Category Archives: Travel

Three Flights

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: The jet set life is gonna kill you, they said. And it does. But not as much as it prompts me to live. I am not the person I once was, but I am still me, still moving like my brain is the bus from Speed and it can’t go less than 50 mph or it will explode.

 

My trip from a small town in Southern Washington to Germany took 48 hours. I left after Christmas dinner and finally arrived at the CCC conference in Hamburg two full days later. This time felt different from the other times I’ve left “home” to travel abroad. The earth is shrinking. Whereas a journey across the Atlantic was once daunting and suspenseful, this one from NYC to Frankfurt felt routine, like my old subway commute to the Wired office. I wasn’t giddy or afraid, just ready. Maybe it was because I’d already been traveling for 20 hours at that point, from Portland to Seattle, through a 12 hour layover in NYC during which I trudged all the way to my apartment and back just to nap. Maybe because I promptly popped a valium immediately upon ascent, and The Wizard of Oz was playing on the in-flight entertainment. Or maybe, just maybe, because I’m finally beginning to fully integrate into this life in orbit, complete with all its chaos.

The path from Germany to England was turbulent, emotionally. I was flying with the kind of heartbreak that inflames every previous wound at once, because when love left it took with it the hope that it could heal all the rest. Additionally, I was hungover and burnt out from 10 virtually sleepless nights of high-bandwidth conversations with some of the smartest computer security experts and tech activists on the planet, dancing and celebrating life the German way, connecting so very deeply. Then I missed my flight. By five minutes. I’ve never before experienced a slow train in Berlin, but I guess the Germans were all still reeling from their New Year’s activities—which resembled an apocalyptic civil war more than a celebration—because I think I’d have been better off walking to Schipol. Halfway through the train ride, hope had long left my body, but I still ran the entire way to the terminal, rolling all 19.1 kilos of my portable house with me.

When the attendant told me I couldn’t board, my posture dipped in defeat so violently that my shoulder bag fell to the floor. I stepped to the side and excused myself so I didn’t melt into the dirty tile with it, put myself on the next flight three hours later, paid a rebooking fee that cost more than the original ticket, and scrambled to communicate with my host in London over shoddy WiFi. When I rolled past the attendant once more, I gave her an apologetic smile, mumbling something about a breakup so she didn’t worry I might be too crazy to fly. I’m sure she’s used to this kind of thing. What an unenviable job. The whole way there I lamented the aspects of my lifestyle that made this situation unavoidable. By the time I landed I came to terms with them, supposing that some of those same wild bits are the ones that led me there, to him and the whole whirlwind, and to such a recklessly genuine exploration in human connectivity in the first place.

Photographed with permission at the Howard Griffin Gallery, London.

I left London feeling I had accomplished all I set out to do in a short week there, including reevaluating my life. London is beginning to have that effect on me, with all its rule-followers and closed circuit cameras despite an underlair bubbling with dissent. There was a day when I wondered if I had reached my quota of traveling—if I should throw in the towel and go find a little cabin in the woods to go soak my aching bones and start building something resembling “stability.” Does living this way reach a point of diminishing returns? I was greeted with snuggles and tea from someone very special to me who lives with one foot in each world. She reminded me that we are something of a different breed—we, the ones who have dubbed ourselves travelers, journalists, who have chosen to reject modern stability in order to bear witness to the events of the world. Maybe the most we can hope for in love is getting to collide momentarily with the ones who inflame our greatest desires as well as fears, occasionally getting to roll along together for a brief moment in time. How could that kind of all-consuming love keep up when one is moving so fast? I conspired with my confidante and we held each other close in our arms, hearts and minds, knowing we oscillate on the same wavelength.

Brick Lane street art

One day, after prowling around Brick Lane with one of my most liberated and perceptive artist friends, overdosing on chocolate in the shop where he was resident artist and overindulging in esoteric musings about the artistic condition, I began to wonder if I was somehow cheating at life. Some experiences I encounter living the way that I do—lately they feel like they’re more than people are supposed to experience across an entire lifetime, but crammed into a week. Hunter S. Thompson once wrote of the edge:

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others-the living-are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there.”

