For seven years I have written stories online, but it’s never been for a publication. This is my first freelance piece. I publish my writing to my 700,000 followers on Instagram. That’s how you know I’m a real artist — not some hack who writes light verse for The New Yorker! In January of this year I went viral as a scammer not unlike the way — in 2016 — Taylor Swift went to bed on top of the world and woke up a snake. I’ve looked to her a lot for guidance over these past six months. Insults hurt. But there’s a strange alchemy that happens when you embrace the language that people use to tear you down and decide to own it rather than to be owned by it.
What does it mean to go viral as a scammer? Well, Google me. You will get a very different story than what I am about to tell you. Over the winter of 2018 I had planned a series of “Creativity Workshops” because although I’m considered by many an “influencer” I don’t post ads. Instead of monetizing my audience’s attention span I thought I would sell my expertise on writing, art-making, and community-building. On top of that, I wanted to bring my fans together for the first time after growing up together online for seven years. And to do it in a way that was full of inside jokes about my brand — eating vegan salad on the floor, plants in mason jars, care packages, taking photos with flowers in our hair, etc. The quirky smol bean list goes on.
The event was disorganized because I’m always disorganized and I ordered too many mason jars. I had planned on including letters in the care packages and take-home orchids, but changed directions the week of the event and told attendees accordingly. A reporter who admitted to hate-following me and did not attend the event made a Twitter thread emphasizing everything that went wrong and ignoring everything that went right — the lessons, the lunch, the flowers, the photos. On the night after my first workshop, as I walked through the cold West Village, I remember thinking: I did it! I made what I set out to make and everything is okay! Narrator voiceover: Everything was not okay.
Beginning on January 14th, 2019 I was hashtag cancelled. Every day for the next three months, everything about my event, myself, and my life was ridiculed and skewed. The fact that I hadn’t booked venues for events that were four months away in April became: Calloway did not book any venues for her workshops. A joke I made on my instagram stories about being so stressed out cooking that maybe the next tour would be BYOLunch became: Calloway did not feed any of her attendees and asked them to bring food instead. Our inside joke about sitting on the floor? Calloway did not provide chairs. A Matt & Kim concert that Kim and I discussed inviting my fans to? (Long story, but I have screenshots to back this up) became: Calloway invited fans to a concert to which she should not have invited fans. The care-packages full of inside jokes? Calloway provided swag bags that were not full of swag at all, but were, in fact, full of random fucking shit. In the end, I ended up refunding all the attendees, because the world was calling me a scammer and I would have done anything to make it stop. I thought returning money might make onlookers calm down. It didn't.
I’ve found strength and humor in defanging the words that people once used to tear me down.
Was it tough watching every news platform in the world question my worth as a teacher, creator, and human? Um, yes. At first I questioned my own character, too, because how could THE NEWS be wrong? Up until that moment I had always relied on journalists for my information. When I over-apologized on Twitter, citing my own “greed” as the reason I planned the tour, I believed what I was typing with my thumbs. I could barely see my screen through my tears, but I remember thinking: I’ve thought I was an okay human being this whole time, but clearly I was wrong. Why would media platforms say I am a scammer if it isn’t true?
The whole experience fucked up my nervous system. My baseline personality is anxious, brooding melancholy peppered with spurts of Pomeranian enthusiasm. I’m already a delicate ecosystem of chronic depression and generalized anxiety disorder to begin with! Public shaming was a trauma on top that I would not wish on anyone — even the reporter who architected this new life for me.
But in going through this cancellation I experienced a tiny sliver of what Taylor Swift went through on July 17th, 2016. Let me remind you just how well things were going for Taylor that summer before they burst into flames. Her most recent album, 1989 — released in 2014 — was a cultural triumph that had cemented her transition from country child star into pop icon. The 1989 Stadium World Tour had made it clear that she was one of the hottest artists in the world with the most famous friends any famous person had ever had. Her boyfriends continued to be among the hottest men alive. She had a life so golden it made me feel a dull, unfocused sadness about how much higher Taylor’s highs were than the best things that ever happened to me. Very healthy self-talk, I know.
Then came the fall. Kim Kardashian West Snapchatted a video in which Taylor approved Kanye West’s use of the lyric “I think me and Taylor might still have sex” in his song “Famous.” There is no video evidence of Taylor okaying being called “that bitch,” as Kanye calls her in the following line. But Kim had proof of Kanye and Taylor discussing the other arguably more inflammatory lyrics. And the day Kim posted the video footage to Snapchat, she also posted a tweet which belongs under Plexiglass in the Museum of the Internet. She doesn’t directly name Taylor in the tweet, but everyone knew who she was calling a snake.
For a while Taylor was quiet. And then Taylor took back the imagery of snakes in everything she touched during what fans affectionately call her Rep Era. To the Swiftie layperson this means everything surrounding TS6, Reputation. Even Taylor’s first post back on Instagram after she wiped her socials clean was a CGI snake striking the camera. There were snakes in music videos, snakes on merch, a massive animatronic snake on stage during the Reputation Tour called Karyn. Fun fact: I have met the real life Karyn after whom this snake was named and NO, Dear Reader, I DID NOT PLAY IT COOL. The snake emoji that Kim had used so many of in that viral Tweet was reclaimed as an inside joke between Taylor and her fans.
When people called me a scammer, I looked to Taylor for what to do. I had created a pretty decent event for a community that I worked very hard to build. It was not a scam, just as Taylor had not okayed the lyrics “that bitch.” But just like Taylor, my supposed “scam” looked bad. There was evidence against me and it was enough to catch internet wildfire.
Was it tough watching every news platform in the world question my worth as a teacher, creator, and human? This whole experience fucked up my nervous system.
And so I leaned in to my scarlet scam. I changed the hashtag I use in my Instagram captions from #adventuregrams to #adventurescams. I changed the name of my fandom from adventurefam to scamfam. I used a lot of “Scammin Sisters” GIFs in my stories. I changed my Instagram bio to “No, not that one. The other scam. The one you love.” It previously read: “No, not that one. The other writer. The one you love." I even had my fans vote on a “scamoji” to represent this era of my online brand, which we call Scam Era. We decided on the dying rose because I love flowers, but also scams (joke), and the dying rose emoji is the hibiscus emoji plus scam.
I even called my next creativity workshops “The Scam.” Did The Scam go well? Um. Kind of. Google that, too.
Taylor’s been hurt and she has been healed. I’m not there yet. But Taylor's a good example for what comes next. Her crisis happened in 2016. Mine occurred earlier this year. Her new album, Lover is proof that you can be dragged down and pull yourself back up with the sheer merit of your creativity and refusal to quit.
I’ve found strength and humor in defanging the words that people once used to tear me down. But I don’t want to keep insulting myself forever. I hope there will come a day when I don’t have to have the word scam in my Instagram bio in order to stay one step ahead of my trolls. Scamming is my brand right now, but it’s a narrative I would like to be excluded from. Maybe one day.