Thursday, 29 November 2012

"Two Spains": León Felipe and Antonio Machado

Francisco de Goya's Fight with Cudgels (c.1820-23) can be seen
 as a premonition of the civil wars of Spain. Image from Wikipedia.

I thought that I'd post another poem by León Felipe today. Included in Ganarás La Luz, "Hay dos Españas" reflects the uncertainty and violence that surrounded the Spanish Civil War, and in particular the left-right political divisions that led to it. Here is is:

There are two Spains: that of the soldier and that of the poet. That of the fratricidal sword and that of the wandering song. There are two Spains and only one song. And this is the song of the wandering poet:

Soldier, the hacienda,
The house,
The horse
And the pistol are yours.
The ancient voice of the earth is mine.
You keep everything and leave me naked and wandering across the world...
But I leave you mute...mute!
So how will you gather the wheat
And feed the fire
If I have taken the song?

Felipe writes so beautifully, and provides so much to think about. If I had to choose, I would certainly choose poetry over violence; undoubtedly. Nonetheless, it is interesting to consider whether both concepts are natural, and vital, parts of life. Where there is life, do violence and poetry automatically follow? Out of the two, Dionysian, primitive violence automatically strikes me as the most natural. Although, perhaps there may be a cultural side to the life of animals that we don't know about!

It is interesting to compare Felipe's poem to Antonio Machado's poem that also deals with the "Two Spains" concept, included in his Proverbios y Cantares. As part of the Generation of 1898, Antonio felt that one Spain was heavily Catholic, reactionary, and centrist, and the other a secular, progressive, modern, post-Enlightenment European Spain.

There is a Spaniard today, who wants
to live and is starting to live,
between one Spain dying
and another Spain yawning.

Little Spaniard just now coming
into the world, may God keep you.
One of those two Spains
will freeze your heart.

I find Machado's poem to be very political and quite unsettling - the thought of a "Little Spaniard" growing up to such conflict and rivalry isn't exactly positive. And then there's the diction of "dying", "yawning", and "freeze", emphasising how difficult the circumstances really were. I'd like to learn more about each poet, and understand how the civil war affected them.

I hope that you enjoy both pieces, and that you find the two interesting to compare!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Walking Home by Simon Armitage: Wordsworth; Gawain; Above Ickornshaw, Black Huts

I've been really interested in the relationship between poets and walking lately. I'm writing a university essay on how Antonio Machado dealt with the death of his young wife by walking and writing poetry, and I often wish that I had Wordsworth's infatigable legs that allowed him to write so many great nature poems.

After buying a signed copy, I began reading Walking Home by Simon Armitage - a writer best known for his poetry - on the way back from a short stay in Cornwall with my boyfriend. The book was perfect for the train, although I didn't have the time to finish it until about two weeks later. In the biographical text, Armitage documents his decision in 2010 to walk the Pennine Way in the "wrong direction" (from North to South as opposed to the reverse). What really individualises his journey is his decision to travel as a "modern troubadour", travelling without a penny in his pocket, and stopping along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs, and living rooms.

Armitage is so greatly supported by fellow poets, family, friends, and locals along the Pennine way. To me, the most charismatic character was his friend "Slug", a chaotic university friend who unexpectedly joins him for part of the walk:

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?
"Thought I'd surprise you."
"How long are you walking for?"
"All the way. Unless it's too far. Windermere?"
"Where are you staying?"
"Dunno. But don't worry. You'll think of something."

Armitage's writing did make me laugh on several occasions. Also, I loved the literary references that he makes: the story is so enriched by references to Wordsworth's passion of walking, and evocations of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight and The Odyssey. When a poet decides to walk the Pennine Way, you naturally expect some literary reflections to surface. However, I was surprised that he didn't write a lot poetry. I realise that this sounds really harsh; you can't exactly declare, "Simon Armitage, you're a disgrace to the literary world, how hard is it to write poems when you're walking across Britain with nothing else to do?" To give the man some credit, he did include one poem in Walking Home that I really enjoyed. He wrote it when awake early one morning, right at the top of Ted Hughes' childhood home, where he happened to be staying (as you do...). I've copied the poem directly from the book, and so I apologise for any typos.

