How Nichole Perkins Taps Into Memories to Write Personal Essays

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership.

S2: I’m thinking about this chapter that I wrote about my great grandmother and I talk about the soap that she used. So I would go to families and look for that soap, so I would smell it because the smell is really important and unlocking memories. You know, I can remember the music I was listening to when I got a particular phone call and stuff like that. So that’s kind of how I would get back into that place.

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S3: Welcome back to working, I’m your host, Isaac Butler,

S1: and I’m your other host, Joon Thomas

S3: and Joon, who is that that we just heard at the top of the show?

S1: That was Nichole Perkins, who has a new book of essays, so it’s called Sometimes I Trip on how Happy We Could Be, which is a great, great title.

S3: Aha and erstwhile member of the larger Slate podcast family.

S1: Yes, that’s right. Nichole and I were co-hosts of The Waves for quite a while, and she was, of course, part of the great podcast First Aid Kit for several years. And we all really miss her, so I’m glad she’s with us for this week at least.

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S3: Yes, absolutely. And I believe our Slate Plus listeners will get an extra bit of her this week as well, right?

S1: They will. Nichole recommended some other essay collections that people might want to check out, and she is a very, very enthusiastic reader of romance novels. So I asked her to recommend something for listeners who aren’t sure where to start with romance.

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S3: You know, I am not sure where to start with romance literature. I feel like I’ve got that under control of my life. But you know, so it’s good to know. And if you were a slate plus listener, you could know all of that too. Fortunately, it is incredibly easy to subscribe to Slate. Plus, you will get exclusive members only Content Zero ads on any Slate podcast, full access to articles on Slate.com without hitting that pesky paywall. Bonus episodes of shows like One Year and Big Mood, Little Mood and You’ll Be Supporting the work we do right here. I’m working. It’s only $1 for the first month. To sign up, go to Slate.com Slash Working Plus. Enough out of me. Let’s take a listen to June’s conversation with Nichole Perkins.

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S1: I am really excited to talk to today’s guest who will be known very well known to podcast fans as part of the old school panel show version of the Waves and of course, as one half with them at a whim ne of the amazing Thursday kit Nichole Perkins. Welcome to working.

S2: Thank you. I’m so excited to see you again. Be back with sleep. I really am thrilled to be here. Thank you.

S1: I wanted to talk with you today because you have a great new book of essays, so it’s called Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be. And this is an unscientific observation, but I feel like single author essay collections are pretty rare these days, although there are still lots of personal essays online. Tell us a bit about this collection and how it came about.

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S2: I started working on it in 2017, when I moved to New York. I was a part of this BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellowship program, which was focused mostly on writing about pop culture online and, you know, pop culture criticism, which is what I had been doing freelance. And you know, whoever would have me. And so I was there writing those essays online and also reading books like Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and Meeting You by Samantha Irby and Mindy Kaling’s books that weren’t necessarily essays, but kind of, you know, more humor and humor writing. And although I would never try to be as funny as Samantha Irby or Mindy Kaling, I was just like, I was really intrigued by what all three of those women were doing with their work. And I figured, you know, they were creating this path for me and other writers, and I was like, I’ll just, you know, I’m really interested in following this path of seeing where it takes me. And also because I wanted to do this because I didn’t really see essay collections or memoirs from people who were not already of note, you know, who were not already celebrities. And so I just kind of wanted to put something out there that was maybe a little bit more. I don’t know, down to earth, I guess you could say.

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S1: So you have a poet seer, you are a poet and a beautiful turn of phrase. I kind of preface that because it’s really striking that many of these pieces were about things that happened many years ago. Not all of them, but many of them. And it’s clear from the language that you get there, you find yourself in that moment or really feels that way to me. You find yourself in that moment when you were writing them. How did you tap into those moments from your personal history? I mean, did you have diaries, poems? Did you meditate? What did you do?

S2: I don’t have access to my old diaries and journals. Some of them are in storage. Some of them are just destroyed a long time ago. But what I would do is like what I’m thinking about this chapter that I wrote about my great grandmother and I talk about the soap that she used to have, so I would go to family and look for that soap. Some of them would still have that particular soap, and so I would smell it because the smell is, you know, it’s really important and unlocking memories for us. I would listen to a lot of music of that time to put myself back into that place. So one of the reasons that I wanted to focus on pop culture is because I am not great with remembering exact dates or anything like that, but I can remember what I was watching. When something happens, you know, I can remember the music I was listening to when I got a particular phone call and stuff like that, so I would have to go back to those things and, you know, look for old episodes online to remember those feelings. So that’s kind of how I would get back into that place. And I was always just also very honest in my writing like I can’t really remember. But this is the feeling that I have, you know, from that moment because I I did not want anyone to come back and be like, Will you say this happened in 1982? But actually, it was 1983. I’m like, OK, fine, Mike. And you know, also again, I’m writing this through a pandemic, so maybe my brain is just not the way it used to be.

