Cringe: Reading my teenage diary to a room full of strangers 0

Cringe: Reading my teenage diary to a room full of strangers

On Monday 19th July and Tuesday 17th August I read excerpts from my personal diary which I had written whilst I was a hormonally imbalanced 14/15 year old. It’s not something that’s going to happen again, but a few people have asked about the experience, so I decided to write something up here about it.

Cringe is a monthly event where anyone can volunteer to spend a few minutes on stage reading out extracts from diaries they kept years gone by to a room full of people. Originally running in the US, it was successful enough to spawn a spin off book of the same name and later moved to London. As far as it goes as a concept, the appeal from the audience perspective is a lot easier to grasp than that from the other side of the stage.

I wouldn’t have even known of the event if it weren’t for a word of mouth recommendation from a girl I was trying to impress. Perhaps foolishly I mentioned that I had kept a diary of my own through a peak year of my adolescence where my sole purpose in life was to have sex with a girl.  Before I knew it she was actively encouraging me to read at the event and being the sucker I am, said yes.

As time grew closer to the event, giving me more time to chew over the ramifications of volunteering, the realisation that I was going to read out to a room full of strangers words from my own diary which made me sound like an autistic sex criminal became more apparent. Any skewed idea of this supposedly impressing this girl was rapidly fading away, replaced by a fear that once again I had acted without thinking leaving future me to deal with the consequences.

As the day drew closer, I chose a number of choice extracts from which to read out. The preparation email preamble from the organiser implored you to choose the most revealing lines, pointing out that those would inevitably be the ones to give the best reaction. The supposed encouragement made me feel even less comfortable about it all, with even the tone of the organiser implying that she was one of “them” and not “us”.

To my relief shortly before the event was due to happen, the girl I was trying to impress was no longer able to attend (a theme that was to later continue, alas) giving me a huge sigh of relief as I emailed the organiser to inform them that I also would no longer be able to make it.

Quick as a flash I received a reply tinged in desperation pleading with me to come anyway as journalists from Time Out, Radio 4 & Envy were going to be in attendance for this particular evening and with other cancellations also coming through at this point, it would be devastating if I were to drop out too. I felt the pain of the organiser despite having never met her before, and after a quick message to two of my closest friends to come along and support me, I was back in the line up.

On the evening itself, as I sat in my seat towards the front of the room awaiting the event to begin, I set about drowning my nerves in alcohol. The room was getting fuller and fuller and it became evident that the majority of the audience female. The gender imbalance worried me as I anticipated a distinct lack of empathy from an audience whose teenage years would likely have been significantly different. “Damn my penis!” thought I.

I was not the first to read thankfully, but the warm, encouraging attitude of the audience relaxed me a little as others read through their tales of obsession and ineptitude. It was good to know that the atmosphere was more communally cathartic than expected though I worried I was about to change all that with the less sympathetic, relatively disgusting mindset that I was about to reveal.

Once my turn came about to read, I went to great lengths to try and verbally distance my current persona from the one described within the text, as though I were just as shocked by this “Steven Morgan”‘s actions and behaviour as they were. I won’t go into detail about exactly what it was that was so shocking within the extracts I read, that’s something personal between myself and that room full of strangers from that very evening. What I will reveal is the huge wave of relief and exhilaration that hit me as I looked out to a room full of smiling, encouraging faces and not the mob of disgust I had feared.

The fear that my formative years were somehow morbidly unique melted away as even the pinnacle act of depravity saw the room break down into fits of laughter including myself struggling to hide a little giggle at the relief of it all. Sure these people may not have shared exactly the same experiences, but there was a relative empathy towards the mindset that could lead to the sorts of events I was describing.

Multiple people came to me after I’d finished congratulating me on my stark honesty, including the organiser who revealed that she was both surprised and impressed at the boldness of my inclusion of the “day of the Chinese”. I was even given a free copy of the book for my troubles and invited back to read whenever I wanted.

It was such a positive experience that I even went along the following month for a repeat performance, but as the source material dwindled, decided to call that one my last from the lonely side of the stage.

You should go along to one of their nights, you can get more information here.

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