Porochista Khakpour On Persian Curses
Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Question: What kinds of curses do you remember from your childhood?
Khakpour: There are small things I can think of straight off the bat. But for instance I remember growing up and my mother always saying, “Never cut your fingernails after dark.” And to this day I probably have never cut my fingernails after dark. And I thought about it and I researched this a little bit. It doesn’t appear in my novel, but I was interested in why on earth do a lot of Iranians think that you can’t cut your fingernails after dark. And the origin, I believe, of this superstition is it was in the Arab pre-electricity. People would actually get hurt, you know, utilizing scissors and cutting their fingernails, or toe nails, or whatever in the dark. Or with kerosene lamps or whatever they used. I don’t know. But it seemed to me that that was the reason. But I love that. I love that sort of folklore. But there’s tons of stuff like that. I grew up as a child completely neurotic because of all these things my parents would tell me – these ancient cultural voodoo that was always sort of present in our household. And it made me very, very stressed out as a child. How do you merge that with sort of modern living and trying to assimilate to this new world that you’re in? It was very difficult for me. You know I was very cognizant of learning English in the U.S. And I was . . . It was very harrowing for me because I was always trying to fit in and do it fast before anyone could notice a difference. But you know the minute some kids would meet my parents . . . You know the minute they entered the picture it seemed like they would just unravel my whole . . . my whole guise. So I was always a little bit at odds with them. I think that is definitely explored ad nauseum in the book.
Don't cut your fingernails at night.
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