Friday, November 29, 2019

"Notes to Self" by Emilie Pine

I am not sure where I first heard about "Notes to Self" by Emilie Pine, but when I saw it on the bookstore shelf, I knew it was something I had to pick up. It's a slim volume of six personal essays from a definite female/feminist perspective. I enjoy books like this that I can dip in & out of without losing track of plot or characters.

In this case, I found the book hard to put down -- but I also appreciated the ability to read one essay & then take a break to absorb what I had just read. Pine's writing is amazing, simply stunning at times, and breathtaking in its honesty.

Here's one passage (of many) that I marked with a post-it note, from the "Author's Note."  Let's just say, I can relate...! : 
There are many valid reasons why people keep difficult experiences private. Talking about them can feel like exposing a raw nerve. It can make us afraid of others' judgments. It can make us feel more, not less, alone. And so we keep quiet. But it's not just the risk of public exposure that that silences us;  our self-censorship is so often due to that disapproving inner critic, whose voice tells us that our lives are too small, or too messy, or too painful to share. I didn't want to listen to that critical, belittling voice any longer...
This passage (also from the author's note) may strike a chord with bloggers: 
Though I have written solely about my personal experience, readers have seen their own lives reflected in these pages. The emotions I kept in the dark for so long, it turns out, are not mine alone. The things we are afraid to say, the things we are ashamed of, or embarrassed by, these are not, after all, the things that isolate us. These are the things that connect us. And this realization leads me to another: In writing my life, I thought I was writing about pain. But I have also, accidentally, written about love. 
If, like me, you are childless-not-by-choice, you might like to know that Pine is "one of us," and writes movingly about her journey through infertility, miscarriage and, finally, acceptance (as well as her sister's pregnancy loss) in an essay called "The Baby Years." There's also an essay titled "Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes" that covers menstruation, menopause and body image that had me nodding along as I turned the pages.

Other topics Pine covers in this book include her father's alcoholism, her parents' failed marriage, her wild teenage years (including eating disorders, drug abuse and rape), and workplace sexism and workaholism.

Read it. It's amazing.

Five stars.

*** *** ***

Pine also had an essay in British Vogue recently. The title alone makes me want to stand up & cheer:  "A Childless Woman Is Not A Tragic Figure."  Sample passage: 
For a long time, during what I think of as "the baby years", I felt as if I were on the sidelines, as if the centre of life were moving on without me. And all through those years, the feeling I struggled most with was failure. I felt that if I tried harder, or took more hormones, or did more tests, I could find the cure for my failure to conceive, or to hold onto a pregnancy... 
I am allergic to the idea that failure is something we have to go through in order to reach success. But I am also done with failure, with marking my body and my life as something that has failed. Because the problem with failure is not just the dead-end of it, but the shame it comes wrapped in. 
In 2017 I wrote an essay about infertility. The first draft ended with the word "barren". That word expressed how bereft I felt, and how angry, and how shamed. And it is a powerful thing to claim grief and pain as your own. But it was a terrible word, a terrible conclusion. Re-reading the essay, I decided the most feminist thing I could do would be to write myself a happy ending. And so I wrote about the great life I saw ahead for me and my partner. A life without children. It felt speculative. And it felt hopeful. And, most of all, it felt like a giant "f**k you" to the persistent expectation that a childless woman is a tragic figure.
This was book #45 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 188% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 21 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 18 books.  :)


  1. I loved this book too, but didn't know about the essay you excerpted. Different Shores reviewed it when it came out in the UK, and it sounded phenomenal. I love that she's honest. I love that you feel like you're talking with a good friend when you read her. I love her stern talking-to of inner critics.
    Wow, 188%! You go, lady!

  2. Thank you for sharing! I love the article in Vogue :-)