Category Archives: Entropy

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The Tidal Pool Treasures of Thailand

There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.

It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:

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It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.

While eating  breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.

Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.

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The VR Carrie Mathison psychosis app of my dreams

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I am all for conserving trees, but I really miss the days where everyone owned a fully-loaded printer. I’m a very visual learner and spatial processor. I need to see the information all around me, spread out in a circle or across the living room floor, covering walls, black text annotated in fucking gel pens and highlighters to distinguish what is what and what should be where in the chronology. The sprawl is part of the process, as is filing is all away when the project is complete.

Many of us have been adapting to this idea of containing our workspaces within a 13-inch screen, switching tabs and documents and removing the clutter. All my possessions at the moment fit into a single suitcase, so I am experimenting with working in an unusually confined manner. Still though, I may be a digital native, but half the weight of whatever I am carrying with me at any given moment is paper. I love the clutter of the tangible expression of thought in the physical world. I need it.

When I create in my preferred mode, and I’m working on a research project or a feature-length (>1,500 words) article, my work space basically turns into Carie Mathison’s apartment. This is my ideal virtual reality app: a 10x10x10 cube with blank walls where I can pin all the different pieces of the puzzle I am trying to solve, and quickly connect the dots free from the distractions of all the other things that lurk inside our 13-inch screens.

Carrie gets a lot of shit for that in Homeland. Someone always walks in, sees her beautiful mind murals, and stands there with their hands on their hips because they know she’s been off her meds. Leave Carrie alone! If I wrote a fanfiction alternate ending to Season 2, Carrie would quit the CIA, ditch her lithium, and move to some Buddhist country to become an artist. I mean look at this fucking mandala:

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Back to work.

Tuning out

I’m riding in the back seat of my aunt’s SUV, swaying along dark country roads while I try to focus on what I need to do to ensure my survival across the Atlantic this winter. She chats with her friend from down the street and my cousin next to me in the back seat talk about this television show and that, and I may as well be an alien in a pleated skirt and lipstick posing, poorly, as a suburban human. They talk about the newest episode of blah-blah-blah as I sit quietly, watching the rain cling in droplets to the window, grudgingly fracturing off into various paths and I think of Jeff Goldblum flirting with Laura Dern and chaos theory. They discuss which actress was good and which was bad while my mind drifts back to something my aunt said over dinner: about why the public discourse has shifted so drastically to the Syrian refugees when the Haitians have been coming over in boats and drowning trying for decades; about why there is such a debate about helping the Syrians when we haven’t even helped our next door neighbors living in the worst poverty one can imagine, before the subject was strategically changed by her friend who is of the opinion that politics should be avoided during meals and especially meals with family members from New York. I overhear so-and-so won the Emmy for something as I stare off into the woods watching the trees slice through the floodlights of faraway houses, and I am back in Haiti smelling the burning garbage and feeling my combat boots rub my heels raw while I walk with the author of the Lonely Planet Guide to Haiti for miles, past the markets where the sellers tirelessly flip the produce and descriptionless pharmaceuticals stuck to cones that brings in the $2 they need to survive for the day. They laugh at the screen death of a B-actor but I am standing with my nonchalant little sister over a mass grave filled with the bodies of victims of poverty, of America’s refusal to take responsibility for the power it has accrued, which led to the lack of help for our neighbors near and far, which led to the lack of stable concrete that burst into powder and smothered everything and everyone beneath it the fraction of a second the tectonic plate nobody had ever thought was a risk slipped beneath the hellish island from where my life snapped into existence on this plane. I exhaled sharply.

“Riki, are we talking to much about TV?” my aunt asks.

“No,” I say pleasantly and smile, loving her so much it overrides my building anxiety over the futility of our day’s events to change any bit of what is wrong with things.

“Are you thinking about all the work you have to do?”

“Yeah.”

