Heater, Mother of Lance

Real Cringe

I’m headed out the door in just a bit to huddle up with some lawyers, and by some I mean a few hundred. I think things should be settled like they were when we were still evolving, you know? Hitting people in the heads with rocks. Shoving someone off of a cliff. Feeding someone’s baby to a dingo.

In the meantime my good friend Sarah Brown, someone I met online in 2001, agreed to write a few guest posts for me so that I could concentrate on all the money I’m paying a lawyer. You can find her at Que Sera Sera, and I finally got to meet her in person back in late 2006. She is seriously one of my favorite people in the world, and I wanted to share her with you.


For the past five years, I’ve hosted a night called Cringe in New York and now in London. Cringe is an event where adults get up in front of a bunch of people in a bar and read aloud from their teenage diaries, the most embarrassing, cringeworthy passages. It’s always funny and entertaining. That said, with the exception of one or two real humdingers, these things don’t actually make me cringe anymore. They make me laugh, and want to buy the reader a beer, but revealing the most humiliating things from my adolescence to a roomful of strangers no longer makes my scalp hot or my teeth feel like I’m chewing tinfoil. However, since the universe always provides, I’m never at a loss for things that actually do make me cringe.

1. People earnestly singing when they’re not supposed to be singing.

This doesn’t mean karaoke; it means people who get up and karaoke Tori Amos songs. This doesn’t mean musicals, or the television show Glee, which are set in a world where People Spontaneously Sing and Everyone Acts Like This is Normal. It doesn’t mean that part in 10 Things I Hate About You when Heath Ledger sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” because he’s clearly making fun of himself. This means when someone in real life bursts into unaccompanied song somewhere in public where no one else is singing, and they don’t expect you to laugh at them, they expect you to hoot and clap and egg them on.

AMERICA! DO NOT ENCOURAGE THESE PEOPLE! If you behave like it’s okay for someone to break into song at a dive bar because you’re a little drunk and oh why not, I’m in a good mood, sure, I’ll clap, they’re just going to go for a second verse, or start dancing, and then acting annoyed that you want to continue with your conversation instead of hearing their encore. I do not know why these people need for their lives to be a music video starring them 24/7 but it’s up to you and me to shut them down mercilessly, every single time. I don’t care if their moms or their high school chorus teacher told them they have a good voice! I didn’t ask to hear it and now they’re forcing it on me and having the nerve to make me feel bad for the face I can’t help making!

One time, this guy at Cringe said he was going to sing a song he’d written to an ex-girlfriend as a teenager. That’s happened once before and it was hilarious, but the minute this guy opened his mouth, it was clear that a) he was currently an aspiring singer/songwriter, b) he wrote this song an hour before he arrived at Cringe, and c) he was loving every minute of it. It was the most cringeworthy Cringe moment for me ever, for all the wrong reasons.

2. People on the internet putting a phrase between asterisks as if they are actually doing whatever that phrase says.

This is pretty harmless but I can’t help but wince every time I see it. It used to happen more in forums or message boards, but now it happens on Twitter. Like maybe someone mentions swimming, and another person replies, “Sounds fun! *puts on swimsuit, cracks open a beer*” This is so nerdy it makes me feel feverishly uncomfortable on your behalf. You’re not really doing that. No one believes you’re doing that. We all know you’re in your office right now. And we all know that now you secretly want everyone else in your Twitter stream to follow suit and start some weird fake textual pool party.

Person A: *jumps in* Cannonball!
Person B: *mixes mai tai, passes to Person C*
Person C: *takes off top, forget she’s married*

So this is just like a strange live action role playing you’re playing by yourself, with words. It’s like you just can’t shake King’s Quest, or you still want to be Leisure Suit Larry. You are forever in the cavern of the Evil Wizard. Around you are the carcasses of slain ice dwarfs.

If you replied, “*picks nose, refreshes page*” at least it would be true, but it would still be lame.

3. Group prayer.

Without getting into my feelings about is there a God or what do I think of organized religion, this just skeeves me out and always has, even as a little kid. First of all, “group prayer” always seemed like an oxymoron to me, because shouldn’t prayer be some super personal thing? Who are you to speak to God on my behalf, buddy? I bet what you want and what I want aren’t the same thing, unless we’re talking about polite stuff like world peace, which by now should just go without saying and not really warrant its own 911 call to God. That’s fine, we can talk about world peace, but make it the sermon or something. Don’t get all intimate on me. I immediately want to put my fingers in my ears or cover the mouth of the person who’s praying. Dude, keep that to yourself! I don’t want to know what freaky shit you want God to do for you! That is between you and your freaky God. I know the freaky shit I’d like God to do for me, and there’s no way I’m sharing that with a room full of people.