Above Ickornshaw, Black Huts

are raised against damp,
on footings of red brick,
landlocked chalets lashed to the bedrock

with steel guy-ropes
and telegraph wire,
braced for Atlantic gales.

All plank and slat,
the salvaged timber
ooze bitumen

out of the grain, a liquorice sweat,
its formaldehyde breath
disinfecting the clough

for a mile downwind.
Seen from a distance,
these tarred pavilions or lodges

make camp on the ridge
in silhouette - black, identical sheds
of identical shape,

though up close
no two are alike,
being customised shacks,

a hillbilly hotchpotch
of water-butts, stoops,
a one-man veranda,

a stove-pipe wearing a tin hat.
And all boarded shut,
all housing

a darkroom darkness
with pin-hole light
falling on nail or hook

or a padlocked box,
coffin-shaped, coiled
in a ship's chain.

Mothballed stations on disused lines
neither mapped nor named.
Birds avoid them -

some say the hatches fly open
and shotguns appear, blazing
at tame grouse, 

that inside
they're all whisky and smoke,
all Barbour and big talk,

but others whisper
the locals sit here
in deckchairs, with flasks,

watching the dunes of peat,
binoculars raised,
waiting for downed airmen

or shipwrecked souls
to crawl
from the moor's sea.

I do think that this book was worth reading, although occasionally it became a little monotonous, and the ending did infuriate me rather a lot (I won't provide any spoilers!) However, to end this post on a positive note, here's a lovely extract about Rackwick Bay, on the island of Hoy (Scotland). If the book had more passages like this one, I would definitely have enjoyed it more - there's something so appealing about poetry being linked to landscape.

To the Orkney poet George Mackay Brown, whose entire poetic universe didn't extend much further than the view from his window and the graveyard at the end of the road, Rackwick became a sacred location, a depopulated valley and dramatic bay which opened its arms to the blast of the Atlantic, full of ghosts, legends, stories and poems. The trip to Rackwick, usually hitched on a fishing boat or passing ferry, became a kind of pilgrimage to Mackay Brown, a challenge to his permanently frail health but a source of nourishment for his soul and his writing. Standing there with the gold flakes of his TB injection tumbling through his bloodstream, I think he say something of Eden in Rackwick, the long grassed valley where the hull of a glacier had once berthed between two barren summits"
Rackwick Bay. Image from

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Silver Linings Playbook: Mental Health and High-School Books

The Silver Linings Playbook and mental health
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, a wonderful story of overcoming mental health issues. Image from
In a recent radio interview, I heard Bradley Cooper being interviewed about playing the protagonist Pat in the film version of The Silver Linings Playbook (a novel written by Matthew Quick). After hearing the plot, I immediately wanted to read the book. And watch the film, of course, as Mr Cooper is in it. Here's the storyline, courtesy of Goodreads:

Meet Pat Peoples. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure him a happy ending—the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent several years in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being haunted by Kenny G.

Yes, it really is a light-hearted, easy-to-read novel. But I've been wanting to read something like this - a short novel that can be read in a day or so - for too long now. Because of uni, I've been surrounded by Renaissance literature that doesn't exactly provide me with relaxing time off. Yes, the text that I study are wonderfully written, but they're a bit... intense.

Pat is someone that I can relate to, chuckle at, and shout at from the comfort of my sofa. He's so blinded by his love for his ex-wife, and you really want to see him find the "closure" that is so often encouraged to him by the other characters. In order to try and win Nikki, his ex-wife, back, Pat yearns to better himself. For years I have been overwhelmed by desire for self-improvement too, and so I can relate entirely. If you read this post of mine, you'll see that Tolstoy would have related to him too (ah, such a tenuous link for a Saturday morning). One of Pat's main modes of improvement is exercise, and he obsessively covers a daily routine of weights, stretching, and jogging. When jogging, he is accompanied more and more by Tiffany, a character who, like Pat, is also in therapy for various reasons. Tiffany, to be honest, is a bit nuts, but she's a vibrant, forward woman. She did annoy me slightly, mostly for her stalking tendencies towards Pat, but she's clearly good-hearted, and she and Pat become even closer when entering a dance competition.

