In Bird by Bird, one of the best books on writing I know, Anne Lamott describes why she keeps a one-inch picture frame on her writing desk:

“I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”

The focus on short assignments, seeing through a small frame, and tackling a project “bird by bird” is a comfort to me. I’m so easily overwhelmed by the bigger picture, abstract connections, and the grand enormity of a project. Most attempts to fight that end up going the way of borderline OCD… go crazy with details and let the inner critic shut me down. Noise, voices, and distractions abound. So the thought of focusing on one inch at a time, only writing what I see in that frame, is helpful. Perhaps this is part of the reason I’ve felt so drawn to poetry lately… loose ends are okay because everything can’t be said in a few lines. It’s about drilling down to the essence of a thing.

The photo sharing app Instagram passed 50 million users this week. I wonder if part of this popularity explosion is a natural desire to, now and then, block out the noise and see the world through a one inch frame. Yes, I know… it’s kind of “hipster” with the fake vintage photo filters, and it’s already getting co-opted as a marketing tool, isn’t “real” photography, and sports a “popular” page is full of girls posing in front of mirrors and whatever, but there’s something charming and challenging about it, enough to resonate with just about anybody with a smartphone. Lately I’ve been learning how to see the world through the square view of my phone and play with other photo tools to tell a story in pictures.

It only reinforces the thought that we are all storytellers, and one inch is sometimes all you need to see the world.

Do you use Instagram? Share your handle in the comments so I can follow you! (I’m jen_rose.)

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