Monthly Archives: March 2013

Getting ready to rough it

There are certain luxuries I sometimes afford myself that really add up quickly. I’ve already begun to moderate these things since I quit smoking, which is saving me a lot of money, but now it’s time to go the extra mile so I can save up for my departure from NYC and get accustomed to living minimally. Exceptions will be made for business meetings.

  1. Cabs/car services — Subway only for me from now on, which means I need to change my late night habits.
  2. Gel manicures
  3. Eating out
  4. Coffee shop coffee
  5. Fancy cocktails
  6. New clothes, even new vintage clothes. EVEN Black Milk leggings. >:(
  7. Sephora

Actually, now that I think about it, this is where the entirety of where my money goes outside of rent, utilities (including online services), groceries, electronics, metro cards, and the occasional yoga class. I WILL SURVIVE.

Leaving NYC

MarcyAve

The Subway stop I’ve waited at the most. Photo by Arikia Millikan

I moved to New York when I was 21 with two suitcases and a credit card. I had zero savings, zero checking, and didn’t know very many people in the city. I had a job lined up writing copy for exhibitions at the New York Hall of Science, but they called me the day before my flight to tell me that they’d just been notified they’d had a half million dollars of funding cut by the NY state government and couldn’t hire me after all. I had two choices: to get on the plane and figure it out, or stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan and figure it out.

In retrospect, there was only ever one option. I came here, clueless, nervous, broke, scared, but with a lust for life so great it propelled me past all the inhibitory emotions. I told myself from the very beginning that I would stay for five years. It was a seemingly arbitrary goal, but one that has never stopped making sense to me. Only after living here for five years, I told myself, could I say that I “made it” in New York City. But upon reaching five years, I would go, so as to not become jaded by the city. I didn’t have any ideas about how this would happen, but I had an image in my mind of the stereotypical New York spinster woman, hardened by success and embittered by all she’s seen. I decided this wouldn’t be me.

My first apartment was a second story walk-up on S. 4th street in Williamsburg with my very own fire escape outside of my bedroom window. Late at night, I would sit out there and smoke cigarettes while watching musicians move their instruments in and out of the practice space across the street. I wondered if I would ever be cool enough to hang out with them.

"I can't pay my rent but I'm fucking gorgeous." -Justin Tranter, Semi Precious Weapons. Photo by Arikia Millikan.

“I can’t pay my rent but I’m fucking gorgeous.” -Justin Tranter, Semi Precious Weapons. Photo by Arikia Millikan.

I had no idea what I was going to do for money or work, so I just began exploring. The guy I sublet the room from recommended a temp agency, so I decided to apply, but first I needed to make a copy of my passport. I was told I could do at a place called The Internet Garage.

For the first month I lived in NYC, I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t have a smartphone then (it was 2008 but I was poor), so I would look up my destination on Google Maps on my computer (a 4-year old Adveratec which needed to be kept on life support with an external keyboard, hard drive, and cooling pad) and write it down on paper or just try to remember the directions. When I would walk out of my apartment, sometimes I would walk the wrong way wind up making three more turns in that same direction so as to not get completely lost and go home, defeated. The first time I tried to find The Internet Garage, I went to South 5th instead of North 5th and wound up in a slightly sketchy area thinking maybe I wasn’t cut out for New York.

Me in the public gardens on S. 2nd Street, my first month in NYC. Photo by Jamie Killen

Me in the public gardens on S. 2nd Street, my first month in NYC. Photo by Jamie Killen

The next day I tried again, with my hand-written map, and I found the Internet Garage, right off of Bedford Avenue. I suddenly understood what Williamsburg was all about. It was a bunch of creative misfits fitting in amongst their peers for the first time in their lives. I asked the tattooed guy wearing a Yankees hat who helped me scan my passport behind the desk if I could work there. I told him I’d gone to school for engineering and was a fast learner. He arched an eyebrow at me and said most people who have worked there probably couldn’t do high school math, but if I really wanted to work there he’d think about it.

I applied with the temp agency and got hired at the world’s largest stock holding company, as a secretary. They told me I was to be an envelope-stuffing office monkey from 9-5 every day and must abide by their dress code by wearing corporate attire. I shuddered to think. The night before I was to go in for fingerprinting and processing in the financial district at 9am, I went out with my pseudonymous blog stalker and wound up getting wasted and staying up until 7am making out on a rooftop overlooking Manhattan.

