Category Archives: Personal

Ramblings on a snow day

Do you ever have those days where you don’t feel like doing anything? I do. I am having one right now. It is just after 10:00 AM here in East Tennessee. I am drinking coffee out of my new coffee mug, which is a 20 ounce Chip from Beauty and the Beast, which you can see here. I love him.

Chip is precious and gives me coffee. I love him.

There is a blanket of snow on the ground, briefly turning our grey mountains into an Alpine paradise. Of course, snow is a Catch-22 in Appalachia. It makes everything beautiful – because frankly the bleakness of barren trees and muddy mountainsides is not beautiful unless you throw a coat of snow on it – but also inaccessible. Still, if it has to be winter, I prefer there be snow.

When I was in high school, we would regularly miss the entire month of January, or nearabouts, due to snow and ice. I lived up a curvy, narrow, one-lane road with traffic that went both ways. You had to pull over to the side to let the other person pass. That might mean your car is mere inches from a 100-food plunge down the mountain. Dangerous at the best of times. Besides, no school bus could make it up a hollow in the snow.

Like I did as a teenager, I am having a bit of a snow day today. Maybe its the weather. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe its the fact that we just lived through an attempted coup. Who can say? All I know is that today is a day for taking it easy.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing any work. I’m looking ahead to next week. There’s some research for a piece I want to pitch about the 50th anniversary of All in the Family, a piece I may begin that I’d like to put on Medium on Sunday, and a few other things I’m working on. So, even when I’m not “working,” I’m working. But that’s okay. I enjoy my work.

My goal this year is to make $2000 a month. So far this week I made $350 – though $50 of that was a payoff from work I did last month, so I’m not sure if it counts. If I can make $2000 a month, though, I can breathe a little easier. That’s going to require some hustle.

…when the world never seems to be living up to your dreams, and suddenly you’re finding out the facts of life are all about you

I had a pitch rejected this morning, which isn’t great for my bottom line or my ego. But it’s part of the game, and you have to be prepared to hear “no.” As the proverb goes, you take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have the facts of life. Who said that? Oh right, Mrs Garrett.

I fully expected a rejection, though, so it wasn’t devastating. I shot my shot, but I knew it was a long one – my pitch really was outside the scope of what they were looking for, though only just, so I thought I might have a chance. You win some, you lose some, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Who said that? This one I don’t know. Someone famous, surely. Anyway, it’s a good idea for a blog if not an article, so you’ll probably read it sometime next week.

2021 is the year of taking every chance, though. It is also the year of being persistent. The worst an editor – anybody, really – can say to you is “no,” and “no” is not so bad. Whenever I am feeling down about a rejection, or a piece not doing the numbers I’d like, I remember how much I hated working in mortgages. Whatever downsides to being a freelance writer (and there are several), it beats being miserable in a job I hate. But, I have a pitch out for an essay on that topic, so I won’t say too much here.

Interestingly, though, I stumbled upon a reminder of that very fact this morning. I finally linked my Gmail account to Outlook (easier than I expected), and in doing so found an e-mail from a former colleague, dated May 2012. She had forwarded it from her work account to my personal e-mail, I suppose so that we could talk about it without the powers that be monitoring us, though I can’t remember and that makes no sense as surely they’d see her forward it out-of-house.

Either way, it was a real eye-opener. Or rather, a stark reminder. My God, we were treated terribly. I forgot just how much extra work we were asked to do for no extra compensation. This was around the time I made the transition from the underwriting department (where I was essentially an assistant, though I bore the title junior underwriter) to processing. It paid more, so at the time it seemed like a good move. A promotion, even. In hindsight, if I wanted to make mortgages a career – which was never the plan – it was a mistake. I should have remained in underwriting.

Either way, reading this message reminded me of why I left the mortgage industry in 2019. I suddenly had flashbacks to myself, sitting at one of those long communal work stations in an open office environment plopped in the middle of an old warehouse on the North Side of Chicago, suddenly and uncontrollably weeping at the pressure the CEO himself was placing on my team’s shoulders.

None of us could manage. Most of us were gone within a year, either to different departments or different companies. I left for a different department. Then I was laid off.

Whenever I feel glum about my career, I try to remember mortgages. The first job I had, and the last. Both were terrible. (The one in the middle wasn’t so bad, though I didn’t realise it at the time – but that was down to other factors, and is a story for another day.) When I think about it, I know I made the right choice. This is where I belong. If not forever, for now.

That seems like a good place to leave it. Chip is empty, so I am going to refill him and probably finish reading Spark’s Press, the new novel by Sarah A Chrisman. I want to review it when I’m finished, so hopefully you’ll read that next week. I’m also going to figure out how to film a reaction video, which I hope to have up by next weekend – though that could take longer, depending on how long it takes me to figure out how to film said video. Either way, every day I’m hustlin’.

Who said that? Oh, right, Rick Ross. A philosopher for our times.

x. Skylar

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

Calendars and racist tchotchkes

Well, here we are. Another year begins. When I think about what 14-year-old Skylar would have imagined 2021 to be like, it certainly isn’t “stuck in a house with his grandparents trying to avoid a deadly pandemic and hoping the President doesn’t start the Second US Civil War or the Third World War.” Alas and alack.

My goal this year is to produce new content five days a week. That is ambitious, and I fully expect there will be weeks where that does not happen. I actually had an idea for a quick piece on British politics, but Boris Johnson’s statement to the nation means I am holding that until tomorrow. Still, I do feel it is important to start as one means to go on, so here I am.

It is probably for the best. I had housekeeping that needed doing today: housekeeping in the figurative sense that I needed to organise my calendar for 2021 and take care of clerical matters (organising invoices, paying bills, that sort of thing) and in the very literal sense of cleaning and organising my workspace. So that’s what I have done.

I bought this jaunty calendar last month, with the plan of writing down important anniversaries and dates so that I can better plan content. This will help me with both the YouTube series I want to launch, in which I talk about historic and political events, while also sparking some ideas for articles to pitch and when to pitch them. Not all ideas will be seen to fruition, but many will. Brainstorming possible topics to write about is one of the biggest challenges any writer will have, so it’s good to have a list to work off throughout the year.

I have tried three times to get this damn picture up in the paragraph I want it. I simply can’t. WordPress is the most unintuitive blogging platform I have ever used, and I bitterly resent the fact that my credit card renewed my subscription before I had a chance to cancel it. Anyway, enjoy a photo of my new calendar, referenced in the last paragraph.

I also finally took some of my books out of the plastic tubs they’ve been living in since I moved. I dragged several posters out of storage, too, which you can see in the featured image at the top of this blog. This serves the dual purpose of making my workspace more “me,” which helps me feel comfortable and relaxed and therefore more creative while also covering up some of the unfortunate tchotchkes my grandparents have collected over the years.

They are old white southern people and so have their share of ceramic Aunt Jemimas and lawn jockeys—things most people under the age of 40 would immediately peg as being at best in poor taste, but that my now-octogenarian grandfather has cherished for more decades than I have been alive. He particularly enjoys collecting figures of Native Americans. I use the general term, because I can’t say that I nor he could identify which tribe these figures are meant to represent. Nor could their creators, I imagine.

Papaw loves his Native American figurines. When I was a child, my grandmother was responsible for decorating the house, but my grandfather had “the family room,” (essentially a prototype for the “man caves” of the 2010s) which was decidedly masculine. He decorated that, and he favoured Native American imagery along with wolves. I don’t know if there is a connection in his mind there, but that is what I remember and what I still see.

