CBR11bingo The Collection
This collection of essays by Emilie Pine was just released in the US but came out to much acclaim in Ireland last year. Pine, who is Associate Professor of Modern Drama at University College Dublin, has written six essays that relate to deeply personal issues for her, but which will resonate with women everywhere. In her author’s note, she writes that these essays began with a family crisis. Once the crisis passed,
…I discovered that I was still lost, still trying to make sense of everything that had happened — trying to make sense of my own contradictions.
Thus, Pine began writing about events and feelings that she had never spoken about with anyone. For her, the writing felt “dangerous and fearful, but necessary.”
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.
The six essays cover much of Pine’s life, but not in chronological order. She is not providing the reader with her life history or a memoir, but rather reflections on specific events in her life that led to self-discovery, often painful but also useful and necessary.
The first three essays focus on Pine’s family — her parents, sister and partner. The first piece deals with the event that precipitated the writing of the collection. Pine’s father, an alcoholic living in Corfu, Greece, has contacted her in distress. He is ill, dying, and needs her. Pine and her younger sister fly out to him and help him through the worst of the illness. Everyone around him had expected him to die, but he recovers and even gives up drinking. The story, however, is not just about this incident but about Pine’s relationship with her father, the relationship of a child with an alcoholic parent and all the baggage and pain involved in that. The second essay deals with Pine in her late 30s trying to conceive a child with her partner, while her sister and her partner are doing the same. Anyone who has struggled to get pregnant and dealt with all the products and services related to that will understand Pine’s pain and frustration, as well as the sadness and joy that surrounds both sisters’ attempts to have children. Pine’s parents’ relationship rounds out this first half of the collection. They separated when Pine was five, and it was not a friendly separation. Divorce was against the law in Ireland until much later. Pine recalls the silences between her parents, as well as the poverty that she, her sister and mother lived in because without divorce there was no way to force her father to support them. Pine’s parents reached a truce of sorts later, but Pine still struggles with the pain that their relationship caused her. “It is embarrassing to admit to my inner child.”
In the second half, Pine’s essays focus more on her own body — what it does to her, what she has done to it, and how society/patriarchy try to impose control over the female body. “Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes” is a fascinating essay on menstruation and body hair. Society gives us contradictory messages about our bleeding. First, it’s disgusting and dirty and must be kept secret, but it’s also a sign of fertility and womanhood. Once menopause takes over and the bleeding stops, Pine fears that it is the end of womanhood. But she also recognizes that this way of thinking — of comparing our bodies to other women, of being so critical of our bodies for their lack of perfection, for aging— is socially ingrained, damaging and wrong.
I judge myself all the time. And this constant act of judgment is the most pointless thing I have ever done.
The essay “Something about me” further delves into issues of body. Pine writes with clarity and brutal honesty about her “wild” teenaged years, when she starved herself, drank and did drugs, ran with a wild crowd and skipped school, and started having sex. This must have been an extraordinarily difficult essay to write, given the pain and sadness involved in these years, but her honesty about what she did and her mental frame of mind while doing it reveals a young woman struggling with loneliness and powerlessness. Pine doesn’t make excuses for herself. She admits that writing about all of this is fearful and shameful but necessary to reclaim the parts of her that she has denied and kept secret.
I write it because it is the most powerful thing I can think of to do.
The final essay is one that I think just about every adult woman today can relate to. Pine writes about trying to have it all and do it all as a woman. She writes of academic pressures to teach and publish and speak at conferences, and then to also bring in grant money, which is sort of like taking on another full time job. She also writes of the sexism, subtle and not so subtle, that she has faced, and of her responses to it. She is critical of herself and of the system that makes women feel like they cannot admit to any kind of weakness, pain or vulnerability. For Pine, this is very hard, because she wants very much to be victorious, to prove herself to others and get approval, even as she sees that this system is completely messed up and pushing her toward a breakdown.
These essays are brilliant and fierce. I think many women will understand Pine’s desire to “win” within the system and yet simultaneously see that this system is unfair and wrong. Women should not feel that showing pain or vulnerability is a sign of weakness. If anything, showing oneself honestly and boldly, as Pine does, is, as she says, necessary. It is scary, there is no doubt about that. But by writing about her weakness and vulnerability, Pine has shown herself to be quite brave and powerful.