Then there's Pat's brother, Jake, who - as you may expect with this type of plot - is perfect. He's a successful stockbroker, he has a posh apartment, and he's married a concert pianist with whom he's had a beautiful daughter. His situation is all quite envy-inducing, but it also makes you pity Pat, who may well have been in his situation were it not for his time in a psychiatric ward. Additionally, whilst receiving medical care he lost all sense of time, as well as many of his memories. However, Jake and Pat still share one hobby: American football. I can't say that I know anything about the sport, or care much about it, but the amount it was mentioned somehow didn't bore me in the slightest.

A hobby of Pat's that did interest me more, unsurprisingly, was reading. Although he reads to try and win Nikki back, who works as an English teacher, Pat does become influenced and inspired by the books that he reads. These include Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Plath's The Bell Jar, and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. We see Pat ranting about how depressing they are, and how it is cruel of Nikki to teach them to maleable adolescents. However, he eventually receives the following advice, which I found as lovely as it was clichéd, which helps him view the novels in a different light:

"Life is not a PG feel-good movie. Real life often ends badly [...] and literature tries to document this reality, while showing us it is still possible for people to endure nobly."

To Pat, literature allows him to consider his own mental health and past in a cathartic manner. It helps him to realise that he is not alone with his issues, but also that he doesn't have to agree with the novels that he reads. Reading allows him to think more for himself, and partly provides the circumstances that enable him to reconsider how he is living.

There are a few parts of The Silver Linings Playbook that aren't incredibly well written, particularly around the halfway mark. There are some dancing-related moments that seem very cheesy, but as Quick was writing from the perspective of Pat, perhaps that was intentional. However, there were other passages that I really admired, smiled at, and wanted to share with others. I'd recommend that you read this if you enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but I wouldn't say that this is a young-adult book. It's merely a light-hearted novel with some more serious themes considered.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Life as a Journey - Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy

Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy analysis
The Return of Odysseus, Claude Lorrain, 1644. From
Some time ago, a reader of my blog called Rafael recommended me the poem "Ithaca" by Constantine P. Cavafy. I'd never come across it before, but I'm so glad that I read it.

"Ithaca" is based on Homer's account of Odysseus's journey home. As you may expect from this influence, the poem has so much to say about life in all its complexity, with both the setbacks and the positive memories that become inevitable. Like so many self-help books advise, the poem urges you to live for the journey rather than the expected end-point, in order to have a flourishing and fulfilling life.

As "Ithaca" suggests, we should not wish away our time, but "ask that [our] way be long". We may have problems at work, financial worries, or have lost a loved one, but when we eventually, and inevitably, overcome these troubles (or when we reach our own metaphorical Ithaca) we will be so much the stronger. Moreover, if the same challenges reoccur - which is likely - we will be able to deal with them in a much stronger and more experienced way.

Be aware of how life is for you now, and ensure to be appreciative of all the art, culture, and beauty that you could quite easily have never seen. I often think in this way when times are hard, and it really helps lift my mood. It's so easy just to spend time looking at a beautiful painting, listening to a timeless piece of music, or reading a classic. Or, quite simply, dwell on what you're learning from your current hardship. After a bad relationship and breakup some years back, I learned not to depend on others for my own happiness and wellbeing. Similarly, spending time away from home has helped me be grateful for my family and home when they are accessible.

