“I’m so spoiled as a person,” said writer Cat Marnell, while flaunting a pastel purple wig and shimmering Topshop dress. “But now my career has come around and people actually spoil me. It’s funny because I was trained by all these Condé Nasties who were so spoiled.” Marnell is dressed to celebrate her debut memoir, How to Murder Your Life, at a party in Bushwick. She’s carefree, talkative and genuine. She seems calm, confident, and dare I say, happy.
Back in the early 2000s, Marnell kicked off her career as Associate Beauty Editor at Lucky. At the time, the wide-eyed, doll-faced beauty bombshell was working hard, while simultaneously trying to brush her addictions to drugs, pills and alcohol under the rug. Eventually, that balancing act became too much to handle and Marnell quit her job. Following a stint in rehab, she vowed to be herself, unapologetically, and her future employers would just have to deal with that. So when she heard about an “unhealthy health editor” role at xoJane, where she would work under feminist editor Jane Pratt, it sounded like the right fit.
Some of Marnell’s stories from that time include headlines like “TRIPPY TERROR TUESDAY: Fantastic Hemp-Based Beauty For Vaguely Consensual + Very Stoned Hippie Sex Cult Orgies” and “GONNA WASH THAT ANGEL DUST RIGHT OUTTA MY HAIR: ‘Miracle’ (Uh-Huh) Treatments To Help You Pass Those Follicle Drug Tests, Naughty Nancys!,” Needless to say, Marnell’s amphetamine-induced adventures on xoJane made her the most infamous beauty writer on the internet. (Later, she’d go on to pen a VICE column called ‘Amphetamine Logic’—though that’s after her memoir ends).
It’s no surprise that Marnell ended up in media, as she spent her formative years mocking up magazines and writing letters to Anna Wintour. While she had a privileged upbringing on the outskirts of Washington D.C., there was an emotional void in the relationship she had with her parents. She struggled in school, and at 15, she was prescribed Adderall for the first time (by her psychiatrist father, no less)—something that would turn into an addiction spanning decades. “You forget that putting a pill into your body changes the course of your life: it really does,” said the 34-year-old professional hot mess, while sipping a mini bottle of champagne through a straw.
After years of chronicling her escapades with sex, drugs, bulimia and beauty blunders, Marnell received a book deal from Simon & Schuster in 2013, along with a $500,000 advance. Marnell struggled to complete the book and it took her nearly three years to finish it; during that time she overdosed on heroin and underwent two stints in rehab. Marnell’s memoir focuses heavily on the harrowing side of addiction and loneliness, and that’s on purpose: if you were looking for the more glamorous side of things, it’s something she has yet to put on paper. Even approaching the end of the book, there’s no clear resolution on whether or not she has conquered her addiction, and there’s a point to that. While Marnell is now in a much better place, addiction is something that is, in some ways, still with her.
Marnell filled us in on finding friends, what Eva Chen’s future holds and how she spent her book advance.
When I read your columns, I always had this glamorized idea of your life.
Well, it’s not. The book ends. My book is almost too responsible because I was so concerned with being real about addiction that I didn’t do enough of a balance with the hot, glamorous stuff. It came down to earth a little bit from there. Long before Instagram, the way you’d show up as who you want to be was at the nightclub. I remember leaving and if a guy wanted to come home with me, I’d be so panicky because I wouldn’t want him to come home and see my real life. There would be fucking vomit all over the toilet that I haven’t cleaned and I’d leave food by the bed.
I didn’t have enough tanning beds in the book. There are a lot of regrets I have. I spent a lot of time in tanning beds. I was wondering if Donald Trump would have a bulletproof tanning bed. Did you hear that it was three billion dollars to build Air Force One? I didn’t understand that. That’s when I thought of the bulletproof tanning bed. I tried to be responsible, and maybe I did too much, because everyone was like where’s the glam stuff? But I ended the book when I first got a little fame and publicity. Then it ends, and I did my VICE column and everyone loved it, but I was a junkie. Those years are pretty glamorous, but I haven’t written them yet. After I got the book money, my life did get pretty dope.
I thought you spent your $500,000 advance already?
I did, but I spent it on glamorous things. It wasn’t just on drugs; it was mainly on furniture. I got this insane marble table. I didn’t pay any taxes, now I am. I’m paying the government back. I didn’t give a fuck. I love how three girls came up to me and were like, ‘I thought I was the only mess on Adderall.’
If every girl and gay guy that’s into Adderall reads this book, I’ll sell 80 million copies.
What do you think about the current state of media?
Back then, you didn’t ask for more money, which is why I have more in my success now. I didn’t have to be in this position, but I know people that work in online editorial who I mentor and I say ‘stand up to people asking you for more content online.’ Say ‘no.’ If you want more content, then I need more money. It’s tough for online. It’s very frustrating.
