Category Archives: Musings

Fuck 2014. Let’s Raise a Glass to 2015!

Me, in the autumn of 2014

Me, in the autumn of 2014

My mate Jim tweeted about a tradition he has of opening the door to show the old year out and show the new year in. I like this.

I’m happy to see the back of 2014, and excited to meet 2015.

Look, this year fucking sucked. I entered it depressed, was sacked from a job five days in, and pretty much wallowed in misery for the first 10 months. It’s the year I gained 50 pounds, and losing it has been a struggle. It’s the year my brother deployed to Afghanistan. My adopted Chicago mum was diagnosed with cancer, after my adopted Chicago dad had to have emergency surgery on their holiday in Hawaii. It’s also the year I didn’t have sex. Not once. Nope. Never.

But this is also the year I published my first national piece in America. It’s the year I got a free car. And a free trip to London. And it’s the year I started working with an editor who not only gets me, but really seems to believe in me. It’s the year I met the Doctor and took off in the TARDIS, the year one of my best friends married her soulmate, and the year I attended my first NLGJA conference. It’s the year I reconnected with my family, met 4 of my nieces and nephews. It’s the year I met booberry.

I just gotta get this out though. This year has been hell. The Columnist folded, unexpected and unannounced, even to its writers. MB was a horrible fit for me, and completely unfairly sacked me. Starbucks is, quite possibly, the worst job I’ve had since I was 18 and worked at our campus “sports bar” (use that term loosely, cos they didn’t serve alcohol). And at the end, my best friend moved away. This year was bloody miserable.

But I’m optimistic. I’m looking forward to 2015. I’m starting it off right. I have an essay about to be published at a major US site, and I’ve got a regular contributing gig to a UK magazine I’m going to start writing for. I’m going back to London in February, and I’m hoping that booberry and I can figure out something (if he wants to; I’m not convinced he does). And I’ve got a good day job that, while it’s not my passion, I like. My boss is awesome. The people I work with are awesome. I can’t complain.

My family is all in good health. My friends are so incredibly supportive. My life is good.

I’m spending New Year’s Eve getting drunk by myself in my apartment, but that’s my choice. It seemed fitting. I needed to decompress from the year. I needed to reflect. I needed to process everything that’s happened.

And I have. And it’s done.

2014, fuck you. 2015, kiss me.

#ThatAwkwardMoment when you get your big break, then leave the country

villiers street

Dreams do come true. In case you missed it, I published my first piece at The Advocate last week. When I was in high school, I used to sneak and read it at Barnes and Noble every time I visited my parents in Ohio. Never in a million years did I think I would have a byline on their site. To be honest, it’s still pretty surreal, but it feels fucking great.

It’s so funny, because when I started blogging again last month, I spent quite a bit of time lamenting the fact that I kept pitching and not hearing back. And then, one drunken election night, I tweet to the managing editor that I have a pitch, and she says to e-mail it over. Bam, there you go, first piece. I suppose this is evidence that if you just whinge and moan enough, the universe finally gets tired of hearing your bullshit and throws you a bone?

Haha, I kid. Look, I’m over the moon thrilled to have been allowed to write for The Advocate. It’s exactly the confidence boost I needed. In fact, I just finished another piece tonight that I’ve pitched to another high-profile site. I’ve got a couple more that I’m going to be working on in the coming days. I’m a guest lecturer at Triton College on Wednesday, where I’ll be talking about gender norms in same-sex relationships. I’m very excited for that.

But perhaps the most exciting thing happening to me this week is that I’m returning to my beloved London. I fly out on Friday, and I’m there for 8 glorious nights. What am I going to do? Not go to that Starbucks between Embankment and Charing Cross to see if Danny, the cute barista, still works there. Nope. That’s not happening.

Okay it might. It’s on my way to the National Portrait Gallery and it’s going to be chilly so I will need a coffee. Don’t judge me.

