She's all tousled, streaky blonde hair, tanned protruding clavicle, and smeared-to-perfection black eyeliner. (The brand? Prestige. I bought it on her recommendation. On me it just smears.)
She pairs cheap Forever 21 lace leotards and filthy Topshop ballet flats with Balenciaga totes tagged with graffiti, making the luxury piece I want so badly to own look all kinds of haggard.
But I think that stylish dichotomy is the point.
She is a shaken and stirred mix of the lowest-of-the-gutter lowbrow but she also teeters off the tippy top of the highbrow, at least as far as her talent goes. Her prose jumps off the page and punches you in the face so after you read it, you'll have a bloody nose like she does -- but yours will be metaphorical and it won't come from snorting coke into the sleazy dawn at an after-hours on the rooftop of a hotel where you can see the sparkling skyline and the dead of the night.
Unlike her, you'll be able to function tomorrow.
Cat Marnell is a writer, and she's infuriating and brilliant and careless and compelling. She's an often-unrepentant addict, yet she harnesses her addiction to, at times, craft pieces that crackle like the synopses in her brain as it's being systematically demolished by speed.
I'm kind of addicted to her.
I never read the website xoJane where Cat hilariously and subversively served as a Health and Beauty editor until after she left her post. I hadn't read the pieces she posted about the conditioner she used while locked away in a mental institution or the ways she ingested Plan B like I swallow Tylenol PM. I only heard of her after she left her job in the most stellar of style, proclaiming that she'd rather spend nights smoking angel dust than hunched over a computer, meeting deadlines. She was written up breathlessly in New York Magazine, and I read an article about this gorgeous derelict with a sneer on my face.
See, I'm not a big fan of watching fortunate and intelligent people destroy themselves, and make no mistake: Cat Marnell is both fortunate and intelligent.
But she's hard not to watch.
Despite myself, I root for her.
The comments she gave during her interview with New York Magazine struck me as purposely incendiary, but there seemed to be a real person behind the tarnished, glossy persona. I got the sense that maintaining the image she had created was probably exhausting.
I began to read her Amphetamine Logic column for Vice. With titles like Coke Sex for Teen Sluts and Dawn of the Dustheads, it was hard not to be drawn in. She would write in the nonlinear style that I like to write in too, so the action bounces in the present until the reader is thrown way back into the past before eventually springing the narrative back to the now. Being tossed around through time like that is almost whiplash-inducing, but it's effective as hell. The verbal portraits she created were disjointed, but, when you're inherently lost, life never feels cohesive or organized. Her style is exactly right for grabbing the reader and sending her blindfolded on the hazy journeys she seems to dare you to take with her.
She'd take PCP for nourishment on the way. I'd bring a nonfat latte and gummy bears.
She's gotten remarkable attention; her every public misstep is recorded by the press. And it's those missteps, that choice she continually makes to relinquish a non-chemical talent or sanity, that has made her famous. She has a book deal. Being glazed while still being glamorous has become the thing that will make her rich. But it's also completely clear that she might never be happy.
There's something pure about her beautiful misery. Every photo of her I have seen shows her posed to perfection, but it's her eyes I can't look away from. Her gaze is of one of being both haunted and hunted, and I want to watch her be possessed while I also want to see her hide. She is Bambi in Lower Manhattan, cavorting with her forest friends, getting too close to the barrel of the hunter's gun on too many starless nights.
The columns she wrote for Vice about being an addict allowed me to know what speed would feel like. She describes the blank emotion paired with the dull, thudding heartbeat and the sizzle of being tweaked and how it feels to walk alone at night on crowded city streets when you've never felt more alone and your entire body is vibrating.
Sometimes life is loneliest when you're surrounded. I know that feeling well. And when your brain won't stop racing with thoughts defined by fear and by the chances you didn't take, and you've never looked better on the outside but the pieces of your mind and your heart are fractioning off bit by bit, and you don't have the energy to gather what is being lost? I know that feeling too.
Cat describes her moments alone, of painting her face in her apartment with high-end cosmetics, and how she then chooses escape by a cocktail of pills.
Some nights I'd give anything to escape, and it's usually on the nights when my eyes are sparkling with glittery silver shadow and my lashes are long and defined, and I just want to be gone, to be somewhere else -- to be someone else. And some nights, I just want to embrace a reckless abandon that won't lead to abandonment.
Cat chews Adderall like tic tacs and I chew peppermint gum. But we both know how to be on. We both can change the climate of a room upon entering it.
My guess is that I remember more details about most evenings than she does. But maybe there's something to be said for being able to forget the moments instead of capturing them like I do, converting them to mental film stock where they become full of flash frames and they often play in slow motion, and I watch them on hot nights as I lie in my bed and I wish I had done things differently.
Cat would never have gotten the attention she has garnered without being beautiful. She is a walking doll that's in tatters. But her words are stitched tightly, and she writes with verve, and, though sober, I feel like I can surf through the hills and the valleys of her brain and then ski down her pain.
Being talented is challenging; you always need to prove yourself to yourself. It never stops. You're chasing the dragon, trying to replicate the utter high you experienced when you crafted that perfect line, the one that came from somewhere deep inside of you that you can't see, and you can't always get to it when you need access. Creative people feel lost every day because they're always searching for the next inspiration, and sometimes it's too dark to find what you're looking for. And while being pretty is a way to leverage power, on the days you don't feel like you glow, it feels like you never will again. To rely on being beautiful is something tenuous; it won't fully last.
There's a narcissism in Cat that might very well have a hand in ultimately killing her, leading as it so often does to the substances she craves, and she writes that there have been many close calls. I don't believe that she needs drugs to write, but I believe she thinks that she does, and the selfish part of me wants to read more of the sentences that sprout forth from her disease.
And it makes me wonder how those substances would change the process of how I craft my own writing, and there's a real curiosity there. And I often wonder how living without thinking about consequence might temporarily enhance my life. But I also know that there's so much that can be lost and it's taken me a long time to truly find myself, and I look at Cat Marnell and, in so many ways, she has already gone missing.