Some of this no doubt comes from the Westerns he grew up watching. I hadn’t made that connection before just now, but it makes sense. Westerns were such a ubiquitous part of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s that they are bound to have left a massive impression on the generation which grew up with them. Not unlike superhero films in the 00s and 10s, I imagine. I wonder if there is some level of nostalgia for a misspent youth in my grandfather’s home décor choices. I should ask him.

Regardless, my grandfather rarely uses this room—essentially a den in the basement—and I use it every day, having established it as “my office” when I moved here at the end of 2019. So, I put my pictures up to hide his figures. As I said, this is to make me more comfortable in what has essentially become my space, but it also hides figures I feel many people will quite understandably find offensive.

I can hear some of you groaning about “PC gone mad,” but not alienating my audience as I film YouTube Videos in this room, and not having to worry that there is something problematic in every selfie I take just seems like good sense to me. On the other hand, it is not my house and I am not about to tell my grandfather what he can and cannot display in his own home. I have expressed my concerns about these figurines to my grandmother—specifically when she asked if there was anything I wanted to be left in her will (the house), and anything I didn’t (the racist knickknacks)—but I have learned to pick my battles with my cantankerous old grandpa, and this just isn’t a hill I wish to die on.

Besides, anyone who would cancel an old man for his bits and baubles needs some serious perspective. Still, I hope he doesn’t mind. I quite like looking up and seeing the original cast of EastEnders and River Phoenix playing a guitar. If he does, I will take them down, because it is his house and I am ever vigilant about not overstepping boundaries.

Anyway, this seems like a good place to leave it. I am going to make some notes for tomorrow’s article (probably a Medium piece), start compiling a list of outlets I want to pitch to in 2021, and do a few more clerical things that need taking care of before we get into the actual writing bit of my job. That’s the thing about writing professionally no one tells you about: you spend a lot of time not actually writing but rather doing office work. Every job has its drawbacks.

Happy New Year, you lot.

x. Skylar

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

Looking back on 2020, looking ahead to 2021

If you can’t tell, that picture is fake. My teeth aren’t that white, or that straight. My skin is not that flawless. Oh, and as if anyone is celebrating New Year’s Eve in a massive crowd this year. Yeah, that isn’t happening. At least IT BETTER NOT BE HAPPENING. (Looking at you. Yes you. You know who you are.)

Of all the things Covid has robbed us of, New Year’s Eve might be the one thing I am grateful it took. Even when I drank, this holiday was overrated. Black tie events with cold hors d’oeuvres and swill champagne at £300/$300 a ticket. Pubs and bars and clubs jack up the prices of drinks and slap you with an admissions fee at the door. If you opt instead for a house party, you are shoulder-to-shoulder with drunken strangers who insist next year will be their year, but whose sob stories about this year make you very much doubt that. And don’t get me started on the big celebrations: Westminster, Times Square, Navy Pier.

No. Thank. You.

Part of my bitterness towards 31 December/1 January is down to the fact I have never had a successful New Year’s Eve. The closest I came was probably 2009 into 2010 (I never know which year to refer a given New Year’s celebration by), when I stole a bottle of champagne from a bar in Bowling Green, KY, only to find out a few days later that the champagne was not only free but intended for my group anyway. A regular criminal mastermind, ain’t I?

Since then, I have been turned away from gay bars in Chicago, danced alone to a Shania Twain song while sobbing quietly into a warm But Lite, and thrown a New Year’s Eve party which exactly three people turned up at—my neighbours—and they only stayed out of pity. Oh, and I have never had a New Year’s kiss. At some point enough was finally enough, and I stopped celebrating altogether.

Still, when you are as sentimental and nostalgic as I am, it is hard to resist the urge to look back on the year that was. On social media, folks have been listing things they’re proud to have accomplished in 2020, or things they’re looking forward to in 2021. All very sweet. I am a pessimistic person by nature, so I look back at 2020 and see only the things I did not accomplish: the book that still isn’t written, the articles that were rejected, the weight I haven’t lost. Some things I wanted to do, like explore the Appalachian Museum near my house or visit my loved ones back in Chicago, were cancelled due to Covid. Still others, like a trip to see my loved ones in London, would have been cancelled due to finances even if there wasn’t a pandemic raging.

It wasn’t all bad, though. This was my first year since leaving the mortgage industry and dedicating myself to writing full time. Did I accomplish everything I hoped I would? No. I still don’t have a byline at the Atlantic, but I did write meaningful pieces for The Independent and Arc—a new outlet for me in 2020. I didn’t finish a first draft of the Great American Novel, but I did write quite a bit which showed me that I can in fact do this. I’m still not dating Harry Styles, but as far as I can tell no one else is either, meaning I’m still in with a chance.

In the spirit of the season, allow me to list 5 things I am proud of accomplishing this year:

  1. Lost 60 pounds
  2. Remained sober the entire year
  3. Read my work publicly for the first time
  4. Started dating again, albeit only virtually and with limited success
  5. Overall, coped amazingly well in self-isolation, only going out when absolutely required of me  

It was also a successful first year professionally, if only because it taught me a lot of hard but necessary lessons. I feel more confident than ever that I can write a book. I am driven to finally start doing YouTube videos, which is something I have long wanted to try my hand at. I feel motivated to pitch more, even to magazines and on subjects that are a little out of my comfort zone. I think 2021 can be a successful year.

One thing that I want to do more of in 2021 is write for Medium and this blog. There are articles or blogs I want to publish but that don’t necessarily have a home elsewhere (for a myriad of reasons). In the past, I have let them die, but there really is no need for that. I have two platforms which allow me to publish the content I want. I plan to utilise them more.

But that only works if you all help me out. I’m going to be retooling my Patreon in the coming weeks so that the tiers are lower. They’re ridiculously high right now, because I modelled it after a much more prominent writer when I set it up, having no real benchmark of my own. If you regularly read my blog, I would ask that you contribute. Another way you can help is to follow me on Medium, to clap 50 times for my stories, and to share the links. Help get my name out there. I am also going to be looking into putting some writing behind a paywall, whether on Substack or Patreon (or both), where I can really analyse issues in more detail.

I am terrible at self-promotion. It does not come naturally to me. I was raised to believe that if you have talent or are worthy of mention, someone will notice. But one thing I have learned in 2020 is that you must be your own biggest advocate. Self-promotion is key to a successful writing career, as so much of our success is determined off social media metrics and algorithms and audience engagement.

As such, I have been looking at which stories performed the best for me in 2020 and which ones performed the worst. The results were not surprising. You all seem to like my political content and my cultural critiques of things like postmodernism, identity politics, and the like. Expect more of that in 2021.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite pieces from the past year. Most underperformed my hopes for them, though “What does ‘queer’ even mean?” is my most-read piece on Medium and did relatively well. The piece on the George Floyd protests for The Independent also did well, but I’m so damn proud of it that I wanted to include it here

Anyway, here they are, ten pieces I’m proud of but that you lot mostly didn’t read:

x. Skylar

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

On writing, and going forward into 2021

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of personal blogs, reflecting on, well, whatever the hell I want to reflect on. A lot will no doubt be on politics, though I plan to migrate most of that writing to Medium where it can pick up more traffic and make a little money. (And I do mean a little; most pieces bring in pennies, and no piece has netted me more than $25.)

Over the past several years, with rare exception I have avoided writing much about my personal life. As I have gotten further into my 30s, my desire to mine my own trauma for clickbait has diminished. This is partly because I have come to realise first person narratives are only so interesting, at least to me. My interest has moved decidedly more towards analysis. I suppose this is where it was originally; my degree is in history – that is, the history of other people, of civilisation – and not psychology or creative writing.