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S1: Yeah, I get that. So which parts were the hardest to write? Was there one essay that just like you knew you needed to include it because it was really like sticking with you, but you just really had to wrestle with it?

S2: I mean, they all they were all challenging, of course. Writing about my brother, I have a chapter about my brother who is on the autism spectrum, and that was difficult for me. It was not included in the first. Round that I sent out to beta readers are my first quote unquote final draft, and my good friend Cynthia was like, I think you need to write about this. I think you need to talk about your brother and and your family. So I did, and my editor was like, This is great, let’s put this in there. And that was hard just because I, as I say in the chapter, I’m very protective of him. I don’t want anyone to mistreat him. I don’t want anyone to make fun of him. And so putting that out there? You know, I just did not want to make him more vulnerable than he already is as a black autistic man in this world. No. So that was a challenge. The chapter, call it by its name, which is about a sexual assault that I try my best not to call that. And he was still just talking about. It is like, I don’t know, because I didn’t. I had the language for it, but I didn’t want the language to apply to me. And it’s still I still worry because I think that the person that I wrote it about maybe has read it or will read it soon, and I don’t want him reaching out to me. And then also the on a lighter note, the chapter my Carmilla ass list, which is about that real world season in Boston. The woman had this really long list of standards that she was looking for in a partner. And that was difficult because I was very embarrassed by my own list of standards, and I was just like, You know what? I’m so embarrassed. I have to include it. Yeah, and that’s that’s one of the ways that I have to work through some issues. You know, some fears is just to barge through it. I was nervous about putting it out there because it’s such a silly list and it’s so it’s changed so much, which I do annotate in the in the chapter. Again, I have a really strong fear of the things that I admit being weaponized against me, so I did not want anyone to be like, Well, this is why you’re still single, because you have this ridiculous list.

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S1: I do have some questions about what you chose to write because you, you do make yourself vulnerable. You’re talking about yourself in a very honest way. But first, I don’t imagine you were only working on this book during the time that you were writing it. I mean, just again, you’re a freelancer who needs to juggle a bunch of projects. Did you find it tricky to switch from, for example, outgoing regarding a podcast mode to inward looking? I’m kind of excavating my personal history mode. And did you develop any rituals or tricks to move into that kind of personal writing?

S2: Yeah, absolutely. It was really difficult to go from, you know, doing a podcast about thirsting after celebrities to talking about how watching TV and reading your romance novels may have skewed my expectations of love. And in talking about painful situations. So it was definitely hard. So what I would do again, I would listen to the music of whatever era I was talking about. You know, if it was a particular relationship, I would try to go back to the music that I was listening to during that time to remember all those feelings and stuff like that. But I actually write using classical music playlists so that I don’t get distracted by the lyrics. I can’t use music because I know a lot of my writer friends also write to music scores from for movies. But when I do that, I start thinking about the movie itself. So and I don’t really know anything about classical music, so that’s just easy. But I do need sound. I do need something that’s kind of pushing me along. And also, like at the start of the pandemic I got, I adopted a cat and because of her separation anxiety, I would, you know, she doesn’t know anything but me being here the whole time, right? So when I would leave to go run errands or do whatever, I would go to YouTube and put on these cat videos that are like birds and squirrels. But I found that when I would come back home, I would leave them up and running because it was so peaceful and it was just so nice to kind of like, clear my mind that way. And then I started watching these YouTube ambience videos where someone would just have it’s just a single screen of like a flickering fireplace or rain against the window or something like that. So I would also have that on while I was writing to kind of trick myself into thinking I was in a new place. I change a. Scenery or something like that, I’m not one of those people who can write in a cafe, necessarily, but if anybody out there is, you can go and put on one of those YouTube things videos to give you the sounds of working in a cafe, and it really does help. It really helps me like feel like I was someplace else and motivate me to keep going. But there were times that I was physically dreading the act of sitting at my desk and writing because

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S1: of what you had to write of it.

