Interview with Laura Alcalá Baker
Laura: So I read the excerpt of your book, Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be. It was incredible! I just feel like your work leads with the heart and I love that. And I’m so excited to have this conversation with you!
Nichole: Thanks! It’ll be fun!
I wanted to kick off with this…why did it feel like the right time to tell your story?
You know, I was a little frustrated with the types of memoirs that a lot of women, especially Black women, were putting out or allowed to put out, where it just seemed like the purpose was a, “how-to” guide… “how-to” live. And so I wanted to put out something that was kind of like, yes, this is my life, and it’s not always fantastic, but it’s still good. It was important to me to get that out.
Also! I had been reading Roxane Gay, a lot of Samantha Irby. Her work is hilarious and she’s very funny. I was just really intrigued by what they were doing with memoir and essays, personal essays.
Awesome. That’s great. So I really love the title. How did you come to it?
It is actually a song lyric from my favorite Prince song! “If I Was Your Girlfriend” from his album Sign of the Times.
And it’s one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard. Prince is singing in his alter ego, this different persona, he had named Camille. Through that, he’s asking all these questions about the boundaries of their new relationship. But his overall purpose is to still stay with this woman, however he can. So I think about that and my overall life, that line “sometimes I trip on how happy we could be” and what would it be like if we just did what we needed to do to be happy and we weren’t living the life that was expected of us, you know?
That’s so real. I think about that a lot. I don’t have to live what anyone else has predetermined. What if you just lived like in this space of radical happiness, of pursuing that happiness?
Right! I’m very focused on pleasure at this point in my life and not just necessarily sexual pleasure, but just like is this going to be good for me? Is this going to benefit my life? Is this going to serve me in the long term? And I want more people to kind of figure that out for themselves.
It sounds like you’re actively choosing the life you live.
Yes, yes. Yes. For a long time, I was just letting life happen to me in a very passive way where, you know, I would say, “Oh, I want to be a writer.” And I was expecting people to come to me in order to make that happen. And I needed to be active in that. I needed to be, you know, figuring out a way to make “my writer life” happen.
Being an active participant in your life…what is that thing that’s circling the Internet right now? How do you make yourself the main character? This is it. You are! You have a memoir. You are the main character!
Yeah! For so long, you know, my life plan was what people had told me my life plan should be. Go to college, get married, have kids, and then just kind of ride that out, and there was nothing else beyond those things.
I would probably meet my husband in college because that was still kind of the secret that nobody talked about at that point anymore. So even though it was supposed to be about getting an education to improve your earning potential, there was still very much the expectation of — you’re going to go to college and meet your lifelong partner. And then once you get married, you have kids and then your life is just your husband and your kids. That’s all.
It was already predetermined.
Yeah. And, you know, those things are nice. I do actually still want those things, but I want them on my terms. That’s the thing I was fighting for throughout my life: doing these things on my terms and not the way people told me they had to go.
So I just made a lot of decisions trying to stay on the path that people had already carved out for me. And then when I strayed away from that and took a really long time to figure out what I wanted, people were like, “Why don’t you just do the easy route?”
I wish I could! I wish I could have taken the easy route, but it did not feel good to me. It made me miserable and I hated it.
What was the first thing that made the memoir for you?
There’s a chapter called “Succubus,” and it is an adaptation of a personal essay that I had written about exploring what it meant to have a submissive lover. And so I was exploring that and learning how to be more dominant in my sex life. I wrote that piece in, I think, maybe 2014, something like that, and so much has changed in my life since then. But that was the first piece that was important to me.
I’ve always been a very sexual person, even as a child. I was fascinated by the mechanics of sex and the reason why. You know, why are my parents kissing, what is the purpose of that?
I think that writing was maybe the safest way for me to explore my power and get my power back.
The first chapter is called “Fast,” which looks at my childhood and the ways that Black girls are punished and ostracized and, you know, kind of shamed for older men, for adults, going after them as opposed to people going after the adults.
Right. Girls are going through puberty and suddenly it’s their fault that men are making nasty comments to them. It’s like your sexuality is out of your own control!
It’s this blame culture towards girls, especially Black girls. And then with adults, you see on social media where people are like, “Well, you shouldn’t show so much of your body because nobody’s going to want you. Nobody’s going to want to marry you, because now everybody’s seen your body.” And it’s just like-
And the goal is still being married in that conversation!
