Firework (aka ‘Going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups.’)

Before we get into this monster talk, I need to explain that there’ve been some changes in my headcast. My beloved Mr. H has left us. I’m silent retreating on the reasons, but don’t worry, we’re all okay! After dragging my feet and avoiding the issue for like, months, it was time, and it felt right. And it seems that other members are stepping into the breach LIKE WHOA. As you’ll see. :)

You’d think a retiring headcast member would just dissolve back into me, but Mr. H was having none of that. He told me he wanted to go freelance. To go out into the world, travel into other people’s minds, and talk to other people’s monsters. So if you want a visit from him, just talk to him in your imagination, and see if he talks back… :)

(This monster believes that going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups, and looks like a constantly moving, fireworky explosion of random colours. You can hear the hiss and crackle of sparks in her voice.)

Me: So, going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups?

Firework: YES! It means either you’re an obedient sheep, or you’re so subhuman you don’t even need obedience. You belong to the vegetable kingdom, the fungus kingdom, the mould kingdom.

Me: Whoa! Sounds like you’re feeling really disgusted and angry because you need to know I have – what? Sovereignty? Power? Energy? I think your appearance is a clue, but I can’t quite find the right word.

Firework: FIRE! The spark of life and passion! Movement, colour, light! Everything you allow to be taken away from you when you surrender to bed and sleep!

Me: Wow, that’s really powerful. And it sounds like for you, going to bed is a massively unsovereign experience, an admission of defeat. Life surrendering to – well, to death, almost. Am I right?

Firework: YES! The eternal struggle of all life! The hero life against the villain death! And YOU are giving in! Allowing yourself to be shut away up there in the dark with the ghosts! DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT! Kick and scream! Burn and rage! Always, always!

Me: Oh… wow. I have so much empathy for you and I don’t know what to say. Backup!

(Big Sister shows up wearing Mr. H’s old leather jacket.)

Big Sister: Hi!

Me: Oh, hi!

Big Sister: So… Man, this is hard. Do you know what I’m thinking?

Me: I know exactly what you’re thinking.

Big Sister: I need a joke. This situation needs a joke and I can’t think of a single funny thing to say to save my life. Maybe we should get Little Sister.

Me: No way, this monster is exactly from when I was her age, it’d be her nemesis.

Big Sister: Well, she’s learned a lot -

(Little Sister skids onto the scene.)

Me: Hello!! Are you sure you want to be here? This one’s a bit scary.

Little Sister: Yes, this one won’t listen to grown-ups. Come here, firework.

(Firework floats and fizzles over to her, instantly all attention. They are the same height.)

Little Sister: You’re right, going to sleep is a lot like dying. It’s dark and scary and lonely and nothing-y. I understand. But that doesn’t mean that it IS dying! You know what? If people didn’t go to sleep, THEN they would die!!

Firework: But… I’m afraid if you don’t fight sleep then you won’t fight death, and evil, and oppression, and all those other bad things.

Little Sister: Well, I might not fight death. I mean, it depends. If I’m getting attacked by a big lion, or pushed over a cliff, or somebody is hitting me with a sword, THEN I’ll fight. But if I get to be very old and wise then I’ll probably just fade out peacefully in a cloud of sparkles like Yoda. I don’t think that’s bad.

Firework: No… I suppose that’s not bad.

Little Sister: And as for not fighting evil and oppression!! Look at me in my eyes and tell me that you think I won’t!!

(If a firework could hang its head, this one does.)

Firework: But it’s just… I’m really afraid of… What is a firework afraid of? Going out. Darkness. Silence. Stillness. I’m afraid of the dark.

Little Sister: So am I! I’m really, really, REALLY afraid of the dark!

Firework: Yes, because you and me…

Little Sister: Yes. But you know what else there is? You know what happens if you go THROUGH the dark? DREAMS! And you know what’s in dreams? Light! Colours! Noises! Movement! Fire! Life! More and more and more than there is when you’re awake! Don’t keep me away from it! When people don’t sleep enough, they don’t have enough dreams!

Firework: Oh. Oh. I can’t be one of those monsters? Taking away the very thing I want to give you? Giving you the very thing I want to protect you from?

Little Sister: I think everybody can be one of those monsters.

Firework: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!! (flares up massively in a frenzy of sparks)

Little Sister: (running off and flattening herself against Big Sister’s legs) YIKES! Don’t do that! Sit!!

Firework: I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. It’s just that this is life-and-death important!

