Cat Marnell. Source: Jezebel

While listening to Slate Double X Gabfest a few days ago, I made the discovery of writer Cat Marnell.

Cat’s half a million dollar book advance for her memoir has gone a little viral, so chances are, you’ve heard of Cat. If you haven’t, she is, in a nutshell:

-A former beauty writer/editor at Lucky and xoJane, as well as a former Vice columnist,

-A very public drug user,

-A writer whose main subject matter is her drug use,

-The daughter of a wealthy family from Bethesda, Maryland, a graduate of a boarding school in Massachusetts, and current resident of New York City.

We’ll come back to that last bullet in a minute.

Anyway, I dove right into the whole Cat story. I learned that she is my age, 30. I found out that my friend Sarah Hepola, a former editor of mine, wrote a piece about her for New York Times Magazine that was as worrisome as it was insightful and gorgeously vulnerable. And like Sarah, my immediate reaction to the Cat narrative was: Fuck. I’ve lived too boring a life.

No drug addiction, two parents who love me, a spouse who does too. Taxes paid on time. Catalogs from Pottery Barn.

And It’s funny. Because, writing this to you now, I can of course shake my head and go, wait, what? I love my life. I’m so, so, sososososo lucky to have my life.

So it’s not exactly Cat’s escapades on angel dust I crave. I feel…too old for that.

It’s her balls. And this is actually the thing I wanted to write about.


The ballsiest piece of autobiographical writing I wrote for the Internet was this piece on a naked yoga class I took here in Austin, that Sarah edited it for me. After it went live, I freaked out. I was like — oh my God! My conservative Christian clients are going to read this, and I may get fired!!

But then, they didn’t. Or maybe they did, but didn’t care.

Either way, it lit me up for about a day and a half with anxiety. When that burned off I felt proud, because hey, it was a cool piece. And then I felt anxious again because I wondered what I would have to do next to get published in a national literary outlet.

It’s au courant to brand oneself, so after that piece, I thought, “should I get publicly naked again? Is this my…thing?”

It’s not my thing. Not because I’m squeamish about nudity, but because I care way too much about what people think to go and repeat something like that. It was a total on-a-whim kind of a deal, and when I thought about upping the ante by marching into a grocery store with no clothes on or something, I didn’t think, “that would be an amazing story.” I thought, “that sounds traumatizing.” Unless I bumped into somebody I knew, in which case, would be both traumatizing and an amazing story.

But when I read Cat’s writing, I can’t help but admire how much she lets it all hang out. Even if some of her tales aren’t quite true — she just doesn’t worry about the things I worry about.

Here is a list of all the things I have tried to write about on the Internet, then walked it back because I was scared of the consequences:

–Fights with my husband,

–Watching a friend roll off a cliff (a short cliff, but still), land in the Greenbelt waters, and get airlifted out,

–Drugs I tried in my 20s,

–My actual honest-to-God heartfelt feelings on, well, God (or Source or the universe or spirit or Goddess or whatever you want to call it)

–A friend from junior high whose dad hit her,

–Overdrafting my bank account (which gives me heart palpitations even if it’s, like, $20),

–A really amazing therapist I saw briefly in college,

–A boyfriend I cheated on from college, who passed away recently,

–How much I wish I could take that action back,

–But at the same time, how much I love my husband whom maybe I wouldn’t have gotten with if I stayed with that boyfriend, and how much I think about his family, his eight brothers and sisters, including the youngest one who used to draw on my hand with a pen and how one of my nephews does that exact same thing now and how isn’t life funny that way — sad, but comforting too.

Just making that list was terrifying.


So, back to the bullet point from earlier, about Cat’s economic background.

The main reason I’ve always been scared to reveal too much about my life on the Internet (and while each item above will probably never see the light of day in article or story format) is because I’m scared no one will hire me if I do.

Having read up on Cat’s life, it sounds like her home life was not a happy one. And I feel so strange, being tempted to psychologize this person from the Internet that I don’t know. So, I won’t.

All I know is, I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have parents that love you and cheerlead you, and the more I go through life, the more I realize that I’m probably in the minority for having had that experience. If drugs are the way you fill up the hole left by that pain — well, who am I to judge?

And yet.

Are you freer to be free on the Internet when you come from means?

Can you share the darkest aspects of your life in a public forum, future employers be damned, if money isn’t an issue?

Please DO judge me for suggesting that. I welcome your feedback in the comments section.

But, gawking spectator that I am, I’m trying to tease out all of my feelings surrounding Cat and her career, and the most bizarre one I’ve felt so far isn’t jealousy. It’s resent. That privilege may, in fact, afford some writerly freedoms. My parents are 100% awesome and supportive and always will be, but, I still have to work.

Which is NOT to say that a life like Cat’s is preferable, or that it doesn’t warrant the natural human reaction of concern and sympathy I think most of us have when we see someone using drugs a lot, even if that someone is a stranger from the Internet. Given the choice between Cat’s glamorous but also troubling life, one where her writing career is inextricably linked with her self-destruction, one where her family seems to be somewhat estranged and one where her public brand relies on all those pills, and then, my calm sunshiney life in Austin, well then of course. I’m going with mine.

It’s just that in an age of transparency and ZOMGness, I question all the time if I should turn the writing lens on myself, ever, if I’m not willing to go there there. Sarah put it so perfectly in her piece:

“I worry about anyone who is lighting themselves on fire for our enjoyment. I worry about the bloggers and viral stars who have burned up so much of themselves for the prize of a few thousand followers. Our attention span is so short these days. One minute you’re a meteorite lighting up Google Trends, the next minute you fall back to earth, another piece of ugly, busted-up coal.”

She’s right. And yet, my fellow writers, aren’t you tempted to light the match sometimes?

I know I am. But I don’t, because I’m scared.