The Fluffy Hippo In The Smoking Jacket
You can run away from the present pretty effectively during the day. There are things to do and listen to and read about and people to see and places to go and roads to run and songs to tap along to and friends and conversations and movement, momentum and purpose.
Then you go to bed, your head hits the pillow and the thoughts come rushing in. You can’t do anything about them, since this is the time we designate for not-doing-things. For the first time, you don’t get to answer back, you just have to lie there and take it.
There are two ways this can go. Either you treat it like Black Hawk Down and you find yourself sheltering behind a wall as your mind throws all manner of sharp metal things at you. Or you can take the sting out of the whole experience and give it a surreal twist. After all, you’re lying half-naked on a bed of foam about to enter a magical dreamland created by your own imagination, so there’s something surreal about the whole experience to start with.
The aim of the latter approach is to get the mind to lighten up, to bundle all of the fairly vicious self-criticism and analysis into a structure which is so patently ridiculous, so bizarre, that you can’t possibly take it all seriously.
I call this The Fluffy Hippo In The Smoking Jacket.
Imagine a middle-aged hippo. He’s done alright for himself, he’s not too far from retirement, he’s got an antiquated sense of whimsy (hippos are famous for it, of course they are), so he whiles away an evening in his study reading P.G Wodehouse and sipping gently on a cup of earl grey tea, ensconced in a tatty armchair, snug in his emerald green, corduroy smoking jacket. If he had a name, it would be something like Reginald.
When your head hits the pillow, you picture yourself sitting down opposite Reginald and you and he then enter into a conversation. Now, your mind will still try to play the same game, still try to drag you into a state of deep introspection during these last moments of the day, but it now has to do this within the absurd environment that you’ve created. Instead of stinging rebukes and scalding embarrassment, it becomes an amiable chat. Reginald reads through the minds list of self-criticisms the way a bored teacher would skim through the work of a student they’re not particularly keen on. You and he bat around the ideas, pull apart the logic, chuckle at the ferocity of some of the words, and before you know it you’re actually not hating it.
The character and the world you create is entirely up to you, but by refusing to let these negative thoughts run the show, by forcing them to exist in a weird and wonderful world that you design, you might find those late night worries become slightly more manageable.
(Photograph: AW19 New & Lingwood https://www.newandlingwood.com/the-editorial/post/collection-autumn-winter-2019)