. They responded by asking for my address and which saint I wanted. From the moment it arrived I wore Saint Sebastian around my neck daily – until the night of my senior prom. You’ll see why.

We left and went up to “Party Boy’s” house first, but there was no party, so we just cruised around for a while before taking Emily home. The entire night I was telling Oliver to slow down, because he drives like he’s flying a plane. Emily freaked out on me at one point, telling me to stop being a “back-seat driver,” but I didn’t care. It had rained during prom, so it was extra slick, and on the curvy roads of southeastern Kentucky, I know that wet curves equal almost certain death. Thoughts of Bridget hydroplaning into that bus were constantly on my mind, and I tried explaining to Emily and Oliver why I was so paranoid, but they didn’t seem to understand.

I don’t remember who Party Boy is. I don’t remember who Emily is, either. I do remember Oliver driving like a goddamned maniac though. And I do remember poor Bridget, may she rest in peace. 

Drove back towards my house, and he thought he saw his dad sitting in the little parking lot type deal right before you turn up my hollow. The truck pulled out when we passed, and freaking out because his dad fucking hates me and would probably kill me if he caught me with Oliver, we sped down the mountain and turned up the road towards Micki’s house. We got up there and drove for a while before, convinced we’d outrun the truck, turned around. On our way back I was still a bit nervous, but I was ready to get home.

Micki and her sister, Tosha (known as Micki-Tick and Tosha-Tick, though I only ever called Tosha ‘Tick’) threw some kick-ass parties. I went there for a little bit after my sophomore prom and it was one of the best nights of my high school career.

“Oliver, slow down,” I said. Things got fuzzy. I felt us leaving the road. I heard the trees scratching the door. The windsheild busted. Things to hazy, like you were looking at a really bad picture taken on a digital camera. We crashed into a tree. I was jerked forward, the airbags rushing out, my seastbelt keeping me restrained. I saw my dad and stepmom getting married, my first day of kindergarten, a field trip I took in fourth grade, winning the geography bee in seventh grade, [redacted] meeting Sarah and Shaun, breaking up with Benji, [redacted] coming out to my dad, moving to Kentucky, meeting Ryan, meeting my birthmother, Bridget’s funeral, my first class with Chem, fighting with Britannia, hugging Kendall, playing with Angelica, Jacob, Grandmother, and Grandfather in the snow around Christmas, kissing Adam at Planet Hollywood, winning first place at FBLA state conference, and dancing at my senior prom. I seriously thought I was about to die.

Okay, so this requires some explanation. To begin with, we did have a car accident, and it was a pretty bad one. The car was totalled, and if we hadn’t hit that tree we would have careened off the side of a mountain. Beyond that, if we hadn’t hit the tree exactly where we did – almost exactly the middle of the car – one or both of us would likely have been killed. It was terrifying. That being said, I do not remember my life literally flashing before my eyes. I am pretty sure I included that for dramatic effect. The entire time I was reading this I rolled my eyes. I was such a fucking drama queen. [I redacted two memories that require context to be included responsibly, and it would be too distracting and time-consuming to provide that context in this essay.]

Things really did slow down, though. I do remember that the accident appeared to happen in slow motion, that I couldn’t quite process what was happening. It’s weird, because I remember the accident, but only in flashes and bits, not as one continuous memory. That was the case from the beginning. I just remember that it felt like we travelled through brush and trees for minutes when in reality it couldn’t have been more than a couple seconds, at most, from the time we left the road to when we crashed into the tree.

My brown vintage A&F flipflops flew off my feet, and the car stopped, smoking. I felt glass in my face, and went to wipe it off. I looked at my hands and ghasped. They were covered with blood.

“Oh my God,” Oliver said. “Oh my God.”
“Just get out of the car,” I said. He climbed out and I discovered my door was stuck, so I climbed over the driver’s side and got out. I cut my foot on some glass as I did.
“I’m so sorry!” he cried, hugging me. “I’m so sorry, Skylar.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m alive. It’s fine.”

I have long understood as a truth about myself that while I’m quite panicky and high-strung most of the time, I am great in an emergency. I freak out very easily, and anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you that. HOWEVER, in a crisis, I am amazingly calm and level-headed without even trying. When shit gets real I somehow snap out of my neurosis and into Superman mode. I’m not talking like “oh God, we’re not going to meet this deadline” crisis, but “oh shit, the house is on fire and we’re trapped” crisis. 

A car passed us up going towards the main road. Another one came and stopped. Blaine rolled down his window, and I looked over at him and Alicia.

“Oh my God,” she screamed. “What the fuck happened?!”
“I wrecked,” Oliver said.
“Well I can see that,” she said. “Is everybody okay?”
“We’re alive,” he said.
“Can you get service on your phone?” I asked.

She tried but couldn’t. It wasn’t a minute later that Whitney, Ryan’s cousin and an aquaintance of mine, pulled up. I knew I was right near Stephan’s house, so I was going to walk down there, but instead Whitney took me down to the hospital.

“You can take me home,” I said.
“No, I think you better go to the hospital,” she said.
“I’m alright,” I said, shaking.
“Right. Where do you hurt?” she asked.
“My neck, shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee,” I said. “All on the right side.”
“You look awful,” she said. “It’s goign to freak you out when you see yourself. But I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks.”
“Thank you so much for this,” I said. “I’m sorry if you had any plans.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” she smiled. “I’d have done it anyway. So what happened?”
“I don’t know. He lost control, I guess.”
“Were you all drinking?”
“No,” I said. “We’re both sober. That’s what’s sad.”

“Were you drinking” is a fair question, but I got asked it so many times that night that it really began to annoy the fuck out of me. I was always very honest: no, we had not been drinking, but the point was to find somewhere to drink. I wouldn’t have gotten in the car with Oliver had he been drinking (those poor decisions would be made in college), but I, at least, planned on getting drunk off my tits.

Got to the hospital, checked in, and Whitney stayed with me for a long time. They took me back, laid me down in a room, put a neck brace on me, and had me give verbal consent for a few things before Grandmother got there. (I called her right away, but had told her it wasn’t that bad.) The doctor came in and looked at me, and he asked me how I was doing.

“Well, I’m alive,” I said. “I’d like to stay that way, too.”
“I can imagine,” he giggled.
“I’m not going to die, am I?”
“No,” he said. “I think you’ll be alright. But, we’ll be overly cautious here. Just to make sure, we’ll keep you for a few hours. Something might be wrong, but we’re not sure.”

Again, here is an example of me being dramatic. I was scared, that is no lie, but I was 99% sure as soon as I climbed off that mountain and back onto the road that I was going to survive. Even when I saw my face – and it was incredibly bloody – I knew the worst I would endure is some minor scarring. The cuts were mostly superficial (like nicking yourself shaving, but on your entire face) and while I was sore, I could move fairly easily. I did have some shoulder injuries, but they were minor in the grand scheme of things. I knew I wasn’t going to die.

