Tomorrow you will die

Photo Oct 13, 8 46 34 PM

Today I went to a seminar on happiness at the Kadampa Buddhist meditation center in Chelsea. I don’t know that I am a Buddhist, or that I am any religion. But out of the global sampler platter of spiritual practices I have encountered in my 27 years on Earth, I find that Buddhist philosophies make the most sense and offer the most practical advice. I’ve met a lot of monks in a lot of weird places, and they have shown me things through the most subtle gestures, sometimes without even speaking. My curiosities about Buddhism have never pressured me to adopt a delusional belief structure, attempted to rob me, or demanded I adopt the mandates of a patriarchal authority figure, or else. Every time I approach Buddhist practices with questions, its teachers simply encourage me to look inside myself to find the ways by which I can alter my perspective to maintain inner balance.

In this sensation-seeking body in general but especially in this roller coaster of a concrete jungle, I’ll take all the balance I can get.

In 2012 I sat in the main lecture hall at the Being Human conference in San Francisco. When a presenter walked on stage to commence a group meditation, I looked around incredulously and, unwilling to participate in this ritualistic exercise, took out my phone to tweet. Clear my mind? Was that even possible? Consuming mass amounts of information via the internet was my meditation then. Now, possibly out of frustration with the state of information on the internet and the increasingly invasive modes by which it is transmitted, I have found a new appreciation for mental stillness.

Back to the present day in this meditation class, a woman came in late, sat down next to me, proceeded to check her email on her phone and scrawl into a notebook with the loudest pen ever. As I struggled to maintain my concentration atop my annoyance, I felt a karmic poke in the ribs.

So the lecturer, Kadam Morten, proceeded to talk about finding happiness. Where is it? American society would like to have us believe that it is somewhere out there. You can touch it, taste it, feel it, buy it, fuck it, smother yourself in it—oh but not yet. You’re not quite there yet. But, if you keep working and spending and wanting, then maybe you’ll find it. No. According to Morten, happiness is inside of each of us, we only have to learn how to access it so we can find our way back there any time. This involves dumping all the worries and cluttered thoughts and to-do lists from our minds and just being with ourselves internally.

During a guided meditation, he instructed us to think of something that made us happy. At first I panicked because I realized that my happy places and people and moments also made me sad because I am now so far away from them. But then I managed to get back to a place in Michigan, sitting on the end of a pier looking out at a perfectly still lake next to my best friend, our heads resting on each other’s as we sat in silence. And I remember thinking in that moment that I wanted to save it like a file on my computer, to access at will always and forever.

And then he beckoned us to prepare to meditate on death, in the most light and jovial manner I have ever heard anyone approach the topic.

“The impulse to check in with external stimuli has never been stronger,” he said, referencing the entirety of what capitalism immerses us in. “Now is the time to check in with death, and be present in our lives.”

While it is oft considered morbid to think about death and especially to talk about it, Morten made a pretty compelling case for why we should think about it excessively: the fact that we will die is really the only certainty we have in life. ‘Death and taxes…’ whatever—we could all die before it’s time to do taxes. To live life in denial of our mortality is to live disconnected from reality, whereas to embrace death is to live in the moment, he said.

So imagine that tomorrow you will die. What would you do with your day? Would you spend it arguing with someone you loved? Would you spend it watching TV? Reading celebrity gossip? Being a drone?

Nah. You’d do something radical. You’d make a step toward creating the legacy you’re capable of leaving behind. You’d connect with people you love. That’s what I intend to do tomorrow.

Photo Oct 13, 8 45 00 PM

Thanks to Talia Eisenberg for inviting me to explore this peaceful pocket of NYC.

Experience vs. documentation

I’ve been back in the US for a little over five months now, but it feels like only yesterday that I was crossing the Pacific, all choked up because I had just accomplished the most difficult thing I have ever set out to do. I’ve never felt more healthy, more alive, than I did during my year of circumnavigating the globe. And I go back to those places every day in my mind.

It may happen when I open the fridge, or lace up my shoes. Suddenly, I’m opening the fridge in the apartment I rented from a techno DJ in Berlin, or lacing up my shoes to leave my bungalow in the south of Thailand and hop on my motorbike to go exploring. And for a split second, I get lost there, and I smile to myself before being jolted back to the task at hand. I will always have the memories of that year, and they will forever change the way I see where I am at any given moment in my usual life.

