الأحد، 27 فبراير 2011

Excerpt: 'Poser' by Claire Dederer

LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This excerpt contains language that some readers
may find offensive.

Chapter 1


Creamy and flushed and covered with fuzz, our baby daughter was like a
delicious peach. Only much heavier. Even though I fed her on a diet of
breast milk and nothing else, she grew fatter and fatter. She was
dense with good health.

The story of how I nursed my daughter has a catch-22 ending. The child
was thriving on this milky, unending flow of a food designed perfectly
for her. When she was ten months old, I began to feel like we might
weigh about the same amount. I would haul her onto my lap, and she
would gaze up at me with delight, and, in the parlance of the day,
latch on. I would gaze back at her, amazed that I could so easily
satisfy another creature. She was intent and happy as she suckled
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses
By Claire Dederer
Hardcover, 352 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
List price: $26

The only problem with the baby was that when I held her in my lap for
these marathon feedings, she was crushing something crucial inside me.
Maybe my spleen, or possibly something larger. I tried lying on my
side to nurse her, but she required so much food, provided in such
lengthy sessions, that this wasn't really tenable. The milk was making
her so, ah, healthy that it was getting harder and harder to actually
deliver the milk to her. (That's the catch-22 part.)

Cast your mind back to the late 1990s for just a moment. Nursing, at
least where we lived in Seattle, was a strange combination of
enthusiast's hobby and moral mandate. Drive thirty miles to the north,
where my husband's cousins lived in suburbia, and you'd find mothers
happily plugging a bottle of formula into their babies' squalling
mouths. In Seattle, only full-time working mothers gave their babies
bottles, or rather their nannies did, and those bottles were filled
with the mother's very own milk, expressed through a breast pump.

Weaning wasn't allowed until at least one year. This was by the
consensus of who, exactly? Us. We were mothers with books. We looked
things up. We knew stuff, like, for example, that the American Academy
of Pediatrics said that at least one year of nursing was optimal for
the baby's immune system and brain development. For the kind of
mothers we were, optimal meant mandatory, and one year meant a few.
Seattle at that time was a town where little dudes strolled up to
their moms at the playground for a quick top-off, said "Thanks, babe,"
and rejoined the soccer match.

Lucy wasn't yet ten months, and I wasn't supposed to quit nursing
until at least a year. If you think this sounds like a frivolous
dilemma, or not worth losing sleep over, then that just goes to show
you were not a new mother in a liberal enclave at the end of the last

While I debated whether or not to wean her (and Bruce, my husband,
feigned interest), the inevitable occurred. My back went out. The
middle of my back pinched me all the time, like a salacious old man. I
couldn't sit in a straight chair. I couldn't lie flat on the couch. I
couldn't lift the groceries. So I weaned her.

Now that I've been doing yoga for ten years, I'm tempted to say
something wise, such as: I was ready to wean and my body made the
decision for me. But back then I didn't believe in that kind of crap.
Instead, I paddled around in a complicated gumbo of guilt and relief.
I claimed to feel cheated of my full, god-given, federally mandated
year of nursing. I apologized to my husband for my subpar performance.
I told my friends: Oh, no! I can't nurse the baby! Inside, I secretly
exulted. I had my spleen to myself again.

We lived in Phinney Ridge, a North Seattle neighborhood filled with
educated, white, liberal, well-intentioned people. Which pretty much
describes all North Seattle neighborhoods. Phinney Ridge is notable
for being even more liberal and even better intentioned than most. In
Phinney Ridge, people don't have BEWARE OF DOG signs. They have PLEASE

When I complained about my back, which I did often and with gusto, the
people of Phinney Ridge all had the same answer: Do yoga. My doctor
said, "There are poses that will strengthen your back." The checker at
Ken's Market told me I could buy a good yoga video at a nearby New Age
bookstore. The homeless guy selling the homeless-guy newspaper outside
Ken's Market said, "Be sure to get a mat! It's really hard to do yoga
without a mat."

I had a number of preconceptions about yoga. I thought yoga was done
by self-indulgent middle-aged ladies with a lot of time on their
hands, or by skinny fanatical twenty-two-year-old vegetarian former
gymnasts. I was also unsettled by the notion of white people seeking
transformation through the customs of brown-skinned people —
basically, to my mind, a suspect dynamic.

Despite these sloppily thought-out but strongly held reservations (my
specialty), I had suspected for years that I probably ought to do
yoga. I was a nervous kind of person. A self-conscious, hair-adjusting
kind of person. A person who practically burned with worried energy. I
had a constant tremor in my hands, so that the whole world knew how
anxious I was. Just a couple of weeks earlier, I had been hanging out
at a coffee shop, feeding Lucy bits of cracker and navigating the
coffee cup from the saucer to my mouth with trembling hand. A
gentleman approached and introduced himself to me as an "energy
shaman." Before I could think of a way to get rid of him, he took my
shaking hand in his and pronounced gravely, "You could use a lot of

"Oh!" I said, grinning nervously. "I'm sorry! I just, I have this
tremor that I've had since I was a little kid, and I'm not getting a
lot of sleep because of the baby. And I guess I've had a lot of
coffee," I concluded lamely.

