I am my own unreliable narrator
5 min read

I am my own unreliable narrator

The evening that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were down, I went for a long walk in the torrential rain. The two things weren't really connected — I am not yet that addicted to my phone — but all my days are the same at the moment so it's a useful marker. I had been waiting for the downpour to let up all day so that my dog could have a proper outing. By 9pm it had become clear that the magical walk-length window of dry weather was not going to materialise.

This happened several times last autumn too; when you live on a small peninsula that juts out into the Irish Sea a certain level of dampness is inevitable. Last year, though, I was not prepared. I would go out in my usual dog walking outfit of whatever I'm wearing anyway with plimsolls and a coat added and return soaked to the skin and shivering. Morris the dog loves to be soaking wet but I despise everything about it. And yet do nothing to prevent it.

But now I own that most miraculous of things: a matching set of waterproof trousers and jacket that both fit me comfortably and keep water out. I found them in the men's sale bin at an outdoor shop in the Scottish Highlands this summer and I like them so much that sometimes I wear them when it's only lightly drizzling because I now love being out in the wet and yet still dry.

On this particular walk, the waterproofs were more than earning their keep, as were my boots and hat. My father, a madman who enjoys doing things like sailing alone across the Atlantic, is fond of that saying "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing" and this sprung to mind as I trudged around the village in the damp dark. Now that I had the right clothing for possibly the first time in my life, I could finally appreciate how wrong what I had been doing before was.

This phenomenon of only noticing how bad or wrong something is once you have experienced the reverse has been on my mind recently. I've been reading and savouring Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman this week (I also recommend his newsletter, The Imperfectionist) and was struck by a point he made midway through about attention and distraction.

Beyond the now well-rehearsed point about how social media platforms are explicitly designed to attract your attention and expert in keeping it, he explains that we often aren't even really aware of the extent to which this is happening. "The only faculty you can use to see what’s happening to your attention is your attention, the very thing that’s already been commandeered."

It's very hard to monitor yourself objectively, especially when distraction feels good because it's helping you avoid something difficult. In a sense, I am my own unreliable narrator. I've written here before about the uncomfortableness of regularly examining your phone usage data, and I think this is why. The gap between my perception of how much my attention wanders and the actual amount of time I waste is large enough that I'm surprised every time I am confronted with it.

What does this have to do with finally owning good rain wear? I was halfway through enjoying my night time walk in the rain, using my boot heel to scrape leaf mould away from the grates so that the huge puddles suddenly boiled and then were sucked down into the drain below, before I realised that I could have had this a long time ago if I had just acted to correct what was making it unpleasant before.

It's not enough just to notice there's something wrong, although that is a necessary and often difficult stage of finding a solution to a problem. You have to then do something. I've been returning semi-hypothermic from wet walks for years without seeing this as a cue to purchase better clothing, and equally I've been wringing my hands while looking at my screen time graphs without altering my behaviour at all. I'm not yet sure what the equivalent of a good waterproof jacket for the internet is, but at least I'm finally looking for one.


What I've been up to

It's been a while since I wrote to you; there's been some stuff going on in life offline that has been hard and kept me from doing the newsletter. I'm also in a phase with work where there are several things I'm excited about on the boil in the background, but none of them are actually ready to serve up for public consumption yet. When they are, this is where I'll tell you about them.

I did, however, publish a book review recently that I spent a lot of time on, so that's available here if you'd like to read it. Find out a bit more about why I got so worked up about how to write about this particular book on my Instagram here. And in a fun development the magazine also asked me to read the piece aloud on their podcast, so if you prefer to listen instead you can hear me doing that from 13:20 in this episode.

My podcast about detective fiction, Shedunnit, continues — this week with an episode where I am the interviewee, rather than the interviewer, so if you'd like to hear my husband ask me questions about why I haven't written a detective novel yet, this is where to go.


What I'm listening to, reading, watching

I've found this new podcast series about emotions hosted by Arthur C. Brooks interesting so far. The Irish Passport on Lady Lavery was good. There's new Everything Is Alive and like Vinny the vending machine, I too have been through a lot. A good explanation of how the Sally Rooney book marketing campaign worked. An interview with a senior Instagram staffer who likes deactivating her Instagram.

I've naturally been glued to the Kidney Person discourse, and this is a good summation of the issues it raises. NB: All the other good articles I read these days go in The Browser. Battle Royal by Lucy Parker is a lighthearted book that got me through a tough time. Ditto The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I am now on a serious historical fiction/mystery kick, and have piled up The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick, Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell and The Lady Agnes Mystery by Andrea Japp by my bed to enjoy as the nights draw in.

I am watching two shows at the moment: Only Murders in the Building on Disney+ because I am writing a column about it, and the 2020 series of The Great British Sewing Bee. I am also intrigued by, but have not yet started, Murder Island.

Until next time,

Caroline

Links to bookshop.org are affiliate links, I donate any and all money this ever generates to the Chester branch of Women's Aid.


There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: get my article and podcast recommendations in The Browser, listen to my murder mystery podcast Shedunnit, or follow me on Twitter (although I'm not really there anymore) and Instagram (where I am, arguably, too much).