Tag Archives: chicago

Thoughts from an empty office

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The author, on the day he was hired for his first mortgage job

I am sitting in my office right now. My desk is bare, only my laptop, my monitors, my phone, and a pineapple coffee mug full of ink pens left. I’ve taken most of my decorations down. Pictures of friends and family have been taken home. The mug my best friend’s daughter bought me for Christmas is packed away. Posters and prints and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree lean against a wall—the last remaining indication that this corner office in this old bank-cum-office-building was once occupied by Skylar Baker-Jordan.

I only worked here for just over a year. I started in June 2018. I will leave in September 2019. It’s the first time I’ve had my own office since I was Student Body Vice President in college. When I had that office—a small, cinderblock cell with fluorescent lights and cheap tile on top of concrete, I thought having an office like I have now—spacious, possibly the biggest in the building—would be a sure sign that I had made it. That I was successful.

I never imagined having an office like this would make me feel trapped.

As most of you know already, I am leaving North Carolina, a state I’ve only called home for 18 months. I put in my resignation at work two days ago after calling my grandparents and confirming that yes, as we discussed, I can move in with them in Tennessee. I’m going to apply for graduate school, try to make some money writing, and cross my fingers that I can figure out a way to find a career that brings me more joy than grief, which is a lot more than I can say for the mortgage industry.

I was never meant to be in mortgages. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2011 and started applying for any and every job I could find. Six weeks later, I had an interview at Guaranteed Rate, at the time billed as America’s fastest growing mortgage company. I thought it was for a position as a receptionist. I was 25, though probably as naïve as a 20-year-old, fresh from Kentucky and a very dark period in my life. I put on a tan suit jacket, pastel pink dress shirt, and teal tie—all of which I had picked up at a thrift store the week before the interview. I went over to my friend Sara’s apartment to print off my resume, which took longer than expected. Her then-boyfriend sped through the North Side so that I wouldn’t have to take the train (I couldn’t afford a cab). He dropped me off outside this giant brick warehouse which had been reclaimed as a loft-style office space.

It was cold inside, both in temperature and décor. I waited for a nice young woman—no older than me—from human resources to interview me. She explained that it wasn’t a receptionist position, but an interview to be either a sales assistant or an underwriting assistant. Which would I prefer? I had no idea what either of those things meant, but I knew I didn’t want to do anything with sales, and underwriting at least had the word writing in it, so I picked that. Later, a matronly middle-aged woman with a nasally Chicago accent interviewed me. She would later tell me she knew she would hire me the moment she saw me because of my outfit. I stood out, I was bold, and I was charming. I got the job.

That was eight years ago. This was all supposed to be temporary. But over the past eight years I have, but for one nine month exception when I actually launched my writing career, been employed in mortgages. I have risen from an underwriting assistant to a senior, seasoned processor. My loan-level knowledge is, if I do say so myself, profound. Ask me about FHA guidelines, or what Fannie will allow but Freddie won’t. I’m good.

I’m also desperately unhappy.

The only reason I stayed in mortgages as long as I did was because I lived in Chicago and didn’t want to leave. Even though Chicago itself brought me a lot of misery, I relished being in such a cultured and exciting place, and I loved my friends. But there was something else keeping me there, too—the fear of flunking out of the big city. I am a small-town boy from the hills of eastern Kentucky. There’s literally a song about how you never leave there alive. But I did. And my biggest fear was having to go back.

So I stayed in the mortgage industry so I could stay in Chicago. I didn’t want to leave. Leaving meant failure. I didn’t want to be a failure. Finding a writing job was hard, and I could never manage to save enough money to step out on faith and freelance full time. So I kept doing mortgages.

By the end of 2017, though, it became clear to me that I was not going to be happy staying in mortgages and that, at 31, the time had come to shit or get off the pot. I had a choice—try to make it as a writer, or embrace this career I had tripped into quite by accident which I loathed but which I was good and pays pretty well. It’s a choice a lot of us face: excitement or stability.