My Hope Street roof in Williamsburg, before the luxury condos obscured the view.

My Hope Street roof in Williamsburg, before the luxury condos obscured the view.

I just looked up the actual email I sent to the agency when I woke up and realized I’d slept through the meeting, and it is pretty hilariously Arikia-ish:

Dear Camille,

I just woke up and realized that I missed my meeting. I don’t really know how it happened – I remember setting my alarm last night before I went to bed – but I have some idea as to why it happened. I don’t think I want to work at DTCC, and my subconscious mind made that happen. Actually, I don’t want to work at any corporation. I’m a writer and I want to write. I ‘m done doing meaningless work just because someone said so. That’s what a lot of college was, and I graduated.

So, please relay my apologies onto Michael and Jamie over at DTCC that I’m sorry for wasting their time. I suppose I’m sorry for wasting your time as well.

Best of luck to you,

Arikia

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my real-life “Devil’s Advocate” scenario, and my decision set me on the trajectory that would fulfill all of my New York dreams.

The next day after my hangover subsided, I went to retrieve my passport, which I had forgotten in the scanner at the Internet Garage, and lo and behold, they hired me. For $8/hr, I got to blog my little heart out while I helped people use the Internet Garage’s ridiculously ’90s machines to get online. And I was happy. Some of my fondest New York memories were made in that place, and it provided all the fodder I needed to find my footing in the online media world.

Me in front of the Internet Garage.

Me in front of the Internet Garage.

With the Internet Garage as my base of operations, I became a fixture among the creative misfits, quickly becoming part of the barter system that propped up the struggling artist class in Williamsburg. If someone identified themselves as a Bedford Avenue vendor, I would give them prints and internet usage with a wink and a smile. To repay me, people invited me into their slivers of Williamsburg, and I got to experience it all. One night, some musicians I met at a bar invited me back to drink beers at the practice space across from my old apartment. I stayed up all night learning how to play piano.

In those days, I would sit on the rooftop of my Hope Street sublet and stare out at the Manhattan skyline for hours, wondering what paths I would take to make my way to the top of one of those skyscrapers. Last year, I would stare for hours out of the window of my office on the 19th floor of 4 Times Square, thinking about how I had managed to achieve my lifelong dream of working at Wired so soon, scared shitless about what that meant for the rest of my life. Had I peaked at 25?

My old office at Wired.

My old office at Wired.

Thinking about my five year quota now, with the deadline approaching July 8, it makes more sense to me than ever to leave. I won New York City. I did, I beat it. I came here with nothing, and I survived. I’m not any richer than I was when I came here, which to some, might not constitute winning. Before I started writing this blog post, I was being kind of mopey about just that — about the fact that five years later I am still struggling to pay my bills every month just like I did when I first moved here. But after reflecting on everything, I realized that what I gained in the past five years is impossible to buy: I made a name for myself.

Now, it’s time to leave. I am tired. The old rooftop where I used to perch is sealed off with fences and motion detectors, and the view is obscured by luxury condos anyways. The Internet Garage moved, and it will never be what it used to be. The way this city chews people up and spits them out is almost vulgar, and I am tired of watching it. I am tired of struggling to stay on top. I can feel my shell beginning to harden, and it’s not a good look for me. Plus the fact that I’ve sustained for so long makes me think I could be tossed into any environment and somehow figure stuff out and be OK. So, I’m going to try that, and hopefully find the same inspiration in new places that I once got from New York. I’m going to take my show on the road and keep looking for the things I didn’t find in New York: love, inner peace, financial success. I know that life may not ever be easy for me, I think I would die of boredom if it was, but right now I need to find environments that will nurture the skills I’ve been developing. I need room to breathe, as anyone who’s ever lived in New York knows, there’s not a whole lot of space here.

So, New Yorkers, you have three months and some change to squeeze the last of the New York hustle out of me, and I do intend to hustle. And then off into the world I will go, testing Frank Sinatra’s theory that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s been real.

The first mention of “vagina” in a film

…was by Disney!

