These are Hubby’s words.
I’d like to start by asking you to step through this link to the beautiful stories and art of Emily Carroll. The Big Bad Wolf. I’ve been a fan of Emily’s work for a while now, but The Big Bad Wolf stands out as a fascinating piece work in a lot of ways. The first time I read it, my mind kept returning to the story, turning it around and exploring my interpretation of it.
It didn’t take long for parallels to appear with The Girl and Fiona’s weary battle with her own Wolf.
I told Fiona the story one evening, and she subsequently wrote a post on a broadly similar topic. We talked about the ending “the Wolf only needs enough luck to find you once”.
It was sinister, it was cold, and it was true. For anyone dealing with mental or physical battles, The Wolf only has to win once. There is a brutal finality to that.
Before we talked, I had an interpretation about the story, about The Girl’s journeys, and about The Wolf’s soft voice through the window at the end.
While we talked about the story, it struck me just how different our interpretations were, and I wondered at the reasons behind that. Fiona found it vaguely frightening and certainly intimidating. She recognised the risks of her strolling through the forest distractedly admiring fireflies, while The Wolf roamed, nose in the air hoping to catch her scent.
Fiona hated that final line, she hated being The Girl seeking refuge in bed knowing the journey had to be made again the next day. I wondered if being a character in the story meant she could never step away from it and gain a different view of what was going on. It frustrated me, and still does from time to time.
I see it differently. Ignoring Emily Carroll’s intentions, I see it as a story of a slowly won battle..
When Fiona started out on this journey years ago she was The Girl blundering through the forest for the first time. She had no idea where the paths were, or where they led to. She wasted so much time and energy and spirit going down the wrong paths, only to realise she needed to turn around. Again. And again. Travelling through the forest took so much out of her, and she never knew if her direction was right. It was panicked travelling, reactive and not in any real sense of control.
As time went on, Fiona became more aware of The Wolf’s presence around her. She realised she was not alone; it was there, lurking in the shadows all the while. This awareness was good. This awareness was terrifying (my, what big teeth you have), but it was empowering too – what was once a vague threatening shadow now had form. The Girl knew what to look out for, and gradually began to learn other things; if the noise of the forest was growing silent for her, then The Wolf was about.
Over time, Fiona, like The Girl, began to know the forest better. She began to know the right paths to take, and to read the signs of the forest. She began to realise then when the sounds and smells of life were growing quiet, then it was time to be wary. Sometimes she gets too weary to be wary. But that’s okay. It has to be like that sometimes. These are the days when she walks through the forest in the best way she can and just hopes The Wolf isn’t nearby.
Every day is a victory as every day gives more knowledge on how to keep The Wolf at bay and how to navigate the forest.
This isn’t in Emily Carroll’s story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Every day, The Wolf loses some of its power. Its biggest power is fear, and knowledge reduces fear. Every day, every journey makes our two characters in our two stories stronger.
But of course, The Wolf still only needs to be lucky once.
My role in this story is not and never has been what I wanted it to be.
I wanted to be The Woodsman, broad of chest and strong of shoulder. I wanted to hunt The Wolf. Demons run when a good man goes to war, as the wise say. I wanted to finish it with a swift blow, full of retribution and justice. I wanted to end it.
As time went on, I realised I couldn’t do this. A single mighty swing of my axe would not work. So I changed my role in the story; I still wanted to kill it but it would have to be through several cuts over several fierce battles as it came to hunt Fiona. I would wear it out, I would be stronger, and I would be the one standing at the end.
Much to my sadness, and to my very real shame and frustration, over the past number of years I finally began to realise that I could not kill The Wolf, and I could not be The Woodsman. I could not be a protector nor a hero. This story could not have a Woodsman (anyway, The Wolf visits my window some dark nights to tell me I am neither broad of chest nor strong of shoulder, that my axe is blunt and my swing is weak). At best I am a minor character who sometimes travels with The Girl through the woods. I add nothing to the story. This story is not my story. I wanted it be mine, I wanted that so much.
But this is about The Girl.
I wanted to choose how this ends, but I cannot, and I hate that.
I have to work hard to accept that I have no control over something that affects me. There are many, many aspects to this journey that I still have to work at, but not choosing the ending is one that I struggle with a lot. I wanted to be able to kill The Wolf, just to show it how angry I am at it. I wanted to obliterate it. I wanted to destroy it so completely that it would be forgotten and never acknowledged again. I wanted to destroy any power even its name had. That would be my design.
Of course, I still sometimes wonder at the level of hurt and anger and frustration it causes me to feel from time to time.The sheer injustice of all this is something that still generates strong feelings in me. It’s something primal and base – but I know it’s okay to feel that way. That’s the thing. I feel these feelings, and I know it’s okay, it’s part of the process of dealing with the situation we’re in. Not just dealing with it, but actually accepting it. Acceptance (as I’ve mentioned before), is the hardest thing to arrive at, but it is absolutely the most empowering state to be in.
Time has brought a little bit of wisdom into my dull mind, and I am grateful for it. Now when I feel negative emotions, I deal with them in different ways, be it exercise or hobbies or learning or whatever. But I deal with them, not wait for them to pass. I flush it out because I know it’s poison to me if I don’t.
Wisdom has taught me that it’s okay to make the time to do this because it makes me a better person when I do. That is perhaps the sentence I struggled so much with and rejected for so long. It felt like I was abandoning my role if I did so. I felt that if I didn’t try to do everything, then Fiona wouldn’t have a clear path in which to recover.
