NOTE: Sorry for the grammar horror in this one. The school part of my brain wants to make it MLA good, but the Cat Marnell part of my new attitude makes me want to make it charming and fun and witty and exclamation points! I don’t have the capacity to edit it right now. I just want to write for a change. 🙂
If you know me, then you know that I have a voyeuristic obsession with drug addiction and recovery memoirs. Reading about other people’s rising and falling helps distract me from my perceived failures as a writer. These people have all been through the throes of addiction and recovery… and still managed to write a book! And I can’t even sit down for 20 minutes a day to publish a stupid blog post.
So, obviously my goal during my escapism isn’t to feel worse about myself, but those comparative thoughts always infiltrate my mind AS YOU KNOW.
Maybe you’ve never heard of Cat Marnell, I certainly hadn’t when I put this memoir on my “ULTIMATE UNREAD BOOKS LIST” many years ago, after I’d just finished reading Beautiful Boy, Tweak, and We all Fall Down b2b2b and literally Googled “best memoirs about addiction.” How to Murder Your Life was number one on many-a-list, if I remember correctly (I don’t.)
I avoided reading memoirs written by actresses and rock stars because in my isolated world, I always feel like they get enough attention already and they don’t need my help. I’m trying to be more open-minded now, but I still have a natural aversion to pop culture and media. I still live for the obscure things that I might have gotten teased for in the past. (Some of which is very popular and not obscure today, thanks to the internet.)
Following my innate desire to know about things that other people could care less about, I picked the memoirs of those lists that were written by authors I had never heard of, who weren’t celebrities, or Elizabeth Wurtzel, (whose More, Now, Again didn’t quite hit the same as Prozac Nation for me, and I have not finished to this day. Sorry!) I picked A Piece of Cake because the author was named after a literal dessert, and avoided How to Murder Your Life because it was described as s book about the kind of person I thought I might have disliked in an industry I am incredibly far-removed from. Being judgmental is one poor quality I am working on eliminating. Slowly.
The reviews cited things that I was afraid of: New York City elitist glamour and — even worse! — having a career at a fashion magazine. Journalism, at this point in time, is an industry that I have tried many times to get into. Obviously, I have also failed many times because I was too boy-crazy or overwhelmed to be work-driven enough to achieve anything other than a few DJ interviews and online publications (now GONE!) My brain couldn’t even comprehend how one could muster the ambition and thick skin needed to upkeep a job in fashion journalism. Even as I write this little anonymous blog post, I am scared a fashion journalist or Cat Marnell will somehow see this nothing little site and digitally accost me for admitting my intimidation. WHY?
I am afraid of this world because I feel like I can never be a part of it. When I finally picked up How to Murder Your Life literally yesterday, I was apprehensive. One of my BFF’s recommended it and I pushed it up my list because we always shared book recommendations with each other. I have personally gifted her copies each of David & Nic Sheff’s memoirs, More, Now, Again (which she said she felt better about when I mentioned that it was too insufferable to complete. Again, sorry! I will try again now that I’m less horrible) and A Piece of Cake. Her opinion on memoir matters could be trusted!
Let me say, as someone who feels the literal opposite of Cat Marnell in terms of American social status, I was fully terrified to approach this memoir with an open mind. I am a black Canadian-(now)American and was raised by a poor, single immigrant mother in Staten Island and here I was about to read what I initially judged as a white-privilege memoir by white privilege “counterpart” — American-born, two-parent household from an affluent neighborhood and an emergencies-only credit card in her wallet. I don’t keep up with fashion, or makeup, or celebrities. I’m deathly afraid of “the industry.” I struggled with anorexia, she suffered from bulimia. I weirdly thought, this is what my life could be if I had everything she had, instead of the shit hand I was dealt! I was fully jealous of this woman before I really knew a thing about her — and her memoir is about being an addict! What the fuck is my PROBLEM?!
Anyway, I’m working on it!
Also, this was recommended by my white friend. She’s politically wise and on the right side of history, so let me tell you I was scared to have to slip something about race relations into our conservations about this book! I was sooo scared that I would have to hate this book on principle alone. NOPE!
Cat Marnell doesn’t apologize for her privileged life, but she never shies away from it. She’s self-aware of her identity as a privileged individual. Honestly, minus the use of the word “wiggers,” which she herself questioned, and (maybe) chola, which she didn’t question, I didn’t feel like I was nitpicking problematic verbiage or ignorance, like I do with sooooooo many other publications written by white author after white author. And I notice it a lot now because I’ve had that “critical race theory” lens on since I took the Intro to Critical Theory course in college. It was an English major prerequisite and it changed my outlook on everything!
I mean, I’m not saying this book isn’t overtly white white white — it’s set in the world of, what I consider to be, two of the most racist industries that have plagued the white idealist world since before black-and-white print… beauty & fashion! Though, since I am able to find really good CC cream in my skin tone now, I think it’s fair to say that it is getting a little better. Anyway, at least there is acknowledgment, and, again, this is a deeply candid personal story about a lifelong history of neglect, abuse, self-destruction and addiction. It isn’t about race relations in America (nod!), and it was refreshing to put that in the back of my mind (for the most part) for once in my life. You know I love some good candor!
I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this: me and Cat Marnell could be kindred spirits. So much of my own story aligns with her own, which is why my best friend recommended it in the first place! All three of us could have hung out over those little orange footballs and coffee at one point in our lives! (I WISH!) Why was I such a hater before? I guess I’m jealous of everyone who makes it in writing on some level. Especially when they get to be on such a delicious sounding script cocktail all the while.
But that’s another delightful thing that my new favorite memoir gave me when I devoured the e-ink on my Kindle hours on end: perspective.
