The Case of the Transcendental Cheetah :: PJ Reece

See/read the original by visiting The Meaning of Life Blog by PJ Reese:


In which we watch the sun rise in a story’s dark heart.

Beyond Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, farther up the Congo near the river’s source in the central plateau, that’s where I lived and worked for two years dodging hippos on the rivers of Zambia as I calculated cross sections and measured water currents to determine water flow in cubic feet per second.

That’s where I met the cheetah.

I’m telling you this because that cat taught me something about a little-discussed element of “story”— the nature of a protagonist’s “change of heart” at the Act II crisis.

I know, I know, postmodern writers disavow this whole business of “character arc”.  They have no interest in portraying the human organism as a self-transcendent being.  And so they overlook the reason readers read and why we writers write.

We are self-transcendent beings.

We have the ability—given the right conditions—to rise above ourselves.  To see ourselves more objectively.  To self-detach.  To look down on ourselves as part of a bigger picture.

I’ve discovered that stories work to the extent that they portray this most-human potential.  Without it, fictional characters would perish in their existential cul-de-sacs.  Check it out for yourself—protagonists resolving their dilemmas by leaving their brittle old belief systems behind—it happens in every good book and movie.

This self-transcendence is elemental to “story”—and yet no one’s talking about it.

No one is talking about it!

I can’t believe I’m the only one who ever met a cheetah.

I was lying in the elephant grass shooting her with my spring-wound 16mm Bolex.  The cheetah was devouring the shoulder of goat I’d set out as bait.  Having run out of film, I get up to leave and she made straight for me and clamped down on my hand.

I felt the grumbling in its belly.  The guttural rumbling rattled my skeleton.  I can still feel it.  It wouldn’t let go.  It has hold of me, to this day.  My guide, an older woman, said, “Don’t move.”

As if!

I couldn’t even think.  I couldn’t even panic.  My heart, of course, kept beating

She approached the cat, knelt beside it, stroked its throat and whispered sweet nothings in its ear.  My brain, as I said, was on strike.  So, I had no opinion of this situation.

I had no opinion.  Can you imagine that!  I was inside that cat.  I might well have been.  I was!  My boundaries blurred.

So, this is the heart of darkness?

Unable to make the slightest move, and with thought useless, I was super-alert.  I became aware of a broader scheme of things.  I saw a world in which I was no less a part, but only a part.  I loved that cat.

There was nothing wrong with this picture.  I think the cat loved me, too.  Of course, I would have preferred that the cheetah unclench, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker.  What seemed to be of more importance was the quality of that moment.

My attitude to the moment was one of utter compassion for everything.

Had I died, I would have been the hero of my own story, without a doubt.

The rumbling became a grumble, then a purring.  She released me.  We walked away.  I’ve never been the same.

Moral of the story?

a)      Wash your hands after carrying bloody meat on an African safari.

b)      Self-transcendence—in fiction as in life—it rules.

NOTE:  I expand on this incident in an upcoming eBook titled “Deep Story”.

If you like this kind of real-life/fiction commentary, please SUBSCRIBE to the blog.  Sign in at the top of this page.

*ANOTHER NOTE:  Two more “story people” are sympathetic to this subject of self-transcendence—Jeff Goins and Donald Miller.  Check them out.

Actual photo of PJ seconds before cheetah attackedPJ before attack

via The Case of the Transcendental Cheetah :: PJ Reece.

7 thoughts on “The Case of the Transcendental Cheetah :: PJ Reece”

    1. PJ lives on an island on the north side of Vancouver. He is talking to a publisher about one of his books. I bet he would love to hear from you-he is a fabulous writer, currently doing a documentary. Check out his Story Structure to Die For! His blog is The Meaning of Life The live link to his cheetah story is above. Its about a CAT!!!!!


    1. Yes, but reading his blog gives us another burst of light to get us through dark times or until he visits again. He shows us a way to care which is never self serving and is constant!!!!! Just think. He told us this story-central to his life. He shared what was precious, not trying to keep it private, only for himself. I look forward to you, Myrnah, sharing one of your “unforgettable” moments on this website. Will you choose one?


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