The Meaning of Feeling Elephants

I will be in the mountains for the week, so this will have to tide you over until I get back–I will miss you!

I just sent an email where I answered the question: what does the title of your blog mean? I would usually just point the questioner to “Feeling Elephants: the title explained“, but I felt inspired and decided to tell the story in my own voice. It is an old Indian folk story.

There were once 3 blind men walking down a road. They came upon an elephant. The first blind man put up his hands, and felt the elephant’s trunk:

“A snake!” he cried.

The second blind man knelt down to the ground, and felt the elephant’s foot:

“A small tree!” he corrected.

The third blind man walked around, trailing his hand along the elephant’s side:

“You are both wrong. It is simply a wall,” he declared.

The moral of the story is that large, complex problems (like an elephant in the road), can only be fully understood by analyzing small portions of them in great detail. Each blog post I write is an attempt to feel an elephant–I do not write a post about “is fanfiction good or bad?”; I write (and currently, edit guest posts about) small pieces of the fanfiction problem, such as whether it is covered under the fair use doctrine or whether a better term might describe the genre.

The idea of feeling elephants helps me keep on track when I am writing and a post gets too large, starts dealing with too many issues. I remind myself that my job is to only feel a piece of the elephant, and leave the rest to another day. This is a lot like Anne Lamott’s one-inch picture frames, or E.L. Doctorow’s quote below about writing a novel by only seeing as far as you headlights. Though I only deal with tiny portions of huge issues, after writing dozens of these little issues I get a fuller picture of what I am writing about. I can only write about as much as a blind man can see of an elephant, but even just that will eventually show me the whole picture.

Inspirational Quote:

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”— E.L. Doctorow

1 Comment

  1. Jessi,
    Great to get the story behind the blog title, and a very useful reminder on this approach to writing. It helps me remember to not get intimidated by the breadth of things I am writing about, and just focus on the headlight view…seems much more doable and less overwhelming.

Get in touch

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