Because of the experiences that I found difficult to deal with, I now feel more prepared to deal with my future, and I'm excited at what's to come. Also, I can of course write about my memories and my journey forwards! I hope that you enjoy this poem:


When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Friday, 16 November 2012

Living a Balanced Life: A Diagram to Deal with Anxiety

I have a copy of a diagram similar to the one below on the wall by my desk, and I find it helpful to look at every so often. I frequently find that some areas of my life are taking up all of my time, and that I need to pay more attention to other activities. Some of the points don't apply to my life, for instance I'm not religious, but I thought that I'd leave them on for others. 

If you have been struggling with anxiety or depression lately, think about how much time you dedicate to the following areas. For instance, are you working too much, or not working enough? Personally, I need to make sure that I dedicate enough time to relaxation, pleasure, and finding purpose and meaning in order to avoid burn-out. Reading is the best way for me to do this, particularly if the book is relatable to me and allows me to understand my state of mind a little better. As the name of my blog indicates, I find reading Tolstoy to be the most helpful for this. Re-reading War and Peace this summer helped me to understand the beauty around me, alongside the continual flux of human life. My life may not be the same as it used to be, but I realise that this is by no means a negative change.

On another note, I find it hardest to fulfil my required quota of social support. To the agoraphobic side of my personality, I need to assert the following:

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” ― Virginia Woolf

I hope that you find this useful, and that you are influenced to consider how your own life is currently mapped out. With a few tweaks and changes, your wellbeing could really benefit. 

Diagram for dealing with anxiety

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bibliotherapy & Reading for Wellbeing: The Novel Cure by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud

Bibliotherapy can heal all manner of feelings
Reading for wellbeing. Image from

As I was casually reading the School of Life blog yesterday, contemplating an idyllic reading retreat not far from here (which I'm sure would be ridiculously expensive), I came across a book to be published late 2013 which should be quite exciting. It's to be published by Canongate, and is entitled The Novel Cure. You can probably guess what the contents entail, particularly if you're reading my blog: yes, bibliotherapy. The authors, Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud, met whilst studying at Cambridge University, and began discussing the healing and reassuring power of literature. Over the following years they prescribed literature to friends and family, whilst Susan wrote novels and Ella worked as an artist.

Here's what The Bookseller have to say about it:
It offers a range of "novel cures" for ailments including apathy, depression and having trouble finding the right man. Lord said: "The range of novel cures is wonderfully broad—from Nancy Mitford to Marian Keyes, from Tolstoy to le Carré—and promises to offer an entertaining and surprising new approach to thinking about your favourite books and discovering new gems."
It's probably obvious that I'm won over by the Tolstoy mention. I wonder how it will live up to the similarly themed Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch, which I collected my thoughts on in this post.

I'll keep you updated on any other news I hear about the publication and contents.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Shakespeare's Sonnets, Music, Books, and Favourites

This week, as part of my Renaissance literature module, I'm studying Shakespeare's sonnets. After facing texts such as The Faerie Queene and The Jew of Malta in recent weeks, I'm thoroughly enjoying the leisurely, rewarding study of Shakespeare's poetry. I received a beautiful edition a few Christmases ago, but unfortunately it's at home. Therefore I'm having to make do with the selection in my Norton anthology!

This morning's lecture was enjoyable, even when the lecturer said that she had some music to play at the end, time permitting. Oh please don't, I thought. Throughout school I always hated attempts to make lessons fun or more creative for the "kinaesthetic learners" (we all stupidly got tested and put into learning categories). But typically time was available at the end, and the whole lecture theatre was enabled a listen of the lecturer's favourite song (which she emphasises is her song of choice whilst jogging, no less). Her choice, quite aptly, was Rufus Wainwright's musical adaptation of Sonnet 43:

I wonder what you think of the video, if you've chosen to view it. I think I'd need a few more listens to form a proper opinion, but I do quite like it. I'd prefer reading the poem alone, without a musical accompaniment, but Wainwright hasn't done a bad job. Hearing his song has made me understand the poem's content a little better, and it makes me recall the time I've spent at night staring at the ceiling and thinking things over. Yes, the poem largely deals with dreams, but I prefer to think of the almost-dreaming state before sleep, which I have more control over. Dreams can be nasty affairs.

