Thursday, 25 July 2013

Five TED Talks for Low Self-Esteem

This post isn't about literature, but it is about words. Powerful ones. A lot of people come to my blog via my TED talks for anxiety post, and I hope that this piece on TED talks for low self-esteem can be as relevant.

I've never been graced with a great deal of self-esteem. Now I'm comfortable with how I am, often realising the extent to which I work hard and do well, but as a child and teenager this was a different story. As a perfectionist I always wanted to be and do better, although I was rarely satisfied with any final result. I always strived for more, which isn't a healthy way to live.

Nowadays I still work very hard, but I allow myself congratulation and the opportunity to feel good about myself. One specific way in which I remedy low self-esteem is by watching TED talks. How?

TED talks often demonstrate the ways in which others have overcome challenges to become more secure in themselves. Such talks give us the courage to do the same, alongside the knowledge that we are good enough. Below I'll list some of the TED talks that have most affected my self-esteem, provided me with a story to relate to, and inspired me to step up and approach life confidently.

1. Shane Koyczan: "To This Day" ... for the bullied and beautiful

Shane Koyczan, a poet who speaks of low self-esteem. Image from

Shane Koyczan is incredible. I first watched his TED talk, and for that matter first heard his poetry, with my boyfriend. I was looking for something to watch, and asked if he'd like to watch a TED talk that promised poetry, a violin accompaniment, and animation. How could that possibly work well?! We started watching, sniggered a little, admired Shane Koyczan's facial hair, but slowly became more affected by the performance.

There's no way we expected to be so affected by it. We stopped talking, acquired more serious expressions, and truly understood what the poet was talking about. Since then my boyfriend and I have frequently returned not only to this TED talk, but also to other poems by Shane Koyczan. His work says so much about exclusion and low self-esteem, particularly when growing up, but he also speaks of overcoming problems and gaining a strength that once seemed impossible. By all means give the poet that performed at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics a listen - I guarantee that his words will move you too.

"If you can't see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror."

2.  Drew Dudley: Everyday leadership

Drew Dudley TED talk
Drew Dudley on everyday leadership that we are all capable of, regardless of our low self-esteem. Image from TED.

This TED talk is both fascinating and insightful. Drew Dudley suggests that leadership is something that we are all capable of, no matter how powerful we perceive ourselves to be. If I scheduled a viewing of this talk once a week, I'm sure I'd feel so much better about myself as a result.

"Because as long as we make leadership something bigger than us, as long as we keep leadership something beyond us, as long as we make it about changing the world, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it everyday from ourselves and from each other."

3. Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

Brene Brown TED talk
Brené Brown gives a unique take on vulnerability and low self-esteem. Image from TED.

Here Brené Brown suggests a unique view of vulnerability that will force you to reconsider your own feelings of low self-esteem. To Brown, vulnerability can in fact be truly powerful.

"Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness."

4. JK Rowling: The fringe benefits of failure

J.K. Rowling on "the fringe benefits of failure". Image from

It's always interesting to hear JK Rowling speak in an extensive way about something she has chosen to speak about. Not interview questions or interrogation about a possible Harry Potter sequel, but her true feelings on a subject. In her delivery of the Harvard 2008 Commencement address, Rowling talks about failure and what it truly means to her. If you find that "failing" is what knocks your self-esteem, consider the following:
"Some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you lived so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you fail by default."

5. Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Amy Cuddy TED talk
Amy Cuddy on faking confidence through positive body language. Image from TED.

Still struggling with low self-esteem? You can always fake it. In one of my favourite TED talks, Amy Cuddy discusses how important body language really is. However, she also reveals how easy in fact it is to fake. What is more, the more you fake the body language of high self-esteem, the more natural confidence and assertiveness will become.

“Don't fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.”

Do you suffer from low self-esteem, or have you in the past? What helps you to overcome such feelings and feel confident?

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Friday, 19 July 2013

I've Written a Guest Post! - Tolstoyan Therapy for Mental Illness (on Better Living Through Beowulf)

Beowulf 1978 cover
Cover designed by David Laufer,
1978. Image from Pinterest.
Recently I was invited to write a guest post for Better Living Through Beowulf, a great blog that believes "literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter". In this post, published yesterday, I talk about the early influence that literature had on my wellbeing, and I focus particularly on the changes that Tolstoy's War and Peace brought about on my health and happiness.