Well, what if I don’t want to get married? What if I don’t ever want to get married? What then? How can you tell me that I should be covering my body? What if this is my expression?
This is the expression of my fullest self.
Right! So what I want to do in order to express my femininity for myself, I have long nails. You know, I really like having my nails done. I like taking care of my skin in such a way that I feel very soft to touch.
I will still be in my jeans and t-shirt, but I’ll have on some kind of slinky lingerie underneath it. So it’s very much like you’ll get the soft part of me if I deem you worthy enough to get close enough to see that–
Slow clap for that! I’m just like, “Sorry sir, but you’re not worthy of that yet!”
Exactly. And again, it’s not me being conservative or overly modest. It’s just that I have learned that people are going to look at me and make an assumption about me immediately.
And then if they get closer to me, they’ll realize that their assumption was wrong. So I feel like, you know, the people who get close to me will get the real me, will get the soft me. And the people who are going to try to take advantage of me or try to label me as something else. They won’t necessarily get the truth of me.
I love that. Like, I love it, I love like — this is what it takes to get the truth of me. I love that you’re setting that boundary for yourself. It all goes back to choosing the life you want to live!
OK, so what after reading your memoir, what’s something that you hope people will walk away with?
I hope people walk away with the fact that I don’t have all the answers. And I want them to also feel that way: you may not have all the answers, you may not have reached all the goals that someone told you you had to reach by twenty-five or thirty, but you still have a life worth living and you can still be figuring things out and still be happy with that. You don’t have to follow anyone else’s trajectory.
This is not a how-to book. You know, this is not a “follow my footsteps” because my footsteps are all over the place! I guess I just want people to realize that they can still be finding themselves, wherever they are in life.
It’s a winding path.
Exactly. Yes, I like that.
Now for the lightning round!
First thing you do every morning?
Play with my cat, Calliope. Which is not a euphemism! She wakes me up, she wants attention. I give her a little attention. It’s nice to start the day with something soft.
Last thing you do every night?
Read a book. That’s how I unwind and let go of the stresses of the day. I love romance novels.
Is there an app you can’t live without?
Insight Timer! I actually discovered it over the course of the pandemic because I was dealing with a lot of insomnia. And I was very skeptical. I was like, there’s no way that this works! Also, I’m kind of paranoid about the idea of like what if they’re planting some subliminal messages! Ah! But I heard the guide talking about breathing and then I woke up, she said, “This will be the last time you hear my voice.” And then in the morning, I was awake! I was knocked out.
OK, what book do we need to read? Wait, I feel like it’s yours!
Yes, my book, please! Also. Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford is another memoir that’s really good and then Love In Color by Bolu Babalola, which is a collection of love stories through mythology retold.
Excellent. And so what is a compelling business or person we should have our eye on?
It’s called The Bitter Southerner, and they do stories about the American South. I really like seeing their stuff because they do try to give a much more well-rounded approach to the South than many people expect.
Oh, that’s great. I feel like we covered so many amazing things. I’m deeply fascinated by you and your story so this is just so great to get to know you on a deeper level. I can’t wait to read your book! So thank you so much.
Thank you so much. I appreciate this!
Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins is available for purchase now online and in bookstores near you on Tuesday!
CHECK IT OUT: An Excerpt from Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins
“Hear the dark liquor of her laughter rippling behind her sentences” in this magnetic memoir as it explores a journalist’s obsession with pop culture and the difficulty of navigating relationships as a Black woman through fanfiction, feminism, and Southern mores” – Saeed Jones
A Roxane Gay Audacious Bookclub November Pick
Named “Most Anticipated Books of 2021” by Buzzfeed and Lithub
Pop culture is the Pandora’s Box of our lives. Racism, wealth, poverty, beauty, inclusion, exclusion, and hope — all of these intractable and unavoidable features course through the media we consume. Examining pop culture’s impact on her life, Nichole Perkins takes readers on a rollicking trip through the last twenty years of music, media, and the internet from the perspective of one southern Black woman. She explores her experience with mental illness and how the TV series Frasier served as a crutch, how her role as mistress led her to certain internet message boards that prepared her for current day social media, and what it means to figure out desire and sexuality and Prince in a world where marriage is the only acceptable goal for women.
Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be is available for purchase now online and in bookstores near you.