In 2011 I chose stability. I had been in college on and off for six years, finally graduating in 2010. I was working at a café, living with roommates in an apartment two doors down from my college campus, and dating a closeted fraternity boy. I was stunted. So when I left Chicago, I wanted to make it as a writer, but I also wanted to have a fucking income. My own apartment. A trip to London. A dog.

I got all but the dog. I have two cats instead. Don’t ask.

By 2017, I began to realize I had made the wrong choice. What I should have done when I left Kentucky is go to grad school, get my MFA, and figure out a plan from there. I didn’t do that. Instead I helped rich people buy their third house. For a socialist who believes property is theft, that felt like shit. For a Millennial who thinks healthcare is nice to have, it felt good.

For professional reasons I won’t go into here, by December 2017 it became clear that my job would no longer exist in six months. My boss and I sat down at an Irish pub across from our office that Christmastime and began discussing what we would both do next. He wanted to go to Guaranteed Rate, the company that had first hired but which had laid me off years before and from which I came to work for him. I wanted to be a writer. And so, we decided, that was what we would do.

And then my 16-year-old brother got hit by a bus. And he almost died. Moving to North Carolina was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. He needed me. Our mom needed me. Suddenly, leaving Chicago didn’t feel like failure. It felt like the only right choice. And so, I moved.

I stayed first at the Ronald McDonald House while my brother was still in hospital. When he was released, I stayed with my maternal grandmother. 1 June 2018 I moved into my loft apartment in downtown Jacksonville—a drab military town a few miles inland from the Atlantic. On 4 June of that year I started at my current job, deciding to stay in mortgages because the upheaval of moving and my brother’s accident was enough change for one year. Switching careers at that time seemed not only overwhelming, but also impractical. I was living life in a new town, and I needed to make money and connections quickly. So, here I am.

But over the past year or so, I have also found myself more unhappy and, frankly, more lonely than I have ever been. Processing mortgages in Jacksonville, North Carolina is not the life I want. It is not enough for me. It is not fulfilling. This is not a criticism of anybody for whom it is enough, or who likes this town, or who likes this industry. For some people, this is exciting stuff. For others, the money makes it worth the sacrifices and stress. But not for me.

Shortly after I moved here, I began rereading my high school journal. How hopeful I was. How eager. How I thought everything would be so easy. Seeing how 17-year-old Skylar though this life would turn out compared to how it actually had made me sad, but also angry. How had I wasted so much time? What did I have to show for my twenties except debt and a string of loser ex-boyfriends?

I started to think about what I want my life to be. I’m 33. I’m unmarried. I don’t have kids. The things people usually take comfort in when they realize their childhood dreams haven’t come true are not things I have. I come home to two ungrateful cats and a bottle of Jack Daniels. That’s it.

So I knew I had to make a change, and it was at that point I decided to go to graduate school. I wasn’t ready for the fall of 2019—I didn’t know how much my brother might still need, and I wasn’t sure I had enough money in the bank. So I decided to apply for fall 2020.

My brother has made almost a full recovery. He starts college himself this fall. In talking with my friends and family, I came to the conclusion that since he’s leaving, there is no reason for me to stay here in a town I don’t like and a career I don’t want. This job is stressful—more stressful than I can articulate. And frankly, it paid well enough in Chicago, but the pay here is shit. So, the decision was made to leave.

(I’ll talk more about how that decision was made at a later date, because it’s an interesting story. But it’s not one for now.)

I’ve spent eight years in an industry I hate because I was concerned about giving up the trappings of middle-class life, about being seen as a failure, and frankly, about failing. I’m terrified I won’t get into graduate school. I’m petrified I’ll never make it as a writer. I’m nervous about giving up my immediate financial independence and moving in with my grandparents, because as generous as their offer to support me during this transition period is, it’s still a massive sacrifice for me as much as them. (Okay, maybe not as much as them, as they’re footing the bill here.) To be completely honest, I’m absolutely shitting myself right now.

My decision to resign wasn’t spur-of-the-moment, but my decision to do it when I did was. Again, a story for another time. But despite my fears and insecurities and absolute utter fucking terror, it feels right. I’m more hopeful about my future now than I have been since I was 25. That’s something, at least.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer currently based in Eastern North Carolina. His work has appeared at Salon, HuffPost UK, The Independent, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @skylarjordan

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This Labor Day, organised labour is more important than ever

Image courtesy of Chicagology.

