Category Archives: Personal

Pints and Possibilities: The Curious American in London

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There comes a point in every trip to London where I begin wishing I were home. Not America home, but home home, I miss my shower, with its hard water, and my sofa and my bed. You know, creature comforts.

Obviously this won’t be a problem when I move here, and I actually imagine it’ll be the bigger things I miss, like being able to get a drip coffee at any coffeehouse, and not having the barista sneer when you request it. (Seriously, London, this isn’t Italy; get over your coffee snobbishness.)

I just noticed a young man at the table across from me wearing Crocs. I suddenly feel a lot less basic for drinking drip coffee.

So anyway, this trip is coming to a close, and for those of you who follow me on social media, you know that getting here was quite an Odyssey. I’ll chronicle that at a later date. Right now I want to focus on how it feels to be back in London, and shoot off some quick, unedited thoughts. This is a free write (much like my Ferguson blog), so don’t expect a polished piece. Just stick with me. I’ll get somewhere eventually. I always manage.

I want to be here. More than anything, I want to be here. But the here I want is changing. My hostel is in Brondesbury, a fairly middle-class area on the cusp of Zone 3, with brick row houses and little children in school uniforms crowding corners in the afternoon. It doesn’t remind me of Logan Square (my neighbourhood in Chicago), but does have a bit of a Roscoe Village feel to it. Very quiet, residential, with just enough restaurants and bars and pubs to keep things interesting but not enough that it’s somewhere you want to stay on your holiday. That is, unless you’re me, and you like your holiday to be basically like your workweek except without the work. We’ll come back to this thought.

So here I am in Brondesbury. An ambulance has just blared its sirens past the cafe. That’s happened a lot here, with both ambulances and police cruisers, so I reckon there must be a station nearby. I’m not far from the Kilburn Tube Station, so I can see commuters hurrying to and from. You can tell the ones who have somewhere to be-maybe a job interview, possibly a lunch date-because they keep bumping into the wicker chairs and metallic tables that this place uses to create some semblance of cafe culture. In London. In November.

But you can pop out there for a cigarette, so I’m not complaining.

I really like Brondesbury, actually. There’s a gorgeous tavern/pub right around the corner, fully restored. Looks Victorian, but may be Edwardian; I haven’t investigated the history. The staff is incredibly friendly, as are the patrons. I had some great conversations last night whilst waiting to go over to my mate Nick’s for Thanksgiving dinner. My favourite was the old man who didn’t understand why a Frenchman could move to the UK without question but an American couldn’t. I didn’t bother to explain. I just accepted the compliment of his righteous indignation.

I could see myself living here, or just down the road in West Hampstead or Finchley. This is pretty significant, because in the past, I couldn’t tell you where in London I would live. My stock answer was also a complete fantasy; there is no way I will ever afford property in SW3. So where in London I “belonged,” where I would call “home,” was always a bit of a mystery, even to me. Bloomsbury will forever have a part of my heart, being where I stayed back in 2007 whilst at UCL, but again, that’s a cheque I can’t cash. And whilst I’m not even sure I could comfortably afford to live in Finchley-London is so much more expensive than Chicago-it certainly feels more attainable.

Indeed, I’ve seen a lot of London this trip that I haven’t seen before. I went down to Richmond, and then to Twickenham, a couple different times. On my way back, I stopped off in Chiswick, though I was slightly disappointed to not bump into Donna Noble. It was an entire side of the city I had never explored, and though my time there was brief, it was enjoyable. (Not least because of the company.)

Twickenham, and indeed Richmond, feels a world away from Brondesbury, though. I loved it down there, full stop. Not as unattainably posh as Kensington and Chelsea, but posher than Brondesbury or Logan Square, Richmond was just lovely. Like Logan Square in Chicago, it felt more breathable than the rest of London, but unlike Logan Square, my host told me many people wouldn’t consider it properly London. Indeed, Twickenham in particular, but Richmond as well, did feel more suburban than Logan Square and certainly more suburban than the parts of London I’m familiar with, but suprisingly, I enjoyed that. I didn’t spend enough time there to pretend to be an expert, but from what I saw, it was a bit of a slower pace of life, a little more laid back, and a lot, lot quieter.

I had one of my best sleeps this year in Twickenham. That my bedmate was a fantastic big spoon was only part of that reason.

Yes, I met a man. Yes, I fancy him. Yes, I would love to see where things go. But no, he’s not putting a ring on it any time soon. I don’t even know if he’s that interested in me, and I know the whole transatlantic thing kind of freaks him out. It’s understandable. It should freak him out. It’s scary as hell.

I don’t want to talk too much about him, though, because he A) hasn’t really given me permission to put his life and our date(s) on full blast and B) he reads my work so I bet this is already a little awkward (hey, you told me my best work was the confessional stuff). But what I will say is that he’s lovely. And when he texts me I smile. And that he’s good in a crisis.