Grandmother got there and ran into the room, not five minutes after Whitney had left. She started freaking right away.

“You told me it wasn’t that bad!” she screamed.
“It’s not,” I smiled. “I’m alright. I’m alive, aren’t I?”
“Looks like barely,” she sighed. “I’m going to go call your grandfather.”
“Alright,” I said. “Just hurry, because I don’t want to be alone.”

It’s impossible to say why I didn’t want to be alone – was I scared? was I bored? was it both? – but I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face when she saw me. She was terrified. By that point I knew I was fine, just sore and cut to pieces. 

They took me back for x-rays, a CAT scan, and all that jazz, and I just laid there for a while. This girl, Rachel, who was Bridget’s cousin, was in the bed next to me. She’d gotten into a fight or something and had to go in. We talked for a while about high school, teachers we both knew and all that stuff, and she helped me put my bed up so I could see people coming in and out of the room. Oliver’s mom came in after a couple of hours and checked on me, which I thought was nice, considering she hates me, and she stayed with me for a little bit while Oliver was being examined.

Oliver’s mom was, at the time, a cruel and homophobic woman. I should point out at this juncture that Oliver was someone who had harassed me for much of high school but come out of the closet my senior year. We became friends, but only friends. People suspected we were dating, but we never did. I just wasn’t interested in him like that.

My x-rays and everything came back normal, so they let me go home after giving me four stitches in my lower lip and bandaging my head, which has a huge gash in it. They said I’d be sore for a while, but that’s about it. The doctor asked if I wanted off of school on Monday, and I told him no.

I still have a scar below my lower lip from this accident.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’ve got portfolios to work on and stuff.”
“You really should take a couple days off,” he said.
“Neh, I’ll be alright,” I smiled.

Now? “Hell yeah, give me all the time off work, please and thank you.”

I came home, washed my face, took a bath (I can’t wash my hair until my gashed forehead scabs, which should be tonight according to the nurse, and I can’t get my stitches wet), and went to bed, ending prom 2004.

I forgot about this. The forehead gash was bad, and big, but didn’t leave a scar as far as I’m aware. Oh, yes it did. I just looked in the mirror. At least, I think that’s a scar from this accident. Anyway, if it did it’s barely noticable, unlike my lip scar which is much more prominent (though I doubt most people notice it).

Go fucking figure, eh? The one prom I actually remember and I remember being in the hospital. The one prom I don’t drink at and I get in an accident. The night that had been perfect ends in hell. Yeah, I could sit here and tell you that prom 2004 sucked, but it didn’t. I met a cute waiter, had fun with my friends, danced my ass off, saw my best friend being crowned queen, and lived through an accident that I’m very lucky didn’t kill me. I truly believe St. Sebastian was watching over me tonight, and that because of him and God I survived. I’m just so thankful that I’m alive and no paralyzed, and that Oliver is okay too. Sure, it sucks being all banged up and nasty looking, but I suppose it really is better than the alternative, eh? Besides, at least being alive my wounds can heal. Could you imagine if I’d had died and they had an open casket, and this was how people remembered me? Oh, I’d be looking up and crying, screaming “SHUT THE DAMN CASKET!” Yes, at least now they’ll heal. And I can say that I ended my senior prom with a bang. =D

“I’d be looking up and crying, screaming…” LOL I see what you did there, baby Skylar. Clever. (Get it, I’m in Hell?)

That accident was bad, but it could have been so, so much worse. When I think of the friends I’ve lost in auto accidents, including Jasmine who died two months after this entry, I consider myself very lucky.

It’s interesting to see how “magical” I thought my prom night was in this blog, because all these years later I don’t remember it as being anything special. I wonder whether this was for dramatic effect – to juxtapose a happy night with the tragic ending – or if I really thought prom was great when I wrote this? I actually think it’s more the former. Towards the end of my senior year, I remember feeling that I wasn’t feeling enough. I thought I should be nostalgic and upset and maudlin and emotional about leaving, and so I put on a affectation of such. In reality, I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there. I’ve always tended towards sentimentalism, so it is possible – probable, even – that this is an early example of that in my writing. I simply can’t be sure.

To any current high school seniors reading this, though, let me be clear that in hindsight my senior prom sucked and I really don’t remember anything from the night other than the accident. I rarely think about it. My guess is that unless you’re prom queen or king, or you get engaged (like one couple did at mine – hey, it’s the south), you probably won’t think much of yours either. It’s fun at the time, but frankly it’s quite forgetable. College – college is where the real fun lies. College is where the memories you truly cherish will be made.

Finally, it doesn’t get a mention in this blog, perhaps because I didn’t realize it at the time of writing, but I lost my Saint Sebastian necklace that night. I never saw it again. I assume it got lost in the accident. I still think, though, that Saint Sebastian was there to protect me that night, and that he went to someone else who needed him afterward.

How was your own prom? How did you get there? What did you wear? Who did you take? Where did you eat? What was your prom theme and your prom song? (Ours, if I recall, was “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse. The theme I think was “If I had one wish,” hence the title of this blog, though what the hell that means is anyone’s guess.) Let me know your prom memories in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Weeks of 30 March – 10 April

 

It’s been almost a month since my last Words on Walford blog. The truth is, like the rest of the world, coronavirus quarantine had me a bit down. Rather than watching something as grim as EastEnders (and make no mistake—grim is why we love it), I’ve been tuning into cherished sitcoms like Are You Being Served? and The Golden Girls. In these dark times we all need a laugh.

However, just because Covid-19 has stopped the rest of the world doesn’t mean life in Walford has come to a halt—at least, not yet. Showing only two episodes a week in order to stretch out the remaining catalogue of new episodes as long as possible has slowed down the pace of drama, or at least the pace viewers are getting it. Obviously the episodes we’re seeing now were filmed months before the pandemic, so the writers and producers had little way of knowing how radically life would change for the rest of us and, presumably, the folks on Albert Square. I have found myself wondering how Sonia is coping as an NHS nurse, how Bobby is feeling stuck at home with miserable old Ian, and how Chantelle is coping being trapped with Gray.

Perhaps we’ll never know. One thing is for sure, though: the decision to air only two episodes a week, while understandable, does risk hurting the stories. For nearly 20 years the show has broadcast four times a week, and the last time it aired only twice weekly the cast was significantly smaller. That makes sense, because you have less time to tell the stories of a big cast. That, I suppose, is my concern with two episodes a week. It has been nearly three weeks since we’ve seen Jean, or Keegan, or Whitney. These are major characters with major storylines. How will not seeing them for possibly weeks on end effect how those storylines are received?