S2: Yeah, because what I had to write about, because I was unsure how it would be received. And by that, I don’t mean necessarily criticism or reviews or anything like that, but I just really don’t want anyone to misconstrue what I’m saying and and say that I am trying to say this when I am very clearly saying that. And again, that fear of like what I’m saying, being used against me somehow. So the habit that I formed to correct that it’s not healthy, but I had to like, drink some wine. And yeah, and I resisted that for a long time because just on a bummer note, I do have alcoholism in my family. I tend not to drink by myself when I’m at home and I do live alone. So for the cat? Yeah, right? You know, I might have a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s maybe like once or twice a month or something like that. And I don’t drink often at home by myself. So I was I was like, Oh, I don’t want to do that. Also, I didn’t want to be a cliché. I didn’t want to, you know, be this writer. I didn’t want to like, have this Hemingway like sitting on my chest or something. But I drank some wine, white wine and I was able to push through and I did the experiments, right? So I was I tried with white wine, red wine and whiskey.

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S1: Because that’s right, we should remember that your Twitter handle is Tennessee Whiskey Woman. So, yeah, so I guess, yeah, that’s good. That means something.

S2: Yeah, yeah. And I found that white wine worked the best for me. Whiskey made me too drunk, too quick, and I could. I was just like, No, this isn’t going to help. And then the red wine made me a little too frisky in amorous. And I think definitely, we definitely don’t want to go there with this book. So white wine, a couple of glasses of white wine and

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S1: and so what would that allow you to do?

S2: I stopped being worried about what whoever was going to read it. I stopped worrying about them and I just wrote and just kind of did a lot of emotional vomiting on my keyboard. And, you know, I would send it to my agent and editor like, Look, this is probably terrible, but it’s done, you know, and I, we can clean it up, obviously. And that’s another thing I really do not mind being edited. I love being edited. And I also I trust my editors for the most part. And regardless, whether it’s the book or, you know, I’m working with someone online, I trust my editors, but I also reserve the right to push back and hold on to something. If it really means a lot to me, or if I want to use this particular turn of phrase because I am southern and sometimes that language will come out and I want I want that. I want that vernacular to to pop a certain way.

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S3: We’ll be back with more of June’s interview with Nichole Perkins after this. Hey, their listeners. Isaac Butler, here you have creative problems, we have creative solutions, whether you have a question about negotiating or your research challenges, how to get inspired, how to stay on task, how to fit making art into your day to day life. We are here to help. You can send your questions to us at working at Slate.com or give us a ring at three zero four nine three three W, O R, K O. And one other thing if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts. All right, now, back to June’s conversation with Nichole Perkins.

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S1: It strikes me that there is there’s so much love in this book, which like that sounds very banal, I guess, but not every bit you read, not every book of personal writing. You don’t always get that impression, like when you write about other people, whether it’s your mom, your brother. I mean, I’m so glad you wrote that it’s a really beautiful chapter. I think that’s maybe the thing that’s stuck with me most. Your sister, your aunt. I want to go and buy Aunt C a book, for example. You know you’re good friends. You really showing your love for those people. And I think it kind of is a, you know, when you read that you’re like, Oh, you know, is there somebody in my life like that like you? I should appreciate more. And then, you know, toward the latter half of the book, it feels like you’re showing how you learned to love yourself. And, you know, stick up for yourself. Do you see the book that way and did you see the book that way when you were writing it?