Today I've also been thinking about Shakespeare's sonnets in relation to literature, namely due to an old Guardian article by poet, writer and music Don Paterson that describes his quest to match a sonnet to twenty-five of the World Book Night 2010 titles. The results are amusing and nourishingly intertextual for any bibliophile. Pride and Prejudice is matched to Sonnet 73, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds", and du Maurier's Rebecca gets Sonnet 131: "Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,/ As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel." I also enjoyed The Road by Cormac McCarthy being paired with Sonnet 64:

"When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage …
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay …"

It's all very clever. If asked, I'd be unsure which Shakespearean sonnet to choose as my favourite. I've always loved the last couplet of Sonnet 18, but it's not a very original choice: "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." I love the word "muse" - I even wrote a post about it once - and I adore how Shakespeare utilises it in his sonnets, but today I'll choose Sonnet 33, greatly due to my love for glorious mornings:

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace: 
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

I'm so grateful to be able to study Shakespeare's sonnets; it acts as a perfect reminder to return to them more in my daily life. There really is so much to learn from all of them. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembrance Sunday: Red and White Poppies and Peace


I've seen poppy pins everywhere this week - when I went into town yesterday they were being sold on every street corner, and it was a rare to see a coat or jumper unadorned by one. I've bought one, as that's what you're meant to do, but I'm not sure if I agree with the act of wearing one. This doubt came into mind when I was listening to a Radio 2 debate programme, in which the poppies that I've grown up wearing were discouraged.

Firstly, we wear poppies because those who fought in Belgium and northern France noticed how persistently the flower bloomed in the area. Very sadly, the bones of the dead are still collected as the farmers plough such fields. The poppy became a recurring image in the war poetry that resulted from the combat, particularly in John MacRae's In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The concept of selling artifical poppies began in America and soon spread to France and Britain. The British Legion approved of the idea, and ordered for at least 1.5 million to be produced by November 11, 1921. They sold out almost instantly. By the end of the 20th century the British Legion were producing annually over 32 million 'lapel' poppies, 100,000 wreaths and 400,000 Remembrance crosses. In the week before Remembrance Day poppies are everywhere, particularly on television. Poppies are nationalist and patriotic symbols, and their prominence may seem to suggest that they are innocuous and accepted emblems, but this isn't entirely accurate. 

To begin with, poppies connote political connections (that's rarely a good thing). In Northern Ireland, for example, it became regarded as a Protestant Loyalist symbol because of its connection with British patriotism. Some also say that poppies endorse military power and justify war. If the dead are said to have 'sacrificed' their lives, then why did we fall back into war? Why can't we stop occupying other countries and bombing and killing children? It doesn't really make much sense, at least not to me. 

Ever since 1933, white poppies appeared on Armistice Day (called Rememberance day after World War Two). The white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the white poppy supporters lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers - but a challenge to the continuing drive to war. I prefer these associations considerably more than those of the standard red poppies. 

My grandfather refused to be involved in war for reasons of peace, but on the other side of my family the brute force of conflict is to be seen up a few generations from me. There's a family photo of my great Auntie Jean with her husband (I hope I recall correctly) among others. When my brother saw it for the first time, he asked, as children do, what was wrong with his face. As an RAF pilot he had been involved in a plane crash, consequently facing around a hundred plastic surgery operations. I can't imagine the situations he went through, nor his family, and I wish that I had been able to meet him. 

Today I haven't worn a poppy. I've sat in loungewear working and reading, and I haven't left the house except to go to the shop opposite. However, that by no means implies that I don't remember those who died in war. That applies to those still dying today too. I not only mourn the loss of our present soldiers, but pity their choice to go to war, and the fact that the opportunity was there. I also remember those on the so-called "enemy" side who have died innocently. 