From Oddee:

As strange as it may seem, Walt Disney was on the forefront of women talking about their vaginae (plural of vagina). In 1946, Disney was commissioned by the Cello-Cotton company (who made Kotex feminine napkins) to make a film called The Story of Menstruation, which mentioned the V-word for the very first time on celluloid. The film was never released theatrically, but was shown to 105 million American students, along with advertisements for girls to make sure to use their brand when it came to “that time of the month.” The film was hardly pornographic – in fact, menstrual blood is shown as white instead of red. It is now in the public domain and can be watched below!

It’s actually pretty awesome, but pretty sad to notice how not far sex ed has come since the 40s. My kids will have 3D hologram diagrams of ovaries if I have anything to say about it.

Via Ira Cashewnutskya

That time I slammed tequila with Quentin Tarantino at 2 in the afternoon

SXSW had barely begun and I had already slipped away from the crowd. Feeling overwhelmed by startup pitches, I had just made my way down to the lobby to get coffee with Joel, one of my best friends and partners in crime. I led him into the Omni’s sunny bar lounge and plopped down in a booth seat in the banquette farthest away from any other people. Joel sat in the chair across from me and looked at me expectantly, probably thinking I had something important to tell him.

“Sometimes I just need to sit and chill,” I told him.

“Baby, you got it,” he said with this faux-used-car-salesman air that makes me smirk every time.

We talked for approximately two minutes about how good it was to be in the same city again before I saw a man walk up and sit at the far end of the bar. My eyes widened with recognition.

“Is that Quentin Tarantino?” I asked Joel. He squinted at me and slowly shifted his body in his chair, keeping his eyes on me for any signs of Tom Foolery, before finally turning his head to look.

He snapped back to face me. “Yes,” he said decisively.

“Oh my God. Should we talk to him?” My pulse quickened.

“Um. Yeah. I want to get a picture with him.” One does not simply ask Quentin Tarantino for a picture, I thought, but I wanted one too. I don’t usually get celeb-crazy, but here was someone famous for actually being talented, who creates wildly entertaining films to stealthily convey his social commentary. He is no pawn or puppet of Hollywood. When Quentin Tarantino wants to make a movie, he kicks in the door and blasts the industry in the face with his agenda.

“OK. What do we do?” I asked Joel.

“Let’s just… go to the bar and order a drink,” he said. I contemplated leaving my coffee behind so I could actually have a reason to go to the bar, but I wanted it too much. I gathered up my belongings and we headed over to the bar.

Joel leaned on the bar in a space that was one stool away from Quentin, forcing me to sit there and act as a female buffer zone. I wanted to but could only stand behind the chair awkwardly. I didn’t want to bother him, and felt bad for even being near him. He was drinking a margarita, perceiving if we were about to annoy him or not. I was having a major processing malfunction trying to think of something to say. Joel turned to him and said, “I just wanted to let me know you’re a huge idol of mine.” Quentin turned to him with a look on his face that was humble, tired, standoffish, pleased, and a little skeptical — all at the same time. “Thank you,” he said, and focused back on his margarita.

Joel ordered his drink and I stood there stupidly for another awkward moment that seemed to stretch out into eternity. Finally I asked him, “Do you mind if I sit here?” He turned and looked at me. I was wearing my Texas best: A vintage button-down shirt, half-white half-black with southwestern triangles of the opposite color on each sleeve and a diamond cut out of the chest to make the collar look like a bow tie; standard black pencil skirt; cowboy boots. “No, go ahead,” he said, and gestured to the stool. I climbed on and sipped my coffee, thinking about what I could say to him that wasn’t completely boring, something that he hadn’t heard a million times in the past week.

“Death Proof is like, my favorite movie,” I told him. He arched his eyebrows at me.

“Oh yeah? Who’s your favorite character?” Oh shit. It really was one of my favorites, maybe not THE favorite but close enough. But far enough that I couldn’t remember “butterfly’s” actual name in real life or the movie.

“Well, I love the jukebox scene, I memorized that entire lap dance.” I blurted out. He chuckled.