As I said, it’s entirely understandable why the BBC decided to cut back on the number of weekly episodes and there’s not much that can be done about it, so this isn’t a criticism so much as it is simple curiosity. Of course—and this is the uncomfortable elephant in the room—what happens when they run out of episodes? Will the story just pick up again where it left off? Will there be a time jump? Remains to be seen, but it seems impossible that this lockdown won’t affect future storytelling.

For now, though, let’s look backwards. The last fortnight saw the story of Dennis’ death get wrapped up (at least for now) with a neat, yet disappointing, bow on top. Dennis’ funeral was a letdown, not least because we really didn’t get to see much of his funeral. Jay leading the horse-drawn carriage through the Square was a moving scene, though the incidental music was unnecessary. This has become a hallmark of the Sen era, and it’s hit-or-miss. I was a big fan of “Stay Another Day” playing at the end of the Christmas Day episode, but EastEnders has never needed a score to stir our emotions and it doesn’t need one now.

Aside from giving Denny a final sendoff, the funeral ushered Phil (Steve McFadden) back to the Square. Exactly what I feared would happen has happened: Phil and Sharon have reconciled, or at least made peace. Their tryst was expected and just as disappointing as I imagined. I said weeks ago that if Denny’s death wasn’t the end of Phil and Sharon it would be wasted, and I was right. Sharon justifying her dalliance to Ian—that Phil loved Denny too and there was some comfort in being with him because of that—made sense, I guess, but it was still infuriating. These two have been toxic for nearly 30 years, and I hoped the final nail in Dennis’ coffin would be the final nail in their relationship’s coffin, too. No such luck.

If anything, it’s clear that Sharon is going to be used as a plot point in Phil’s broader redemption arc. First came Phil turning himself in, followed by forgiveness—or at least absolution—from Sharon. Then we saw Phil have a heartwarming scene with Ben, telling him he’s proud of him as Ben struggles with his hearing loss. Perhaps I was naïve to think that Phil Mitchell would finally get his comeuppance. Steve McFadden is a national treasure and Phil Mitchell is as iconic a character as soapland has to offer, so of course proper justice—prison—was out of the question. I had hoped Phil would get it some other way, though I was never sure how. That looks unlikely to happen, and Dennis’ death will be just another dastardly deed Phil gets away with. If that’s the case, his death will have been one of the biggest mistakes in EastEnders history.

Also, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind now that Kayden is actually Phil’s biological child? I don’t know how or when that secret will be revealed, but it will. It’s so obvious and such a shame. It looks like everything I hoped wouldn’t happen in this storyline is going to happen. Disappointing.

Another major storyline to play out over the past two weeks is Dotty’s continued blackmailing of Ian. Finally gaining the upper hand, Ian managed to steal back the phone with the incriminating voicemail in which Dennis unwittingly names him as his killer (even though Phil definitely remains man most responsible). It’s becoming clear that when—and it’s only a matter of time—Sharon finds out Ian locked Denny in that room she will blame Ian, not Phil, for his death. I’m not happy with this, and I think it’s really a stupid storyline, but it is what it is. Whatever. Phil must have a prosecco-flavoured dick or something because nothing will keep Sharon off it, not even her son’s death.

Whatever. Back to Dotty. The final scene on last Tuesday’s episode, in which she makes clear to Ian that she still plans to tell Sharon about the voicemail, was interesting. For a long time we believed Dotty was only blackmailing Ian because she wanted the Arches—like her dad, apple, tree, etc—but it turns out she wants justice more than payout. Dotty is shaping up to be a complex, interesting character whose motives aren’t always as dastardly (and, I imagine on the other side of that coin, altruistic) as we think. Nick Cotton was pure evil, a villain through and through, but Dotty is shaping up to be more like, dare I say, Phil Mitchell. That is, she could end up being one of soap’s great anti-heroines, a woman who does the wrong things for the right reasons (or vice versa at times). Played brilliantly by Milly Zero and written in a way that makes you love her then hate her then love her again, Dotty Cotton has the makings of an EastEnders legend.

The other major development over the past four episodes was Mick and Linda’s decision to sell the Queen Vic. Watching Linda fall off the wagon at Denny’s funeral was boring because it was so expected—though who can blame her the way Sharon had a go over those pepperoni pizzas?—but the payoff was worth it. Watching Kellie Bright and Danny Dyer play the scene where Linda talks about growing up in a pub and how that has influenced her relationship with booze was deeply moving, and anyone who has struggled with drink can relate to desperately wanting to be one of those people who can only have one. Seeing Shirley and Tina both support their decision to sell was heartwarming, too. The Carters are at their best when they come together as a family and seeing them rally around Linda has been nice.

So who will buy the Vic? That’s the question on everybody’s mind. The most obvious choice is Sharon. She can’t crash with Ian forever—and won’t want to once Dotty reveals the truth—and even though she slept with Phil, I don’t think they’ll reconcile quickly. Hearing Sharon talk about how happy she was growing up in the Vic might be some nice foreshadowing. Karen Taylor has also come into some money courtesy of Ian Beale bribing her to move away. It would be a very Karen Taylor thing to do to take that money and move just down the street. Ruby Allen—who got a line of dialogue last week!—could fancy owning a second business, possibly allowing her mate Stacey to run it once she returns. Ian could make a bid for it (Lord knows he’d consider it his crown jewel), or the Panesars. Sharon is the safe bet, but it really could be anyone—even someone not currently on the canvas.

Whoever it is, though, Mick and Linda selling up is the end of an era. I did the maths, and the Carters have the longest stretch of time as Queen Vic landlords in the shows history. Phil Mitchell has more time overall behind the bar, and Den and Angie Watts ran it for longer when you count backstory (pre-1985), but on screen, Mick and Linda have the longest tenure. It’s going to be weird seeing Linda’s flamingos painted over and not seeing Mick pulling pints. It’s also going to be strange seeing them adjust to life in Walford not running a boozer. What other discernable skills do either of them have? What will they do for money? Will they open a restaurant? It will be fascinating to see how they adjust to their new reality in the weeks to come.

Stray observations: I’m really not sure how I feel about Jags and Habiba, but I’m glad Habiba is getting a storyline. It’s good to see Sharon reclaim the Watts name. Callum sleeping in his pants and socks is weird. I can understand sleeping in pyjamas and socks when it’s cold, but how do people sleep in pants and socks? Is this a thing?  Ballum said “I love you.” That was sweet. Could there be a Peter-Bobby-Dotty love triangle? Or are they setting Dotty up for a romance with Vinny? Hard to tell. Vinny and Dotty have an interesting dynamic though. Wow, when’s the last time we saw Riley and Chatham?

Scene of the fortnight: Sharon going after Phil with a knife. Wish she’d shanked him. Alas and alack, as June Brown says.

Line of the fortnight: “A night with bad baby Banksy? Computer says no.” – Dotty with the jokes

Performance of the fortnight: Milly Zero really killed it as Dotty these past two weeks.