I will also say that it’s nice to be dating again, even if just for this week. I mean the fact that this bloke is a gem aside, it’s been genuinely fun getting to know someone, flirting, and going through the inevitable self-doubt of whether they like you like you like them. I’d forgotten how exciting and terrifying and wonderful and stressful this could be.

Dating is fun, but it’s also frustrating. How many times have we all had that amazing first date, where you think everything went swimmingly, only to find out they don’t want to see you the next day? In 2012 and 2013, that happened all the time in Chicago. Sometimes you can tell, and you set reasonable expectations. But sometimes, man, men are dicks.

I did a cost/benefit analysis of romance and decided that it just isn’t worth it. Not in Chicago. Not when it’s impossible to find men stateside who want to move to the UK. I’m focusing so much on my writing career, and finding a job in Britain, that I don’t have the time or the energy to date.

Except in London. In London I do. Because he’s already here. But you try finding a man who is ready to do a long-distance relationship. A quick fling with an American, sure. But commitment across continents? Nope. And I don’t blame them. It’s bonkers. And even I’m not the biggest fan of it, because the last thing I want is anyone ever thinking that I’ve married a man for citizenship. I had that opportunity five years ago and passed on it, because I want to marry for love, not a passport. And could you imagine his family and friends always questioning whether my motives were pure? Fuck me. I’d never be able to live with that.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to date men in Chicago because I want to be in London, which means I don’t date. But when I date in London it’s only for a few days, and finding something that lasts is incredibly unrealistic.

There’s an obvious solution to this, and you’re probably screaming it right now. “Skylar, just fucking move to London!” That would alleviate a lot of my concerns, wouldn’t it?

So I think I’m going to. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it, but I’m going to figure that out. It’s not going to happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen next year. But I’m going to figure out a way to get here. Everything I want is here. My future is here. My home is here. Somewhere, my husband is here too. But I’m not here. So I’ve gotta get me here.

Each time I’m in London I feel closer to moving here. But this time my resolve is rock solid. This time I truly feel as though I belong. The problem is I have no idea how to make this happen. It’s something that comes up time and time again. But if I’m being honest, I just don’t know. My most obvious option is marriage, but as I said before, that’s out of the question. Trying to find a job is my next best option, but it’s hard, and I have no distinguishable talent other than writing. And until my career takes off back in America, I’ve no chance of actually moving here.

So I’m stuck. I’m stuck in Chicago. I’m stuck in America. And I’m stuck on my own. I’ll get here. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll get here. I just… have no fucking clue how I’m going to make that happen.

But then, I’m the bloke who sold everything he had, bought a one-way bus ticket to Chicago, and never looked back. I figured that out. I’ll figure this out.

Watch this space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a good look.

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

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

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

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

I’m baaaaaaack (and clearly have no pithy title)

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So you’re probably wondering where I’ve been. That’s understandable. Ever since last winter, this blog has experienced a silence so deafening even Madame Kovarian would squirm.

Well, I’ve been busy. I started a new day job which, though still in mortgages, offers me less stress and more flexibility than ever did my last. I’ve been to Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee to see family, friends, and even a couple enemies. I got a free jeep. I’ve lost 15 pounds. I’ve planned a trip to London, and will be spending Thanksgiving in Britain, the irony of which is not lost on me. Indeed, it’s irony which compelled me to choose that date.

But perhaps the biggest change in my life has been that the Columnist, a wonderful up-and-coming site I had the privilege of contributing to, has shut down. I’ve spent the last few weeks regrouping. I wasn’t the most active contributor, but it was through the Columnist that I’ve seen some of my biggest successes to date.

Okay, those pieces were actually my only successes to date. Since we last spoke I’ve pitched, or attempted to pitch, to sites as varied as PinkNews, CNN, and the Advocate, all of which proved fruitless. I had writers and friends, all of whom I admire, encouraging me along, and attended the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s conference in August, which was a decent networking event and redoubled my resolve to make this career happen. But it also made me realise that I’ve got much further to go than I thought, not just to get to where I want, but to have the capability of getting there.

When you pitch, and pitch, and pitch, and hear nothing back, not even a rejection, it’s not just incredibly frustrating, but incredibly demoralising. David Bell, Molly McCaffrey, and the WKU Creative Writing department told me as much as a young 21 year old aspiring writer, and they also told me that I’d pitch a thousand times before anything came of it. But what they couldn’t prepare me-or any aspiring writer-for is actually coping with the rejection and dejection. It fucking sucks. Every time I pitched to a magazine or website, only to see another piece over the same topic published a week later, I questioned my own ability, my own talent, and my own voice.

Maybe it was time to give up the ghost.

