Nine months ago, I set out to travel the world. The goal wasn’t to find myself, as the cliche goes, although I have done a good deal of that, incidentally. Believe it or not, the main motivating factor for my journey was a parrot. Not just any parrot, but the future parrot I would get when I returned to New York City. Growing up with birds most of the first 19 years of my life, then spending the next eight years without that source of happiness and loneliness prevention, I decided that I would travel so that I could get all the wanderlust out of my system, come home, and be stable and content with staying in one place. Only then could I be the kind of person who was fit to care for a parrot—perhaps I’d even raise one from an egg like I did with my last parrot so it would be more inclined to learn an expansive vocabulary.
But now, after much deliberation, I don’t think I should have a parrot. I think that we, the parrots of the world and me, should all be free to travel for the rest of our lives. We should never involve ourselves with anyone trying to cage us or control us, only with those who simply extend a hand to hold us from time to time.
As someone who cried through almost the entire duration of Pixar’s Rio, the decision to not adopt a parrot is not something I arrived at easily. Part of this change of heart came from tracking wild parrots around the world, as I have been doing in my spare time.
In Barcelona I found flocks of wild quaker parrots. I first found them in the trees near the marina while walking to get ice cream with the guy I was seeing. I heard their sunset feeding frenzy and followed the calls. He had the same reaction most people do when they find out about my parrot affinity: a mix of incredulity, amusement, and was probably a little weirded out or maybe charmed. As they were the same species as my beloved pet Kiwi, I could recognize their calls from a mile away. I followed them everywhere I could and let them guide our walk through the Gaudi park, hoping for the chance to observe their green-and-grey feathers and clownish ways in the wild.
Not satisfied, I started to find reasons to run errands around sundown and would hurry over to the marina parrot zone. There I met the local bird lady who fed them loaves of bread and water. I told her in broken Spanish that yo amo los pajaros verdes, and she smiled and gave me some of her bread to feed them. Every day around sundown, she would go to these trees and toss the bread specifically to the parrots, shooing away the gluttonous and bullying pigeons in an act of eugenics I fully condoned.
In Paris, I followed a lead given to me by the famous giant squid hunter Steve O’Shea (who also happens to be a hobbyist birder), “around the Lac Daumesnil over near the Buddhist temple,” which I deduced to be the Kagyu-Dzong. It was the day of my flight out of Paris to Berlin and I’d been walking for an hour around the lake when I finally found the temple. I searched the sky for the Parisian parrots, but I didn’t hear or see anything. I asked a woman coming out of the temple if she’d seen them, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said she didn’t think there were parrots in this region. Then, just as I was about to give up, my eyes welling up with tears of disappointment at myself for not being the parrot tracker I thought I was, I caught a brilliant flash of green out of the corner of my eye! I imprinted its call and followed its trail, cutting through the trees until, behold: A dozen Indian Ringnecks, bright green with beautiful blue neck rings, sitting in a fruit tree gorging themselves. I’d brought them some stale baguette to feed them that they had absolutely no interest in, so I threw my offering on the ground and just watched them. A friendly young guy walked up behind me and began to flirt in broken English, but I had no interest in anything that would take my attention away from the parrots. When I’d reveled in observing their majestic ways for long enough, I hit the guy’s joint, thanked him, and triumphantly went along to catch my flight.
Almost every city I’ve visited, I’ve located the wild parrots. To my surprise, the first morning I woke up opened the door to the second story balcony of my current residence in Dubai, I was greeted by a tree full of parrots, laughing and squawking away.
While in the Netherlands, I happened to catch a tweet from fellow parrot enthusiast Rich Minnerich about a documentary called Parrot Confidential. I watched, and the decision I was already leaning toward from seeing these creatures so happy and free in the wild was solidified. Parrots are unwanted as pets. Owners purchased them for selfish reasons and couldn’t take care of them, so these poor, incredibly emotionally sensitive creatures wind up in terrible situations and wind up afflicted by psychological ailments just as humans are. Raised in environments so different from their natural habitats and without any members of their flocks, they live lives of confusion and frustration. As one person in the documentary says, “they don’t even know they’re birds.”
So, I will not participate in perpetuating the cycle of parrot humanizing, for to humanize them is to destroy them in this sense. What I will do is devote my time in the future to appreciating them in the wild, rehabilitating troubled parrots, and helping out with projects to protect their natural habitats and restore their wild populations. And I will learn to find my happiness in human form, or maybe get a cat or some stupider animal that is bread to be domestic.
A week ago I published an essay on LadyBits called Casual Predation, about the ways in which women are made to feel hunted by random passersby. You can find that essay here:
Since publishing, I have received quite a bit of feedback, both rewarding and distressing. The best was the overwhelming response of acknowledgement from women I respect, such as Cindy Gallop, Kelly Bourdet, Nilofer Merchant, etc. Part of the reason I wrote this is that when I’ve spoken with women about the incidents I’ve experienced in the past, they always have some kind of story about being alone and freaked out because they were being hunted in some way—every single one.
The other part of why I wrote this is because I’ve noticed a major lack of understanding from guys about this very real, very common occurrence—even from the most awesome guys who I adore to pieces. And so another facet of rewarding feedback has come from guys who were finally able to have some sort of revelation through this essay about what it feels like to be a woman. One man emailed me so say: “Thank you for writing that. As I seek to reflect on making more positive contributions to the world (and at least quit being a jerk, to quote Marshall Goldsmith), I find writing like yours to be very useful. I’m sure you catch all sorts of troll crap, and I wanted to provide a voice of thank you.”
You are welcome.