Image courtesy of Chicagology.

Picture it: Chicago, 1886. The soot, excrement, and brackish waves of Lake Michigan mingle as you walk through the smoky steel canyon that is the city’s industrial corridor. For months, you’ve been locked out of your job at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company factory, fighting for an eight-hour workday and better wages; you make $9 a week working 12 hour days.

You walk down Western Ave towards Blue Island. There August Spies, a local anarchist newspaperman and activist, encourages you to “hold together, stand by [your] union” if you hope to succeed. The strike, ongoing since February, has been largely peaceful, despite some heated altercations between your striking comrades and strikebreakers working the factories. The shrill bell tolls, its brassy ring indicating another workday over. You feel those behind you pushing forward, shouting angrily at the workers leaving their shifts. “Class traitors!”

You manage to step away from the shoving crowds, your boots sinking in the mud and muck. As you’re reconstituting yourself, rubbernecking to get a better look at what’s happening near the factory gates, you hear a bang. Then another. Screams of horror and anger fill the air as the police move in. Two of your coworkers have just been killed, gunned down by the police.

The next day, you make your way to the Haymarket, a square in the city’s central business district well known to the labour movement. A light rain dampens your clothes, but not your spirits. There, Spies and others give rousing speeches about the need for solidarity and action. Mayor Carter Harrison stops by, tips his hat at you, and heads home, noting nothing unusual.

The final speaker, a British socialist, is finishing his short speech when the police arrive, ordering the crowd to disperse. A loud boom. Screaming. Gunfire. More screaming. You cover your eyes, coughing as you choke on the toxic cloud produced by the bomb. When order is finally restored, eleven people—11 cops and four workers—are dead.

The following days and weeks see protests by organised labour in New York City, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, and throughout the world. 1 May becomes International Workers’ Day, except in America, where its associations with socialism and anarchy prompt campaigners to move the celebration to the first Monday in September.


This was the Haymarket Affair. In the ensuing trial and conviction, now widely condemned as a sham, would see four men, including Spies, executed. Though they may have died, the movement lived on. Labour historians consider the Haymarket Affair the genesis of the modern workers’ movement.

Today is Labor Day in the United States, a day traditionally seen as the last day of summer and featuring barbecues and picnics. Many people will go through today blissfully unaware of the struggles of our ancestors, who fought to ensure we had a fair shake and loud voice in our workplaces and in the market. Many of the perks modern workers have come take for granted—an eight-hour workday, overtime pay, vacation or holiday time, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave—are the result of decades worth of struggles and fights by labour activists, socialists, feminists, and others. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Yet the work is not over. Yesterday, The Independent reported on the British government’s plan to crack down on union organising and demonstrating. Liberty, Amnesty UK, and the British Institute of Human Rights have accused the government of “seeking to undermine the rights of all working people” in their plan to require striking workers to identify themselves to police and receive authorisation form the authorities before taking any industrial action. Considering anonymity in striking is what helps protect workers’ jobs and alleviate concerns of retribution, the proposed changes to trade union laws are a galling attack on the gains our foremothers and forefathers fought so hard to achieve.

In America, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has sparked a national conversation about maternity and paternity leave after refusing to take all she is entitled to under a company policy she herself implemented. American ranks at the bottom of the Western world for paid parental leave—as in we’re the only Western country that doesn’t require it.

The United States is also the only Western nation that doesn’t require employers to offer paid vacation. When they do offer it, many Americans won’t take the time, for fear of losing their jobs or being overlooked for a promotion or wage. Vacations are good for workers and companies, resulting in a recharged and reenergized workforce. Yet nearly 1-in-four Americans get no paid time off.

