- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — 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, Miss Wiese hauled the diary out of storage and read it to a bar full of strangers just for laughs.

“Cringe readings,” as these exercises are called, are growing in popularity across 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 onstage with their ragged, old diaries and are instructed to read only material that is embarrassing enough to make them cringe.

It turns out that embarrassing is also funny. When Miss 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 Miss Blaise 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 that they had finally become more funny than painful.

The monthly cringe reading has since landed Miss 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 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Milwaukee and Seattle.

“When you’re a teenager, everything is the same level of intensity,” she 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.”

Although 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 Miss 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 Miss Wiese says it’s enough to make her wish she could somehow give that insecure girl a hug. Still, some things never change.

“Of course,” she exclaims when asked whether she still obsesses over boys. “I write all about it on my blog.”

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