On the flip side, I’ve gotten some very bizarre feedback from a handful of guys who have read my story and been very defensive. Their line of reasoning seems to go something like: “I enjoy looking at women and having sex with them, and it’s offensive to me that you’re calling me a predator for doing this and trying to mate.” First of all, no. The whole point of the essay was to describe a very specific behavior that women notice that sets off defensive alarm bells in our bodies. While some people are certainly more sensitive than others, we can usually tell the difference between a look from someone who is a potential predator, and anything else. It isn’t hard to do if you are paying attention (provided you don’t have a condition that prevents you from detecting human emotion such as autism).
I used to have a parrot and sometimes he would bite me. Eventually, via observing his behavior prior to the bite, I learned to recognize his intent to bite me before he would lunge. He would get very attentive to the part of my body he was preparing to attack and his pupils would dilate. I learned to move just in time before he would fly into a monstrous rage, lashing his beak in every direction, and would put him in his cage to chill out.
If we can detect these warning signals in our animal companions, we can certainly detect them in other humans.
Hello, friends! Today I launched a new blog on Beacon Reader. Beacon is a new publishing platform created by Nick Jackson and co which allows readers to directly fund their favorite bloggers. I had the pleasure of working with Nick on Longshot Mag Issue 2 and know that, much like most of the people who stayed awake for 48 hours straight to produce a magazine and website, he cares about the future of publishing and isn’t afraid to innovate in an industry which desperately needs it.
If you go to my blog page (http://www.beaconreader.com/arikia-millikan), you can see a video I made in iMovie cutting together clips I shot on the road. I realize I should have filmed in landscape, not portrait. SORRY, I never claimed to be a videographer. But I guess I should add that to the box of tricks this one-woman show packs. I’ll work on it.
Anyway, I’m going to write about my journey on Beacon. So far I’ve been to Canada, Iceland, England, Spain and France and have met and been hosted by some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. This world is bursting with fascinating humanity, and I can’t believe I allowed myself to be confined on one continent for so long.
If you want to support me in my travels and innovation in the publishing industry, please subscribe to my Beacon Reader blog. It’s free to sign up and only $5 a month after that, and you get access to all the content on the network, not just my blog. I’m not generally a fan of paywalls, but 75% of your contributions will go to me, and I’m a fan of not running out of money while halfway around the world.
I want all my friends in the United States to know that I miss you very much, and I’m writing this blog for you. So I hope you read it! You know you’d happily spend $5 to buy me a shot at the Larry Lawrence while hanging out with me (as I would you), but since I can’t be there to do one with you, I’d love for you to put it towards my writing. Ultimately, I will do that shot in a foreign land and it will lead to more stories for me to write for you.
Thanks! XOXO <3
Yesterday I was wandering around Barcelona getting lost accidentally on purpose, and I walked past a store filled with little jars. As soon as I passed it, I got a whiff of all the good smelling things inside, so I backed up and went in. Immediately this woman approached me. She was pretty but not striking, but she was jubilant in her demeanor. To her, I was the only person in the room, possibly the only person she cared about in life. A similar approach executed in a different scenario would be terrifying. If someone came up to me like that while I was at the gym or something, I would be super creeped out. I suppose there’s a fine line between being creepy and completely mesmerizing, but she was on the safe side. She asked me if I wanted to try some. I didn’t even know what it was, but yes.
Turns out she was selling a variety of different sea salts. She led me over to a circular sink with foot pump levers in the middle of the room, never once breaking the lazer-like focus of attention on me. She picked up the jar and waved a scoop of the oily mixture under my nose. It probably wasn’t the smell, but something about the way she offered it to me that made the serotonin release in my neck, the way it does when you get a back rub, or do hot yoga, or are in the womb. She scooped out a clump of each different scent of salt and presented it to me in that way until I was basically putty in her hands. Then she took me through the actual tutorial of scrubbing my hands until they were baby soft.
So I wound up buying like €30 worth of patchouli lavender vanilla-scented bath items. And you know what?
I just took a shower and I smell like fucking heaven. But that women could have been selling snake oil, and I’m sure she has and would. I probably would have been able to tell the difference, but maybe I wouldn’t have. It made me realize what a valuable human skill this economic seduction is, especially in areas where the economy is in the gutter.
It also reminded me that I am a horrible salesperson. If something doesn’t have a purpose, and the transfer of its possession from one human being to another wouldn’t result in a substantial net positive effect, I have no desire to spend my time convincing someone else they should acquire the thing. There is already too much worthless crap taking up space in the world. If I know of something you should want in theory, that I am able to provide to you, I will recommend or offer it to you. If you can’t see it’s appeal, its quality, its substance, even after a short explanation — you’re clearly not worthy of the thing being offered, and I will move on.
So here we are, in a world where less and less people focus on making things of quality and more and more people focus on improving their ability to sell crap. Then more and more consumers emerge not being able to tell the difference between what is crap and what is quality, reinforcing the value of crap and prizing the ability to sell crap as the most worthwhile skill of all. We’re tending towards a society where there’s no point in playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma because we’ve already lost. Default or deal with it.
But building a life (or a company) on snake oil is risky, because when the bubble bursts and the illusion dissolves, it will all be worthless. Things of substance, and people of substance will be resilient to environmental turbulence, but the phonies will be screwed. So I’m going to keep doing what I do, and trying my best to resist the charms of enticing salespeople. Or maybe I’ll give in long enough to convince them to work for me so they can fool the people who are used to buying snake oil into buying something of substance.
Exhibit A: Running the newsroom (and attempting to find inner peace via computer)
Exhibit B: Asserting oneself in the classroom from an early age
Exhibit C: Leisurely reading
Exhibit D: Taking care of business
Exhibit E: Attempting to make deadline
Exhibit F: When I walk into the party like
Exhibit G seems to be missing from the database, but I’d imagine it would look something like this.