So don’t expect a lot of “why my college boyfriend ruined me for other men” blogs here. Although, perhaps not coincidentally, that might be a piece you see in the New Year. Undecided.

In truth, I don’t know what content might end up on this blog going forward. This will be a place where I dump what doesn’t fit anywhere else. If I can’t sell an article and don’t expect it to do numbers on Medium, it’ll end up here. I suppose that makes this a dumping ground for my spare thoughts. Not sure using a website in my name as a rubbish heap is a wonderful idea, but sod it. Here we are.

One thing I do anticipate writing more about here is writing. As some of you may know, I have been working on a novel for the past year. Well, novels. I started off with an idea about a single gay father, which then got sat aside for an idea about a gay Romeo and Juliet, which then got sat aside for an idea about several thirtysomethings returning to their college for homecoming, which then got set aside for, got set aside for, got set aside for.

In truth, I am very good at planning and plotting, at worldbuilding and character creation. I enjoy it. Where I seem to lose myself in anxiety and self-loathing is the actual writing bit. Sitting down to craft the narrative is a frightful undertaking, one that fills me with dread. I have the most painful imposter syndrome whenever I try to craft a fictional sentence.

Why is this? I have a few ideas. One is that I come from a working class Appalachian background where my family – God love ’em, they meant well – instilled in me that things like pursuing dreams and writing books and taking risks were for rich people. When you come from generational poverty like I have, success is defined differently. It isn’t a book deal or a blue tick on Twitter, it’s putting food on the table and having a roof over your head.

I don’t mean to make out as though I grew up Oliver Twist. My family was decidedly lower middle-class or working-class (choose your own descriptor) by the time I was born. But my grandparents, who raised me, were born and raised in abject poverty. My grandmother remembers the first time she got electricity, in the 1950s. Those of you who’ve seen Downton Abbey will know that was about 50 years later than most. But then, the mountains are often left behind the times. Not always by choice, but also sometimes by choice.

That is a different essay for a different day. The point is, I think my upbringing – one in which I was taught to aim low and avoid disappointment, but which a more generous interpretation would be to always find job security and never take risks you can’t afford – has, if not stifled my creativity (I have plent of ideas), stifled my self-belief. I am working through this. I’ll update you on how once I’ve figured it out.

But I also think there is something else to be said here. Writing a novel requires a very different skillset to writing the 800- to 1000-word opinion pieces which have become my calling card. From the start of my career, I have pitched an idea to an editor, gotten a yes within two hours (if it was a yes – more often it’s a no), and had to turn it around in another two to four hours. And, at risk of sounding cocky, I am very good at this. I work well under pressure and am able to form coherent arguments strung together in decent prose very quickly. I credit my history degree for this – those final exams consisting solely of essay questions really prepare you for a life of writing hot takes for the internet.

This is, needless to say, a very different skillset to planning, plotting, and writing a 100,000 word novel. To begin with, they’re not even the same type of writing. Nonfiction – or at least what I write – is relatively straightforward. Sure, I aspire to be as punchy as Marina Hyde or Suzanne Moore, but so long as I get my point across I feel I’ve succeeded.

Not so with a novel. You have to be clever. Not smart or intelligent, though obviously those things help, but clever. Witty. Lyrical. You need to know how to write vibrant, vivid descriptions, how to make each character sound and move uniquely, how to paint with words. I don’t need to explain what Donald Trump looks like, how he moves, how he sounds. We are all painfully aware. But you have no idea how The Lady Grierhannon, Regent of Lastlight speaks or walks. I have to tell you. And that’s harder than you might think.

The Lady Grierhannon, by the way, is an actual character from a novel I have started and stopped at least three times this year. Actually, if I have my way, it’s a series of novels: a fantasy story I describe as “Game of Thrones meets Pride and Prejudice.” I am excited about it, I love working on it, and I think I can eventually finish book one. But then, no one wants to publish a fantasy series from a first time author. I might have a small but proven record of being a successful opinion writer, but no one – least of all I – know if my fiction will sell.

So, I’m wondering if I should even continue working on that book, at least for now, or at least in earnest. I think I’ll always work on it; I enjoy it, and it’s my passion project. But, maybe I should try to write one of the other novels I have floating around in my head first. You know, a one-off to prove I can, in fact, do this. Prove to agents and publishers, of course, but also to myself.

I also need to spend more time pitching and writing for money, because I need more money. 2020 was good to me. I never hurt for cash. Part of that is my circumstances – I am living with my grandparents, and they have been kind enough to let me stay here with minimal expenditure. That can’t last forever, though, and now that I have health insurance (I tweeted about this), I need to make more money each month than I was. So, expect more pitching, more hot takes, maybe some reported pieces. Who knows? I’ll write anything for a buck or a quid. I accept both currencies. (I accept others, too, but I don’t know a fun colloquial word for them.)

Anway, that seems like a fine place to leave off now. Who knows what will become of this blog, or my novel(s), or me, or you, or anyone in the new year. Coronavirus has shown us how pointless it is to plan and predict the future. I’ll take it one day at a time, doing my best, hoping for the best, and we’ll see what happens.

Oh. I guess if you have any blogs you’d like to see, let me know. Don’t imagine you do, but I’m open to suggestions.

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

Reading my teenage blog: Part I – “Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me……….”

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen that I recently discovered my online blog from high school. Earlier this month I answered the same questions at 34 I answered at 17. That got such a fun response from people (mostly those who know me personally, but some who follow my professional writing) that I decided to go ahead and make this a series.

I’m going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph response to my blog, seeing how my views have changed over the past two decades and laughing at myself (or cringing at myself) where needed. Some entries may be edited to take out personal information or information I think others would not want revealed, and I will indicate where that happens.

We start with this entry from April 2002, in which apparently I have had my heart broken. In April 2002 I was 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school, and living in southeastern Kentucky. On the date this was written – 24 April 2002 – “Foolish” by Ashanti was the number one song in the US while “Girlfriend” by *NSync topped the British charts. The Scorpion King, starring The Rock, was the number one film in the United States. 9/11 had happened only seven months prior, George W Bush was in his first term, the iPod had only just been released the previous autumn, and I had never had a mobile phone and didn’t see the point of one. 

How things have changed. Or have they? Let’s take a look at what 16-year-old Skylar thought.

Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me………. 4/24/2002
If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. How true is that line? OMG its just…..read about my day.

I always had a flare for the dramatic. But I still agree that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

First hour my hair was all fucked up, so I ran all around school fixing it. I used lotion to get the hairspray out, then I had to run to Sherri’s locker (down the MATH WING!) to get the fucking hairspray and I used spit to fix it. Then my spit fell on the desk. We watched some movie over Jews so it was easy.

NOT THE MATH WING! There’s so much happening in this paragraph. First of all, Sherri, I’m sorry but I don’t remember you. Thanks for letting me use your hairspray… and spit? Maybe I used my own spit. God I hope I used my own spit. If I used Sherri’s spit I really should remember her. Anyway, I’m not sure why I used lotion to get hairpsray out of my hair. Is that a trick I’ve forgotten over the years? Does anybody know?

I’m really fucking disappointed in how blase I was about “some movie over Jews.” That just reads as incredibly offensive to me as a 34-year-old man. I’m sure I didn’t mean it offensively, but fucking hell boy, word choice matters.

Second hour we rehearsed and I joked around with Amanda Jo. I have to go get a costume really soon. I’m so nervous about being in front of the whole school. I’ve been acting my entire life, but not in front of people who know me and my entire life story. AND NOT IN FRONT OF [RYAN – a psuedonym to be used here on out]!