It was with that in mind that I returned home a couple weeks ago. One of my close friends from university was getting married, and her wedding became something of a sorority-plus-Skylar reunion. Seeing her so deeply in love, as well as seeing a couple other old friends with their loving spouses, content in their lives, made me long for whatever it was they had. It’s no secret that I’ve got some fucked up Disney fantasies, where Prince Charming sweeps me off my feet and we live happily ever after in Chelmsford or Chiswick or Croydon, playing out a queer version of Keeping Up Appearances, with me starring as a sort of Guyacinth Bucket. We’d adopt a couple kids, or have a couple on the NHS, whichever was simpler and cheaper and pissed off Roger Helmer more, and he’d work in the City by day as I baked pies and organised fêtes for little Gareth’s primary school.

Of course that would involve me actually finding a British man, which probably requires me being in Britain, which I’m not. I’m in Chicago. But I could easily adapt that fantasy to meet North American specifications. Instead of Chelmsford or Chiswick or Croydon, it could be Wilmette, Winnetka, or Warrenville. Instead of little Gareth, we could have little Gavin, and instead of playing proper football, he could play American football. (No. I have to draw a line somewhere.) Life could be just as idyllic, if not as ideal.

The point is, I could start living for today, instead of dreaming for tomorrow. I could begin living in Chicago, instead of existing in Chicago. So for about a week after coming home, I embraced all things American. I ate a lot of pumpkin shit, cos I’m white and it’s fall. I listened to a lot of country music, cos I’m white and it’s fall. I started driving my jeep to work, cos, well, you get the picture.

I didn’t write. I didn’t tweet. I actually skipped an episode of Question Time, and only felt slightly guilty. It was liberating. Maybe I could be okay with this. Maybe I could be an assistant for the rest of my life, working in this office with good people. Maybe I’d meet a nice Chicago boy and settle down on some Midwestern Wisteria Lane, and live out an all-American existence. Maybe contentment was all I could, and even should, hope for.

It felt good, not living under the constant pressure to produce, to write, to pitch, to be published.

It felt good to not constantly be thinking about life in London, but living life in Chicago.

It also felt disconcerting. My entire adult life has been dedicated to moving to Britain, and the past year has been dedicated to being a writer. Giving that up felt like, in some way, giving up a big part of my identity. I’m that Anglophile kid who, in the words of my best friends, “loves England and will tell you about it.” I’ve made Britain part of my character, and while giving that up temporarily was relieving, it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel authentic.

That’s been a massive part of the problem over the past year. I haven’t felt authentic. The stiff analyses I’ve tried offering on the Columnist and on my Twitter feed have been cogent, if not always fresh, but they’ve also been stuffy, and to some degree derivative. They’ve been stiff, formal, and a bit pompous, all of which I’m not.

And my problem has been just that. I’ve been pretending to be someone other than who I am. I’m sick of pretending that I’m a columnist, and not just a boy with a blog. I’m sick of pretending that I’m some uptight intellectual. I’m sick of pretending that I don’t live in Chicago, which while I’ve never done in my writing, I’ve definitely done in my head. I’m sick of pretending that things aren’t shitty, but I’m also sick of pretending things aren’t better than they were.

And that’s where I’ve been. That’s where I’m at. Like last year, when I came back to blogging, writing, tweeting, and pitching, I’m at another pivotal moment in my development as a writer. See, this used to be fun, but at some point in the last few months, writing became more of a chore. And every time I was attacked for expressing an intersectional opinion, or threatened with a lawsuit for calling out homophobia, it became less fun and more terrifying. Every time I pitched and heard nothing back, or had a hit piece written about me, it became less fun and more annoying. Every time I scrapped an entire piece because I felt it wasn’t good enough to go anywhere, it became less fun and more disheartening.

I want writing to be fun again. I can say that because it’s not my job. Writing doesn’t pay my bills. Maybe one day it will, but right now it doesn’t. It shouldn’t bring me more stress, it should be a way to de-stress.

So that’s where I am, and that’s how I’m treating it. I’m not going to beat myself up, or let others beat me up, over writing anymore. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to be me. I’m going to say shit that pisses people off and give zero fucks while I do it. I’m going to blog, and not pitch, and if people want to read this little site, fine. If they don’t, whelp, I’ve always got mortgages.

I’m going to keep looking at ways to move to the UK. I’m going to keep thinking about graduate school. But I’m also going to live life in Chicago. I’m going to eat deep dish pizza. I’m going to cheer for the Blackhawks (though not their racist mascot). I’m going to start dating again, not hold off for the perfect British man. He may not exist. Or he may be living in Lincoln Park. Who the fuck knows?

Point is, I’m done putting pressure on myself. I’m done trying to find a niche. I’m done with the way I’ve been doing this. I’m going to start blogging. I don’t know what about. Whatever tickles my fancy. And I’m going to update as often or as little as I like. Because this needs to be fun. This needs to be irreverent. This needs to be enjoyable. This needs to be about me.

