There’s always something uncomfortable about watching a talented person’s life flame out spectacularly, isn’t there? Especially when you find yourself wishing you had even half the talent that person’s wasting.
At times [Cat] Marnell seemed so hellbent on doom that I began to wonder if hers wasn’t entirely an act. Did she even do drugs? Or was she just another fame-hungry young woman who had learned that her self-destruct button came with all kinds of rewards?
As for her writing, her work was wild and wildly inconsistent. A post she wrote about the morning-after pill was one of those incoherent rants that make you wonder if an entire generation failed to learn how to use the delete button. “O.K., so for the exactly three women left in this world, apparently, who don’t know what Plan B is, it is sort of the world’s greatest contraceptive,” her post began, and it unraveled from there. People eagerly passed it around Twitter, sure, but they passed it the way you might pass spoiled milk: Here, sniff this.
But her Whitney Houston piece was something else. It was haunting and shot through with revelations. . . .
“Why can’t we acknowledge that lots and lots of women abuse drugs?” Marnell wrote in one of those passages in which you can practically hear the frantic clatter of the keyboard as she typed. “Why does a person have to have resolved their drug issues in order to be allowed to write about them? Can’t a writer be conflicted?” When I read her essay, it had been 18 months since alcohol last lighted a match in my veins, but I had to admit she had a point.
So, what did I think of this writer? In the following months, I thought a lot of things about her. I thought she was a gifted memoirist and a self-mythologizing poser. I thought she was an addict in love with her own damage and a deeply troubled soul. But mostly what I thought after clicking the link in that e-mail was: Damn, her Whitney Houston piece was better than mine.
My first introduction to Marnell was that morning-after pill piece, and the impression I got from it that this was a privileged, clueless dingbat who desperately needed an editor. It wasn’t until recently that I ran into some of her other writing at xojane, when I had followed a link to an article about coping with socializing as a sober person. Digging around in the site’s extensive addiction files, I saw that Marnell wrote often about drugs, about being high, about being insecure, about using drugs and alcohol to cope, about her apparent inability to experience anything, accomplish anything, without pharmaceutical assistance. I saw that when she was on, she was on. As Hepola noted, she wrote with an energy and freshness and originality that many writers would kill for.
I would get these funny zaps of envy reading her prose. I should have done more drugs, I would stupidly think. I should have fallen deeper in the hole. I was just a garden-variety lush, so enamored of booze I didn’t even bother with hard drugs. And I saw in her drug use and her writing an abandon I never allowed myself, and it gave her articles that unmistakable thrill of things breaking apart.
When she wasn’t on, she produced rambling, disjointed hot messes like her morning-after pill piece and the one she wrote upon returning from a stint in rehab ordered by the company that owns xojane.
I do! LIKE: most of the pre-rehab nights when I wasn’t filing stories for this website it was because I was up on speed in my apartment alone, strutting around in a skimpy kimono like Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs”, listening to obscure David Bowie, wearing thigh high patent leather Burberry, chainsmoking Marlboro Ultra-Lights and lovingly, endlessly painting and my face with all the new makeup I get sent at work every day and I am always dragging home by the bagful intending (vaguely) to review.
Then I’d vamp in the mirror. “Would you fuck me?” I’d garble, admiring myself. You know the answer. “I’d fuck me.” . . . .
More non-working, pre-rehab nights of my little life: it’s 6:45 AM. I’m wearing a “Basic Instinct” T-shirt, lilac fishnets, and a bright green face mask that’s been on for hours; I reek of self-tanner and whatever the newest perfume is. Crunch crunch crunch. That’s me chewing up another Adderall like a Tic-Tac while I leaf through The Keanu Reeves Handbook: Everything You Need To Know About Keanu Reeves:
Again, I haven’t felt a single smidgen of guilt about not writing anything even though my morning deadline is approaching. But boy, do I feel — well, not good exactly, but…well, I’m not feeling much except for not-hungry, the main reason I take speed in the first place. Brilliant!
Then on this morning it’s around 7:30 and I’m force myself to do the responsible thing (HA), which is take a few Ambien, a Kolonopin wafer or three (they taste like strawberries and melt under my tongue); I wash the whole thing down with warm vodka-Gatorade left in an enormous laboratory beaker from an afterhours I hosted two nights ago, and then I shove over the huge pile of fur coats and French Vogues piling my bed and pop off for about nine hours. I wake up at dusk.
This easily could have been, say, a typical Tuesday, say, in March 2012.
(I am leaving out all of the hugely wildly glamorous nightclub nights, as not to glamorize my drug use.)
It’s perfectly normal to feel nostalgia for the life you led as an addict. At least the fun, glamorous parts: the parties, the drug-fueled creativity. Everything was so much brighter and sharper and more fun then; sobriety is just you and your thoughts, and you have to find a way to be with them without putting a veil of booze or drugs between you and the things you don’t want to acknowledge. You also have to find new ways to have fun, to be creative, to relate to people. A lot of people can’t handle it.
Marnell turned out to be one of those people. It probably came as no surprise that she went back to drugs, and about writing about drugs. Hepola:
A month after our interview, Marnell announced via a profile in New York magazine that she was entering rehab at the insistence of xoJane’s publisher. When she came back, her next post was nonsense. She’d lost it. A few weeks after that, she announced via New York Post’s Page Six that she was leaving xoJane.
“Look,” she told Page Six, “I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends and writing a book, which is what I’m doing next.”
It was a Keith Richards exit. She must have been very pleased. And she quickly found a new outlet at another publication, Vice magazine, where her bio refers to her as the “pills and narcissism” correspondent.
I have no idea if she’ll write a book, of course. I’m skeptical, not just because there’s a dearth of great PCP-inspired literature but because writing a book is a mountain that is easy to start and tremendously difficult to finish. It requires ripping out the IV drip of a thousand Facebook likes, the instant comfort of “update now.” It requires patience and hard work and closing yourself off in a quiet, hateful room.
People think you can’t write while you’re high, but I’m sure that’s not true. I loved the tippy-tap of a four-beer drunk, because your self-doubt melts away, and the hounds stop howling, and it almost feels as if you are taking dictation from the universe. After I quit drinking, I spent months unable to write. I would literally spend hours staring at a blank screen — typing phrases only to erase them again — and I would long for the late nights in a smoke-clogged apartment in Williamsburg, when I would be up at 3 a.m. writing so fast that my laptop nearly levitated.
The problem is staying in that place; I never could. I drank past the point of coherence. I fell down stairs and slipped off barstools, which can seem hilarious when you are 25 but is pathetic when you are 35.
Marnell is in that place now between 25 and 35. Her behavior seems hilarious to many of her readers, and to many of her friends. She certainly gives the impression that it’s hilarious to her, though she’s also, in her more honest moments, admitted that much of what she puts out into the world is a front.