*Channelling Sophia Petrillo*: “Picture it. Orlando. 2011.” I had retreated back to Florida after seven hellish years in New Jersey, a desperately unhappy experience from which I was only just beginning to recover. Immediately upon my arrival back down south, I moved in with my sister and her new husband, who welcomed me with open arms…. but in retrospect I guess that’s probably not how a married couple wants to spend their first few months of matrimony together? Yikes. I kinda feel badly about it now, but it’s a #sorrynotsorry sort of feeling, because reconnecting with and spending so much time with my sister over those next few months was a ridiculous amount of fun, and, I think, an important part of the healing that I needed to do.
What with the urgent sense of relief for having escaped a nightmarish relationship, and the obligationless existence of living rent-free for a spell, I had a lot of time on my hands for reflection. Examining my choices, the mistakes I made, and the lessons I learned from them, and all of the possibilities going forward. As part of this process of self-reflection, I’d often spend evenings perusing my sister’s bookshelves, selecting titles from motivational authors and self-help gurus such as Louise L. Hay or Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, or sometimes even SARK, and skimming the pages at random, looking for thoughts or phrases that resonated with me, and which I might implement that day. Inspirational bibliomancy, I suppose. My sister is a mental health professional and while it’s probably not ethical to talk about what she does, I will mention that she works in a rough area of town, in a challenging environment, and with kids who have just about every disadvantage you can imagine. While living with her for that short amount of time and hearing the horror stories and the heartbreak she deals with on a daily basis, I grew to admire her strength and capabilities more than ever. She is an amazing woman, and if educating myself with selections from her small library of positive thinking and self love could help me achieve even half of her resilience and optimism, then perhaps this was an interest worth nurturing.
Five months later I had moved out and was living on my own again, and between the craziness of getting settled back in at work and the budding of a new relationship, I had mostly forgotten the wise words and sage advice of the life coaches and guides from my sister’s shelves. No doubt I could have used the encouragement and support, though, as I was still working through a lot of intensely personal stuff. I was perpetually angry and morbidly dwelling about all the time and energy and youth I had wasted up north. I was legitimately terrified that my past would continue to haunt me in both metaphorical and terrifyingly literal ways. Sometimes these thoughts paralysed me. I frequently found myself in front of my computer, in the middle of the workday, feverish tears streaming down my face, my throat convulsing with soundless screams. (Thank god I worked from home.)
It was one of these afternoons when I took a deep breath, calmed myself, and decided that I needed a fucking break. On a whim, I navigated to Youtube and for some weird reason, in my recommended viewing queue was the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie, in its entirety. I’m still not sure why I even clicked play on the video; although as a child of the eighties, I was of course familiar with He-Man and his crew and had spent many a childhood afternoon watching their adventures on Eternia, I can’t say that I had any great attachment to the show or the characters.
When I first glimpsed Frank Langella as Skeletor, I couldn’t help but think he was a real bummer. He just seemed so profoundly mopey and bitter, and I’m sure I blanched, visibly, wondering if I, too, appeared that way to other people in my current state. I found myself musing ….what if Skeletor had gotten more positive reinforcement and encouragement, or maybe just more hugs and love? Would he have chosen a different path, perhaps become a more compassionate, well-balanced sort of guy? I thought perhaps someone should have let him borrow a book of affirmations, and intervention of sorts, a “hey man, read some Kahlil Gibran and get your head on straight” conversation.
At that point, still caught up in frittering my afternoon away with imaginary therapy for skull-faced alien villains, I had a “eureka!” moment. I found a few MOTU cartoon episodes online, I saved a handful of screen caps of Skeletor perpetrating various acts of villainy–the more outlandish the better– and opened them up in Photoshop. Carefully choosing some phrases of love and positivity from Louise L. Hay, I matched each image of the evil overlord’s wickedness and moral turpitude with an empowering thought. I knew it was utterly ridiculous even as I was doing it, and in true Sarah fashion, I didn’t even proof-read the first one I created, which still exists to this day with that spelling error, rendering it even more nonsensical. I messaged my sister over facebook with the whole slew of them, hoping to give her a laugh in the middle of what was probably shaping up to be a tough day, as I knew most of them usually were.