I’m coming back. Watch this space.

Those Who Do Not Learn From History: I’m coming out (as depressed)

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Disclaimer: this is a deeply personal post in little to no way related to politics or media. If you don’t care about my personal life, I completely understand. I haven’t cared much about my personal life lately, either. I promise the witty, snide blogs about British culture and politics will return. I mean, I can’t pass up the gift Sally Bercow just handed me, can I?

You’re probably wondering where I’ve been. Or not. I imagine the majority of you who read my blog don’t care enough about it to actually be like “gee, I wonder where that cheeky Yank went?” To those five people, fuck you. To the other 3 people, your concern is noted and much appreciated.

The fact is, 2014 hasn’t started off easily for me. But to really understand what’s going on in my life, you have to go back six years.

The last six months or so of 2007 had been eventful, to say the least. If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m rabidly obsessed with your country a bit of an Anglophile. That July, I made my first trip to the UK. I met a charming Englishman, had a whirlwind affair, and realised that yes, God really did intend for me to live in His own country. (Hence my love of Barnsley.)

I came home to spend a sultry summer “front porch sittin’,” as we called it down south, strumming acoustic guitars, smoking cigarettes and drinking keg beer. I rushed a fraternity, which for your Brits means I went through the formal process of recruitment to join the secret society of binge drinkers. In the end, I didn’t get a bid, which means I wasn’t invited to join.

This was crushing. I burst into tears when I found out, wanting so desperately to be a part of those brotherly bonds. I had made such good friends over the course of the summer, friends in that fraternity, and I hated the idea of losing them. I hated the idea of not belonging with the people I felt I belonged with.

Around this same time, I befriended and began unofficially mentoring a young teenager from the high school academy on campus. I took on something between a big brother and paternalistic role, listening to his problems and concerns and doling out advice while scolding him for Facebooking in class and sneaking off campus. I listened as he told me of his loneliness, his sadness, and his confusion.

That young man died in December.

I rang in 2008 at my house with two friends and YouTube videos.

Reeling from the rejection of being denied a bid and the death of someone dear to me, I began leaning hard on an old friend called Jim Beam. A lot. Like every night. But it’s college, so people do that, right? Of course. Let’s go to Froggy’s, cos it’s Sunday Funday. Let’s go to Aurora’s, it’s Mardido Monday. Let’s go to B-Dubs, it’s two-for-Tuesday. Let’s go to Tidballs, it’s only $1 on Wednesday. Thursday is basically the weekend and you have to drink on Friday and Saturday. It’s in the Bible or the Constitution or something. ‘murica.

Somehow, between drunken comas and through the haze of cigarette smoke, I was convinced to run for Administrative Vice President. I had been involved in student government, the American equivalent of a British student union, since my first semester. I had risen through the ranks to eventually hold a cabinet position as the president’s chief-of-staff, which was appointed. It would be nice to win a student body office, I thought.

The campaign was bitter and got deeply personal, and I ultimately lost, appealed the decision because of election irregularities, and lost that, too, becoming the Al Gore of Western Kentucky University.

I watched my peers graduate without me, knowing good and well that I should be walking the line with them. I had taken off a semester of college at that point, and would subsequently sit out two more, but seeing people my age finish in the requisite four years affected me in a very profound way. I felt like a failure for not marching with them, and it proved a massive blow to my self-confidence. I was jealous of them for having degrees, for getting married, getting jobs, and for leaving the one-horse town we called home. I wanted out. Out of college. Out of Kentucky. Out of America.

But I said congratulations as I smiled in the photos.

Then I went to the bar. They played Alan Jackson. He reassured me it was, in fact, 5 o’clock somewhere and that there was no problem that didn’t have a solution at the bottom of a bottle.

Or, as it turns out, the bottom of a carton of ice cream. While binge drinking was a new, adult way to escape-or at least numb-reality, binge eating was something I’d been doing since I was a child. I ordered pizza every night, was on a first name basis with the waitress as the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, and would drive next door from my apartment to Burger King, where I got two large orders of everything, please. Yes, I want fries with that.

Onion rings, too.

My grades began slipping. I found it hard to get up in the mornings, staying up all night obsessing over the coverage of Proposition 8. I single-handedly waged a war in the comments section of every article I read, defending gay rights from the Mormon bigots, leaving greasy fingerprints on the “f” and “u” keys between slices of pizza.

One of the bright spots of this very dark time was that, on a whim, I took a basic creative writing course. By the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Finding a passion didn’t make me passionate, though. I didn’t have the energy to be passionate about anything.

Leaving the house itself became a chore, even to go to the bar. I couldn’t find the wherewithal to be around people, preferring nights spent at home in the glare of my monitor.

I was embarrassed of all my fast food and alcohol consumption, so I ate only in my room, which remained locked any time I wasn’t home. I’d only take the rubbish out when I knew for certain both my flatmates were out. That wasn’t often. Piles of litter quickly rose, as did the number on the scale.