On editor’s block, the corrosive effects of the advertising industry, and the dismal state of journalism

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This weekend a friend gave me something I needed very badly. It was something I never would have bought for myself, but didn’t have the audacity to ask anyone for. And he just knew, and he could, so he did. If you ask me, that’s the way gift-giving should be done, not in the context of some capitalistic ritual.
This friend was an instant friend, the kind of friend I don’t need to use falsities or filters with. He is also one of the original architects of the internet. When it comes to publishing, and most other stuff, I trust him. He knows my style, knows my flaws, knows that I care deeply about improving the condition of this world if it is within my reach. So when we got up to leave his favorite Ukrainian diner, and he asked me to something, I listened.
“Just write,” he urged me. “No matter what else you do, just keep writing.”
So I am. This is me writing.
As he and others have aptly noticed, I haven’t been writing much lately, for publication, and there are three main reasons for this. Better to be a writer who writes about writing than a writer who doesn’t write, I suppose.
For one, I have, not writer’s block, but editor’s block. I used to publish something every day, for fun, for justice, and for the sake of writing. But when you spend so much time editing and processing and publishing other people’s work, your own becomes but a shadow of a priority, the last thing on the to-do list. I enjoy helping people publish the best possible version of their writing, so it’s easy to feel that I am doing something meaningful *enough*. I am not immune to the illusion of productivity. In working behind the scenes, like a ghost, with authors whose ideas I support, and who have a bigger megaphone than I, I have been able to feel content in a way. But, as my friend told me the day we met, if I don’t act now while I’m young, I could wind up content—or worse, married. I’ve luckily dodged the later, but the former is a work in progress.
The second reason I haven’t been publishing much lately is that the process is unpleasant on the whole. Publishing tech still sucks, despite all its promise, and writing professionally involves doing many (IMO) degrading things that have nothing to do with writing at all. Sometimes by the time I “sell” my writing, my initial idea has been bent so far away from its original orientation that I don’t even know how to write the new thing it is supposed to become.
My ideal editor just says “Yes. Assigned,” to good ideas, and offers the support to help elevate a work from draft to ready-for-publication quality. That is the kind of editor I have always tried to be. I still know a few good ones, and they are prepared to ditch the click-driven jobs they hate and work with me on the kind of writing we believe should be produced as soon as the option presents itself.
Our publishing industry in the United States, in its current iteration, doesn’t incentivize the publishing of ideas that are worthwhile of being discussed in and of themselves. There is a capitalistic undercurrent to almost every form of paid writing that selects for things that exploit the reader using all the original tools of captivation (comedy, sex, violence), refined into the art of public manipulation as described by Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew. This is, of course, until you’re able to break through to the literary level in which you can write whatever you want because you’re a “thought leader.” But by that stage, you probably don’t need to be paid to write. It’s probably more of a hassle invoicing through the archaic payment systems in “modern” media than to just call it a trade, your work for their platform. I find it a serious conundrum that the people who should be writing the most, are the least incentivized by the industry to do so.
An essay shouldn’t be a vessel for ads. It should be a tool of transformation in and of itself.
Finally, and frankly, I am disgusted by the state of the world. As I have observed in my travels over the past three years to 30 different countries, the dismal state of human affairs is directly connected to the state of the publishing industry—globally, but driven by the failings of the American media.
I have made my career out of creating jobs for myself and other within institutions I wanted to believe were good and just and shared my ideals for producing the kind of journalism that fuels democracy. But it has never taken more than a month inside each institution for me to understand the flaws, the poor decision-making, and ultimately, the greed that corrodes its editorial goals in practice. I have made it my hobby to usher talented individuals around the industry, plucking them from toxic institutions and placing them in places that are at least a step up, where they may have the opportunity to gain control. But something always stops them from truly breaking through.
If my experiences over the course of my career in media, which include founding and operating a media company, have led me to one conclusion, it’s that the advertising industry is a plague on the journalism industry, and on humanity itself. I won’t contribute to it any longer (in so much as that’s possible while still remaining connected to my peers on the internet). And I don’t need to.
I’ve tested my limits of existence and I know what I need to survive in this world, and it is not much. I won’t waste a day of my time doing something I don’t believe in. And who on the publishing side wants to work with a journalist who can’t be bought and owned? I’m not good for your business models. But that’s OK because I’m creating new ones.
If only the our government took care of us all so we could focus on improving the world through our art. Absent that in American society, we must rely on each other.
So I will write. But I won’t write for the advertising industry, or for capitalism. I will write for my friend, and for fun, and for justice. I will write. No guarantees on what about, but I’ll keep doing it.
And if I don’t, I don’t. But the only way I’ve ever done anything in this life is by lighting a fire under my own ass. So here’s hoping.

Tomorrow you will die

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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.

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

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.