Nichole Perkins on writing a memoir, getting vulnerable, and thirsting out loud

·14 min read

Nichole Perkins isn't afraid to say something outrageous.

The co-host of the beloved (now retired) podcast Thirst Aid Kit and This Is Good for You has earned legions of fans with her no-holds-barred thirsting with a heavy helping of cultural analysis. But now, Perkins is turning that sense of humor and insight inward, releasing her first memoir, Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be, on Aug. 17.

The collection of essays covers everything from her love of Prince to how Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship affected her views on romance; to sexual assault and coping with depression.

We caught up with Perkins ahead of her memoir's release to talk about how she makes herself laugh while writing, the scariest parts of putting this book together, and the pop culture subjects that got away this go-round.

Sylvie Rosokoff; Grand Central Publishing Nichole Perkins

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You're a writer in so many mediums, from being a poet and a culture critic to writing romance and erotica. Why was it that a memoir ended up being your first book?

NICHOLE PERKINS: I don't really know. I did a poetry book through a very small indie press in 2018, and I was really inspired by Roxane Gay and Samantha Irby, the memoirs and the essay collections that they were putting out. Also Mindy Kaling's humorous essays. Although I knew I could not be anywhere near as funny as Samantha Irby or Mindy Kaling, but I really liked the idea of trying to tell my story in a way that was not an autobiography. Mainly because I don't have the memory to do a traditional autobiography and go through every moment of my life. Once I really got a hold of the internet and realized what a blog was, personal essay writing has come fairly easily to me. Between the blog and then eventually doing personal essays online, writing a memoir in essays was a natural progression. I started writing the book when I was at the 2017 BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellowship, because that was more about culture writing, but pop culture has been a part of my life in pretty major way for a very long time. All of these things — between the fellowship and Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist and Samantha Irby, Mindy, and an explosion of personal essay writing online and blogging — it all mushed together and compelled me to write this as a memoir as opposed to fiction.

Anyone who has listened to your podcast or read your writing knows that you are not afraid of being pretty no holds barred, but what was the most vulnerable aspect of writing this?

There's a chapter, "Call It by Its Name," where I talk about a sexual assault that I did not realize was sexual assault or that I was trying to fool myself into thinking was not, and trying to remain friends with that person. That was really hard for me because I still communicate with that person. Not often. We're not very close at all anymore, but I was concerned about him reading it and the possible discussion from that or him reaching out to be like, "I didn't know you felt this way." And I anticipate him saying something like that: "I didn't know you feel this way." And, I mean, I didn't know I felt that way either for a very long time.

That was really hard for me to share something like that because I've also seen where sharing this kind of stuff gets weaponized against women, or the concerns aren't handled well or with sensitivity. Also, I knew my mother would be reading it. My mother is very protective and she obviously doesn't want anybody to hurt her child, so I don't want her to feel like she wasn't there to protect me from something.

And the second one would be the chapter all about my brother because, again, I'm very protective of him and I did not want to open him up to anybody taking advantage of what they think they know about him or me or my family.

Were there certain essays that you surprised yourself with either how open you were or the direction that they went?

The chapter about shrooms, taking shrooms and loving Valentine's Day. It surprised me because I'm talking about this very casual relationship that I had with a guy and how I let him be my trip buddy for the first time that I took shrooms, and that was hard for me to admit that maybe I thought about him in a non-casual hookup way. Not necessarily that I loved him, but just that maybe I liked him more than I thought. And I did not want to admit that because there was nothing that could come from it. The relationship was over, and I don't like admitting that I liked guys because they're just so terrible and they never can reciprocate in the way that I want them to. So, I was surprised that I allowed myself to admit that I cared for him more deeply than I thought.

This book showcases your sense of humor as well. Do you make yourself laugh out loud when you're writing?

Yes. I can't remember the chapter now, and it's a really quick thing, but I talked about being high as satellite titties, and that's so ridiculous. It's something that a friend and I go back and forth with each other like if I say, "high as kama-coochie," or like, I don't know, just something ridiculous like that. And it just cracks me up. But yeah, there were definitely times when I laughed at myself and I thought, how silly am I to be laughing at myself?

Do you ever look at something you wrote and think where did that come from in my brain?

Yes. All the time. I can't think of anything off the top of my head from the book right now, but there were definitely moments when I was going back through edits and reading out loud to make sure the flow was what I wanted it to be and all that stuff that I was just like, "Huh? I wrote that. Okay." I'd be like, "Oh, that's really good." Or "That's really silly." I do surprise myself. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

A line in the book that really stood out and resonated with me was in the Frasier chapter where you wrote, "When I'm knocking my head against the wall of my professional frustrations and envy threatens to swallow me whole, I remind myself a better path will reveal itself and take me someplace even more satisfying than I can imagine." Do you feel like your book is emblematic of that statement in some way?

Yeah. To kind of go back to your question of why a memoir first, I was surprised that was what the muses were pulling from me because I do have ideas and hopes for, of course, eventually some romance novels, and then also a fiction book that's been in my head since high school. I thought that either one of those would be the first thing that I wrote. But it seems that the memoir — these essays — wanted to come out first. So yeah, definitely emblematic.

Even with podcasting. It was not really on my radar and my friend, Tracy Clayton of Another Round and Netflix's Strong Black Legends podcast, we actually had a podcast together. We started doing a podcast together before she eventually went to BuzzFeed, and there was only maybe three episodes or something like that, but I really liked it. Once she went to BuzzFeed and she was telling me about her experience, we were just connecting on all these different levels and people were encouraging us to do a podcast. I was like, "Yeah, this makes a lot of sense." And I'm really grateful for getting into podcasting. I love it.