I gave myself a couple very bad haircuts.

By the time I moved out of that apartment, having failed a couple classes and alienated most of the people around me, I had gained 50 pounds.

Eventually, I moved out of that apartment and into one closer to campus with a friend of mine, next door to four other close friends. This proximity to people I loved and who loved me helped coax me out of my shell and get me back on track. I started going to the gym again, and because I sold my car, walking everywhere. I lost the weight I’d gained and graduated in May of 2010.

Okay, okay, I hear you. What the fuck does all of this have to do with my absence for the last month? To know that, you’d have to know what’s been happening in my personal life.

Contrary to what some of you think, writing is not my job. I hope to make it my career, but it’s not my job. It certainly doesn’t pay my bills. When I moved to Chicago, I took an entry-level job at a mortgage company. Twice promoted in the first eight months, I thought I’d make a living processing and closing mortgages for the rest of my life.

I should have fucking known better. Do you have any idea how goddamn boring mortgages are? Or how douchey corporate America is? In fact, much like the fraternity I rushed, big corporations are pretty much the antithesis of everything I support. In my mind, they’re of the devil, full of rich fat cats who will exploit their employees to make a quick quid or fast buck, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this from. Beyond that, though, is the sheer dictatorial structure a corporation inherently needs to run efficiently. Mussolini made the trains run on time, and I’m fairly certain if given the chance, Amtrak and National Rail would use his tactics to ensure the same.

The public might be okay with that, actually.

But I made great friends and decent money, two things I desperately needed and frankly hadn’t had in some time. Working at a corporate headquarters that was heavily staffed by Millennials was a bit like going to work at Glastonbury: loads of booze, loads of sex, loads of drugs, and loads of mudslinging all before noon. The music was shit, too.

Flash forward two years, and I’m not quite as happy about that. In fact, I’m fucking miserable. An old friend of mine, once of the girls who helped me out of the last depression, had since moved to Chicago and become a flight attendant. She invited me to use her benefits and fly back to London with her. I jumped at the chance to return, and spent a glorious week getting good and sloshed with mates in Soho, making out with a very cute economist, meeting a Tory MP, touring the House of Commons, and having one unforgettable night where I proved that, no matter what continent I’m on, I will find the one curious straight guy in the place and bring him back to mine.

Forget gaydar. I’ve got 20/20 bisight.

I would have married him that night, had he asked. Not since the end of Love Actually had Heathrow seen as many tears as the day I left London.

Sitting on my front porch the afternoon my plane landed, in a city a week before I was in love with, I knew it was time to break up with Chicago. Like Carrie sleeping with Big, I had cheated on my Aidan; unlike Carrie, I knew that it could never again be the same.

But just like Carrie, I didn’t realise what a giant dick Aidan could be.

In September, I lost the election my job in the second round of redundancies that had begun just before I left for holiday. For the first time since moving to Chicago, I found myself unemployed. I drank a case of PBR beer (I’m sorry, there really is no British equivalent), and quickly picked myself up. London had provided perspective. I wasn’t happy in a corporate job, I wanted to write. So I launched this blog after Peter Hitchens pissed me off.

But writing still wasn’t paying the bills, and if Benefits Street has taught us anything, it’s that we’re supposed to hate ourselves when on jobseekers’ allowance. To numb this self-loathing, I turned back to my old war buddies, Captain Morgan and Colonel Sanders. Together, we fought a battle I had yet to realise I was waging.

My great grandmother died. It wasn’t unexpected, but the funeral was back in my grandfather’s ancestral hometown in Tennessee. I couldn’t afford to go, which was gutting.

I found a job within a month, though, at the corporate headquarters of another bank here in Chicago.

I took the job without hesitation, but immediately expressed reservations to my friends. It’s another soulless corporate gig, I lamented, complete with florescent lights, stale coffee and men who think paisley ties are acceptable. This time, though, instead of an office culture dominated by young, single, ambitious people, I was in an environment dominated by middle-aged women who exchanged recipes with and disdain for one another, all under the guise of cuisine and collegiality.

The job was tedious and menial, but the salary was okay, and it was a short-term gig. In the meantime, I parted ways with that old friend who invited me to London, because frankly, we hated one another. The only time I recall being more miserable in someone’s presence was when I encountered Fred Phelps in the lobby of a suburban DC hotel.

To be fair, the feeling was clearly mutual in both instances.

As autumn gave way to what is the worst winter in memory, I began to find it hard to leave the house. I chalked it up to the cold and a cold I contracted in mid-December. But I managed to throw a smashing ugly sweater party and have a warm and lovely Christmas surrounded by the family that adopted me when I moved here.

I rung in 2014 at my house with a friend and Vine videos.

