New York-based writer Alex Catarinella is a promising voice of a generation whose stories are constantly being recorded, shared, retweeted, and followed, yet seldom truly, honestly told. Self-exposure and a culture of image production which often replaces reality with representations of reality have led to new forms of engagement with the others and with the self; to new understandings of private and public, and to the thinning of lines between values. We spoke with Alex about his own struggle in the glittering world of fashion, his ups and his lows, and his writing, which helped him “lose ten pounds of darkness and gain some spirit.”
Elena Stanciu: Who is Alex Catarinella? Who would he be in another life?
Alex Catarinella: Depends on the day. Depends on the mood stabiliser. Just kidding. In another life, I think I’d want to be one of those seemingly zenned-the-fuck-out, new age-y crystal cuddling types who believe in guardian angels and fairies and all of that mystic mess and live on an animal sanctuary in Hawaii.
ES: Tell me a little about your writing. Who are your readers and what would you say/hope they take away from your writing that adds to their lives?
AC: I think who the readers are depends on where my work is published. My series Fashion Weak is published on the Dazed & Confused site, and I think their readers are like, club kid artsy millennials. I have another essay coming out on TheFix.com, a website focused on addiction, mental health, and recovery, so that’ll be a different audience. As for what I hope readers will take away from my writing, I mostly just want people to be engaged and to feel something, anything. I hope they don’t hate it, but I rather them hate it over not having a reaction at all. I’ve learned the importance of honesty through writing these essays. They’ve pushed me to let go of the ghosts of my past and keep it moving. It’d be really cool if my honesty could inspire others to be honest with themselves, too.
ES: What is Fashion Weak about, and what role does it play in your career as a writer?
AC: It’s about falling into the “fashion world” without having an invite. It’s about living (all the while feeling dead inside) in a hedonistic dream within a dream. It’s about how the glitz and the glamour and the drugs would distract me from how much I was suffering inside. It’s about how, eventually, through many rock bottoms and revelations, I didn’t overdose and die. I woke up! But Fashion Weak is not a recovery, happily ever after series. I’m bipolar. That hasn’t gone away. I still get really fucking depressed, but instead of self-medicating via partying and meaningless sex, I have other options. On a good day, I’ll meet up with real friends, Buddhist chant, maybe exercise. By choice, I no longer do event coverage anymore. Very often, I’m really nervous, I don’t want to be seen, which is so different from my fashion party days, when I lived for party photographers to take my picture. Fashion Weak is my way of moving on. It’s about my past, my present, and my hope for my future, and the occasional cameos of crippling anxiety about my future.
ES: You describe this series as “part self-help, part self-sabotage,” and I must admit I became very anxious while reading and imagining I would openly write about myself. What is the “help” this type of writing brings you, and what, the “sabotage”?
AC: The “creative process” was really painful. Terrifying, even. Once I knew my editor wanted to publish my essays, I’d obsessively edit and try to make them perfect. I’d let my phone die and just lock myself in my apartment. I’d maybe walk half of a block to grab a coffee. Writing these didn’t feel healing or cathartic – I thought I was going to lose my mind. I didn’t feel good until I hit send. That’s when I felt free. The essays were gone, my editor had them, they were ready to be published. They’re no longer my property – the reader owns them. They can skim them, or they can dive in. They can interpret the essays however they’d like to. It feels like I’ve lost ten pounds of darkness and gained some spirit.
ES: In the Fashion Weak essays, you include bits on mental health that sound so personal, yet could be universally true for an entire generation. What drives you to point to these issues? How do you find the current discourse and narrative on mental health or addiction with respect to it contributing to correctly representing/tackling these realities?
AC: I think the current discourse and narrative on mental health/addiction that I see on TV or read about in magazines and so on still needs to step it up. There are countless shows, movies, and essays that heavily address mental health and addiction and that’s so great, but I rarely connect much with their narratives. It feels like it’s always the same character, the same story over and over again. Boarding school kids addicted to Adderall. I just don’t identify. Situational depression and growing pains aren’t the same as consistent hardcore hopelessness and addiction. That needs to be clear.
ES: Addiction often comes hand in hand with creativity and a sort of “ivory tower artist” persona. What´s your take on this relationship between “non-conformist” lifestyles and creativity?
AC: I hate the whole tortured artist cliché, but I can’t lie: my favourite artists have gone through a lot – some survived, some didn’t. I don’t think creating is enough to be happy. My writing has helped me not be as insane as I could be, but I’m not suddenly a super happy person with a zest for life. Telling my stories is like using spiritual crutches; I’ll eventually walk on my own again and hopefully I’ll still want to create. Could you imagine Amy Winehouse still being here? The work that she’d make when/if she “got better”? What if Sylvia Plath didn’t take her life? I don’t know. I think you can definitely create iconic art post-unravelling, but “the greats” that I love, at one point or another, went through some sort of hell.
ES: Have you ever felt misunderstood? How did you cope with that?
AC: Absolutely; I’ve coped in many ways over the years. Writing these essays was definitely the most, I guess, healthy way. It hurt to write them, but that’s better than mindless partying in the “fashion world,” when I felt like no one saw the real me. Well, I didn’t want anyone to see the real me. Being misunderstood was mostly my fault. I chose the “image” I put out there, how I presented myself. I’ve taken off the masks by writing personal essays. If I’m still misunderstood, then I either failed, or you haven’t read them.
ES: Who would play you in your biopic? Who would direct it?
AC: I’d want whoever is playing me to be an undiscovered underdog; a gifted actor able to snap out of it once the director yells “cut!” – I wouldn’t want anyone to feel so down as I’ve felt. For a director, I’d want someone who could create a Melancholia meets Spice World vibe. A menacing planet crashing into the fabulous Spice World.
Words - Elena Stanciu
Cover Image - Andrew Tess
Photo Source - @acatinheat