The other day a friend asked me if I was writing the whole time I was traveling. I was. I was writing every day. I filled notebook after notebook with descriptions of places and experiences and bizarre encounters with characters of all walks of life. Then he asked me how I balanced experiencing life with documenting it—the greatest challenge of any travel writer. And the truth is, I didn’t and I don’t. I have too much energy right now, in this stage in my life, to possibly stop living and experiencing everything long enough to document it all properly.

Arikia on a train in FranceBut I know that some day I won’t. Someday I will be anchored to places I haven’t yet been by circumstances I can’t anticipate. I will be slower, and my joints will ache. I’ll probably still want to stay up as late as I do, because anyone who knows me knows my night-owlness is pathological. But my late-night forays probably won’t involve romping through the desert or scaling rooftops to watch the sun come up in the distant future. Someday I will have more time on my hands than I will know what to with, and more responsibilities than I ever wanted. I will finally be bored. Or, maybe, ideally, someone will offer me enough money to compel me to stop experiencing and sit my ass in a chair long enough to write something of worth. It is then that I will travel back around the world in my mind, and properly document all the events of my crazy life that I’ve been meticulously archiving via a system of notes and letters to my future self.

I don’t balance experiencing with documenting; I stockpile experiences and prepare for the balance to come via the entropic forces of nature.

In the mean while, I’m writing a book proposal. I’ll keep blogging. I’m building a platform that allows do-ers like me to write more, better, faster, and be heard farther. That way if I do become a cyborg and I never have to stop experiencing, or if I get hit by a bus before I’m 30 or whatever, I’ll have said enough of what I wanted to say by then. And there’s always this wagon wheel of a blog.

What did the feminist writer say to the scumbag bartender?

Last week I was walking around in Manhattan looking for a place to grab a bite to eat between meetings, when I happened across a new location of Barcade, one of my favorite beer bars in Brooklyn. This one served food, so I went in and planted myself at one of the empty bar stools and ordered a sandwich and a beer. I chatted with a friendly bartender who told me this branch opened in June, or May—he couldn’t remember.

While I waited, I sipped my beer and journaled into the notebook I always carry, lost in thought as the bar started to fill up around me. I was only vaguely aware of three bartenders huddled together on the other side of the bar chatting until one thing I overheard jolted me out of my writing trance and caused me to look up in alarm.

“Wow, someone’s looking to get raped tonight.”

I stared at them in shock as the three of them all laughed. They dismantled to go about their work again, and one of them started stacking condiments in front of me.

“Did someone really just say that?” I asked.

“What?” he asked innocently, obliviously.

“That one of your customers is looking to get raped tonight.”

“Oh,” he said with a chuckle. “Yeah, well you know, it’s these little girls who come in here and order a wheat beer and a shot of vodka, and then chase it with a shot of Jameson. It’s not very smart decision-making.”

I glared at this 40-something hipster and the smirk beneath his unkempt black beard in disbelief.

“Yeah, well, that’s not very smart commentary,” I said.

He slunk away and refused to make eye contact with me thereafter, sipping a glass of straight vodka at 5:30pm. I tossed a coaster on top of my half-empty beer and walked outside to smoke a cigarette. The comment had activated a kill switch deep within my psyche, and my head spun from the transition of being jerked out of my happy writing place into the menacing world of skeezy rape enthusiasts. The amount of people who can successfully execute rape jokes are few and far between, and, as Lindy West pointed out in an essay following the Tosh.0 debacle, the punch line should never come at the expense of the victim. What planet did these guys inhabit where it was acceptable to suggest, or even logical to think, that any human being would want to be raped? Rape involves the utter absence of consent. It is an unwanted violation of one’s body, by definition. No amount of beverages consumed ever changes the level of acceptability of rape, which is zero.

I walked back inside and sat down, but the thought of finishing my drink made me sick. I wanted to throw the rest of it in that guy’s face and smash the glass on the floor, or walk out without paying. But that would make me the greater offender form the perspective of the law. What could I do to establish some kind of justice for the disruption of my peace of mind, and for whoever was exposed to these dirtbags on a daily basis. I wanted to do something so they would never laugh about rape again.

I hailed my original bartender over.