Character of the fortnight: Phil Mitchell. I mean, he’s going to get away with murder. Credit where it’s due.

How Modern Family changed American television

When Modern Family won the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, I was livid. A derivative show which mashed the mocumentary-style of The Office up with the formulaic family sitcom (a la Everybody Loves Raymond), I couldn’t see how it could it could possibly rank as more “outstanding” than Glee, another nominee in its first season which revolutionized what we thought television could be. Inclusive, ingenious, and in more than one way groundbreaking, Ryan Murphy’s dramedy about a misfit show was far more deserving than yet another show about a (mostly) white upper-middle-class family.

I still think Glee deserved the 2010 Emmy, but having watched Modern Family over the years, my opinion of it as “trite and derivative” has changed. As the sitcom aired its series finale last night, I began to consider its place in the annals of television history. Far from being just another boring sitcom about rich white people, I have come to appreciate that, in its own quiet yet hilarious way, Modern Family helped pave the way for more diverse representations of American families. Indeed, it challenged the notion of what “family” even is in modern America.

Back in 2009, when both Glee and Modern Family debuted, they were notable for including two types of characters up to that point rarely seen in American scripted television: gay me and Latinas. For Glee, this was central to the show’s identity from the very first episode. Inclusion became its raison d’etre. Sometimes that felt heavy-handed, but even when it was more subtle, the writers were loud and proud about their intention to make sure this show represented as many people as possible.

Modern Family took a more subtle, but no less effective, approach. The first episode centers in part around gay couple Mitch and Cam revealing that they have adopted a baby girl from Vietnam. The reveal—in which Cam (played hilariously by Eric Stonestreet) holds up his daughter, Lily, under a spotlight as “Circle of Life” blasts over his home sound system—is both gut-busting hilarious and incredibly moving. It is also very, very camp—a trope the show never shied away from but never exploited.

Herein lies the beauty of Modern Family. Mitch and Cam are not the sanitized Jack McPhees of Dawson’s Creek nor the one-dimensional stock character of Will & Grace’s Jack McFarland. These characters are gay—they’re written with gay sensibility, they have mostly other gay friends, their cultural references are familiar to any gay man (even if they aren’t always familiar to straight audiences)—but they aren’t defined exclusively by their sexuality. Like many real gay men, they both embrace some things which would be considered “stereotypical” (a love of show tunes, matching silk robes, Cam’s flair for the dramatic) but also defy them (Cam is an ex-football player and current coach; Mitch has a dry wit and low tolerance for tomfoolery).

The show was perhaps less successful in avoiding stereotypes with Gloria (Sofia Vergara), the beautiful Latina and second wife of Pritchard family patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill). Many jokes in the early years revolved around the other, white characters’ inability to understand her accent, her supposed criminal past in Columbia, and relied on objectifying her in some ways which, only a decade later, feel incredibly sexist and dated. Yet Gloria was mostly treated by the writers and therefore the other characters as an integral part of the family. When she was portrayed as an outsider, it was usually alongside Cam and Phil (Ty Burrell), the other characters who had married into the family.

She, too, developed into a more complex and interesting character than the stock character of the fiery Latina she might have been in less able hands. Because of this, Modern Family was able to explore the immigrant experience with compassion and heart, even as immigrants were being vilified by politicians and even the President.

What truly made Mitch, Cam, and Gloria—and by extension, Modern Family—so revolutionary, though, was that they were loved and accepted by their immediate relatives. That dynamic—an extended, blended family consisting of characters diverse both in demographics and personality—was as central to the show as inclusion was to Glee, and it is arguably just as important. It’s hard to quantify just what impact these characters had on American society, but as The Atlantic reported in 2015, some people who previously opposed gay marriage attributed their change of heart to Mitch and Cam.

In that way, at least, the Pritchetts and the Dunphys have left an indelible mark on American society.  They loved one another as much as any family. The show wasn’t always the most innovative, but it was warm, cozy, and often funny, like that Christmas sweater your grandmother knitted you which you pretend to sneer at but secretly wear when the winter is just a little too dark and cold.

The series finale was a fitting coda, as the family moved on, being split across continents and oceans as they all went their seperate ways. Though filmed months before the current pandemic, it felt incredibly prescient watching these characters struggle with the idea that their tight-knit family would be seperated, with no idea when they might again be together. At a time when we all wish we could—but can’t—be with our crazy uncles, uptight sisters, or grumpy grandpas, it was comforting to spend one last night with Family.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Skylar’s Favourite Self-Isolation Entertainment

 

It has now been more than three weeks since I left the house, and like many people around the world, I’m starting to go a little stir crazy. Rather than climb the walls, I thought I would share with you all some of the ways I’ve been entertaining myself since self-isolation began (and before).

These are a few of my favourite things. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Films and Television

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I recently subscribed to Disney+ (£5.99/$6.99 per month), and it is money well spent. Nearly every films Disney Animation Studios has made there, including some of my all-time favourites. I have already watched The Great Mouse Detective and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, both of which were childhood favourites. Hercules is my favourite Disney film of all time, and its infectuous music and beautiful, sunny animation is sure to brighten your day. I also recommend The Three Caballeros, an underrated 1944 film which features Carmen Miranda’s sister as the first human to ever interact with a cartoon character on film (she dances with Donald Duck).

If you’re looking for more adult fare, I suggest Last Holiday, a charming romantic comedy from 2006. Starring Queen Latifah as a woman who is wrongly given only weeks to live, it is funny and poignant and replete with gorgeous scenery as Latifah’s Georgia Byrd flees her mundane job at a New Orleans department store for the glitz and glamour of the opulent (and real!) Grand Hotel Pupp in a Czech spa town called Karlovy Vary.

Also guaranteed to make you laugh until you cry is Pride, a wonderful film based on a true story about a group of lesbian and gay Londoners who raise funds for striking Welsh miners during the Miners’ Strike of 1984. Showing that we all have more in common than we often think, its a little film with a lot of heart and a wonderful cast that includes Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, and George MacKay.

If binging a television series is more your speed, my favourite comedy of all time is The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four pensioners sharing a house in 1980s Miami and starring American national treasure Betty White. It is streaming on Hulu in the United States. Another personal favourite of mine is Schitt’s Creek, the story of a wealthy family which suddenly loses it all and finds themselves exiled in a small, backwater town. Don’t let that fool you, though; it’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious show with a lot of heart. (It is streaming on Netflix in the US and UK.) Finally, one of the most underrated British comedies of all time, Hebburn is a must-watch. Set in the eponymous northern town and chock-full of Geordie accents, Hebburn is a humurous look at a working class family in modern Britain. (Not currently streaming anywhere as far as I’m aware, but you can watch some episodes on Daily Motion.)

