At first glance, panthers and writing seem to have very little in common, even for me, a person who can, and often does, stretch a metaphor beyond its breaking point. Just remember the panther. It will become important later.
I spent this last week at a writer's retreat on the Imnaha River. Every day I woke in my little cabin,
started a fire (Confession: I stole a coveted shingle to start my fire. The ones Janie and Pam use for the main house. Once. Sorry, Den Moms), visited the outhouse (there were three. I didn't use this one)
and ran up Freezeout Road.
The other four women were novelists, poets,and prose writers who have lists of publishing credits longer than mine. Way longer. Like, you can find their books on Amazon. And they've won prizes. They teach workshops. Every evening when we gathered to read, their paragraphs rich as dark chocolate, smooth and sweet and satisfying. In contrast I struggled with each word, unsure of each sentence.
I was seriously intimidated. These are women doing what I'd like to do, making that leap, and working hard at it. Every day Molly and Betty sank deeper into the sagging couches, intent on each line of their work. Janie baked sourdough bread and tended the fire (Oops. Right. That shingle) and read us stories so funny we couldn't stop laughing. Katey spun intricate and intense short stories that made me feel like I was in Afghanistan. In my cabin, I paced. I ate raisins. I read a book. I sighed, the framework of a TFN slowly taking shape.
(Small aside. T=That. N=Novel. F=you guess. Said in frustration over a novel that is not going well. I learned this phrase this week. Thanks Molly, I love it)
In South Florida, the panthers were barely hanging on. Their habitat fragmented in a sea of condos and golf courses, only thirty were thought to roam the swamp. Not enough. The Fish and Game brought in Texas cougars in a last ditch effort, removed some kittens for captive breeding. Interns rode on swamp buggies bristling with telemetry equipment, searching for the steady pulse of radio collars.
What does this have to do with writing anyway? Not much, except that one of the writers I admired had looked me up online. In one of my anthology biographies I had self-importantly listed all my various jobs, including panther capture assistant. Betty later told me this was intimidating; I suspect she anticipated some rope-slinging, hard-bodied, flinty-eyed creature.
So how does this all tie up in a bow? Maybe this way: we sometimes think of other people as so much more interesting, more exciting, more accomplished than we are. Maybe they are. In the case of these writers, they have reached pinnacles I have not. But have they touched a panther's tawny fur? Maybe not. We all have novels within us, stories waiting to be read.