I changed the name of the boy because I want to respect his privacy. Some of my high school friends will probably figure out from context who it is. Just leave it, I ask. It’s been 18 years – let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Amanda Jo! We had such fun together. I miss her. (If you’re reading this, hi Amanda Jo!) What were we rehearsing? 2002… must have been Alice in Wonderland. I plaid the White Rabbit. I had a line during a croquet match that went “my ball, my ball, I can’t play without my ball!” but slipped up in a performance and said “I can’t play without my balls!” It was humiliating, but also hilarious. 

Third hour I hung out with Sally, Samantha, Teddy Bear, and some other seniors in the library. We talked about Prom and looking for Prom parties. SO far no luck.

Sally I remember. Teddy Bear I remember his face, though not his name (Josh, maybe?). Samantha… sorry, love, no idea. Why is “Prom” capitalised. It’s not a proper noun you fool. We found a prom party in the end and it is one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was a big night in my life, as prom nights often are. Yes, I’m being coy. I’m much less brazen at 34 than I was at 16.

Fourth hour I forgot my work for Koog and so I get a 0 on that. It sucks because I had it all finished, too! I feel like such the dumbass! And so yah. The major thing of fourth period was when Sally told me that [Ryan] had had a girlfriend way back in sixth grade [name redacted]! OMG one of my best friends dated him and failed to tell me this! And he does have a crush on [name redacted] (so he says-we’re not sure if we believe this). That scares me, because I’m starting to think [he] may be straight. If he is straight I’d be happy for him, but I know that I’ll die inside. I swear I need him. I wrote him a letter about being an ass to me fourth hour, too.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You deserved that 0. As it stands I still end up going out of the house and forgetting half of what I meant to bring. I guess that’s less a youthful folly than it is a character flaw.

I really hate how goddamn needy and frankly obsessive I am in this paragraph. It’s bad. It was also the start of a pattern in my life, one in which I routinely fall for men who don’t seem interested in me or are unwilling to commit and who say they’re straight but actually aren’t straight at all. Ryan was the prototype for so many heartbreaks through my twenties. I didn’t die inside, though. That happened about 9 years later.

 I wonder if I ever gave Ryan that letter? I don’t think I did, because I remember “Ryan” well and I think I’d remember something like that (it was a weird time in my life). I hope to God I didn’t, anyway, not just because it would be mortifying to me but because Ryan clearly set boundaries that I was ignoring. This is not romantic, baby Skylar, it’s abusive. Stop it. (I did stop it – and I was 16, so, you know, I’m cutting myself a little slack here.

[REDACTED PARAGRAPH – Personal information about another individual]

This was my fear when I decided to do this, and one entry in I’m already redacting quite a bit. This person would not want this information revealed though, I am 100% certain about that. Rather than risk anyone finding out, I’m just going to redact it. The point of this is to have fun, but it’s also to look at how much our world and I have changed since the early 2000s. I don’t think this really adds anything of interest in that context, so I’m okay leaving it out.

Fifth hour we watched “To Kill A Mockingbird” and that was that. Me, Lee, and Bridget started the “Broken Hearts Club,” which now has Sally as a member too. Lee says we should get the rest of the cheerleaders in it. I’m thinking about getting Becka in it too.

I’m still a member of this club. Also – does every American high school student read “To Kill a Mockingbird?” I think they do.

Snacks. Oh lord Sally told me [RYAN] said no to the picture (okay, I didn’t really care-HONESTLY LoL shocked me too). SHe told him he needs to start saying “hi” to me or something and he just sadly shook his head no. She said when he said he didn’t want to take that picture (I’m guessing thats what she meant) his eyes said he was lying. She said she thinks the boy is 100% gay [redacted few words]. I dunno…..I hope she’s right.

Take the fucking hint and leave the lad alone, baby Skylar. Honestly Ryan had the patience of Job and I am not liking how relentless I was here. Again, 16, so… cutting myself some slack. But yikes. Anyway, I do remember this actually. I wanted a picture of us together, and he said no. We did eventually take some pictures together, but I burnt them a year later after watching “The Craft” and thinking that maybe sorcery could work. It didn’t, but I still have hope it might.

Sixth hour I worked and thought of [RYAN]. Thats about it. We took Sara home today and then rode around ’till about 4:00 when Sal brought me home and I got online!

Imagine a time where “getting online” was a cause for excitement. In 2002 we made a point of being online, but in 2020 we make a point of disconnecting. A Twitter friend of mine just went offline until June as part of her Lenten sacrifice and social media detox – something that would have baffled people in the early 00s, when the internet was not a ubiquitous part of our lives. Did we know how it would come to take over our world? I don’t think I did. I never could have imagined smart phones or social media, though of course neither was a big step from Palm Pilots or AOL Chat Rooms/websites like LiveJournal. In hindsight it was all quite a logical progression, but at the time it would have seemed impossible if I had thought it.

GOSSIP TIME! LoL well lets see…..Peter Pan and Whitney are happy together. How, I don’t know, but hey, good for them-even though Bridgets heart is breaking. Lee’s crush is still acting like a fucker to her. Becka and Will may be broken up-Becka doesn’t know. She said something to me like “he needs to see what hes got.” I agree-Becka’s a great catch. [NAME REDACTED] wants to go back out with [NAME REDACTED] (they dated from 4-7 grade), but shes afraid all he wants is sex. And he won’t make the first move.

This was one paragraph (together with the next section), but I’m splitting it into two. I have no idea who Peter Pan was, and only a vague idea who Whitney was. OH WAIT – Bridget liked him. Yes, I do remebmer who Peter Pan is. He was a dick to me. (Bridget, I hope you found a better man.) I don’t remember Becka dating a Will, but I guess she did. She is a great catch though, that much is still true.

THEY DATED FROM 4 – 7 GRADE. I read that and howled. Imagine thinking that mattered. That’s like ages 10 – 13. What do you even do when you “date” someone that young? Hold hands and pretend to argue over money and how much “juice” he drinks because that’s what your parents do so that must be how marriage works? Silly kids. Silly, silly kids.

[Me] and [RYAN] may not hook up like everybody thought, because [RYAN] is being a prick (we also found out that [RYAN] and [REDACTED] dated in sixth grade). People are pulling for [me] though. Angela found out about [my] crush on [RYAN] by Stephanie, who decided to open her big mouth-but [I am] not to be mad at Stephanie (oh, God forbid!).

Get the fuck over yourself, baby Skylar. This boy is not worth it, and he clearly isn’t interested in you. Look at your life, look at your choices. Also, Stephanie and I recently followed one another on Twitter so there’s every chance she reads this and I just want to say that I forgive you for telling Angela about my crush our sophomore year of high school which was apparently a big deal at the time but honestly I don’t even remember. Thank you for still having me in your wedding despite this snarky post. Hope you’re well.

Tim and Amanda are back together, which breaks Sally’s heart. One of her old boyfriends (I don’t know his name) wants back together with her.

No idea who Tim and Amanda are, unless they’re the couple that Sally and I went to see 8 Mile with. Don’t feel too bad for Sally, though; she’s been married since 2003 and has a beautiful family, so it all worked out.

[REDACTED TWO SENTENCES – PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON]

[I] cried over [Ryan] today in the library at lunch, and chased Sammie Jo off. [I’m] becoming a cruel, heartless bitch.

You’re becoming an annoying little prick, but I don’t know about a cruel, heartless bitch. I think you just need to chill out, leave the “straight” boys alone, and wait until college when you can really let your hair down. (Spoilers: you won’t, and the next two years will be even more dramatic than this – a long-lost mother, a love triangle, a murder. Huh, my high school career kind of sounds like an episode of Riverdale.