Butterfly

A stranger walked up and point-blank asked him for a picture. “I’m sorry, no, I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink and I don’t want to take pictures right now,” he told the fan. Joel and I looked at each other wide eyed, glad we had at least some tact. Quentin turned back to me:

“As I was saying, did you know that entire sequence was filmed just down the street at the Texas Chili Parlor?” I told him to get out. No, he was serious. I relaxed a little, as we were pretty much old friends at this point. A woman with long, curly blonde hair came and sat on the bar stool next to him. “She’s a fan of Death Proof,” Quentin told her, pointing his thumb at me. I smiled at her. The bar manager brought up a bottle of tequila from the basement and displayed it for Quentin. Avion reposado. He ordered a second margarita, this time with the good stuff, and a shot for his friend. “Fuck it, I’ll have a glass as well,” I told the bartender. It tasted exactly like Quentin Tarantino’s drink of choice should taste.

As we sipped, we talked about his casting inspiration for Death Proof. I told him I was in awe of Jungle Julia, that I had never seen a woman who looked like her take on such a powerhouse role. He told me about the billboards they put up all over Austin while they were shooting, advertising Jungle Julia’s radio show like it was real. I told him I made my handle Amazon Arikia after I saw that movie, inspired to reclaim a name that boys used to call me in middle school when I was taller than all of them. “I’ll bet they don’t make fun of you anymore,” he said.

JungleJulia

He told me that the funny thing about the actress who played Jungle Julia was that nobody wanted to cast her because of her ethnic look. I told him she was beautiful, and that it was really comforting for me to see someone with hair as curly as mine strutting around with confidence, kicking her shoes off and laying it down in the DJ booth.

We talked about how Death Proof was the movie that broke all the rules when it came to women in films. In college, there was a challenge that went around the Michigan Daily newsroom: Name a movie where there are A) more than two women B) Who talk to each other C) About something other than guys. Nobody could name one, but I fired back with Death Proof. I remember when it came out, people criticized it: “Who wants to hear a bunch of chicks gabbing for an hour in a movie?” they would say. I did, and I loved it, and the way they kicked the shit out of Stuntman Mike in the end.

Our drinks were getting low, and I turned to Quentin and asked him: “What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not making movies?” He shrugged. “Live life.” Then he furrowed his brow and said, “no, let me revise that. It’s ‘not make movies.'” He explained that it was difficult for him to put his work away, and to experience life without being compelled to process people and events for the big screen. “So how do you decide when you’re going to stop not making movies?” I asked. “Well, something really has to grab you to make you decide to do only that for the next two years of your life,” he said.

When he asked for the bill, I told him I didn’t want to be one of those fans, but could I please have his autograph? I gave him my journal, which I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone else touch let alone write in, and said he could have a whole page.

QuentinTarantinoAutograph

That, my friends, is how you win SXSW on the first day. Life lessons from this encounter:

  • Dress like you want to be addressed, and if you want to be addressed like a cowgirl than fucking hell yeah, do it.
  • People who say you don’t need to drink to have fun or get ahead in life are WRONG.
  • If someone makes you nervous, it means you should definitely talk to them.

10 things I learned at SXSW

After spending 10 days at the SXSW festival in Austin, here is some #realtalk for you:

1) Nerds are awesome in large numbers. Interactive > Music in terms of general atmosphere, but I’m pretty biased in this regard.

2) Our internet connectivity devices are extensions of our bodies, and we feel crippled when they are out of power or if they get lost. I really hope that the industry is structured such that inventions that could massively improve on battery technologies can be incorporated into the current technological landscape.

3) Overnighting a phone (which was stupidly left in a rental car) from NYC to Austin costs $75, the same price as a pair of Black Milk leggings. Cursing my negligence because I really wanted these.

4) So many young people are devoting their lives to building apps that don’t benefit society in any way. There are going to be some hardcore midlife crises down the line, so hopefully at least one startup out there is working on an app for that.

5) Some venture capitalists have a really distorted sense of reality. When the bubble bursts and there’s nobody left kissing their asses because they want something from them, they are going to be very sad. App for that?

6) Internet friends are almost always good IRL friends too.

7) SXSW is hands down the most annoying festival to observe from afar. I was annoyed when I missed out in past years, so I did my best to not annoy others in the twittersphere too much, but I apologize if I gave anyone FOMO.

8) If you don’t stop and get hot and sweaty on a dance floor every now and then, you’re doing it wrong.