As the farmlands of Surrey blurred by in the train window on the way to Gatwick airport, I wondered if at some point I did step over the edge, making life exponential in all its tragedies and ecstasies. Can one come back from going over the edge? Maybe I don’t know it at all, and this is just aging. Sometimes I wonder if I was supposed to die a long time ago, and if this state of hyper-intense living is some kind of weird artifact, like a bonus level in a video game. Or maybe my senses have just been so pummeled by the world that I am doomed to feel disproportionately.

Leaving London, I supposed I would allow myself to be life’s punching bag as long as it keeps serving me pellets of bliss occasionally. That was what being with him in Germany was, and it was worth all the subsequent discomfort of withdrawal from all the top-shelf chemicals his presence released in me.

Above the clouds, I reminisced on meeting David Hoffman, a visionary photographer who captured iconic images during protests in the 70s and of social movements all over the world. You might imagine people who carry memories of the most violent outbursts of human injustice around with them to be scary and stoic, broken and curdled by the things they’ve seen and learned, but it’s often quite the opposite. He radiated cheer and curiosity; out of every pore spilled a “fuck it” to life attitude, reminding me that sometimes the only smart option to take when working within the confines of a corrupt system is to cheat by not playing their game. Why not follow one’s artistic drive and play for the easter eggs, snatching every morsel of meaning in life? I asked him how he trained in his youth so he wouldn’t be harmed in the process of creation. “Oh, I’ve had my teeth knocked out, scars…” He chuckled. “Photography is a contact sport, the way I do it. I just got lucky.”

I comfortably boarded my British Airlines flight to Amsterdam, which was calm like the Tube usually is due to a mixture of British politeness and awkwardness. I spent the last half hour of the flight trying desperately to contain my delight while reading the opening of Cat’s Cradle. How comforting to know a writer like Kurt Vonnegut once existed with all his observational powers and methods of transforming facts into evergreen lessons for humanity! Tears of laughter forced their way through my eyes and I sat, discretely gasping for air, struggling to maintain my composure under the sideways scrutiny of curious British eyes. What could possibly be funny while crammed into a metal box hurling through the sky? Everything. Everything! All the emotions densely packed into 2016 so far burst in effervescent bubbles of laughter, and I’m sure the other passengers thought I was already high. But I waited until I was safely and legally in a coffee shop in the heart of Amsterdam for that.

Until next time,

Arikia

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Overthinking in Belgrade

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Living in Berlin, Istanbul, and Belgrade over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot: about the world, about how it’s broken, about who can begin to fix it and how I might fit into that process. When I start to get this philosophical, I know it’s probably a good time to reflect on that time I drank tequila with Quentin Tarantino.

I am in a strange place. I don’t mean physically, although Belgrade, with its statues of former Yugoslavian leaders centered amidst crumbling grey blocks of apartments, would be a great place to shoot an adaptation of a dystopian sci fi novel.

Mentally, I am in a place I’ve been only a few times before: a place of new beginnings. Sometimes I need to tear everything down and start over, and right now I feel like a baby phoenix waddling around in its ash nest, ready to fly away the moment the right wind current sweeps by.

A few years ago, I met Quentin Tarantino. I had just snuck out of some terrible SXSW tech fair and escaped to the hotel bar when I saw him sitting there by himself. I sat down next to him and, after an internal pep talk, I managed to strike up a conversation with him that I’ll never forget. After discussing his casting selection on Death Proof (one of my favorite movies), I asked him how he decided when it was time to make another movie. He told me that when something grabbed him such that he thought it would be worth spending the next two years of his life on, he knew. We did shots of Avion Reposado at two in the afternoon and he bid me adieu.

Dorothy got Glenda the good witch; I got the cinema king of carnal violence. And I may as well have just clicked my lucky cowboy boots together because I knew it all along: time is truly the most valuable currency. The best work of the artists of the world is not motivated primarily by money, but by the ever-present ticking clock of our own mortality.

I entered the media business when I was nine years old delivering newspapers for 10 cents a piece. Seventeen years later, I founded my own publication. It didn’t work out how I hoped it would, but I learned from the experience. I’ve moved past the disappointments and stopped thinking in hindsight; I’m ready for the next two-year (or more) commitment, and I am getting close to figuring it out what it will be.