I don't think that poppies shouldn't be worn, but I certainly hope that their associations and messages will change. People shouldn't be abused if they don't wear poppies either, as long as they have their own way of remembering the dead. Rather than "never forget", which the majority of us will not, the message held in poppies should be "never again". I wish love to all those who lost relatives in war and are remembering them today. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

How to Overcome Social and General Anxiety Naturally

I enjoy having a list of everything in one place. I hope that I'm not the only one who this applies to, and that others will find this useful. Anxiety is a nasty burden to hold, but it's not going to be your lifelong enemy (I assure you!) Whilst many sufferers, including myself in the past, will turn to medication, there are many alternatives to try first. After the side effects I've endured in the last year, I'm glad to say that I won't be returning to anything pill-shaped (unless safe and natural).

  • Dedicate a set time to worrying - this may seem counter-productive, but if you quickly write down your worries and dedicate a ten minute daily time slot to dealing with them, it can be really helpful
  • Meditate: guided meditation on YouTube, alone, or as part of a group
  • Exposure therapy - if something is bothering you, it often means that you need to confront it 
  • Get a chiropractor or masseuse to relieve muscle knots caused by stress - you'll feel less tense 
  • Drink enough water daily - dehydration can cause fatigue, decreased brain activity, and severe headaches.
  • Consume a minimum of five fruit and veggies every day - you know that they're good for you!
  • Do some Pilates, yoga, or stretching 
  • Read a positive book 
  • Recently I've started occasionally taking 5-HTP. It's a natural supplement, available in health stores, which works to increase tryptophan levels and therefore reduce anxiety and depression. It does work well, but I will warn that it can produce vivid dreams if taken at bedtime
  • Prioritise - if you need a rest, let yourself have one. Similarly, deal with the most pressing tasks first.
  • Watch a favourite film that makes you feel warm, smiley, and uplifted
  • Ban negative thoughts - they're not worth your time
  • Enjoy silence - just sit and think, or perhaps read or journal in a quiet environment
  • Limit your sugar intake - it's the enemy of calm and tranquil living
  • Aromatherapy - lavender, - I find roll-on oils useful, particularly this Tisserand one (even in the day!)
  • Rescue Remedy does tend to help me, even if what I feel is just a placebo effect
  • Avoid caffeine - herbal teas are a much better choice when you're anxious, try chamomile, rooibos, or other calming and caffeine-free blends
  • Wear loose clothing - it makes you feel, and look, and lot more comfortable
  • Acupuncture
  • Get a massage from someone else, or give yourself one with sweet-smelling oils
  • Dance!
  • Listen to your favourite music, particularly if it's relaxing or uplifting
  • For a short time only, pretending to be somebody else or a version of yourself without anxiety may be useful
  • Make sure to reward yourself for any progress you make
  • Make sure to leave the house every day
  • Socialise - enjoy spending time with friends and loved ones; try not to turn invites down and isolate yourself.
  • Think rationally - what will you think of a particular worry in a month's time? 
  • Try a self-help book if you find them beneficial - I found Healing Without Freud or Prozac to be really insightful 
  • Ground yourself: I like to take note of my surroundings and understand how my body is feeling at a particular moment - feel the pen in your hand, your body as you're sitting, and the contact between your feet and the ground as you're walking
  • List your achievements of the day, week, month, year, and last ten years 
  • Have a hot shower to loosen your muscles
  • Get bath oils or bath bombs and take the next hour off 
  • Give yourself a makeover with new makeup, and/or get a haircut 
  • Exercise - do all you can to get your body moving and your heart rate up 
  • Listen to Mr Luhrmann and don't read beauty magazines (they will only make you feel ugly) 
  • Nourish and take care of yourself - be your Number 1 person and act a little selfishly for once 
  • Care for something or someone - a relative, a pet, even a plant 
  • Do what's holding you back, whether it's rock climbing, bungee-jumping, or asking out that guy
  • Limit your screen time - there are so many books to read, people to meet, and experiences to have
  • List five things around you that are beautiful - they're definitely there!
  • Start new hobbies - yoga, card-making, buy and experiment with art materials, 
  • Resume old hobbies - are there any instruments or sports you used to play?
  • Have a project on the go - fix something, improve something, or...
  • Create something - be creative, a baking goddess, or a lover of nurturing nature
  • Keep learning - TED talks, random Wikipedia articles
  • Have a clean of your living space - it'll clear your headspace too
  • Constantly improve yourself - apply a computer game analogy to your life and always try to get yourself to the next level

