Literary critic Claire Dederer has let her career persona invade her life. She is judgmental of everything and is especially hard on herself. Writers have a joke about being too poor to afford therapy (although Dederer sees an on-again/off-again therapist), so they just write about their problems and that fixes everything. Or not. In Dederer’s case, she has written a personal treatise about her critical habits and explores why her childhood, unique parents, career and tastes in music have made her the unapologetic perfectionist she is today. And since every good memoir deserves a platform from which to leap, Dederer chooses yoga as the scaffolding of choice to hold up her sometimes ragged but always authentic perspective on life.
“Yoga” is a Sanskrit word translated to mean “yoke” or “union.” Understandably, this is a mid-life memoir, but Dederer admittedly misses the point of yoga representing a conjunction. She does a good job of connecting her experiences with various yoga poses to her personal dramas, and of relating how such poses open the gates of understanding for her. But her journey is far from over.
Yoga doesn’t do anything for the practitioner. People do yoga. An individual gets out of yoga what they put into it, and while Dederer obviously puts a lot of time and effort into her 10-year devotion to yoga, her uneven progress along the path is very normal. At first, she is fearful and full of Western expectations; next, she is curious and does research to understand the centuries-old practice; and finally, she is addicted but doesn’t understand why.
A child of northwestern hippies in the ’70s and ’80s, she is reluctant to take the final leap of faith and trust yoga to be the answer to her quandary-filled life --- quandaries that are of her own making in response to her choices, which lead her in a circle of frustration and unmet realizations. Life as a professional critic has made Dederer her own worst evaluator, and she admits it. She is unclear at the end of the story about her ability to make any of the deep changes that life’s big questions and yoga’s toughest poses ask us to make. But she tries, and that counts for something.
Dederer has a classic sense of 1980s humor, which alone makes the book worth reading: “I tried pregnancy yoga once. Pregnancy yoga is not yoga. It is nine ladies lying on the floor in a sunny room, farting. I refused to go again. I had my pride.” She loves her husband. She loves her children. She loves her yoga, but hasn’t figured out why. Despite the overriding tone of frustration and a bit of irreverence toward yoga, Dederer finds peace and useful personal information in yoga.
Those who are interested in one woman's trip through life one yoga pose at a time will enjoy POSER. Everybody’s journey is unique.
Reviewed by Joy Held on March 28, 2011
Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses