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. PJ, a top-notch concise writer whose blogs and critiques always raise a smile, an eye brow, our grey matter, and the pen to get at it. I miss his presence and input at our writers’ meetings in Mexico.

    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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