Thursday, 8 November 2012

My First EMDR Session

Image from
On Tuesday I began "Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing" therapy, or EMDR to keep it simple. I came into the session already quite tired, after a busy and stressful day of classes and presentations, and the therapy took any energy I had left out of me.

The therapist began by asking me to picture the traumatic event and to think of a label that was most appropriate to how I felt. For me, this became "I am powerless". I was asked to rate my anxiety and distress on a scale of 1-10, and I replied with a reasonably high but not extreme answer (7, I think). I was feeling quite in control at that moment, fortunately. I was then asked to look at the light bar - a little light moves from left-to-right continually across it, or vertically if you prefer that - whilst thinking about the feelings associated with "I am powerless".

After each thirty seconds interval the therapist would ask me how I was feeling at that point, and it varied considerably across the hour of therapy. At first I became more distressed, then quite confused and unsure what I was to be distressed about, then less anxious when I could recall the event. About halfway through the session I recalled another memory that I've always been quite uncomfortable with, and that raised my stress levels once again. My distress didn't go down much for the rest of the session, not until the calming down exercises at the end.

I felt a bit stupid just looking at the moving light, but I do get the impression that it was doing something. When I was asked at each interval to describe how I was feeling, I found it incredibly difficult to talk. Almost impossible, to be honest. I didn't know how I was feeling, and if I did I couldn't put it into words. As I was concentrating on the light bar, I also found it hard to concentrate on my difficult memories for prolonged time. I think I'm very used to trying to keep them out of my head as much as possible, and it makes sense not to want to suffer for a whole hour. My stoic self does need to change slightly in order to let this therapy work fully, I think.

I left the session feeling very tense, and I still haven't been able to let the tension go entirely. Everything seemed a bit surreal, and I just wanted to quickly get home. My boyfriend was going to phone me to keep me company on the half-hour walk back, but I got angry with him when he tried (poor man). I just couldn't concentrate on what he was saying, and I wanted to try and reach some sort of peace.

I spent the evening in a bit of a daze and feeling exhausted. The last two nights I've been surprised at how well I've slept; really deeply in fact. I thought that there would be nightmares and insomnia, although I was told so many times - and still am told - not to create expectations about the therapy. I have had some odd dreams, and this morning I woke up with really sore, tense hands after they had probably been in fists most the night.

As I've only had one session, I certainly can't say if it's working. Currently I'm still feeling high levels of distress when I recall the difficult feelings and memories, but I am also having moments of calm. My mind's telling me to stay away from therapy and just get through it myself, but I'm going to do my best to be strong and go through with it. Hopefully I won't feel like a ghost for the whole course of therapy.

Monday, 5 November 2012

León Felipe Translation: The Poet and the Philosopher (El poeta y el filósofo)

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Note: I am now posting my translations here:

I thought that I'd post another León Felipe translation today. I've been feeling quite philosophical lately, reading Francis Bacon's essays for university this week amongst other things, and so I felt that the following choice was appropriate. I hope that you enjoy it, and that certain passages don't seem too odd. I can assure you that it's quite odd in Spanish too, but I can't say that my translation is perfect!

THE POET AND THE PHILOSOPHER (El poeta y el filósofo)

I am not the philosopher.
The philosopher says: I think…therefore I am.
I say: I cry, I shout, I howl, I blaspheme...therefore I am.
I believe Philosophy begins with the first judgement, Poetry with the first lament. I don’t know what the first word said by the first philosopher on earth was. But that of the first poet was: Oh!


