Claire Dederer is clever. After suffering chronic back pain, she took up yoga, and spent years at one studio or another, trying to improve her practice and her life at the same time. Now she has written a memoir using yoga poses to frame significant events in her life. For example, she describes a photo of her mother “flying” in crow pose with her father looking on in the background when she introduces the fact that her mother left her dad soon after that photo was taking.
She deftly weaves her story back and forth between childhood and adulthood. Both have their moments, and this is not one you should read in public if you are a closet crier. She mentions her long-term habit of keeping a journal, and her efforts certainly paid off here – she is able to capture the feeling of growing up at a very specific time in U.S. history (early 1970s, complete with hippies and challenging “traditional” models of family and gendered behavior).
The title of the book sounds mildly self-deprecating, and the book is too. She starts off portraying herself as somewhat of a “poseur” – trying to keep up with all the other liberal uber-moms in Seattle, with their attachment parenting (I think she actually drew the line before going full stop with that), baby-led weaning (which for her ended abruptly when the baby got too big and injured her mama’s back), and co-op preschool (so she could be as hands-on as possible). She compares herself to other moms, wears the uniform (evidently Danskin clogs are very important), and berates herself for not being better. We learn that she is a former “hipster” and I, who have never been a hipster, half expect her to start talking about dressing her kid in ironic t-shirts and introducing her to a world of music snobbery.
Then she starts providing more details about her life, and everything changes. Her kids both come home from the hospital by way of the NICU – one with her own oxygen tank, and Claire Dederer becomes a wounded mother employing a painful combination of rigid conformity and magical thinking to keep her babies from disappearing. And then we hear about her own tricky childhood – her mother moves in with a younger man but remains married to her father. The kids shuffle back and forth between parents (sometimes this involves a boat) and are constantly told that nothing is amiss in this family. It no longer seems surprising that this woman exerts and obscene amount of energy maintaining a particular sort of persona, one that appears strong and steady – she must have felt a lot of pressure as a kid trying to find her place in her broken (but not broken?) family which also included a shifting network of her mother’s friends.
She analyzes to what extent we are products of the choices our parents make but, as she moves from yoga class to yoga class she shares with us how she found her own identity. Her kids were hard-won, as was becoming a person she could be comfortable being. Her honesty is sometimes uncomfortable – far from being a poseur, she lets us in on her private insecurities, the types of things we ruminators get stuck on but would be loathe to share aloud.
Yoga, even in a room full of people, is really a very quiet, personal thing. Claire Dederer invites us to listen in on her thoughts as she twists and folds on the mat – sometimes cheating a bit – and manages to make the narrative almost worthy of reading out loud. By the end, and I am sure I am not the only one, I am tempted to look up a yoga studio and show up immediately with mat in hand.
Scroll down for other posts about Poser:
Part 1: Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer
Part 2: Lonely Books
Part 3: Imperfect People are Just My Type
Part 4: Smashed Cupcakes and Date Night
Part 5: Running Away From Home
Part 6: Yoga Teachers, Feminism, and Big Words