Do have a read if you're interested, or check out some of Robin's incredibly well-written posts!

In other news:

  • Thank you for your lovely feedback on my book project! I'm so grateful. I'll certainly welcome further comments if you think you have something else to share.
  • I am thoroughly enjoying A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I'll be sure to write a post on this buddhist-inspired novel of search and discovery in the next week. 
  • I'm looking forward to reading Luke and Jon by Robert Williams (as recommended to me by Charlotte) and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami - both texts I've ordered from work this week. 
  • Nell is recovering incredibly well after her surgery and illness last week. She's still on a lot of steroids and various pills, although she seems very happy to still be with us. She's stealing my breakfast and anything left on worktops on a regular basis, which must imply she's recovering. Needless to say, we're so glad she's pulled through.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

My Bibliotherapy Book Project! Would You Like to Get Involved?

Have books helped your happiness?
Image from Pinterest
Since the start of my university summer holidays, roughly two months ago, I've been working on a book draft. I've always wanted to do this, but I've only recently thought that the basis of my blog could be a viable topic for a book.

I'm currently working on a draft that is based on my own experience of using literature as a healing tool, but it is largely aimed at helping others though certain situations and feelings. The process has been very enjoyable so far!

I've sent a proposal to a few literary agents, although I know how incredibly difficult it can be to find representation. Therefore, I'm staying open to the idea of publishing it as an ebook.

I'd like the book to be an accessible guide to bibliotherapy, and it will start with chapters for various situations and feelings. For instance, "Be Not Afeard, or Anxiety" and "Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood, or Choices" (literary titles were inevitable).

Each chapter will contain various literary prescriptions, complete with elaborations on certain texts and my own opinions on them. I'll also include my experience of therapy and other ways of assisting bibliotherapy for more serious issues.

I'll also include a "Literary Toolkit" in which I'll discuss the positive impact of various literary techniques and habits on a reader's wellbeing. Various charts, lists and guides will also be included to help a reader find themselves the perfect book for their feelings.

I'd really like to include some of your own experiences in the project, and it would mean so much if any of you got in touch. This can certainly be done anonymously (my contact form is best for this), or I can reference you and your blog (if you have one). See below for more ways to get in touch.

What I'd really like to hear from you about your experience of bibliotherapy is:

  • What difficult situation you were in, or what feelings you were facing 
  • How you came across the book (ideally fictional) that helped you
  • How the book helped you (i.e. mood, feelings towards the future or your situation, acceptance). I'm especially interested in fiction that helped you with finding meaning, anxiety, depression, trauma, knowing yourself, fearing death, choices, knowing right from wrong, solitude and growing up. By all means get in touch if your experience doesn't fit a category, however. 
  • How you feel about your reading experience in hindsight.

If you think you have something to share, please get in touch! This can be done via the contact form (entries go straight to my email), a comment below this post (you can choose not to give your name), or by email (lucy[at] I promise not to discriminate, judge, or give away your identity if you don't want me to. I will always ask before using a reader's story, and I'll certainly let you know if I choose to publish anything. 

Best wishes, and thank you all for helping me get to this exciting stage of my blog!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Twyla Tharp's Concept of Reading "Archeologically" & How to Do it

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is a brilliant book that helps us all be that little bit more creative.

The book promises that "all it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit", and after a quick flick through The Creative Habit, it's difficult to doubt this. I've read it several times now, each time annotating and taking more notes than before.

In this post I'd like to write about Tharp's idea of reading "archeologically", or backwards in time. As readers, it's something that many of us do automatically. So often I find myself reading a recent novel and then researching the texts that inspired it or led to its creation. This, according to Tharp, is archeological reading.

Tharp will start with a contemporary book, move on to a text that predates that book, and so on until she's reading the most ancient texts and the most primitive ideas. An example is The Birth of Tragedy > Carl Kerenyi's study of Dionysos > Euripides > The Baccae > Historical sources.

