An Interview with writer Nicole Najafi.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself...
Hello. I’m Nicole Najafi. I’m a writer and satirist in Brooklyn. My other true loves are my cat Melfi, vintage furniture, and politics.
2. Take us through a typical day, in atypical times.
My day-to-day is pretty similar to my pre-COVID life. I wake up at 6am, I screenwrite in the mornings, I write for my editorial clients in the afternoon, I watch some sort of TV or movie at night, and I go to bed at 10pm. That’s all stayed the same. It’s the absence of travel, the stress about the future, and lack of in-person socializing that has changed — and that has been difficult.
3. Your writing humorizes dark circumstances. How have these challenging times affected the way you write? Do you find that there is more to satirize than ever or…
Humor stems from pain, and so...in that sense, this time has given me more fodder than ever before. Humor is how I cope. Someone recently told me that my writing “cuts deep” and I think that was the nicest thing anyone said to me about my writing. I want it to cut deep. I want it to push right up to the edge of what is “okay” versus “too far.”
There’s a saying that humor equals tragedy plus time, and I agree with that. So in a time rife with tragedy, there’s a lot that I won’t touch, because it’s just not funny. We haven’t had enough time to be able to look back and poke fun at the sillier parts.
4. Why do you think you gravitated towards satirical writing specifically?
What I love about satire is how you can communicate a viewpoint that might otherwise be too difficult to swallow or confront, because you add a blanket of humor over it. I credit two works in particular for my falling in love with satire: Animal Farm by George Orwell and Candide by Voltaire. They’re both short, quick reads that I highly recommend, even if you’re not a big reader.
I am obsessed with poking fun at how we, as a species, do things. I don’t like humor (or anything, really) that points fingers at others. That’s easy and boring. I like introspective humor that forces us to look at our ugly parts. Satire makes that possible.
5. Who do you like to read?
My brain has been fried by Apple products, so my attention span is pretty short sadly. I read a lot of scripts for work, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you have an interest in screenwriting or spoiling movies you’ve never seen. I read a lot of horror. I’m reading a book of short stories by Shirley Jackson — short stories are excellent for Apple brain™. I just read Misery by Stephen King, after having watched the movie and read the script. I cannot get enough of that story. Outside of horror, I read a lot of non-fiction on psychology and creativity. I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert twice in a row. It’s that good. And The Body Keeps the Score is an excellent read for anyone who has suffered trauma.
6. Is there anything you're working on at the moment?
I am working on a pilot, a few features, and a zine! I am also thinking of writing a book on political figures and their cats — merging two of my great loves.
7. Can you tell us about your horror screenplay on wellness? What inspired this?
Yes! That’s actually the pilot. My managers loved it as a feature, but thought there was so much world to it that it could extend for several seasons as a TV show. So I am rewriting it as a TV series. It’s a satire of our culture of wellness and “girl boss” entrepreneurship. It was inspired by a few things — my membership during the early days of The Wing and my experience as an entrepreneur. In both instances, I often found myself in such absurd and ironic situations that I just had to write about it.
8. What about Industry Standard and your work in fashion?
It feels like another lifetime ago, because it wasn’t my passion. I grew up in Palo Alto, which is an extremely ambitious place that breeds overachievers and perfectionists. We joke that it’s “in the water.” Most of my friends from high school went on to graduate school to become doctors or get their PhDs in some crazy science thing. I absolutely hated school. I did not have the patience for homework nor the ability to accept authority. So graduate school was not an option for me. My dad is an entrepreneur, and I think deep down I wanted to do something to impress my parents and peers. But choosing a career path that “sounds” cool or looks good on paper — but that you don’t actually like — is a great way to become pretty unhappy. I always wanted to write, but never gave myself permission to be a writer. It felt like an indulgent, narcissistic thing to declare myself. Especially having grown up with immigrant parents — the arts were simply not a viable career path.
9. In I’m Persian –– and I Know Nothing About Persian Beauty you write about a move away from seeking validation through representation, to a more internal experience of self-acceptance –– unworking what you call your “demon.” What have you found to be helpful in the process?
I credit this entirely to the work I do with my therapist. I see my therapist (virtually) twice per week. I think therapy is the number one best thing I ever did for myself. It has transformed my life. It helped me switch careers, move away from toxic situations and relationships, recognize my own toxicity (the demon!) and better understand it.
Something I learned from therapy is that pointing fingers at others is just a way to avoid having to really look at yourself. It’s why I have some issues with cancel culture. I even participated in cancel culture, which I truly regret, because I now understand what was fueling it for me. My recommendation to anyone who is not able or willing to see a therapist is to read Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown. Their books have been the most impactful for unworking my demon.
10. In representation, or otherwise, what do you see as necessary shifts in any of these industries?
I think equality and representation is a great first step. But I often feel it is done without removing the tokenization part. So while it’s great to be included, I don’t want to feel like a prop. I don’t think anyone does.
11. Rituals or activities keeping you grounded and interested...
I am leaning hard into rituals. My therapist is ALL about rituals. I used to think skincare was just a big corporate scam to get women to buy stuff they don’t need, and while I still think it is mostly that, there has been something nice about caring for my skin and body in a very loving and gentle way. I have started rubbing an ice cube on my face in the mornings as a way to wake-up my face and mark the start of the day. My dad gets me rosewater straight from the source in Iran, so I’m thinking of putting rosewater in ice cube trays and making rosewater ice. Rosewater is a natural toner!
I recently discovered that I am basic and love Starbucks seasonal drinks. They are not healthy, but they are such a treat. During an afternoon lull, I’ll put on my favorite coat and Ottavia boots, and strut the 15 minutes to Starbucks. It makes me feel like I have an event to dress for — somewhere to be. I miss that feeling. I’ll even put on lipstick for it, even though literally no one can see under my mask but me.
12. Can you tell us about the time you made Julianne Moore laugh in line to vote?
LOL. Yes. It was 2012: Obama v. Romney. I was approaching the voting line in Greenwich Village and there was a huge crowd of people. The line snaked around several blocks. The energy was fraught with excitement and nerves and I remember it was particularly cold that day, so no one really wanted to be there. I walked up to the line and yelled, “is this the line for the Gap sale?” and then realized Julianne Moore was right in front of me. She burst into laughter. I WILL NEVER FORGET IT. I love you, Julianne!!!!
See more of Nicole here.
Photography by @nicole_jenna.