Friday, May 11, 2007

The Stuff That Makes You Cringe

Hi, remember me? I know, I know, it's been a while. Love can be very distracting. But I'm back. So many newsworthy moment, so many world events that merited a snarky remark, so many Britney Spears debacles that passed without my commentary. You know you have been away a while, when Brangelina adopts a new baby and Paris is sentenced to prison in your absence.

I want you to know that I thought about all these historic passings, and I even tried to write about them. But something totally out of my control happened. The keyboard just lay there under my fingers unwilling to take the notes being dictated in their direction.

It's true! I suffered from three months of finger paralysis. I thought at first that my fingers were just cold. But rigorously rubbing the hands together did nothing for my troubles. Hot baths only made me sleepy. And you can't wear gloves while you type. I wept over the computer, refusing to believe my predicament. I dropped to my knees and prayed to my HP, "God, why have you forsaken my blog."

Nothing. Just more useless thinking. And we bloggers know - our thinking means nothing without the sound of fingers furiously tapping across our keyboards.

I went to the doctor and begged for a prescription to give me back even the use of my thumb on the space bar. He told me to drink a cup of coffee every four hours until 6:00 in the evening. I rushed to my URL every morning to see if it worked, but nothing new would be posted.

I was ready to give up, throw in the towel, accept my fate as a nobody corporate zombie and then, a miracle.

Last night Chuck Palahniuk read a story to me as I sat sweetly smiling in the front row of the Philly Free Library auditorium. I twirled my pearls and straightened my skirt and thought about how lovely my life was in every way. But then he looked me in the eye, staring down from a podium carved out of an old Maple tree and everything changed.

"Everybody has a story to tell. Other writers tell stories about the every day man, but what about the other guy. Who is going to tell his story? Who is going to shed the light on the dark parts of mankind. Even the sickest and most twisted stories have a message for us. And it's our mission to gather up our guts and go out and tell those sick and twisted stories."

He said a lot of other good stuff and he told a lot of really cool stories too. Then he tied it all together and the 500 strong crowd felt as if the three hour wait in the rain to hear him speak was all worth it.

That's right, 500 people waited in line for him to read some fan mail, tell a few short stories and answer questions about his craft. 500 people! To hear an author!! He ended the event by dispersing a large box of fake severed body parts through the crowd. Sitting in the front row, I had my pick of appendages but decided I needed none of the bloody limbs to remind me of the experience.

Now I'm not sure if it was Chuck, the warmth of an auditorium filled with 500 twisted readers, or the coffee wthat as finally kicking in, but when I got home I could feel my fingers starting to tingle a little. I laid them out over some blank pages in my journal this morning and they were able to grip a pen. I wrote a short piece about how much work I had waiting for me in the office and how I needed to get my ass to work and stop pussy footing around at the kitchen table. Miraculous! Amazing!! Chuck heals! Coffee cures!

I decided right then and there, that one day, I wanted to be one of those writers to inspire 500 people to wear wedding dresses and veils through the crowded streets of a bustling city in the hopes I would autograph their book. I have too many nasty stories to tell, too many dating horror tales to lament, too many pop culture casualties to report, to be letting my pen have a rest.

So, I better get cracking. Oh yeah, and today on, I got a little reminder that it is the most painful stuff to write about that makes the biggest impression on others. Check it out (printed below).

The year was 1987, the boy's name was Rob, and 13-year-old Ingrid Wiese had some pressing concerns.

"He kisses weird," she wrote in her diary. "I just hope it doesn't stick and I don't end up kissing like that forever."

Twenty years later, Wiese hauled the diary out of storage and read it to a bar full of strangers just for laughs.

Cringe readings," these exercises are called, and they are growing in popularity around the country.

Groups in New York and elsewhere convene to relive what most would rather forget: the depths of their teenage angst. Participants get up on stage with their ragged, old diaries and are instructed to read only material embarrassing enough to make them cringe.

It turns out that embarrassing is also funny. When Wiese appeared at the reading, held monthly at a Brooklyn bar, the room was packed beyond capacity. The 33-year-old fundraiser may have been cringing, but her audience was cheering.

"When most people hear about it they think, 'Oh, God, that would be just absolutely humiliating, I would never do that,' " said Blaise Kearsley, another reader. "But I think there's something so universal about your adolescent diaries and your poems and your school assignments. It's just stuff that everyone can relate to."

Indeed, as readers spoke about zits and boys, sex and death, they heard plenty of knowing laughter.

Perhaps only teenagers or former teenagers could follow this diary entry, written by a 14-year-old Kearsley in 1987:

"When we got to the dance, Erin was depressed because she likes John and he spent the whole night dancing with Ada. But Ada was upset because at the end of the dance John frenched her. And number one: she likes him but she doesn't know if she likes him in THAT WAY. And number two: John is good friends with Dan, her ex, and she knows that Dan will have something to say to John about this."

Ah, young love.

The Brooklyn event was started by a local administrative assistant, Sarah Brown, who in a momentary, drunken lapse started reading her old diaries to friends — and discovered they had finally become more funny than painful.

The monthly cringe reading has since landed Brown a book deal and a pilot for cable television's TLC, allowing the 29-year-old to quit her day job. Similar events are happening around the country in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Milwaukee and Seattle.

"When you're a teenager, everything is the same level of intensity," Brown said. "They read about boys, or girls, or their parents, or their friends, or school, or something serious like, you know, a divorce — but ... there's no change of tone."

While the readers try to keep it light, plenty of the material in their diaries is dark, heart-wrenching stuff.

"Why? Why do you think someone could really love you?" a now-grown Ingrid Wiese reads to the crowd.

"You're fat, out of shape, covered with zits. You can just feel how your body is GOING. Your arms, your wrists, your calves. You're insecure, immature, and" — she lowers her voice to a whisper — "your grades reflect your intelligence."

The 33-year-old Wiese says it's enough to make her wish she could somehow give that insecure girl a hug.

"I just want to go back and tell that kid so many things, but mostly that 'you're just all right the way you are,' " Wiese said after the reading.

These days, Wiese's emotions are less heightened, and she carries herself confidently as she walks from the stage. Still, some things never change.

"Of course!" she says when asked if she still obsesses over boys. "And I write all about it on my blog."

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