4. Being on television.

The thought of seeing or hearing myself on a screen brings out every middle school insecurity I ever had and multiplies them by eleven. I would rather take off my clothes and run around the room naked.

5. Taking off my clothes and running around the room naked.

Please don’t make me do this.

  • mileena

    2010/06/21 at 2:39 pm

    I think I am guilty of #2. I will stop now, I promise!

  • CulinaryKate

    2010/06/21 at 2:47 pm

    I used to have a woman that worked for me who was completely out of her mind and drove every one crazy with her singing. She was a very confused 40 something that thought she had it all going on and would sing soul music at the top of her lungs. I still cringe at the thought of her, but apparently she doesn’t work there anymore due to a nervous break down. ha

  • Mor to the gan

    2010/06/21 at 3:00 pm

    *Laughs quietly to self so as to not give self away to other office-dwellers who may think self is doing actual work*

    Freaky God shit. That is my favorite part, and I’m for SURE going to try to use that in a sentence today (and give due credit to its creator, of course).

    In high school, we totally had a group called “Cougars For Christ.” Come gather around the flag pole for prayer! At seven in the morning! GO EFF YOURSELF.

    Plus? Cougars? COME ON.

  • tallnoe

    2010/06/21 at 3:04 pm

    Okay, there are many things I love about this post. Not the least of which is that when you type, in gchat, or many other methods the asterisks, it bolds it. And that’s much better in my opinion. Make it an emphasis, not a virtual action!

    And, freaky God shit is freaky. Thanks. I agree.

    Some people are cringeworthy – how do we stop it?

  • Truthful Mommy

    2010/06/21 at 3:05 pm

    Love it! Yes, people breaking out into spontaneous song…that does skeeve me a bit too. It’s so sad, its like they are running around waiting for their big break. It’s especially sad when they have no voice:( Reading from our teen age diaries? Well, that would just be ridiculous for me..it was all about the guy because of course he was the ONE!Until the next ONE! I would cringe at all the hearts and flowers and how a glance could make me jelly.So,how does one get invited to Cringe? I’m up for a good laugh?Happy Mothering!

  • emmafolds

    2010/06/21 at 3:11 pm

    *chuckles and nods head in agreement*

  • srising

    2010/06/21 at 3:19 pm

    I hate it when people do that asterisk thing!

  • randi33

    2010/06/21 at 3:32 pm

    Sarah, I have your book! I looooved it! 🙂

  • Brea

    2010/06/21 at 3:56 pm

    Welcome, Sarah!

    The whole singing thing makes me really uncomfortable, too. I have a coworker that does this – bursts out into song in the workplace lobby.

    I took exactly the route that you suggested that I shouldn’t. I made some inane comment, something like, “Wow! American Idol, lookout!” Not surprisingly, it only fueled her fire more.

    I also despise whistlers.

  • dooce

    2010/06/21 at 3:58 pm

    “I also despise whistlers.”

    Okay, that made my day.

  • Truthful Mommy

    2010/06/21 at 4:16 pm

    LOL! I concur. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was in an office that rotated you between all of the partners. One of the doctors, whistled constantly. I really don’t think he even realized he was doing it. I had to switch offices, on the off chance that he could possibly be the one who would end up on call the night I would deliver.I couldn’t run the risk!There’s no way I could have stomached someone whistling while I gave birth!

  • Schnauzie_Mom

    2010/06/21 at 4:17 pm

    Whistlers creep me out! Don’t they know that the serial killer/half demon/freddy cougar guy in the movies is always whistling right before someone gets chopped into a million pieces?

  • Pixie

    2010/06/21 at 4:27 pm

    I want a Cringe in my town…..are you a franchise? Can I get a Cringe On? How can I Cringe?

  • Fuel to the Fire

    2010/06/21 at 4:44 pm

    Cringe sounds like Risk!, an event also in New York. It’s also a podcast which describes itself as “true tales boldly told”.

    Do you think you’d ever make Cringe into a podcast for those who can’t make it to New York?