Both my sister and her husband, as well as my adorable new beau, thought this was a fantastic concept, and encouraged me to make a few more. Which, it turned out, I had a lot of fun with, and started to get really good at. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m no artist–I was taking art that someone else created and paired it with words that someone else wrote–and so I was under no delusions about my artistic endeavor. But I do think I had a knack for finding the perfect turn of phrase to match with the most perversely appropriate image. Discerning and demonstrating those synergies must be an art form unto itself, right? Maybe? I went with that at the time, and I think I still believe it, to an extent.
I moved from posting these on my own, personal Facebook page, to creating a dedicated facebook page for it. Why not? I thought. Surely there are other weirdos on this planet who might get a kick out of this, too? What to call this project, though? Something catchy, simple, powerful. And of course he needed a tagline, something brief and to the point!
Skeletor Is Love, or Heal Yourself, Skeletor.
Skeletor is experiencing the profound emptiness and isolation of human existence. Follow his journey to positive mental health through daily affirmations.
When I mused that there would be other weirdos who would appreciate my silly contribution to the internet, I truly had no idea just how prescient a thought that turned out to be. I mean….ok, to be honest, I usually know when I have a good idea, or when I’m on to something. So I wasn’t entirely surprised that within a few days time the page had several hundred followers. By the end of the week there were several thousand. Within the next few months there were tens of thousands…and if I sound like I am tooting my horn, well, maybe I am a little.
Previously, I had, for years, been trapped in a relationship with a person who wouldn’t “let” me connect with people on the internet. Suspicious, paranoid, and extremely controlling, this man monitored my activities, policed my behavior, read my emails, and dictated to me the sites I could visit, the people I could communicate with, and even how I chose to present myself onIine. But less than a year later, under the auspices of an 80s cartoon bad guy, I was now reaching out to many thousands of people on a daily basis! And I didn’t have to hide it, or feel ashamed or guilty…as a matter of fact, what I was doing made me feel really, really good. “Take that, you miserable fucker!” I often found myself gleefully murmuring, in the very beginning.
It became clear to me that Skeletor wasn’t just making me feel good.
I tried not to look at the comments in response to each day’s offering; for every enthusiastic word of praise there was usually a complaint or criticism, “I don’t get it”, or “…is this supposed to be funny?” and after a while I was just like, “well, I can’t help it if you’re a moron”– but would this kinder, gentler Skeletor reply with that? Probably not. So I just skipped the comment section, for the most part, all together. (Upon reflection, that probably should have been one of the affirmations, too.)
I soon began receiving messages and emails, many of which really blew my mind. These were folks thanking me for making a difference in their day, for putting something good out into the world. Oftentimes the sender would share that Skeletor’s affirmation for the day aligned perfectly with something they were going through or trying to figure out. Even more affecting than that, were those who shared that Skeletor was helping them with cope with their depression, or their self-harm, or their sobriety/addiction. I realized that what had started out as a lark, a laugh, a bit of light-hearted fun… was actually making a difference in someone’s life, and that there was a community of people in need who were perhaps truly benefiting from these messages of positivity. I began to take Skeletor and his messages to the public a little bit more seriously at this point, and tried my utmost to be responsible and respectful, but still tap into the absurdity and humor that inspired me in the first place.
If it made someone laugh, that’s great. If it helped someone get out of bed in the morning, or to call their sponsor instead of taking that drink, or whatever – that was even better. And I did try to put my money where my mouth is, to to speak! In May of 2014, my sister and I took part in the NAMI Walk (NAMI= National Alliance on Mental Illness), and as part of that, I reached out to the Skeletor is Love audience for assistance and we raised over $1200 for the cause. I think it meant a lot to people that, yes, while I created things to make people laugh on the internet, I was also an actual human being who was trying to do right by the community for which I had become an advocate. I did try to make it clear though, that I’ve got no training in the mental health field other than living in a family full of depressed alcoholics. I joke about it, but that part is true. I am no expert on anything. I was just doing my small, dumb part to make the world a better place.
