Anne Lamott, in her beautiful little book about writing, Bird By Bird, shared that she keeps a one-inch square frame on her desk.
"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."
I was reminded of Lamott's frame this week when I read Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro, yet another gracefully written little book about writing. Shapiro writes about the necessity of setting aside time in which to write, about the necessity of honoring and respecting that time.
"Be a good steward to your gifts," she says, borrowing from the late poet Jane Kenyon.
It has been a long, cruel winter, both inside and outside. While our winter weather did not come close to what family and friends experienced in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we had a hard siege of single digit temperatures and harsh, frozen landscapes. Many days were spent stumbling from the door to the car, from the car to the office, then reversing that journey to stumble back into the house and try to warm up for the evening.
Inside, my myeloma was hellbent on making sure I was incapable of doing anything more than the bare minimum, reducing me most evenings and weekends to being curled up on the couch under a blanket, reading. I managed work by the skin of my teeth, I managed some limited household chores, and I managed to stay alive. Even once I started treatment, the daily quality of my life remained poor. The myeloma appeared to be subsiding, but the treatment more than made up for its retreat. I remained on the couch and many things remained out of reach, including any sustained interest in writing.
Even a one-inch frame seemed impossibly large.
The snow has finally melted, the last traces in the yard just recently disappearing. It is not yet consistently warmer outside, but the light is that of early spring and not of winter. That realization hit me when Warren and I topped a hill and saw the brown fields spread out in an afternoon light. "That is not winter light," I said firmly. "That is not winter light at all."
As I look out on the newly uncovered landscape—the brown lawn, the kitchen garden waiting to be tilled—I recognize that I will need to measure out my days for some time yet. My energy still flags faster than I would like, and when I overdo, I pay swiftly. So I am working on staying mindful of the day at hand.
I am painfully aware that brutal as winter was in Ohio this year, it was even more brutal in Cancerland. Stumbling through the frozen stubble of the distant fields of that fiefdom in which I reside, all that came to mind was this sentence from City of Thieves: "You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold." While I hoped I would reach shelter, this is the winter that made me realize at a gut level that I will not be able to take such shelter for granted again.
And yet spring is in the air. Green things, including the first weeds, are trying to poke up. My oncologist and I have tweaked my treatment regimen, hoping to suppress the myeloma without suppressing me as well. We are hopeful that the myeloma will settle down once again, allowing the life in me to poke up and flourish.
What I learned this winter in Cancerland, not for the first time but perhaps so deeply that it has taken root, is that I need to be committed more than ever to spending my days deliberately and at a slower pace.
Deliberate living. A one-inch square focus out to be a good starting point.
So I have set myself a goal. A small goal. A one-inch square goal.
A post a week. A little post. A one-inch square post, respecting the writing and respecting the time.
It is all I have to bite off for the time being.