Little Sister: You really want me to be brave, right? And fierce like a firework. And alive-alive-alive. And full of colours.

Firework: Yes!

Little Sister: Well, here’s what we can do. Here is the big brave thing that we can do. It’s very like a story. You go THROUGH the big dark door of sleep, PAST all the ghosts that are trying to scare you, and you come out in DREAMS! Wonderland! Neverland! Narnia! Fairyland! And you go and fly and swim in all the colours, and then you bring a piece of the magic world back with you! That’s what a hero does in a story! And that’s how we can bring more and more and more and more fireworks into the world! Do you want to do it?

Firework: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

Little Sister: Will I get burned if I hug you?

Firework: No!

(She steps into the light of the firework that is just her size, holds out her arms, and it becomes an aura of rainbow fire around her body, blazing and shooting off brilliant sparks that go singing out into the night. Big Sister and I instinctively drop to our knees before this brilliant child queen, and applaud.)

Compulsions! They look like mogwai from Gremlins.

I’m trying to get over an internet addiction (yes, monsters, I am allowed to tell people that I have an internet addiction even though I also have difficulty replying to emails) and part of what I’m trying to do is not feed my compulsions. That is, not check the internet at the moment I get a compulsive urge to do it, because that teaches my brain that compulsions get rewarded so there should be lots of them.

So obviously, the concept of lots of proliferating things that one shouldn’t feed led me to characterise my compulsions as mogwai. You know, the fluffy little things that multiply if you get them wet and turn into gremlins if you feed them after midnight. (Actually, feeding my compulsions after midnight is a PARTICULAR problem for me.)

3 mogwai

Apparently these three are called Mohawk, George and Lenny, so that’s what we’ll call them.

I thought rather than just forcibly starve these little furballs, I’d better get their point of view and find out what they’re really trying to tell me.

(Compulsions roll into the room, squeaking, chattering and showing lots of sharp teeth.)

Compulsions: FEED US! FEED US! NOM NOM NOM!

Me: Hi, compulsions! Sounds like you’re really hungry for something.

Compulsions: EMAIL EMAIL (actually giving me a compulsion to check email)

Me: What needs does email meet for you?

Compulsions: EMAIL EMAIL EMAIL EMAIL

Me: (smiles) Okay, how does getting to check email feel for you? What kind of good things are you getting from it?

Mohawk: No uncertainty!

George: Relief!

Lenny: Knowing! CHECK EMAIL NOW BY THE WAY.

Me: I was expecting to hear something like ‘attention’ or ‘love’ or ‘validation’ -

Compulsions: ATTENTION ATTENTION

Me: Okay, so that’s a need that email meets for you too?

Mohawk: Yeah but – even if you check and there’s nothing, at least you KNOW you HAVEN’T got attention.

George: Otherwise SOMEBODY COULD BE PAYING YOU ATTENTION AND YOU WOULDN’T KNOW! AAARGH!!!

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL NOW

George: Worse! Somebody could NEED YOUR ATTENTION! AND! YOU! WOULDN’T! KNOW!

Compulsions: AAAAAAARGH!!!!! EEK EEK EEK!

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL NOOOOOWWWWW

Me: I’ll check email as soon as we’ve finished this talk, okay? Deal?

(All compulsions immediately clamp their hands over their mouths, ‘speak no evil’ style. Total silence.)

Me: I don’t mean just stop talking right now! I mean as soon as we’ve finished this talk. Do you get what it means to finish this talk?

Mohawk: To reach an agreement!

George: Yeah!

Lenny: For all of us to be happy!

George: Yeah!

Me: That works. (smiles) Are you willing to wait till that point for me to check email?

Compulsions: Eeeeerrrr….. Maybe?

Me: Okay, thank you. Let’s start talking and if it gets too difficult for you to wait, you can tell me.

Compulsions: IT’S TOO DIFFICULT FOR US TO WAIT!

Me: (laughing) Fine, I’ll check email and then we’ll finish the conversation, okay?

Compulsions: (jumping up and down) OKAY OKAY OKAY OKAY!

Me: (checks email) Nothing there but spam and people trying to write a punk Hamlet filk. Happy now?

Compulsions: (slightly unsure) Yeeeees….

Me: Any problems?

Mohawk: We are disappointed that there wasn’t email from that one person!

Me: I hear you. I get that you’re feeling disappointed. I’d just like to remind you that it’s not even 9am for her and she has a lot to think about right now, and that I know she loves me very much and I don’t need an email to prove it.

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL CHECK EMAIL. Look! You can see you’ve just received another email! CHECK IT CHECK IT!