  • jennyfromtheshwa

    2010/06/21 at 6:07 pm

    Yes, all those, cringeworthy. What makes me cringe? People fake playing trombone, trumpet or sax to a song like they totally mean it. Air guitar. Cool. Air drums. Super cool (if you actually look like you know what you are doing). Air sax. Cringe. It hurts me just thinking about it.

  • Elleinadspir

    2010/06/21 at 6:26 pm

    That is a great list. It should be posted in public everywhere. Think of what a much less annoying world it could be!

  • J. Bo

    2010/06/21 at 6:26 pm

    Amen x five.

  • CJDaily

    2010/06/21 at 6:32 pm

    Augh, the asterisk thing!!! Thank you for acknowledging publicly that such a thing should never be done. It’s the height of weird and pathetic. It makes me gag a little bit when I see people trying be all cute by *blushing* or something equally lame. Go find an RPG and join a guild or something but for the love of God, no more asterisks!

  • JodyB

    2010/06/21 at 7:00 pm

    Whenever someone wants to pray in public I quote Matthew Chapter 6 at them.

  • Anndruh

    2010/06/21 at 7:07 pm

    I get physically uncomfortable when people who should not sing, sing. And I’m talking about 98% of the people who audition for American Idol. I literally have to either change the channel or leave the room because I get this creepy crawly feeling in my bones and just want to jump out of my own skin. I think I am hyper-empathetic. I FEEL their complete and utter BADNESS.

  • Jewels

    2010/06/21 at 7:44 pm

    Get naked. Do it now!

    *is not really serious.*

    I get the singing people thing. Though I really admire their public bravery, part of me always wonders if they aren’t a wee bit stoned.

    Singing intentionally isn’t too bad. I’m always freaked about by the people who are singing- usually very badly- to their ipods and they don’t realize, or care, that everyone can hear them.

    This happens to me ALL THE TIME in the gym. It’s funny to watch fellow witnesses to the act in the mirror when it happens. We’re all trying very hard to LOOK NORMAL. Nothing odd happening here… nope, I do not hear this person doing a soft-but-passionate rendition of Alice in Chains. In falsetto.

    AH.MAH.GAH. Do NOT head wiggle. Please don’t head wiggle. She’s head wiggling.

  • KMJ

    2010/06/21 at 7:45 pm

    Great post! #1 and #3 are big ones for me…and they make me uncomfortable in exactly the same way. The Matthew 6 response is awesome.

    #2 doesn’t bother me so much, but I get that it’s cringe-worthy for others (I feel that way whenever I see quotes used to “emphasize” something).

  • riogringa

    2010/06/21 at 8:19 pm

    This is fun, but nothing can distract me from the sheer morbid curiosity about what’s going on. Getting sued? Suing? Gahh! The suspense is terrible.

  • Mandy

    2010/06/21 at 9:31 pm

    *realises that’s exactly why she never felt comfortable in forums*

    You’re right, it’s just so lame and dorky but I’m sure I’ve been a sheep and done it myself!

    And about the singing! I’m watching one of the Bachelors (not sure what number but it’s the sleazy Brit who I think touched Miriam’s bits in ‘There’s something about Miriam’). I still love the start when you have the obligatory train wreck of a piss head who makes a fool of herself AND when, at a last ditch effort to impress, one of them serenades the bachelor. In this series there were two and one sang OPERA! And was serious. Oh my (freaky) God, THE CRINGE!

  • Megan Ellen

    2010/06/22 at 12:57 am

    Oh the singing. It hurts me. Especially when someone is standing there, seemingly so vulnerable. I feel bad, yet at the same time I hate them just a bit. Because how vulnerable can they be if they’re able to do that? And if they’re not, then why am I sitting here suffering for them? Why do they want to hurt me so, why?

  • makfan

    2010/06/22 at 1:36 am

    I am sure that I am guilty of singing at an inappropriate time. I really get into music when I listen to it. I know for sure one day that I started singing in my cube at work. Fortunately, I realized it after a minute or two. If someone just tapped me, I would stop immediately.

    The public prayer stuff really drives me nuts. My parents like watching NASCAR, so I watched the race with them on Father’s Day. The whole spectacle of a public prayer, followed by everyone snapping their hand onto their heart for the anthem was really creepy.

  • Laura Jones

    2010/06/22 at 6:11 am

    You know what makes me cringe? People who find it entertaining to criticize and humiliate other people.

