You probably know exactly when that is. If you don't - you're one of the lucky ones. For the rest of us, the "Hour of the Wolf" tends to happen when the rest of the world is asleep. Deep in the darkest reaches of the night (she typed, rather liking the dramatic nature of that phrase.)
I first heard it used by a character on television. Babylon 5 was must-see tv from the get-go, a brilliant concept created by an awesome writer - J. Michael Straczynski - which managed to get backing for the entire multi-year plot arc. No mean feat in the days of ratings, income generation and programming executives who thought the Golden Girls were close to Shakespearean in tenor.
Susan Ivanova was a fascinating blend of arrogance, competence and femininity. An officer aboard Babylon 5, she was given to the rapid acerbic comment and pointed out on several occasions that when it came to suffering she had everyone else beat, being both Jewish and Russian. She has more than a few memorable quotes: "No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow." "I will twist your head off and use it for a chamberpot." and so on. Great stuff!!! (And thanks to the Civ Fanatics who had this great photo of Susan on their blog!)
One of her more intense moments was a description of "The Hour of the Wolf". I found the actual dialogue.
"My father told me about it. It's the time between three and four in the morning. You can't sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the ways that your life should've gone but didn't. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart. I've been living in the hour of the wolf for seven days, Lyta. Seven days. The wolf and I are now on a first-name basis. ... In times like this, my father used to take one large glass of vodka before bed. To keep the wolf away, he said. And then he would take three very small drinks of vodka, just in case she had cubs while she was waiting outside. It doesn't work."
I found that scene strangely moving, and Susan's description of those bleak hours has stayed with me since then. It fits. I think of it when I wake up at oh-dark-thirty, my mind churning over problems I cannot solve. When I'm completely unable to find the off-switch to this psychological chaos and I have to lie there, waiting for the turmoil to subside and sleep to re-claim me, or simply give up, get out of bed and hit the computer to check my email.
Why this happens, I really don't know. Sleep is a strange phenomenon that can produce wonderful dreams and terrible nightmares. I shouldn't be surprised that it can also result in a waking state where the daytime restraints have fallen away and various portions of my hypothalamus are engaged in a light-saber duel with my amigdala. Or something.
It's impossible to control, a surreal time when tiny issues roar their way into massive and crushing worries. When the slew of daily challenges becomes an avalanche, rolling inexorably toward its target - me - with the sole aim of crushing me into oblivion. When sleep is a distant memory and yet wakefulness seems unobtainable. When no matter what I try and focus on, it will twist and writhe into something dark and take me to a place I don't want to go.
Not being Russian (or Jewish, come to think of it), I don't go for the vodka cure. Sometimes a single malt scotch before bed is nice. But nothing will prevent the Wolf from claiming her little portion of my night if she's of a mind to do so. And she's an unpredictable bitch, which is even more annoying, arriving at times that suit her schedule, not mine. I can go weeks without her presence and then...boom. (Yes, boom today, Ivanova.)
I'm hoping that besides Susan (or JMS, since he wrote her words) I'm not the only one with a nighttime wolf. Not the only one staring into her expressionless eyes and struggling to breathe beneath her weight, wondering why the hell I'm here, where I'm going and what I'm going to do to solve all those problems she's just dumped onto my chest. I hope I'm not the only one haunting my computer at some ungodly hour and scaring the crap out of friends far away by posting when I should be sleeping.
In the calm light of another dawning day, it's all silliness. But after dark, when the world falls quiet...my Wolf bitch will howl and wake me. And I freakin' HATE when that happens... LOL
~~~~ More Steampunk on the Way from Samhain ~~~~
Miss Minnie and the Brass Pluggit - coming in January 2011