S2: Honestly, no. No, I didn’t necessarily. And I’ve had other people say that they feel. Like yearning and longing throughout the book, and that was not necessarily my intention, either, but I I accept that I accept that read and I accept your read and I think me expressing love for these people, I tend to. I’m a very sensitive person, but I learned early on that people don’t like you to be so sensitive because it is, it ends up holding a mirror to them of what they’re doing to you. Good or bad? Right. And you know, sometimes people are just, you know, in the good ways. They’re uncomfortable with compliments and seeing, you know, that kind of thing. But when they’re doing something bad to you, they don’t want to acknowledge that they’re doing something bad to you. So they tell you to stop being so sensitive. Yeah, that kind of thing. So I learned very early that people don’t like. They don’t like sensitive people. They don’t like you to be sensitive. And so I as much as I love love with my romance reading habits and you know, all the things that I love about rom coms and romance, when I would express love, it seemed like it was not. And I want to say it was not welcomed, but people just have a hard time now figuring out what to do with that. And you know, I I talk about this at some point in my adult relationships that the slightest bit of vulnerability or emotion would have men running for the hills because they think that you know me, offering them a drink means I want to marry them when most of the time I’m just being southern and polite and hospitable. And, you know, so I had to really build up a lot of walls around me and the way that I express love. And I found that the best way for me to do that is through my writing. So I guess it does make sense to me that you would see the love because writing is a safe way for me to express myself. I can put it out there and walk away, and then you just have to deal with your own emotions. You don’t have to tell me, you know what you’re feeling for my expression. And you know, it’s funny because I wrote some things that I thought was a tribute. What I considered a tribute to a really good friend of mine from college, and when she read it, she just did not have a good reaction to it. Yeah, we actually haven’t talked since. And oh, it’s that’s really bothered me. And so I it’s wild to see that you and other readers can see the love that I’m trying to show her. But she, for whatever reason, does not or is not receptive to it. So that was a little painful. So it feels like, again, something that I talk about in the book where I have presented my love to someone and they rejected it. You know, it’s about that’s been hard. Yeah. You know, the vast the potential loss, I don’t even know what’s going on, but that loss of that friendship. But yeah, it’s easy for me to express myself in writing. And that’s also another reason why I feel comfortable on social media and podcasting because I am doing these things like behind the lines and I can, you know, make mistakes, correct? I can double check and, you know, do some research to make sure that what I’m saying is true and accurate or whatever, and I can send it out. Put it out there, and then it’s yours and you don’t have to like, I love when people tell me, I love your work, but you know they don’t have to, and I don’t have to, like, hold on to the reactions, you know, for myself anymore.

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S1: So I’m a little wary asking you about this, because I know you’ve posted on social media about being surprised that people are expressing surprise. Yes. Please go ahead. I mean, you wrote about your sexual history and your desires. I would say you recently posted on Twitter. People have been telling me so you get pretty explicit in your memoir, which makes me nervous because I toned down a lot and I’ve written some sex scenes for a future romance novel, and maybe I got to tone those down too. Okay, that’s the end of the tweet, a sense of me being Nichole. So first of all, like, definitely, don’t worry about the romance. I mean, apart from anything else, I mean, don’t worry anyway. But also, you know, that’s different because you’re writing about yourself in this book, you are the character, which I think is like, That’s always a surprise. I never I’m like, I’m never surprised or whatever when people write sex scenes and they’re fictional, even though I know we’ll kind of have to have some sense of that to write it. But was the level of explicitness? You were comfortable with something you spent a lot of time going back and forth on?

S2: Not necessarily a lot of time, but of course, I knew that like my mom and my sister would read the book. And although they are aware of who I am and whatever, but they. You know, they don’t have details, necessarily. And I always whenever I’m talking about my sex life, I always talk about what’s done to me and what I enjoy, not necessarily what I’m doing to someone else. Because I don’t want anyone to think that I am bragging or that I have skills that I don’t or anything like that, you know? And so I’ve always been very careful about that. And there are a few times when I, you know, I do kind of like polish my nails against my shirts to be like, Yeah, I’m great. But for the most part, that was just me being, you know, tongue in cheek, just being silly. So one of the reasons that I stay away from describing the things that I do, like I said, is because I don’t want anyone to think if they’re reading it and they think, you know, some kind of way we do end up hooking up or whatever, and then they’re like, Oh, well, you said you were fantastic and this was horrible because I don’t I don’t want that coming back to bite me on the butt, but I just. But I also just wanted to be clear about what I want and like and enjoy so that other people, especially other women, especially other black women, can also express their own desires and their own specific needs. I don’t want to necessarily say that I’m modeling anything because I don’t want anyone to like, imitate me, but I’d want them to see my boldness and craft their own boldness, whatever that means for them. And I don’t want anyone to think they have to live their life like me because again, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve done a lot of like, unnecessary take, an unnecessary pass and things like that. But I do want people to be honest in their desires and recognize, do you know, ask themselves, Do I like this thing because I like it, or because someone told me I should like it, you know, and then go from there?

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S1: Oh wow. Shifting gears slightly, some people advise women not to publish personal essays because it exposes their vulnerabilities. And, you know, as they say, you know, men don’t get asked to do this kind of essay. Men don’t write these kinds of essays, which they, you know, that’s kind of true. Not that none of them do, but they certainly write fewer of that kind of essay. And so I get that. But I also know that there are women who want to share their stories. So, you know, I want to give them agency. Hmm. How do you respond to those people who are very anti personal essay?