Me: Okay, I’m not willing to do that right now because I’m feeling really concerned about how frustrated and anxious you seem and how you can’t rest for even a minute without needing me to check email.

George: We’re also disappointed that you didn’t get distracted. Then we could rest.

Me: Huh?

George: When you’re connected to the internet, it’s like uh – an umbilicus! Or a baby bottle. Being constantly fed. So we can rest.

Lenny: Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom… WANT NOMS!

Me: And what is it that you’re being constantly fed?

Mohawk: Internets!

Me: What does the internets contain?

Mohawk: Caffeine!

Me: (laughing) Okay, everyone knows the internet contains caffeine! What does that mean for you, does it energise you, keep you awake?

George: AAARGH, you got another email!

Lenny: CHECK IT CHECK IT!!

Me: Fine, I’ll check it… There, nothing important. So what’s this about caffeine?

Mohawk: A way to avoid sleep! Not just that, but a way to not need rest!

Me: Because while I’m surfing the internet, I’m in a state that’s sort-of-restful but not so embarrassingly obviously restful as, say, having a lie down?

George: Yeah!

Me: So I don’t need to deal with the fact that I need rest?

George: Yeah!

Me: Thing is, surfing the internet isn’t adequately meeting my rest needs. It’s like living on rice or porridge, you get to a point where you can stuff and stuff and stuff on it and you’re still constantly hungry because you’re not getting any vitamins or protein. Anyway, why are you protecting me from needing rest?

Compulsions: Uh….

Me: You don’t know?

Mohawk: Because you seem to get upset when you need rest. We don’t really know why.

Me: Actually, I’ve made a lot of progress in that area recently, and I’m going to be talking to my rest monsters some more today. I can handle this, I don’t need you to protect me from needing rest. Besides, constantly being online actually puts me in a state of constantly needing rest.

George: Oh no, we’re those kinds of monsters?

Me: Yeah, your protecting me from needing rest is leading to me needing a lot of rest.

Compulsions: SORRY SORRY SORRY!

Me: It’s okay! I get the feeling that there’s more to you than that, though. What else does the internet contain?

Lenny: Not having to think. Whatever you’re in pain about, you don’t have to think about it when you’re online.

Me: What if I’m in pain about being online?

Lenny: Make candybar dolls! [An online game.] That will even numb the pain of being in pain about being online!

Me: This is kind of like the drunkard in ‘The Little Prince’ who drank to forget that he was ashamed of drinking.

Lenny: Well, it’s a reasonable strategy.

Me: The thing is that a lot of my pain comes from not doing things, and a lot of my not-doing-things comes from being online. So your protecting me from being in pain is leading to a lot more pain.

Lenny: THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE TO BE ONLINE ALL THE TIME SO YOU CAN IGNORE IT!!!

Me: I can tell that you’re really concerned about this. The thing is that I’m not able to ignore it all the time. It still hurts. And if I get offline and face a little bit of pain in the short term, I can have a lot less pain in the long term.

Compulsions: WHAT IS THIS LONG TERM OF WHICH YOU SPEAK!

Me: It’s the short term tomorrow. It’s right now in five minutes. Or a week. Or a year.

Compulsions: DOES NOT COMPUTE… DOES NOT COMPUTE…

Lenny: YOU GOT ANOTHER EMAIL, CHECK IT!!

Me: (does so) Still just talking about Hamlet filks. I’m getting that you are not long-term creatures. You need a need to be met NOW, always.

Compulsions: YES YES YES!

Me: And right now it seems that the things you want for me are rest (of a kind that doesn’t upset me) and relief from pain. So maybe when I have a compulsion I could try meditating or praying.

Mohawk: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ATTENTION! And the play! WHAT ABOUT THE PLAY!

Lenny: YOU GOT ANOTHER ONE CHECK IT CHECK IT

Me: Okay, I’m checking this one, but then let’s not check any more for five minutes so we can sort this out sooner. Okay?

Lenny: NO YOU HAVE TO CHECK ALL OF THEM OR WE’RE NOT TALKING.

Me: I’m feeling uncomfortable and frustrated about that because I need to know I have some sovereignty here.

Lenny:… Fine, five minutes.

Me: Thank you! So, attention and play?

Mohawk: Yes, internetting is a form of rest-play. It’s something you can do that’s not ‘because you should’.

Me: Right, so you also want me to experience play and freedom from shoulds. So when I get a compulsion I could also try goofing off in another way. Doodling on my whiteboard perhaps.