Honestly I’ve no idea what I’m going to do whilst back in the motherland. My mate Nick is making a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, which coincidentally is the same day I’ve applied to be in the Question Time audience. So that’s one day booked. As for the other seven? No clue. I plan on doing some writing; I know a lovely coffeehouse in South Kensington I may squat at, but beyond that…?

I know, I know, I should try to take some meetings. And I’m going to put word out on Twitter that I’m there, and if any journalists or, more importantly, editors want to meet up for a coffee or a drink, I’m game. But I don’t want to just start tweeting at writers who follow me and asking them out to brunch. That seems intimidating, completely unprofessional, and a bit bonkers. “Hi, perfect stranger who sometimes reads my work, would you like to meet up with a totally-not-a-serial-killer stranger from the internet?”

Not a good look.

So we’ll see. Frankly, I’m not established enough yet to even have the clout to ask for and expect to receive a meeting with the likes of (NAMES REDACTED FOR FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS). That’s why I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to network and find a job and make my dreams come true overnight. I’m a small fish going to a very, very big pond, and I’m going to just keep a low profile, look at some paintings of dead kings, and get drunk at a gay pub. Maybe make out with that guy in Kensington Gardens again. That was hot. There’s also an economist I’m looking forward to seeing again. Fingers crossed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m not super excited, because I am, or that my ambition is waning, because clearly it isn’t. But there’s some freedom in letting go. As I wrote about last month, the constant pressure to produce, perform, and skyrocket to the top took the joy out of writing. I’m rediscovering why I love this medium, especially online commentary and analysis, and so I’m just taking it day by day. I’m being proactive where I can, but otherwise, I’m enjoying living the life of a burgeoning pundit who just published his first piece at a major news outlet.

The only three things I do know with any certainty is that when I land, I’m going to be exhausted, but empowered by the adrenaline rush I always get when I’m back on British soil. I know that I’m about to see how the British interpret one of America’s most sacred traditions, Thanksgiving dinner. And I know that when it’s time to leave, I’ll once again bawl like a baby.

Everything else is being left up to chance. But considering how well this month has gone so far, I’m optimistic. Who knows? Maybe I won’t get a column with GayTimes, but maybe my quest for prince charming, or even better, the perfect pint, will come to an end.

I don’t know why I love Britain. But don’t call me an Anglophile.

anglophile

The most frequent question I’m posed, bar none, is “why Britain?” I get asked by British acquaintances who don’t understand why I love their country so much, and I get asked by Americans who can’t understand why I don’t love ours more. Britain’s broken, so I’m told, and who would want to leave the sunny states? They have a queen, I’m reminded, and bad teeth and even worse food. (Hey, I never said Americans were kind, or fair, or informed.)

Of course, I recognise the problems facing Britain. And of course I see great things in America. I’ve written about both. But the fact is I could never work for the CIA because I’m on record as saying “she is my Queen, and I’d gladly die for her.” More than once. On the same 4th of July.

To those of my friends stateside, this is my defining quirk. I’m the man who draped himself in the St George’s cross when England faced the USA in the 2010 World Cup. In university, I gave a speech defending the position of the Crown and decrying the Declaration of Independence as a treasonous document. I couldn’t sing past the second verse of “America, the Beautiful,” but by God I’ll sing through my sobs when “I Vow to Thee, My Country” plays.

For me, which country that is has always been clear. I can offer, at random, a litany of things I admire about the Brits-fair play, sturdy resolve, Jack Wills. But I have no explanation or understanding of how I developed a fascination with the UK as a child, or when that grew into a passion which has long since evolved into a full-blown obsession. Moving to Britain is, frankly, the only thing I care about, and I can’t even tell you why.

I’m not alone. There are countless Americans who, like myself, love the history, the culture and the landscapes of the British isles. We watch British telly, listen to British music, and read British books. We’re called Anglophiles, and we’re aplenty.