S2: I would ask them more about why. Why should women not be allowed to talk about themselves? Because I do understand a little bit that sometimes women are only allowed to be experts on themselves. Yeah, and nothing else. Right? I get that completely. But also, I know what it’s like when someone is constantly telling me how I feel or how I’m thinking or how I should be acting. And you know, we see that a lot in legislation, you know, and the laws that are going out. But this is how you should make this decision when you know these people don’t know anything about what it means to be living as a woman in this world. You know, there’s that quote. You know, if you’re silent about your pain, they’ll tell you that you enjoyed, enjoyed it. I’m paraphrasing it. And I think it’s either Audre Lorde or Zora Neale Hurston. So I

S1: mean, all the good quotes are,

S2: yeah. But I want to be honest. So no one can say, Well, we didn’t know what you were thinking. We didn’t know touching women and and, you know, without their permission was wrong. Well, yes, you do. We’ve told you over and over, you know, I didn’t know that I shouldn’t wake up a sleeping woman, you know, with inappropriate contact. Yes, you do. Because now I’m telling you that that’s wrong. So I think personal essays are fine and good. And, you know, I think there was a point in time where people were being taken advantage of and forced to talk about traumatic things for, you know, 200 bucks at a time and then being subjected to harassment, you know, because of that. And I think that’s more of where the caution was coming from, recognizing that this is putting people, especially women, who are writing these things in a really vulnerable position again, and we don’t have the means to protect them. Or, you know, I accidentally read a review before the book came out and someone had had an advance copy, I guess. And they said that. You know, they were commenting on the the sex of the book and how they, you know, got to a point where they were tired of reading about the sex, but also they were upset that I did not talk more about my trauma and that it didn’t seem like I had had that much of a traumatic life in the first place. And it’s just kind of like, why does my life have to have this harrowing experience in order to be examined? You know, like, why do I have to like, look at what you’re asking? There’s too much of my pleasure and not enough of my pain. Yeah, it’s like, why? Why do you want all of my hurts? What are you if I laid it out for you? What are you going to do? You know, and you know, it’s especially for me as a black woman is especially a sensitive thing because I don’t want my trauma to be entertaining in a particular kind of way. I would if I’m revealing my trauma, it is because it is healing for me, and I hope that it is healing for you, the reader. And not because I want you to sit there and be like, I knew it. I knew it was awful. Being a black woman, I’m so glad I’m not black, you know, like, I don’t I don’t want to do any of that. And that was something that was very clear with my agent. When you know, we were writing out this, the proposals and some of the feedback seemed to kind of lean that way, let first go round it. I felt, and not a lot of it, but just enough of the feedback that we got. It definitely felt like people were just kind of pushing more Where’s the dirt? What’s the what’s the whatever? And I’m just like, No, I don’t. I don’t want to do that. I think that there are plenty of other really beautifully written examples of people dealing with their pain and, you know, coming out on the other side in a really beautiful way. You don’t have to do that for every black woman author who is writing about her life, you know? So I’m all for the personal essay. I am all for talking about the things that you want to talk about in the ways that you want to talk about and not exaggerating a bad event so that someone will feel like, Ooh, this is juicy. Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Like yet, the thought that someone’s really painful experience is the good stuff, you know for what you want to read is really gross. Yeah, it’s really gross.

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S1: Yeah. And more and much, much more. I mean, I’m just thinking about whatever person wrote that like, you know, nine out of 10 for writing, two of 10 for trauma needs more trauma. Like what is in your mind person? Like, come on. Yeah. Human. Yeah, human. I have to ask about the cover. How did that come about? It’s a beautiful cover.

S2: The artist for my cover. Her name is Adriana de Belin, and her social media handles on Twitter and Instagram are at G’s vanilla. That’s Jay Easy vanilla. We looked at a couple of other, you know, she’s gay, some other options. And then when she sent what became the cover, I was like, That is, I don’t know how she came up with it.

S1: And she did. She never met, you

S2: know, we never met. We never communicated before. I chose the cover, but I loved it, and I don’t know if she already kind of had the beginnings. I don’t know how much of my book she had been given because I was nowhere near finished when we selected the cover, but I loved every bit of it. The Peach, I love that because peaches, my favorite fruits and I don’t even mention peach in now in the book, it’s my favorite fruit. I love that it is, you know, this kind of naughty, juicy drip that’s happening. One of the things I wanted to get across is like, I want a juicy life, right? And as something that my one of my friends and I were always talking about is having a juicy life. And to get to the juice of something, you kind of have to inflict violence upon the fruit in a certain way. Or you can’t, you know, even if you’re trying to be delicate and soft with it, like it’s still it’s still a violent act to get to the juice. And that is what life is sometimes is, is a big mess to get to love a good sweet stuff sometimes. And I secretly love heart jewelry.

