Two Years Writing: Criticism and Cringe

Time flies when you’re having fun; it flies faster if you’re busy; and flew by for me almost imperceptibly, not having Facebook remembering for me how much younger I looked however many years ago.

WordPress.com, with which I publish this website, assumed Facebook’s mantle this week, sending me this following:

‘Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!

You registered on WordPress.com 2 years ago.

Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.’

Thanks for time-flying with me too, WordPress. Naturally, I looked back at this maiden voyage into writing words as if I’m suited to it; as one would if reminded that it’s been two years since you moved to Torteval or holidayed in Turkey, you wanna know what’s changed.

‘Did I really wear that?’ ‘What was I thinking hanging out there?’ ‘Why oh why did I think that was cool?’ and so on.

With writing, personally anyhow, it’s much the same: ‘Did I really write that?’ ‘What was I thinking to have suggested this?’ ‘Surely I didn’t think that was funny/interesting/meaningful/worth spending any amount of time on?’

One may often react to Facebook remembering for us what we were (doing) so many years ago by cringing. Well, WordPress curled me up into a cretinous, cowering ball and left me to laugh at myself, which I was cringing too hard to do. Why do we cringe in this manner?

I’ve had a think. One doesn’t cringe at the photo in which you look the same as you do presently, doing something that you currently do, with people you currently like, in clothes you currently wear. Usually, the older it is and the more different you are, the sillier you (think you) look, equals the cringier the photo in general. You look back at a different ‘you,’ that isn’t you, this ‘you’ misrepresents what you are now, what you have since become—so you cringe. You no longer tie a blue-haired topknot, or sport those hideously tight white jeans, nor do you preparatively tense your muscles for photographs; you are not that person, you cringe at that person’s having had existence, because it was you, and you are not that same ‘you’ anymore.

If you don’t care for my own experience, and I don’t blame you for its mostly bollitical, scroll down to the list at the end of the article.

Lord knows this has been the same for me with writing. It’s been two years this month since I wrote my first article, for a Guernsey magazine: it was on politics and how people could be more political if they, Christ, ‘1. Read about politics’ and ‘2. Talk about politics’. Though this sincere interest in bollotics stimulated my interest and study at my old desk-job, and eventually a successful application to Brighton and Sussex Universities, I still cringe, hard. Why?

1. Reading about politics: I haven’t read a newspaper since 2015.

2. Talking about politics: if somebody now told me to (cringe), “Get talking about local politics with your friends, family, colleagues and even that not-so-nice-smelling guy on the bus” I would reply that I have better things to talk about, thanks, and what’s your issue with the bus bum?

Spending a year studying in Brightonian coffeeshops has inoculated my bollitical interest: but it worked as does forcing a social smoker to finish a packet of cigarettes one after the other. All the nice ideas you had, your innocence and excitement in pursuing the interest, are enveloped in stuffy, picky clouds of grey. It’s as if after the smoking ban they missed the stale atmosphere in the coffeeshops, so replenished it with conversations about Guardian headlines on Facebook newsfeeds.

‘3. Contribute politically’ But this I still stand cringing behind, I just don’t think you need to be versed in broadsheet to be able to do so. Sometimes the most radically political thing one can do is lead a better life.

I cringe at my pre-university analysis of the prominence given to the 2015 story of cuddly Cecil the lion being poached, at the arguable expense of stories on failed attempts at cross-continental asylum-seeking and migrancy. I cringe because I spent a term studying semiology and methods used by media to disinform and distract which were here not employed; but moreso because I am no longer a person who would be so involved in criticising columns on newspaper websites. I still take notice of the nauseating newsstands, but I can’t quite suffer inflicting a wordy critical nausea upon my miniscule readership just to better articulate what is already obvious: how ridiculous it is to read that the ‘SAS go undercover as beggars to fight terrorism’; to have a guilt-trip charity poster of a starving child stare at me from inside war-torn Yemen, when I’m a citizen of the country which provided the bombers blasting it back into the stone-age, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etcetera.

I wrote an impassioned defence of Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendance to the Labour Party leadership. Simply, I cringe because talking about politics on a Left-Right, black-white, right-wrong binary basis is bollitical infantilism at its patronising purest. ‘We’ve made this Political Spectrum for Dummies on which you can stake your place and have your opinions and enemies prescribed you.’ But, awkwardly, I’m a right-wing neo-fascist because I think that men and women are essentially different and we should stop bombing and otherwise destabilising poorer countries instead of allowing untrammeled immigration; and also a left-wing anarcho-communist because I think that workplaces should be somewhat democratised and the public transportation nationalised. Go figure. Or don’t, is what I’m saying, there are probably better things for you to do.

Saying that, though, I do stand (and cringe) behind it: I wrote that ‘Jez’s more compassionate and, I daresay, principled stances are at odds with British politicians and media’ and ‘The more humanity and normality he radiates, the mainstream media’s attempted counterweight becomes evermore desperate, ridiculous and a lot of people (are at least starting to) see right through it.’ I think truth has been recently realised in these statements: his principles cut through the bollotical artifice and, despite a deranged media campaign the likes of which we didn’t even see for ‘Red Ed’ Miliband, he stuck to his guns in and against his party, through the callous campaign to go on and twat the electoral ball right outta the park, preventing the predicted landslide.