The memoir was a surprise, but it was difficult to write because, yeah, I'm vulnerable a lot, but I'm vulnerable online in ways that I can delete it and go away. I can lock my account if I want to. I can set up all these particular boundaries. But once it's in a book, it's there and people can keep going back to it as often as they want to. I was concerned about that and not in a way of being like, "Oh, somebody is going to cancel me," or anything like that. But it was just like, they're going to have a lot more information about me than I put out before.

What scared you the most about writing this? Was it that?

Yeah. That's what really scared me the most was putting out some stuff that was not the silly, fluffy, thirsty content that people pretty much know me for. I was worried that people thought this was going to be a continuation of Thirst Aid Kit in a way somehow. And then they get to the book and there are some darker themes throughout. I was concerned that people would be disappointed that they weren't getting a whole lot of thirsty content. So that was a major concern. And that I would be misunderstood.

You cover a really broad range of pop culture in the book from Prince to Miss Piggy to Frasier to Mama's Family and so much more. Was there something that got away that you would love to write an essay about in the future?

Spock and Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek, the original series. I was trying to write about that. Trying to write about them and their influence... particularly Lieutenant Uhura, seeing her on screen, seeing the actor — her name is Nichelle Nichols and mine is Nichole — but I was like, "Oh, she's got an H in her name, and our names are kind of similar. They look a little bit alike." I was intrigued by seeing this Black woman on screen. We didn't see a romantic relationship with her. We didn't see her in the context of being put upon and being miserable. We didn't see her trying to navigate her love life. She was a woman who was good at her job, and it would have been nice to receive more of her. But what we did have of her within the context of the time, I'm just really fascinated by. With Spock, I wanted to talk about him and how I seem to gravitate towards men who are very stoic. Or I used to anyway. I thought, "Okay, well, he's not very emotional, but he's emotional with me." I wanted to pull something out of him and get him to break the shell. I realized that at a point, that was a lot of work. It's not my responsibility to get anyone to show me deeper emotions.

So, I want to, at some point, talk about Star Trek and Lieutenant Uhura, and maybe eventually Murder She Wrote. I really like Murder She Wrote and looking back at the shows as an adult, I realized that Jessica Fletcher was a very active senior citizen, and what that means to see someone who is older [who] has a change in career, late in life. She's dealing with grief in a particular way. She has an impolite job. Well, it's not a job, but her side thing is solving murders in real life, which is not something that people think she should be doing as an older woman in the silver years of her life. They also showed a lot of old people just having a sex life and having romantic relationships in a way that we don't really get to see that often on television. I'm really surprised at the subtleties of what I picked up in watching Murder She Wrote that goes beyond just a woman solving crimes. I might want to come back to that at some point. I don't know that I could make another book out of these things, but maybe I will write something online about them.

Why do you find pop culture such a valuable lens to make sense of the world?

One of the reasons that I did not want to do an autobiography is because my memory is just a mess. I can't necessarily remember things by their dates or anything like that. But I can remember what happened by the pop culture thing that I was engaged with. My mom always had magazines. We always had cable. She wanted to make sure that we had some form of entertainment to wind down [with] at the end of the day or whatever, so it's just always been a major part of my life. I don't think people give pop culture the respect that it deserves. People just take it for granted that this is a form of art that's always going to be there. But there are a lot of people who are surprisingly anti-pop culture, who think that if something is popular, if it's for the masses, then that's a sign of a lack of intelligence, and that's not true. It is the way that we express ourselves from the literature that we read, to the music that we listen to, to the film and television that make it easier for us to say, "Oh, this is me." And that's why a lot of people are so adamant about representation because you're in this world and you don't see yourself reflected in the art of the world, then do you really exist? Are you not worthy of recognition? Pop culture is very important to give us a way of recognizing our humanity and that we are not on this floating rock by ourselves.

What was the easiest essay for you to write?

Maybe the Bones essay. That's something else that surprised me in writing — how well it flowed from me because I had been thinking about how I interacted with Bones during that side of that particular depressive episode. And I was a little ashamed to say that a TV show helped me through this really rocky moment in my life. But once I started writing it, I was just like, "Oh, this is just coming out." And I was surprised by that because I don't think that Bones, the show itself, should be without criticism because there are a lot of these xenophobic moments and a lot of racist, stereotypical things that I don't enjoy, but the formula of the show was really soothing to me. I was just surprised at how it was a really quick essay for me to write.

What essay are you proudest of?

"The Women" where I talk about my great-grandmother, my sister, and my aunt. I talk about my auntie, who is my father's oldest sister. I actually started writing something differently for her, and then I got the news that she was not doing well health-wise and has been moved into a care facility. She just was not the woman that I've grown up with anymore. And so I wanted to make sure to honor her and her place in my life and the same for my great-grandmother and my sister. My sister is very important. I mentioned that my mother always had magazines and the TV going, but my sister, she's seven years older than I am. So I was watching stuff that I probably should not have been watching with her. She was my de facto babysitter, but it was always a really good time. And I love my sister, so I wanted to put that down in writing. I'm very proud of what I've done and how these women have shaped me in so many different ways.

I know it's rude to ask writers when you're giving us your next book, but you've alluded many times on Thirst Aid Kit to wanting to write a romance novel. Is that something in the future we might see from you?

Absolutely. I don't know that it's necessarily the next project, but maybe the next, next. I hope I'm not jinxing anything, [but] I would say within the next three years we'll get the romance novel.

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