You’d think with all these extra hours, American incomes would be at an all-time high. Quite the opposite: Americans work longer hours and retire later than any of their Western counterparts, and for a much smaller share of the profits of their labour. In 2011, Mother Jones pointed this out in a biting indictment of an article. It was updated only a few days ago to show its relevancy remains. Though the authors tackle a number of topics, from speedups to offshoring, the most glaring fact is in just how much wealth we’ve redistributed to the top:

For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top: by 2009, the wealthiest 0.1 percent were making 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (adjusted for inflation). And just to further fuel your outrage, that 22 percent increase in profits? Most of it accrued to a single industry: finance.

Despite not reaping the fruits of their labour, GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush thinks we should work even longer. The average American in full-time employment is working 47 hours per week, reversing the historic victories the labour movement fought so hard to win, yet they are hardly seeing any of the reward.

We haven’t seen mass industrial actions in the United States like we’ve seen in the United Kingdom, where workers on the London Underground have walked out over the introduction of overnight train services. They fear this will result in longer hours for the same amount of pay, taking away from their hard-won work/life balance. The trade union movement has helped propel left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn to frontrunner status in the Labour Party’s leadership contest, despite changes to party policy designed to weaken their influence. And while the government continues to undermine and attack the unions, they remain an integral part of British industry.

Quite the different story here. The Huffington Post reports that union memberships are at historic lows, and lays the widening wealth gap squarely at the feet of anti-union legislation and policies. “Unions, whatever their failings, give workers more leverage to demand higher wages,” they write, pointing out that income inequality has grown as unions have disappeared. Right-to-work laws, a name which sounds good but masks its ugly true intentions, severely limit unions’ ability to collectively organise and negotiate.

Studies cited by Newsweek, which in May had an excellent analysis of how the assault on unions is hurting American workers suggest that since passing a right-to-work law Michigan has lost 48,000 union workers; nationwide, right-to-work has shrank union membership by nearly ten percent. But right-to-work laws aren’t just detrimental to unionised employees. They hurt non-union employees, too:

According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right-to-work states are 3.1 percent lower—or about $1,560 less per year—than those in states without right-to-work laws. The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percentage points lower in right-to-work states, and the rate of employer-sponsored pensions is 4.8 percentage points lower.

As unions continue to disappear, Groups like Fight for $15, which advocates raising the minimum wage, are seeing some successes at local and state levels, but they cannot replace the grassroots role local unions played in protecting and gaining workers’ rights. And as American workers continue to work more for less pay, the role of organised labour in this country is only growing in importance.


Picture it: Chicago, 2015. 129 years after the Haymarket incident sparked a global movement, the cradle of organised labour is run by a union-busting mayor who is pals with an outright anti-union governor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has routinely squared off against the Chicago Teachers Union, which along with the Amalgamated Transit Union locals, the Service Employees International Union, and other labour groups opposed his re-election this past spring.

Other unions, from pipe fitters to hospitality workers, backed the mayor. But with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican billionaire elected last November, backing right-to-work laws and actively declaring war on trade unions in the state, solidarity is more important than ever. One study suggests Illinois could lose 200,000 union jobs if Rauner gets his way, causing the state’s economic output to decrease by $1.5 billion.

Yet Robber barons such as Rauner and Emanuel continue to pursue these disastrous, unfair, classist policies. In Britain, the government continues its assault or organised labour even as the trade unions begin to fight back. Meanwhile Americans work harder and longer for less pay and benefits than their parents or contemporaries elsewhere in the industrialised world. From paid parental leave to the fight for a living wage, American workers continue to be exploited by big businesses making record profits off their backs.

This Labor Day, as we’re barbecuing and day drinking, it’s important to remember the women and men who earned us this day. But it’s even more important to recognise the ways in which corporatists in both this country and abroad are conspiring to undermine and erode workers’ rights.

Nearly 130 years is long enough. Our work has value. It’s time we’re treated like it.

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

Me, in the autumn of 2014

Me, in the autumn of 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have. And it’s done.

2014, fuck you. 2015, kiss me.

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.”