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S1: Yeah, that when you do mentioned, although I don’t know if she saw that. Yeah.

S2: And so I saw that necklace and I was just like, I love it so much.

S1: Well, here’s the other thing the reason that every time I’ve seen this cover and I hope this doesn’t sound creepy, but when you and I would record in the studio every single time, I would always check out your nails because you have your nail game is always like A-plus. Plus, I don’t care about nails. It’s not my thing. But I would be sneakily staring at it because like, your nails are amazing every single time. I never saw you with a just mind blowing nails. So the fact that nails are on there, like I know, is that person is you. But those are your nails.

S2: Yes, yes. Thank you. I and I do talk about that in the book like, I love getting my nails done. I think I talk about it in the book or I reference it a little bit anyway. So but yeah, getting my nails done is very important to me. And so it’s very much me without ever having met me. And so I don’t know how it happened. I love the cover so much.

S1: Nichole Perkins, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been wonderful, thank you.

S2: I really appreciate this, thank you.

S3: June, what a fascinating, intimate, revealing interview I learned so much about Nichole and her process and, you know, because of my book, I’m kind of like Mr. Sense memory guy. Yes. I can’t help but focus on her many techniques for summoning memory and specifically the emotions associated with a memory. She uses smell, she uses music, she uses research. Did do you do anything like that in your own work?

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S1: I don’t. I feel like I really need to figure out how I could start to do that as I am about to write a book that isn’t a memoir, but it does deal with places that I’ve spent time in. So I need to, you know, put myself into those places. As we’ve mentioned on this show before, I have a great memory, but it’s a great memory for facts. I’m rarely transported to other periods of my life by smells or sounds or things like that. But I must share one. Well, I think it’s funny exception. I have a friend who works in the costume department of theaters, but at the start of her career, she worked as a Stitcher in costume shops. And one time she spent weeks working on one dress that was going to be on stage for a very short time. Basically, a character would just walk across the stage with it, but it was really, really important. And she was telling me about this dress and how much work she’d done on it. And so when I saw the show, I was just so excited about the prospect of finally seeing it. And it appeared and it was beautiful, but it was a really, really very specific color. And it’s the color of the wrapper of one of my favorite chocolates in a British confectionery called Quality Street. And I tell you, is that dress walked across the stage? I could taste the orange creme quality street. And that was decades ago, and I can still remember the dress, but mostly I remember the taste of the orange cream. And I have to tell you, furthermore, that this morning I texted my friend to just kind of check on what was her role at that point, and she could remember nothing about the dress.

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S3: Amazing. You know, it seems to me that your interview with Nichole had a kind of major theme to it, which is how, as an artist, do you handle vulnerability and your own vulnerability, particularly when you’re doing autobiographical work over and over again? She talks about not wanting her writing to be misunderstood or one thing she says she doesn’t want it weaponized against her. But yet the kind of writing she’s doing requires a little bit that you run that risk, right? So what did you make of that tension and how she approaches and solves it?

S1: I definitely noticed that when Nichole was talking and yeah, of course, marginalized people, black, indigenous people of color, trans queer women, those writers are going to be all the more sensitive to that because they get a lot of shit, no matter how much effort they’re put into being clear and doing everything they can to avoid mis readings. And ultimately, every decoding is an encoding, you know, the writer can’t control what readers take from their work. This does not feel like a great solution, but I think just preparing yourself for being misunderstood and being as clear as you possibly can is the way to go. But you know, the question of the reception of an author’s work is something that has become really, really different in the last decade or so. I mean, I guess once upon a time, the worst thing that could happen after your book came out would be that some dude at the New York review of books would write something awful, and a very small number of similar people would see it. But now you know, the world is watching.

S3: Yeah, yeah. And then you could write like one of those spiky letters to the editor of the New York Review of Books is famous for. I know what you mean because like, you can’t fool proof your art, right? Like, if you do that, you actually wind up leaving no space for the reader, no space for the audience member to have their own response. And that feels oppressive and claustrophobic in a weird way. And sometimes, if you make everything crystal clear, it actually kind of like on a craft level like the end result just isn’t that great. So. So you do have to make some peace with it, you know, when she talks about having to do that and sometimes you know, that means you just need a glass or two of white wine or whichever particular, you know, form of alcohol you’ve done testing on to figure out as Nichole does. And you know, maybe, obviously, that’s not a technique that works for everyone, but she listed a bunch of others you could play soothing bird sound or sound effects loop of a café. I mean, it is incredible how much of the creative process is actually just tricking your pesky brain into actually doing the work that you needed to do.

