This is the introduction of “Scammer,” a serialized novel about ambition, fame, and influence in the age of the Internet.
Yes, I peed in a stranger’s teapot when I went back to San Francisco last May.
After being canceled so many times, my brain just kind of does this thing, like: No, Helena. Get the fuck out of there. These people don’t get to see your creamy core. So when that Twitter user first revealed my Airbnb reviews to the world, my walls instantly went up. But vulnerability is more than just my brand — it’s how I choose to live. Staying soft in a world that calls for you to put your defenses up is hard. It is labor. It is warfare against the patriarchy, and the work I must do right now is admit that #teapotpissgate did in fact happen.
I was blackout drunk and staying in one of those bougie Airbnbs where doors slide and floating bed frames hang from the ceiling. How was I supposed to know how to find the bathroom? I didn’t want to be rude and leave a smelly mess for the owner to clean up the next day, so I grabbed the nearest container and managed to keep everything contained.
I do feel bad that my host found the urine-filled teapot in the back of the kitchen sink after I checked out a week later. I intended to do the dishes before leaving, but then I got this great idea for a new post and my mind just ran off on its own. Debbie, shoot me a DM on Instagram and my team will pay you back for the teapot right away. I’ll even have my assistant throw in an extra $25 so that you can buy yourself a nice orchid plant. Then you can remove the review you left on my very public profile. Deal?
I’m learning to embrace my messy bitchery, to be vulnerable about my mistakes and fuckups in public. A lot of influencers are scared to really show their followers what’s going on, but if you haven’t noticed, I do things a little differently around here. I’m ready to start writing honestly about my feelings again. This will start with coming clean about everything — where that Harvard plate went, what exactly happened between Nevaeh and me in New Orleans, and the sequence of events that led me to pee in that teapot.
My name is Helena Holloway. You probably know me from the Internet. I want to flatter myself by claiming that you know me for the charming, long-form Instagram captions that I wrote during my Stanford days, but it’s more likely that you know me as a scammer. A self-obsessed mess. A rock that never hits bottom. A train that will never stop wrecking.
If “scamming” means frequently making promises that you can’t keep, playing up your innocence to avoid getting called out, and ignoring the advice of people who try to tell one that you are making the wrong decisions, then I am a scammer. I played up my smart-but-adventurous persona at Stanford, lied about the extent of my parents’ financial support, performatively dialed up my Sapphic affections with other women so that I could gain social justice clout while appealing to the male gaze, finessed my way into Falcon Ibis Literary Agency, and failed to write two books that I’d sold to half a million people.
I, Helena Holloway, did not have anyone’s best interests, including my own, in mind.
What can I say, except that I let my ambition cloud my judgment? That I was so desperate to be famous — to be somebody — that I did anything I could to get myself closer to the goal?
I’m so sorry that I lied to you, that I let my greed and desire to be heard get in the way of being a good person who keeps to her word. I’m sorry for taking your money for my last book, And We Weren’t Like, and never delivering. I admit that I couldn’t have cared less about the process back then. I only saw my audience as a monolith of idiotic eyeballs that I could rely on to fund my every whim. This is why I’m releasing Scammer online, for you, completely for free. While the real damage has been done and trust can never truly be repaired, I hope that this will redeem me some in your eyes.
Scammer will contain the whole, unvarnished truth. I’m going to tell you everything — from how I embellished my Stanford adventures for social media to my misguided writing collaboration with Nevaeh to what happened during that first meeting in Wren Falcon’s office to why my creative-writing tour fell apart. I no longer have anything to hide. I want to bring to light every one of my mistakes so that some other aspiring writer-influencer won’t go down the same dark paths that I did. I hope that someday in creative writing workshops at Iowa, journalism classes at Northwestern, or modern-lit seminars at Harvard, students will unpack these misadventures more thoroughly than I ever could.
After this goes live, I’m going to make myself a kombucha spritz, walk down to the marina to see the sunset, and effectively log off forever. I am done with the influencer lifestyle. I am done with my “online brand.” In the six years that I’ve kept this all up, all I’ve done is stunt my own emotional growth and alienate myself from the ones I love.
My name is Helena Holloway, and I have nothing to hide. Here I am, in my full fucked-up glory, for all the world to see.
I invite you to read me, see me, pick me apart.
After all, the antidote to shame is exposure.