As someone who has been on the internet from an inadvisably young age, I have noticed a dramatic cultural shift amongst young creative types. Where there was once sincerity, earnestness, and genuine joy, there is now a grotesque sludgy feeling known as cringe. It has transformed from a mere verb to an adjective, and then almost into a proper noun. The demon Cringe with a capital C; a malevolent, all-seeing eye that threatens to turn its hateful gaze upon anyone who expresses an emotion that’s out of line.
Regrettably, the demon Cringe has made itself a home in my heart. The process of bullying has become so streamlined that it no longer needs to involve other people. The little white lab rat rises from the vivisection table, takes the scalpel into its own paws, and says “I’ll do this myself, save you chaps the effort. Sorry in advance for the state of my innards.”
For years, this poisoned my writing. Desperate to stop the demon Cringe from looking my way, the goalposts moving so quickly that they’d become a blur, I retreated into the only safe place I could find: an all-consuming sense of ironic detachment. And, on the rare occasion where a naughty emotion snuck on through, it would immediately be followed by flagellation at the altar of Cringe through injections of unwarranted humour and self-deprecation.
It was this that poisoned my first attempt at a novel. It also started to poison my second (and current) attempt until I realised what I was doing. It’s visible on this website too, in places. It utterly ruined whatever “Taken in Vain” was supposed to be (a piece that actually pre-dates this website by a couple of years, and only ended up being posted because of a particularly bad bout of writer’s block), made “When Mighty Nydrrass Quakes” feel weird and hollow, and even rears its ugly head in “She Wasn’t Playing Around”, the Teabox Tale I was the proudest of upon posting.
I couldn’t quite conceptualise this until I started my university studies.
For those of you who are unaware, being a creative writing student involves a lot of sharing and workshopping your writing. You share it if it’s good. You share it if it’s bad. You do anything it takes for that little extra 5% class participation grade, and you do it every single day.
Though it may sound like it’s not for the faint of heart, sharing gets easy very quickly. For me, the classroom is a place where the eyes of Cringe hold no power. Everyone in the room is a writer and knows the same ache. Our words are viewed as a craft, like carpenters appraising a slightly wonky table. Being bad is not an unforgivable deficit in one’s soul, or carte blanche permission for ruthless bullying, but a skill that can be worked on. An acceptance that we are all bad sometimes, and a hope that we are growing with every piece we write.
It was this constructive space that let me come out of my shell and explore more complicated emotions in my writing. I realised that ironic detachment is a terrible position to write from; what is written from a place of desperately trying to avoid being vulnerable is often read as unbearable smugness by others. In writing what I was writing, I was not being Douglas Adams, I was being Rick and Morty.
Though the Cringe demon still lives inside me, batting my hands away from the keyboard whenever things get just a little too spicy, I am trying my best to infuse my work with the emotions I can’t pretend I don’t feel.
The cringesayers may point their fingers on the internet and beyond, and perhaps I should let them. If I can’t make them feel, I’ll make them squirm with my earnestness and sincerity.