this is not a review: ‘notes to self’, by emilie pine

 
 

A fairly quick (one afternoon) read of six essays more or less chronicling the author’s childhood and adulthood into her 30’s and early 40’s. I found the writing immensely readable, free of pretense and ego in a way that’s rare in memoirs by writers of any age. Pine comes off as being honest and open with events without giving the impression that she’s shining a light on herself in some haven’t I led such a fascinating life? kind of way. Refreshing.

She writes about her father’s drinking, his silence and absence in her life yet her deep connection to him, the separation of her parents, the difficulties with her mother, the closeness she felt to her sister, her wild child teen years and her subsequent inability to have her own children. She writes about how it never occurred to her that she’d been raped, that what she experienced was actually assault not merely “someone forcing themselves on her”. None of this is especially out of the ordinary but in her candour, there is also never a dull moment. Also, her hindsight perspective taps into something so raw that you can’t help but do a quick review of your own screw-ups and wonder what was at the root of them, why were they important, what have you learned.

I’m not so sure Pine comes to a lot of conclusions, at least she doesn’t share them outright, but you can’t be this open on the page without having dug pretty deeply and maybe her conclusions are a still private matter, another book for another day.

In any case, the book as it is works. Not heavy reading, not heavy thinking, but something that stays with you in a way that makes you want to take an honest inventory of your own life.

Favourite essay: ‘Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes’ in which she considers the shame inflicted on women (and girls) because of body image, the judgement of perfection/imperfection, the crime of hair where society says hair shouldn’t be and the bleeding – good lord, the crime and shame and embarrassment of bleeding. Never mind the pain. No one cares about that.

Sometimes I am doubled up in pain… I do not feel like a feminist hero in these moments, I feel like I want to go home and get back into bed. But in a world where women are still over-identified with their bodies, where women have to prove their intellectual ability over and over, what is the threshold for claiming this pain? If you have a headache, it’s strain from too much thinking (I’m so brainy, I’m so busy). If you have a sore back, it’s from overexertion (I’m so fit, I’m so active). A stress attack? (I’m so hard-working, I’m so important.) But a cramped abdomen? (I’m so female.) It’s unspeakable.

Later in the same lovely essay, she comes to the conclusion:

It’s time to recapture the childhood acceptance of our bodies as sign of who we are, of what we have done…. My cellulite thighs are strong, they have carried me up mountains and I love them.

Hear hear.

this is not a review: ‘plainwater’ by anne carson

 

While each of my Not A Review pieces are distinctly not reviews to varying degrees… this one is REALLY not   a review. I haven’t even finished the book. Which is part of this particular Not a Review’s angle.

It seems I have a sort of love/huh?? affair with Anne Carson’s work, of which  I’m only beginning to know. I’m drawn to it, get angry around it, leave it, then I come back and make tea and snuggle up with it again, blissfully content in my confusion until it all becomes too much. And the cycle continues. The addictive element appears to be the occasional bouts of holycrapletmereadthatpartagain! that come over me. In a good way, I mean. (Because there are plenty of moments when I have almost exactly the same reaction in a bad way, as in holycrapwhatthe#@*#isshesayinghere??? )

Is it just me or is there a certain type of poetry that feels like it comes with a fence and a Keep Out sign? Stupidly you stand there thinking it can’t mean you and so you holler let me in!!  Leaping up and down, you try to see over it, try for even the tiniest glimpse but you’re sweating and your feet hurt and you start to wonder: is it supposed to be this complicated?  Is maybe the fence greased?? So it’s in all seriousness when I ask: is there an actual category of poetry designed to make it seem more pleasant to gnaw off your own hand than to turn one more page?

Not that I’m saying I feel this way about Anne Carson. No no no. True, there is the huh?  part of things, but there is also love. (I’m here aren’t I?)

And what I’m happily not reviewing today is Plainwater, published in 2000, and whose entire first section (called ‘Mimnermos: The Brainsex Paintings’)
I skipped because of things like this… “Yes lovely one it’s today forever now what’s that shadow/ unzipping/ your every childfingered wherefrom?

I just wasn’t in the mood for all the leaping.

9780375708428What I did instead was zip ahead to the last section, ‘The Anthropology of Water’, which consists of various pieces, essays… to which I’ve been happily returning each morning for the past few days, champing at the bit to pick up where I left off in ‘Kinds of Water: an essay on the Road to Compostela’, wherein Carson and her travelling companion, identified only as My Cid, walk the Camino, musing on what it is to be a pilgrim, to thirst, to question, to live with faith, or not. To live among people. Or not.

“You come to understand travel because of conversations, not vice versa.”

It’s said, she tells us, that a traveller becomes addicted to the horizon. She tells us that she is a pilgrim, not a novelist, “and the only story I have to tell is the road itself.”  She compares this with telling a story through a character, the difference being that a character moves. “He changes according to the company he keeps…”

I’ve read other writing from the Camino. This is different. Less about the experience, more about the questions posed by the experience.

“… it is an endeavour as old as civilization to set out on a road that is supposed to take you to the very end of things… What do you find there?… Who would you be if you knew the answer?”

She’s writing about the Camino. Or is she? The layers are uncountable.

I was sad when the road ended. But then, it doesn’t really. That’s kind of the point.

So, I approached the fence again. I dipped back into that first section and I’m glad I did but thank god for google because I didn’t know Mimnermos was a Greek elegiac poet from 600 something BC and while I normally wouldn’t care, Carson makes me care.

And all the sections in between… The one that contains miniature essays on orchids and rain and Sylvia Plath. On walking backwards and Ovid. And the section that is a long poem, which seems impossible, and the one after that—poems on various kinds of towns.

I care.

Could it be that we come to understand because of caring, not vice versa?

After all, the writer’s job, the poet’s job, is not to clarify, but simply to make us care.

The copy I’m reading is from the library. This won’t do. Where once I thought I might not even read the whole book, it now seems I’ll be calling my bookseller and ordering my own Plainwater. To love and to huh?  my way through as the moods take me. But then this is the way of love and huh?…

Love always wins.

Plainwater is available on-line at Blue Heron Books. Support indies!