YouTube and other Websites

Back in November, I started writing “daily recaps” for a soap opera I created. Set in a fictional college town, it revolves around the lives and loves of a group of professors, administrators, students, and donors of a private university in Kentucky. In February I started putting it on Wattpad, and it has grown from “recaps” into 5000 word “episodes” during this lockdown. Obviously I want you to read my soap opera (entitled College Heights, a reference any of my fellow Hilltoppers will get), but there’s a lot of great fanfiction and other writing on Wattpad, too. Netflix’s The Kissing Booth was based on a Wattpad story, for example. Or, maybe you’re a budding author who wants to try their hand at fiction? Wattpad is a great website to post things you don’t want to submit for publication.

Maybe nonfiction is more your jam, though. If so, I have become obsessed with This Victorian Life, a website run by Sarah A. Chrisman, a woman who – with her husband, Gabriel – lives as a full-time Victorian. She has written a number of nonfiction books about the Victorian era and has a series of historical fiction called The Tales of Chetzemoka. I read the first one and enjoyed it, but the website is what keeps me coming back. Sarah posts poetry from the Victorian era, blogs about her life, and videos she uploads to YouTube. The Chrismans have engendered some controversy (it’s not entirely clear Sarah and Gabriel believe women should have the right to vote, for example), but that doesn’t diminish how fascinating their lives are and how endearing Sarah herself is. A highlight of the website and her videos is the Victorian recipes she shares. I tried this one a couple months back!


In fact, since we’re all stuck inside now is the perfect time to try a new recipe. Simply Sara Kitchen has become my favourite cooking show on any medium. With a salt-of-the-earth sensibility and charming personality, Sara cooks all your favourite American comfort foods, from fried chicken to Johnny Marzetti casserole in an easy-to-follow format, making sure even the most novice of home chefs can enjoy delicious, down home food.

Another YouTube channel I watch religiously is Company Man. At some point we’ve all wondered about a company we use, whether it’s asking ourselves how Amazon got so big or what ever happened to Blockbuster. Company Man traces the rise and fall of all kinds of iconic companies, and with it examines the history of American capitalism over the past 150 years. Though he never reveals his face, he is an utterly affable man and his voice is incredibly soothing. The content, though, is what keeps me sticking around – it’s endlessly fascinating to see how these companies have changed, adapted, or not as the case may be. My personal favourite is a video he did on Ocean Spray (yes, the cranberry company), which has a far more interesting story than I ever realised.

Music

Imagine being quarantined without a streaming service? One silver lining to this pandemic is that it happened at a time when so much good music is at our fingertips. I use Apple Music and LiveXLive (formerly Slackr), both of which have their pros and cons. One thing I like about LiveXLive is that its stations are almost like radio. Jess, who hosts the Weekly Country Countdown, and Parker are two of my personal favourite presenters. Apple Music allows you to create playlists and buy music, though. There are a plethora of others out there if neither of these meets your needs.

As far as what I’m listening to, I have found myself coming back to three artists in particular. The first, Dame Vera Lynn, was “Forces’ Sweetheart” in the Second World War. “White Cliffs of Dover” and “There’ll Always Be an England” are two of my favourites, but I dare you to listen to “We’ll Meet Again” and not cry given the current circumstances.

Another artist I love is Alexander Rybak. The winner of Eurovision 2009, Rybak is an amazing violinist and folk singer from Norway. His songs are innovative and infectuous and never fail to leave a smile on my face. He is also an energetic and captivating live performer.

Finally, it’s an oldie but a goodie – Buzzfeed Quizzes. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent mindlessly finding out which member Jonas Brother I am going to marry or which European city I should move to. Go ahead and laugh, but I know you want to know which member of One Direction is your soulmate. (Mine’s Louis. Stay jealous.)

Books

For the past several weeks I have been slowly making my way through John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. It’s a dense read in the best of times, but given everything that’s happening I have found I need to take several breaks from it. Still, it’s a riveting history of not only the most devestating pandemic in human history but also American medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

If you’re looking for something that induces a little less existential dread, my favourite novel of all time is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, the story of Achilles told from the perspective of his lover Patroclus. Beautifully written, excellently crafted, and achingly told, it is a masterpiece of modern fiction and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. Another, more whimsical, romance is Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blueabout a British prince who falls in love with the son of the US President. If nonfiction is more your style, Alkarim Jivani’s It’s Not Unusual: A History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the 20th Century has long been a personal favourite of mine. If you want something more sandalous and juicy, Ramin Setoodeh’s Ladies Who Punch dishes all the dirt on more than twenty years of The View, America’s most dramatic talk show – both on- and off-screen. If you’re looking for a good biography, Last Night at the Viper Room by Gavin Edwards tells the story of my favourite actor of all time, River Phoenix.

Apps

One of my favourite boardgames of all time is Clue, or Cluedo as it is known in the UK. There’s an iPhone app that allows you to play Cluedo against a computer with varying degrees of difficulty. It does cost £3.99/$3.99, but it’s well worth the investment.

Another great app is Redstone Games’ crossword puzzles. I do about two to three of these puzzles a day, and like Cluedo they have settings from easy to very hard (though the very hard ones still only take me about 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how distracted I am). The app is free, though you can pay to have the ads removed. (I have not and do not find the ads distracting at all.) The only drawback to this one is some of the words/clues repeat, which can take a bit of the challenge and fun away. But overall, it’s a great app.

Ever wonder what your hair would look like purple? Or blue? Or both? I’ve been using this hair color app for years to see what my hair, and even celebrities’ hair, would look like if it was dyed any colour of the rainbow – or, indeed, the rainbow. It might sound silly, but you would be surprised how much time you can end up spending just trying on different hair colours. It’s easy to use and free to download.

Everyone has been downloading Houseparty and Zoom, but I suggest trying Marco Polo. Rather than being a FaceTime/Skype substitute, Maro Polo lets you leave video messages for your friends and family which they can watch at their leisure. Even though we’re all stuck at home many of us are still leading busy lives, which means we don’t always have time for lengthy video chats. Marco Polo is an excellent substitute which still allows you to see your loved ones (and for them to see you), but on your timetable.

 

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 9 – 13 March 2020

Love in the age of coronavirus is brutal. At least, it is in Walford. This week EastEnders gave us to not one but two disastrous proposals as Lola socially distanced herself from Jay by jumping into bed with Peter and Stuart found out that Rainie did not want to self-quarantine with him in holy matrimony. Still, the good people of E20 seem utterly unbothered by the global pandemic sending the rest of us into utter panic. You know we’re living through dark times when the world seems grim compared to Albert Square, but life must carry on—as poor Sharon is struggling to realise—so let’s crack on with some Words on Walford.

