Posted by: alegra22 | October 15, 2009

Eating Elephant

flickr photo by Massi G

flickr photo by Massi G

The other day Dan and I were watching an episode of CSI while I was getting my cardio done for the day. This is my secret to being disciplined with my fitness: I watch t.v. Plus, don’t grumble at me, but I like to exercise. My mind feels like a swarm of ants stuck in glue if I don’t get my blood circulating every day.

Anyway, we are watching CSI and one of the characters delivers this little nugget of wisdom (in reference to some enormous task like sifting through ten tons of garbage for a hair that will contain the DNA they need in order to provide evidence to convict a horrible murderer and of course they only have 43 minutes to achieve this task), “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…”

I am sure this is stolen from some Zen saying but I am too lazy to google, I’d rather just grab the elephant analogy and run with it. I stopped mid-stride on the elliptical trainer that I have named ‘Cricket’ to weather a Braxton-Hicks contraction and declare, “That is it! I need to eat this elephant one bite at a time…only I have two elephants to eat and there isn’t much room in my belly these days, so really the only way to manage this is alternating bites! Small bites! With lots of salt and washed down with coffee!” I pretty much used up my exclamation marks for the day with that little realization.

Dan looked at me straddled on the elliptical, holding my belly and then nodded in the way all men married to crazy women have learned to nod. “Yeah, elephants,” he said, as if he were in total agreement.

Two elephants. The thesis and the novel.” By now the contraction had passed and I was slowly picking up speed again. “I need to stop being overwhelmed by the size of the task and just start with small bites. You know, one bite at a time.”

I smiled sagely as my belly nudged against the elliptical monitor. By this time, the hair or piece of fuzz containing the necessary DNA sample had been located on CSI and the case was being wrapped up.

“See?” I said, “If they can find a hair in a ten-ton pile of rubbish in under 43 minutes, I can write this thesis-novel!”

“Of course you can,” Dan said, “You will.”

He is a good husband like that.

The thing is, in my nearly eight-months-pregnant state of mind, I had reached a point of overwhelm last week. With both of my previous pregnancies I was in school but only during the first half of the pregnancy and at an undergraduate level. Plus, I didn’t have two other children to take care of. By the time the nesting/resting desire of the third trimester had kicked in, I had no major responsibilities crouched on my shoulders like evil monkeys pulling my hair and chattering nonstop in my ears.

Now that I have been working away at this for nearly the length of a pregnancy, I realize that trying to divide my mind between two worlds — academic thesis and novel — is a mighty task indeed. Add into it that this year has delivered us whammy after whammy. Such as my mother being diagnosed with chronic leukemia. The underestimated influence of another little person developing in my body. Dan navigating the added stress of  being promoted to manager in a company in a state of chaos and then after all that effort, being made redundant with no more than two days notice.

Let’s just say I am really hoping 2010 gives us some rest (I hear some of you laughing and muttering “newborn, you’re gonna have a newborn” – don’t be cruel, allow me the hope of dreaming).

So in the last few weeks, I have hit a wall. A big part of me has wanted to disappear into the nesting instinct that is slowly gathering its forces. I have wanted to shelve all ambition and spend the next 6 weeks of pregnancy imagining the little boy I am about to meet, feeling him move against my hands, preparing my children for his arrival. Obsessing on all of the ‘new mom’ things that pregnant women obsess over.

But, I have some major commitments. Two elephants have been placed on silver platters before me and I know that ultimately, consuming them will feed the future of my children and my family. So, I am taking it slow and steady, one bite at a time, and keeping plenty of antacids on hand for when I bite off more than I can chew. I realize it is the best kind of stress – the stress of opportunity and growth. It is mostly my fear of failure that threatens to choke me.

A special thank you to Adam Cunningham-Reid for helping me in this enormous task by agreeing to be my ‘writing accountability partner.’ You once gave me the wise Groundhog day mantra “Baby steps, baby steps” and now you are making sure I take them!



  1. Please don’t say it was CSI: Miami… that bloody Horatio…

    I am very honoured to be your TiNWrAP (Thes’i’s-Novel-W’r’iting Accountability Partner) and I’m working up some ideas for things to celebrate your accomplished goals.

    I do have to say, in terms of crap years, you’ve definitely beaten me. I really hope 2010 lets the good karma shine out in all its glory.

    Love you heaps and sending many little-elephant-bite hugsies

    • No way, it was Las Vegas ( ‘cuz you know Vegas is sooo much classier than Miami). I have to admit, it was because I ran out of all the other series I rent to watch while exercising. I figured I would give it a try.


  2. Honey us ambitious types always have a new elephant to chew. You amaze me. I have 1 child,1 novel and that seems overwhelming

    • Ha! Too true. Every time I make grand claims about doing nothing or at least reducing my activity to something very simple my father chimes in with, “You’ll get bored, restless. You’re like me, you can’t help it.” My mother is the same. We are elephant hunters by nature. I think this particular elephant was definitely taking it up a level…we can both be amazed if I pull it off!

  3. Beautifully written, as always. Here’s hoping you can clear the junk out of your proverbial trunk.

    (Really, I came out of the factory this way)

    • I have no doubt you came out this way, but I don’t think it was from a factory. You are a one-off creation :o)

  4. You are too funny. I use that elephant quote a lot. I found it in an old children’s book of elephant jokes and held onto it for some reason. A few years ago, I actually claimed it as a New Year’s resolution but failed miserably. If you’re up for a Myspace flashback: .

    You, on the other hand, don’t strike me as someone who has to resort to such pachydermian measures. The way I see it, you remind me more of Frank Sinatra’s High Hopes Ant.

    Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.

    • You always lift my spirits Pete!
      If this saying came from a children’s joke I appreciate it that much more. Going to go check out the link. I could use a MS flashback.

  5. You can also add the “elephant in the living room” metaphor to that! Now you have the elephant clearly visible and it becomes an all you can eat smorgasboard for you! Kudos to you my lovely!

    • Thank you Mama! But you know, none of this would be possible without family. I always want to sing out “I get by with a little help from my friends, oh, I get high with a little help from my friends!” (interchanging family/friends)

  6. My mind feels like a swarm of ants stuck in glue…” This explains alot, and your remedy fits perfectly. Thank you for your awareness, which just enhanced my own.

    You know what, too? Doing NaNoWriMo, the thesis, the novel and giving birth trumps my four new book releases, NaNoWriMo and moving the weekend before Thanksgiving.

    Fabulous you!

    • Luckily I have just received one whopper of an answered prayer yesterday – the ‘20,000 word thesis’? It only has to be 7,000 words! This was the original proposal but wires got crossed midpoint and half of my insanity has been trying to take on a full thesis PLUS half a novel! I was so relieved after I found out that I stood in the living room, flung my arms up in the air and yelled, “THANK YOU GOD!”

      • A 7,000 word thesis is wonderful! Your contractions 6 weeks ahead of schedule make me nervous, B&H or no. I keep visualising my own third pregnancy. She came 3 weeks early. Just sayin’…

        I have photoshopped an elephant with big bites out of it and put it above the office desk. Is this going to help me? Not as much as the exercise and the next two days’ sunshine, but it’s a great tool for attitude adjustment. Thank you again for the ants in glue reminder.

  7. I know I’ve said this before Alegra, but it bears repeating:

    You are my literary hero and I, like so many others, have a boat-load of love in my heart for you.

    prayers for Samoa is a classic entry, and eating elephants seems to be a practice at which you’re uniquely qualified to succeed.



    • Sid,
      You just made me feel like a rockstar which is better than actually being one.
      I am saving this comment for future reference when I am needing an injection of ‘feel good’.

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