I went to the Hamptons with my former assistant Julie [Schott] that works at Elle.com, and she was like I have to do 10 posts by Monday. I was like, if I had to do one post by Monday I would have flipped out because the weekends are for weekends. How I actually became successful is because I refused to do everything. Jane was like, ‘I feel her,’ but all of the people who worked under Jane and over her were pissed. I wouldn’t do 300-word posts or short posts, I would only do quality, and longform will pay rent.
I would really advise people to fight for that in their careers. Don’t be scared of losing your job because if you’re good, it doesn’t matter. You’re not going to. Young people are the money, honey. They’re the smart ones now. It’s not like it used to be, when we were all assistants. It’s all flipped. Some people who I worked for have no power and were idolized are now kind of worthless. It’s nuts. I just think that you’re the valuable ones. The younger you are, the better.
Throughout your book you have a very unorthodox, unhealthy relationship with your “best friend” Marco. It sounds like there was some unfinished business at the end of the book.
I had cut him out, and when I was writing the book I reconnected with him to gather information and verify things, so I would send him the chapters. Unfortunately I made a huge mistake and he got my address. Everyone told me not to contact him, but I broke up with my boyfriend, and I was so lonely, and I thought I could handle him being my friend again. Now he’s been targeting me. I have someone at my house that I paid $100 to be there, so he wouldn’t rob me.
I’m sorry that’s been happening you.
When you have such low self-esteem…if you’ve ever seen Casino, I’m Ginger, who’s Sharon Stone, and he’s Lester, who’s Steve Buscemi, but he’s also a predator. Most of my friends have big criminal records, but if they steal, they steal from the people they deal drugs for. When you target women, gay guys, the sick and the elderly, you’re fucked up. All of my friends now are like, “who the fuck is this guy?”
In your book, you talk a lot about not having friends and being really isolated. Do you feel like you finally have real friends now?
I used to have no friends. No friends! Now I have too many friends. It’s so nuts that it happened to me. It really only happened when I lost my job at Lucky, and I had nothing else. Because I would be at Lucky, I never met guys, ever. So I would get a crush on the Urban Express guy, who wasn’t even necessarily cute, but he’d be the only straight guy I see for a month, and then I was so sick, I would just go home. I was in a bubble. By default, I had my job, but I was sick and was an addict. My real personal bubble: my apartment, my life—I was always in it. The only people you’re going to let into your bubble when you’re addicted are going to be unhealthy.
What are your friends like now?
My friends have changed my life. This is OJ’s club—he’s my best friend. All of these artists and [graffiti] writers who I meet at the end of the book really changed my life. They’re my family, they’re so protective of me and so creative. They’re good guys and they’d never hurt a woman. They’re not vampires. Guys like Marco would hang out with me when no one else was around, and that’s something you need to be aware of. Marco would never come around because he’s fucking scared of them.
Do you still hold resentment towards your parents?
It changed naturally. Here’s the thing: on a deeper level, let’s say I’m drinking alone and in a down mood, of course. Everyone talks about my dad, but if you read the book carefully, daddy issues are for amateurs. It’s the mom stuff. I had a very emotionally absent mother. That was very weird, and I didn’t understand that until later. I didn’t realize how never wanting to take care of myself and how much having to self-parent [affected me]. No one loved me more than my dad. I didn’t have any memories of my mom. Mommy issues, that’s the real shit. Some psychiatrist wrote an Amazon review said, “she didn’t connect with her mother.” Women never want to be bad. She was anorexic, and anorexics are fucked up. Fucked up. I still love her. We’re good friends, but she wasn’t a good mother.
Would you say you’re clean now?
No, but I think I’m doing well because I live in a nice environment now, my apartment is nice. When I ended the book, I was living in blackout chaos and on Avenue C, but that was the book I sold.
Did you ever wonder why you were able to get away with so much? I feel like most people would have been fired. You got a lot of chances.
Absolutely. There’s a lot going on with me, I don’t know where it came from. People will say, I’m thin, blonde and white, and definitely, there’s privilege. I will say I’m talented, I’m passionate, I’m creative, I have tons of ideas, a good sense of humor and I loved the women I’ve worked for: I’ve become very close with the people I’ve worked for. I’ve been given a lot of chances, but it would be easier for me to say bad things about myself than positive things. The book is all bad things about myself, but I know Jane, Jean and Charlotte, and I became very close to them. I worshipped them. All these women are surrogate mothers to me.
I love that you call Eva Chen “The Eva Chen” in the book.
She’s going to be Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. If you look at Anna Wintour’s first Vogue cover, it’s a crop top, blonde, studded on the street because Anna was brought in to oust Grace Marbella to compete with ELLE. Eva is fucking dope, and she’s going to take it. She’s stressed, her personality has changed the past couple of years. She is under the Condé watch. They are telling her what to do every week. They are definitely grooming her. I can guarantee it.