Having mentioned Jay and Lola, they feel like as good a place to start as any, especially since this week felt like it centred around them. That is, in part at least, because seeing them featured so prominently is a rare treat. Jamie Borthwick has been chronically underused for years, despite being one of the most charming actors on the show and Jay being one of the most unimpeachably decent. Since her return as Lola, Danielle Harold has likewise been relegated to supporting player; at times it felt like she was only brought back so that Lexi could also return. It’s a nice change, then, to see both getting a storyline of their own.

It’s an interesting storyline, too, even if it feels a little contrived. If you had told me even a month ago that Lola would turn down a proposal from Jay I would have laughed in your face. But fear of COVID-19 and Lola’s sudden personal growth means no one is laughing now. And when I say sudden, I mean sudden. As I said, Lola has mostly been a prop since she returned, a static character meant to serve in Ben’s (and to a lesser degree Billy’s) stories rather than carry one of her own. Because of this, we haven’t seen any character development in her—whether achieved since she returned or in the four years she spent away from the Square.

It wasn’t until last week, with her conversation with Chantelle about her pregnancy, that we began to really explore who Lola is as an adult. We got more of it this week as she cried on Denise’s shoulder. Hearing Lola discuss the youth she might have enjoyed had she not had Lexi was revealing and went a long way to explaining why she is in no hurry to marry Jay and why she jumped in bed with Peter at the first opportunity. It was refreshing to hear Lola discuss how difficult being a young, single mother has been on her are and was a wonderful moment of insight into a character who, until this point, has been somewhat of an enigma since her return. Danielle Harold gave a convincing performance, really showing Lola’s doubts and insecurities and gaining our sympathy in the process—no mean feat considering she’d just cheated on the nicest boy in Walford.

I’ll be interested to see where the Jay and Lola story goes. I have high hopes that, with Peter, we could be in store for a very interesting love triangle (one I predicted last week). All three actors—Harold, Brown, and Dayle Hudson—are capable, and I can see it being very hard to decide which pairing to “ship.” I hope EastEnders continues to explore this dynamic.

The other disastrous proposal was a little more out-of-the-blue and a little more surprising. Stuart deciding at the spur of the moment to ask Rainie to marry him is a very Stuart thing to do, and Rainie publicly rejecting him is a very Rainie thing to do. I didn’t see it coming, though—either the proposal or the rejection. Stuart seems genuinely good for Rainie, who has never had anyone fight her corner the way he does. Watching the two of them crawl around on the floor of Walford East as they searched for the ring was hilarious. I just love them, and that’s all there is to say about that. I actually expected her to say yes—after some hemming and hawing—until Stuart mentioned Linda.
Honestly, Stuart should have known better. Rainie is ashamed of her past, as we saw when an old john showed up at the funeral home, but she internalises that shame and she owns it. She isn’t proud of her past, but she is proud. So, if there’s one thing Rainie Cross won’t abide it is someone sticking their nose up at her, and no one sticks their nose up better than Linda Carter. Hell, I’m surprised she doesn’t drown when it rains. Rainie giving Linda a few home truths about addiction was one of my favourite scenes so far this year, because Linda can sit on her high horse all she likes—and she really likes it—but in the end there is nothing separating her and Rainie (or Stuart or Phil). It was good to see Rainie give her what for, and good to see her get through to Linda who finally went to a meeting.

In fact, I have more hope for the Carters than I have in months. I honestly thought Linda’s drinking would be what finally tore her and Mick apart, but they seem to be getting back on a solid footing. I think I’m happy about this. For a while, I thought breaking Mick and Linda up would make for great story, but the more I think about it the more I like that there is one couple on EastEnders that always manages to make it work. While the rest of the Square is put asunder, Mick and Linda stand firm. Other than maybe Jim and Dot, I can’t think of another couple for whom that has been true.

Well, maybe Shirley and Jean. Their friendship is one of the best dynamics on the show, and watching Gillian Wright and Linda Henry is always a delight. Watching them expose Suki was exciting and vindicating. The  performances of Wright, Henry, and Balvinder Sopal were pitch perfect. I admit I’m surprised how quickly Suki’s cancer lie was exposed; I expected this storyline to drag on into the spring. One thing is clear, though: Suki Panesar is shaping up to be a great villain. Watching her manipulate her sons, even after she admitted to faking cancer, was enthralling. Sopal plays sociopathic Suki so deliciously that I always look forward to seeing her scheme. She has the making of an iconic Walford matriarch and villain, and I hope she sticks around for a long time. With this storyline resolving itself so quickly, though, I wonder where the Panesars go from here.

That is, I wonder where the Panesars go from here with one exception. It is clear Kheerat is going to play a pivotal role in the resolution of Gray and Chantelle’s domestic abuse storyline. This week he gave Chantelle a job at the call centre, but for months we’ve seen him take an interest in Chantelle, and I (and many fans) wonder if he doesn’t know, or at least suspect, that Gray is beating her behind closed doors. Mitch, too, seems to be inching closer to discovering the truth. As I’ve said before, this storyline needs to come to a head soon because there’s not much more I can take. Watching Gray abuse Chantelle is harrowing, and while Jessica Plummer and Toby-Alexander Smith continue to give it their all, it’s just very hard to watch. Seeing Chantelle try to get up off the floor at the end of Friday’s episode, while Gray was celebrated as a hero in the pub, reminded me of Trevor and Little Mo—and not necessarily in the best way.

Still, this is an important storyline. The number of British women killed by a male partner or ex-partner in the UK rose 28 per cent over the last year. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be the victim of domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Earlier this month in the House of Commons, Jess Phillips MP read out the names of more than 100 women murdered by men in the UK over the past year, something she has done in years past. I’m glad EastEnders is addressing the issue, but this storyline has been going on for the better part of a year. Gray needs to get his comeuppance soon, because it’s just very difficult viewing.

Whitney’s storyline is also difficult viewing. There isn’t a lot I want to say about it, as I’m still not a fan of this storyline (for the reasons I’ve mentioned in previous blogs), but I do want to commend Shona McGarty for an incredibly powerful performance. It isn’t easy acting by yourself, especially when you’re playing someone suffering from delusions and starvation. McGarty is absolutely nailing it, though. Every time I see Whitney my heart breaks just a little bit more. Honestly, her having a mental breakdown over the abuse she has suffered is a long time coming.

Stray observations: I am a little surprised EastEnders didn’t insert a special scene addressing coronavirus. It seems like a missed opportunity to do some public education, but looked at another way, maybe people just need an escape from the sheer terror we’re all living in so best not to mention it. A week without Ian or Kathy and only one scene with Sharon was weird but refreshing. I know I’ve said we need more Sharon, but honestly, I’m glad Jon Sen focused on some of the other characters instead of Ian. There’s more going on in Walford than Denny’s death. Jean Slater not taking her medication is not a storyline I’m looking forward to. I assume this is meant to help usher Stacey back to Walford after Lacey Turner’s maternity leave ends, but it’s so predictable and so derivative. Been there, done that. I was glad to see a small scene between Mitch and Bailey. More Kara-Leah Fernandes please. #Ballum barely featured this week and… I didn’t miss them. I’m glad Patrick is back. That scene in the Prince Albert with him, Isaac, and the other men playing air hockey reminded me of the sort of community “hang” we saw more of on the show in the 1990s, and I enjoyed it. I like it when random characters hang out. Denise playing agony aunt to Lola and Jay was a nice and natural fit for her. Denise needs a big storyline. She hasn’t had one in three years—since her GCSE/homelessness storyline.