“Hey, I need to pay for this drink,” I said. “And you’d better believe that if I wasn’t expensing this because I’m here on a review assignment, I would have walked out without paying after what I just heard.”

His face blanched. “What… what do you mean?” he stammered.

“Saying one of your customers is looking to get raped? Look, if you’re going to make jokes about rape in your place of work, you’d better be damn sure you know who’s listening, and this is definitely going to affect your review.”

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry you had to hear that,” he said. “I didn’t say it I swear.”

“But you laughed.”

He continued apologizing and acknowledged the comment was unacceptable. I thrust a $10 bill toward him and asked for my change, then walked out without leaving a tip.

It is hard to believe that these kind of sentiments are circulated here in a city that is often said to be the most cultured in the United States. Then to think of how many other places in America and beyond that this kind of shit happens without anyone raising an eyebrow makes the world seem downright depressing. We have a long way to go, but I’d like to think we’re progressing, one indignant feminist calling out stupid hipster bartenders at a time.

Why I decided to pose for a lingerie photo shoot

I wasn’t too concerned with being “pretty” until middle school. When I was 11, I went with a bunch of my friends to an open casting call at the Barbizon modeling school. In retrospect, it was a scam and a waste of time, but I wanted some kind of positive affirmation about my appearance. My friends made it to the next round, but the judges told me to come back once I got my braces off. I was taller than the most of the guys in my class until I finally stopped growing at 5’10” my junior year of high school. My first crush called me Amazon Arikia—which I think is awesome now, but at the time it horrified me. When I look at pictures of myself as a teenager, I can’t believe I ever thought I was fat, but I was convinced I had love handles.

Now I’m 27. I have scars, stretch marks, sun spots, I’m 170 lbs, and I finally feel comfortable in my own skin. I love this body. This body has carried me around the world, up volcanoes and over rivers. It has protected me through two car accidents, five street attacks, a venomous spider bite, dengue fever, and a nasty Southeast Asian bacterial infection. It is powerful, and it can kick a lot of ass. It is also incredibly soft. It can release endorphins, give warmth, comfort, and pleasure to others.

It’s been a long process undoing the brainwashing that the media imposes on little girls to make them think they can’t be beautiful unless they tread down the capitalistic rabbit hole of endless artificial enhancements. I wish I could have spent my teen years believing that I am beautiful, and celebrating that confidence in all the ways I can imagine to adorn my body like I do now.

As the EIC of LadyBits, I’ve spent many hours creating and promoting content that supports body diversity campaigns, and calling out douchebag brands that limit their products to idealized body types. I will continue to work to stock the media with images of women who represent the beautiful reality in addition to the idealized fantasy so that the next generation can understand the difference better than I did.

So when a friend told me the founder of Dear Kate was looking for models—specifically, for size L women who work in the tech industry—for an upcoming shoot, I volunteered. At first I thought the shoot was for yoga pants, which Dear Kate is known for manufacturing the antithesis of the Lululemon brand (as in they’re not see-through and are available in many larger “queen” sizes), but it turned out it was for their new lingerie line themed around Ada Lovelace.

I wasn’t sure if I should participate. Would it ruin my personal brand until the end of eternity? Would people take me less seriously as a professional and an entrepreneur if they had seen my lace-clad body? Would I be harassed with endless troll comments?

No. Anyone who would sexualize me, objectify me, or treat me differently in the professional world would do so regardless of what I wore, and those who respect me would continue to. Why would I sacrifice the opportunity to be professionally photographed in what I feel is the best shape of my life? I’ve never kept myself from doing anything out of fear, especially when that fear is the burden of women alone.

So lo and behold, I’m now a lingerie model. And I feel pretty great about it.

arikia_millikan_dear_kate

Check out the whole lookbook for the Dear Kate Ada Collection and meet the other awesome tech models.

And FYI I’m not just posing on that computer, I was actually writing this blog post :)

Breaking through to the bonus side

DKC2_Find_the_TokenBonus items in video games are almost always hidden behind some array of dangerous obstacles. On first play, most people would avoid them. The primary goal, after all, is to complete the level. But when you immerse yourself in the virtual world for long enough, you begin to see the obstacles as goldmines. You know that the only reason that lava pit, or wall of bees, or freakish baddie is there is to guard the prize on the other side.