How to read archeologically, according to Twyla Tharp:

1. Take an author or a subject and start with the most recent text

2. Work your way backwards to progressively older texts

If it's a novelist's body of work, you'll learn more about the author's recurring themes, philosophy and style, but you'll also see it from an entirely different point of view. If it's a particular subject, go back to the writer's original sources. Not only will the distance you've travelled with the author intrigue you, you will also get to grips with the original idea in its ancient and most unadulterated form.

3. Also"read fat"

Try not to simply read one novel, but also add related texts surrounding the novel to your to-read list. This may include books by the writer's contemporaries, commentaries on the novel, a biography of the writer, or the writer's letters. It's a compulsive way to read, yes, but you'll get so much more out of every book.

This is the opposite of a chronological approach (for instance, starting with Dostoevsky's earliest works and ploughing through to his last writings).

The chronological process has the benefit of the reader growing up with the author, as it were, while "archeological" reading has a much more detective-like feel about it.

Tharp states that the archeological method allows her to read "transactionally", scribbling all over the book (debatable) to make the text feel like her own. As a result of her reading dig, she can form developed opinions and conclusions and thoroughly get to know an author and his or her work. This is remarkably similar to my natural style of reading, although I could often deal with researching sources and related materials more.

What do you think about this approach? 

Do you do it already, or do you prefer to read chronologically? Have you read The Creative Habit to get your own creativity going?

Twyla Tharp, advocate of reading archeologically. Image from

Thursday, 11 July 2013

A Lesson in Grief and Illness from Our Poorly Dog

Yesterday morning our eldest sheepdog, Nell, had to be lifted out from her run, where she'd suddenly become very unwell overnight. We immediately took her to the village vets, but we were soon referred to the larger surgery in town. The village vet thought she was suffering from a womb infection, and the second group of vets seemed to agree. Nell then had various scans and tests, and eventually an operation that became quite major and messy.

I was dealing with it rationally, although this morning it all got too much. Five minutes before I was due to leave for work I heard that it could well be tetanus, as Nell wasn't recovering from surgery. The outlook seemed negative, but I was just about managing to hold it together. On the walk into work, I passed the post office and saw my Mum and her friend inside. Shortly after saying hello, I realised I wasn't feeling so good about it all. My lip wobbled, then I started crying, snuffling; the whole works. Ever so slightly embarrassing. Needless to say, I skipped work today.

The situation is still uncertain, with the team of vets uncertain as to whether it is tetanus, or something slightly less serious called myositis. However, she's in good hands, and all we can do is hope she pulls through.

I felt so stupid crying in front of people today. I was telling myself that I shouldn't get so worked up about a dog, particularly as we've had so many sheepdogs before. I was meant to be the strong one, and not fall apart at times of difficulty. However, I've realised that I need to let myself feel how I'm feeling. Nell has been around for over half of my life, and therefore a sudden deterioration in her health was bound to unsettle me. She's always been a happy, hard-working dog, and we've frequently commented on how she seems more like a human than a pet. I'd be heartless if I didn't feel anything towards what's happening.

Image from Goodreads
Nell is old, at eleven years old, and she is going to die eventually; these things I know. But it's so difficult to accept that now is the right time. This is the belief that affects us all again and again when dealing with grief and illness, and it's so hard to let go of. Because of this, I know that it's time to test out my own recommendations to others on reading for grief, loss and illness...

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson can show me that life is circular and repetitive, and while I'm not entirely convinced that I'll live my life again, similar experiences and attachments will both come to an end and replenish continually while I'm alive. While one person or pet becomes ill, another will grow up and enjoy years of health.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green demonstrates that death and illness really aren't fair. However, we can deal with these situations the best we can, and even create memories that stick with us in the process. We can remember the positive and healthy elements of a life, and dwell on what difficult situations have taught us.

Dealing with illness and death isn't easy, and nor should it be. It's intensely painful, whether on the scale of the loss of Gilgamesh or the illness of my sheepdog, and we're not meant to block out this pain. The best way forward is to consider what else we can gain from the situation apart from pain, sadness and grief. These feelings are to be expected, but they're not total. There are other outcomes and things to be learnt, regardless of whether we are not ready to handle them or not at the time. As the popular motto goes, this too shall pass.

