Bright blonde and underweight, with huge kohl-rimmed eyes and a penchant for skimpy clothing, Cat Marnell—at least according to Google images—looks kind of like a Barbie doll that’s been dragged around, smeared with makeup, and left on a sidewalk somewhere. And that’s the persona she’s projected through her writing—unhealthy and unapologetic, with messed up priorities and an abandonment complex. But today, something is different: Cat Marnell is off drugs. Sort of. “I mean, I’m not totally—I’m not in NA or AA. But I’m not on pills anymore. Which is awesome.” For a writer whose fame is entirely entwined within her various addictions, this is a surprising move. For example, you might know her from the drug-heavy beauty column she used to helm for XOJane.com (before quitting to smoke angel dust on the roof of Le Bain with her friends); you might also know her from “Amphetamine Logic,” the drug-heavy drug column she recently stopped writing for Vice.
Over the course of several sloppy interviews and more than a few finger-wagging opinion pieces, Cat Marnell has become almost a mythical creature, a figurehead for dysfunction within the publishing community against which we question and examine ourselves. Is her brand of confessional writing the future of online journalism? By reading her column, are we enabling her? Are depression and addiction becoming characteristics of this generation? But Marnell doesn’t have to be a representation of something bigger. She is only a person, and one who can easily move beyond our heavy-handed interpretations of her cultural relevance. While chatting with the infamous blogger over the phone, we found her to be scattered and more than a little insane—but she was also charming and funny, delivering candid perspectives on rehab, boyfriend A.J. Daulerio, and writing without amphetamines.
How are you? Where are you?
I’m good! I’m in Virginia at my grandmother’s. I came down to finish my book proposal, sort of. I work better outside of the city. My ADD is really bad, so whenever I have anything important to do I go out of town.
Tell me about your book proposal.
Yeah! It’s going out this week, it’s my memoir. It’s sort of like The Devil Wears Prada meets Basketball Diaries. The book is called How to Murder Your Life. It’s going really well, because I’ve been on drugs, and I’m not on drugs anymore and it’s really curing my writer’s block. Like, Adderall is a joke. It works in high school and then sort of in college, and then it just completely shut me down. I mean, you’d have these spurts of brilliance, or so you think. For my last “Amphetamine Logic” column for Vice, I was on so much fucking speed. My boyfriend—we’re always breaking up and getting back together, I think he’s my boyfriend right now—hated it, and was like, you just slapped it together and put it up for money.
You’ve written for a long time about not wanting a boyfriend, not being able to maintain relationships, etc. What changed?
Oh my God, well, I don’t want a boyfriend, but I do want him. I’m obsessed with my boyfriend. He’s amazing. I do whatever he tells me to do. I like worship him, I think he’s the most amazing person, and I look up to him so much. I’m totally pathetic! He’s the one who told me to get off drugs. He was like, we’re not dating anymore, and then finally, after 15 years, I’m off drugs!
So you’re really done? 100% no more drugs?
Well, I figure that if I break up with him, I can go back to drugs, so I win either way. I mean, if he dumps me. I won’t break up with him.
Do you want to work in print again?
Print is my first love. There’s nothing like working in a magazine. I love going to the art department and getting bitched out by an art director. I love staff meetings, I love the editors-in-chief wandering around and making you nervous. I love Conde Nast culture. I was at Conde Nast for like 7 years, as an intern, an assistant, an editor, it was just a dream—but that whole thing was fueled by drugs.
Did Conde Nast eventually fall short of what you wanted?
No. Totally the opposite, I fell short. What was really hard for me—I was nocturnal, and a stimulant addict, and having to get up and do a 9-to-5. Eventually for me, it was like, 11:30 to 3, I would leave to go to a psychiatrist appointment and score more pills. And I ended up in the mental hospital, which is what my book is about. But assisting at Conde Nast is strange heaven, you’re completely tortured by everybody, but it is so glamorous. I was supported by my dad the whole time I worked there. I started in 2006 at $24,000 a year. Before taxes. You get so much free stuff, but it’s like, how many YSL change purses do I need? The women who work there are so elegant, but they’re all totally weird. They’ve been in this weird culture for so long and their jobs are to be the tastemakers, so they’re just cultivating these fabulous eccentricities—the editor-in-chief at Lucky, we couldn’t run stories about products for curly hair, because she actually had curly hair and didn’t want anyone to know.
Do you miss writing about beauty?
Yes, I miss it so much. I mean, it was always amazing to me that beauty was not contextualized into other stories, into narratives, into people’s lives. Because beauty products don’t exist outside the life of the person using them, they’re what you use all day while you’re going through shit—you don’t have to be in a nightclub. With the Vice column, “Amphetamine Logic,” I tried writing in a style. But I think that’s why they’ve gotten lots of attention, because even if people don’t realize it, I think they are responding to the writing, and the fact that it’s different than anything else on the internet. But that’s what I tried to do—I just had to write something that was different.
So why did you end the column?
I ended it because I was bored of writing about drugs. I dunno, I’m a total jerk, I don’t feel any obligation to turn in work if it’s not up to par. I’m like, why would you want my work if I don’t think it’s good enough? It’s the same reason I don’t accept edits. Rocco [Castoro, Editor-in-Chief of Vice] comes back with edits, and I’m like, oh thank you—no thanks, though, I’m not doing that. Even if it’s just a few words, they’re words that aren’t mine. You have to fight for your words, fight for your style, fight for the risk that you want to take. The only way anything is interesting is if it’s controversial, if it’s shattering something. When you’re thinking about how you’re going to make a name for yourself as a writer, you have to be smart—it doesn’t mean you have to do the best writing on the internet, but you do have to stand out, or else what’s the point? You have to figure out what’s missing, and go there.
