I’ve been reading Poser, a lovely memoir by Claire Dederer for much of my Christmas break. I’m hoping to finish it by tonight, but my desire to be well-rested tomorrow may win out.
In Poser, Dederer discusses her life as a yoga practitioner, mother, wife and wannabe perfectionist. I am often wary of memoirs. I think they’re usually self-indulgent. As much as I love melodramatic stories, there’s something about memoirs that I find grating. My husband feels differently; a memoir fan, he thinks a story is more interesting if it’s true. He enjoys memoirs about addiction, terrible childhoods and the like. I just don’t.
Which is, I think, one of the reasons I’m finding Poser to be so appealing. Dederer has had an unusual childhood (her mother left her father for another man when she was around 7, but her parents never divorced. Instead, they lived amicably separated for the vast majority of the author’s life), and it plays a central role in the memoir, obviously. But rather than be a tale of childhood woe and angst, Poser is about how that experience informs the author’s own adulthood, particularly as a parent. Now, I am not a parent. And I won’t be one for a while. But there is something about Dederer’s intensely self-conscious parenting that I’m both enjoying and relating to. Dederer is convinced that everyone is judging her parenting skills, waiting for her to fail. Haven’t we all felt that insecurity in some arena?
So, in an effort to let go of some of that insecurity (and to deal with a bad back), she turns to yoga. This, I can relate to. I practice yoga once a week, and have for about 3 years now. I like yoga. I’m not very good at it, but I like it. Now, if you know me, you know it is hard for me to NOT be good at something. I like to succeed, and if I can’t succeed at something, I don’t do it. But I continue to practice yoga because it allows me to give up a little of that competitive drive. Yoga is all about being non-judgmental, non-evaluative and most of all non-competitive. While I can’t swear that I ALWAYS practice yoga in the spirit of “A for effort,” I try. And yoga has taught me a lot about myself, as it has for Dederer. To see her journey through something I do find relateable is a welcome change from the tragedy memoir. I have never been to rehab. My parents weren’t abusive, and as much as I like my wine, I’m no alcoholic. I have let go of my inhibitions while doing a head stand.
Dederer’s voice, too, is lovely. She speaks the way a friend would, but not in that “I’m trying to sound like I’m your friend to make myself relatable” way (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Gilbert). She speaks like my friends actually speak. Well, like one of my friends in particular actually speaks. She reminds me of a particular friend (I’ll give you a dollar if you can guess which one it is!), one whom I’ve lost contact with in the past few months and reading Poser is like having a conversation with that friend.
Poser is not without its flaws. Dederer doesn’t trust her readers enough. Her narrative style is lovely, and her description of characters is memorable. So she doesn’t need to constantly remind us who people are. But she does. Every time her mother enters the scene, we’re reminded of her “hippie” past and how she left Dederer’s father. Dederer also, in an intellectual style I can understand and admire, occasionally veers off on tangents about the things she’s experiencing. It’s not as bad as the aforementioned Gilbert’s Committed, which I was never able to finish, but there are times when the diversions take away from the arc of her story. I want to know about the strain in her marriage, not the intellectual history of Naropa.
So Poser is not changing my life. It’s not going to make that short list we all have of THOSE books. But it’s good. It was a great Winter break read, and I’ll be sorry to leave Dederer when it’s over. Maybe I’ll just reconnect with my old friend to keep the pleasant conversation going a little while longer.