Peace out.

Deuces

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

On Phillip Schofield and remembering my own coming out

 

In a very moving statement released on Twitter this morning, and in an equally moving segment on This Morning, Phillip Schofield came out as gay. Married for 27 years to his wife Stephanie, they have two daughters. By Schofield’s own account his wife and children have been nothing but supportive. This can’t have been easy for the 57-year-old ITV presenter, who has worked in British media for over 30 years, but he has handled it with grace, humility, aplomb.

I am always curious about gay men’s journeys to self-acceptance and, in many cases, self-awareness. I think I always knew I was gay. One of my earliest memories is, aged five or six, getting butterflies when the boy next door grabbed my hand. Of course I didn’t know what that meant or have a name for it, but I knew I felt differently about him than about my other friends.

Later in childhood, I had what I can only retroactively identify as a major crush on my best friend Kyle. He spent summers with his dad, who lived down the street, and I would count down the days until he arrived from Arkansas. My other friends would get jealous and angry as, all summer long, I neglected them for Kyle (an unfortunate pattern that would, shamefully, continue into early adulthood). He and I would spend hours playing with other children, but often alone as well. It was all very chaste and innocent—we couldn’t have been older than ten—but when he would “rescue” me as we played Power Rangers I always felt a tingling, sinking feeling in my chest and stomach which (again, only later in life) could I identify as “puppy love.”

I came out to myself around 14, and to the rest of the world—including my family—at 15. This was in 2001, when teenagers coming out was still a rarity and depictions of LGBT people in popular culture even rarer. Yet there was very little angst around my decision. Once I realized I was gay there was no self-torture, no self-hate. It was almost as though realizing, for the first time and to some mild surprise but no great consequence, that I had a freckle on my leg. “Oh, never noticed that before. Wonder when that happened. Oh shit, it’s almost time for Dawson’s Creek, don’t want to miss that!”

Coming out to my family was not easy—I don’t think it’s every an easy process—but as I would learn from LGBT people in later years much easier than most comings out, especially as a teen and especially in the early 00s. I was out at school, which meant my brother (who was in the same year as I) was the first to know. He shrugged it off and, actually, never brought it up until I finally did about a year after he found out.

The decision to tell my parents was a weighty one. We had gone to an amusement park the Saturday before. My mom and my little sister commented on the attractive boys they saw, while my dad and my brother talked about girls. Realizing I could never have a conversation like that with either, and feeling like I was missing out, I decided to tell them. I went to school that Monday, discussed it with my friends and, plucking up the courage from them, told my parents that evening. They took it well—as well as two working-class Midwestern parents could take such news in 2001—and that, save for a few further conversations over the next few weeks—really was that. (As a bit of trivia, it was Monday, 10 September 2001 – the day before 9/11. There’s a personal narrative to be written about that week in my life, I’m sure.)

At the time, it took a lot of courage. I was trembling as I sat them down. No matter who you are, coming out is never easy. In the back of your mind is always a fear of rejection and hate. Looking back on it now, though, after nearly two decades and hundreds of conversations with other LGBT people who have come out, I see that it was a relatively painless process for me. Over the years, I have wondered why my coming out was so easy compared to so many others. There were no other gay people in my family, at least not that we knew of. My family wasn’t particularly leftwing. My parents didn’t have gay friends—though they liked Ellen DeGeneres, and I always suspect she helped a lot. So what made the difference here? I have a few ideas:

  1. I was raised to be self-assured and independent: my parents and grandparents instilled a confidence in me that has served me well through life. They always encouraged me to do what I want, to take risks, to not be afraid of the consequences (within reason), and to make my own way.
  2. I was deeply introspective, even as a child: I’ve always lived in my head, even as a kid. I had friends, but the bulk of my time was spent playing alone. When you spend so much time with yourself, you can’t help but to get to know yourself on a deep and intimate level. I once knew a man who, at 23, only just realized he was gay. He saw a sex therapist because he couldn’t perform in the bedroom with women and even entertained that he might be asexual. That he was attracted to other guys never crossed his mind. I couldn’t imagine not knowing such a basic truth about yourself, but for many gay men same-sex attraction is so buried in their subconscious they don’t recognize it until years later. (It’s important to note that I’m not saying this is Phillip Schofield’s story. I don’t know what his story is, though I’d love to one day hear it.)
  3. I knew other LGBT kids: The autumn of 2001 was a tumultuous time in my life – among other things, I came out, 9/11 happened, and I moved from Ohio to Kentucky – but when I came out I was still living with my parents in Dayton. I was not the first student to come out at Walter E. Stebbins High School. My freshman year there was some drama when, if I remember correctly, a bisexual senior girl left her girlfriend for a football player. There was a sophomore who wore nail polish and lipstick and was openly gay. There were others, too, who blazed the trail for me. And then of course, there was the internet. AOL chat rooms, TeenOpenDiary, message boards—they all helped me find community with other gay people, some of whom were just coming out like me and others who had been out for years. I knew that coming out wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of living authentically, because I had others who lived that truth.
  4. We weren’t a religious family: We believed in God, I think, but we were not devout Christians. The one time I remember my parents talking about God was when, one December, my mom got mad at me and my siblings for not wanting to watch a program about God. It was about God promising to come for Christmas, then never showing up, except that He did three times in the form of three different needy people. I didn’t want to watch not because it was about God but because the thought of God showing up on my doorstep terrified me. We never went to church as a family, though my sister and I did go to church with friends, but being raised outside a faith tradition meant that I had little fear that my parents were going to beat me with a Bible or send me to a conversion camp or throw me out. I didn’t have the anxiety of grappling with my “mortal sin” because I was never taught that being gay was a mortal sin.
  5. My family believes in fairness and kindness: I think this might be the most important. Despite all the teenage “ugh I hate my parents” temper tantrums, I knew they were ultimately kind and decent people. I mentioned Ellen earlier. My mom and I used to watch her sitcom together. When she came out, I was upset because the character had never been gay before. Later I made a homophobic joke about her name, calling her “Ellen Degenerate” – a word I didn’t know what it meant but must have learned from some bigot on the television or radio (I don’t know who, but I’ve always blamed Rush Limbaugh), because I knew it wasn’t good and had to do with her sexuality. My mom snapped at me “don’t call her that,” the message being “gay people aren’t degenerates.” That stuck.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was relentlessly bullied in my Kentucky high school. My father worried I would get AIDS. My mother said “obviously we are disappointed” when I came out (though she has since apologized profusely for the hurt those words caused and doesn’t herself remember saying them). There were stumbling blocks and learning curves for all of us. But we got there quicker than most.

Every LGBT person’s journey is different. Mine is but one of millions, and this short essay is far from the entire story. Some people had a much harder time of things than I did. Some probably had it easier. Certainly, the cultural circumstances in which we come out matter a great deal, and I benefited from coming out at the beginning of what was to be a rapid shift in public opinion on gay rights which began with Ellen and Matthew Shepherd and continues right up to today with Pete Buttigieg and now Phillip Schofield.

Ultimately, the only point of this is to share a little of my own story, which I’ve been thinking about since Schofield’s announcement. My life got a lot better after I came out. I hope Phillip Schofield’s does too.

Answering the same questions at 34 I answered at 17

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I recently rediscovered the online diary I kept as a teen. While I don’t have access to all the entries I wrote (the Internet Archive didn’t archive most of them), some of them I do.

One of those old diary entries – this was before the term “blog” was popularised – included this “survey” that I took in the summer of 2003. I was 17, had just finished my junior year of high school, and was living seven miles outside the small town of Hyden, Kentucky. Suffice to say, my life has changed a lot since then. As I stare down the barrell of 34 (my birthday is later this month), I thought it would be fun to answer the same questions I did as a teenager. Let’s see if 17 years has changed anything.

