DBF Interviews: Emilie Pine

Emilie PineEmilie Pine is Associate Professor in Modern Drama at University College Dublin, Ireland. She has published widely on Irish culture, including reviews for RTÉ’s Arena, Irish Theatre Magazine and the Irish Times. Emilie has contributed to numerous academic publications as well as to the Stinging Fly. She is editor of the Irish University Review. Notes to Self is her first collection of essays.

Dublin Book Festival sat down with Emilie Pine to discuss her new book Notes to Self . She will be speaking at the Emerging Authors Series I event with us on Saturday the 17th of November.

Notes to Self has been praised for its unyielding honesty. How did you find the balance of telling your experiences in relation to the experiences of those close to you?
My family have been incredibly generous in supporting me to tell my story. They read it in draft form as it emerged, and corrected and added detail where my memory failed me. I have tried to always only tell my own story, but I know that in doing so I trespass into their lives. When I was writing the book, I decided that it would be all-out honesty or nothing. I didn’t see the point in having a half-told version. My family’s support is a sign of the closeness we enjoy, and how honesty has always been a guiding principle – we are, none of us, shy or retiring types!

Each essay in Notes to Self addresses very specific topics of sexuality, female autonomy, and alcoholism to name a few. Why did you decide to structure the book in such a way?
I didn’t want to write a beginning-to-end memoir, it just wasn’t the narrative I wanted to tell. Instead, I thought about the topics that were burning inside me to be let out – intense experiences such as my dad being in intensive care after decades of alcoholism, or my own experience of miscarriage. Because they were often topics that I instinctively felt ashamed of (the things we know we’re not meant to talk about publicly), that actually gave me more impetus to write about them. I love the essay format – as an academic, I’m trained to write them, though Notes is unusual for me in being about my own life, as opposed to scrutinising literature by other people! I like essays because they can be self-contained, they offer a space in which to consider an issue from multiple perspectives, to include and address contradictions, and to do more than a linear version of the story. In the essay about my dad, ’Notes on Intemperance’, for example, the narrative moves through recounting his year in and out of hospital, but also back and forward in time between me being an adult looking after him, to my memories of a
childhood marked by alcoholism. I also love reading essays – they’re short and intense, and pack a punch. I wanted to follow the lead of favourite writers like Meghan Daum and Ariel Levy in writing about the minutiae of life and showing how the ordinary is worthy of attention.

You wrote in a Journal.ie article that you have an uncertain relationship with categorical feminism. Has this relationship, and that with your essay Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes changed over the last year with the success of the Repeal the 8th movement?

I am so relieved that the Repeal movement was successful – I only campaigned very briefly myself, my admiration is for those who campaigned for years, who put themselves on the line, who risked so much in doing so, and who, in telling their stories, changed all our lives for the better. Equal healthcare is within sight, though obviously the Cervical Check scandal shows how women’s lives are still not valued equally. Inclusion is not equality – the goal of feminism is for full equality for all human beings, irrespective of gender identity. I was brought up by a fierce feminist, who taught me to question ‘Where are the women?’ at every level. I’m still asking that question.

I wrote this year about both the invisibility of women’s bodies and the problem of token feminism. In an interview, one journalist asked me what the point of writing about menstruation was, given that it wasn’t a taboo any longer. I wish I had told him that since I published ‘Notes on Bleeding’ in The Stinging Fly in 2017, women have been emailing and texting to thank me for writing about the messy, often painful reality of having a female body! The idea that feminism is somehow ‘done’ because there’s a little more visibility, or there are a few more women in positions of power, and legislation is finally acknowledging our right to exist with equal rights, does not mean that we’re done.

Are these Notes to Self written for a past, present or future self? Are they written in an accumulation of all three?
Oh, they’re written for all three – and for my imaginary selves and the all selves I left behind or didn’t become. And that’s why they’re written with compassion and love and regret and hope. We are not just one thing, ever.