Teenage angst


AN e-mail sent through the mists of time pinged into my inbox the other day. It's almost 20 years since I last hung around with A, kissed her country cousin, and pined for her English friends who would come over to Dublin in the school holidays all sallow-skinned and mysterious, reading teenage poetry on the rocks by moonlight.

Well, it was only R who read me his teenage poetry. He was like a poem himself, in fairness. They didn't grow them like that in Dublin back then, dark-haired and dangerous, like a gorgeous accident waiting to happen. As far as I recall, and yes the mists of time could be blurring my vision here, he even had a beauty spot.

R didn't fancy me, but for some strange reason he seemed to value my opinion on his carefully crafted words. He would brood that his syntax wasn't special enough or that his metaphors lacked originality. I would reassure him, insist they contained gems of greatness, all the while sending telepathic messages that his next move should be to reach poetically across the rocks and hold my bloody hand.

After a few getting-to-know-you-again e-mails I recently went to A's house for dinner. All that time between us and it was as though we just picked up the conversation exactly where we left off. She didn't see R anymore. Their lives had taken different turns. We reminisced over spaghetti and salad about our teenage angst, the adult angst that replaced it, her adoration of the Beastie Boys, my discovery of 1950s music on our road trip with her brilliant father in southern Spain. It brought me back to my teenage self, reminded me that she never went away, that she's just been sleeping.

I've had a few encounters with her lately. The latest happened as my boyfriend and I were busy packing up, putting our life into sections, ready to move while work is done on our house. You get distracted too easily from these tasks . . . by a Big Red Box that contains all the diaries written by your sleeping past self, the unsent letters, the hollow screams of "whyyyyyyyyyy doesn't he like me, whyyyyyyyyy???" There are boys names I don't recognise scrawled here, smothered with love hearts. Whither a chap called 'Bim' now?

Apart from procrastination, I happen to have a good reason for opening the box. Sarah Brown, an acquaintance I made through the Internet, runs an event called Cringe in New York and she is bringing this unique event to Dublin for one night only. Cringe is a monthly reading series offering brave souls a chance to revisit that old self, to publicly air those excruciating musings written in adolescence or beyond. Sarah Brown has even published a Cringe book full of this stuff and is busy collecting material for a planned UK/Ireland version.

The box is opened. Hello, me, circa 1987. As you would expect much of the material is riveting, and sizzling with literary promise: "Went to school. It is extremely windy and the winds are 90 miles an hour. School was OK. Came home. No one had rung. Just ate and lazed all day. Our phone is out of order because of the storm. The Dart is also not running. I'm having a major McDonalds tomorrow if I can scab the money."

There is a lot about food, actually. Eating too much. Trying not to eat. Rambling discussions with myself about whether a Whole Nut is more satisfying than a finger of Fudge? Answer: "eh, of course!!!!!!!!" Somewhere in the world there was a shortage of exclamation marks, because I had used them all in my hormone-fuelled rants. Ditto block capitals as in: "MAJOR DIET TOMORROW. NO CHIPS. NO CHOCOLATE. NO ICE POPS. NO BUTTER. NOTHING. Roisin x"

I made myself laugh burrowing in my Big Red Box. And I made myself cry. Here I am circa 1989 playing a familiar tune on the violin of my life.

"The more I see L, the more I have to admit it, I'm jealous of him. I think that jealousy is stronger than the like and respect I have for him. I want to be him. I want to be R. I want to be D. Everyone I ever meet leaves me feeling if I was like that, if I had that attitude I'd be cooler/trendier/more likeable/more attractive. There was a time when I used to think of myself as someone a bit different or special, but with every passing day I'm seeing people are just in every way better than me. I feel if this goes on I will gradually begin to detest myself and want to die. I won't over react and say I feel like that now, but I'm just not truly happy. Good things can happen, but in reality they don't touch me. I'm always conscious of someone else having a better time. Someone save me . . . !!!!"

Sometimes your heart aches for your sleeping self and sometimes the stuff you cringe over marks the beginning of something wonderful. For example, R kept writing, grew up and became Richard Ashcroft, lead singer with The Verve. And when I saw him that first time on the television, strutting down an English street singing a perfect poem called The Drugs Don't Work, it didn't surprise me at all.

Cringe is at O'Neill's bar, Suffolk Street in Dublin 2, on Thursday night, October 23rd. To read your diary at Cringe or to submit material for the book, e-mail sarah.brown@gmail.com or see www.cringebook.com