George: Oh, HOURS OF FUN. Why don’t you just play with a jack-in-the box? Open the box… shut the box. Open the box… shut the box. WHAT FUN!!!

Me: I’m hearing that you don’t find non-internetty things any fun!

George: I’ll admit that they could be fun, but where else can you find such infinite variety of input?

Me: In my own mind.

George: Okay, then do a proper creative project, but with permission to do it badly or not finish it. Or make stuff up in your head. Something you actually WANT to do, not some fake displacementy boring thing. Or read something or watch something.

Me: You’d be happy for me to do that? Because I’ve just realised that my internet addiction means I don’t have time to play properly! To do things I really WANT to do!

George: I’d be happy for you to do that sometimes, but not all the time because there’s still the attention thing.

Me: Thank you!! Okay, the attention thing. It seems like you’re really keen for my attention needs to be met, and for me to meet the attention needs of others.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

Lenny: BY THE WAY CHECK EMAIL

Me: Okay… I’m confused. You’re obviously genuinely very concerned about this attention thing, and yet I’m noticing that even with all this time online, I’m still way behind on replying to most of my emails. In fact, I could have replied to a lot more if I hadn’t been so busy compulsively surfing, checking, and re-reading existing emails. It seems like you really care about me checking, but not so much about me replying?

Compulsions: Uuuuhhhhh…

Lenny: CHECK THE FLOOP

Me: (does so) Oh, I got comments. That feels good because now I know that people care.

Mohawk: This is the point! To know that people care!

Me: Are you feeling worried that I don’t know I’m loved? That I need reminding?

Mohawk: WELL, CLEARLY.

Me: So if I can find other ways to remind myself that I’m loved, and to give myself love, will that help with the need to check?

Mohawk: Not really because there’s still OTHER PEOPLE’S attention needs and what if there’s a crisis? WHAT IF THERE’S A CRISIS? What if someone you love is crying and heartbroken because YOU WEREN’T THERE WHEN YOU WERE NEEDED?

George: You see, every second you’re not checking email, THAT COULD BE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!

Lenny: Every second you’re not checking, YOU COULD BE MAKING SOMEONE CRY! EVERY SECOND!

Me: You all sound really freaked out and panicked.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES YES!

Me: You all want a cuddle?

Compulsions: AAAAAAAAH (diving on me)

Me: (cuddling the compulsion pile) Okay, guys. It’s okay. This is from then. This is from a time when someone genuinely did want my attention every second. That is not happening now. None of the friends I have now would want me to be constantly tied to the internet looking after them, they want me to have my own life, even if that means they sometimes spend some time crying because I wasn’t online.

Mohawk: …For reals?!?!

Me: Yes, for reals!

Mohawk: BUT YOU WOULD STILL BE SO GUILTY! Even if they didn’t mind, YOU would mind!!

Me: Sounds like you’re desperate to protect me from guilt.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES! And sadness! Sadness for other people’s pain!

Me: You really suffered back then, didn’t you? You don’t ever want to feel that bad again.

Compulsions: YES WE DID! NO WE DON’T!

Me: Would it help if I told you that things are very different now because I have more sovereignty, and I would never allow myself to get into that bad a guilt situation now? Because I know I’m not responsible for the happiness of others.

Compulsions: Huh?!

Me: Yeah, I always had a choice. I could have ALWAYS said, ‘Hey, it’s not okay to expect myself to give attention every second. I don’t need to feel guilty for not doing that.’ I could have ALWAYS said, ‘I’m not willing to give you attention every second, can we talk about other ways to meet your needs?’ It was always between me and me! It was my guilt about my relationship with me and I don’t have to have that guilt any more!

Compulsions: Whoa. Um… whoa.

(They huddle together and talk compulsion language for a few seconds.)

Mohawk: Okay. We’re willing to try to stop pushing you so hard to check email, but only if you’re willing to try to stop guilting yourself, because we feel awful when you do that.

Me: Wow, thank you! I’m definitely willing. And you can help.

Mohawk: How?

Me: When you feel like talking to me, talk to me. But instead of saying ‘CHECK EMAIL CHECK EMAIL’ tell me all the qualities you want for me, like – what’s the opposite of guilt?

Mohawk: Permission!

George: Sovereignty!

Lenny: A clear conscience!

Me: All good! And what are those other qualities you were talking about?

Mohawk: Rest!

George: Play!

Lenny: Comfort!

Mohawk: Freedom!

George: Attention!

Lenny: Love!