Scene of the week: Rainie giving Linda some home truths at Walford East. Read Lady Muck for filth, Rainie!

Line of the week: “They’re called hundreds and thousands, Shirley, not ones and twos!” – Jean teaches Shirley how to properly decorate a cake

Performance of the week: Shona McGarty – she’s breaking my heart as Whitney

Character of the week: Suki Panesar – She’s a character you just love to hate. She’s made such an impact already, despite only debuting about a month ago. I cannot wait to see what trouble Suki causes in the months to come, and Sopal plays her so deliciously evil watching her is like biting into a rich and decadent Belgian chocolate—you know it’s bad for you, but it’s just so good.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

In the face of coronavirus, we need a little Blitz Spirit – but not in the way you think

“Well, it’s a national emergency,” I said to my grandmother yesterday as she lamented that she couldn’t find toilet paper (Brits read: loo roll) at the supermarket. “People need to stop hoarding and start realizing that we might have shortages. We might need to ration. America needs a little Blitz Spirit.”

For those unfamiliar with the term, Blitz Spirit refers to the attitude of Londoners during the blitzkrieg, or German aerial bombardment of London during the Second World War. It’s marked by stoicism, resilience, and cheerfulness in the face of a perilous situation. Over the ensuing decades it has entered British civic religion as the defining national trait, a stiff upper lip, “keep calm and carry on” attitude.

Writing in The Atlantic, Helen Lewis explained why Blitz Spirit won’t be enough to save the UK from the coronavirus. “As the government inevitably restricts Britons’ lives to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” she writes, “the country has to reject the voices urging us that we are overreacting, that we should stoically stagger on, as Saint George or Boudicca or Winston Churchill might have done.” Rather than carrying on as usual, this time we must do the opposite and change our behaviour to meet the moment. Anything less could be catastrophic.

She is right. During the Blitz, Londoners went to pubs, gathered around bombed out homes, mingled in parks and continued going to work and school. In the face of a deadly pandemic that is the worst thing you can do. Social distancing works and, as experts have said, flattening the curve—meaning slowing the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm our medical resources—is imperative. Doing that means staying home a lot more than we’re used to and, rather than pulling together as a community, staying as far away from one another as possible.

So while in that regard Blitz Spirit is the last thing we need, there is another way to look at it—one I think we should emulate in the face of this international emergency. Yes, the dogged determination to just get on with things was a defining trait of Londoners during the Second World War, but they also understood, more or less, that in order to provide for the greater good they would have to make personal sacrifices. Foodstuff would be rationed by the state, curfews would be implemented, children would be separated from their parents in evacuations. None of this was easy, some of it was mandatory, but all of it was necessary in order to get through the crisis at hand.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I read through the comments on a Facebook post in which I asked folks how concerned they were about coronavirus. Most people were at least somewhat worried, if not for themselves then for their more susceptible friends and relations.

Yet you couldn’t be on social media yesterday and not see empty store shelves where people have panic-bought everything from the aforementioned loo roll to, according to one Facebook friend, heads of lettuce. And while most of my friends—which, it should be said is obviously not a random sampling nor a scientific poll—said they are at least a little concerned, others admitted to being shockingly blasé about it all. Whether because they think God will protect them, or they are young and healthy, or they don’t think they’ll get it, they’re going about their days and ridiculing the “panic” of everyone else.

It really bothered me, not only because this kind of attitude will help spread the virus far and wide, but because it illustrated an incredible selfishness—just as those panic-buying all sorts of items are demonstrating. Hell, people are already stealing NHS hand sanitser. Our societies are incredibly selfish, and in moments of national crisis that is incredibly dangerous.

Dr. Patti Minter, a history professor I studied under at Western Kentucky University who is now a State Representative in Kentucky, once said to me that “Ronald Reagan made it okay for Americans to be selfish again.” It’s a comment that has stuck with me over the ensuing years, and one I think is equally applicable to Margaret Thatcher and the UK. We are an incredibly selfish society, both countries, prioritising our needs over the needs of our community.

That happened during the Blitz too, of course. There was a black market for goods being rationed, and people tried to cheat the system. But by and large, people understood that in a moment of national crisis personal sacrifice was required. They made it without complaint. It was what needed to be done, so they did it.

We need that kind of moral clarity and certitude now. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, society nearly disintegrated. People didn’t heed the warnings, gathered in large crowds, the virus spread, and then it was every man for himself. Folks wouldn’t check on the sick, wouldn’t bring food to those infected, no one would bury the bodies—people self-isolated too late, but when they did, my God did they self-isolate.

In a 2017 essay for Smithsonian Magazine, historian John M. Barry explains how bad it got:

 

In Philadelphia, the head of Emergency Aid pleaded, “All who are free from the care of the sick at home… report as early as possible…on emergency work.” But volunteers did not come. The Bureau of Child Hygiene begged people to take in—just temporarily—children whose parents were dying or dead; few replied. Emergency Aid again pleaded, “We simply must have more volunteer helpers….These people are almost all at the point of death. Won’t you…come to our help?” Still nothing. Finally, Emergency Aid’s director turned bitter and contemptuous: “Hundreds of women…had delightful dreams of themselves in the roles of angels of mercy…Nothing seems to rouse them now…There are families in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high and they still hold back.”

 

And this is where Blitz Spirit comes in. As much as it has always been about having a stiff upper lip, it has also been about doing what needs to be done for your community and your country. We cannot give into the fear, but also cannot give into the selfishness. I see it happening already, and it’s deeply concerning. We need to face the reality that the only way we’re going to survive coronavirus is if we all pull together.

That means you may have to go without toilet paper. You might not be able to go to your local coffeeshop or bar. Those concert tickets you have? You might not be able to use them. That big trip you were going on? Cancelled.

Suck it up. Take one for the team. Even if you think you’ll be fine, think about all the people who won’t. Think about what happens if you get sick and spread it to your grandpa, or your elderly neighbour, or the little old woman trying to fill her prescription at the chemist (Americans read: pharmacy). We need to think about one another right now, which starts with accepting that we’ll have to make some sacrifices over the next few months.

So stay home. Watch Netflix. Make your own coffee. Don’t horde. Don’t panic-buy. In fact, don’t panic at all; panic is useless and counterproductive. But accept that things are going to get hard for you and for everyone else. This is a national crisis, whether you’re in the US or UK. It’s going to hurt.