1.How many times have you had pizza delivered to your house?
2003: That’s like asking me to count a google.
2020: That’s like asking me to count a google.

2. How do you like your toast?
2003: Toasted.
2020: Pretty crispy.

3. What kind of milk, if any, do you drink?
2003: I’m not a big milk fan, unless it’s chocolate!
2020: I will not drink milk, even if it’s chocolate.

4. What do your dishes look like?
2003: Aww hell, I dunno. Flowers and white and stuff methinks.
2020: So my dishes are black and red, but they’re in storage. Those “flowers and white and stuff” dishes? My grandmother still has them.

5. What utensil do you eat mac ‘n cheese with?
2003: A fork.
2020: A fork.

6. Do you know what anti-aliasing is?
2003: No, but the girl I stole this survey from sure did. It has something to do with taking away the jagged edges of circles on a video game.
2020: Not a fucking clue

7. Have you ever been in an airplane?
2003: Yes.
2020: Oh God, more times than I can count. For a while it felt like I lived in the air.

8. Have you ever played a full game of golf?
2003: Uh, no.
2020: Still no.

9. Describe your feelings toward Microsoft Windows:
2003: I’m impartial. Don’t like the monopoly bit, but…yeah.
2020: At this point I wouldn’t want to use anything else. It’s the only OS I’ve used for 25 years. But that monopoly bit still bothers me

10. Do you usually remember your dreams?
2003: Yeah, I do.
2020: I’ve noticed that as I get older I remember them less frequently and in less detail, and that when I do remember them it isn’t for as long.

2003

The author in the summer of 2003, aged 17. Photo: Kathy Jordan

 

11. How big is your bed?
2003: Twin size, because I like it small and cozy.
2020: You lying bastard, it was not because you liked it small and cozy, it was because that’s the bed your grandparents gave you and it was sleep in that or on the floor. The bed I have now is a full sized bed. Largest I’ve ever had was queen sized. One day I’ll get that California king

12. What’s the coolest thing on the surface of your workspace?
2003: My fiberoptic lamp and pictures.
2020: My workspace is wherever I want it to be. Right now it’s my bed, and the coolest thing on my bed is probably my John Lewis duvet cover

13. Describe your current hair style:
2003: The Federico! lmao
2020: Long, shaggy, pushed back

Federico_Martone

Federico Martone, a contestant on Big Brother 4 (UK). Apparently I once had his haircut.

14. Where is your computer?
2003: The living room.
2020: This is one of the biggest changes over the past 17 years. Laptops weren’t unheard of in 2003, but at least where I lived, they weren’t the norm. I got my first laptop in 2004, when I began university. Right now my computer is in my bedroom, but it can be literally anywhere I want it to be. And if you count my phone, I always have a computer on me.

15. Are you an avid gambler?
2003: To an extent. A few bucks every now and then.
2020: I never gamble, save the occassional lottery ticket.

16. Quick! Say a fantasy of yours!
2003: To be in [Ryan’s] arms tonight…more than you’ll ever know. ::sigh::
2020: To publish my debut novel. Of course, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

17. What web site(s) do you visit on a normal basis?
2003: TOD, channel4.com/bigbrother, yahoo.com, beliefnet.com, jimverraros.us, FOD, Google (I love to play with the image search!)
2020: Wow, remember when Google image search was a novelty? Anyway, now it’s Twitter (hands down the biggest waste of time I’ve ever found), the Independent (natch), Washington Post, Digital Spy (I read their EastEnders coverage obsessively), and Instagram

esq060119cover004-1558471471

Daddy. (Photo: Alexi Lumbomirski/Esquire)


18. Who’s your daddy?

2003: Steve?
2020: I’m actually kind of relieved that I didn’t understand this question at 17. It shows I still had some innocence left. Anyway, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

19. What’s your favorite Jackass segment?
2003: I still crack up about the part in the movie where the guy shoved the car up his ass.
2020: I haven’t thought of this show in years, and I’m mortified that I once admitted to enjoying it. I don’t actually remember watching Jackass very often. The only thing I remember is that Johnny Knoxville got papercuts on the webs of his toes once. I’ll go with that.

20. Do you watch sports on TV?
2003: The horse races, but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll order a Chelsea or Manchester United game on Pay-Per-View, too.
2020: No. I did watch the Super Bowl, and I like the Olympics. So I guess sometimes.

21. When was the last time you were sick?
2003: During the Louisville trip with FBLA last month.
2020: Last winter. I didn’t get a sinus infection this fall, which I usually do. Touch wood, I’ll stay well.

22. Describe the jewelry you are currently wearing:
2003: Class ring, shell neclace, watch, St. Sebastian neclace.
2020: No jewelry. I haven’t worn jewelry in years. I lost my class ring in 2004 (somewhere in my Dad’s house, but we never did find it). I lost that St. Sebastian necklace the night of my senior prom. Dustin Sizemore and I were in a car accident after prom, and I had to go to the hospital. I lost it somewhere between the accident seen and the emergency room. I’ve always assumed St. Sebastian stayed with me just as long as I need him and then went to help someone else. (As an aside, Dustin himself passed away in 2011.)

23. Do you like 80s music?
2003: OMG Yes!
2020: OMG Yes! Except now I have a deeper appreciation of it and how pivotal an era it was in the development of modern music and popular culture.

24. If you drive, how often do you speed?
2003: I don’t drive; that’s part of my problem.
2020: I drive, but I don’t speed. Two speeding tickets in college cured me of that.

25. Are holiday lights seasonal?
2003: Oh my gosh you’ve hit on the biggest pet peeve I have! I can’t stand it when people leave their Christmas lights up past 1 January! I mean, it bugs me so much! I flip out on them and I don’t know why! It’s just so tacky. I love Christmas, but to leave lights up all year is just WRONG. I mean, if they’re white lights inside, that’s okay. Cute, even. But outside or in a living room or something? Nope, it’s tacky. And it kills me. It absolutly kills me.
2020: I have remained remarkably consistent on this. I’ll allow your holiday lights to stay up maybe until Epiphany, but after that, you need to take them down. It’s tacky.

26. How often do you floss?
2003: Floss? I do that sometimes…I guess.
2020: Floss? I do that sometimes… I guess… okay not really. I don’t floss. There. I’ve said it. Don’t @ me.

27. Do you spill often?
2003: Not nearly often enough. 😉
2020: Gross, teenage Skylar. Fucking gross. God, teenage boys are awful. But no, I am not a toddler, I don’t spill things very often.

28. How many windows are in your bedroom?
2003: One
2020: One

29. What’s the most disgusting food you have ever eaten?
2003: escargo or however you spell it. Screw it…snails.
2003: Still escargot. #NeverAgain

30. Does you breath smell?
2003: Yeah, I just drank a Pepsi.
2020: Yes, I just smoked a cigarette

31. In a perfect world, we would have no:
2003: religion. I know that sounds horrible, but religion has caused more problems for humanity than anything else. In a perfect world, we’d all worship the diety (for I feel the diety is the same for all religions) in an unoranized fasion, in our own way, on our own accords. No organized religion.
2020: …racism or misogyny. This one has actually changed a lot. I still think religion has caused a lot of problems for humanity, but I also think it’s one of our greatest gifts. At university I found the Episcopal Church – and thank God I did – and, through it, religion. I find peace in reading the Bible and comfort in prayer. I think religion, even organised religion, can be a force for good. It can also be a force for bad, but I wouldn’t want to eliminate it from the world.