A GOOD addiction memoir has all of the stomach-wrenching allure that drugs bring on without making you want to relapse into your own harmful party behaviors too much.
Despite what my jealous eyes see as a glitzy lifestyle in spite of being a high-functioning drug addict, this memoir didn’t give me any desires to fall back in that old life that I similarly chased way back when. In the music industry, not the fashion industry. Which is just as bad! Just look at all those handsy and rapey DJs who are canceled now if you don’t believe me. Either way, the clubbing, party, and drug world is vicious and lonely and abusive and everything Cat Marnell (sorry, typing out her full name is the only way that feels right!) reveals. Drugs are an illusion parallel to your life, there to help you feel something or to stop feeling some things. And then they gobble up your real life. Then they throw your life back up.
But there is still hope, even for someone like ME!
After reading the book and not just the reviews, I realized that it isn’t really Cat Marnell’s upbringing (we were both raised by temperamental parentals,) her lifestyle (we were/are both very into live music and journalism,) or her vices (we both have our preferences) that makes us different.
IT’S OUR AMBITION!
Reading this story made me realize that me and Cat Marnell are similar in so many ways. We even have a similar experience with a rat in the Lower East Side and cute shoes! Who doesn’t?
But she had one thing that I always complain that I am lacking on here: FUCKING. AMBITION.
Where is mine? It’s easy to blame it on socioeconomic/racial disparity in America, right? But that’s not it at all. I can’t imagine applying making when I haven’t slept because of taking my addy and going into work. I called out frequently when I had a job and I never felt more at home at work than I do in my apartment. I can’t write 20 minutes on my blog when I’ve had 8 hours. I just don’t have the drive because I (very often) feel like I’m not working towards something. Why bother going in when job after job just felt like more dead ends that didn’t work for me?
I don’t have a dream of being a beauty editor at a fashion magazine. I always feel lost and I have the worst work ethic ever. I hate work. I escaped into my dating life instead of working towards a career that could give me a place to express myself. And I have it all now, but I still lack that spark. I don’t know if it was beaten out of me the few times I did try, or if it never existed in the first place. I just know that the recurring problem with my life is that I gave up. Every. Time!
I found myself a temporary safety net in part-time work, or camming, or boys, or (the worst) family and then failed at being “a writer” over and over again.
Here I am writing, though. And I can thank Cat Marnell for that. Because despite having many of the resume and safety nets that I am still salivating over, she is the ultimately the one who worked for her career and made it happen. And that’s what I admire most about it. I’m not high-functioning anything. Let alone a high-functioning addict. I can’t even imagine. I’m so depressed. I’m scared of everything!
I can be charming when I’m not antisocial. I can be creative when I’m not putting up an imaginary barricade in my mind. I could do everything that she did in my own world, in my own way, if I would just work hard.
Obviously this thought mortifies me. I am scared to work hard because sometimes I feel like I am working towards nothing, but maybe that’s my problem. I am working towards nothing! I don’t have an end game. Publish a children’s book? Get my Master’s? I am “working” on both! But aren’t those just creative and academic purgatory? YES!
Cat Marnell’s dream was to become a beauty editor at a print magazine publication. Maybe I need to simplify my dream and it will be easier for my sadscaredbrain to manage. (And without my crazy pills.) Maybe my goal should literally just be to “create.”
Did I create something today? Writing, drawing, editing. These are my specialities. But you’d never know that because I only ever post when I finish something I like. Maybe if I just remove that constant nagging: is this good enough to post? Then I will feel better about myself.
Yes, she was on drugs the whole time, but so what? I basically am, too, with the weed and drinks and crazy pills and all that. If you count all of that shit, then I don’t think that I’ve ever had a full sober week in my life! It’s gross when you get reductive, but I am gross and complicated, so what can you expect? Don’t be reductive, then!
It seemed to me that even though she was personally struggling to maintain her career, Cat Marnell was always, always doing something creative, where I would be loafing on a couch, reading or watching a film or television with that good ol’ critical theory lens, but never actually sharing that with anyone. I am creative, but I only absorb things. I need to express myself better! I’ve thought about altering my clothes: I don’t! I never collaged my walls, I got into internet arguments with throwaway accounts and never looked back!
I always let my dreams be just dreams. You know, like they say not to do.
Reading this memoir has given me hope and inspiration. Not to be my old party self, but my new, ambitious self. Maybe this self can accomplish more of her goals because she is more honest about them and making them more attainable. And maybe she can be more forgiving of herself when she doesn’t do get to everything, too.
I know I say stuff like this a lot, but How to Murder Your Life just kept popping up in my head until I finally put my reservations aside and picked it up. I think I can do that with a lot more in my life because look how much just doing the damn thing always works out! Inspiration! To be creative! To be a little more glamorous! To work towards something! To take baths! To let myself fuck up and not let it ruin my life for weeks! (Well, I can TRY!)
To Cat Marnell: I love your memoir! I’m sure you hear and read that all the time now, especially since I am very late to the party. I empathized with so much of your story. And I am determined to mirror your ambition. I truly needed something like this in my life to help me look inward and challenge myself to do better in the areas that helped Cat Marnell (I can’t stop!) advance her career and life. Unfortunately, I know that there is an insidiousness attached to her own ascension, but because of her candid and (at times) abrasive truths, I can learn from her mistakes.
I feel like I’m writing a cover letter now. YUCK!
Was that a bit much for me? Sorry, I was in a trance today. Maybe you won’t get the same results from reading as I did, but I still recommend this memoir to anyone who can handle explicit tell-alls with enough name and designer dropping to make your head spin!
And you can trust my opinion because I am an anonymous blogger from NYC who reads tell-all drug memoirs a lot.