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S1: I know even when you know you’re trying to trick your own damn self, I mean, how is that even possible on some level? But yeah, this the number of study music loops that are on YouTube are. Streaming music services, playlists like people start to define this really early, you know, there’s so many of those things for studying or writing or thinking. I have to say, though, that I do particularly love the idea of working to the sounds of birds and squirrels and other wildlife noises that are actually supposed to soothe an indoor cat. Like, why shouldn’t you both enjoy the sounds of nature?

S3: And then when you need to take a break, you can just like use a laser pointer and pointed at the floor and go chase the data. Like, yeah, exactly. To take less time than, you know, watching a movie or playing video games or whatever. Exactly, you know, I have to say the kind of intimacy that you and she talked about is actually, you know, a reason why I sometimes as both a reader and a writer, I struggle with personal essays and memoirs in particular. I don’t know about you, but I have this particular thing where it’s like, if I know someone a bit like if we’re friends, but we’re not really close friends, I’m not. It’s so hard for me to read your memoir under those circumstances because I feel like we’re leaping over all these hurdles of intimacy. And suddenly I’m learning all these things about you that that I have no right to know. And I always feel like in those circumstances when I have read someone’s memoirs or personal essay and I know them a bit, suddenly I’m like, I need to pour my heart out to this person because there’s an asymmetric relationship of private knowledge about the other person, and that seesaw has to be righted or something. And I I actually asked a friend of mine about this, and he told me that when he was on book tour for his memoir, that would happen. Like, people would come up and just start telling him all this stuff because and he felt it was because of that sort of anxiety around asymmetric intimacy.

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S1: Yeah. And you know, there’s something else that can happen is, you know, when people write a book and there are people that you know, you can’t say, actually, you know, can we hold this for another time? And, you know, a pretty close friendship that was really important to me ended. Or, you know, certainly stop being so close when I just could not read about really horrible stuff that happened to a friend of mine who’s a writer in childhood. And it really upset her. And I get that, you know, baring your soul. If you believe in a soul, that really is what you’re doing when you tell very personal stories in public. It does take a lot out of you, and I understand wanting to feel support from your friends and to get feedback and just kind of warm fuzzies. But in that one case, I really couldn’t. It was it was stuff that I just wasn’t ready for. And, you know, I read other things by her and I love them. But I get, you know, the damage had been done and I understand it. But I also like it was too much for me.

S3: Yeah. Yeah, totally, totally. Not to change the subject, but I thought, you know, we would check in with our voicemail box. And lo and behold, friend of the program Taffy Brodesser-Akner left us a message with a little bit of advice that she likes to follow in her own life. Let’s take a listen.

S4: I would like to leave this voicemail with a quote that my husband Claude constantly repeats that I believe is sourced from P. Diddy. When he was like, Maybe when he was Puff Daddy? I don’t know. But it’s obvious whenever something else tempts me away from my work. I remember that, he said. I would like to sit around and watch Scarface and eat turkey sandwiches all day, but I’ve got records to produce, and that may be apocryphal. It may not be true if it’s not true. Don’t tell me it’s not true because because I hold to it like a like a family crest in Latin on my breastplate. Thanks, guys. And keep up the great work. I love working

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S3: June. What did you make of Taffy advice?

S1: I think it’s very good advice. Creative work is work. If your job was to unblock someone’s sink, you just get on with it, right? So if your job is to write, then write. And I really mean that. I mean that with all my heart. But I also know that it’s incredibly hard to do. What do you make of it? Yeah.

S3: You know, I think when you’re doing creative work in the early parts of your career or even before you start to think of it as a career, it is just fun. You know, it’s a fun thing you can do. I mean, I became a writer keeping a blog while I was temping at Condé Nast because I had eight hours of no work to do other than to answer a phone, and it was a way to pass the time, you know? And so at first, it’s just like the words pour out of you. It’s so fun. And then by the time you’re transitioning to it actually being a job, it often doesn’t flow like that. It’s not that easy. It’s not that fun. You know, it’s work. It really is work. It’s a job and you have to work at it. And so I think it’s a good reminder right at. A good reminder that, yeah, I mean, it would be wonderful to get paid to make Turkey saying, well, maybe not turkey sandwiches, I’m not super into turkey sandwiches, but it we get it would be wonderful to get paid to like, you know, make tasty food and watch Scarface all day. But that that actually like, you know, your work is your work. And I and I think that that became a lot clearer for me anyway after my daughter was born, because then it’s like, Well, I actually only have this many hours a day to do this work. And not only that, but like the work isn’t just for me, it pays for her clothes, you know? Yeah, baby needs a new pair of shoes, literally. And so, you know, I think that was really helpful in focusing for me of keeping my eye on the ball.

