I am cringe but I am free
she said, absolutely cringing!!!!!
happy holidays and happy new year!! I had a very chill nye and am having a cozy Saturday – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re enjoying it, too.
thoughts on feeling corny
I’ve been staring at this photo for about an hour feeling kind of nauseated from my inability to decide how I feel about it: it’s a photo I took of a pink hibiscus with a big, blue, empty California sky as the backdrop. It looks like a Kacey Musgraves album cover and I am waffling between deeply hating it and kind of liking it so quickly that I am actually starting to get a little dizzy. For the record, I do love Kacey Musgraves – but the feeling I’m wrestling with is familiar to me and it’s the same feeling that always keeps me from sharing my work or even from creating it in the first place: it just feels so...corny.
I’ve spent the last year mostly writing poems and taking 35mm film photos and trying desperately to escape from underneath the feeling that what I am creating is completely and totally corny. I mean...it’s writing poems and taking film photos? In New York City? Please. Come on!! As someone who grew up during the Great Hipster Reboot, it is hard for me not to judge myself as I sit down to type a poem on my typewriter next to my 1977 film camera in my (mom’s) apartment in Lower Manhattan. Inevitably, I was raised to scoff at that just a little, whatever that might say about me or how I was raised.
But I want to break the feeling down into parts I can better understand because, truthfully, sometimes I kinda like what I’ve created and it’s only when I think about what someone else’s reaction might be that my insecurity has this particular shape and hunger. Sure, there might be something innately corny-feeling about those art forms these days, with or without me. But it’s rarely a critique I have of the artwork I consume: I rarely disengage simply because something is “corny.” In fact, I might like something because it is corny (a good rom-com? musical theater as a genre? John’s jokes? hehe just kidding). Or, I’ll turn it off because it’s just not good, but not necessarily because of its corniness – and it does feel like there’s a difference between “bad” and “not good” and “corny.” So I’m curious – why do I feel so uncomfortable with the idea of my being corny? Would it really be that terrible to be corny, and why?
I guess what I mean when I say “corny,” is that it feels too obvious or falls flat. It’s not just that it’s overdone, unoriginal, or saccharine; corny commits the crime of evoking no feelings at all, of doing nothing, of being less than boring somehow. It is the unrespected cousin of camp and the forgettable sibling of cheesy. I feel like while someone might be aiming for “camp,” or reaching for “kitschy,” or even intentionally “cheap” or “cheesy,” people rarely want their work to be considered “corny.” Where camp is about fantasy and extravagance, corny is perhaps about ease and familiarity. They are similarly sentimental, but camp maintains a legitimacy that corniness is not afforded. Where camp can be “real art,” corny usually falls short.
I took this particular photo for a photography class this summer, and one of our tasks was to shoot the same object from many different angles/positions so we could see how that changes the lighting, the photo overall, how you feel about it, etc. The assignment was in service of experimentation, of familiarizing oneself with one’s instrument, of stepping outside of your typical point of view, of just learning something. It didn’t have to be for anybody but me and it certainly didn’t have to be for anything but my own edification.
Every time we met for this workshop, our lovely teacher Bridget (hi Bridget!!) would give us the opportunity to share any of our photos with the group. I don’t think I shared anything until the last class. When I did, I asked her if she ever encounters this feeling, too, and what she does to deflate it. And she told me to just do the corny thing – what’s the worst that could happen? It will be okay. Nothing will explode. When you find yourself cringing in self-awareness, take a deep breath in and just admit it:
In the weeks since she gave me this advice, I’ve been trying to indulge myself in creation for the sake of itself, in making things that don’t have to be for anybody but me or for anything but my own edification. I’ve been trying to stop the is-it-corny self-judgment tailspin before it picks up too much steam. I’ve been trying to keep track of the things I find corny and when the fear of corniness arises. And maybe somehwere in all that data I will find there’s something about corniness that is worthwhile after all.
I had so many days in 2021 marked by a deep hopelessness. The future has been hard to believe in – not just in a personal way, but in a global/everybody/everything kind of way, too. At least for me, at least sometimes. And it wasn’t until I found myself crying alone in my apartment to a YouTube clip of the 1996 production of RENT that I considered maybe this is what corny can do for me: a little bit of ease and familiarity amidst the very strange and heartbreaking. Some release, some help processing the grief. And, of course – it’s so corny to say it – a touch of hope, too.
Now my ears perk up whenever I hear someone use the word. “It’s corny, but it works!” they’ll say, always trying to apologize for something or to permit themselves the transgression. I have so much shame for this idea, and for what? I hope going into the new year that I am able to let go of that shame because the truth is that the corny thing helps me sometimes. And if it helps me, I hope I let it. I hope I have the courage to stop judging myself, to take a deep breath in and just admit it.
john’s joke(s) of the week
This part of the email is brought to you by John Jennings Randall
Korn used to be my favorite band growing up until I went paleo.
I just downloaded Steve Bannon’s new iPhone app Conspiracy Siri.
have a wonderful and safe new year!
I have been putting together a little, um, book? collection? haphazard assortment of papers? that has a lot of the (corny) poems and photos I did this year. it will be ready soon……………..if that’s something your little eyeballs would enjoy I will let the coucou fam know when the time comes. I tell you this mostly to force myself to actually do it but also to give you time to run away as fast as you can.
okay love you bye!!