Chicago vs London: Round Two – Cityscape

It’s tough loving two cities. My London followers get annoyed when I live-tweet Blackhawks games (Jonathan Toews is my pretend boyfriend, after all). My Chicago followers get annoyed when I live-tweet Question Time. I miss so much about London, including Sloane Square, the KR and Soho. But I know there are so many things about Chicago I’ll miss when leave, like Logan Square (full disclosure: my home), the Mag Mile (or Magnificent Mile, aka Michigan Ave., for out-of-towners), and Boystown. Both cities are wonderful to call home, but which comes out on top? I’ve judged them like I’m Sharon Osbourne, and when it comes to a cityscape, only one can reign supreme. But which? Let’s find out. (That’s some lazy writing, but I’m tired and on beer number three, so it’s all I can muster. Sod off.)

Chicago!

Chicago!

1. Architecture. Merchandise Mart. The Gherkin. St Paul’s. St James’. The Willis Sears Tower. The Shard. Both cities are possess magnificent buildings, and I’ve been privileged to walk in the shadows and walk down the halls of many of them. Ever been on the floor of the House of Commons? Breathtaking. The history! The craftsmanship! The sheer grandeur! But I’ve also been to Robie House, amazed at the geometrical genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. Chicago is renowned for its architecture. Its skyline, jutting out of Lake Michigan’s shores like a mass of Gothic lighthouses, is one of the wonders of the world. And while we may lack the gravitas of London, where every corner you turn around something notable happened, our neighbourhoods are just as gorgeous as the Loop. I’ve been to Stoke Newington. Lovely neighbourhood. But architecturally, it doesn’t hold a candle to Logan Square. (Still, the view of London from Primrose Hill is a sight to behold.)

Score: Chicago 1 – 0 London

My feet. Kensington Gardens. 2013.

My feet. Kensington Gardens. 2013.

2. Parks/Greenspace: Londoners pride themselves on their parks, and rightly so. If you enter Kensington Gardens via the Queensway, you’ll find my favourite spot to read anywhere in the world. The thistle fields are breathtaking, and the way they scratch your soles in the hot summer sun can really touch your soul. Then there’s Hyde Park, St James’ Park, Hampstead Heath, and a plethora of neighbourhood parks. When you think of Chicago, you don’t think of greenery. But its aplenty. Our parks rival Paris, in particular the symetrically planned and imacuately pruned Grant Park and Lincoln Park, both of which have preserved the lakeshore in grandeur, harkening more to Marie-Antoinette than the Midwest. Our boulevards likewise invoke the Champs-Élysées, and we likewise have a wonderful community parks system. It’s a tossup, because again London has history on its side. However, Chicago has the lake and its beaches. With that, Chicago wins by a hair.

Score: Chicago 2 – 0 London

underground

3. Transport. I feel like Cinderella whenever I’m in London, because I have to leave the ball well before I’m ready, and usually before I’ve gotten Prince Charming’s number. Cabs are too expensive, and the Tube shuts down at dusk, it seems. Sure, London has great night buses, but that can make a 3 mile journey into an hour-and-a-half ordeal. Chicago, on the other hand, has two train lines (the Red and the Blue) which run 24 hours. Our cabs are affordable. And after our city burned to the ground, we were able to rebuild on a grid, making navigating easy. London carriages offer cushier seating, more space, and are, frankly, safer for standing passengers. It also has an iconic map and “Mind the Gap.” Of course, both London and Chicago have both sold their fare collecting souls to Cubic, so in this way are both screwed. Still, my Oyster card works. My Ventra card? Well, I’m lucky if I can get through the turnstyle after 35 tries.

Score: Chicago 2 – 1 London

London may have won in entertainment, but Chicago had its night tonight. There’s no denying; this city is gorgeous. It’s the most beautiful North American city, and a wonderful place to call home. From May through October, anyway. Now we’re halfway through November and I want to be anywhere but here. It’s freaking cold. But at least we don’t shut down for a little bit of snow. Just sayin’.

Overall score: Chicago 1 – 1 London

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

Like any good writer, I respect deadlines.

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

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

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

Just kidding. I never bore myself.

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

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

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

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

Chris Ramsey in all his Geordie sexiness.

Chris Ramsey in all his Geordie sexiness.

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

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

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

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

#barnsleyisbrill

#barnsleyisbrill

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

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

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