The Polar Vortex happened soon thereafter, freezing Lake Michigan and any resolve I had to keep trucking along. I caught another virus.

I lost another job.

This time I didn’t pick myself up. I once again barricaded myself in my apartment. I found it hard to get up in the mornings, staying up all night obsessing over the coverage of the Amanda Knox verdict. I single-handedly waged a war on Twitter, defending American Constitutional rights from the European press, leaving greasy fingerprints on the “f” and “u” keys between slices of pizza.

Starting to sound familiar, innit?

Once again, I’m depressed

I knew it when I was told I’d been sacked. I felt nothing. There was no anger. No sadness. No shock. No righteous indignation. Not even relief that I wouldn’t have to listen to menopausal Gretchen Weiners tell me how ungrateful and lazy her best friend, menopausal Regina George, truly is.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care; intellectually, I knew this was very, very bad. I knew that I had no plan. I knew that I might not get my jobseeker’s allowance back, because being sacked is very different than being made redundant. And I knew that finding a job in this economy is like finding a millionaire who loves you; no matter how much you hate him, you stick around cos money.

But none of it mattered at the time, and honestly, it doesn’t matter now. For you see, losing that job meant losing any motivation. It was a daily struggle, but I could still get myself out of bed in the morning, even if I wasn’t doing my makeup and fixing my hair. I could still tweet pithy lines about Ed Balls. Katie Hopkins still pissed me off.

Losing my job meant I lost everything. I started eating even more. I stopped cleaning, my apartment once again becoming littered with empty McDonald’s bags and cola cans. I walked around like a zombie, indulging in marathons of the Golden Girls or Law and Order: SVU, anything to pass the time. I didn’t have the energy to leave the apartment, locking myself in for most of the past four weeks. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay my February rent, but I found it impossible to muster any concern.

I cut my own hair again. It looks about as awful as you imagine.

And I’ve gained 50 pounds. Maybe more. I won’t step foot on a scale.

My rent did get paid, though, thanks to a little bit of unexpected money and a contribution from a couple family members I know would prefer to remain anonymous. As of the time I’m writing this, any jobseekers’ allowance I’d receive (which by the way should be paid out by the company which made me redundant back in September, as I haven’t drawn the majority of that) is frozen, as a “determination is pending.”

The last time this happened to me-the last time I was depressed-it took a change of seasons, a new apartment, and the love and near-constant companionship of my friends to pull me out of it. I was first diagnosed with depression in the winter of 2009, though as my therapist and I at the time discussed, and as explained here, the roots of that depression set in long before then. I suspect the same is true now. I can look back to this time last year and see the signs starting to appear, though I didn’t recognise them at the time.

I don’t blame anything that’s happened to me, from being made redundant to the death of my great-grandmother to the end of a friendship or being sacked, for my depression. While those events certainly didn’t make life any easier, and may have contributed to deepening my depression, it’s clear to me that I was at the very least entering a state of depression before any of that occurred.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time. I don’t know. Unfortunately for me, the last time I was depressed, I stopped attending my sessions before we really rooted it all out. This time, I don’t have medical insurance and I certainly don’t have the money to seek therapy.

I also don’t have the luxury of my friends being there to rouse me from my apartment or pay for a coffee. That was college; this is life. We all have commitments, spouses, careers.

I’m on my own.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford March rent. In a lucky coincidence, my lease is up at the end of February, and I’ve yet to renew. I’m debating whether or not I should. If I don’t, I’m moving into my grandparents’ spare room in Tennessee, 600 miles away from the life I now know. That might be for the best, as I truly believe it was only the constant warmth and reassuring love I received from my girlfriends that pulled me out of this the last go-round.

But I’m cautiously optimistic. The fact that I’m even able to write this, that I have the energy, focus, and drive to publish a blog, tells me things are going in the right direction. I’m now applying for jobs, trying to find something-anything-to help me land on my feet. As several friends have reminded me, I am nothing if not resilient. “Somehow, out of everyone I know, you always end up on your feet,” my best friend said. Another friend called me a “fighter.”

“Giving up isn’t an option for you,” she said, “even when you feel it might be. I know that much about you for sure.”

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2013

naughty and nice

It’s Christmas Eve, which means Santa’s making his rounds. While I expect coal-and hopefully some condoms-in my stocking, not all of us have been quite so naughty this year. With that, I revive a holiday tradition, and give you my naughty and nice list for 2013!

naughty

5. Katie Hopkins

Whether calling X Factor winner Sam Bailey “a fat mum in a tracksuit,” expressing her belief that Scots will do “anything to avoid working until retirement,” or slagging off ginger children as “harder to love,” this may well be Katie Hopkins’ naughtiest year yet-and that’s saying something. Despite a litany of inane ramblings throughout 2013, it was her controversial classist statement that she wouldn’t let her children play with other kids called “Chardonnay” or “Tyler” because their names imply a working class background which propelled her from annoying gadfly to unbearable git. Maybe I’m just taking this personally, as I am a chubby gay ginger called Skylar, but seriously, I need her to sod off in 2014. As that’s unlikely to happen-she’s tipped to enter the Big Brother house next month-I think I’ll just get a tattoo to spite her. Maybe one of Russell Brand.