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S1: Yeah, I mean, I do think it is a good thing to just kind of keep at the back of your mind when you’re, you know, having some romantic struggle with the words you just think. Is this your job? Yes, it’s her job. Is somebody paying you to do this? Yes, they are. So maybe you should do it like just to kind of have one of those, you know, harsh talks with yourself. It’s something for the toolbox.

S3: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, so much of artistic work, whether it’s writing or painting or whatever. You know, there’s the actual writing, but then there’s there’s always all sorts of other work to get done. So like if the writing isn’t flowing, it is OK to be like, All right. I’m not going to do this part of my job right now. There’s all these other parts of my job that I can be doing and to go and do it. Yeah. Speaking of jobs, that’s our job for the week, because that’s our show, we hope you have enjoyed this episode of working. If you did. Please remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you will never miss an episode. And if you don’t want to miss all the extra bonus stuff of our episodes, well, then go ahead and subscribe to Slate Plus. That’s not all you get. You get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast. Full access to all of the articles on Slate.com. Bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and our new advice podcast How to Do It. But I also hope you would like to support the work that we do right here on working. It’s only $1 for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate.com.

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S1: Slash working plus thank you to Nichole Perkins’ for being our guest this week to Taffy Brodesser-Akner for her advice and of course, to our splendid producer Cameron Juice. We’ll be back next week for Isaac’s conversation with Dana Kovar Rubios, the costume designer of only murders in the building. Until then, get back to work. Hazlitt puts listeners, thank you so much for your support, we really appreciate it. And here are a couple of questions that I asked Nichole for your ears only. So after people have read your wonderful essay collection, what other essay collections should they read? What are your favorites?

S2: Oh, OK. So just read everything, Samantha Irby writes. She’s so funny and she’s so witty, and she also, you know, she talks about some really heavy things. And you know, it’s just I just love her work so much.

S1: I’ve not read her. I got to fix that.

S2: Yeah, she’s very. She’s great. I also like, It’s so sad today by Melissa Broder. That was really good. I enjoyed that. Michael Arsenals. I can’t think Jesus was really good. So when I’m writing, I do read a little bit for research and to make sure that I am not like repeating something. And then, you know, I don’t want anyone to later say, Oh, we are just writing this book that’s already been written, that kind of thing. But when I am actually in the midst of writing, I don’t necessarily read those same things. So I would be when I was writing this, I was reading, of course, romance novels and other murder mysteries and other like literary fiction that was not really, you know, memoir based just to kind of like, have a, you know, cleanse my palate. And but I read all the time. So reading is really it’s important to me. So I keep reading.

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S1: You are a great proselytizer, I guess, for romance novels. Yes. So people who have not read any romance novels are like romance novels. What? What’s the one they want? No pressure. But what’s the one?

S2: OK, so I like a lot of paranormal romances, so if there’s like vampires and werewolves and stuff like that fairies, I love it. And there is a series is older now. It’s not very recent, but it’s by an author named Rachelle Mead. R I C H e l e. Meet me at the and it is the succubus series. So the first book, I think, is called Succubus Blues. and it is about a woman who is a succubus. And over the course of the series, we get her background like how she became a succubus because she started off as a human being. You know, she’s got a friend. That’s a werewolf. She she works in a bookstore as she falls for an author. And so the series is, will they get together? Because if if they get together, she’s going to kill him because she’s going to drain his life force? And so trying to navigate having a relationship with him, and she’s able to shapeshift and able to like be whoever she needs because she can kind of hone in on her victim’s desires and figure out what they want and become that thing for the night. And then, you know, whatever. And a lot of ways that, you know, some vampires are like, Oh no, I can’t, I can’t drink blood, I can’t drink human blood, I’m going to drink from animals. She is kind of like, I can’t steal good souls, so I’m going to steal the souls from bad people. Hmm. So it’s a really fun series. It’s a good mix of humor and the romance, and it does get really steamy at times. So I love it. So if it sounds like that’s interesting to you, read it The succubus series the character’s name is Georgina Kincaid by Rachelle Mead.

S1: All right, sleepless listeners. That’s it for this week. Thank you so much.