Books

A Sort of Sun Salutation: 'Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses'

Claire Dederer

Through each pose and each place, Dederer ruminates, with simmering anger and periodic bemusement, on the repercussions that her shape-shifting, pot-scented childhood has on her identity as a woman and as a mother.


Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Length: 332 pages
Author: Claire Dederer
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2010-12
Amazon

Imagine that you’re the daughter of a '70s suburban mom who leaves her husband for a hippie tugboat captain, but chooses to never officially divorce her husband. You, the daughter, and your adored brother travel with mom from residence to residence. Through the lens of years, some of these places you've lived gather a kind of macramé and alfalfa sprout charm.

You grow up safely nestled inside an earnest triangle, with Mom and tugboat captain Larry making two sides of the triangle, and Dad the third, but Mom’s lifestyle choice flummoxes you. As you grow up, marry, and become a mom yourself, you feel inflexible about what’s right and what’s wrong in your life. What can you do to regain your balance?

This is Claire Dederer’s story. She is that daughter who becomes a woman determined to do everything right by her husband and daughter. She buys organic meat, mills the baby food by hand, lives in a leafy and eco-friendly neighborhood, and shuns chemical household cleansers in favor of vinegar. And it’s that quest for perfection -- along with a bad back and a nervous tremor -- that drives Dederer to take up yoga. In Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses she writes that yoga “was an attempt to fix something…wrong with me.”

Poser is only partially about yoga, although Dederer, an essayist and book reviewer, writes well about the physical challenges of a consistent yoga practice. Poser is really about motherhood; those who are good at it and those less good, about striving for the good life, and, as Dederer reminds her pregnant belly, that “mommies are protagonists, too.”

Dederer’s memoir recounts her tentative approach to yoga, first with a videotape at home (not a good idea, she learns) then at an austere studio peopled with the ultra-fit, and finally, among newcomers at an unpretentious storefront manned by a fellow with a dorky hairdo. Along the way, she frets about her young daughter, grows distant from her husband, turns an overachiever friend on to yoga with alienating results, has another baby, relocates from Seattle to Colorado with her husband and daughter and comes back again, and always ruminates, with simmering anger and periodic bemusement, on the repercussions that her shape-shifting, pot-scented childhood has on her identity as a woman and as a mother.

Dederer knows that a yoga pose is called an asana . She learns –- and tells us -- about meditation, breathing, and drishti –- the point on which you focus your gaze to help you concentrate in a challenging pose. She discovers the balance and power of crow pose and headstand. But Dederer and her memoir are both troubled by the meditator’s worst enemy, the monkey mind. She can’t seem to find a balance between her fine writing about yoga (she explains yoga’s history beautifully) or the culture shock of divorce on '70s children, and her pervasively flippant, chatty tone. When a woman on the path to becoming a yogini, or at least a calmer, more confident person, describes “the homeless guy selling the homeless guy newspaper,” one of the eight limbs of yoga withers. That’s the limb called Yama , the one where you employ kindness toward others.

Both she and her husband earn their living as freelance writers, necessitating periodic belt-tightening. Her efforts to cut costs by shopping at Trader Joe’s rather than Whole Foods Market is laudable, but comes across here as disingenuous. (Poser is rife with brand names. Since much of the story takes place on the grown-up end of Seattle’s hipster scene, you’ll recognize a few band names, too.)

It’s in Colorado, where the family moves during her husband’s environmental journalism fellowship, that Dederer realizes her life doesn’t have to be a performance. And it’s in her yoga practice, on a mat in a dusty gym, where she wonders to herself “what if the opposite of good was real?”

This is Dederer’s Aha! moment, a streak of personal clarity in a clamorous search for self. Reading Dederer's honest tale of integrating her topsy-turvy daily life with the peace and solitude of a yoga practice leaves one feeling as comfortable as talking easily with someone you know.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image