So you kind of blew up in the media this summer.
Uh-huh. I gave some really depressing interviews. I was always high and sad, it was just so lame. People thought I was about to die! No!
Was it weird going from interviewer to interview-ee so quickly? How do you feel about fame?
I don’t feel famous, and if I acted remotely famous, my boyfriend would be disgusted with me. He does not tolerate that at all. I just got back from rehab in Thailand, where anytime I mentioned anything about being known, and how that might contribute to my addiction or something, they’d be like, “We’re not here to talk about that!” By the time I left, I was humbled, let’s put it that way.
Tell me about rehab.
I went to The Cabin in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is fabulous. And Vice paid for it. This is now the third magazine that has sent me to rehab, I don’t know how that’s happened. But I mean, listen, you can’t get clean until you want to. I drank on the plane on the way back. I wasn’t ready! But I was a couple weeks later. At rehab, they were like, you just haven’t lost enough. And then the guy I was dating dumped me—the guy I am dating, the guy I love—because I was such a drug addict, and I almost lost my apartment. What was I thinking, drinking on the plane home? I thought my boyfriend would think it was cool. Anyway, The Cabin is in the jungle, and it’s the best place I’ve ever been—you know, saltwater pools, massage twice a week, personal training, manicure-pedicures. It sounds fun, but when you’re detoxing from benzos while riding an elephant in the jungle…it’s not that fun, like I wanted to kill myself. I mean, Thailand wears off. After three weeks, I’m like, I never want to eat Thai food again, and if this masseuse rubs my nipples one more time I will throw up.
Do you feel like it’s your responsibility now, or your “brand,” to be fucked up?
Yeah! It is. When I was rehab I didn’t tell anybody I was there, so people started tweeting, “You’re so boring now.” And I didn’t think that would bother me, but it totally did. They just really wanted me to be a fuckup. And it’s so easy to get attention that way. I’m not Lindsay Lohan, but I really understand how you can become like that when you can get as much attention that way as you can by actually working. I procrastinated my book proposal for so long; I was like, I’m on page 6, I don’t have to work today! And what kind of logic is that? That’s amphetamine logic. Addicts are lazy. They don’t want to work, they want the easiest thing, and the easiest thing is to maintain a press profile and become this druggy socialite, but I know that I won’t have love in my life if I do that, and I won’t have any money. That’s why I had to make some changes. But it’s ridiculous, I’m the writer who hates to write more than anybody—well, without being high, and I can’t be high all the time anymore. So I’m re-learning everything. But it’s not that scary, you just sit down at your computer and you do it, you get into the rhythm of it, and all of a sudden you have fifteen pages. They’re not as crazy and brilliant as they were on speed, but that’s not sustainable, you will crash and fuck up.
Do you feel like there’s something about the time we live in specifically that makes twenty-somethings more susceptible to drugs? Are we living in the age of Adderall?
I mean, we are generation Rx, you know? And I am the ultimate example of what can go wrong. But it’s confusing, because I am having success, so people confuse that with what’s right. Because they’re performance-enhancing drugs, it’s really not that different from what Lance Armstrong did. I almost failed junior high—and who fails junior high? And I’m smart, I am; I’m really dumb about things but I’m very good academically. As soon as I went on Ritalin, I got straight A’s, but I was abusing it immediately. My father prescribed it to me. When I was a child, there were pharmaceuticals all around me. I used to take handfuls, there were so many drug samples lying around. My friend and I would take Prozac at school to see if it would get us high.
Do you resent your dad for that?
I mean, he’s a real genius, but he’s kind of dense about certain things. He’s very stuck in his ways. I remember I came to him when I was 25 and said, “I’m addicted to Adderall. I abuse it, I never sleep, I’m obsessed with it, I go to multiple doctors every month to get it.” And he was just like, “Adderall isn’t addictive.” But do I blame him, or resent him? I mean, I can’t imagine that he wasn’t trying to do the best thing for me. Looking at it now as an adult, I can see how uncomfortable he was with kids being out of control. But then I got straight A’s, and he was so happy because I was finally falling in line with what he considered normal; he doesn’t want Keith Richards for a daughter. And it did get me into a better college, it did get me to focus my intelligence into work, but the drugs just spiraled out of control. But he couldn’t have known that.
What does “getting better” look like for you?
Nobody wants to get better, being addicted is comfortable and fun, it’s all denial. But I had to look at reality. Getting better, for me, means being able to support myself financially as an adult, without any trust fund, without a man. It’s accountability; it’s doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking responsibility for your own life. If you’re an addict, you can’t do that and be using your drug of choice. But when you get clean, just because you take the drugs away it doesn’t mean you’re better. I used to be like, ugh, I’m off drugs, why aren’t I instantly responsible? Why am I still in bed, depressed? And it’s because I wasn’t being proactive. I’ve been an adult child for a long time. I’m not cured, I’m still the same irresponsible person I was, but I’m feeling optimistic. I mean, if I don’t work, if I don’t write and produce, I don’t have money, and my apartment will get taken away, and my boyfriend will dump me. There are consequences to what you do, and I think that really understanding that is going to make me better. I like being thirty; I like the idea of being done with something that I was doing in my twenties. But I don’t fault myself for being that person in the past because I had a really fun life—as much as it was bleak and dark, it was ultimately really glamorous and awesome. But now I just need to get real! And not, like, read TMZ.
Is it scary to be so open and honest with the world? Do you ever feel like you’re giving too much of yourself away in the process?
Writers are only as nasty as they wanna be, like 2Live Crew. I’m not some emotional bulimic purging writing uncontrollably; I’m honest when I’m writing, but readers only know what I want them to know. I’m in charge. How could it be scary?