I’ve written about this before, about the effects of doing something like this – it wears me out and it puts subconscious pressure on Fi to make progress. I mention it again now because they are traps I still fall into from time to time, and I have to work hard to avoid them. It seems counter-intuitive to me still to make time for myself, but I have to trust myself that it’s the right thing for everyone.
And of course it is the most important thing I have done in this whole adventure (my mind is a dull one remember, it takes me a long time to learn lessons; but they are always well learned by the end).
The Woodsman cannot fell The Wolf, so he takes his axe, blunt or not, to chop wood instead. The Wolf is still alive at the end, untouched, but it doesn’t have a hold on The Woodsman, and that’s so important.
These days, a lot of the terror and stress and uncertainty is thankfully gone. It exists in recent memory and is still sore to dwell on, but it’s mostly memory. It’s disconnected from the present.
Fi is getting better, and it’s great to see the early signs of a recovery and management taking place, but it’s still a struggle from time to time and it’s still painful to watch. It still frustrates me so much to know that I’m just a reader of the story, and I cannot jump in to help. I cannot ever adequately express how painful it is not be able to jump into the story sometimes and steer Fiona gently to the right path when she starts to wander off it. It is impossible to say how gut-wrenching it is to see her stumble in her story, to see her about to give up when all she has to do is turn the bend and see the edge of the forest. It pains me and the sense of helplessness drains me.
Even though the narrative in this story is starting to change in an infinitely better way, I still have to work to accept where the previous chapters have left us. It’s hard, it’s been hard, and it will continue to be hard from time to time. I accept this, but that doesn’t always mean I like it. But we won’t turn away from it, ever, and that’s the important thing. Face your demons, as they say.
It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway – how The Wolf has affected me is nothing, nothing, like how it has affected Fiona. But it has still affected me. In different ways to Fiona, but it has injured me in its own way and some of those scars I will carry for my life.
The next few chapters of the story will be different, and I know I’m going to enjoy watching the plot develop. To jump back to the story, The Girl is in the process of being given a map to the forest from a Wise Woman (aka Therapist 2.0). The map is going to be very big and very detailed, and once The Girl knows how to use it, the map will be extremely powerful.
This is good. The story will become more predictable (a predictable story would make for enjoyable reading just this once). I will enjoy reading about The Girl and how she uses her map. I will smile when I see her walking with her head held high and eyes straight ahead rather than the bowed figure, furtively glancing about in all the previous journeys. I will probably grin when I read about the new paths the map has shown her, paths she never knew were there, paths to other parts of the forest that will show things (sometimes the same things she has seen before) from a different perspective. I can’t wait for the part in the story when she finally travels the high path, the one with the glorious view that’s near the water and far away from The Wolf’s prowling grounds below in the dark parts.
The Wolf will of course still be there. Where there is the forest, there will be The Wolf. Once we remember that then it takes away some of the power of The Wolf who relies so keenly on fear, dark subterfuge and surprise. The map, the glorious map, will show the paths that are rarely travelled by The Wolf, these will be paths that Fiona will walk, enjoying nature and soaking in the wonderful sights, smells and sounds of life.
From time to time The Wolf will still creep up to her window to softly speak to her at night to frighten her with terrible words. From time to time she will catch glances of its shape darting through trees during the day. But The Wolf is losing its biggest weapon now, it’s losing the power to be feared. Years of travelling the paths has meant Fiona knows its habits and routines. The map will show her the way to travel. The Wolf will always be respected and treated as a dangerous animal. But it won’t be feared. And that’s what’s different.
For a long time I hated The Wolf for the toll it has exacted on me. I hated it for making me struggle. I hated it for teaching me perseverance, fortitude and mental strength – but only through negative challenges and under immense pressure. I found I am strong, but I had to find out from involuntary adversity and not a challenge I had set myself. I had to be strong or I would be broken, it was as simple as that.
I despised it for what it whispers to me at my window late in the dark night. I hated it for thinking that what it whispers through shining teeth will work. I deplored it for making me stand here bloodied but unbowed.
I am still sad that we occasionally have to peer watchfully into the shadows as we walk through the wood (in my minor character role). Even now, the small noises that are part of life in the forest cause me to glance uneasily around. These are everyday noises, but The Wolf has made me anxious. I know now that is his design and that is the power it has over me. Jump at shadows. Never settle, ever vigilant. Wear out. That is what I fear most of all things. I would be so weary jumping at the darkness that I will never hear it softly padding up behind us.
However, we now know The Wolf’s intentions, and years of watching has led us to a lot of knowledge: I can hear it and I can smell it from far away.
I love The Wolf and I smile at it for making me all these things too. It has taught me about inner strength and about the power of self-belief. It has taught me the importance of processing emotions so they never fester inside. It has taught me the kind of lessons that can only be learned in adversity where an inner voice is the only thing keeping you going and you’re almost overcome by doubt and fright and wretched tiredness.
I love it and I forgive it. I accept the scars it has gifted me.
I accept also that I cannot be the one to evade it by it by travelling on the new paths in the forest. I accept that I will not be the one to elude it and control it until its life is faded and malnourished and all that is left is a shadow from a ghost. The ghost can whisper at the window but it will be ignored. Its teeth will be dull and its voice will be weak.
I cannot be the one to do this because The Girl is the one. This is The Girl’s story and it will be her ending to choose. And it will have a happy ending.
The best stories always do.