Notes to Self is a brutally honest and personal collection of essays that will undoubtedly resonate widely. Emilie Pine’s debut cuts to the core of difficult and taboo topics — such as infertility, female bodies, sexual violence — with an openness and straightforwardness that makes the book all the more powerful. There’s also a poignancy and wisdom in her writing that allows for hope even in the direst of circumstances.
Read on for an extract from the book.
From 'Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes'
As I think about the confluence of bodies and silence, I remember back to when pain was something to talk about, when our bodies were the subject of a show-and-tell. Aged seven, I would roll up my trouser leg and narrate the scars – from the dog bite, or from jumping off the shed roof, or from the rusty nail scratch that got infected. Those childhood scars were not just signs of pain, but badges of honour, external proof of internal daring. But as adults our biographies have become rational stories in which we focus on what’s in our heads and ignore what’s inscribed on our bodies. We might roll up metaphorical sleeves and talk about our heartbreak, our sadness, or our stress. But our bodies are silent, and I think this is perhaps as true for men as it is for women.
It is time to recapture the childhood acceptance of our bodies as a sign of who we are, of what we have done. My body is healthy, it has survived some challenges. It is a body that makes me feel good more than it makes me feel bad. My body enables me to do things. My cellulite thighs are strong, they have carried me up mountains, and I love them. And when I see my lumpectomy scar, a pale white line across my right breast, it makes me happy. The scar is not a sign of weakness, it is a symbol of how I reclaimed my body. I need this scar because I need the reminder that I am the owner of this body.
Sometimes it is hard to look in the mirror. Sometimes it takes years – in my case, decades – to look at ourselves fully. Sometimes the most courageous thing is to look at ourselves without mirrors at all. This kind of nakedness takes work. Getting naked, after all, is not just about how we look on the outside, but admitting how we feel on the inside about how we look on the outside. It is about reversing the dialogue, about throwing out the pretence that I am small and flat and quiet. It is about recognising that my body is not a source of grief, but that all too often the story I have told about it is.
What if my body could tell the story? What would it say?
I think it would talk about blood. Its mesmerising flow and its ebb. About ending and renewing. I think it would talk about the touch of my fingers and my hands and another’s lips. The feel of skin on skin. Wet and slow. Soft and hard. The shock of cold, the pleasure of warmth. I think it would talk about the delight of orgasm and the delight of laughter and the delight of sating hunger. About tasting sharp and spicy, soothing and creamy. I think it would talk about looking out and pulling in. I think it would talk about perfume and stink. About clean and dirty. I think it would talk about illness and recovery, about fortitude and growth. I think it would talk about loss and grief. About standing solo and holding together. About longevity and transformation. About satisfaction. About happiness. About joy.
I think it would sound strong. I think it would sound loud. I think it would sound proud.
And I am listening.
And this, this is what it looks like when a woman bleeds onto the page.
Emilie Pine is Associate Professor of Modern Drama at University College Dublin, Ireland. She has published widely as an academic and critic. Notes to Self is her first collection of personal essays and the winner of The Butler Literary Award 2018.