4. Russell Brand

Just kidding, that man’s a dick. I mean, I know you did a lot of drugs Russell, but Ozzy Osbourne is more coherent and decipherable. This year’s verbal masturbation champion, Russell Brand has suggested a revolution of…? He’s rambled on and on about the need to have a banker-bashing orgy and the needlessness of voting, but here we are at Christmas Eve and I’m still waiting for his point. His talk is pretty and makes you feel good, but much like the Justin Bieber blow-up doll, there just isn’t much depth.

3. Justin Bieber

Speaking of the Biebs, much like his inflatable doppelgänger, he needs to take a seat. Seriously boy, what have we done to you? The first time I ever heard of Justin Bieber he was 3 years old talking to Chelsea Handler. That’s where it began. Nothing good can come from talking to Chelsea Handler. And then we let Usher raise him, and look what happens. From pissing in a bucket while sneaking out of a restaurant to visiting Brazilian brothels to playing naked guitar for his gran, it’s been a bit of a year for Justin. His worst act, though, was by far stepping on the Blackhawk head. Unless you’re a Chicagoan, you won’t get this; if you are a Chicagoan, don’t let the reminder ruin your Christmas. This boy needs to check it before he wrecks it.

2. Robin Thicke

Another man who needs to check something-his privilege-is Robin Thicke, the End Violence Against Women’s coalition Sexist of the Year. The only acceptable “blurred lines” are the ones the cops will likely make me walk tonight after my eighth eggnog. I just can’t.

1. That guy who kissed me by the Serpentine under a pale moon

😉

nice

5. Tom Daley

He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? I mean seriously, how can you not just want to give this kid a pat on the back (or the bum)? Sure, he didn’t cure cancer-another LGBT kid did that-but in coming out, Tom not only gave hope to countless kids around the world, but blazed the trail for other high profile LGBT athletes to follow. Make all the jokes you want about diving being the second gayest sport in the summer Olympics (after gymnastics, duh), but sport is rife with homophobia, and Tom’s decision was makes him one brave little toaster.

4. Kellee Terrell

Journalist. Activist. Filmmaker. Kellee is a jill-of-all-trades, and has done so much in the past 12 months to further causes of social justice. Her short film, Goodnight My Love, takes a nuanced look at the last few minutes of a black lesbian couple in a zombie apocalypse, which in itself is awesome enough to land her on this list. But beyond this, her outspoken advocacy for HIV awareness has helped further break the stigma of the disease, and her unwavering support as an LGBT ally has helped shed light on the plight of queer people of colour. Kellee is the only person on either list who I can also claim as a personal friend, having met her at an Oscar viewing party last winter, and her wisdom, guidance and encouragement have been instrumental in my return to writing. I can’t thank her enough.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

God I just love this woman. She’s a feminist. She’s from Kentucky. I mean we’re practically besties right there. But seriously, Jennifer Lawrence has been eschewing conventional stardom for something with substance, taking on Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne for tearing into women’s appearances and telling the Guardian it should be illegal to call someone fat on tv. She’ll say what she wants, do what she wants, eat what she wants, and no shits are given. I fucking love her.

2.The British Twittersphere

You lot. Nothing sums up my experience on Twitter better than the time Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny teamed up to take down transphobic tweets. My followers aren’t many, but they’re proper quality, and my return to commentating on British life and politics has been met with a warm welcome home. Despite being an American and living in Chicago, y’all have welcomed my input and opinions as valid and, in some cases, worthy, never dismissing me or critiquing my imperial American privilege. I’m well aware that a foreigner constantly commenting on your politics can seem condescending and presumptive, but you have willingly engaged me and encouraged me. As one follower said, and I’m paraphrasing, “you know so much about what’s going on I forget you’re not here!” It’s tweets like this that make getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the British morning news cycle worth it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

1. Caroline Criado-Perez

Whilst my followers are cracking, the same can’t be said for all the Twittersphere. For her resilience and sheer tenacity, Caroline Criado-Perez is the nicest of the nice this year. When the Bank of England decided women weren’t worth £5, Caroline led the campaign to keep a woman on banknotes-and to officially recognise the contributions of women throughout British history. Owen Jones has called her “a brilliant fighter,” which might well be the understatement of 2013. Caroline has put up with threats of rape and violence all year, but her voice is louder and clearer than ever before. When Caitlin Moran organised a “twitter silence” to protest, she acknowledged the show of solidarity but said that she would not be silenced by anyone. A true role model to all of us campaigning for social justice, Caroline has inspired me beyond most anybody this year.