32. What’s your favorite shoe color/material?
2003: I like brown leather sandals.
2020: I still like brown leather sandals. Also Sperrys.

33. When do you usually eat lunch?
2003: Depends on when I wake up…
2020: I frequently skip lunch.

34. Do you have a cellular telephone?
2003: Nope, and I don’t care for one either (who in the hell would call me?)
2020: WOW. No answer could more represent just how different our world is now than this one. In 2003 I didn’t have a mobile phone and it didn’t bother me. In 2020 I can’t imagine 1) not having a mobile and 2) someone calling me on it. I just bought a new iPhone 11, and it is always on my person. Wow.

That’s it. What memories do you have of 2003, or of being 17? Do you think you would answer these questions the same, or has your perspective shifted as an adult? Let me know in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Skylar reads… Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“Skylar reads…” is a new series of book reviews by writer Skylar Baker-Jordan.

By now, most people will be at least passingly familiar with André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name. The story of two young men who fall in love on the Italian Riviera, it was turned into an Oscar-winning film in 2017. The novel, like its setting along the northwestern Italian coast, is lush and beautiful and inspiring. Bittersweet like an overripe peach, Call Me By Your Name is part romance novel, part bildungsroman, and—like the passion between protagonist Elio and his beloved Oliver—all-consuming. I enjoyed being transported from a dreary winter in Tennessee to the scalding hot summers of 1980s Italy almost as much as I enjoyed reliving what it feels like to be young and in love.

Indeed, I want to talk about that, partly because (as I said earlier) the novel has been out for so long that any review I provide here is unlikely to add anything new to the cultural conversation. One could write entire essays on the symbolism of the peach and the poo (if you don’t know, read the novel) or of the frequent references to feet and the tactile language Aciman uses to evoke the electricity even the slightest touch can spark between two young people in love. I’ll leave it to the literature scholars and critics to do that, though. I’m more interested in what feelings this novel evoked in me, not because I’m a narcissist but because I suspect they’re universal.

If you’ve ever loved and lost, especially if you loved and lost at a young age, prepare to have those old scars heedlessly cut open. Aciman’s novel takes place in the mid-80s, but Elio tells the story from, doing the math, the mid-00s (which makes sense; the novel came out in 2007). The distance of decades allows him to tell the story of his adolescence with the perspective of an adult, replete with the hindsight, wisdom, and nostalgia that invariably entails.

All of us, at one point or another, have looked back on our teenage years with a sort of longing tinged with regret—whether it’s for a life choice we’d like to change, a lover we might not have even realized we miss, the general loss of innocence, or some combination thereof. Younger readers (say, anyone under 25) might not fully appreciate the wistfulness that thinking about your deep past can evoke, but older readers certainly can. Aciman captures the languor of lifelong regret in a way few authors have.

For me, this meant harkening back to a time ten years ago when I met the man who would become the love of my life. Like Elio and Oliver, we had a tortured will-they-or-won’t-they relationship which culminated in a passionate love affair and ended far too soon because he wasn’t ready to accept his same-sex attraction. Like Elio and Oliver, there was a not insignificant, but not unreasonable age difference between us (I was 24 when we met, the same age as Oliver; he was 18, a year older than Elio). Like Elio and Oliver, I suspect that age difference was insurmountable, though; six years might not matter at 34, but it matters a lot at 24.

We were the inverse of Elio and Oliver, though. I was the one who fell head over heels in love and he was the one who saw us for what we really were—two lonely people who found one another at precisely the right time, but who would never work outside the bubble in which we then lived. He had his demons, to be sure. He wouldn’t come out publicly until seven years after we broke up, and he’d have a child along that journey to self-acceptance. But, looking back now, I suspect that he was always more levelheaded about us than I was. I think he always knew that the life I said I wanted with him would never be enough—little things he said, like “don’t you want to move to London?” or “what about your writing? Why don’t you write more?”—and that he was in no position to give me what I craved, at least not for more than a few months.

Indeed, it was only a few months—the most confusing and logical, the most agonizing and joyous, the most tender and most callous, the most I’ve ever been loved and been loved and the most I’ve ever loathed and been loathed few months—but it still haunts me to this day. I can’t see an orange crewneck or a zip-up hoodie without thinking of him, and the one I used to steal from him and wear around because it was warm and comfortable, but mostly because it smelled like him, his musk and his cologne. To this day the scent of Old Spice reminds me of those nights spent lying in his arms.

Whenever I fall and scrape myself, I think of that first night we met, sitting outside his dorm room while I bled (having fallen, drunk, as we walked) and he insisted on getting a first aid kit. The symbolism of this is not lost on me now. I had no idea how much I would hurt myself for this boy.

We sat up all night talking about life, about books, about music, about art. As the sun rose, we walked to Waffle House—another thing he took from me. I walked home, across the entire desolate length of campus and down College Street to my apartment at about 8:00 AM; by noon he was at my place. We were inseparable from then until we weren’t anymore.

Reading Aciman’s novel made me long to be in Europe, to walk down Roman alleys and sun myself on Monet’s berm. More than that, though, it made me want to go back to my own past, back to Bowling Green, Kentucky. It made me want to walk the length of campus again, as I had that sunny, late summer morning, like a pilgrim walks where Jesus walked. It made me want to go back to the yard where we first met, back to steps where we first kissed, back to the picnic table where he, a student, and I, an alumnus finally said our goodbyes. It made me wonder where he is, what he’s doing, who he’s dating, and if he’s happy.

It also made me consider the passing of time and the wisdom of age. I recently found my high school diary. One entry was about the boy I had a crush on at the time. “He smiled at me. Twice!” I exclaimed. The innocence of youth. The boy who wrote that is a stranger to the man I am today, yet we are inexplicably one and the same. I don’t think I’d get so excited over a smile today, and I certainly wouldn’t take it as irrefutable proof that the object of my affections reciprocated. I wish I could be that naive again.

I remember that boy fondly too. He was a nice boy. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen him, to the point I don’t even remember what his voice sounds like. There were others before my Oliver, who was also my Elio as I was both to him as well. There have been a few since. None have compared to him. None hold a candle.

I don’t suspect he feels the same about me. I imagine plenty followed me, more than one more beloved than I ever was. I hope he thinks about me, though. Undoubtedly, he does; I was his first. You always remember your first. I hope it’s with kind thoughts, though, or at least not all regrets.

How is it that one person can change your life so completely, and that even after a decade leave your heart in tatters by simply coming to memory? A question for the philosophers. He was that to me. Is that to me. No one as ever compared, and as I approach my 34th birthday, I suspect no one ever will.

Why him? I ask myself that whenever he comes to mind. He was cute, but he wasn’t hot. He was nice, but he wasn’t always kind. He wasn’t dumb, but he was no great intellect. His opinions were pedestrian and shallow—a product of his age, perhaps, and an intellectual immaturity which doubtless four years of college could have solved. I only knew him for one.

So why him? He made me feel safe. Whenever he was around, I felt like I could conquer the world. He made me feel valued. There was no shame in working in a coffeeshop, all writers do, he’d say. Your value isn’t measured by your bank account, Skylar, shut up this ramen is fine. He made me feel attractive at a time I was painfully insecure. He made me feel needed a time I felt useless. He made me feel hopeful at a time I felt despairing.

He made me feel loved. He loved me. He told me, but more than that, he showed me. In the little ways—bringing me a slice of pizza when he came over, because he correctly guessed I hadn’t eaten; showing up at the coffeeshop and sitting for my entire shift so I’d have someone to talk to; playing a song twice in a row because he knew I liked it. In the big ways, too, supporting me as I had to institutionalize one of my best friends and never leaving my side when another old friend passed away.

