- 22 Aug 18
Emilie Pine's Notes to Self is a challenging collection of essays exploring a variety of issues, ranging from body image to her father's alcoholism.
Silence is a killer.
Yet all of us partake in the silence. Whether from embarrassment, shame, or it just being too painful to bring up, we don't talk about the troubles which haunt our past. It is not appropriate, we are told. It is not anyone's problem but ours. We should deal with things by ourselves. So we remain silent.
Emilie Pine wants to put an end to all of that.
Notes To Self , a collection of six personal essays, is her way of ripping off the covers that shelter some of her most traumatic experiences from the public eye. Yet it is so much more than a public airing of dirty laundry. It is her olive branch to the world, her encouragement for everyone to come out and be open about the things that concern them.
"I felt like there were things I wasn't saying in my academic work that I wanted to say," reflects Pine. "This gave myself permission. It's particularly true for people who are not voices from the mainstream. Sometimes we feel that we have to be given permission, as we're told our voices aren't important."
Having started the first essay with no intention of seeking publication, Pine was asked by Tramp Press to develop her exploration of her father's alcoholism into a book.
Pine, however, had different ideas and other things she wanted to talk about. She saw an opportunity to delve into the subjects that most people are afraid to speak about.
"So many people have got in touch to say that they never would have talked about something and the book helped them," says Emilie. "This book is an opening of the silences we all have to deal with Ð that leave young people without the vocabulary to talk about things that hurt them."
One of these is the silence that many women feel when confronted with harassment. She recalls an incident in her book involving a male photographer, who called her a feminazi in front of two male colleagues during a photoshoot. Feeling helpless, and without any support being shown by her co-workers, Pine said nothing.
"He started calling me an old granny," recalls Emilie. "The difficulty in those moments is if you say something - you are the feminist killjoy. Are you meant to make a joke? Make everyone feel better? You make a self-deprecating joke to smooth it over. The thing that could have been done was for one of the guys to say "That's not on". But that's difficult. One of them was more senior to me and one of them was more junior to me. The photographer had no control or power over any of us."
The essay, 'Bleeding And Other Crimes', has perhaps received the most attention from readers: it is a study of all the taboo subjects regarding the human body that people are expected to shut up about. Pine speaks about the ridiculous standards the modern woman has to uphold, the obsession with perfection, to appear feminine and 'unthreatening'.
"If 50% of the population are made to conceal their bodies, then what are the chances for anybody else who suffers from bodily issues and feels excluded from social space? You feel like you're somehow aberrant because your body looks a slightly different way. You feel like you're breaking some sort of unwritten law that your body has to look or behave in particular ways."
Pine also explores the gender imbalance that pervades many different areas of contemporary life. She references the gap in university leadership and the setlist for the National Concert Hall centenary Ð which featured predominantly male composers. She then turns to the new gender quota which has recently been brought into Irish theatres - ensuring gender blind casting for plays.
"Gender blind casting is great, but I'd prefer to see an original play written by a woman on stage," says Pine. "Often the 'solution' to gender balance is that we will just do a woman's thing as if it were a separate thing, rather than artistic work in general. None of it is a surprise. We need joined-up thinking on it across the industry. Having said that I will be seeing Ruth Negga in Halmlet."
Delving into her own personal traumas involved invading the privacy of members of her family.
"My family didn't ask for any of this. It was generous of them to allow me to do it. In the acknowledgements I ask their forgiveness for trespassing, as I strayed into their stories."
One of the most shocking elements is Pine's recollection of her wild-child days. There were teenage years spent smoking, drinking, ditching school and partying with rock bands. She now expresses regret for the time she lost. To her peers she looked cool and rebellious, yet now, she admits to feeling incredibly lonely.
"I couldn't control other people's actions and that made me feel really unsafe. I had no understanding of self-care, and put myself in self destructive situations. It's important not to glamorise any of it. I need to admit the harm. I was harmed, other people were harmed, I harmed myself".
Pine grew up to become an Associate Professor in UCD. Becoming an expert in theatre and memory culture, Pine has been a mentor to hundreds of students over the past 10 years.
It is in her final essay that Pine speaks about her love of teaching. She recalls various testimonies given to her by former students. She writes about her approach to academia, encouraging students to speak up in class - for they need to be prepared to speak up in life.
"The best things ever are when you get an email or a postcard from someone who is telling you they are doing what they wanted to do. I had a teacher who taught me for three years and one day he told me,'You know you're talented'. No one had said that to me before. It was extraordinary. If I could be a teacher like him, I'd be very happy."
Notes To Self is out now, published by Tramp Press.