One-inch picture frame.

I’ve been trying to do little.

This isn’t necessarily laziness, but rather productivity in small amounts.

Doing too much of any one thing or too many things at once wears on my brain these days.

In Anne Lamott’s book about writing, Bird by Bird, she talks about her one-inch picture frame, the one she keeps on her desk to remind her that she doesn’t have to tackle the entirety of a writing project all at once. She can just focus on one small area, accomplish one small task. Right now, that’s all she has to do. And then, she can focus on another tiny corner of the big picture. Eventually, inch by inch, it all adds up.

I love Anne Lamott.

Her advice here applies to more than just writing projects, of course.

Daunting things, like this school year that’s about to start in T-minus-thirty-seconds, can much more easily approached a little at a time.

This snippet of wisdom, the one-inch picture frame, is not entirely novel advice. It’s akin to the proverbial one-bite-at-a-time elephant and the old line about breaking large tasks into smaller chunks.

But for my brain, which tries to do everything at once, this worldview the size of a postage stamp is helpful. It sets up blinders so that I can’t even see the rest of the elephant. The picture from does away with the idea of a large task.

There’s nothing but this one stitch. This one word. This one breath.

This one inch.

That, I can handle.

So maybe that’s why I’ve been stitching small lately, giving myself no more space than a square inch to stitch words and pictures into fabric.


I like the challenge of designing something that has to fit within a grid of just a few stitches.

And I like the freedom to forget everything else, except the one little block of space my creativity occupies for the moment.

Getting centered.

Literally and figuratively. Centering my cross stitch pieces and finding emotional and mental calm.

Let’s start with that second one.

(Click here to jump directly to the cross stitch centering tutorial.)

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You may be familiar with Julia Cameron and her iconic book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. If you’re not, it’s just as hippy-dippy as it sounds, which is probably why I enjoyed it.

When I was at my first MFA creative writing residency in 2012, both my mentor and a classmate recommended Cameron’s book to me as a way to let myself write more freely, without thinking so much. See, the book takes the reader through a series of activities to help unlock creative energies, and one of the main components of the process is Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are simply three handwritten pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling meant to clear the mind—or unearth ideas that were previously hidden under the rubble of uptight thought—ideally written early in the day before worries and obligations take over. The pages aren’t supposed to be shared or published. Instead, they have a throw-away quality that lowers the stakes so the writer can babble on without worrying what anyone else will think.

(The Artist’s Way isn’t just for writers. It’s for anyone wishing to live a more creative life. It just so happens that part of that discovery process, according to Cameron, relies on writing through one’s thoughts.)

In short, the purpose of Morning Pages is to get past perfection.

To get past self-consciousness and inhibition in order to make messes, out of which personal revelations and innovative ideas are born.

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Downtown girl.

Progress on Firebolt is slow. I think I’ve only added one pattern repeat since my last post. It just takes so long to get to the end of a row as I’m coming up on four-hundred stitches across.

I am feeling super-hipsterish, drinking my chai latte at the local coffee shop and tap-tapping away on my pseudo-laptop.


Last week, I ordered this iPad case with a Bluetooth keyboard, with which I am typing this post and have typed most posts on this blog. I’m almost used to it.

On Tuesday afternoons, I bolt away from the school as soon as possible. (Today, I had my bags packed and was waiting at my classroom door, trying to have enough decency to wait for the final bell to ring before I left. Trying.) Tuesday night is knit-night with my friends at Black Dog Fiber Studio. (Hi, Kim! Hi, Kate! Hi, Maria—the studio’s owner!) We meet at 4:00, so between work and studio, I stop here at Big City for a hot drink, delicious peanut butter cookie (not pictured because, duh, I ate it already), and some typing time.

In a few minutes, I will make the convenient block-and-a-half walk to Maria’s studio. I’m hoping she has a scale I can use (mine is kaput) so I can weigh what’s left of the Firebolt yarn. If I have less than an ounce left, it’s time to start thinking about the next phase of this shawl(ette)—ruffles! 


A not-so-quick note on my quick flight from school:

As I was driving along in the after-school traffic this afternoon, I was thinking about how a few years ago—hell, maybe a few months ago—I wouldn’t have thought my leaving this early in the day—daylight!—possible. This is my ninth year in the classroom, and I’ve only now begun to feel like I can get away without staying at least an hour after school. Getting away this early is something that I have to make myself do. It’s so easy to sit down at my desk and get stuck there for hours. These days, if there is no after-hours obligation, I can manage to get away within half an hour. This is immensely helped by the fact that I teach the same course all day long. And! And this year, I have last-hour planning. By the time that last class walks out my door, I want nothing more than to rest for a while at my desk, but I’ve trained myself to get all my shtuff ready for the next day first—date and goals on the board, PowerPoint updated, work graded (ahem, sometimes), “lesson plan” ready, everything. That way, on Tuesdays, I can make a bee-line for my car and enjoy my afternoon. Most other days of the week? Nope. Bus duty, meetings, and extended school services keep there at least an hour later. Tomorrow? Parent-teacher conferences for two hours. Heaven, help me.

Casting on.

I am not an expert.

I don’t know everything there is to know about yarn or writing or photography, although I have taken classes on all of these—and have a master’s degree in one.

I create.

Strings. Words. Images.

Sometimes I string together words into images. Sometimes I make things with string. Sometimes I just make string. Sometimes I make things with words; sometimes I just make words.

You get it.

I make messes.

I’m learning to be okay with those messes. To grow in those messes. In the tangled strings of yarn and words, I’m growing up. And out. And occasionally, I have something—an image, perhaps—to show for it.

Something to share.

At the close of a year that seems to have taken so much away—amidst all the tangled, tangled messes—I feel a certain tug within me that says,

Write. Create. Share.

I am not an expert. My opinions, like my voice, are feeble. I am not one to raise a stink, to rock the boat, to start a rebellion. I am conflict avoidant. A Libra. An INFP.

But conflict is no longer a choice. It just is.

Resistance is anything but futile.

In the wake of this year, my voice has started to peck a tiny crack in its shell, and it wants a nest from which to sing. To flash its colors. From which to swoop. In which to take a stand. Out of which to take flight.

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When the desire to create stirs within me, I have been reaching first for my yarn these days.

Knitting needles, crochet hooks, a spinning wheel, and sometimes even a rigid heddle loom.

When words fail me, yarn is how I create.

Words have failed me for most of this year. For several months, even yarn did nothing.

Just before the election, though, I started spinning again. On November 8, I treadled hope, then fear, then devastation into something that could be woven.

And then the crochet hook began to feel natural in my hand. I started churning out hats and scarves to donate to young people who need them. For Christmas, my hands formed yarn into gifts of color and warmth.

My own revolution is being born from sticks and string.

And now, I feel words twisting and knotting inside me. Inside my head, my heart, my gut.

I do not want to fail these words.

So this thing I am making here is about yarn—and it’s not. It is a starting-off point. A leader, a foundation chain, a casting on.

There is somewhere to go from here.