I remember reading something by A. S. Byatt about fairy tales. Maybe it was an introduction to one of her short story collections - The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye or The Elementals (this is when I find nearly fifty years of voracious reading frustrating. I remember the words but not exactly where to find them so they float and sink, taunt and tease, find me and grab hold and yet their source as elusive as the source of the Nile one was and perhaps as dangerous to discover)? She wrote bout the storytellers of the Middle East who sit in the square and weave tale after tale for a few coins. They never stop. One story leads into another with a connection of course, major or minor hardly matters. Perhaps this is where Scherezade and her 1001 nights of stories came from. This intrigued me for just as I have trouble believing a story can be interpreted only one way (is the pricking of the Sleeping Beauty's finger always the first menstrual blood? Must it be a story of latency emerging into sexuality or can a middle aged woman find herself sleeping her life away, dreaming a common dream, waiting expectantly to be saved by her Prince Charming, woken with a kiss?), I cannot believe we are just one tale until mastered and only then another. Maybe we are collages, lenticulars. We are certainly complex and layered. I suspect we are that Middle Eastern storyteller in the town square telling ourselves one after another for a few coins.
So when you come back old enough to fairy tales, what do you do with happily ever after? Of course if you've spent any time at all the Grimm Brothers, especially their early editions which were not softened by Victorian sensibilities of childhood innocence, you realize there is no such thing. You understand that there might be a reason Jefferson claimed as an inalienable right the pursuit of happiness, but not happiness itself. Still, you wonder, at least I do, what happened to Cinderella, to Briar Rose, to Snow White.
After I collaged about The Wolf of My Heart and wrote how she came to me, what it might mean, I found myself with the beginning of a story, a dream. I sat at my writing table and watched it play out before my eyes. I could feel it in my body. I was a woman, myself and not. I was running, bare feet and hard ground. The light of a nearly full moon penetrated the forest I found myself in, leaving a dappled trail to follow and the distant cry of a wolf. From this beginning a story emerged of Red Riding Hood at middle age and wolf call that can be many things, her own wild heart, the call of a wild love, the remembrance of a young self adventurous, hungry, ready and willing to plunge into the unknown the wild, to risk, to run, to be completely and utterly herself.
Now I was never a fan of the story Little Red Riding Hood. It never captivated me. I never had to read the myriad variations on the tale as my daughter did with Cinderella. So why this tale would come to me know was a mystery of the kind Psyche specializes in, the same force that creates synchronicity and miracles. The tale held me until I told it, all of it, the right way, the way only I could tell it. A week passed, then two, until I had it roughly in its final form.
In the thesis I wrote for my Masters in Counseling Psychology, I posited and then proved that we write ourselves, or at least I do. Even if we do not pursue memoir, even if there is nothing on the page remotely resembling our lives, we write ourselves, we spill our secrets, we perform the Dance of the Seven Veils and let every one of them fall. We stand naked before our readers and they never know how bare we are, past skin to blood and bone. The story I wrote, the one of a middle-aged Red Ridding Hood, was no different than any of the others. When I was done I realized it told my deepest secrets, shouted them to the heavens. Maybe this too is part and parcel of a good story, not just the space we leave in it for the reader to enter, but the invitation, the seduction, whatever it is that calls him or her to read the tale, to enter it, to live in it and with it, to be willing to give and receive. Maybe our willingness to bare our souls makes the reader willing to bare theirs.
When I think about fairy tales, about their call to us throughout our lives, the archetypal flame of them that like the tyger burns so bright, I think there must be something more than just the tale itself, something that stretches into the future and into the past -- the reader's, the writer's, society's. Maybe by the time you are old enough for fairy tales again you know The End, isn't, that once upon a time spans the ages, including our ages, and that a fairy tale, like a perfect short story, or any story for that matter, has a life of its own that reaches beyond its edges into the imaginable and imaginal. My story about an aging fairy tale heroine is my collaboration with tale and life. I wonder what will be yours.