Writing, Grieving, and Recovering: Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
In the disclaimer style of NPR’s Ira Glass, this post acknowledges the existence of women’s bodies.
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Finally, a shoutout to my friends joining me for this week’s #bloginstead! We’re using this week to connect with one another over blogs rather than just social media. Find out more.
As I write this, I’m three quarters through Emilie Pine’s evisceratingly well-written collection of personal essays, Notes to Self. Three quarters because, although I began the book last week and it isn’t particularly long, it’s hard to see well enough to read through all the ugly tears. (Good tears, mind you, tears of being seen and understood. But holy cow. I can’t remember a writer who’s made me cry this much since… Myself? When writing my own book on many of the same themes as Pine’s. It’s personal.)
In any case, this is a book to grapple with slowly…
Notes to Self
Notes to Self came into the world through happenstance, after Pine’s boyfriend came across some hastily scrawled “notes to self” she’d written for her own sanity while accompanying her alcoholic father through long-term health issues.
“They’re good,” he told her. At the behest of a publisher, she then reworked them into a series of writings that grapple with experiences of pain and loss on a variety of fronts: alcoholism in the family, coming of age, infertility, miscarriage, conflict, and the shame that surrounds women’s bodies.
Notes on Writing
Interspersed throughout are reflections that speak to the importance of writing through pain. It’s a welcome reminder for any writer that so much of our craft is about showing rather than hiding our vulnerability and inadequacies. Even if a thousand others have written about a loss that is similar to your own, the world could still benefit from your story…
Notes on Infertility
What I have most appreciated about the book is its honestly captured rendering of infertility grief–perhaps one of the best I’ve ever read.
After struggling for over a year to get pregnant, Pine begins to see that “infertility is a particular kind of loneliness.” She scans her social media feed “looking for that rare thing–a happy couple without kids” to no avail.
“It’s hard when people ask me,” she says, “if I have children. They mean well, though it’s a terrible question to ask a woman in her late thirties. Because there’s really no easy way to answer. Occasionally I’m tempted to look around and say, ‘Oh yeah, I knew I forgot to do something.'”
For a long time, she and her partner devote their entire life and relationship to testing, timing, and procedures. Pine puts her professional work on hold, so consumed is she by the effort to bear a child. “That gap in my life, the wasted baby years on my CV, goes unexplained. How do I ever reflect, on paper, the grief that stopped me in my tracks?”
Other passages capture the intricacies of “trying to conceive” with laugh-out-loud deadpan:
The couple eventually decides against IVF because of the considerable marital strain it puts on couples; they had watched it ruin the marriages of several of their friends. As Pine enters her forties, she tries to come to terms with the fact she will never be a biological mother.
This book isn’t for everyone. It’s real. It doesn’t poeticize the messy, bodily reality of our lives.
But for anyone who, like Pine, believes that writing is about making sense of pain, who maybe needs a friendly reminder that it’s not about bravery (we’ll never have enough of that!) but about what we learn to do with our vulnerability, you’ll find ready validation in these essays. Ugly tears and all.