I’ve always found that term problematic, though, and have never felt it aptly described me. To begin with, it’s hopelessly restrictive. Anglo means English, but it leaves out the rest of the United Kingdom, which I love with just as much ferocity (except during the Six Nations Championship). And it’s not a pretty word. Anglophile. Ang-lo-file. It sounds like a tool my granddad would use to whittle away at a statue of Charles Townshend. The abstract noun, Anglophilia, is even worse, suggesting we somehow get our jollies from a phone box or Nigel Farage.

Yet many Anglophiles do fetishise the UK. Having read Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as children, they fell in love with yesteryear. They see cobblestone streets and high tea and bowler hats. Don’t get me wrong, these are lovely aspects of British life, but they all emphasise the myth of Merry England, a utopian fantasy that never existed.

For the vast majority of them, their love stops there. They don’t recognise that the country gentry in Emma wouldn’t have associated with their sort, even if they did talk to Harriet. They don’t see that the class stratification presented in Downton Abbey is still very much a live and quite visible at the Lord Mayor’s banquet. They’ve never heard of Enoch Powell or Nick Griffin. To them, Stephen Lawrence is an adorable child star, not a murdered teen.

They long for a stereotype or a fiction, and while that means they fail to see the bad, it also means that they erase the reality of the millions of workaday Britons. Its these people whom I most admire, and whom enrich my love for their country.

This is why I’ve always shirked the label. Britain isn’t a fairytale, and British people don’t all live happily ever after. Sure, it’s glamorous; nobody does pomp and circumstance better than the Brits. But it’s also gritty and grimy, complex and diverse. Its history is proud, and I believe its future is bright, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moral failings, and that there aren’t any now. As the advert for the BBC 2 comedy says, Hebburn is a place on earth. Heaven, however, isn’t.

Still, I am unseemly patriotic, especially considering my only claim to “Britishness” is a smattering of ancestors buried in the United States before there was a United States. I’ve dedicated my life to writing about Britain, extolling its strengths and promise while critiquing its shortcomings. I do this because I love that country, because I want to see it prosper and grow. I do it because I want, more than anything, to contribute to its success. It’s why I get up in the morning, and it’s what I dream of at night.

I certainly don’t expect anyone else to understand when I myself am at a loss. But if I were forced to give an answer, to reach into the deepest part of my soul and tell you why I love Britain, I imagine that answer would be simple and clichéd.

Why Britain? Because it’s great.

10 things you may not know about Skylar Baker-Jordan (or, I’ve got to stop drinking on a Monday)

Like any good writer, I respect deadlines.

Like any good writer, I sometimes get drunk on a Monday night whilst dancing around my kitchen to Glee.

I overslept this morning, and after yesterday’s brouhaha on Twitter-suffice to say, my blogroll brings all the prats to the yard (damn right, they’re dumber than yours)-I really want to lighten the mood. Plus, I’m exhausted. Whilst I may not have the energy to write about Nigel Farage or racist murals (not one in the same, at least in this instance), I’m never so tired that I can’t talk about myself. Luckily Facebook gives us this lovely little game where you tag me with a number and I tell you a certain amount about myself.

Nobody tagged me, but let’s pretend. My number? Whatever I want. We’ll see how far I get before this bores me.

Just kidding. I never bore myself.

1. When I get drunk I sometimes develop this very awful hybrid English accent, which my mate Nick from Chelmsford once described as a cross between Hampshire and Hell. (I can’t remember his exact words, but that’s the gist.) In university I actually would speak in this accent, partly because I thoroughly enjoyed annoying the people in Kentucky who screamed “YOU’RE FROM HYDEN!” and partly because I really do pick up accents quite easily. That’s also why I don’t have a southern accent anymore.

2. I’m not really sure where my love of Britain comes from. I first told my father I was going to move to London as a child, but I think my earliest concrete memory of the UK is Princess Diana’s funeral. A few days before she died I started sixth grade, and my teacher had me tell him a celebrity I’d like to meet. I said her. After that came the Spice Girls, David Beckham, and even EastEnders. I devoured British culture, and I suspect I was so keen on it because it allowed me to, in my mind, move to a different country and escape my unhappy childhood. Britain was a literal fairytale, and it kept me going through some very dark times.