This is the oldest verse that we know. The pilgrimage of this Oh!, for all the vicissitudes of history, has been Poetry up to now. One day this Oh! is organised and sanctified. Then the psalm is born. From the psalm the temple is born. And the shadow of the psalm has been housing man for centuries.

Now everything on earth has broken. Everything. Even the tools of philosophy. And the psalm has become mad: it’s been crying, shouting, howling, blaspheming...and thrown headfirst into hell. The poets are here now. Well, I am here at least.

This is the route of Poetry across all paths on Earth. I believe it’s different to Philosophy. Therefore one can never say: this is philosophical poetry.

This is because the fundamental difference between the poet and the philosopher isn’t, as believed till now, that the poet speaks in rhythmic, crystalline and musical verse, and the philosopher with obscure, dull and doctoral words. Instead, it is that the philosopher believes in reason and the poet in insanity.

The philosopher says:
To find the truth one must organise the brain.

But the poet says:
To find the truth one must burst the brain, make it explode. The truth is beyond the music box and the great philosophical file.

When we feel the brain rupture and the psalm break into a cry in the throat, we begin to understand. One day we discover that there are no windows in our house. Then we open a large hole in the wall and escape in search of light: naked, crazy and dumb, without speech or song.

It can be added that as poets we know very little. We’re very bad students, we’re not intelligent, we’re lazy, we like to sleep and believe that there is a shortcut to knowledge.

And instead of meditating like a philosopher, or investigating like the wise, we place our greatest problems on the altar of the oracles and decide how to solve them by tossing a dime.

And we say things like: Because I do not know who I am...that decides fate.

Heads or tails? 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

A Trip to Cornwall: The Eden Project and Poetry

I got back last night from a few days resting and recuperating in St. Ives with my boyfriend. We left around Wednesday lunchtime for the three-hour train journey, and got there early evening. The B&B we had chosen was absolutely perfect: cosy, well-lit, and very friendly. The view from our room was fantastic too - I always find it worthwhile to pay a little extra for good views! We could see the town and the seafront, which looked especially beautiful at daybreak.

On Thursday, after a delicious breakfast, we trekked off to the Eden Project. Well, we caught a short train to St. Erth, another to St. Austell, and then a bus to the Eden Project. It wasn't too bad, really: we were there within two hours.  I'd been to the Eden Project as a child just after it had opened, and loved it. My mum's always been a bit of a nature and plant enthusiastic, so I recall being bombarded by all sorts of facts. Now I did the same to Chris, who had never been, but ended up enjoying it. He particularly liked the chillies in the Mediterranean Biome and the whole of the rainforest dome, apparently. In a rather typical manner, I loved - and got very excited over - the poetry extracts in the Mediterranean Biome. In the desert section there was a T.S. Eliot quote, in the vineyards a portuguese proverb, and in the most flourishing sections Andrew Marvell and Sophocles.  

There was also a classical resonance to be found in the vineyard: Dionysian sculptures were arranged within it, alongside a plaque describing ancient myth and ritual. Ideas such as these add such a wider level of enjoyment and cultural learning to the Project, and I really enjoyed their inclusion. 

The Rainforest Biome is perhaps less cultural, but it's more exciting for children (and boyfriends). The humidity is a lot stronger than expected, you can see birds hiding under shrubs, and apparently they've now introduced lizards and geckos to the ecosystem! It's also more enjoyable than you expect to see bananas, mangoes, chocolate, herbs, and spices growing naturally. It certainly adds another dimension to your perception of your kitchen cupboard.

I must say that the beach made our mid-week break even more enjoyable. We walked along it often, despite the extremely frequent rainfall and low temperature. Despite how often I complain about being tired and wanting a break, I love walking. Especially when your surroundings are like the photo below. Seeing beautiful and natural views is very healing, I believe. As is art - I loved a lot of what we saw in the Tate St. Ives, for instance. And you can't have a mini-holiday without lots of good food, which I certainly made the most of.

I hope you're all well - make sure not to overwork!