We’re all going to feel it one way or another. That’s what happens in a national crisis. But remember, the operative word there is not crisis. It is national.

Show some Blitz Spirit and do what needs to be done for the country, not for yourself.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Reading my teenage blog: Part II – “Its Just A Small Town Saturday Night”

“Reading my Teenage Blog” is a series of essays by writer Skylar Baker-Jordan where he, well, reads the online diary he kept as a teenager and responds as a man in his 30s. He hopes to find insights into how he – and the world –  has changed from the early ’00s to the early ’20s. Some names have been changed and some portions redacted in order to protect the privacy of those he writes about.

This one was painful because of how explicit I got. I considered redacting a few portions, and did one (I explain why I didn’t, and why I did). I’m still not sure this is the best idea I ever had. Part of me feels like this will come back to bite me in the ass. Still, I think there are lessons to be learned and insights to be gleaned by looking back at what I wrote, for the world to read on the Internet, in the early noughts. Let’s see if you agree.

Its Just A Small Town Sunday Night 4/21/2002
Well, I just got off the phone with [Sabrina]. We both agree that what happened between us last night should stay between us-especially because I’m gay. When she asked me what posessed me to do that, I said it was the high that I was on. I really think that there was so much nicotine in my system that I was high and not thinking straight. I smoked two packs in about eight hours. I’ve NEVER done that before. But moving on.

I kissed a girl and I… didn’t like it. Very fucking cute that I would blame it on being “high” off nicotine. I don’t actually remember this specific incident, but picking up on context clues and a fuzzy 18-year-old memory tells me I kissed Sabrina. This was not the last time I would kiss a girl (this would happen a couple times in college), but it was never more than a funny game to me.

From 2001 – 2002 I was on what many called at the time (and maybe still do) the “bi now, gay later” plan. I knew I was gay, but for a few months I waffled, telling others – and myself – that I was maybe bisexual. I knew I wasn’t, but being gay seemed so freaking hard. Weirdly, I remember that it wasn’t the homophobia that bothered me, but the thought of being single through high school. Of course, once I discovered that being gay wouldn’t condemn me to a sexless adolescence I quickly gave up the ghost of performative bisexuality and just came out as plain ole’ boring gay. I wonder if kids these days still struggle with this? I was the only openly gay kid in my high school (though not the only gay kid – there were others, and I knew who they were because they told me). For me, dating was a real challenge. These days, though, so many kids come out. Is finding a teenage romance still a problem? I don’t know.

I do think I remember this night, though. If not *this* night, a night around this time that has stuck with me my entire life. My sophomore year there were three girls I hung out with for a few months – Sabrina (mentioned above), Marida (pronounced Merdee), and Brandie (or Brandiie or some unique spelling – can’t quite recall). They were sound, but we drifted apart pretty quickly. I remember one night, though, spent cruising mountain roads while we blasted country music, smoking cigarettes in the park under a pale moonlight, driving 30 miles to Wal-Mart just to walk around. I’ve often wondered why I remember that night so much. We had a laugh, but we didn’t do anything memorable. Yet looking back on it, I see that it’s one of the last nights of innocence I ever had. Just me and three girlfriends goofing off. Yeah, we smoked cigarettes, but that was as rebellious as we got. Flying down a country road blasting Alabama through the mountain night felt quintessentially southern, quintessentially high school. I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Mark. We made out for about 30 minuets yesterday, and for me to say that I didn’t enjoy it would be a lie. He is so sexy, so preppy, has the cutest feet (next to [Ryan]) and is so my type. But I didn’t feel that spark with him that I felt with [Ryan]. As much as I want him to be, he’s not [Ryan]. And when I was giving him that hand job, I couldn’t help but to feel that I was cheating on [Ryan]-even though we aren’t even dating. Mark gave me his number and wants to get together again, and even though I enjoyed his company and his kisses (and his cum…..yes thats nasty I know but hey this is my diary-my most private thoughts go in here-just the whole world gets to see them), I think I like him more as a friend. In fact, my love for [Ryan] has never wavered. I only want him. And that scares me. It really does.

I almost redacted two parts of this, and you can probably figure out which two parts they are. Something we didn’t understand in 2002 is that the Internet is forever. To find my teenage blog you would really have to do some deep digging. The website has been offline for at least 16 years. Yet, it’s still there if you know where to look. That’s a frightening thought, and any Gen Z folk reading this should take heed. Nothing online ever goes away.

Now, Mark. I have no idea who this is. I do not remember a Mark. Sorry, Mark. If you read the previous entry in this series, you’ll know I do remember Ryan. He was probably the first boy I ever loved, even if it was a puppy love. Still, dealing with those feelings as a teenager is scary. I had only just turned 16 when I wrote this. At the time I felt so grown-up and certian of myself. Looking at this, though, it’s clear that I was still a child and deeply insecure and unsure of what I was doing. This isn’t new; adults looking back at their teenage years with mortification is a tale as old as time. It’s especially uncomfortable, though, when you read the words you wrote as a youth. 

[Sabrina] thinks that me giving up sexual activity is the worst thing I could do. I’m going to be so “jittery (I’ll) be bouncing off the walls.” I swear, I dunno what to do. I really, really don’t. My heart says give up sex for him, but my head (and dick) say not too. So I dunno. Me and [Sabrina] have decided to tel [Ryan] about my dream. She’s going to do it tomarrow-somehow. [REDACTED]

I redacted part of this because taken out of context or in bad faith it could be used to hurt someone, and while I think the chances of anyone I went to high school with reading this or figuring it out small, it’s not something I want to worry about. None of the people I wrote about in this diary consented to being written about, a harsh truth I have to accept as an adult and actually had to reckon with in high school. My senior year, my online diary became public knowledge and I became Gossip Girl before there was a Gossip Girl. It was never my intention, but it happened, and I couldn’t control the fallout. I was indignant at the time. I am remorseful now.

I wish I had the context for my decision to “give up sex” because I don’t remember this at all, which probably means I didn’t do it. Of course, as of this writing I was still a virgin. I wouldn’t be for much longer; looking at the date this was published, I would lose my virginity within three weeks of its writing. Still, I’d love to know what was going on in my head and in my life before and after this entry. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), only excerpts of my online diary from 2001 – 2003 are available, meaning some things will be mentioned without context and with no way to know what exactly was happening. Things I thought I would remember forever have been forgotten, while some things I read bring back memories so vivid they could have happened yesterday. Funny, that.

I’m really annoyed that I didn’t know how to spell “tomorrow.”

Well, thats it. Nothing major has happened today. I’ll ttyl all.

When was the last time any of us used “ttyl.” I wonder if teenagers today even know what “ttyl” means?

Peace.

Bye.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan