Writer and host of the podcast This is Good For You, Nichole Perkins, joins Zibby to talk about her memoir in essays, Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be. The two talk about the historic lack of Black romantic leads in books, movies, and TV, the experiences that shaped Nichole’s perception of love and relationships, and how the pandemic inspired her to pursue her passions just for the thrill of it.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Nichole. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be: Essays.

Nichole Perkins: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to talk to you.

Zibby: Yay. Tell listeners about this collection. What inspired you to write all of these essays? Give us the roundup of it.

Nichole: It is a collection of essays kind of as a memoir, or a memoir in essays I guess you could say. It focuses on pop culture, me being raised as a black girl in the South and how all of that affected the way I see life, especially relationships and sex. That’s the quick-and-dirty version of it. In the book, I talk about looking at Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and being a child and watching them and then looking at them as an adult and how that changes the way you see their relationship; looking at Niles Crane from Frasier and his mild obsession with Daphne and how I admired that. I was looking for that. Then also, I applied to it my professional life, the way that he treated Daphne or his thoughts about Daphne and that relationship. Music is such an important part of my life as well, so I talk about the music that I grew up with, and especially Prince. Prince is very, very important to me. He is one of the people I dedicated the book to. The title of the book comes from one of his songs. It’s my official favorite song. I guess that’s kind of it.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I started this publishing company a couple months ago. One of our top marketing execs is Jaunique Sealy whose pen name is Jayne Allen. Do you know Jayne Allen or Jaunique? Anyway, her book is called Black Girls Must Die Exhausted. She used to be Prince’s assistant.

Nichole: Oh, my gosh, I have seen that book, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted. That’s the title?

Zibby: After this, I want to put you two in touch. She has all these stories about her and Prince. As a big, huge Prince fan, I think you’ll get a huge kick out of it.

Nichole: I would love that. Thank you.

Zibby: No problem. She’s awesome as well. You were so candid and open in this book, which I loved. Immediately from the first moment, we’re in it with you. We’re growing up with you. We’re under the porch. We’re pushing off boys at rest time or whatever that was. The way you examined the movies — I’m forty-five. I feel like I grew up with a lot of the same pop culture, even, as you point out, what was the role of black teenagers? Where were they in all these John Hughes movies and all the movies and Sixteen — not 16 Handles. Sixteen Candles. 16 Handles is the frozen yogurt place I go to all the time. Anyway, and what effects that has on you to not see yourself in the films or that the depiction of black teenage girls was not particularly savory. Talk a little bit about that.

Nichole: I didn’t really see that many black teenage girls allowed to fall in love. We were always warned away from love, on screen and, it seemed like, in real life. It would’ve been nice to have those moments where you lean over your birthday cake and get to kiss a boy or to see that and see that black girls are worthy of falling in love with or being loved and being treated with care or just being willing to sacrifice something as we see in Pretty in Pink and all these other stories where the girl may not be the right kind of girl or the boy might not be the right kind of boy, necessarily, like on a class level, but they overcome those things in the way that you do in movies. It would’ve been nice to see a black girl get that kind of treatment. Too often, we were just pushed in the background. We were there but not really seen. We were there to be the kind of person that encouraged the main character to fall in love or pushed the main character to take a risk. Meanwhile, we’re just there. No one’s really loving on us, necessarily. You have something like Clueless, of course. That was a little different. Dionne, she had a relationship, but she was still very much the best friend, sidekick, the one encouraging Cher to be bold and that kind of thing.

It was disheartening. Especially since I had started reading romance novels very early, again, I was seeing all these white characters fall in love. There were black romances as I started to get older. For a long time, those black romances just seemed to be white characters who were chocolate dipped, basically. They didn’t necessarily have black experiences. They didn’t really reference their blackness too much, at least in the ones that I was seeing. Obviously, that has changed. That was changing as I was growing up. It was just really difficult to find something that showed that it’s possible to fall in a safe and easy, comfortable kind of love. As someone who has always been very sensitive to romance and sex and intimacy, even as a child, it took a while for me to figure out how to approach those things in my real life. Once I became a teenager and was starting to navigate those things, I didn’t really have very good strong examples of that because it wasn’t necessarily something we talked about in our family beyond, don’t get pregnant, that kind of thing. It would’ve been nice to have something to fall back on, not necessarily a script, but just something like, oh, this is possible for me. I don’t have to suffer.

Zibby: Not to keep referencing other books, but have you read or watched the movie A Journal for Jordan about Dana Canedy and her husband who actually died during military service? It’s their love story and his love of their child. I feel like that’s a beautiful example of a black love story now. What do you think are good examples? Have we come far enough? What have you seen that you’re like, oh, phew, thank god?

Nichole: The movie Sylvie’s Love that came out, I think it was 2020. Time has ceased to exist.

Zibby: I know.

Nichole: I think it came out in 2020. It’s on Amazon. It’s kind of a historical piece. I think it takes place in the sixties. I thought it was a really beautiful story of black love because it showed them just trying to overcome their own obstacles with each other without necessarily it being a protest love story or something mired in really heavy trauma. It’s not necessarily about police brutality. It’s not about trying to escape slavery. It’s not trying to get out of a dire poverty situation. There are clear references to the fact that they are black. They’re living in this particular world at this particular time, but that is not the end all, be all of their story. It’s very much, they’re just trying to get to each other. I thought that was very well-done. I like the show Queen Sugar a lot that comes on OWN. There are different types of love stories, romances involved in that. The Bordelon family, they’re trying to regain their family heritage on this farm. It’s a sugarcane farm. They have a lot of different, intricate stories. I like seeing the love stories played out there. I’m trying to think of what else.

Zibby: If you know anyone writing a very beautiful, well-written, amazing black love story, I would love to publish something like that with Zibby Books. That would be amazing. Everybody’s feeling. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from. Love is love. Romantic love, love for our children, these are things that transcend everything. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true. We all connect over the feelings more than anything else. Our lived experience may be different. Deep down, we all know those butterflies. We all know the heartbreak. If we can connect on that, I think it can bridge some gaps in society. I would hope so.

Nichole: Absolutely. Like you said, we all get those butterflies. We all think, is that phone call, is that text from that special person? We all have that. I would love to see more of that. There are definitely a lot of black love stories and black romances that are out there right now. I recently read How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days. That was a really fun book. Then there’s The Boyfriend Project. Those are by KA Wrights . Wait, I think that’s her name. I might be confusing her social media handle. I’m sorry.

Zibby: That’s all right. Okay, back to your back. I’m sorry. I’ve gone off on this huge tangent, but now everyone has lots of recommendations. I think it is important to talk about the landscape and the changing landscape because you focus so much on that and what we can do to represent and do a better job and all of that. I was interested, too, in your own sexual evolution, not to get too personal right away here.

Nichole: It’s in the book. I wrote it.

Zibby: I know. Still, it’s one thing to anonymously read it, and it’s another to be like, let me just talk to you about your first kiss. This whole notion of avoiding being fast and then the derogatory words just escalate as you age of what you’re trying to avoid being — you grew up in a community where many of your middle-school friends were getting pregnant. I read that section. I was like, no, she doesn’t mean middle school. She means high school, right? Then I was like, no, middle school. What was that like? I was embarrassed to be wearing a bra in middle school compared to my girlfriends. Pregnancy was not in — tell me about that.

Nichole: Around sixth and seventh grade, my friends started to come up pregnant. It was scary. It was very scary. The sex education that I grew up with in my family was just strictly, don’t get pregnant. That was because there was a history of teenage pregnancy in my family. My mom wanted me and my sister to avoid those same fates. To see these girls and to see how close it was — not to say that it was contagious or anything like that, but I was worried because it did seem like there was a lot of pressure to show your maturity or to show that you were cute enough to have a boyfriend or something like that. I have always been a late bloomer. My friends, they were very mature-looking for their age, but they were clearly girls. You could look at them and still tell that they were girls. They just happened to have curves of a different sort than the chubby cheeks of childhood. It was frightening. It led me to make this decision where I wanted to go to a different school and maybe be around a different type of people, a different group of friends in order to avoiding following that same trajectory. I remember one friend, she was having a baby shower. My mother wouldn’t let me go. I mention this in the book. She wouldn’t let me go because she felt like it would’ve been condoning the situation, that I was approving of it and that she was approving of it. I remember being very upset with my mom. It was presented like a party.

Of course, at this point in those tween years, you’re kind of practicing. You want to practice for being a teenager and all that kind of stuff. I was like, you’re making me miss out on this really great party. My mom was very firm. I understand. Once I got older, I understood why she did that. If anyone is unfamiliar, being fast is what we would call young girls who were accused of being already very sexually advanced or sexually active or even just a little precocious in a very sexual way. It was the worst thing that you could be because you were this temptress. You were trouble. I didn’t want to be that, but I also knew that there was something inside of me that was very fascinated by sex and intimacy and romance. I feel like I have been trying to balance that fascination against public opinion all of my life, even now. I’m forty-four. I’ll be forty-five later this year. I still feel compelled to kind of draw back so I don’t frighten someone away and have them thinking that I have had sex with everybody and therefore, I am a terrible person or that I am just run-through, all kinds of terrible, terrible things. I still feel compelled to hide myself a little bit. It’s funny because I wrote the book and it came out, and so many people were like, oh, my gosh, this is so explicit. I had purposely toned down a lot of stuff. There were sex scenes that I cut out. Some people were like, it’s too much sex. I was just like, oh, well, you definitely didn’t want to read that first draft. That just made me feel like, wow, what can I say to make people be okay with how I am? I had to get to a point where I have to push through that and just own my truth about who I am and what I like.

One of the reasons that I wrote the book and why I write the other pop culture and personal essays that I write about sex and relationships in movies and TV shows is because I want women, especially black women, to be okay with expressing their desires and their sexuality across the spectrum. It’s okay to be conservative and want to wait and all that kind of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. If that is your truth, then that is your truth. Sometimes people get teased about that. That’s okay. Sometimes people get teased about being, I don’t want to say promiscuous because that’s a moral judgement to call someone promiscuous, but people get teased about being more open and more free with their love, shall we say. There’s no place you can fall on the spectrum that someone won’t complain about you. There’s no place you can fall on that spectrum of sexuality and desire and openness that someone won’t have something to say. I think you just kind of got to be like, F it. I am who I am. This is me. I’m proud of this. This is what I want. I want someone who’s going to wait until I’m ready. I want someone who’s going to come home with me on the first date. Whatever that may be, I just want all women to be comfortable with expressing themselves and being themselves fully in whatever it is that they desire.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so inspiring. Nobody says we all have to be the same. How boring would that be? Our partners are going to be all different too. Everybody wants a different thing. It would be so much harder to find the right person if we were all identical in our wants and desires and preferences. I think that’s important. Did you know that I also host a podcast called “SexTok with Zibby and Tracey”?

Nichole: Yes.

Zibby: I have gotten much more bold in talking about all sexual stuff because Tracey is so out there. We talk every time about three anonymous questions which really go there. I’m trying to help in my own tiny, little way. People are afraid to even ask the questions. People are afraid. There’s so much shame. I feel like this whole thing is shame-filled like a blanket that covers this whole thing. I feel like you’re pulling it back like a nice hotel. People are ready to jump in. You have it all turned back and professional or something.

Nichole: I’m not a mom, but I know that there’s still a lot of shame for women who are parents in their sexuality. Oh, you’re a mom now. You shouldn’t want this. You should be ready to go after — it’s like, no, sometimes we’re tired. No, sometimes I want it all the time. There’s still this wide range. Women should be able to just express that. Mothers should be able to express their desires and what they want as well without someone being like, no, you’ve got to turn all that off now. Your whole life is for your kids. The only time you’re supposed to get in the bed is when you’re trying to make another kid. It’s like, excuse you, I like things that feel good too. I wanted everybody to be able to just have what they want and what they need.

Zibby: I love that. I feel like you need to write a romance novel.

Nichole: It might be in progress.

Zibby: Is it?

Nichole: Yes.

Zibby: Good. That is a perfect next step, if I do say so myself. I feel like you’re going to be so good at that. That would be very fun. What else do you have coming up? Wait, tell me about your podcast too. You’re a Slate podcaster.