9) I can talk my way into 99% of things, and I didn’t want that 1% anyway.

10) Southern hospitality is alive and well in Austin, Texas.

Late night lucubrating

I have a shit storm of stuff to write and do tomorrow, so obviously when I drank a cup of Sleepy Time tea and went to bed at the responsible hour of 12:30 my brain was like, “LOL, YEAH RIGHT.” Now the lights are back on and I’m finishing all the good long-form articles I started and never finished in order to eliminate some browser tabs. Starting the week off right.

If you’re interested, they are:

This Was Supposed to Be My Column for New Year’s Day — a NY Times article about positive procrastination from John Tierney which I started the day it was published, a month and a half ago. Go figure.

What Does ‘Getting Laid’ Really Mean? — By Emily Heist Moss on a publication called Role Reboot which I’ve never heard of but looks interesting.

Operation Delirium — A look inside the military’s post-cold war super sketchy chemical weapons tests, by Raffi Khatchadourian

Death Will Tremble — not an essay, but an online sci-fi video series I’ve been meaning to watch, even though I don’t usually watch things especially if they come in a series.

The Ghost Writes Back — Amy Boesky on ghost writing part of the Sweet Valley High book series for Francine Pascal, the series that I was completely and utterly obsessed with as tween.

The Slate review of Domenica Ruta’s new book, With or Without you. Had to check out the competition in the crazy mom contest. It’s really no competition at all.

Many fewer tabs, but still awake. I’d hoped that the insomnia tendencies would subside when I quit smoking and started trying to be healthy, but it looks like this one is here to stay. A few months back I read an essay by Kathryn Schulz called Writing in the Dark, in which she discusses her life as a literary night owl. The first time I read it, I tweeted at her to say I thought we were brain chemistry twins. I’d never heard of my insomniac tendencies described so accurately, and from the perspective of a female writer. I said the word “lucubrate” over and over to myself. I love that she provides an evolutionary explanation, because now I don’t feel so guilty about having such a disposition. If I can’t sleep because I can’t turn my mind off, I’m going to turn the lights back on and hash it out, because this is my productivity zone. If you’re an early bird nine-to-fiver, you have the societal advantage since this country still operates like electricity hasn’t been invented. Good for you, but do me a favor and don’t hold it against the night owls in the workplace. Let them do their thing when they want to do it, and everyone will be better off. And remember — in the caveman days, you would have been eaten by wolves in the middle of the night if it wasn’t for our kind, so show a little gratitude.

I began re-reading this essay before I started writing this blog post and closing the browser tabs, and I will leave you with an excerpt before attempting to sleep again:

There is a word for that, etymologically if not literally: the wonderfully lascivious-sounding lucubrate. It actually means to write in an overly academic fashion, but it comes from the practice of writing at night by candle or lantern. There are, as you might imagine, a lot of lucubrators out there. Proust and Joyce were both self-proclaimed night owls. So was Shelley; so, one assumes, was any self-respecting Romantic. George Sand claimed to routinely start writing at midnight. Edna St. Vincent Millay must have been a late type, with her burning candle and her wonderful “Recuerdo”—surely the best poem ever written about staying up all night on Staten Island. I sometimes make a game of guessing other writers’ hours. Gerard Manley Hopkins: night owl, for sure. Robert Frost: lark, with occasional spells of insomnia. Jonathan Franzen strikes me as a morning bird (and no doubt he knows precisely which species).

As for my own schedule, best to call it like it is: crazy. Those who have shared my bed—when I am in it to share it, anyway—have observed my nighttime habits with reactions varying from indulgence to incredulity. (Almost all of them have been stellar sleepers: not something I actively look for in a partner, but, given my lifestyle, terrifically convenient.) It starts, as I said, around 10 p.m., when something ticks over in my mind, as if someone had walked into a shuttered cabin and flipped all the switches in the fuse box to “on.” For the first time all day, I get interested in writing. As a corollary, I get a lot less interested in everything else. My normal indiscipline, the ADHD-ish inability to keep my head inside my work, finally drops away. For the next few hours, I write steadily, cleanly. If my body is producing a drug during that time, it is a natural methylphenidate—a dose of pure focus, side-effect-free and sweet.