Me: All things I would love to be reminded to give myself. So are you up for that? When you feel like talking to me, are you willing to shout those qualities in my ear?

Compulsions: (bouncing up and down) YES YES YES YES!

Me: Thank you!

(group hug)

BY THE WAY, EVERYBODY – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Gobstopper Penguin Pretty Much Monstertalks Himself

Gobstopper Penguin is my ‘Rest is Weak and Selfish’ monster. The ‘gobstopper’ came about because he has many layers of hard. And then the word ‘gobstopper’ reminded me of ‘rockhopper’, as in rockhopper penguin, and thus Gobstopper Penguin was born. (Art by R. Taylor.)

Recently, I had this chat with him.

Me: Remember when I showed you that you don’t need to protect me from thinking I suck any more, because my ‘You’re Disgusting and Deserve to be Obliterated’ monster turned into an awesome dragon called ‘You’re Amazing and Deserve to be Safe Forever’?

Gobstopper Penguin: Yes, but. It’s just that in this particular situation, people are suffering right now because of what you’ve done. People are going without because you owe them money. And because you’re taking so long to clear your room, your housemate is no doubt really worried that she won’t have time to find a new housemate.

Me: I understand that. I truly regret how I’ve approached things in the past, and I want to make things easier for those people as soon as possible. And the best way for me to do this is with regular rest and play. I get more done that way, and that’s the point here. The point is not for me to suffer. They don’t want that. Or if they do, that’s their stuff.

Gobstopper Penguin: Yes, but I just fail to see how you can even dare to think about your wants and needs at a time like this.

Me: It sounds like you’re really, really worried about me being in a situation where people might be angry with me, or I might feel guilt and shame towards them, and you want to get me out of that situation as soon as possible.

Gobstopper Penguin: Of course! I can’t stand for you to be in that kind of pain!

Me: Okay, I really appreciate that you care. Thank you. Let’s look at it like training an athlete – or since we’re in that kind of headspace at the moment, when Yoda was training Luke, I bet he gave him enough time to rest and sleep! And the future of the galaxy was at stake there!

Gobstopper Penguin: Actually, it must have been really hard for Luke to sleep in that mud hut with all those snakes and bugs everywhere, and the air being so humid after he grew up in a desert…

Me: That was very… specific. Gobstopper Penguin, do you have a crush on Luke too?!

Gobstopper Penguin: (small trilling purr)

Me: You’re a male penguin!

Gobstopper Penguin: Are you being homophobic towards penguins?!

Me: No. No, you’re quite right. You are totally allowed to have a crush on Luke. He’d probably think you were adorable.

Gobstopper Penguin: He’d probably tell me that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

Me: Wow. Yes, that was really insightful. Well done! So how can we apply this to our current situation?

Gobstopper Penguin: Um… I’m afraid of you being in pain because of guilt and shame and other people’s anger. So I get angry at you for resting. And then you hate yourself and get stuck and suffer.

Me: Yeah, that’s exactly right!

Gobstopper Penguin: (tearing up) I’m sorry!

Me: It’s okay! It’s okay. Mistakes made out of love are the best kind. (hugs him) Let’s just think about how to make this better.

Gobstopper Penguin: Can I shorten my name like that other monster did?

Me: You mean -

Gobstopper Penguin: Instead of ‘Rest is Weak and Selfish’ can I just be ‘Rest’?

Me: AAAHHH I LOVE YOU (cries)

Gobstopper Penguin: (adorable penguin noises and beak nuzzling)

Me: I’ll probably still call you Gobstopper Penguin because it’s just so cute.

Gobstopper Penguin: Sure, just like you call Dragon Dragon. But her underlying name is the opposite of what it was, and so’s mine. I wonder if all monsters are really the opposites of themselves?

Me: I wonder if they are. People too, perhaps. Perhaps my real name is not ‘Procrastination’ but ‘Doing Lots of Awesome Stuff’.

Gobstopper Penguin: Yeah!!!

Me: Are you sure about this? I’m feeling like there’s still some residual fear there. Is there anything I can do to create safety when you’re worried about me feeling guilty and stuff?

Gobstopper Penguin: Rest! You don’t feel so upset when you’re not tired. And have a talk to yourself about sovereignty and whose stuff is whose. And being allowed to be where you are. And all of that good stuff that you’ve learned. And remind me if I forget, okay?

Me: Okay! You’re the best! Really, you’re stunningly articulate. Where did all that come from?

Gobstopper Penguin: You.

Me: Awww :) Thank you.