3. That being said, I don’t have some idealised portrait of Britain in my mind. If anything, I’m more critical of it than ever. I essentially majored in Britain in university, including classes in its politics, its sociology, and of course, a degree in its history. Having as many British friends as I do, it’s hard to maintain an Anglophile’s Disneyland fantasy. I see the UK for what it is, warts and all. If anything, this has actually made me love it more. I see a place that values fair play but perhaps takes it too far, that strives for inclusion but struggles with assimilation, but that at the end of the day just wants everyone to get on and have a cuppa. And I like that.

4. Perhaps the most controversial thing I’ll ever say, but I think the Geordie accent is sexy.

Chris Ramsey in all his Geordie sexiness.

Chris Ramsey in all his Geordie sexiness.

There’s nothing hotter than T glottalisation. I don’t know exactly what it is, but something about that raw Northern bit makes me crave a raw Northern bit.

5. Speaking of controversial, I will not talk of Northern Ireland or the Troubles in Chicago. It’s too dangerous. I nearly got into a bar fight with an Irishman once, simply for stating I’m ethnically English. The Irish in Chicago are extremely touchy about this issue, and they’re extremely violent when you’re not. Have you ever had a six-foot-three Irishman lunging towards you anywhere outside the bedroom? It’s terrifying.

6. One of the most romantic moments of my life involved Kensington Gardens at night. Don’t ask me how we got in, but if you haven’t strolled by the Serpentine in the midnight or laid in strong arms with the thistle tickling you, I insist you do it now. Report back. Just don’t have sex in public, because that’s tacky.

7. In brainstorming for my as-yet unwritten and nowhere-near published first novel, I stumbled upon a lovely town called Barnsley. Its people have reached out to me, helping me get to know their city and welcoming me into the fold, even though I’m an ocean and a continent away. I cannot wait to visit, cannot wait to taste a Yorkshire wrap, cannot wait shop at the Poundstretcher on the High Street, and to take a selfie in front of the Barnsley Town Hall. And I can’t wait to write this novel, though I’m secretly terrified, because now more than ever, I want to do Barnsley justice and do it proud.

#barnsleyisbrill

#barnsleyisbrill

8. I am sarcastic in life and vicious in comedy, but I refuse to be nasty except on stage. This extends to politics, Twitter, and yes, the X Factor. I will never tell you who my bottom two are, because I’m afraid they’ll see. I won’t even watch until the top 12 because I don’t like seeing people made national jokes. Cringey television isn’t my cup of tea, and I don’t understand how people can enjoy watching others’ misery. Who are we? Germans?

9. My most successful writing has been voyeuristic, “Sex and the City” style columns and features, where I put my private life in the public sphere. I’m quite good at it, but I refuse to do it anymore, because I’ve become innately aware that my grandparents are reading what I write. I have too much respect for them and their southern sensibilities to, in good conscience, do it anymore.

10. That being said, I’d totally shag Chris Ramsey.

Chicago vs London: Round 1 – Entertainment

I first told my father I wanted to move to London when I was five. I last swore I would never live in Chicago when I was 25. Yet somehow, despite my best efforts, I’ve not properly lived in London, but have managed the Windy City for over two years. I’ve fallen in love with Chicago, its lakeshore, its giant rats that look like Master Splinter but attack like a friggin’ honey badger, and the friendly and forward-thinking Midwesterners who live here. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss my beloved London, with its winding streets which, on the night bus, make you feel like you’re in A Newport State of Mind. Yes, Chicago may be my husband, but London is my lover. As soon as I get enough money and the cats are grown, I’ll leave Chi-town for Londontown.

And like just like when sleeping with two people, it’s hard not to compare everything from size to warmth to overall performance. When I first moved here, it was very hard not to compare Chicago to London. They have many similarities-both are an amalgamation of neighbourhoods which were once separate villages, each with its own unique identity. They both smell brackish and industrial if you catch the wind at the right angle. And both will have hosted the Olympics by the end of this decade. Oh wait.