DK_Rambi_RumbleMaybe the first time you found one was on accident, when you lost control and saw the prize on the other side as you were falling to your death. So you went back. Your instincts began to invert themselves. Now, instead of running away from harm, you plow straight into it. You sacrifice your health based on some kind of faith that, once you break through, whatever is on the other side will restore you and give you powers you never knew existed—strength that will make the obstacles you once feared seem benign.

DK_bananahoard

The more things change

I’ve been back in New York for a week now. Walking down Avenue A to the gastro pub where I was to meet Joey, down the familiar streets with not-so-familiar-anymore buildings, I rolled the old phrase along in my brain in a loop: “the more things change the more things stay the same the more things change…” It’s only been a year, but so much is different.

I was 15 minutes early—something else that has changed in the past year—so I took a seat at the bar and drank a water while I read my new copy of Vice Magazine. A few minutes later, a guy came in, exchanged familiarities with the bartender, and took a seat next to me. I continued to read an article about South Sudan. An order of fries came out and landed in front of the guy, who looked super stoked. He ate a few and turned to me:

“Hey, do you want to share these fries with me? I mean, I’m not going to finish them all…”

“Um, sure,” I said. After a year abroad, I couldn’t say no to American French fries, and I’ve never even really liked fries. I told him I hadn’t had them since I’d been back in the USA.

“What are you reading about, Africa?” he guessed, probably from the image on the page.

“Yeah, about South Sudan.”

“Is it good?”

“Well, I’m a couple thousand words in and the author still hasn’t really told us what the piece is about,” I said, flipping through the earlier pages of text to convey the word count. “But he’s a good story-teller.”

I ate some more of his fries. He asked me what magazine I was reading, if I liked Vice, and when I said I did, he asked if I worked for them. “Sometimes,” I said.

“Oh, so do you write on like a blog, or Medium, or a website, or a bunch of publications?”

“Yeah,” I said. “All of those.” I thought it was funny that he mentioned Medium, and then I realized that it was only funny because I was so far away for so long where people barely knew what Twitter was, let alone Medium, but here I was in New York where people were the most tapped into the media out of everywhere in the world. I told him I started a publication called LadyBits, and that it launched on Medium.

“So are you like a journalist, writer, blogger, media person, thousands of followers, tweeter?”

I laughed. “You pegged me. You’re pretty good at that you know?”

“Hey, this might be a really weird question…” he said, trailing off while he waited for my facial acknowledgement that it was ok to proceed, “but did you by any chance write an article about James Deen and Google Glass?”

I looked at him in disbelief. “As a matter of fact, I did.”

“I thought you looked familiar,” he said. “I was just reading it.”

“Ok, very funny. Did Joey put you up to this? Where is he, tell him he’s late,” I said looking at my watch.

“Who’s Joey? No, I swear I was just reading it on my phone, look:” he powered on his iPhone, opened his browser, and sure enough:

FrenchFriesJamesDeenIt was too weird. I felt like a celebrity.

“Well, hi, I’m Arikia,” I said, extending my hand. He shook it like he was shaking the hand of a celebrity. He asked me about my travels and we chatted for another minute until Joey finally came over and greeted me. He hadn’t recognized me when he came in and had walked right past me to a table. I said goodbye to my new friend, thanked him for the fries, and told him to contact me if he wanted to eat more fries someday and continue our conversation.

Yesterday, I was thinking to myself that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I was back in New York, starting to get a little stressed out, a little cynical, remembering all the struggle and the loneliness and why I left in the first place. I was starting to think that maybe I should have just stayed on my paradise island, threw my computer off the ocean cliff outside my $6-a-night bungalow, and started my life over there. I was wondering why I came back, and if I would ever find connections in New York like I did out there.

But here was this guy, this stranger, looking at me with this expression of awe, and I knew in that moment that things have indeed changed. The New York I came back to is not the same New York I left, because I am not the same Arikia as the one who lived here before. I have been renovated, upgraded if you will, just like computer hardware and the stores along Avenue A. I am a better version of me now. On some weird, metaphysical level, I felt like this bizarre coincidence was New York’s way of accepting me back and embracing me; like the city was saying to me “I want you here, and I’m happy you came back.”

Somebody once said that living in New York City was like being in an abusive relationship with the coolest guy in the world. I’m not so naive to think that I won’t get a black eye here and there, but damn, baby, when it’s good it’s really good.