Nichole: I used to be at Slate. I had a podcast there called “Thirst Aid Kit” with my cohost, Bim Adewunmi, who is now a producer at This American Life. At “Thirst Aid Kit,” we looked at the way pop culture shaped desire. Each episode, we talked about what we liked to call a thirst object. That was a celebrity who most of us know very well. We talk about what makes him so hot. Why are we attracted to him? It’s not just about the physical stuff. We do talk about those things, but we try to talk about the things that anyone could have. It wasn’t necessarily about abs and muscles and broad backs. It was about thick eyebrows and hairy forearms and the way men wear watches sometimes or watching him take off a tie, that kind of thing, and the characters that they played on screen and why we fell in love with those characters and then kind of transferred that love from the characters onto the people. That’s what we would look at. We had interviews with Chris Evans, Jason Mantzoukas, Jake Johnson, Daniel Dae Kim, Blair Underwood. We talked to a lot of different people. That’s currently retired or on a little indefinite hiatus right now. I was also at “The Waves” for a little bit, which was a roundtable discussion of news and culture through a feminist lens. Right now, I am currently hosting “This is Good for You,” which is a podcast through Multitude Productions. With this podcast, I talk to people about their hobbies and the things that they do for pleasure. I realized at the top of the lockdown in, gosh, I guess that was 2020 —

Zibby: — It’s all a blur.

Nichole: I realized that all the things that I would normally do for pleasure to relax and escape from this world were also things that I had monetized and were now my career. Every time I was watching television, every time I was reading a book, I was thinking, oh, how can I turn this into an essay? How can I pitch this? Can this be a story? I was just like, no, I don’t want to be productive in that way. I want to do something just for me, just for the thrill of it. I started cross-stitching again. I realized that maybe there were other people out there who were having the same experience where they needed to get away from this productivity hustle feeling like every moment had to be producing something that could be sold or monetized in some way. I talk to people about the things that they do just for the love of it. That includes, again, needle crafts, learning how to skateboard for the first time, learning how to play guitar, pole dancing. I got to talk to someone who collects VHS tapes, those kinds of things. We’ve got an episode coming out about honky-tonks. I just talked to a friend. They like to go to honky-tonks and do all sorts of things. I really love it. I love talking to people about the things that they enjoy and the things that bring them pleasure because I feel like it is a very contagious feeling. It really does make your day to hear someone talk about something that they love and something that they can do well. I just love it. Those are the podcasts.

Zibby: I love it. Amazing. Fellow woman podcaster. I love it. I love podcasting. I have the best time.

Nichole: I do too. I really enjoy it. I’m kind of an introverted person, so I like being more behind the scenes. I like being behind the scenes and being able to create a comfortable background to talk to people without the pressure of performing so much, like in front of a crowd. Podcasting is perfect for me.

Zibby: Me too. I’m with you. Amazing. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Nichole: For aspiring authors, I would tell them, one, to read a lot. Read across genres. Read poetry especially. I think poetry really helps writers learn how to be concise, learn how to paint a picture with as few words as possible. I think people think of poetry as just like, oh, it has to be short. Just get in and get out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be short. Because you have the structure of what a poem should be, you realize you have less of a framework, obviously, than a novel or a short story. Poetry helps you become a bit more illustrative with your words. Read across genres, but especially read poetry. I think that’s the most important. Then also, just write. Don’t be afraid to write. Don’t be afraid of having an ugly draft or that everything on the page may not work and you have to start over. I do not believe in writing every day. You need a break. You need to take the time out. Refresh yourself. I do think that writing is a muscle. You do have to work at it fairly regularly. Otherwise, you’ll have to do a lot more stretches and make sure that you get the flow back so that you are creating something that you feel good about. Not to worry about your audience. For me, that was a problem when I was writing the book because I kept thinking, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me. I would try to throw in all these different caveats and all these different scenarios so people understood what I was saying. My editor had to be like, “Why are you overexplaining? Trust your audience.” I think that’s important too, not think about your audience, but also trust your audience. Trust that they’re going to go with you if you lead them properly. That’s a lot of tips. I hope that made sense.

Zibby: It totally made sense. That’s awesome. Great. Thanks so much for coming on, Nichole. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this novel and everything else. I’m going to connect you with Jaunique after this.

Nichole: That’ll be awesome. I really appreciate being on. Thank you.

Zibby: No problem. Have a great day.

Nichole: Thank you. You too.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Nichole: Bye.



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