But really how seriously can you take something like this? Of course, not too seriously. You know that I had to create a How To Wear Skeletor Is Love ensemble! And sooner or later, I ran out of quotes from inspirational self-help gurus, so I moved on to celebrities, scientists, to saints, philosophers, poets, song lyrics, personal ads (“today we are kittens, tomorrow we are tigers” was a quote from They Call Me Naughty Lola, which is a book that everyone should have on their coffee table.) Sometimes I might read something that got me all riled up, and I’d react via Skeletor (like in a Huffpost article in which men are asked to weigh in on ladies fashion trends. Fuck off, Huffpost.) Sometimes I just made it all up entirely.
In the end though, I promised myself that once it stopped being fun, I was done with it. Life is too short to slog through things that you’re not enjoying, you know? And maybe it’s selfish, but I’d rather leave people wanting more of a thing, than to have them tire of that thing and grow to hate it. And that’s eventually what happened, more or less, but I guess it was more me hating it than the people I was making it for. It was brought to my attention that a certain mall goth shop had begun to sell these tee shirts. I was a little miffed. I mean, I am not saying that I am the only person on Earth who could have paired together Skeletor and the lyrics from Joydrop’s 1998 single “Beautiful”, but come on. Really? V. rude, Hot Topic.
But what could I do? These weren’t even my characters, and I am not sure how copyright or trademark infringement works, but I wasn’t about to get caught up in all of that. I fumed for a few days, took a week off, and realized I was absolutely dreading even thinking about accompanying Skeletor any further on his journey. I was definitely not having fun any more.
In the end, I worked on Skeletor is Love for about a year and a half, and even when it was over, I left everything as-is for new folks to discover, and so that the people who already loved it would always have access to it. All of the places where one might find my original Skeletor Is Love content still exist to this day. Of course, not everyone was happy with my decision, and on one hand, I get it. As a fan of things, I am always a bit sad when the thing I love reaches the end, takes its final bow, and exits the stage. But I also think I can recognize when someone continues to do a thing in which they are not fully invested, when their heart’s not in it. I didn’t want to become such a person, endlessly churning out garbage that I was unhappy with, forever–and I do believe that most people understood my decision. Many fans said, “but it’s so great, why not give the page to someone else to update?” Uh, really? Ok, you create something that was pretty important to you and then gormlessly turn it over to a complete stranger to have their way with. Go right ahead! But yeah, that’s just…asinine. Who in their right mind would do that? Also? Why would you even want to continue cranking out a project that you didn’t start? Get your own thing! Run with your own ideas! I feel like that’s what Skeletor might say, anyway. At least this re-imagined version of him.
On the whole, it was an amazing time, and a weird, wild, experience. I made it to Buzzfeed! And i09! A few kind souls even interviewed me about the experience, and as someone who is usually the one asking the interview questions, that was certainly a strange turnabout. It was an enterprise which connected me with people I never would have met otherwise, and which four years later, people are still just now finding out about. Even to this day when it somehow comes up in conversation, the other person’s response is usually, “…that was YOU?!” Which as a terribly shy person who sometimes secretly loves attention, that’s always kind of exciting.
Friends who have already heard this story a thousand times, thank you for indulging me once more. Friends and readers who were previously unaware– I guess I just wanted to make sure you guys knew, too! In addition to my love of art and fashion, perfume and ghosts and weirdness, and all of the other things and experiences I write about here at Haute Macabre– also, at one point in time, I had a funny little undertaking with a blue-skinned megalomaniac, and we embarked on a journey of hope and positivity together.
“It Wasn’t Just A Phase,” while the motto here at Haute Macabre, could also apply to the lessons that I took away from my time doing Skeletor is Love. Compassion. Empathy. Kindness. I’d like to think that these are phases I will never grow out of, and if they could change Skeletor for the better, then I’d like to think there is hope for just about anyone.