the world acquires a soft focus it does not possess

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Jan 2, 2022   —   5 min read


If you have any of those “on this day” features enabled on your social media accounts, you have like me probably started receiving reminders of how one year ago, you were doing a lot of things you took for granted for the last time without knowing it. I’ve already had the last time I hugged my parents (23rd February), the last time I went to London (24th February), the last time I went to a chamber choir rehearsal (26th February), and I’m now morbidly anticipating the pictures of final cinema trips, restaurant meals, and coffees with friends.

In the past decade I’ve oscillated back and forth between wanting to post a lot on Twitter and Instagram and wanting nothing to do with them. If anyone has ever wondered why I have a different handle on each (and nobody has, I can guarantee it) it’s because I got spooked by some creepy messages on the latter a few years ago and deleted my account, only to discover when I tried to revivify it years later that the app wouldn’t let me have my old name back, even though nobody else is using it. I similarly deleted the Facebook account that I’d had since university and then started a new one that I now don’t use. I’m still unsure how much of myself I want to be on the internet, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find the answer to that question.

I found this piece about how the pandemic has shifted the writer’s attitude to photographs interesting in light of all of these visual reminders of our past lives. She is surprised to find that she misses the old fashioned activity of having photos printed and slotting them into physical albums, because when there is no curation or limit on what we can snap with our phones, it’s much harder to assemble a meaningful parade of memories to peruse when times get tough. I likewise have no desire to flip through the many blurry photos of my dog or screenshots of memes I like that live on my phone, but I do want to be reminded of what I enjoyed doing last week, last month or last year.

I’ve made a couple of changes to accommodate this shift. I started posting on Instagram much more, because for better or worse that’s the way I look at other people’s photos, and my own. We also bought an actual camera, a little pocket digital one of the kind my mum had in 2007, and have been taking photographs with that instead of our phones. It’s nice to be able to snap away while on an outing without also feeling the pull to check email because your phone is out anyway, and I have grand plans about sifting through the photos once a quarter and making them into an album. Who knows if I will actually do it, but just the idea is comforting enough, for now.

Call for contributions! I’m finding myself oddly fascinated by other people’s posts about what their “last real life day” was, as the first anniversary rolls around. I’ll write about mine next week, and I’d love to include snippets from readers around the world about theirs too as well — reply to this email with a couple of sentences describing what the last “normal” thing you did before going into quarantine/lockdown last year was, and I’ll publish a smorgasbord of them in the next newsletter.

How often do you clean your glasses? I’ve realised that I do it only very occasionally, when I notice that the world has acquired a certain soft focus that it does not actually possess. Even then, I don’t spend much time on this task, and am probably just smearing the same dirt around into a new pattern and then putting them back on.

I mention this terrible habit of mine for two reasons. Firstly, I recently watched this video, where after not cleaning their glasses for a week the maker then looks at them under a microscope. You should really watch it to appreciate the full horror of it, but I’ll just say: it is extremely greasy on there.

Secondly, I thought about my non glasses cleaning for more than half a second and realised how silly it is that I’m washing my hands a lot but not the object that lives on my face that I touch regularly. Since I was doing a Lakeland order anyway (yes, there must still be some joy in life, and buying a special brush that lets me clean behind the radiators was it this week) I bought some glasses wipes to take care of any microscopic wriggly things that might be living on my lenses. Shudder.

It’s such a simple thing, but it made such a difference. When I was a teenager my eyesight would be worse every year when I went to get it tested, and I would walk out of the opticians with a new prescription, suddenly able to see individual leaves on the trees for the first time in months. Cleaning my glasses was a lot like that, and I shall be doing it often from now on.

I’ve been really enjoying listening to poetry podcasts recently — the kind where someone with a lovely voice reads a piece to you, and maybe shares a few thoughts about it afterwards. Here are three of my favourite shows / poems that I’ve heard lately.

“All That Life” by Dawn Garisch on Badilisha Poetry

“WHEREAS my eyes land on the shoreline” by Layli Long Soldier on Poetry Unbound

“What The Tide Brings In” by John O’Donnell on Words Lightly Spoken

I watched the Billie Eilish documentary The World’s A Little Blurry this week and I do not recommend it unless you want to feel like you’re viewing an Instagram Story that lasts two hours and twenty minutes.

To my mind, the most interesting thing about Eilish is her voice and her music, but the film spends relatively little time dwelling on the path she trod from self publishing songs on SoundCloud to a major deal and billions of streams.

Instead, it is made up of endlessly meandering shots of her walking onto the stage for performances, texting a boyfriend who never bothers to show up for her, and getting (understandably!) stressed when she is injured or her shows have technical difficulties.

If this were to be your first contact with Billie Eilish, you could be forgiven for thinking that she had been groomed for pop stardom from babyhood, rather than coming sideways at the music industry with a sound that was completely different to what was making megahits at the time.

There is so much about the film that I generally like that I was surprised to feel so negatively about it. I enjoy documentaries that are stitched together entirely from unplanned footage with no narration or sit down interviews, and I also think it’s illuminating to see a very public person in their private mode.

There are even a few tantalising moments that made me think the film would go deeper on the music, such as when her brother (who is her producer and songwriting partner) tells their mother out of Billie’s earshot that the record label has asked him to steer her towards making a more “mainstream” song, or when it shows the duo recording vocal tracks in his bedroom and her hating every single note of her own voice. But neither theme is followed up, and all that’s left is a kind of unstructured tour diary that is deeply unsatisfying. Recommendations for better music documentaries will be gratefully received.

There are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: read me weekly in The Browser, listen to my fortnightly podcast Shedunnit, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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