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Women2Day - Lifestyle: Toe-curling memories of teenage angst

When New York blogger Sarah Brown discovered her teenage diaries, she laughed herself silly.

Sarah Brown

At the age of 13, there was only one fate worse than death itself and that was to have someone discover your diary.

The thought of another person getting their hands on a book that held your innermost thoughts on life, the universe and the boy you really fancied, let alone read from its hallowed pages, was enough to induce a panic attack of epic proportions.

And so certain security measures were employed to prevent your prized possession falling into the wrong hands - perhaps an annoying younger sibling who'd take great pleasure reading aloud from it over the dinner table.

First, an ingenious and secure hiding place was required, somewhere that no-one would ever consider looking. This would undoubtedly turn out to be under your New Kids On The Block bedspread.

In the unlikely event of said place being discovered, precautionary measures would have been taken in the shape of a diary that came equipped with a lock. To your younger self, it was the equivalent of Fort Knox.

And finally, just because you couldn't be too careful, the use of code words was also deployed, namely initials or perhaps just "He" when referring to the object of your hormone-fuelled obsession.

In short, you treated your diary as if it was the Holy Grail.

For this reason, it would not have crossed your mind that at some point in the future you could find yourself standing on a stage in front of a crowd of strangers reading toe-curlingly embarrassing excerpts.

But that's just what hundreds of ex-teenagers have done since an American blogger by the name of Sarah Brown introduced her open-mic Cringe nights.

The idea, which looks set to take the UK by storm, began when Sarah's mum asked her to clear our clutter from her old bedroom.

"I uncovered all these notebooks and realised these were all my old diaries," recalls Oklahoma-born Sarah. Afraid to open them for a week, she finally asked a friend over for moral support and, with a glass of wine for Dutch courage, began the cringe-inducing trip down memory lane.

"I was reading the diaries to myself but they were just so bad I had to share them," says Sarah. "My friend thought they were hilarious and then her boyfriend came over and was laughing too."

Soon Sarah was sending weekly emails of her old diary excerpts. "Every so often I'd go, 'Why am I doing this, it's mortifying' but then you'd get this great feedback with people saying, 'Oh I remember that' and you'd go, 'Oh, well I can find something even more embarrassing'.

What began as a small get-together soon spiralled into a regular open-mic extravaganza and Sarah has now compiled a book of genuine teenage musings, titled Cringe.

She hosted her first official Cringe night shortly after moving to New York.

"Six of my fiends and I read from our diaries to set the tone. I was really nervous no one would come but it was packed and it's been packed ever since."

Sarah even returned to her home town to host a night, which she admits "seemed like a great idea until I'd booked and it and thought 'Everyone I know's going to be there!'"

This included the object of her four-year teenage crush - a diary regular who went by the codename "Him". Sarah laughs: "I'm sure he would have loved to have known back then that I was that obsessed about what colour jeans he was wearing."

Stepping up on stage in preparation for baring your teenage soul is nothing short of terrifying, but Sarah is quick to reassure that the reaction is worth it. "Your first impulse is to hide your diary from people, so it's a total rush when everybody laughs," she says.

"I always tell people to pick the passage that when you read it, it physically makes you cringe. That's the part that you'll want to omit but if you read that line aloud, everyone will laugh because they had the same thing under their bed."

And teenage angst is something we can all relate to. "In your early teens you have all the feelings, all the hormones but you have no extra privileges or responsibilities," says Sarah.

"You're in your own personal hell every day and even though you had no idea at the time, we were all basically writing the same thing.

"It all boiled down to worrying about what your parents would let you do, what your peers thought of you and whether the person you like liked you back."

Sarah's Cringe nights garnered a lot of press interest from the outset and she's since made her way to the UK as well as editing the book.

The result is a laugh-out-loud collection of real teenage angst, along with melodramatic suicide notes, bad poetry and biting commentary from the "adults" who once penned them.

Here's just a sample from the book for your voyeuristic pleasure...

Helena Burton, aged 14

2 March 1991: "I think my dad has been reading my diary, or else how else does he know so much about my life while mum is still so naive. He's got the flu, his temperature is 110. I hope he dies."

Adult Helen says: "I seemed to wish my parents were dead quite a lot from the ages of 13 to 18. Mostly because they wouldn't let me wear denim, or would try to make me tidy my room."

Janine Orford, aged 16

30 December 2001, 12.06am: "Another year draws to an end. One after another they play their cruel games. I live in hope, I have such dreams and aspirations, that I'd like to realise these thoughts like a movie stepping out of the screen. I would like to make people happy: teachers, friends, parents, but most of all I would like myself to be happy, to watch the corners of my mouth crease upwards, and to beam with sunshine. May be. People place too much importance on New Year's Eve. People sing about Auld Lang Syne but what has 'it' ever done for me?"

Adult Janine says: "I was a huge fan of bad metaphors and decided one day to add them all into one impressive diary entry. At that point I was just about to start my final six months of my GCSEs. I'd been quite busy with teenage self-loathing and pity and had left most of my coursework and revision until the very last minute. I must have thought it was a chore to be at the start of another year, when that year would consist mainly of taking exams and being embarrassed by my parents."

Nina Gotua, aged 13

Friday 30 July, 1993: "Now I feel the way the rabbit must have felt, in his huge big box. I feel like I have no friend to turn to and nowhere to go. Nowhere but around my big box. I feel like everybody has left me, even hope. Masha does not like me anymore. It is easy for her since she has so many others. Soon I'll go retreat to my world of shadows."

Adult Nina says: "Here are all the cringe-worthiest aspects of my teenage experience: loss, betrayal, feelings of friendless abandonment, soul-crushing angst, wrath and the Machiavellian nature of teenage friendships. I wish I could put 'I have retreated to my world of shadows' as my out of office message."

 

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