My penultimate political piece was written in November 2015, about the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey in Syrian airspace. Therein is a latent exhaustion with bollotics I will now sketch out, and I suggest you skip the next political paragraph if you’re not interested in geopolitics.

The Syrian War orthodoxy is this, that it was a protest that magically morphed into a civil war. It’s open knowledge that the US-backed Sunni states have fought covert propaganda and proxy wars against the Shia crescent for some time, examples of which include the situation with Iran and the blitzing of Iraq and Syria and Yemen. Then the Islamic State magically appears out of the rubble of an Iraq that was occupied by the US and UK, arising in the cities formerly garrisoned by the US and UK, and is allowed to arm and organise itself without any meaningful action taken by the US or UK, both of which opted rather for making a media scare-storm of it at home. In fact, they furnished it material means by which they secured its ‘Islamic’ ‘state’: namely by allowing it to accrue Iraqi state weaponry and by not interfering with its arm imports from and oil exports to neighbouring countries. Turkey was foremost in respect of this illicit oil trade. Russia put a stop to it. Turkey fired back. Simple as.

Much preferring and eventually prioritising philosophy over newspaper politics has in a roundabout way led me to conclude: that this whole situation is fucked and there is nothing outside the cynical power play of realpolitik at the level of geopolitical strategy. For this reason, I won’t (persistently) pursue thinking about it, let alone write about it. (Say I, performatively contradicting myself by doing precisely that.)

So moving swiftly on. We cringe at yesteryear’s tired trends and burned out hotspots, but not because they are in and of themselves uncool, rather because we ourselves have grown out of and away from them—something in us has evolved. I cringe at my former fascination with fatuously blabbing bollitics, at too readily resorting to tugging heartstrings and at the superfluous syntactical grandiloquence. Yet of these charges I am still guilty, indicating not that politics and pathos and eloquence are dead to me, but that I have changed and therefore my interest in and reliance on them has too. And still, at these words a future me will cringe, but contentedly. I’ll tell you why.

 

  1. You criticise and cringe at yourself more than any other person

The maxim that says you are your own worst critic is doubly true: you are your own critic, but you also criticise yourself on behalf of everybody else too, criticisms that are often overemphasised or purely imagined.

You look back at that photo, at that blue-haired, top-knotted tosspot, and think: ‘Christ, cut it off—preferably at the neck!’ You keel with cringe. But your mum thinks you look cute, your girlfriend thinks you look gorgeous, and it reminds your mate of good times. The critical issues that you take up with yourself are yours alone, not those of other people, unless they say so. I’ve cringed hardest in the last couple days at a piece I wrote back in September 2015, and it was my most popular by a stretch!

You are your own worst critic. Realising this won’t stop it being so, but it will immunise you against the worst ravages of self-doubt in the present and against the still-inevitable cringe in the future. And this I write in an article, on which I’ve spent about five hours, that I have at several points resolved to abandon for the sake of such self-criticism (it is egocentric/boring/contradictory/repetitive/etcetera, and so on, and on, and on).

 

  1. You cringe because you have changed—happy days! 

We cringe because we are not that person anymore. That you might be considered to ‘be’ that same person who wore that god-forsaken topknot or wrote those ill-considered lines is what is bothering about it. We are living, learning beings: we cannot typographically nor photographically freeze the essence of our selves, though we might think we can in that perfected prose or profile picture.

We change. Our prose and pictures, often cringe-worthily, stay the same; looking back at childhood poems or photos that have been printed and posed for posterity, we feel quite similarly. That can be a great thing, if you have now become more authentically ‘you.’ Having had a different look or written in a different way back in the day doesn’t mean that you were inauthentic back then. Had you held on to that topknot because you thought others might criticise you for chopping it (fat chance), or had you pursued a popular path in writing which didn’t actually interest you—that’s inauthentic. Go with the flow: not in a lazy, happy-go-lucky sense: go with that flow which feels right, rewarding and stimulating: go with what suits and feels ‘you.’ Even if that flow happens to produce paragraphs of text that one now deems to be quasi-philosophical over-sentimentalised horseshit, go with it regardless.

 

  1. Cringing is, therefore, good

It’s a truth of tattooing that having trends indelibly inked into your skin will be regretted down the line. This is a more immediate way to understand my point. Usually, we don’t carry the shed skin of our former selves about with us, unless we refuse to grow up. But when you get a naff tat on a lad’s holiday at seventeen, you are condemned to reminisce; you grow, you shed your skin, but it leaves a remainder, a reminder. We should relish these reminders. They are remainders of a self that you’ve since superseded.

So an old photograph or story is like a tattoo: a permanent memento of a shed self that no longer lives and learns as one does presently, so one cringes at aspects of it now considered callow and childish. But we should (also) relish it, for it reveals in our ceding self that person who has surpassed it in the present; we should laugh and rejoice that we are not that person anymore and make damn sure we feel the same about our current selves in the future. Prepare yourself to cringe at the selfie you took this morning in the years to come, as I doubtless will at the words I rattle out this afternoon.

So I’ve read through my two years of writing and I’ve recoiled from the sight of all the dead shed skin. I’ve also realised and revelled in the speed at which I have grown by embracing errors but still letting go of that self-critic just a little; this advice I’ve penned in a piece which this said critic doesn’t quite want to publish, and at which I will no doubt cringe down the line. C’est la feckin’ vie.

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