    Singing is for expressing yourself. Currently there is a public art project that puts pianos on the streets throughout NY city so ordinary people can express themselves with music. “It doesn’t have the big sound of a grand, but the old uprights — they’re not perfect, and neither are we.”


  • Sarah Brown

    2010/06/22 at 6:42 am

    Hello, Dooce readers!

    Thanks, randi33!

    Truthful Mommy, no invite is necessary. Cringe is in London for now, but it will be back in New York soon, and it’s free and open to the public.

    Pixie, If you’re interested in starting a Cringe-like event in your own town, go for it! Just please don’t call it Cringe. It’s not a franchise, and holds both a trademark and copyright.

  • kelp30

    2010/06/22 at 6:55 am

    I totally understand your reaction to public prayer – I’ve read several autobiographies that give me similar skeeve-ishness (and have since stopped reading most of them) – However, I fail to see the difference between public prayer and reading one’s teenage diaries out loud.

    Think about it! It’s confession to the almighty page vs. confession to the Almighty, right? In my estimation, the diary is the closest thing that some will ever get to a real relationship with anyone. It’s their place to be absolutely honest – and that in my book, is worship.

    Sara, I’m not getting down on you – I love your honesty… so I just wanted to throw another perspective in the ring.

    Sweet post!

  • TexasKatie

    2010/06/22 at 7:22 am

    You know what I hate? I hate it when people write “teh” instead of “the” online. I know, I know, apparently it is some online internet slang neologism that gamers started using and now people do it to be “teh funny” but seriously? It isn’t funny or witty and just looks like you can’t hit the keys on your keyboard in a correct manner or in quick succession to each other without screwing it up.

    So yeah, the asterisks thing is kind of annoying, too. Although I think we all have been guilty of that now and again. *runs and hides*

    Public prayer doesn’t bug me, though. Although I catch your drift on that.

    Oh also – I cringe when Heather talks about getting a team of lawyers but can’t tell us WHY! GRRR! 😉

  • Sarah Brown

    2010/06/22 at 7:31 am

    kelp30, I think the difference is whether or not you have a captive audience, or one there by choice. If someone just started reading their teenage diary aloud at any place that wasn’t Cringe, that’d be just as annoying to me as a group prayer or spontaneous song.

    TexasKatie, I hate “teh” as well.

  • chicgeek75

    2010/06/22 at 8:46 am

    Cannot agree more about #3 – group prayer. I grew up in the northeast, where, though plenty of people were religious, I never once came across anyone starting up a group and/or public prayer session. Then I moved to Texas… And you know what? When people say, “Oh, that must have been quite the culture shock,” I say to them “not really” or “the bigger shock was moving from New Hampshire to New York.” But, now that I think about it, Texas had one huge-ass culture shock: the practice of religion as if it’s a public standard.

    Not only do I get all fidgety when someone says, “let’s all pray,” or even “I’ll be sure to pray for you”, but… I’m always shocked when some stranger who seems friendly and who has struck up a pleasant conversation with me eventually interjects with, “What church to you go to?” And then, when I say, “Oh, I don’t go to church,” they grimace and frown, like a disappointed parent, saying, “Oh, but you really should; my church is great.. here, let me give you a card.”

    And they ALWAYS have a business card for their church!

    ** grimacing and frowning **


  • powellkristy

    2010/06/22 at 9:04 am

    Love it! There’s a show like Cringe called Mortified – I believe it started in SF, but now it’s other places, too. It’s awesome and hysterical and touching and makes you sit there and say, “oh my god, I know JUST how that feels!” People not only read from their diaries, they show movies they made when they were kids, sing songs they wrote (and WTF about that guy at Cringe? Ha!) and show photos. It’s just so great.

  • slcEB

    2010/06/22 at 9:20 am

    A young guy used to work down the hall from me, and would randomly break out in song every now and then. I’m convinced he had some sort of musical Tourette’s. It was actually pretty entertaining and kind of charming. Now I miss it.

    With you on the whistling — GAH! Why not just walk over here and stick your scissors in my ear?

  • juliejackson

    2010/06/22 at 9:33 am

    Once I had a boss who had some petty complaint about how she wanted something communicated to her in a different way and she actually asked if she minded if we pray about it. I was shocked but didn’t want to diss her, so I said okay and just kind of watched her – she closed her eyes and said a prayer that was so incredibly passive aggressive, like “Lord, please help Julie understand how to blah blah blah…”

    I could not believe she was acting like God was her personal go-between who was on her side to help enlighten poor little me to do things her way. That was really cringy.

