Cat Marnell on Coke Straws, Courtney Love, and Caroline Calloway

Published October 21, 2019

“I’m not allowed to talk in the apartment, I don’t think,” Cat Marnell tells me over the phone as she slips out of her Williamsburg Airbnb to sit on the stoop. It’s a bit ironic; in her infamous (think less halcyon, more halcion) days as columnist for XO Jane and, later, VICE, Marnell was notorious for—among, um, other things—writing the way she spoke. As such, her work was brash, beleaguered, brilliant, and occasionally boosted by a literary device she simply called “bimbo glow.” In some ways, this made her the anti-Didion—with the same penchant for a precise turn of phrase, but more drugs on and in her than any man, woman, or child ever sampled in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. It’s her written voice, not her literal one, that has always garnered Marnell the most attention. But that seems poised to change with the release of her Audible Original, Self-Tanner for the Soul (the fittingly flight-risky follow-up to her 2016 bestseller, How to Murder Your Life) which details her traipses through Europe as the “unhealthy health writer” attempts to do what cliché claims she can’t: run away from her problems. 

Or maybe run is the wrong word. “This thing was a cake walk,” Marnell admits of the loose, intimate entries that track her romps from a vampire beach in Romania to a youth hostel in Slovakia. “It almost didn’t feel like writing.” But, of course, it is. And as Marnell and I run the gamut on everything from her grandmother’s dog (possibly immortal) to Courtney Love (a delight), it’s clear that the self-described “Warhol grandchild” doesn’t merely write like she talks, so much as talk like she writes. That is to say—with infectious wit, a cigarette in her mouth, and a cultural sensibility broad enough to subsume any rigid concept of high or low and sharp enough to cut out a Cat-sized place right between them. “Andy starts it all,” she says, meaning, somehow, Warhol and Cohen—both of whom she counts as inspiration for her diaristic work. “I’m just putting in my piece.” 

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THE CONCEPT OF “TMI”

“I was watching this YouTube thing a few days ago with Wall Street interviews from 1979. And it’s weird because back then, they were all talking about the same thing. They were like, ‘Oh, it’s the information age. There’s too much. Our brains are overwhelmed.’ I was like, ‘Really? In 1979?’ But everyone’s been talking about the same shit always. So we’d better get used to it. We’d better just recalibrate. The human brain adjusts. Personally, my brain is fried. And that’s why I decided to do an Audible. Because you don’t have to look at a screen to do it. You can listen to it and look at the world and it’s not on a fucking screen. But I like as much information as possible. I want to know it all.”

———

MERMAIDS

“The fish woman with the tail? Every time I’ve been in Germany, I’ve been depressed. I was looking at all these things on Atlas Obscura and it was all Nazi stuff and I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to that.’ And then I saw this thing and it was a pool of water that’s so, so blue. It’s apparently where this depressed mermaid learned to laugh. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. I want to visit there.’ And then the other thing is that one of my favorite places that I went to in all of Europe is this fucking crazy amusement park in Vienna. It’s open 24/7, 365 days a year. Even though half the rides were closed, it was off season, so I just wandered around. There was a roller coaster. And it’s this huge fucking mermaid.”

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IMMORTALITY

“I’ll tell you about immortality. My grandma’s dog, Jasper, he was in my first book. He will never die. I’ve been dealing with him recently. He’s going to stay alive forever. It’s just going to be him. So, he’s driving me fucking nuts.” 

———

COURTNEY LOVE

“Fucking love Courtney Love. I’ve gotten to meet her. I’ve been to her house. I’ve just got to tell you, the first things you see is she was wearing this sheer blouse, like she was fucking Hedda Gabler from the Ibsen play. And this long skirt and this high neck and ruffled Victorian blouse and no bra. And she had the most expensive looking hair I’ve ever seen. It looked like it cost a million dollars. Her skin is unbelievable. She looks fucking expensive as fuck. Courtney Love is a class act. She’s one of our best brains, and she is a delight. She is in a class of iconic people. I can’t stand when anyone talks shit about her. How dare they?”

