Tag Archives: 2021

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