I hope you made Santa’s nice list, and that all your Christmas wishes come true. To all of my readers, both here and at The Columnist, I wish you nothing but joy this Yuletide season. Thank you for making my return so rewarding. See you in 2014!

All I want for Christmas is views: Skylar’s 2013 Christmas List

Santa-Wish-List

Santa baby, slip a visa under my tree for me. I’ve been an awfully good boy. Santa baby, so hurry down my chimney tonight.

If you think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed, you’re pretty much left with Ed Balls and Phil from EastEnders, and even that’s questionable considering my blackout night in Soho this summer. But all things considered, I’ve been incredibly well behaved this year, and I think Father Christmas ought to recognise and pay up. So, in the grand tradition of Eartha Kitt, Kelly Clarkson, and the cast of TOWIE, here’s my grown-up Christmas list.

  1. David Cameron to reclaim the middle ground – I supported the Conservatives at the 2010 election because I thought David Cameron was a new type of Tory. Admittedly, it was against every political instinct I had-a lifelong Democrat here in the States, I naturally lean towards the left. Still, I’m shy on socialism, and bought into the One Nation schmalz. Cameron has lurched further to the right than a drunk American driving the M25. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and I am now left with nothing but crow for Christmas dinner. It is my hope that in 2014, Mr Cameron will bring back the Tories I believed in four years ago.
  2. BBC America to get its act together – Seriously, how many episodes of Top Gear and Star Trek can one man be expected to suffer through? Their programming is nothing but Jeremy Clarkson and Klingons, two things so similar it often feels like a marathon of pure evil. So many amazing programmes are shown on the BBC in the UK, yet we’re lucky if we get a fortnightly episode of Luther here in the US. Where’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You, and my beloved Hebburn? How am I supposed to get my Chris Ramsey fix. Which reminds me…
  3. Chris Ramsey – in all his Geordie glory. I’d like him wrapped in a pretty bow underneath my tree, where we will pretend to be a Lady Gaga Christmas carol. Woof.

    Oh Chris, you're making me blush!

    Oh Chris, you’re making me blush!

  4. A follow from Caroline Kent – Seriously girl, what gives? You’re the funniest Brit I follow. I’m a charming gay American. We’re a match made in Chelsea. I’m not asking you to a slumber party, though if you’re keen, I have a subscription to Netflix, a couple bottles of red and a mani-pedi kit. Just throwing it out there.
  5. Nigella to claim victory on The Taste – I don’t expect Brits to be familiar with this American programme, but think of it as The Great British Bake Off meets the The Voice. Four celebrity chefs mentor contestants and then judge in a blind taste test to see who made the best dish. Nigella finished abysmally in the first series, but considering her recent tribulations, I’d very much like to see her win. There’s no sweeter cook on the planet. Personal life aside, the woman is an amazing chef, and I hope she assembles a terrific team in 2014. I’d like to see her come out on top. Think of how smug she could be the next time she sees that bastard Saatchi. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and knowing Nigella, garnished with strawberries and a chocolate glaze.
  6. For Nicole Scherzinger to come home – Okay, this is more of a selfless wish for y’all, cos we don’t want her, either. Actually, that’s mean. And a lie. For Christ’s sake, anyone who can clap, weep or dance through every single X Factor performance deserves our respect. This is a woman who sees the best in everyone, and we we miss her. Nicole, love, you’ve been in London long enough. Baby, please come home. If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night.

    Nicole, you're my only wish this year.

    Nicole, you’re my only wish this year.

  7. For Simon Cowell to go back to Britain – X Factor USA is an unmitigated disaster. Give up the ghost, buddy.
  8. Tom Daley to live happily ever after – He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? Has there ever been a more humble, more honest 19 year old celebrity? I don’t think so. Admittedly, I never gave twinkalicious Tom much thought. But this cheeky little bugger illustrates the straightforward snide I admire about your country. Since he’s come out, Tom has shown, like much of the UK, he’s blessed with the gift of banter. I love it. I want nothing but he best for this kid.
  9. For Christmas crackers to become a thing in America – They seem so fun! I’m still not quite sure how they work, but I want to pull something other than Chris Christie apart and get candy and a glib joke.nochristmascrackers
  10. An England World Cup victory – Relax. It’s a Christmas wish list, not a kidnapper’s list of demands. A boy can dream.

Understanding that postage is expensive and the Atlantic Ocean wide, I will gladly accept cash and gift cards in lieu of any of the above. If you insist on getting me something not on this list, I look best in blue, prefer things not made by little hands, and only wear white gold or platinum.

As I await the arrival of the many presents you’re sure to send, I will wish you all a very merry Christmas. While it’s unlikely I’ll get anything on my list, I hope you get everything on yours.

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

anglophile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Britain? Because it’s great.