I'll let you know how Nell gets on, and perhaps write another post on how I continue to deal with the situation. She may well pull through yet, which would be fantastic, but I can't predict this. Illness and loss are inevitable parts of life, and we shouldn't ignore the associated feelings, no matter how we feel we should act.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Best Bloggers on Bibliotherapy & The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Jonas Jonasson living a simple life, not unlike that  which Allan lives (before planting with explosives). Image from

I'm rather late in reading The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. I mentioned in my Kate Atkinson post that my boyfriend had recently enjoyed it and I'd heard lots of positive reviews by bloggers, but I couldn't quite find the time to start it. That was until the Friday before last, when I had a train journey from South to North England and a weekend of relaxation ahead. Perfect.

To quickly summarise, it's a brilliant book. If you haven't read it, you should! The protagonist is a certain Allan Karlsson, who decides to flee his care home on his one hundredth birthday, much to the dislike of Director Alice. This escape mission provides one half of the narrative, in which we hear about the people Allan meets and the mischief he gets up to. One friend he meets, Benny, has a degree in just about anything. This is no exaggeration, as we find out when an elephant needs veterinary aid, a wounded enemy - that is soon to become a friend - needs medical care, and an alluring woman wishes to be serenaded by traditional poetry. Each character is so layered and fitting for the wider plot, and there's no undeveloped or excessive characterisation to be criticised.

The other, perhaps larger, half of the novel describes Allan's incredibly eventful past hundred years. Allan's life is a bit like Forrest Gump's, really. The amount of presidents he has met, and known on a first-name basis, is nothing less than ridiculous (having the instructions for an atom bomb at hand would make presidents keen to keep you close, however). Allan also understands multiple languages for several amusing reasons, and travels extensively through his various careers, journeys, and imprisonments.

Read The Hundred-Year-Old Man if you want a light-hearted yet intelligent read, filled with historical references and laugh-out-loud anecdotes. It's particularly good holiday reading (or just a sunny day in the garden), and I've already recommended it to so many people at the bookshop I work at.

My Rating: 5 Stars
Read for: anxiety, depression, a mid-life crisis, feeling stuck in a rut

The Best Bloggers on Bibliotherapy

Now to the second part of this post. Several bloggers discuss the blog posts that they've recently enjoyed, and I thought I'd do the same! It's always enjoyable to share great posts.

Project Reinvention - Textual Healing: The Undomestic Goddess
Kathleen has recently started publishing her "Textual Healing" posts again, which are similar to my own posts and provide a great guide to bibliotherapy. This week she's discussed The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella, and has shared some great quotes that we can all relate to and learn from. I particularly enjoyed this quote,

"Don't beat yourself up for not knowing all the answers. You don't always have to know who you are. You don't have to have the big picture, or know where you're heading. Sometimes it's enough just to know what you're going to do next"

Better Living Through Beowulf - Lit Unlocks Cultural & Linguistic Barriers
Better Living through Beowulf is a blog I've followed for some time now. The author, Robin, seeks to emphasise the correspondence between literature, daily living, politics, and the world around us, and consistently shares engaging and enjoyable posts. This week, one of his classmates from college wrote a guest post, and it's definitely worth sharing. This quote is one of my favourite elements of the post:

Literature has a unique value in being able to dissolve cultural and linguistic barriers between people, and to show us to each other in our common humanity.

Babbling Books - Between Two Covers
Brian here discusses his experience of entering the world of literature and broadening his literary horizons. It's a fantastic post on of the accessibility of literature from childhood to adulthood, and emphasises how intrinsic fiction can be to the wider lives of readers.

“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot." ~Charles Dickens

In Other News... I have been rounding up noisy piglets, working at my local, very chaotic bookshop, and reading a lovely novel by Tan Twan Eng (author of The Garden of Evening Mists). This weekend my brother will compete at an athletics final in Birmingham, which is sure to be nerve-wracking yet exciting. Happy reading!