…You are a river
You come to me
I take you in
I hate my parents.
In the middle of a very busy week of getting up early, walking the dog and then catching an earlier train to work, it became clear I needed to go to Old Street and watch some people read excerpts from their teenage diaries.
So I went to The Foundry on Great Eastern Street for the first London edition of Cringe, the brainchild of Sarah Brown in Brooklyn. Down in the vault basement of the bar, which used to be a bank, a single mic was set up, and chairs and tables were scattered around. The cold white walls and giant bullion-rotating turntable in the floor gave a strange atmosphere, but a cool one. The echo provided a stark and ideal location for the resonant embarrassment of an adolescence laid bare. The turntable in particular reminded me of the Lovecraft story ‘Pickman’s Model‘ – a lid on a tunnel leading down, where things may emerge. What demons from the past would emerge tonight?
The idea of Cringe is quite simple. You stand up at the microphone, and read out excerpts from your most secret (preferably teenaged) diaries. People listen, gasp, groan, and laugh. And that’s it. And it’s hilarious. The importance the young authors and placed in their writings! From all the talk of “Him”, to “The Blake Incident” (which turned out to be about stolen ping-pong bats), to an affair with a monopedal Outdoor Activities teacher – it was all knockout stuff. The earth-shattering revelations about hookups, drugs and desires, mixed with the banal reports on how well they slept – marvellous.
And it got me thinking. I never kept a diary like that, with all my secrets and affairs laid out. To be honest, I didn’t really get up to much that was worth writing down, and my internal life is really not for public consumption. These days, we have blogs, especially LiveJournal, to allow teenagers and other similarly verbally and emotionally incontinent people freedom of expression. This blog is a classic example (although I do hold back the juicy stuff). Blogs are simple to make, and public, whereas diaries were locked away under beds and in underwear drawers, and often carefully crafted pieces of art. It’s like the difference between mix tapes and iTunes playlists. A good mix tape (as I’m sure some of you will know) takes, or rather took, hours of thought, preparation, note-taking, taping, listening, re-taping, drawing, cutting, pasting and so on. All to create the perfect artifact, and it had to be perfect, because you were making it for Her (or Him). These days it’s all so easy (I’m 35 so I’m allowed to say things like that), you just fire up iTunes or MediaMonkey or Winamp or Amarok or whatever, drag, drop, burn, print, and you’re done.
The same goes for diaries. I’m sure many teenage diaries were full of the same kind of drivel you get on LiveJournal or wherever (or here! Ha! Actually that’s too true to be funny). But I bet the constraints of the medium, the need to get it right first time, the inability to delete and redo, the pink biro on the fluffy padlocked diary, the Mont Blanc on the watermarked vellum, meant that you took time to craft the right words, thoughts and meanings. And it’s these well-honed cringe-worthy moments I was there for last night.
By the way, just in case you’ve noticed the similarity between Sarah’s blog design and mine, here’s a little background [NB this was before this site got a revamp]. I came across Sarah’s blog just out surfing one day – you know, one site links to another, and eventually I ended up at Que Sera Sera. I just happened to be thinking about changing the design and colour scheme of my own blog, and I liked Que Sera Sera, so I decided to copy the design. No one reads mine anyway, and those that do were unlikely to read Que Sera Sera as well, so I thought “what the hell”. Last night after the Cringe performance, I introduced myself to Sarah – I’d commented on the blog that I was going to come along. I got chatting with her and her friends, and discovered that we have the same birthday, although she’s not as ancient and decrepit as I am. We also appear to share the same unique taste in shoes. Now, seeing as I have now met her, and we share a birthday, and shoe style, it does seem a little creepy that I have the same blog design. I was thinking about changing it anyway, so perhaps I should. Don’t want to look like some kind of stalker or internet weirdo.
It was a fun evening, and very nice to meet the lovely person behind it all, even if she never explained properly how it was possible to slow-dance to I’ve had the time of my life from Dirty Dancing. With Brad.