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MINIMALISM

I try. I love it for furniture. I can’t stand furniture. I don’t believe in bureaus, I don’t believe in those funky wooden book shelves that cut off the sight line in a room, you know? I mean, I believe in doing things you can see through. I hate the huge beds that people get. All my stuff is in storage but even before it went to storage, I threw everything out. Even sofas I can’t stand. I think all furniture should be able to be thrown across the room.” 

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NIETZSCHE

“Oh, the philosopher? I know this shit. I have a book. I had a boyfriend who was dishonest with me and exercised plenty of betrayal. And he sent me some quote about how there’s no real truth or something. And I was like, ‘Alright. Enjoy your Nietzsche. I’ll be fucking this guy over here.’ You know what I’m saying? Bye. It was like, ‘What is truth?’ I was like, ‘Shut the fuck up.'”

  ———

CAROLINE CALLOWAY

I DM with her. She is the overflow of information. I think people’s brains have just sort of exploded and now they’re linking her in their minds with Anna Delvey, which was obviously a huge illegitimate scam. And I could see how everyone just sort of associates it. Caroline Calloway has this European, this faux European thing. But it’s not fake. She lived in Europe. When I was starting in London, I met people who met her in the club. She’s the real deal in that way. And that event that she had didn’t seem like a scam to me. But I think that because it all happened around the time of Fyre festival, everyone was just making it sound like another Fyre festival. And I was like, ‘All right guys. Like you think maybe our brains have sort of started melting things together?’ Because we link so much from the internet so maybe we’re linking too much to connect to these people. Luckily Caroline Calloway has embraced it all and doesn’t have shame about it. There are plenty of other things about her. She’s young. She’s in the Matrix right now.”

  ———

GLOSSIER

“You know what? I’ve never used anything of theirs. When I was doing my Audible, I was buying coal, the greasy ass coal on the streets of Istanbul. The stuff there would literally sting my eyes.”

  ———

METAL STRAWS

“You can’t cut those up for coke, so.”

  ———

STICK AND POKE TATTOOS

“I only have one tattoo. I gave it to myself at summer camp. I got kicked out. I’m not a tattoo person, but in Slovakia I saw this guy shooting up a girl. I was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ But he was just giving her a tattoo. That was a relief. But that’s what they’re doing in the youth hostels. They’re all tattooing each other.”

  ———

STILL WATER

“I’m actually having some sparkling water right now and it’s better. Sparkling water is my passion. Perrier is my passion. I’ve ruined two computers by spilling Perrier on them. I mean, I love bottled water but it’s vastly inferior to sparkling.”

  ———

JOKER

I’m not trying to talk shit, but we just keep giving these white guys the same roles over and over. In the meantime, no non-white person ever gets to play a sociopath. It’s just the same shit over and over. Here’s the tortured man, here’s the actor that the Hollywood system is going to award now. And now that there’s Robert Pattinson acting in this movie and I’m just like, it’s the same group of white guys. I think it’s pretty basic. So when I think of the Joker, I just think celebrated white people. And also? Get the fuck away from my makeup.” 

  ———

WRITER’S BLOCK

“Ugh. I have what other people probably would love to have. Other people have exercise block. They put it off and dread it and then don’t do it. You know what I mean? They’re like, ‘I’m going to start tomorrow.’ I have the opposite of that. It’s the only thing I do without even thinking about it, and it’s usually, oh just get it over with. It’s just a regular part of my life. If I applied that to writing, I would have 90 books. I’m trying to change my psychology just to be like, ‘You just need to do a little of it every day.’ I will say the most helpful thing: Don’t dig through your notebook. Don’t accumulate things from your list that you found that you’ve been keeping in your notes. Don’t do any of that. That’s all going to fuck with your head and exhaust you. You just have to sit down with a blank page and do it. I personally believe in not getting dressed, staying in bed, and just starting.”