But which is better? Which is truly superior? I set out-and by out, I mean down, on the couch, with a beer-to investigate. In this week’s “London vs Chicago” matchup, we take on three key components of entertainment-sport, music, and telly. Will London leap to the top, or will the Windy City win this one? Find out below in an in-depth study just chock full of alliteration!

Sport
I confess, I’m not much of a sports fan. Or, at least I wasn’t until I moved to Chicago. From the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to the Madhouse on Madison all the way down to the Cell and Soldier Field, Chicago has some of the greatest and most storied stadiums in the world. Yes, London has Wembley, Wimbledon, and Stamford Bridge-perhaps my favourite sporting venue on earth (I keep the blue flag flying high!)-and yes, it hosted the Olympics with characteristic

Wrigley Field opened in 1916 and has served as home of the "lovable losers" of Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs, ever since. Affectionately known to fans and enthusiasts as "the friendly confines," it is one of the last bastions of pure Americana.

Wrigley Field opened in 1916 and has served as home of the “lovable losers” of Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs, ever since. Affectionately known to fans and enthusiasts as “the friendly confines,” it is one of the last bastions of pure Americana.

pomp and circumstance. And while there’s no denying that Londoners can make a football match into a Mardi Gras party at Animal House, it can quickly it can quickly turn into the stampede that killed Mufassa. Chicagoans, on the other hand, just get drunk-whether tailgating before the Bears game, betting on NCAA basketball, or cheering on the Blackhawks for a 2010s Stanley Cup three-peat. Sport isn’t just a form of entertainment here, it’s a way of life. I’ve literally seen grown men come to fisticuffs over who the greatest Cub was. Our greatest steakhouse was founded by a sportscaster. A goat is responsible for the Cubs’ century-long misfortune. And we have an entire neighbourhood built around a baseball diamond that is essentially one giant fraternity party 24/7.

Score: Chicago 1 – 0 London

Music
Ask me about the time I was invited to do heroin with Pete Doherty. Okay, so heroin wasn’t explicitly part of the invitation, but I mean, come on. It’s Pete. London has produced some of the world’s greatest music, from Handel to Adele. The undisputed capital of the European

Pete Doherty is one of the most poetic songwriters of this century. And he paints with his own blood, too.

Pete Doherty is one of the most poetic songwriters of this century. And he paints with his own blood, too.

entertainment industry, London combines the  best of New York, LA, Stockholm, and Nashville, producing an eclectic and talented group of artists. And don’t get me started on the live music scene, from The Hope and Anchor to The Old Queens Head (both in Islington) to the more legendary Royal Albert Hall and O2 Arena. Sure, Chicago has the Metro, the Congress, and a decent local music scene. And yeah, we’re rivaled only by New Orleans in jazz and Memphis in blues. But it’s just not even a contest. Chicago is an X Factor reject; London is Leona.

Score: Chicago 1 – 1 London

Telly
One word: Broadcasting House. One more word: Elstree. Plus, Chicago Fire keeps shutting down my neighbourhood because they like to blow up cars at 8:00 am, like this is Karachi or something. Bonus for London: Blue Peter is filmed there, which is of little consequence, except it

EastEnders was one of my first introductions to workaday Britain. I used to dream of living in Walford. I also wanted to be a rubbish collector. Kids are silly.

EastEnders was one of my first introductions to workaday Britain. I used to dream of living in Walford. I also wanted to be a rubbish collector. Kids are silly.

gives me an excuse to say Blue Peter. I seriously don’t think the Brits know just how filthy that sounds to us Yanks. (But really-the BBC is one of the most respected broadcasters in the world. Chicago just can’t compete.)

Score: Chicago 1 – 2 London

So London won tonight. But don’t worry Chicago, I still love you and your horrible drivers, your pseudo-Canadian accent and your hot dogs. Actually, not your hot dogs. I like ketchup on mine. Guess in that regard, London wins again.