He’s the only man I can say that about. For as little as we knew one another, it’s remarkable what all happened. Six months. I met him in August 2010. We broke up in February 2011. Six months I knew him. A lifetime I’ve loved him.

Unlike the film, Call Me By Your Name ends with a reunion 15 years after the main events of the novel. Then it flashes to five years after that, back in Italy, our two protagonists still longing for one another but unable or unwilling to bridge the time that has now come between them.

I haven’t seen him in nine years. I suppose that means I only have to wait another six.

★ ★ ★ ★☆

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, and who gets to show emotion in American politics

Last night the New York Times editorial board endorsed Senator Amy Klobuchar and/or Senator Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination. Leaving aside the arguments for and against each of these candidates as well as the arguments over whether endorsing two candidates makes sense (I think it does), I want to—quelle surprise—talk about Pete Buttigieg. Chiefly, I want to talk about Mayor Pete, emotiveness, and who gets to be expressive in American politics and culture.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I am supporting Pete Buttigieg for president. I think the New York Times’ interview was at times very unfair to him, especially Binyamin Appelbaum’s outright lies about his time as a consultant for McKinsey. I am not happy with the Times’ endorsement, though I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mayor Pete was the fourth-place pick of the editorial board (behind Warren, Klobuchar, and erstwhile candidate Senator Cory Booker).

With that said, there was an exchange that I think is worth discussing in a bit more detail than I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. In response to Appelbaum asking whether he feels the same anger a lot of young people feel about the state of the country, Mayor Pete answered that “while I may not be as emotive sometimes about my sense of anger or frustration or injustice – and I would argue that some people are given more room to be emotive than others – I would not be doing any of this if I were not propelled by a level of passion.” While debating the pros and cons of each candidate (as shown on The Weekly), Michelle Cottle complained that “Pete talking about how he doesn’t emote as much as some, that’s a real problem. I mean voters love that ‘I feel your pain’ stuff,” prompting Lauren Kelley to rightly point out “he also almost surely would be painted in some unfair way if the gay man on the trail was overly emotional, right? I mean, it’s a bind.”

Indeed, it is a bind – one in which many gay men have found themselves. I don’t know if Pete Buttigieg meant to imply that others have more leeway to be emotive because he’s gay or not (he never expressly says), and I understand the point Cottle was making. Voters really do love a passionate, emotive candidate – think Bill Clinton, think Bernie Sanders, think Donald Trump – though Barack Obama showed that sometimes cool-as-a-cucumber works, too.  But Kelley raises a point that I think is important to make, if not about Mayor Pete specifically, about politics and business in general. Who gets to be emotive, and who gets dismissed when they’re emotive, is something worth discussing.

Gay men have long been portrayed as flamboyant and dramatic, from Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage to Jack McFarlane in Will and Grace right on up to Cam on Modern Family. There’s nothing wrong with being flamboyant and dramatic—lots of gay men (myself included, frankly) are, just as lots of all sorts of people are. For a long time, though, the stock character of the gay “drama queen” was the predominant depiction of gay men in pop culture, and that image has become a stereotype of gay men in general. The problem arises not because some gay men are dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant, but because the straight world assumes that when a gay man is dramatic, emotional, emotive, or flamboyant it is because he is gay and that is, inherently, a bad thing.

As I said above, I’m an expressive and sometimes flamboyant gay man. I’ve never felt any shame in this. One of my nicknames among my friends in high school—given in good nature— was “Bitchy Diva Queen.” (The other was “Zazu,” because I always knew the gossip.) The nickname itself didn’t bother me. The way my emotions were often dismissed because of it, though, did. I developed a thick skin back then—you had to as an openly gay boy in a southeastern Kentucky high school in the early 00s—but when something really did upset me, such as sophomore year, when a group of bullies apparently planned to attack me, my genuine fear, anger, or hurt was dismissed as being “overly dramatic” by my friends, my classmates, and even the administration.

This attitude followed me into adulthood. I was heavily involved in student government during college. During one contentious meeting at a retreat, frustrated, I got up to go smoke (a filthy habit, I know). This was allowed considering how long the meeting was going; people were taking breaks as needed. I walked quickly and with purpose (as I always do, a product of trying to make it from one class to the next without getting attacked in high school), hurrying outside to light a cigarette. The next thing I know the student body president—my boss, as her chief of staff— is outside chastising me for “storming out.” When I tried to explain that I simply needed a cigarette, she wouldn’t hear it, dressing me down for being so dramatic.

Even into the professional world, even in a big blue dot like Chicago, this attitude has prevailed. When I was in meetings with management at the corporate headquarters of a large American mortgage company, I often felt dismissed if I showed even a hint of emotion. One well-meaning boss, who herself could often be heard cussing and screaming from her desk, suggested that I “tone it down” a bit. Another not well-meaning—and to no one’s surprise, male—boss told me to “stop being a diva and stop complaining,” even though I was one of several employees—though the only gay man—raising concerns that day.

Learning to keep cool is an important skill for anyone of any background, because sometimes you can’t just fly off the handle—and sometimes you won’t want to. I’ll be the first to admit there have been times that I have let my emotions get the better of me, when people had every right to pull me aside and tell me to chill out. I think that’s happened to most of us. For many years, this was compounded by an undiagnosed anxiety disorder which I only discovered I had in my late twenties. But time and again, people have somehow linked my emotiveness with my sexuality, othering me in the process.

This is why it matters who gets to be emotive and who does not. Hillary Clinton famously had a similar problem in 2008, when she was first accused of being cold and unfeeling. When she did show emotion at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, she was pilloried for it. “ A common first instinct was to treat the episode as a ploy, a calculated effort to ‘humanize’ the candidate—an interpretation that depended heavily on its having been somehow staged or faked,” Hendrik Hertzberg wrote at the time in The New Yorker, “but the authenticity of Clinton’s emotion was apparent to anyone who took the time to study the many replays with an open mind…”

Hillary Clinton herself has addressed this double standard several times. In 2016, she told the viral photography project Humans of New York she “had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.” In her 2017 memoir What Happened, she rightly called this “another variant on the impossible balancing act” women must perform in order to show enough emotion to be quote-unquote likable while not showing so much that they’re thought of as quote-unquote shrill or overwrought. “If we’re too composed, we’re cold or fake. But if we say what we think without caution, we get slammed for it,” she writes. “Can you blame us for feeling like we can’t win, no matter what we do?”

I suspect the similar double standard experienced by Hillary Clinton and—it must be said, to a lesser degree—Pete Buttigieg is rooted in the same patriarchal, misogynist notions about how women and gay men behave. It’s why when a straight man gets angry, he’s “passionate,” when a gay man gets angry, he’s “dramatic,” and when a woman gets angry, she’s “hysterical.” This is further compounded by race, with tropes such as the “angry black woman” making it even more difficult for Black women specifically, and women of colour more generally, to be allowed space to have and show emotions without ridicule or prejudice. Black men, too, are often viewed as angry or violet where white men aren’t, as a 2017 American Psychological Association study reveals.

Homophobic, sexist, and racist double standards influence how we perceive people’s emotions and emotiveness. Mayor Pete never says why he can’t be as emotive as others, nor does he say who gets to be more emotive than he does. Zooming out from him and looking at the culture more broadly, though, it’s clear that in America, not everyone is equally free to express themselves. So long as stereotypes and double standards continue to affect who gets to show emotion and how that emotion is perceived, we should all remember that sometimes a candidate is guarded not because they aren’t passionate, but because they aren’t allowed to be.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.