I’m reading advice on writing and life by Anne Lamott. She writes the way I do, surrounded by her idiosyncrasies and mental oddities who at first try to keep quiet and then get restless and angry and fill her mind with their own mishegoss. I should probably say that I write like she does, as she is a renowned and well paid author, but first and forever I am me so forever I will put myself first. At least on the page.
In any case she is sharing everything she has ever learned about writing in her book bird by bird (lowercase hers…or her cover designer) and I am reading the first bit of it. I stop after just a chapter and a half because this is what I can handle, and also, I think, what she would want. She describes a one inch by one inch picture frame that she keeps on her desk to remind her that each novel is written scene by scene and sentence by sentence. It reminds me of the architectural drawing class that I took in rural Vermont surrounded by the smell of wood being worked and rich and root vegetarian cuisine. I wasn’t there long enough to have to cook or clean, just imagine that I might be the sort of person who could learn permaculture or making my own wooden canoe. The fact that I was in the same dorm room as the person that I imagined I might be added a sort of circular logic that made things feel both as small as the one inch picture frame and also unimaginably large.
The next morning when we got back to drawing the instructors told us that everything was easier to draw in a frame and had us actually create frames with special cardboard and exacto blades and I only cut myself once. Inside the frame we made a grid of string, making even the part of the world we had chosen to see smaller still. Only when things were the size of a matchbook could we draw them. It did make it much easier to draw. But I found it made it harder to see.
What I was missing was that I didn’t have to stop at one frame, if I had just gone on to the next and the one after that I would be continuing to see things, the one frame would just be part of the story, like cells of animation, to turn a frame into an entire movie.
Right after I have finished thinking about the way I will animate life through a series of frames I am deflated when I remember that I dislike animation. I haven’t seen frozen, and suffer through other disney classics. I know that means I don’t have a heart, yet somehow blood still moves through my body.
The very next paragraph leaves me hopeful as Anne Lamott offers what she says is “right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, (she has) ever heard.” It is from EL Doctorow who says that writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I feel a little thrilled by this. I don’t need to be an animator or even watch cartoons to understand this comforting thought. We don’t need to see it all to live it. We don’t need know our ending to write it. For a moment I feel liberated as, I expect, both authors intended.
Then I remember.
I don’t drive at night.
I have to find another metaphor for this universal and universally difficult idea of taking one step at a time. Before you even suggest it…I don’t eat elephant.
What is your 1×1 picture frame? How do you keep from getting ahead of yourself?