‘The antidote to shame is exposure’
“I’m one of the biggest Anglophiles in the game. Nobody’s out here in these streets loving England like I am,” says Caroline Calloway, as we reach the one-hour mark of our admittedly hilarious, possibly metamorphic conversation. Over that time, she has fawned over Cambridge, divulged the makings of an it-girl, and defended her honour against her former best friend, Natalie Beach: the woman who betrayed her in a now infamous article on New York Magazine.
The internet’s favourite scammer, who is best known for her long list of scandals – cancelled creativity workshops, a botched book deal, a ceremonious public expose – has released her long-awaited book, also titled Scammer. It’s a dazzling debut: in it, Calloway uncovers her time in ivy-covered collegiate institutions with finger-licking delight, revealing the crippling Adderall dependency and melancholy at the centre of her “magical dark academia experience”. The non-linear narrative structure allows her to pair her time in elite circles with sharp and poignant reflections on her father’s death, where she shines as a writer.
Her depictions of the life she has dreamed of are just as beautiful, decadent and carefully curated. In many ways, it feels as fictional as the very character of Caroline Calloway, who the writer has meticulously put together as the kind of person who deserves to write a memoir: a precocious child bestowed by intelligence and beauty, surrounded by dusty hardbacks and impressionist paintings. She smiles when asked if this performance is her biggest scam yet: “I don’t think there’s a word for the life I want to live and the person I want to be. Memoirist isn’t even the right word. Memoirist is just the writing part, but we don’t have the language to encapsulate the performance of self and the integration of that self on the theatre of the internet.” I offer the word storyteller, but it falls short of what Calloway strives to do as an artist. But instead of trying to define who the writer really is (or figure out what her next scam is going to be), below, we ask her to share ten things she’s learned during the making of Scammer.
ANGER IS AS DESTRUCTIVE AS IT IS POWERFUL
“I finally pushed through my writer’s block to finish Scammer when I heard that Natalie was using my name, my story and my Adderall addiction to get a book deal. All the other times she’s used my life for a byline or a check, I was indifferent, but there was no way I was letting her use my name to get a book published before I did. Over these four years, I have grown so angry and sick to death of being used by my ex-best friend, and instead of quietly seething with rage in my room in Florida, I directed that anger towards finishing Scammer. Throughout my life, I’ve seen anger as a dangerous emotion. Now, I see that anger can be incredibly beautiful when focused on a goal.”
TRUE INTIMACY IS WORTH THE EFFORT (IN OTHER WORDS, DATE WOMEN)
“It’s hard to date men because we hate men, but it’s also easier to date men because you hate men… When you’re in a relationship with a man, it is so easy to hide behind their ignorance and hide entire emotional chambers from them; everything from pleasure during sex to emotional complexity can be faked. And while it is so scary to be seen by a romantic partner, especially when you’ve never had that experience before, it is important to let yourself be nervous, date gorgeous, intuitive women and stop being afraid of real intimacy.”
THE ANTIDOTE TO SHAME IS EXPOSURE
“I think talking about things that I used to be embarrassed about, like loving Cambridge, being afraid to date women, or even never having had an orgasm, is really freeing. The shame is not magicked away; writing about them takes the pressure off.”
A LITTLE SELF-DELUSION IS GOOD
“When the odds are stacked against you, and all you need is a little hope, delusion is an act of self-protection. Being delusional is about dreaming your way to a better life. Many people think of me, and rightly so, as a delusional person. But a part of me that’s ignored is the part of me who’s very capable of engaging with reality and responding appropriately to it. I knew what it took to get my book deal, grow on Instagram, improve my reputation in New York, and finish my first book. Delusion, then, I would say, is best used in concert with a clear assessment of reality.”
THE WAY TO SURVIVE GOING VIRAL IS THE SAME WAY YOU SURVIVE A RIPTIDE
“When I first got cancelled for being a ‘scammer’, I tried to fight against it, and it brought me nothing but unhappiness – everything I did made the internet angrier. When I refunded people for my creativity workshops or cancelled my tour, it was seen as tangible proof of my wrongdoings. I’ve realised that the only way to go viral (in a bad way) and still come out on top is to embrace the label you are given: make grift cards instead of gift cards, create a product called snake oil and name your first book Scammer.”
BE CAREFUL OF FAKE FRIENDS
“Carefully evaluate every friendship to see if they are obsessed with leveraging you for material gain before it’s too late. Because if you don’t, they will eventually write an article about you in The Cut because you had an addiction, blew up a joint book deal, and asked them to start paying rent. I’m kidding; obviously, there was more at play in my situation with Natalie, but it is important to see what friends are only interested in you for fame and money.”
IT GIRLS ARE STARTUPS, AND STARTUPS NEED FUNDING
“We do a big disservice to all future it-girls by not spelling out that you need some serious funds to become one. Ubers to and from parties, clothes, dinners, travel, and drinks cost money. And if your charm works better in storytelling than with people at a bar, and you’d rather party gloriously or spend a ridiculous amount of money to go to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour than pay rent, you may be in debt to your landlord for a long time.”
DON’T LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS – EVEN WHEN THEY’RE PRAISING YOU
“If you live for the rave review, you’ll die going viral as a scam… I’m finally getting good press for Scammer. The Washington Post called it a masterpiece. Stylist called it a masterpiece. Vanity Fair called it a mad millennial masterpiece. It’s an author’s dream, but you can’t buy into the good stuff. Otherwise, the next time things get bad, you will have forgotten how bad it can get, and it will take you down.”
GET COMFORTABLE WITH SELF-PROMOTION
“British attitudes towards self-promotion are aggravating… There are things that I fundamentally dislike and wish I could change about England; colonialism is up there, and so is the way British people repress their emotions. But I also wish I could change their attitude towards self-promotion and hustle culture. Of course, some things tank my American pride, but seeing how much the country not only supports but admires those willing to take risks on themselves, fills me with joy and red, white and blue American patriotism.”
TO WRITE A BOOK, YOU HAVE TO BECOME A GREMLIN
“Writing is so unglamorous and messy, and the only way you can finish writing anything (unless you’re superhuman or just marginally good at time management) is to put everything on pause and become a gremlin. Gremlin mode is about making writing your only priority. I didn’t see people. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t care what I ate and only made the vaguest attempts to eat vegetables. I didn’t do anything but write for five weeks. I was feasting like a Roman emperor and letting myself have all the tasty treats and cocktails I wanted. I wish more people had told me that gremlin mode was an option and that I didn’t have to look and feel perfect while writing.”