"Do you eat a lot of chicken?" he asked. "That can cause energy problems."

I stood up, spilling my coffee, and swiftly loaded Lucy into her stroller.

"Well, goodbye!" I waved cheerfully, and left the café, fairly
thrumming with energy problems.

Yoga seemed like just exactly what I wanted: something to calm me
down. It also seemed like just exactly what I didn't want: a place
where everyone could see what a mess I was, could see my tremor and my
anxiety and my worry. There was something about holding still, about
inhabiting a pose, that was scary. What was under all that anxious

But now things were different. I had a baby. It was imperative that I
be able to lift her. I would do anything to be able to lift her. Yoga
class, however, was beyond me. Like everyone else, I was terrified of
a roomful of people who were good at it. Little did I know then that
only very occasionally in yoga do you stumble into an entire roomful
of people who are good at it. And when you do, they often turn out to
be assholes.

I figured a video would be the best approach; maybe I could get the
benefits without all the pesky humiliation. On an Indian summer
afternoon I decided to head over to the New Age bookstore. Amid much
pinching, I wrangled the baby into her stroller. This engendered
another form of mother guilt: recently strollers had come under the
North Seattle mother's list of banned substances. Apparently the baby
felt alienated so far away from its mother, and preferred to be
snuggled up against the mother's back or—there was no escaping its
Perón-like hegemony—her breast. You were supposed to strap your baby
into a sling or a Snugli (known around our house as a Smugli). There
was some theory about the baby wanting to see the world from the same
perspective as its mother. Which looks crazy as I type it, but that
was the argument. At any rate, putting your child in a stroller was
fast becoming yet another way of letting the world know that a) you
didn't really love your kid and b) you were an uneducated dumbshit.

That was all well and good for people with those lightweight babies
made from balsa wood, but my pleasingly substantial daughter and I
were devoted to strolling. And so we made our way through the fall
afternoon to the bookshop, the baby graciously tolerating her
dumbshit, unloving mother.

I had walked by the New Age bookshop many times but had never gone in.
Wrestling the stroller through the door, I was hit with the
ecclesiastically grubby smell of incense. Everything in the store was
dusty and slightly off plumb. The magazine racks tilted; the books
were piled haphazardly; the posters of chakras and mushrooms and stars
were at various subtle angles.

I found a teetering wire rack of yoga videos. Some of the people on
the covers were orange. Some wore headbands. Some were peeking out
from behind swirling, vaguely medieval purple writing. I chose a
beginning yoga tape. It looked safe. The woman on the cover was not
orange and she wore no headgear. The graphics did not look as if
they'd been drawn up in an asylum.

I located a yoga mat, and paid, and then the baby and I got the hell
out of there.

That night, Bruce gave her a bottle (to which she had adapted nicely,
thanks) and I went into the room with the TV, which, like everyone on
Phinney Ridge, we refused to call the TV room. I put on my tape. The
blond woman gazed into the camera from her serene world, a place where
potted orchids thrived. There was some discussion about not overdoing
it and going at your own speed, and then the yoga session was under
way. The woman sat there with her eyes shut. I sat there looking at
her. Apparently we were warming up.

This pleasant state of affairs continued for a while. Unfortunately,
soon it was time to do asana. This had a forbidding sound.

"Jump your feet about three feet apart on the mat," said the blond
lady. This I did. "Turn your left foot in about forty-five degrees,
and your right foot out." Done and done. Check me out! "Extend the
right hand over the right foot, and gently rest the hand on the shin,
the ankle, or the foot, wherever is most comfortable." Tippy, but I
was on it. "Slowly rotate your torso upward, and extend your left arm
toward the ceiling." Aaand I'm out. I sat down with a thud and watched
the woman with her strangely unshifting expression. She was a puddle
on a windless day. In a calm voice, the way you talk to old people
when you're convincing them to take a few steps across the hospital
room to use the bathroom, she said, "Tri-ko-na-sa-na." She lingered on
the word, obviously enjoying the sound of the...what was it? Sanskrit?
"Triangle pose," she translated.

I rewound the tape. I tried again. Right leg out. Feet turned at an
angle. Extend right arm. Drop right hand to right shin. I started to
worry. How was I going to get that left arm up? How was I going to
turn my torso? Oh, shit, now or never. I flung my left arm into the
air and twisted my torso maybe a millimeter up. Pinch.

I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the darkened window. I was
hunched up like "It's Pat!" from Saturday Night Live. I rewound the
tape again, and followed the directions again, and ended up, again,
bunched in an odd shape. I could feel parts of my body bumping
together that had never bumped before. Something hurt. I had a feeling
it wasn't supposed to hurt.

Excerpted from Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire
Dederer. Published in January 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
Copyright 2011 by Claire Dederer. All rights reserved.

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