When I was little, my mom used to play the “hot or cold” game with me. She’d think of an object in the room and guide me to it with temperature words while I wandered, aimlessly at first, and with more purpose as I got warmer. I’ve since internalized the process. I don’t yet know what it is that I’m looking for, but living in Berlin, Istanbul and Belgrade over the past few months, I’m sure I’m getting hot, and I know that I have to keep hunting.

I’ve been finding breadcrumbs my whole life in the form of special people. They are the seeds of possibility for a better world, hidden among the greedy weeds and complacent trees. They are rare, but they are everywhere, and I’m getting better at recognizing them when I see them: the quiet rebels, the ones who have always done what they were “supposed to do,” all the while knowing the game was rigged, the aimless, the lost, the ones who are waiting for something to happen, to be activated; The underappreciated people with underutilized or misused talents; The dissidents. Finding them and realizing that there are so many others out there who can see the problems clearly but are still able to enjoy the present… they give me hope enough to work toward making something new and unconventional again.

The more I travel to various places and learn about the various problems plaguing different areas of the world, the more massive the oppressive forces seem. There’s something very wrong in the world. And yeah, maybe it’s always been that way and life isn’t fair et cetera. But with rampant governmental corruption perpetuating the problematic distribution of global wealth, I predict that soon we will all be forced to change the way we live. I’m afraid for the future, and I don’t understand how others are not. I don’t want to deal directly with people who bury their heads in the sand and make things worse anymore. I want to work with the people who can also acknowledge that things are fucked up, to try to change them if we can, and laugh about them if we can’t.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but it will involve increasing international connectivity for the sake of global literacy about the various realities unfolding simultaneously across the world every day, and how they all relate to each other. It will involve harnessing latent creativity, and defibrillating those hyper-intelligent minds slipping through the cracks because the present markets favor the mediocre and benign. Whatever it is that I decide to do, I’ll keep traveling, keep hunting, turning over every rock to find the people who can illuminate the big picture. And if I can’t do those things, then I’ll go live in the jungle with a flock of parrots until the end of the world.

Arikia On Her Phone: A Photo-essay by Gabrielle Motola

I once traveled through the Sahara desert with one of the best photographers and amazing human beings I have ever met, Gabrielle Motola. She found it funny that I was always on my phone. Here is a brief view through her lens.

Arikia Millikan on her phoneArikia Millikan on her phone, againArikia Millikan on her phone

Arikia Millikan on her phone, once more Looking forward to many adventures to come with Ms. Motola <3

Why I’m not getting a parrot

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.

IMAG1297

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.

IMAG0894In 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.

IMAG2036Almost 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.

Follow my adventures abroad on Beacon Reader!

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

Snake oil enchantress

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.

Into the unknown

I leave for Iceland tomorrow. My AirBnB just fell through so I only have my first night’s stay planned out of 5 total. I guess this is where my problem-solving abilities will need to kick in. I’m not feeling super comfortable. I’m tired from sleeping in various unfamiliar (though lovely) places for the past 10 days. I feel like when I get there, I’ll be fine, but right now the prospect of the unknown is looming over me like a dark cloud. I just have to keep remembering that this is the easy part of my journey. This is touristy Iceland, not the middle of the desert or the jungle in the Central African Republic or any place high on the human suffering scale.

I’m thinking about why I’m doing this in the first place (venturing so far from home, just because), and I’ve traced it back to a conversation I once had with one a documentarian friend. I told him I had been thinking about being a foreign correspondent for a while. And he looked at me and kind of chuckled and said: “If you want to be a foreign correspondent, go somewhere foreign and correspond.”

It was such a simple statement, one of those realizations that’s just so true, but the precipitating logic that finally causes the thought to take hold is so rare. Also, I just watched Inception so now I’m thinking about all the reasons people have told me to see it over the years and am trying to remember what they were trying to tell me in telling me to watch it. I think it must be the part about the way ideas take hold once they are seeded. I tend to grab hold of good ideas and run, consequences be damned. I mean, I hope that I will continue to run to good places where I don’t have to worry about consequences.

This is the easy part. I must not fear.