Sabotage and excellent peripheral vision

At my most recent visit to the optician, in addition to the usual examination, I was subjected to a test of my peripheral vision.  Looking at a red dot on one point of the screen, I had to count green dots in another area.

It turns out my peripheral vision is excellent – proof, some might say, of what some of my former work colleagues had long suspected, even if I don’t actually have eyes in the back of my head.

It has however occurred to me recently that this may not always work to my advantage.  So aware am I of things going on around me that sometimes I don’t focus on what is directly in front.  When I should be concentrating on the screen and the words I should be producing, out of the corner of my eye I am constantly checking to see if the little red light on my blackberry is flashing.

I’ve tried putting the phone out of my sight altogether, behind me, in my bag, in another room; but that is worse because then I have to stand up and check it.  At the moment, I actively want to be interrupted.

This will change, and tomorrow it may not be true, but for today, I feel like I am waiting for something, even though I am expecting nothing.  And waiting for electronic communication is worse than waiting for the kettle to boil, paint to dry, toasters to toast or trains to arrive.

In an era when the common complaint is against the tiresome noisiness of the digital world, that all one’s time is sucked away in dealing with emails and instant messaging, when tweets and facebook have to be checked regularly, it feels like a shocking confession.

It shocks me.  When I was working in my last job I found it very easy to put off checking email or answering the phone; neither of them usually provided good news.  It was easy to turn everything off overnight and for the weekend; I felt no urge to consult the gadgets as soon as I woke up, or in the middle of lunch.

Instant communication seemed to require instant response and I rebelled against it, refusing to bow to its tyranny.

Even though I am trying to keep working while I’m waiting I keep checking out of the corner of my eye.  Was that just the sun catching the reflective surface of the phone, or is the red light flashing?  It’s a new form of self sabotage for me.


Along the line it made me think of Dorothy Wordsworth, William’s sister.  Some years ago, enthused by a visit to Dove Cottage in Grasmere and on learning how William relied on (or exploited, depending on your point of view) the two women in his life, I read some of Dorothy’s Grasmere Journals.

She wrote them while William was away courting the woman he intended to marry.  Dorothy was unusually devoted to her brother and while she tried to occupy herself with domestic activity while he was gone, she wrote to him regularly.

She wrote daily of her hope of a letter in return from him.  She walked from Grasmere into Ambleside, something over 4 miles, in the hope of receiving something;  a round trip of near on 9 miles for nothing: ‘No news from W today.’

The desire to communicate and to hear news was as great then as it is now, but they had fewer technological options.  How much worse was it to have to wait then?  Dorothy’s expectation that she would have to wait was probably greater than mine.

She also knew that once she had returned home there was no hope for news until she returned to Ambleside the following day, so she could possibly turn her mind to other things in the house and garden in the interim.  But I feel a terrible sympathy for that constant need to go each day to check, because her disappointment, even though you have to read between the lines of her journal to see it, was deep and painful.

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  1. This stimulated so many thoughts and memories for me… of letter writing…. As a child, writing to pen pals… as an adult, lengthy correspondence over many years, with my aunt in South Africa… I have kept all her letters (she is dead now) and have often thought of forming them into some kind of book – her record of her life, and her wise advice to me on whichever particular life crisis I had last told her about. Her advice was helpful, but so too was the very process of thinking of what I wanted to say, choosing the right words, setting it all down, and then….. sending it away…
    One of my favourite novels is “Lady’s Maid” by Margaret Forster, much of which is told in the correspondence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s maid and her lover. It led me to reflect on the contribution of letter writing to mental and emotional health …. and perhaps explain the correlation between the demise of letter writing and the rise of mental ill health. The careful reflection, the expression of feelings… the wait, as they are received by another, absorbed, reflected on and responded to… and the patience needed during that lengthy process. And how, during the wait, the mind and heart continues to process the feelings expressed. In our fast culture, fast food, fast fiction, fast communication we have forgotten what it is to allow things to develop and emerge in their own time. Fast feelings? It just doesn’t happen like that.

    • It’s the waiting that I find interesting _ that you can feel a sense of calm when you know that nothing will arrive today, so you can relax the tension of anticipation. When it could arrive at any time, heralded by a winking light, there is a constant pressure or expectation, a more intense essence of waiting. This would tie into your suggestion that letter composition, posting and later receipt are aids to good mental health.


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