  • Utahcouple

    2010/06/22 at 10:22 am

    k – I like Sara, you can keep her. I know people will not like to hear this, but can we get rid of LOL! Even if you are actually laughing out loud, find a different way to express it. “I just pissed myself!”.

  • rinny627

    2010/06/22 at 2:17 pm

    Seriously. I read this post and then went to twitter and found this tweet of a friend.

    “I will stop eating Nutella. I will stop *licks spoon* eating Nutella. I will stop right now. *lick*”

    I couldn’t stop laughing.

  • Pearl Berries

    2010/06/22 at 3:34 pm

    To be honest, I am a nerd. I play mmorpg’s. I use “teh” often. And I have been known to asterisk actions; though, real nerds use “/” (Ex: /slit wrist). And I will continue to do it. I also wear boy’s shirts with Star Wars and Super Mario themes. I am probably your second worst nightmare. First being a person who breaks into song.

  • misheru

    2010/06/22 at 4:04 pm

    Pearl, you and I could be friends.

    1. I totally use asterisk actions, but yes, I use the “/” too, as in /snorts derisively at the OCD people. I actually miss those bbs *rolls eyes* and other things, as it always entertained me.

    2. I used to be forced to do group prayer, and although I mostly don’t unless forced by my relatives, it still happens in my presence. Mostly I just shrug and try to steal the fries of the person next to me while their eyes are closed.

    3. I don’t have that great of a body, but I love being naked, and spent most of this morning in a tank top and undies. /shrugs

    3. If I don’t think anyone is around, I break into song. My husband and I both started spontaneously singing the same song in the car on our first date. If I hear “O Mio Babbino Caro” I am forced to sing to it. It’s compulsive.

    So yes, Sarah Brown, WE SHOULD NEVER MEET. 😉

  • misheru

    2010/06/22 at 4:02 pm

    Whoops – hit enter twice!

  • jacqueline

    2010/06/22 at 6:09 pm

    well, that blog was just belligerent.

  • Rhonda2

    2010/06/22 at 6:16 pm

    I know what your big news is!!!!

    You are going to have your own television show.


  • Lividviv

    2010/06/22 at 6:42 pm

    I think punitive attitudes like those expressed in this post have led to much drabness, self-consciousness and shame in North American society. We all think it’s cool how people dance in the streets in other countries, right? Everybody raves about Spain and Latin America, or about how African people sing so much, and how great it is… Yet it’s important to remember that they got that way by having a high Lameness Tolerance, because most people don’t have much rhythm!

    Public emotion and performance by regular incompetent folks is mostly sweet, sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes brilliant. Give it a chance, guest blogger 🙂 Or even try it yourself. You can pick your own type of public display — try unicycling or knitting.

    Otherwise, the public emotion you end up displaying is mean-spiritedness.


    2010/06/22 at 9:48 pm

    Bossy never ever ever ever never engages in inappropriate singing, prayers, OR nakedness. *Nose grows a little at the inappropriate singing lie.* Hi Sara!

  • BillyZoom

    2010/06/23 at 6:57 am

    Well, the comments are closed on the latest picture of Marlo, so I’ll have to put it here. That kid is adorable. I can’t believe her eyes.

  • ElizabethN

    2010/06/23 at 10:35 am

    I think she’s negotiating the compensation for her appearance on Dancing With the Stars this fall, and making sure that she gets paired with Maks. That would be cool!

  • CalissaLeigh

    2010/06/23 at 11:40 am

    Sorry, I love my asterisk key. *blinks heartily at the TV monitor in defiance*

    A lot of online role players use them to depict actions through role playing. Even in other chat rooms, I’ll use it to depict playful actions. It’s great fun to imagine things, and the ‘action asterisk’ is fun, for me and for others.

    If you don’t find it fun, of course, I don’t blame people for ditching it. It takes all sorts to make the world turn, after all. 🙂

    Not to be a ninny, just wanted to say I enjoy it. 🙂 *goes back to day dreaming about surfing*

  • phraug

    2010/06/24 at 4:00 am

    my biggest cringe is people using the word natch. sounds like snatch and you’re a dirty one for saying it.

  • mhsqrd

    2010/06/24 at 8:10 am

    I cringe at group prayer, too. ESPECIALLY IN THE WORKPLACE as mine is wont to do. CRINGE.

    Also. Loud yawners.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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