In her book Bird by Bird, writer
Ann Lamott gives good advice to students of writing and life. You are
not responsible for the whole picture, she says, you only need to focus
on what happens in a tiny one inch window. Go out into your landscape,
or sit still and imagine yourself in it, and focus closely on a spot
only one inch square. Or, alternatively, make yourself a one inch
window by cutting a hole in a piece of paper and hold that piece of
paper up as a window over some part of the landscape you are looking
at. Describe what you see in the window.
Writing Sample:At the South Pole, I wander out from the huge
silver dome, into the searing white light of the late afternoon. It is
always bright day outside at the Pole now, the sun turning and turning
over head, hardly dipping, never setting. I have on snow goggles, my
parka hood up, mittens over my hands, a neck gaiter covering my face.
It is summer at the South Pole and it is minus 25.3 degrees Fahrenheit,
with the windchill the temperature has fallen to minus 75.1 F. I wander
out from the dome toward the two most famous landmarks at the Pole--the
silver mirrored ball atop the barber pole ringed by flags that is the
marker for the ceremonial Pole, and the small, nondescript metal
surveyor's marker that is the exact location of the geographical
South Pole--the southern axis of planet earth.
I am more drawn by the surveyor's marker, although the colorful flags
and the shiny ball attract my attention, slapping in the wind and
adding brilliant dashes of blue and yellow and green to the all white
landscape. The flags are those of the original twelve countries that
signed the Antarctic Treaty.
The survey marker is about three feet high, a metal pole atop with sits
a thick, gold-colored disc imprinted with an image of the Antarctic
continent itself. Also pressed into the top of the disc are the words,
"Planet Earth. Geographical South Pole. 90 degrees south. January 1,
1997." The marker is dated because the ice at the Pole shifts each
year, up to about 30 feet, and the exact location of the Pole has to be
replotted each January first. I look down a line of about ten such
poles, all representing previous years.
I stare for a long time at the words on top of the marker, trying to
make sense of them. The color of the metal disc draws me. It glistens
gold in the light. It is about an inch thick, like a big, thick, gold
metal cookie. Stamped with the words "Planet Earth. Geographical South
Pole." The geographical South Pole, I think. The other end of the world
from the place I live. Everywhere I look from here, from this exact
spot, is north. If I walk around this spot, I walk around the world,
through all the time zones, from one day to the next. I have never felt
so riveted in place, so exactly located, so precisely in one spot, and
so everywhere at once.
I do it. I put my mittened hand on the head of the marker, feeling the
impression of the continent even through the leather and lining, and I
walk around it. Around and around and around the world, my feet
creaking in the dry, hard snow.
Analysis:In this short piece, I tried to focus on a very
small area, the area around the marker at the geographical south pole.
I spent some time setting the scene by writing about where I was, but
you don't have to do that. You can launch right in to the one inch