Ottessa Moshfegh embraces the edge. The Los Angeles–based writer’s characters swing from stupor to frenzy, riding out breakdowns and breakthroughs with a languid flair.
Her unique brand of psychological turbulence resonates with readers—Moshfegh’s debut novel, Eileen, was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize, and has been adapted into a film, out this December; and her critically acclaimed follow-up, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, was met with rave reviews.
At home in Southern California, Moshfegh mirrors the tastes of her characters, filling her wardrobe with vintage finds that she rarely wears. This habit is a hand-me-down from her older sister, who used to bring Moshfegh on expeditions to vintage warehouses in Cambridge, Massachusetts’s Garment District. “I’m a hoarder of things that I find interesting,” she says.
Though her standard uniform is baggy jeans, a sweatshirt, and Puma slides, her eye for the idiosyncratic has paid off: Last year, the writer was invited to walk the runway for Maryam Nassir Zadeh during New York Fashion Week. For Moshfegh, who donned a black leather scarf and a knit top for the occasion, the pre-show jitters were comparable to the ones that preceded her childhood ballet recitals.
“It was a terrifying thing, being the conduit for these creations,” she recalls. To the writer, clothes are objects of affection, vessels that embody the thrill of discovery. No surprise, then, that three rooms in her home are dedicated to their storage. “It is my hobby and my obsession,” she says, “And a bit of an addiction.”
Ottessa Moshfegh's Rules to Live By:
1. Always seek out friendships with people who are smarter than you.
2. Always place antique photographs of strangers around your home. Under the salt and pepper shakers. In the kitchen cabinet. Taped to the bathroom wall. Most people are dead. You are so lucky to be alive.
3. Never go to sleep without at least one dog in the bed. If you don’t have a dog, invest in a good stuffie and give it a pet name such as Fluffy or Monsieur le Dog or Cutiepie. Just do this. Keep Cutiepie in the bed with you. We all need some companionship and protection while we dream.
4. If you feel unsure of yourself, always put a dark curtain over a window. Anytime you’d like to see yourself, go outside and get some fresh air. Hear the birds and the wind rustling the leaves. Stand before the darkened window and have a look. Your reflection will be far more optimistic when you see that you’re just another creature in the wild.
5. If you smell something wonderful, always be sure to find the source of the smell. If the source is a human being, compliment the person. Say, “Wow. You smell wonderful.” Also, if the pharmacist at Rite Aid looks beautiful, just tell her so, damnit. She deals with sick people all day who don’t give a shit about her, and she looks so good. Say, “Wow, you look beautiful.” You’ll feel better immediately.